Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 52

   

A little calmer, she searched the ground floor carefully, testing every door and window. And the priest’s hole, whose empty blackness gaped mockingly up at her.

Jem and Mandy were all right. She knew they were. But she still went upstairs, soft-footed, and stood by their beds for a long time, watching the pale glow of the Snow White night-light on their faces.

The longcase clock in the hall below struck the hour, and then a single bong! She drew a deep breath and went down to finish reading her father’s letter.

The current line of Fraser of Lovat is descended from a collateral branch; presumably the Fraser Prophecy isn’t referring to one of them—though there are plenty of heirs in that line.

I don’t know who drew this chart, but I do intend to find out. This letter is in case I don’t. In case of a number of things.

One of those things being the possibility that your mother’s story is true—I still have difficulty believing it, when I wake in the morning beside her and everything is so normal. But late at night, when I’m alone with the documents . . . Well, why not admit it? I found the record of their marriage. James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser and Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp. I’m not sure whether to be grateful or outraged that she didn’t marry him using my name.

Forgive me, I’m rambling. It’s hard to keep emotion out of it, but I’ll try. The essence of what I’m saying is this: if you can indeed go back in time (and possibly return), you are a person of very great interest to a number of people, for assorted reasons. Should anyone in the more shadowed realm of government be halfway convinced that you are what you may be, you would be watched. Possibly approached. (In earlier centuries, the British government pressed men into service. They still do, if less obviously.)

That’s a very remote contingency, but it is a real one; I must mention it.

There are private parties who would also have a deep interest in you for this reason—and evidently there is someone who has spotted you and is watching. The chart showing your line of descent, with dates, indicates that much. It also suggests that this person’s or persons’ interest may be a concern with the Fraser Prophecy. What could be more intriguing to that sort of person than the prospect of someone who is “the last of Lovat’s line” and is also a time traveler? These sorts of people—I know them well—invariably believe in mystic powers of all sorts—nothing would draw them more powerfully than the conviction that you hold such power.

Such people are usually harmless. But they can be very dangerous indeed.

If I find whoever drew this chart, I will question them and do my best to neutralize any possible threat to you. But as I say—I know the look of a conspiracy. Nutters of this sort thrive in company. I might miss one.

“Neutralize them,” she murmured, the chill in her hands spreading through her arms and chest, crystallizing around her heart. She had no doubt at all what he’d meant by that, the bland matter-of-factness of the term notwithstanding. And had he found him—them?

Don’t—I repeat, don’t—go anywhere near the Service or anyone connected with it. At best, they’d think you insane. But if you are indeed what you may be, the last people who should ever know it are the funny buggers, as we used to be known during the war.

And if worse should come to worst—and you can do it—then the past may be your best avenue of escape. I have no idea how it works; neither does your mother, or at least she says so. I hope I may have given you a few tools to help, if that should be necessary.

And . . . there’s him. Your mother said that Fraser sent her back to me, knowing that I would protect her—and you. She thought that he died immediately afterward. He did not. I looked for him, and I found him. And, like him, perhaps I send you back, knowing—as he knew of me—that he will protect you with his life.

I will love you forever, Brianna. And I know whose child you truly are.

With all my love,

Dad

APPARITION

THE LOCHABER DISTRICT, according to the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board (as interpreted by Brianna), is a “high glaciated landscape.”

“That means it goes up and down a lot,” Roger explained to Buck, as they fought their way through what he thought was part of the Locheil Forest, looking for the edge of Loch Lochy.

“Ye don’t say?” Buck glanced bleakly over his shoulder at the distant hump of Ben Nevis, then back at Roger. “I’d not noticed.”

“Cheer up, it’s all downhill for a bit now. And the midgies are all dead wi’ the cold. Count your blessings.” Roger felt unaccountably cheerful this morning—perhaps only because the walking was downhill, after a strenuous week of combing the Cameron clan lands, a bewildering network of corries, tarns, moraines, and Munros, those deceptive summits with their gently rounded tops and their unspeakable slopes. Thank God no one lived on top of them.

Perhaps also because, while they hadn’t found Jem or any trace of him, it was progress, of a sort. The Camerons on the whole had been hospitable, after the initial surprise, and they’d had the luck to find a tacksman of Lochiel, the clan chieftain, who’d sent a man to Tor Castle for them. Word had come back a day later: no word of a stranger matching Rob Cameron’s description—though, in fact, Rob looked like half the people Roger had met in the last few days—or Jem’s, he being a lot more noticeable.

They’d worked their way back along the shores of Loch Arkaig—the fastest way for someone to travel from the Great Glen, if heading for the ocean. But no word of a boat stolen or hired, and Roger began to feel that Cameron had not, after all, sought refuge or help among his ancient clan—a relief, on the whole.

“Blessings, is it?” Buck rubbed a hand over his face. Neither of them had shaved in a week, and he looked as red-eyed and grubby as Roger felt. He scratched his jaw consideringly. “Aye, well. A fox took a shit next to me last night, but I didna step in it this morning. I suppose that’ll do, for a start.”

The next day and night dampened Roger’s mood of optimism somewhat: it rained incessantly, and they spent the night under heaps of half-dry bracken on the edge of a black tarn, emerging at dawn chilled and frowsty, to the shrieks of plovers and killdeer.

He hesitated momentarily as they rode past the place where they might turn toward Cranesmuir; he wanted badly to talk again with Dr. McEwan. His hand found his throat, thumb stroking the scar. “Maybe,” the healer had said. “Just maybe.” But McEwan couldn’t aid them in looking for Jem; that visit would have to wait.

Still, he felt his heart rise as they came over the pass and saw Lallybroch below. It was bittersweet, coming home to a home that was not his and might never be again. But it promised refuge and succor, if only temporarily—and it promised hope, at least in these last few minutes before they reached the door.

“Och, it’s you!” It was Jenny Fraser who opened the door, her look of wariness changing to one of pleased welcome. Roger heard Buck behind him making a small humming noise of approval at sight of her, and, despite his determination not to hope too much, Roger felt his own spirits rise.

“And this will be your kinsman?” She curtsied to Buck. “Welcome to ye, sir. Come ben; I’ll call Taggie to mind the horses.” She turned in a flicker of white apron and petticoats, beckoning them to follow. “Da’s in the speak-a-word,” she called over her shoulder as she headed for the kitchen. “He’s something for you!”

“Mr. MacKenzie and . . . this would be also Mr. MacKenzie, aye?” Brian Fraser came out of the study, smiling, and offered Buck his hand. Roger could see him looking Buck over with close attention, a slight frown between his dark brows. Not disapproval—puzzlement, as though he knew Buck from somewhere and was trying to think where.

Roger knew exactly where and felt again that peculiar quiver he’d felt on meeting Dougal MacKenzie. The resemblance between father and son was by no means instantly striking—their coloring was very different, and Roger thought most of Buck’s features came from his mother—but there was a fugitive similarity, nonetheless, something in their manner. Men cocksure of their charm—and no less charming for knowing it.

Buck was smiling, making commonplace courtesies, complimenting the house and its estate. . . . The puzzlement faded from Brian’s eyes, and he invited them to sit, calling down the hall to the kitchen for someone to bring them a bite and a dram.

“Well, then,” Brian said, pulling out the chair from behind his desk in order to sit with them. “As ye havena got the lad with ye, I see he’s not found yet. Have ye heard any news of him, though?” He looked from Buck to Roger, worried but hopeful.

“No,” Roger said, and cleared his throat. “Not a word. But—your daughter said that you . . . might have heard something?”

Fraser’s face changed at once, lighting a little.

“Well, it’s nay so much heard anything, but . . .” He rose and went to rummage in the desk, still talking.

“A captain from the garrison came by here twa, three days ago, wi’ a small party of soldiers. The new man in charge—what was his name, Jenny?” For Jenny had come in with a tray, this holding a teapot, cups, a small bottle of whisky, and a plate of cake. The smell made Roger’s stomach rumble.

“Who? Oh, the new redcoat captain? Randall, he said. Jonathan Randall.” Her color rose a little, and her father smiled to see it. Roger felt the smile freeze on his own face.

“Aye, he took to you, lass. Wouldna be surprised if he came back one of these days.”

“Precious little good it will do him if he does,” Jenny snapped. “Have ye lost that thing, an athair?”

“No, no, I’m sure I put . . .” Brian’s voice trailed off as he scrabbled in the drawer. “Oh. Erm, aye.” He coughed, hand in the drawer, and, through his shock, Roger realized what the trouble was. The desk had a secret compartment. Evidently Brian had put the “thing,” whatever it was, in the hiding place and was now wondering how to get it out again without revealing the secret to his visitors.

Roger rose to his feet.

“Will ye pardon me, mistress?” he asked, bowing to Jenny. “I’d forgot something in my saddlebag. Come with me, aye?” he added to Buck. “It’s maybe in with your things.”

Jenny looked surprised but nodded, and Roger blundered out, Buck making little grunts of annoyance at his heels.

“What the devil’s wrong wi’ you?” Buck said, the minute they were out the door. “Ye went white as a sheet in there, and ye still look like a fish that’s been dead a week.”

“I feel like one,” Roger said tersely. “I know Captain Randall—or, rather, I know a lot of things about him. Leave it that he’s the last person I’d want to have any knowledge of Jem.”

“Oh.” Buck’s face went blank, then firmed. “Aye, well. We’ll see what it is he brought, and then we’ll go and have it out with him if we think he might have the lad.”

What it is he brought. Roger fought back all the horrible things that phrase conjured—Jem’s ear, a finger, a lock of his hair—because if it had been anything like that, surely the Frasers wouldn’t be calm about it. But if Randall had brought some hideous token in a box?

“Why, though?” Buck was frowning, plainly trying to read Roger’s expression, which, judging from Buck’s own, must be appalling. “Why would this man mean you and the lad ill? He’s never met ye, has he?”

“That,” Roger said, choking down his feelings, “is an excellent question. But the man is a—do you know what a sadist is?”

“No, but it’s plainly something ye dinna want close to your wean. Here, sir! We’ll be taking those in, thank ye kindly.” They’d come right round the house by now, and McTaggart the hired man was coming down the path from the stable, their saddlebags in either hand.

McTaggart looked surprised but surrendered the heavy bags gladly and went back to his work.

“I ken ye just wanted to get us out of there so to give your man a bit of privacy to work the secret drawer,” Buck remarked. “And he kens that fine. Do we need to take in something, though?”

“How do you know about—” Buck grinned at him, and Roger dismissed the question with an irritable gesture. “Yes. We’ll give Miss Fraser the cheese I bought yesterday.”

“Ah, Mrs. Jenny.” Buck made the humming noise again. “I wouldna blame Captain Randall. That skin! And those bubs, come to that—”

“Shut up right this minute!”

Buck did, shocked out of his jocularity.

“What?” he said, in quite a different tone. “What is it?”

Roger unclenched his fist, with an effort.

“It’s a bloody long story; I haven’t time to tell it to ye now. But it’s—something I know from the other end. From my time. In a year or so, Randall’s coming back here. And he’s going to do something terrible. And, God help me, I don’t think I can stop it.”

“Something terrible,” Buck repeated slowly. His eyes were boring into Roger’s own, dark as serpentine. “To that bonnie wee lass? And ye think ye can’t stop it? Why, man, how can ye—”

“Just shut up,” Roger repeated doggedly. “We’ll talk about it later, aye?”

Buck puffed out his cheeks, still staring at Roger, then blew out his breath with a sound of disgust and shook his head, but he picked up his saddlebag and followed without further argument.

The cheese—a thing the size of Roger’s outstretched hand, wrapped in fading leaves—was received with pleasure and taken off to the kitchen, leaving Roger and Buck alone once more with Brian Fraser. Fraser had regained his own composure and, picking up a tiny cloth-wrapped parcel from his desk, put it gently in Roger’s hand.

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