An echo in the bone

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Author Info

Diana convertfileonline.com

201408_19_13_34_16_744

Also by Diana Gabaldon

(in order of publication)

THE OUTLANDER SERIES

OUTLANDER

DRAGONFLY IN AMBER

VOYAGER

DRUMS OF AUTUMN

THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION

(nonfiction)

THE FIERY CROSS

A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES

THE LORD JOHN SERIES

LORD JOHN AND THE PRIVATE MATTER

LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE

LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS

To all my good dogs:

Penny Louise

Tipper John

John

Flip

Archie and Ed

Tippy

Spots

Emily

Ajax

Molly

Gus

Homer and JJ

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

It takes me a good three years to write one of these books, during which time I constantly ask people questions, and during which time helpful people offer me fascinating bits of information that I didn’t think to ask for. I’ll never remember them all, but think of them all with enormous gratitude.In addition, I wish to offer grateful thanks to …

… John Flicker and Bill Massey, my editors, both gentlemen of gall and kidney, who coped nobly with a book written in pieces (lots of pieces), and an author who lives dangerously.… Danny Baror and Russell Galen, my literary agents, two gentlemen literally worth their weight in gold—which is saying something in these recessionary days.… Kathy Lord, heroic copy editor, and Virginia Norey, book designer (aka “the book goddess”), who are jointly responsible for the beauty and read ability of this book.… Vincent La Scala and the other cruelly used members of the production crew, who succeeded in getting this book into print on time against looooong odds.… Steven Lopata for his vivid description of being chased overland by a cottonmouth—as well as the poetic description of what copperheads smell like (“A combination of that snakehouse smell from the zoo and rotten cucumbers”).… Catherine MacGregor and Catherine-Ann MacPhee for Gàidhlig translations and help in the subtleties of Gaelic usage. Also Katie Beggs and various unsung but much appreciated members of the International Gaelic Mafia.… Tess the nurse, Dr. Amarilis Iscold, Sarah Meir (Certified Nurse Midwife), and a number of other helpful medical professionals, for advice on matters medical, picturesque maladies, and horrifying surgical details.… Janet McConnaughey for OEDILF (Omnificant English Dictionary in Limerick Form) entries, being the Muse of Bloody Axes, and drawing my attention to exploding cypress trees.… Larry Tuohy (and others) for telling me what a Spitfire pilot’s flight jacket looked like.… Ron Parker, Helen, Esmé and Lesley, for ’elp with the ’airy ape.… Beth and Matthew Shope and Jo Bourne for useful information regarding the Religious Society of Friends. Any inaccuracies are definitely my fault.… Jari Backman, for his detailed time lines and excerpt listings, and for help with the night sky and which stars are visible in Inverness and Fraser’s Ridge.… Katrina Stibohar for her exquisitely detailed lists of who was born when and What Happened to Everybody then. Also to the hordes of kindly trivia freaks who are always on hand to tell me how old someone is, or whether Lord John met Fergus when he had the measles.… Pamela Patchet Hamilton (and Buddy) for a nose-wrenchingly vivid description of a close-range skunking.… Karen Henry, Czarina of Traffic, who keeps my folder in the Compuserve Books and Writers Community tidy and the inhabitants diplomatically herded. (http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?nav=start&webtag = ws-books)… Nikki Rowe and her daughter Caitlin, for the wonderful YouTube channel they created for me (http://www.youtube.com/user/voyagesoftheartemis—for those who want to see whether I really do sound like Donald Duck when I talk).… Rosana Madrid Gatti, my web-mistress, for prompt and faithful updates and imaginative design.… Susan Butler, for constant logistic support, dog sleepovers, keeping me supplied with black-ink cartridges, and for her brilliant suggestion regarding Jem.… Allene Edwards, Catherine MacGregor, and Susan Butler, for proof reading and Extremely Helpful (if eyeball-numbing) nitpicking.… Shirley Williams for the Moravian cookies and vistas of New Bern.… Becky Morgan for the historical cookbooks.… my greatgrandfather, Stanley Sykes, for Jamie’s line about marksmanship.… Bev LaFrance, Carol Krenz, and many others for help with French. Also Florence the translator, Peter Berndt, and Gilbert Sureau for the nice distinctions between the French Lord’s Prayer of 1966 (accorde-lui) versus the earlier, more formal version (accordes-lui).… John S. Kruszka, for the proper spelling and pronunciation of “Kościuszko” (it’s “kohs-CHOOSH-koh,” in case you wondered; nobody in the Revolution could pronounce it, either—they really did all call him “Kos”).… the Ladies of Lallybroch, for continuous support and Really Interesting Gifts.… my husband, because he knows fine what a man is for, too.… Alex Krislov, Janet McConnaughey, and Margaret Campbell, sysops of the Compuserve Books and Writers Community, and the many, many, many helpful people who roam through the site daily, offering observations, information, and general entertainment.… Alfred Publishing for permission to quote from the lyrics to “Tighten Up,” by Archie Bell and the Drells.“The White Swan,” taken from Carmina Gadelica, is reproduced by kind permission of Floris Books.

Contents

Prologue

PART ONE

A Troubling of the Waters

1. SOMETIMES THEY’RE REALLY DEAD

2. AND SOMETIMES THEY AREN’T

3. LIFE FOR LIFE

4. NOT YET AWHILE

5. MORALITY FOR TIME-TRAVELERS

PART TWO

Blood, Sweat, and Pickles

6. LONG ISLAND

7. AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE

8. SPRING THAW

9. A KNIFE THAT KNOWS MY HAND

10. FIRESHIP

11. TRANSVERSE LIE

12. ENOUGH

13. UNREST

14. DELICATE MATTERS

15. THE BLACK CHAMBER

16. UNARMED CONFLICT

17. WEE DEMONS

18. PULLING TEETH

19. AE FOND KISS

20. I REGRET …

21. THE MINISTER’S CAT

22. FLUTTERBY

PART THREE

Privateer

23. CORRESPONDENCE FROM THE FRONT

24. JOYEUX NÖEL

25. THE BOSOM OF THE DEEP

26. STAG AT BAY

27. TUNNEL TIGERS

28. HILLTOPS

29. CONVERSATION WITH A HEADMASTER

30. SHIPS THAT PASS IN THE NIGHT

31. A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE CHAMBERS OF THE HEART

PART FOUR

Conjunction

32. A FLURRY OF SUSPICION

33. THE PLOT THICKENS

34. PSALMS, 30

35. TICONDEROGA

36. THE GREAT DISMAL

37. PURGATORY

38. PLAIN SPEECH

39. A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE

40. THE BLESSING OF BRIDE AND OF MICHAEL

41. SHELTER FROM THE STORM

PART FIVE

To the Precipice

42. CROSSROAD

43. COUNTDOWN

44. FRIENDS

45. THREE ARROWS

46. LEY LINES

47. HIGH PLACES

48. HENRY

49. RESERVATIONS

50. EXODUS

51. THE BRITISH ARE COMING

52. CONFLAGRATION

53. MOUNT INDEPENDENCE

54. RETURN OF THE NATIVE

55. RETREAT

56. WHILE STILL ALIVE

57. THE DESERTER GAME

58. INDEPENDENCE DAY

59. BATTLE OF BENNINGTON

60. DESERTER GAME, ROUND II

61. NO BETTER COMPANION THAN THE RIFLE

62. ONE JUST MAN

63. SEPARATED FOREVER FROM MY FRIENDS AND KIN

64. A GENTLEMAN CALLER

65. HAT TRICK

66. DEATHBED

67. GREASIER THAN GREASE

68. DESPOILER

69. TERMS OF SURRENDER

70. SANCTUARY

PART SIX

Coming Home

71. A STATE OF CONFLICT

72. THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS

73. ONE EWE LAMB RETURNS TO THE FOLD

74. TWENTY-TWENTY

75. SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI

76. BY THE WIND GRIEVED

77. MEMORARAE

78. OLD DEBTS

79. THE CAVE

80. OENOMANCY

81. PURGATORY II

82. DISPOSITIONS

83. COUNTING SHEEP

84. THE RIGHT OF IT

PART SEVEN

Reap the Whirlwind

85. SON OF A WITCH

86. VALLEY FORGE

87. SEVERANCE AND REUNION

88. RATHER MESSY

89. INK-STAINED WRETCH

90. ARMED WITH DIAMONDS AND WITH STEEL

91. FOOTSTEPS

92. INDEPENDENCE DAY, II

93. A SERIES OF SHORT, SHARP SHOCKS

94. THE PATHS OF DEATH

95. NUMBNESS

96. FIREFLY

97. NEXUS

98. MISCHIANZA

99. A BUTTERFLY IN A BUTCHER’S YARD

100. LADY IN WAITING

101. REDIVIVUS

102. BRED IN THE BONE

103. THE HOUR OF THE WOLF

Author’s Notes

PROLOGUE

THE BODY IS amazingly plastic. The spirit, even more so. But there are some things you don’t come back from. Say ye so, a nighean? True, the body’s easily maimed, and the spirit can be crippled—yet there’s that in a man that is never destroyed.

PART ONE

A Troubling of the Waters

SOMETIMES THEY’RE REALLY DEAD

Wilmington, colony of North Carolina

July 1776

THE PIRATE’S HEAD had disappeared. William heard the speculations from a group of idlers on the quay nearby, wondering whether it would be seen again.

“Na, him be gone for good,” said a ragged man of mixed blood, shaking his head. “De allygator don’ take him, de water will.”

A backwoodsman shifted his tobacco and spat into the water in disagreement.

“No, he’s good for another day—two, maybe. Them gristly bits what holds the head on, they dry out in the sun. Tighten up like iron. Seen it many a time with deer carcasses.”

William saw Mrs. MacKenzie glance quickly at the harbor, then away. She looked pale, he thought, and maneuvered himself slightly so as to block her view of the men and the brown flood of high tide, though since it was high, the corpse tied to its stake was naturally not visible. The stake was, though—a stark reminder of the price of crime. The pirate had been staked to drown on the mudflats several days before, the persistence of his decaying corpse an ongoing topic of public conversation.

“Jem!” Mr. MacKenzie called sharply, and lunged past William in pursuit of his son. The little boy, red-haired like his mother, had wandered away to listen to the men’s talk, and was now leaning perilously out over the water, clinging to a bollard in an attempt to see the dead pirate.

Mr. MacKenzie snatched the boy by the collar, pulled him in, and swept him up in his arms, though the boy struggled, craning back toward the swampish harbor.

“I want to see the wallygator eat the pirate, Daddy!”

The idlers laughed, and even MacKenzie smiled a little, though the smile disappeared when he glanced at his wife. He was at her side in an instant, one hand beneath her elbow.

“I think we must be going,” MacKenzie said, shifting his son’s weight in order better to support his wife, whose distress was apparent. “Lieutenant Ransom—Lord Ellesmere, I mean”—he corrected with an apologetic smile at William—“will have other engagements, I’m sure.”

This was true; William was engaged to meet his father for supper. Still, his father had arranged to meet him at the tavern just across the quay; there was no risk of missing him. William said as much, and urged them to stay, for he was enjoying their company—Mrs. MacKenzie’s, particularly—but she smiled regretfully, though her color was better, and patted the capped head of the baby in her arms.

“No, we do have to be going.” She glanced at her son, still struggling to get down, and William saw her eyes flicker toward the harbor and the stark pole that stood above the flood. She resolutely looked away, fixing her eyes upon William’s face instead. “The baby’s waking up; she’ll be wanting food. It was so lovely to meet you, though. I wish we might talk longer.” She said this with the greatest sincerity, and touched his arm lightly, giving him a pleasant sensation in the pit of the stomach.

The idlers were now placing wagers on the reappearance of the drowned pirate, though by the looks of things, none of them had two groats to rub together.

“Two to one he’s still there when the tide goes out.”

“Five to one the body’s still there, but the head’s gone. I don’t care what you say about the gristly bits, Lem, that there head was just a-hangin’ by a thread when this last tide come in. Next un’ll take it, sure.”

Hoping to drown this conversation out, William embarked on an elaborate farewell, going so far as to kiss Mrs. MacKenzie’s hand with his best court manner—and, seized by inspiration, kissed the baby girl’s hand, too, making them all laugh. Mr. MacKenzie gave him rather an odd look, but didn’t seem offended, and shook his hand in a most republican manner—playing out the joke by setting down his son and making the little boy shake hands as well.

“Have you kilt anybody?” the boy inquired with interest, looking at William’s dress sword.

“No, not yet,” William replied, smiling.

“My grandsire’s kilt two dozen men!”

“Jemmy!” Both parents spoke at once, and the little boy’s shoulders went up around his ears.

“Well, he has!”

“I’m sure he is a bold and bloody man, your grandsire,” William assured the little boy gravely. “The King always has need of such men.”

“My grandda says the King can kiss his arse,” the boy replied matter-of-factly.

“JEMMY!”

Mr. MacKenzie clapped a hand over his outspoken offspring’s mouth.

“You know your grandda didn’t say that!” Mrs. MacKenzie said. The little boy nodded agreeably, and his father removed the muffling hand.

“No. Grannie did, though.”

“Well, that’s somewhat more likely,” Mr. MacKenzie murmured, obviously trying not to laugh. “But we still don’t say things like that to soldiers—they work for the King.”

“Oh,” said Jemmy, clearly losing interest. “Is the tide going out now?” he asked hopefully, craning his neck toward the harbor once more.

“No,” Mr. MacKenzie said firmly. “Not for hours. You’ll be in bed.”

Mrs. MacKenzie smiled at William in apology, her cheeks charmingly flushed with embarrassment, and the family took its leave with some haste, leaving William struggling between laughter and dismay.

“Oy, Ransom!”

He turned at his name, to find Harry Dobson and Colin Osborn, two second lieutenants from his regiment, evidently escaped from duty and eager to sample the fleshpots of Wilmington—such as they were.

“Who’s that?” Dobson looked after the departing group, interested.

“A Mr. and Mrs. MacKenzie. Friends of my father’s.”

“Oh, married, is she?” Dobson sucked in his cheeks, still watching the woman. “Well, make it a bit harder, I suppose, but what’s life without a challenge?”

“Challenge?” William gave his diminutive friend a jaundiced look. “Her husband’s roughly three times your size, if you hadn’t noticed.”

Osborn laughed, going red in the face.

“She’s twice his size! She’d crush you, Dobby.”

“And what makes you think I mean to be on the bottom?” Dobson inquired with dignity. Osborn hooted.

“What’s this obsession of yours with giantesses?” William demanded. He glanced at the little family, now nearly out of sight at the end of the street. “That woman’s nearly as tall as I am!”

“Oh, rub it in, why don’t you?” Osborn, who was taller than Dobson’s five feet, but still a head shorter than William, aimed a mock kick at his knee. William dodged it and cuffed Osborn, who ducked and shoved him into Dobson.

“Gennelmen!” The menacing cockney tones of Sergeant Cutter brought them up sharp. They might outrank the sergeant, but not one of them would have the nerve to point this out. The entire battalion went in fear of Sergeant Cutter, who was older than God and approximately Dobson’s height, but who contained within his diminutive physique the sheer fury of a full-sized volcano on the boil.

“Sergeant!” Lieutenant William Ransom, Earl of Ellesmere and senior of the group, drew himself up straight, chin pressed back into his stock. Osborn and Dobson hastily followed his lead, quaking in their boots.

Cutter strode back and forth in front of them, in the manner of a stalking leopard. You could just see the lashing tail and the preliminary licking of chops, William thought. Waiting for the bite was almost worse than getting it in the arse.

“And where’s your troops, then?” Cutter snarled. “Sirs?”

Osborn and Dobson at once began sputtering explanations, but Lieutenant Ransom—for once—walked on the side of the angels.

“My men are guarding the Governor’s Palace, under Lieutenant Colson. I’m given leave, Sergeant, to dine with my father,” he said respectfully. “By Sir Peter.”

Sir Peter Packer’s was a name to conjure with, and Cutter abated in mid-spew. Rather to William’s surprise, though, it wasn’t Sir Peter’s name that had produced this reaction.

“Your father?” Cutter said, squinting. “That’s Lord John Grey, is it?”

“Er … yes,” William replied cautiously. “Do you … know him?”

Before Cutter could reply, the door of a nearby tavern opened, and William’s father came out. William smiled in delight at this timely appearance, but quickly erased the smile as the sergeant’s gimlet gaze fixed on him.

“Don’t you be a-grinnin’ at me like an ’airy ape,” the sergeant began, in dangerous tones, but was interrupted by Lord John’s clapping him familiarly on the shoulder—something none of the three young lieutenants would have done if offered significant money.

“Cutter!” Lord John said, smiling warmly. “I heard those dulcet tones and said to myself, why damn me if it isn’t Sergeant Aloysius Cutter! There can’t be another man alive who sounds so much like a bulldog that’s swallowed a cat and lived to tell about it.”

“Aloysius?” Dobson mouthed at William, but William merely grunted briefly in response, unable to shrug, as his father had now turned his attention in his direction.

“William,” he said, with a cordial nod. “How very punctual you are. My apologies for being so late; I was detained.” Before William could say anything or introduce the others, though, Lord John had embarked upon a lengthy reminiscence with Sergeant Cutter, reliving high old times on the Plains of Abraham with General Wolfe.

This allowed the three young officers to relax slightly, which, in Dobson’s case, meant a return to his earlier train of thought.

“You said that red-haired poppet’s a friend of your father’s?” he whispered to William. “Find out from him where she’s staying, eh?”

“Idiot,” hissed Osborn. “She isn’t even pretty! She’s long-nosed as—as—as Willie!”

“Didn’t see as high as her face,” Dobson said, smirking. “Her tits were right at eye-level, though, and those …”

“Ass!”

“Shh!” Osborn stamped on Dobson’s foot to shut him up as Lord John turned back to the young men.

“Will you introduce me to your friends, William?” Lord John inquired politely. Rather red in the face—he had reason to know that his father had acute hearing, despite his artillery experiences—William did so, and Osborn and Dobson both bowed, looking rather awed. They hadn’t realized who his father was, and William was at once proud that they were impressed, and mildly dismayed that they’d discovered Lord John’s identity—it would be all over the battalion before supper tomorrow. Not that Sir Peter didn’t know, of course, but—

He gathered his wits, realizing that his father was taking leave for them both, and returned Sergeant Cutter’s salute, hastily but in good form, before hurrying after his father, leaving Dobby and Osborn to their fate.

“I saw you speaking to Mr. and Mrs. MacKenzie,” Lord John said casually. “I trust they are well?” He glanced down the quay, but the MacKenzies had long since disappeared from view.

“Seemed so,” Willie said. He was not going to ask where they stayed, but the impression the young woman had made on him lingered. He couldn’t say if she was pretty or not; her eyes had struck him, though—a wonderful deep blue with long auburn lashes, and fixed on him with a flattering intensity that had warmed the cockles of his heart. Grotesquely tall, of course, but—what was he thinking? The woman was married—with children! And red-haired, to boot.

“You’ve—er—known them long?” he asked, thinking of the startlingly perverse political sentiments that evidently flourished in the family.

“Quite some time. She is the daughter of one of my oldest friends, Mr. James Fraser. Do you recall him, by chance?”

William frowned, not placing the name—his father had thousands of friends, how should he …

“Oh!” he said. “Not an English friend, you don’t mean. Was it not a Mr. Fraser that we visited in the mountains, that time when you fell sick of the—of the measle?” The bottom of his stomach dropped a little, remembering the sheer terror of that time. He had traveled through the mountains in a daze of misery; his mother had died only a month before. Then Lord John had caught the measle, and William had been sure that his father was about to die likewise, leaving him completely alone in the wilderness. There hadn’t been room for anything in his mind but fear and grief, and he retained only a jumble of confused impressions from the visit. He had some dim recollection that Mr. Fraser had taken him fishing and been kind to him.

“Yes,” his father said, with a sidelong smile. “I’m touched, Willie. I should have thought you might recall that visit more because of your own misadventure than mine.”

“Mis—” Memory rushed over him, succeeded by a flood of heat, hotter than the humid summer air. “Thanks very much! I’d managed to expunge that from my memory, until you mentioned it!”

His father was laughing, and making no attempt to hide it. In fact, he was convulsed.

“I’m sorry, Willie,” he said, gasping and wiping his eyes with a corner of his handkerchief. “I can’t help it; it was the most—the most—oh, God, I’ll never forget what you looked like when we pulled you out of that privy!”

“You know it was an accident,” William said stiffly. His cheeks burned with remembered mortification. At least Fraser’s daughter hadn’t been present to witness his humiliation at the time.

“Yes, of course. But—” His father pressed the handkerchief to his mouth, his shoulders shaking silently.

“Feel free to stop cackling at any point,” William said coldly. “Where the devil are we going, anyway?” They’d reached the end of the quay, and his father was leading them—still snorting like a grampus—into one of the quiet, tree-lined streets, away from the taverns and inns near the harbor.

“We’re dining with a Captain Richardson,” his father said, controlling himself with an obvious effort. He coughed, blew his nose, and put away the handkerchief. “At the house of a Mr. Bell.”

Mr. Bell’s house was whitewashed, neat, and prosperous, without being ostentatious. Captain Richardson gave much the same sort of impression: of middle age, well-groomed and well-tailored, but without any notable style, and with a face you couldn’t pick out of a crowd two minutes after seeing it.

The two Misses Bell made a much stronger impression, particularly the younger, Miriam, who had honey-colored curls peeping out of her cap, and big, round eyes that remained fixed on William throughout dinner. She was seated too far away for him to be able to converse with her directly, but he fancied that the language of the eyes was sufficient to indicate to her that the fascination was mutual, and if an opportunity for more personal communication should offer later … ? A smile, and a demure lowering of honey-colored lashes, followed by a quick glance toward a door that stood open to the side porch, for air. He smiled back.

“Do you think so, William?” his father said, loudly enough to indicate that it was the second time of asking.

“Oh, certainly. Um … think what?” he asked, since it was after all Papa, and not his commander. His father gave him the look that meant he would have rolled his eyes had they not been in public, but replied patiently.

“Mr. Bell was asking whether Sir Peter intends to remain long in Wilmington.” Mr. Bell, at the head of the table, bowed graciously—though William observed a certain narrowing of his eyes in Miriam’s direction. Perhaps he’d best come back to call tomorrow, he thought, when Mr. Bell might be at his place of business.

“Oh. I believe we’ll remain here for only a short time, sir,” he said respectfully to Mr. Bell. “I collect that the chief trouble is in the backcountry, and so we will no doubt move to suppress it without delay.”

Mr. Bell looked pleased, though from the corner of his eye, William saw Miriam pout prettily at the suggestion of his imminent departure.

“Good, good,” Bell said jovially. “No doubt hundreds of Loyalists will flock to join you along your march.”

“Doubtless so, sir,” William murmured, taking another spoonful of soup. He doubted that Mr. Bell would be among them. Not really the marching type, to look at. And not that the assistance of a lot of untrained provincials armed with shovels would be helpful in any case, but he could hardly say so.

William, trying to see Miriam without looking directly at her, instead intercepted the flicker of a glance that traveled between his father and Captain Richardson, and for the first time, began to wonder. His father had distinctly said they were dining with Captain Richardson—meaning that a meeting with the captain was the point of the evening. Why?

Then he caught a look from Miss Lillian Bell, who was seated across from him, next his father, and ceased thinking about Captain Richardson. Dark-eyed, taller and more slender than her sister—but really quite a handsome girl, now he noticed.

Still, when Mrs. Bell and her daughters rose and the men retired to the porch after dinner, William was not surprised to find himself at one end with Captain Richardson, while his father engaged Mr. Bell at the other in a spirited discussion of tar prices. Papa could talk to anyone about anything.

“I have a proposition to put before you, Lieutenant,” Richardson said, after the usual cordialities had been exchanged.

“Yes, sir,” William said respectfully. His curiosity had begun to rise. Richardson was a captain of light dragoons, but not presently with his regiment; that much he had revealed over dinner, saying casually that he was on detached duty. Detached to do what?

“I do not know how much your father has told you regarding my mission?”

“Nothing, sir.”

“Ah. I am charged with the gathering of intelligence in the Southern Department. Not that I am in command of such operations, you understand”—the captain smiled modestly—“but a small part of them.”

“I … appreciate the great value of such operations, sir,” William said, groping for diplomacy, “but I—for myself, that is to say—”

“You have no interest in spying. No, of course not.” It was dark on the porch, but the dryness of the captain’s tone was evident. “Few men who regard themselves as soldiers do.”

“I meant no offense, sir.”

“None taken. I am not, however, recruiting you as a spy—that is a delicate occupation, and one involving some danger—but rather as a messenger. Though should you find opportunity to act the intelligencer along your way … well, that would be an additional contribution, and much appreciated.”

William felt the blood rise in his face at the implication that he was capable neither of delicacy nor danger, but kept his temper, saying only, “Oh?”

The captain, it seemed, had gathered significant information regarding local conditions in the Carolinas, and now required to send this to the commander of the Northern Department—General Howe, presently in Halifax.

“I will of course be sending more than one messenger,” Richardson said. “It is naturally somewhat quicker by ship—but I desire to have at least one messenger travel overland, both for safety’s sake and for the sake of making observations en route. Your father speaks very highly of your abilities, Lieutenant”—did he detect a hint of amusement in that dry-as-sawdust voice?—“and I collect that you have traveled extensively in North Carolina and Virginia. That is a valuable attribute. You will appreciate that I do not wish my messenger to disappear into the Dismal Swamp, never to be seen again.”

“Ha-ha,” said William, politely, perceiving this to be meant as a jest. Clearly, Captain Richardson had never been near the Great Dismal; William had, though he didn’t think anyone in his right mind would go that way a-purpose, save to hunt.

He also had severe doubts regarding Richardson’s suggestion—though even as he told himself that he shouldn’t consider leaving his men, his regiment … he was already seeing a romantic vision of himself, alone in the vast wilderness, bearing important news through storm and danger.

More of a consideration, though, was what he might expect at the other end of the journey.

Richardson anticipated his question, answering before he could speak.

“Once in the north, you would—it being agreeable—join General Howe’s staff.”

Well, now, he thought. Here was the apple, and a juicy red one, too. He was aware that Richardson meant “it being agreeable” to General Howe, rather than to William—but he had some confidence in his own capabilities, and rather thought he might prove himself useful.

He had been in North Carolina only a few days, but that was quite long enough for him to have made an accurate assessment of the relative chances for advancement between the Northern Department and the Southern. The entire Continental army was with Washington in the north; the southern rebellion appeared to consist of troublesome pockets of backwoodsmen and impromptu militia—hardly a threat. And as for the relative status of Sir Peter and General Howe as commanders …

“I would like to think on your offer, if I might, Captain,” he said, hoping eagerness didn’t show in his voice. “May I give my answer tomorrow?”

“Certainly. I imagine you will wish to discuss the prospects with your father—you may do so.”

The captain then deliberately changed the subject, and within a few moments, Lord John and Mr. Bell had joined them, the conversation becoming general.

William paid little heed to what was said, his own attention distracted by the sight of two slender white figures that hovered ghostlike among the bushes at the outer edge of the yard. Two capped white heads drew together, then apart. Now and then, one turned briefly toward the porch in what looked like speculation.

“ ‘And for his vesture, they cast lots,’ ” his father murmured, shaking his head.

“Eh?”

“Never mind.” His father smiled, and turned toward Captain Richardson, who had just said something about the weather.

Fireflies lit the yard, drifting like green sparks among the damp, lush growth of plants. It was good to see fireflies again; he had missed them, in England—and that peculiar softness of the southern air that molded his linen to his body and made the blood throb in his fingertips. Crickets were chirping all around them, and for an instant, their song seemed to drown out everything save the sound of his pulse.

“Coffee’s ready, gen’mun.” The soft voice of the Bells’ slave cut through the small ferment of his blood, though, and he went in with the other men, with no more than a glance toward the yard. The white figures had disappeared, but a sense of promise lingered in the soft, warm air.

An hour later, he found himself walking back toward his billet, thoughts in a pleasant muddle, his father strolling silent by his side.

Miss Lillian Bell had granted him a kiss among the fireflies at the end of the evening, chaste and fleeting, but upon the lips, and the thick summer air seemed to taste of coffee and ripe strawberries, despite the pervasive dank smell of the harbor.

“Captain Richardson told me of the proposal he made to you,” Lord John said casually. “Are you inclined?”

“Don’t know,” William replied, with equal casualness. “I should miss my men, of course, but …” Mrs. Bell had pressed him to come to tea, later in the week.

“Little permanence in a military life,” his father said, with a brief shake of the head. “I did warn you.”

William gave a brief grunt of assent, not really listening.

“A good opportunity for advancement,” his father was saying, adding offhandedly, “though of course there is some danger to the proposition.”

“What?” William scoffed, hearing this. “Riding from Wilmington to take ship at New York? There’s a road, nearly all the way!”

“And quite a number of Continentals on it,” Lord John pointed out. “General Washington’s entire army lies this side of Philadelphia, if the news I hear be correct.”

William shrugged.

“Richardson said he wanted me because I knew the country. I can make my way well enough without roads.”

“Are you sure? You have not been in Virginia for nearly four years.”

The dubious tone of this annoyed William.

“Do you think me incapable of finding my way?”

“No, not at all,” his father said, still with that note of doubt in his voice. “But there is no little risk to this proposition; I should not like to see you undertake it without due thought.”

“Well, I have thought,” said William, stung. “I’ll do it.”

Lord John walked in silence for a few steps, then nodded, reluctantly.

“It’s your decision, Willie,” he said softly. “I should be personally obliged if you would take care, though.”

William’s annoyance melted at once.

“Course I will,” he said gruffly. They walked on beneath the dark canopy of maple and hickory, not talking, close enough that their shoulders brushed now and then.

At the inn, William bade Lord John good night, but didn’t return at once to his own lodgings. Instead, he wandered out along the quay, restless, unready for sleep.

The tide had turned and was well out, he saw; the smell of dead fish and decaying seaweed was stronger, though a smooth sheet of water still covered the mudflats, quiet in the light of a quarter-moon.

It took a moment to locate the stake. For an instant, he thought it had gone, but no—there it was, a thin dark line against the glimmer of the water. Empty.

The stake no longer stood upright, but leaned sharply, as though about to fall, and a thin loop of rope trailed from it, floating like a hangman’s noose on the waning tide. William was conscious of some visceral uneasiness; the tide alone would not have taken the whole body. Some said there were crocodiles or alligators here, though he had not yet seen one himself. He glanced down involuntarily, as though one of these reptiles might suddenly lunge from the water at his feet. The air was still warm, but a small shiver went through him.

He shook this off, and turned away toward his lodgings. There would be a day or two before he must go, he thought, and wondered whether he might see the blue-eyed Mrs. MacKenzie again before he left.

LORD JOHN LINGERED for a moment on the porch of the inn, watching his son vanish into the shadows under the trees. He had some qualms; the matter had been arranged with more haste than he would have liked—but he did have confidence in William’s abilities. And while the arrangement clearly had its risks, that was the nature of a soldier’s life. Some situations were riskier than others, though.

He hesitated, hearing the buzz of talk from the taproom inside, but he had had enough of company for the night, and the thought of tossing to and fro under the low ceiling of his room, stifling in the day’s trapped heat, determined him to walk about until bodily exhaustion should ensure sleep.

It wasn’t just the heat, he reflected, stepping off the porch and setting off in the opposite direction to the one Willie had taken. He knew himself well enough to realize that even the apparent success of his plan would not prevent his lying awake, worrying at it like a dog with a bone, testing for weaknesses, seeking for ways of improvement. After all, William would not depart immediately; there was a little time to consider, to make alterations, should that be necessary.

General Howe, for instance. Had that been the best choice? Perhaps Clinton … but no. Henry Clinton was a fussy old woman, unwilling to stir a foot without orders in triplicate.

The Howe brothers—one a general, one an admiral—were famously uncouth, both having the manners, aspect, and general aroma of boars in rut. Neither of them was stupid, though—God knew they weren’t timid—and Grey thought Willie fully capable of surviving rough manners and harsh words. And a commander given to spitting on the floor—Richard Howe had once spat on Grey himself, though this was largely accidental, the wind having changed unexpectedly—was possibly easier for a young subaltern to deal with than the quirks of some other military gentlemen of Grey’s acquaintance.

Though even the most peculiar of the brotherhood of the blade was preferable to the diplomats. He wondered idly what the term of venery might be for a collection of diplomats. If writers formed the brotherhood of the quill, and a group of foxes be termed a skulk … a stab of diplomats, perhaps? Brothers of the stiletto? No, he decided. Much too direct. An opiate of diplomats, more like. Brotherhood of the boring. Though the ones who were not boring could be dangerous, on occasion.

Sir George Germain was one of the rarer sorts: boring and dangerous.

He walked up and down the streets of the town for some time, in hopes of exhausting himself before going back to his small, stuffy room. The sky was low and sullen, with heat lightning flickering among the clouds, and the atmosphere was damp as a bath sponge. He should have been in Albany by now—no less humid and bug-ridden, but somewhat cooler, and near the sweet dark forests of the Adirondacks.

Still, he didn’t regret his hasty journey to Wilmington. Willie was sorted; that was the important thing. And Willie’s sister, Brianna—he stopped dead for a moment, eyes closed, reliving the moment of transcendence and heartbreak he had experienced that afternoon, seeing the two of them together for what would be their only meeting, ever. He’d scarcely been able to breathe, his eyes fixed on the two tall figures, those handsome, bold faces, so alike—and both so like the man who had stood beside him, unmoving, but by contrast with Grey, taking in great tearing gulps of air, as though he feared he might never breathe again.

Grey rubbed idly at his left ring finger, not yet accustomed to finding it bare. He and Jamie Fraser had done the best they could to safeguard those they loved, and despite his melancholy, he was comforted at the thought that they were united in that kinship of responsibility.

Would he ever meet Brianna Fraser MacKenzie again? he wondered. She had said not—and seemed as saddened by that fact as he was.

“God bless you, child,” he murmured, shaking his head as he turned back toward the harbor. He would miss her very much—but as with Willie, his relief that she would soon be out of Wilmington and out of danger overwhelmed his personal sense of loss.

He glanced involuntarily at the water as he came out onto the quay, and drew a deep sigh of relief at seeing the empty stake, aslant in the tide. He hadn’t understood her reasons for doing what she’d done, but he’d known her father—and her brother, for that matter—far too long to mistake the stubborn conviction he’d seen in those catlike blue eyes. So he’d got her the small boat she’d asked for, and stood on the quay with his heart in his throat, ready to create a distraction if needed, as her husband had rowed her out toward the bound pirate.

He’d seen men die in great numbers, usually unwillingly, occasionally with resignation. He’d never seen one go with such passionate gratitude in his eyes. Grey had no more than a passing acquaintance with Roger MacKenzie, but suspected him to be a remarkable man, having not only survived marriage to that fabulous and dangerous creature but actually having sired children upon her.

He shook his head and turned, heading back toward the inn. He could safely wait another two weeks, he thought, before replying to Germain’s letter—which he had deftly magicked out of the diplomatic pouch when he’d seen William’s name upon it—at which time he could truthfully say that, alas, by the time the letter had been received, Lord Ellesmere was somewhere in the wilderness between North Carolina and New York, and thus could not be informed that he was recalled to England, though he (Grey) was positive that Ellesmere would greatly regret the loss of his opportunity to join Sir George’s staff, when he learned of it—several months hence. Too bad.

He began to whistle “Lillibulero,” and strode back to the inn in good spirits.

He paused in the taproom, and asked for a bottle of wine to be sent up—only to be informed by the barmaid that “the gentleman” had already taken a bottle upstairs with him.

“And two glasses,” she added, dimpling at him. “So I don’t s’pose he meant to drink it all himself.”

Grey felt something like a centipede skitter up his spine.

“I beg your pardon,” he said. “Did you say that there is a gentleman in my room?”

“Yes, sir,” she assured him. “He said as he’s an old friend of yours…. Now, he did tell me his name …” Her brow furrowed for an instant, then cleared. “Bow-shaw, he said, or summat of the kind. Frenchy kind of name,” she clarified. “And a Frenchy kind of gentleman, too. Will you be wanting food at all, sir?”

“No, I thank you.” He waved her off, and went up the stairs, thinking rapidly whether he had left anything in his room that he shouldn’t have.

A Frenchman, named Bow-shaw … Beauchamp. The name flashed in his mind like the flicker of heat lightning. He stopped dead for an instant in the middle of the staircase, then resumed his climb, more slowly.

Surely not … but who else might it be? When he had ceased active service, some years before, he had begun diplomatic life as a member of England’s Black Chamber, that shadowy organization of persons charged with the interception and decoding of official diplomatic mail—and much less official messages—that flowed between the governments of Europe. Every one of those governments possessed its own Black Chamber, and it was not unusual for the inhabitants of one such chamber to be aware of their opposite numbers—never met, but known by their signatures, their initials, their unsigned marginal notes.

Beauchamp had been one of the most active French agents; Grey had run across his trail several times in the intervening years, even though his own days in the Black Chamber were well behind him. If he knew Beauchamp by name, it was entirely reasonable that the man knew him as well—but their invisible association had been years ago. They had never met in person, and for such a meeting to occur here … He touched the secret pocket in his coat, and was reassured by the muffled crackle of paper.

He hesitated at the top of the stair, but there was no point in furtiveness; clearly, he was expected. With a firm step, he walked down the hall and turned the white china knob of his door, the porcelain smooth and cool beneath his fingers.

A wave of heat engulfed him and he gasped for air, involuntarily. Just as well, as it prevented his uttering the blasphemy that had sprung to his lips.

The gentleman occupying the room’s only chair was indeed “Frenchy”—his very well-cut suit set off by cascades of snowy lace at throat and cuff, his shoes buckled with a silver that matched the hair at his temples.

“Mr. Beauchamp,” Grey said, and slowly closed the door behind him. His damp linen clung to him, and he could feel his pulse thumping in his own temples. “I fear you take me at something of a disadvantage.”

Perseverance Wainwright smiled, very slightly.

“I’m glad to see you, John,” he said.

GREY BIT HIS TONGUE to forestall anything injudicious—which description covered just about anything he might say, he thought, with the exception of “Good evening.”

“Good evening,” he said. He lifted an eyebrow in question. “Monsieur Beauchamp?”

“Oh, yes.” Percy got his feet under him, making to rise, but Grey waved him back and turned to fetch a stool, hoping the seconds gained by the movement would allow him to regain his composure. Finding that they didn’t, he took another moment to open the window, and stood for a couple of lungfuls of the thick, dank air, before turning back and taking his own seat.

“How did that happen?” he asked, affecting casualness. “Beauchamp, I mean. Or is it merely a nom de guerre?”

“Oh, no.” Percy took up his lace-trimmed handkerchief and dabbed sweat delicately from his hairline—which was beginning to recede, Grey noted. “I married one of the sisters of the Baron Amandine. The family name is Beauchamp; I adopted it. The relationship provided a certain entrée to political circles, from which …” He shrugged charmingly and made a graceful gesture that encompassed his career in the Black Chamber—and doubtless elsewhere, Grey thought grimly.

“My congratulations on your marriage,” Grey said, not bothering to keep the irony out of his voice. “Which one are you sleeping with, the baron or his sister?”

Percy looked amused.

“Both, on occasion.”

“Together?”

The smile widened. His teeth were still good, Grey saw, though somewhat stained by wine.

“Occasionally. Though Cecile—my wife—really prefers the attentions of her cousin Lucianne, and I myself prefer the attentions of the sub-gardener. Lovely man named Emile; he reminds me of you … in your younger years. Slender, blond, muscular, and brutal.”

To his dismay, Grey found that he wanted to laugh.

“It sounds extremely French,” he said dryly, instead. “I’m sure it suits you. What do you want?”

“More a matter of what you want, I think.” Percy had not yet drunk any of the wine; he took up the bottle and poured carefully, red liquid purling dark against the glasses. “Or perhaps I should say—what England wants.” He held out a glass to Grey, smiling. “For one can hardly separate your interests from those of your country, can one? In fact, I confess that you have always seemed to me to be England, John.”

Grey wished to forbid him the use of his Christian name, but to do so would merely emphasize the memory of their intimacy—which was, of course, what Percy intended. He chose to ignore it, and took a sip of his wine, which was good. He wondered whether he was paying for it—and if so, how.

“What England wants,” he repeated, skeptical. “And what is your impression of what England wants?”

Percy took a swallow of the wine and held it in his mouth, evidently savoring it, before finally swallowing.

“Hardly a secret, my dear, is it?”

Grey sighed, and stared pointedly at him.

“You’ve seen this ‘Declaration of Independency’ issued by the so-called Continental Congress?” Percy asked. He turned and, reaching into a leather bag he had slung over the back of the chair, withdrew a folded sheaf of papers, which he handed to Grey.

Grey had not in fact seen the document in question, though he’d certainly heard about it. It had been printed only two weeks previous, in Philadelphia, yet copies had spread like wind-borne weeds through the Colonies. Raising a brow at Percy, he unfolded the paper and skimmed it rapidly.

“The King is a tyrant?” he said, half-laughing at the outrageousness of some of the document’s more extreme sentiments. He folded the sheets back together and tossed them on the table.

“And if I am England, I suppose you are the embodiment of France, for the purposes of this conversation?”

“I represent certain interests there,” Percy replied blandly. “And in Canada.”

That rang small alarm bells. Grey had fought in Canada with Wolfe, and was well aware that while the French had lost much of their North American holdings in that war, they remained ferociously entrenched in the northern regions, from the Ohio Valley to Quebec. Close enough to cause trouble now? He thought not—but wouldn’t put anything past the French. Or Percy.

“England wants a quick end to this nonsense, plainly.” A long, knob-jointed hand waved toward the paper. “The Continental army—so-called—is a flimsy association of men with no experience and conflicting notions. What if I were prepared to provide you with information that might be used to … separate one of Washington’s chief officers from his allegiance?”

“What if you were?” Grey replied, making no effort to conceal the skepticism in his voice. “How would this benefit France—or your own interests, which I take leave to think are possibly not entirely identical?”

“I see that time has not softened your natural cynicism, John. One of your less attractive traits—I don’t know whether I ever mentioned that to you.”

Grey widened his stare slightly, and Percy sighed.

“Land, then,” he said. “The Northwest Territory. We want it back.”

Grey uttered a short laugh.

“I daresay you do.” The territory in question, a large tract northwest of the Ohio River Valley, had been ceded to Great Britain from France at the end of the French and Indian War. Britain had not occupied the territory, though, and had prevented the colonists’ expansion into it, owing to armed resistance from the natives and the ongoing negotiation of treaties with them. The colonists weren’t pleased about it, he understood. Grey had encountered some of said natives himself, and was inclined to think the British government’s position both reasonable and honorable.

“French traders had extensive ties with the aboriginals in that area; you have none.”

“The fur-trading merchants being some of the … interests … you represent?”

Percy smiled openly at that.

“Not the major interests. But some.”

Grey didn’t bother asking why Percy was approaching him—an ostensibly retired diplomat of no particular influence—in the matter. Percy knew the power of Grey’s family and connections from the days of their personal association—and “Monsieur Beauchamp” knew a great deal more about his present personal connections from the nexus of information that fed the Black Chambers of Europe. Grey could not act in the matter, of course. But he was well placed to bring the offer quietly to the attention of those who could.

He felt as though every hair on his body was standing on end like an insect’s antennae, alert for danger.

“We would require something more than the suggestion, of course,” he said, very cool. “The name of the officer in question, for example.”

“Not mine to share, at the moment. But once a negotiation in good faith is opened …”

Grey was already wondering to whom he should take this offer. Not Sir George Germain. Lord North’s office? That could wait, though.

“And your personal interests?” he asked, with an edge. He knew Percy Wainwright well enough to know that there would be some aspect of the affair to Percy’s personal benefit.

“Ah, that.” Percy sipped at his wine, then lowered the glass and gazed limpidly at Grey across it. “Very simple, really. I am commissioned to find a man. Do you know a Scottish gentleman named James Fraser?”

Grey felt the stem of his glass crack. He went on holding it, though, and sipped the wine carefully, thanking God, firstly, that he had never told Percy Jamie Fraser’s name and, secondly, that Fraser had left Wilmington that afternoon.

“No,” he said calmly. “What do you want with this Mr. Fraser?”

Percy shrugged, and smiled.

“Only a question or two.”

Grey could feel blood seeping from his lacerated palm. Holding the cracked glass carefully together, he drank the rest of his wine. Percy was quiet, drinking with him.

“My condolences upon the loss of your wife,” Percy said quietly. “I know that she—”

“You know nothing,” Grey said roughly. He leaned over and set the broken glass on the table; the bowl rolled crazily, the lees of wine washing the glass. “Not one thing. About my wife, or about me.”

Percy lifted his shoulders in the faintest of Gallic shrugs. As you like, it said. And yet his eyes—they were still beautiful, damn him, dark and soft—rested on Grey with what seemed a genuine sympathy.

Grey sighed. Doubtless it was genuine. Percy could not be trusted—not ever—but what he’d done had been done from weakness, not from malice, or even lack of feeling.

“What do you want?” he repeated.

“Your son—” Percy began, and Grey turned suddenly on him. He gripped Percy’s shoulder, hard enough that the man gave a little gasp and stiffened. Grey leaned down, looking into Wainwright’s—sorry, Beauchamp’s—face, so close that he felt the warmth of the man’s breath on his cheek and smelled his cologne. He was getting blood on Wainwright’s coat.

“The last time I saw you,” Grey said, very quietly, “I came within an inch of putting a bullet through your head. Don’t give me cause to regret my restraint.”

He let go and stood up.

“Stay away from my son—stay away from me. And if you will take a well-meant bit of advice—go back to France. Quickly.”

Turning on his heel, he went out, shutting the door firmly behind him. He was halfway down the street before he realized that he had left Percy in his own room.

“The devil with it,” he muttered, and stamped off to beg a billet for the night from Sergeant Cutter. In the morning, he would make sure that the Fraser family and William were all safely out of Wilmington.

AND SOMETIMES THEY AREN’T

Lallybroch

Inverness-shire, Scotland

September 1980

WE ARE ALIVE,” Brianna MacKenzie repeated, her voice tremulous. She looked up at Roger, the paper pressed to her chest with both hands. Her face streamed with tears, but a glorious light glowed in her blue eyes. “Alive!”

“Let me see.” His heart was hammering so hard in his chest that he could barely hear his own words. He reached out a hand, and reluctantly she surrendered the paper to him, coming at once to press herself against him, clinging to his arm as he read, unable to take her eyes off the bit of ancient paper.

It was pleasantly rough under his fingers, handmade paper with the ghosts of leaves and flowers pressed into its fibers. Yellowed with age, but still tough and surprisingly flexible. Bree had made it herself—more than two hundred years before.

Roger became aware that his hands were trembling, the paper shaking so that the sprawling, difficult hand was hard to read, faded as the ink was.December 31, 1776My dear daughter,

As you will see if ever you receive this, we are alive …

His own eyes blurred, and he wiped the back of his hand across them, even as he told himself that it didn’t matter, for they were surely dead now, Jamie Fraser and his wife, Claire—but he felt such joy at those words on the page that it was as though the two of them stood smiling before him.

It was the two of them, too, he discovered. While the letter began in Jamie’s hand—and voice—the second page took up in Claire’s crisply slanted writing.Your father’s hand won’t stand much more. And it’s a bloody long story. He’s been chopping wood all day, and can barely uncurl his fingers—but he insisted on telling you himself that we haven’t—yet—been burnt to ashes. Not but what we may be at any moment; there are fourteen people crammed into the old cabin, and I’m writing this more or less sitting in the hearth, with old Grannie MacLeod wheezing away on her pallet by my feet so that if she suddenly begins to die, I can pour more whisky down her throat.

“My God, I can hear her,” he said, amazed.

“So can I.” Tears were still coursing down Bree’s face, but it was a sun-shower; she wiped at them, laughing and sniffing. “Read more. Why are they in our cabin? What’s happened to the Big House?”

Roger ran his finger down the page to find his place and resumed reading.

“Oh, Jesus!” he said.You recall that idiot, Donner?

Gooseflesh ran up his arms at the name. A time-traveler, Donner. And one of the most feckless individuals he’d ever met or heard of—but nonetheless dangerous for that.Well, he surpassed himself by getting together a gang of thugs from Brownsville to come and steal the treasure in gems he’d convinced them we had. Only we hadn’t, of course.

They hadn’t—because he, Brianna, Jemmy, and Amanda had taken the small hoard of remaining gemstones to safeguard their flight through the stones.They held us hostage and rubbished the house, damn them—breaking, amongst other things, the carboy of ether in my surgery. The fumes nearly gassed all of us on the spot …

He read rapidly through the rest of the letter, Brianna peering over his shoulder and making small squeaks of alarm and dismay. Finished, he laid the pages down and turned to her, his insides quivering.

“So you did it,” he said, aware that he shouldn’t say it, but unable not to, unable not to snort with laughter. “You and your bloody matches—you burned the house down!”

Her face was a study, features shifting between horror, indignation—and, yes, a hysterical hilarity that matched his own.

“Oh, it was not! It was Mama’s ether. Any kind of spark could have set off the explosion—”

“But it wasn’t any kind of spark,” Roger pointed out. “Your cousin Ian lit one of your matches.”

“Well, so it was Ian’s fault, then!”

“No, it was you and your mother. Scientific women,” Roger said, shaking his head. “The eighteenth century is lucky to have survived you.”

She huffed a little.

“Well, the whole thing would never have happened if it weren’t for that bozo Donner!”

“True,” Roger conceded. “But he was a troublemaker from the future, too, wasn’t he? Though admittedly neither a woman nor very scientific.”

“Hmph.” She took the letter, handling it gently, but unable to forbear rubbing the pages between her fingers. “Well, he didn’t survive the eighteenth century, did he?” Her eyes were downcast, their lids still reddened.

“You aren’t feeling sorry for him, are you?” Roger demanded, incredulous.

She shook her head, but her fingers still moved lightly over the thick, soft page.

“Not … him, so much. It’s just—the idea of anybody dying like that. Alone, I mean. So far from home.”

No, it wasn’t Donner she was thinking of. He put an arm round her and laid his head against her own. She smelled of Prell shampoo and fresh cabbages; she’d been in the kailyard. The words on the page faded and strengthened with the dip of the pen that had written them, but nonetheless were sharp and clear—a surgeon’s writing.

“She isn’t alone,” he whispered, and putting out a finger, traced the postscript, again in Jamie’s sprawling hand. “Neither of them is. And whether they’ve a roof above their heads or not—both of them are home.”

I PUT BY THE LETTER. Time enough to finish it later, I thought. I’d been working on it as time allowed over the last few days; not as though there was any rush to catch the outgoing mail, after all. I smiled a little at that, and folded the sheets carefully, putting them in my new workbag for safekeeping. I wiped the quill and put it aside, then rubbed my aching fingers, savoring for a little longer the sweet sense of connection the writing gave me. I could write much more easily than Jamie could, but flesh and blood had its limits, and it had been a very long day.

I looked over at the pallet on the far side of the fire, as I had been doing every few minutes, but she was still quiet. I could hear her breath, a wheezing gurgle that came at intervals so long that I could swear she had died between each one. She hadn’t, though, and from my estimation wouldn’t for a while. I was hoping that she would, before my limited supply of laudanum gave out.

I didn’t know how old she was; she looked a hundred or so, but might be younger than I. Her two grandsons, boys in their teens, had brought her in two days before. They had been traveling down from the mountains, meaning to take their grandmother to relatives in Cross Creek before heading to Wilmington to join the militia there, but the grandmother had “been took bad,” as they put it, and someone had told them there was a conjure-woman on the Ridge nearby. So they had brought her to me.

Grannie MacLeod—I had no other name for her; the boys had not thought to tell me before departing, and she was in no condition to do so herself—almost certainly was in the terminal stages of a cancer of some kind. Her flesh had wasted, her face pinched with pain even while unconscious, and I could see it in the grayness of her skin.

The fire was burning low; I should stir it, and add another stick of pine. Jamie’s head was resting against my knee, though. Could I reach the woodpile without disturbing him? I put a light hand on his shoulder for balance and stretched, just getting my fingers on the end of a small log. I wiggled this gently free, teeth set in my lower lip, and managed by leaning to poke it into the hearth, breaking up the drifts of red-black embers and raising clouds of sparks.

Jamie stirred under my hand and murmured something unintelligible, but when I thrust the log into the freshened fire and sat back in my chair, he sighed, resettled himself, and fell back into sleep.

I glanced at the door, listening, but heard nothing save the rustle of trees in the wind. Of course, I thought, I would hear nothing, given that it was Young Ian I was waiting for.

He and Jamie had been taking it in turns to watch, hiding in the trees above the burnt ruins of the Big House. Ian had been out for more than two hours; it was nearly time for him to come in for food and a turn at the fire.

“Someone’s been trying to kill the white sow,” he’d announced at breakfast three days ago, looking bemused.

“What?” I handed him a bowl of porridge, garnished with a lump of melting butter and a drizzle of honey—luckily my kegs of honey and boxes of honeycomb had been in the springhouse when the fire happened. “Are you sure?”

He nodded, taking the bowl and inhaling its steam in beatific fashion.

“Aye, she’s got a slash in her flank. Not deep, and it’s healing, Auntie,” he added, with a nod in my direction, evidently feeling that I would regard the sow’s medical well-being with the same interest as that of any other resident of the Ridge.

“Oh? Good,” I said—though there was precious little I could have done if she weren’t healing. I could—and did—doctor horses, cows, goats, stoats, and even the occasional non-laying chicken, but that particular pig was on her own.

Amy Higgins crossed herself at mention of the sow.

“Likely ’twas a bear,” she said. “Nothing else would dare. Aidan, mind what Mr. Ian says, here! Dinna be wandering far from the place, and mind your brother outside.”

“Bears sleep in winter, Mam,” Aidan said absently. His attention was fixed on a new top that Bobby, his new stepfather, had carved for him, and which he hadn’t yet got to spin properly. Giving it a cross-eyed glare, he set it gingerly on the table, held the string for a breathless moment, and yanked. The top shot across the table, ricocheted off the honey jar with a sharp crack!, and headed for the milk at a high rate of speed.

Ian reached out and snatched the top in the nick of time. Chewing toast, he motioned to Aidan for the string, rewound it, and with a practiced flick of the wrist, sent the top whizzing straight down the center of the table. Aidan watched it, openmouthed, then dived under the table as the top fell off the end.

“No, it wasna an animal,” Ian said, finally succeeding in swallowing. “It was a clean slash. Someone went for her wi’ a knife or a sword.”

Jamie looked up from the burnt piece of toast he had been examining.

“Did ye find his body?”

Ian grinned briefly, but shook his head.

“Nay, if she killed him, she ate him—and I didna find any leavings.”

“Pigs are messy eaters,” Jamie observed. He essayed a cautious bite of the burnt toast, grimaced, and ate it anyway.

“An Indian, d’ye think?” Bobby asked. Little Orrie was struggling to get down from Bobby’s lap; his new stepfather obligingly set him down in his favorite spot under the table.

Jamie and Ian exchanged glances, and I felt a slight stirring of the hair at the back of my neck.

“No,” Ian answered. “The Cherokee near here all ken her weel, and wouldna touch her with a ten-foot pole. They think she’s a demon, aye?”

“And traveling Indians from the north would have arrows or tomahawks,” Jamie finished.

“Ye’re sure it wasna a panther?” Amy asked, dubious. “They hunt in the winter, no?”

“They do,” Jamie assured her. “I saw pug-marks up by the Green Spring yesterday. D’ye hear me there?” he said, bending to speak to the boys under the table. “Go canny, aye?

“But no,” he added, straightening up. “Ian kens the difference between claw marks and a knife slash, I think.” He gave Ian a grin. Ian politely refrained from rolling his eyes, and merely nodded, eyes fixed dubiously on the toast basket.

No one suggested that any resident of the Ridge or from Brownsville might have been hunting the white sow. The local Presbyterians would not have seen eye-to-eye with the Cherokee on any other spiritual matter you might name, but they were in decided agreement on the sow’s demonic character.

Personally, I wasn’t sure they weren’t right. The thing had survived even the burning of the Big House unscathed, emerging from her den beneath its foundations amid a shower of burnt wood, followed by her latest litter of half-grown piglets.

“Moby Dick!” I now said aloud, inspired.

Rollo raised his head with a startled “Wuff?,” gave me a yellow-eyed look and laid it down again, sighing.

“Dick who?” said Jamie, drowsy. He sat up, stretching and groaning, then rubbed a hand over his face and blinked at me.

“I just thought what it is that sow reminds me of,” I explained. “Long story. About a whale. I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

“If I live that long,” he said, with a yawn that nearly dislocated his jaw. “Where’s the whisky—or d’ye need it for yon poor woman?” He nodded at Grannie MacLeod’s blanket-wrapped form.

“Not yet. Here.” I bent and rummaged in the basket beneath my chair, coming up with a corked bottle.

He pulled the cork and drank, the color gradually coming back to his face. Between spending his days hunting or chopping wood and half the nights lurking in a freezing forest, even Jamie’s great vitality was showing signs of flagging.

“How long will you keep this up?” I asked, low-voiced so as not to rouse the Higginses—Bobby, Amy, the two little boys, and Amy’s two sisters-in-law from her first marriage, who had come for the wedding held a few days before, accompanied by a total of five children under the age of ten—all asleep in the small bedroom. The departure of the MacLeod boys had eased the congestion in the cabin slightly, but with Jamie, me, Ian, Ian’s dog, Rollo, and the old woman sleeping on the floor of the main room, and such possessions as we had managed to salvage from the fire stacked round the walls, I sometimes felt a distinct surge of claustrophobia. Little wonder if Jamie and Ian were patrolling the woods, as much to get a breath of air as from a conviction that there was something out there.

“No much longer,” he assured me, shuddering slightly as a large swallow of whisky went down. “If we dinna see anything tonight, we’ll—” He broke off, his head turning abruptly toward the door.

I hadn’t heard anything, but saw the latch move, and an instant later, a freezing gust of air rolled into the room, poking frigid fingers under my skirts and stirring up a shower of sparks from the fire.

I hastily seized a rag and beat these out before they could set Grannie MacLeod’s hair or bedding on fire. By the time I had the fire back under control, Jamie was putting pistol, shot bag, and powder horn on his belt, talking low-voiced with Ian by the door. Ian himself was red-cheeked with cold and clearly excited about something. Rollo was up, too, nosing at Ian’s legs, tail wagging in anticipation of an icy adventure.

“Best ye stay, a cù,” Ian told him, rubbing his ears with cold fingers. “Sheas.”

Rollo made a disgruntled noise in his throat and tried to push past Ian, but was deftly blocked by a leg. Jamie turned, shrugging on his coat, bent, and kissed me hastily.

“Bolt the door, a nighean,” he whispered. “Dinna open to anyone save me or Ian.”

“What—” I began, but they were gone.

THE NIGHT WAS COLD and pure. Jamie breathed deep and shivered, letting the cold enter him, strip away the warmth of wife, the smoke and smell of his hearth. Ice crystals shimmered in his lungs, sharp in his blood. He turned his head to and fro like a wolf scenting, breathing the night. There was little wind, but the air moved from the east, bringing the bitter smell of ashes from the ruins of the Big House … and a faint tang he thought was blood.

He looked to his nephew, question in the cock of his head, and saw Ian nod, dark against the lavender glow of the sky.

“There’s a dead pig, just beyond Auntie’s garden,” the lad said, low-voiced.

“Oh, aye? Not the white sow, ye don’t mean?” His heart misgave him for an instant at the thought, and he wondered whether he’d mourn the thing or dance on its bones. But no. Ian shook his head, the movement felt rather than seen.

“Nay, not that wily beast. A young one, maybe last year’s farrowing. Someone’s butchered it, but taken nay more than a collop or two from the haunch. And a good bit of what they did take, they scattered in chunks down the trail.”

Jamie glanced round, surprised.

“What?”

Ian shrugged.

“Aye. One more thing, Uncle. ’Twas killed and butchered with an ax.”

The ice crystals in his blood solidified with a suddenness that nearly stopped his heart.

“Jesus,” he said, but it was not so much shock as it was unwilling admission of something he had known for a long time. “It’s him, then.”

“Aye.” Both of them had known it, though neither one had been willing to speak of it. Without consultation, they moved away from the cabin, into the trees.

“Aye, well.” Jamie took a long, deep breath and sighed, the mist of it white in the darkness. He’d hoped the man had taken his gold and his wife and left the Ridge—but it had never been more than a hope. Arch Bug was a Grant by blood, and clan Grant were a vengeful lot.

The Frasers of Glenhelm had caught Arch Bug on their lands some fifty years before, and given him the choice: lose an eye or the first two fingers of his right hand. The man had come to terms with his crippled hand, turning from the bow he could no longer draw to the use of an ax, which he wielded and threw with a skill equal to any Mohawk’s, despite his age.

What he had not come to terms with was the loss of the Stuart cause and the loss of the Jacobite gold, sent too late from France, rescued—or stolen, depending on your view of things—by Hector Cameron, who had brought one third of it to North Carolina, this share then stolen—or retrieved—from Cameron’s widow in turn by Arch Bug.

Nor had Arch Bug come to terms with Jamie Fraser.

“Is it threat, d’ye think?” Ian asked. They had moved away from the cabin, but kept to the trees, circling the large clearing where the Big House had been. The chimney and half a wall still stood, charred and bleak against the dirty snow.

“I canna think so. If it was threat he meant, why wait until now?” Still, he gave silent thanks that his daughter and her weans were safely gone. There were worse threats than a dead pig, and he thought Arch Bug would not hesitate to make them.

“Perhaps he left,” Ian suggested. “To see his wife settled, and he’s only now come back.”

It was a reasonable thought—if there was one thing in the world Arch Bug loved, it was his wife, Murdina, his helpmate of more than fifty years.

“Perhaps,” Jamie said. And yet … And yet he’d felt eyes on his back more than once in the weeks since the Bugs had left. Felt silence in the forest that was not the silence of the trees and rocks.

He didn’t ask whether Ian had looked for the ax-wielder’s track; if one could be found, Ian would have found it. But it hadn’t snowed in more than a week, and what was left on the ground was patchy and trodden by the feet of innumerable people. He looked up at the sky; snow again, and soon.

He made his way up a small outcrop, careful among the ice; the snow was melting in the day, but the water froze again at night, hanging from the cabin’s eaves and from every branch in glittering icicles that filled the forest with the light of blue dawn, then dripped gold and diamonds in the rising sun. Now they were colorless, tinkling like glass as his sleeve brushed the twigs of an ice-covered bush. He stopped, crouching at the top of the outcrop, looking down across the clearing.

All right. The certainty that Arch Bug was here had set off a chain of half-conscious deductions, the conclusion of which now floated to the top of his mind.

“He’d come again for one of two reasons,” he said to Ian. “To do me harm—or to get the gold. All of it.”

He’d given Bug a chunk of gold when he’d sent the man and his wife away, upon the discovery of the Bugs’ treachery. Half a French ingot, it would have allowed an elderly couple to live the rest of their lives in modest comfort. But Arch Bug was not a modest man. He’d once been tacksman to the Grant of Grant, and while he’d hidden his pride for a time, it was not the nature of pride to stay buried.

Ian glanced at him, interested.

“All of it,” he repeated. “So ye think he hid it here—but somewhere he couldna get it easily when ye made him go.”

Jamie lifted one shoulder, watching the clearing. With the house now gone, he could see the steep trail that led up behind it, toward the place where his wife’s garden had once stood, safe behind its deer-proof palisades. Some of the palisades still stood, black against the patchy snow. He would make her a new garden one day, God willing.

“If his purpose was only harm, he’s had the chance.” He could see the butchered pig from here, a dark shape on the path, shadowed by a wide pool of blood.

He pushed away a sudden thought of Malva Christie, and forced himself back to his reasoning.

“Aye, he’s hidden it here,” he repeated, more confident now. “If he had it all, he’d be long gone. He’s been waiting, trying for a way to get to it. But he hasna been able to do it secretly—so now he’s trying something else.”

“Aye, but what? That—” Ian nodded toward the amorphous shape on the path. “I thought it might be a snare or a trap of some kind, but it’s not. I looked.”

“A lure, maybe?” The smell of blood was evident even to him; it would be a plain call to any predator. Even as he thought this, his eye caught movement near the pig, and he put a hand on Ian’s arm.

A tentative flicker of movement, then a small, sinuous shape darted in, disappearing behind the pig’s body.

“Fox,” both men said together, then laughed, quietly.

“There’s that panther in the wood above the Green Spring,” Ian said dubiously. “I saw the tracks yesterday. Can he mean to draw it wi’ the pig, in hopes that we should rush out to deal with it and he could reach the gold whilst we were occupied?”

Jamie frowned at that, and glanced toward the cabin. True, a panther might draw the men out—but not the women and children. And where might he have put the gold in such a densely inhabited space? His eye fell on the long, humped shape of Brianna’s kiln, lying some way from the cabin, unused since her departure, and a spurt of excitement drew him upright. That would be—but no; Arch had stolen the gold from Jocasta Cameron one bar at a time, conveying it secretly to the Ridge, and had begun his theft long before Brianna had gone. But maybe …

Ian stiffened suddenly, and Jamie turned his head sharp to see what the matter was. He couldn’t see anything, but then caught the sound that Ian had heard. A deep, piggish grunt, a rustle, a crack. Then there was a visible stirring among the blackened timbers of the ruined house, and a great light dawned.

“Jesus!” he said, and gripped Ian’s arm so tightly that his nephew yelped, startled. “It’s under the Big House!”

The white sow emerged from her den beneath the ruins, a massive cream-colored blotch upon the night, and stood swaying her head to and fro, scenting the air. Then she began to move, a ponderous menace surging purposefully up the hill.

Jamie wanted to laugh at the sheer beauty of it.

Arch Bug had cannily hidden his gold beneath the foundations of the Big House, choosing his times when the sow was out about her business. No one would have dreamed of invading the sow’s domain; she was the perfect guardian—and doubtless he’d meant to retrieve the gold in the same way when he was ready to go: carefully, one ingot at a time.

But then the house had burned, the timbers collapsing into the foundation, rendering the gold unreachable without a great deal of work and trouble—which would certainly draw attention. It was only now, when the men had cleared away most of the rubble—and spread soot and charcoal all over the clearing in the process—that anyone might be able to reach something hidden under it without attracting notice.

But it was winter, and the white sow, while not hibernating like a bear, kept strictly to her cozy den—save when there was something to eat.

Ian made a small exclamation of disgust, hearing slobbering and crunching from the path.

“Pigs havena got much delicacy of feeling,” Jamie murmured. “If it’s dead, they’ll eat it.”

“Aye, but it’s likely her own offspring!”

“She eats her young alive now and then; I doubt she’d boggle at eating them dead.”

“Hst!”

He hushed at once, eyes fixed on the blackened smear that had once been the finest house in the county. Sure enough, a dark figure emerged from behind the springhouse, sidling cautiously on the slippery path. The pig, busy with her grisly feast, ignored the man, who seemed to be clad in a dark cloak and carrying something like a sack.

I DIDN’T BOLT THE DOOR at once, but stepped out to breathe fresh air for a moment, shutting Rollo in behind me. Within moments, Jamie and Ian had vanished into the trees. I glanced uneasily round the clearing, looked across to the black mass of the forest, but could see nothing amiss. Nothing moved, and the night was soundless; I wondered what Ian might have found. Unfamiliar tracks, perhaps? That would account for his sense of urgency; it was clearly about to snow.

No moon was visible, but the sky was a deep pinkish gray, and the ground, though trodden and patchy, was still covered with old snow. The result was a strange, milky glow in which objects seemed to float as though painted on glass, dimensionless and dim. The burnt remains of the Big House stood at the far side of the clearing, no more at this distance than a smudge, as though a giant, sooty thumb had pressed down there. I could feel the heaviness of impending snow in the air, hear it in the muffled sough of the pines.

The MacLeod boys had come over the mountain with their grandmother; they’d said it was very hard going through the high passes. Another big storm would likely seal us in until March or even April.

Thus reminded of my patient, I took one last look round the clearing and set my hand on the latch. Rollo was whining, scratching at the door, and I pushed a knee unceremoniously into his face as I opened it.

“Stay, dog,” I said. “Don’t worry, they’ll be back soon.” He made a high, anxious noise in his throat, and cast to and fro, nudging at my legs, seeking to get out.

“No,” I said, pushing him away in order to bolt the door. The bolt dropped into place with a reassuring thunk, and I turned toward the fire, rubbing my hands. Rollo put back his head and gave a low, mournful howl that raised the hair on the back of my neck.

“What?” I said, alarmed. “Hush!” The noise had made one of the small children in the bedroom wake and cry; I heard rustling bedclothes and sleepy maternal murmurs, and I knelt quickly and grabbed Rollo’s muzzle before he could howl again.

“Shhhhh,” I said, and looked to see whether the sound had disturbed Grannie MacLeod. She lay still, waxen-faced, her eyes closed. I waited, automatically counting the seconds before the next shallow rise of her chest.

… six … seven … “Oh, bloody hell,” I said, realizing.

Hastily crossing myself, I shuffled over to her on my knees, but closer inspection told me nothing I hadn’t seen already. Self-effacing to the last, she had seized my moment of distraction to die inconspicuously.

Rollo was shifting to and fro, no longer howling, but uneasy. I laid a hand gently on the sunken chest. Not seeking diagnosis or offering aid, not any longer. Just … a necessary acknowledgment of the passing of a woman whose first name I didn’t know.

“Well … God rest your soul, poor thing,” I said softly, and sat back on my heels, trying to think what to do next.

Proper Highland protocol held that the door must be opened at once after a death, to allow the soul to leave. I rubbed a knuckle dubiously over my lips; might the soul have made a quick dash when I opened the door to come in? Probably not.

One would think that in a climate as inhospitable as Scotland’s, there would be a bit of climatological leeway in such matters, but I knew that wasn’t the case. Rain, snow, sleet, wind—Highlanders always did open the door and leave it open for hours, both eager to free the departing soul and anxious lest the spirit, impeded in its exit, might turn and take up permanent residence as a ghost. Most crofts were too small to make that a tolerable prospect.

Little Orrie was awake now; I could hear him singing happily to himself, a song consisting of his stepfather’s name.

“Baaaaah-by, baaah-by, BAAAH-by …”

I heard a low, sleepy chuckle, and Bobby’s murmur in reply.

“There’s my wee man. You need the pot, acooshla?” The Gaelic endearment—a chuisle, “my heart’s blood”—made me smile, both at the word and at the oddness of it in Bobby’s Dorset accent. Rollo made an uneasy noise in his throat, though, bringing back to me the need for some action.

If the Higginses and in-laws rose in a few hours to discover a corpse on the floor, they’d all be disturbed, their sense of rightness affronted—and agitated at thought of a dead stranger possibly clinging to their hearth. A very bad omen for the new marriage and the new year. At the same time, her presence was undeniably agitating Rollo, and the prospect of his rousing them all in the next few moments was agitating me.

“Right,” I said under my breath. “Come on, dog.” There were, as always, bits of harness needing mending on a peg near the door. I disentangled a sound length of rein and fashioned a makeshift come-along with which I lassoed Rollo. He was more than happy to go outside with me, lunging ahead as I opened the door, though somewhat less delighted to be dragged to the lean-to pantry, where I wrapped the makeshift leash hastily round a shelf upright, before returning to the cabin for Grannie MacLeod’s body.

I looked about carefully before venturing out again, Jamie’s admonitions in mind, but the night was as still as a church; even the trees had fallen silent.

The poor woman couldn’t weigh more than seventy pounds, I thought; her collarbones poked through her skin, and her fingers were frail as dried twigs. Still, seventy pounds of literal dead weight was a bit more than I could manage to lift, and I was obliged to unfold the blanket wrapped round her and use it as an impromptu sledge, on which I dragged her outside, murmuring mingled prayers and apologies under my breath.

Despite the cold, I was panting and damp with sweat by the time I’d got her into the pantry.

“Well, at least your soul’s had plenty of time to make a getaway,” I muttered, kneeling to check the body before resettling it in its hasty shroud. “And I shouldn’t imagine you want to hang about haunting a pantry, in any case.”

Her eyelids were not quite closed, a sliver of white showing, as though she had tried to open them for one last glimpse of the world—or perhaps in search of a familiar face.

“Benedicite,” I whispered, and gently shut her eyes, wondering as I did so whether one day some stranger might do the same for me. The odds of it were good. Unless …

Jamie had declared his intention to return to Scotland, fetch his printing press, and then come back to fight. But what, said a small, cowardly voice inside me, if we didn’t come back? What if we went to Lallybroch and stayed there?

Even as I thought of that prospect—with its rosy visions of being enfolded by family, able to live in peace, to grow slowly old without the constant fear of disruption, starvation, and violence—I knew it wouldn’t work.

I didn’t know whether Thomas Wolfe had been right about not being able to go home again—well, I wouldn’t know about that, I thought, a little bitterly; I hadn’t had one to go back to—but I did know Jamie. Idealism quite aside—and he did have some, though of a very pragmatic sort—the simple fact was that he was a proper man, and thus required to have proper work. Not just labor; not just making a living. Work. I understood the difference.

And while I was sure that Jamie’s family would receive him with joy—the nature of my own reception was in somewhat more doubt, but I supposed they wouldn’t actually call the priest and try to have me exorcised—the fact was that Jamie was no longer laird of Lallybroch, and never would be.

“ ‘… and his place shall know him no more,’ ” I murmured, wiping the old woman’s intimate parts—surprisingly unwithered; perhaps she had been younger than I thought—with a damp cloth. She hadn’t eaten anything in days; even the relaxation of death hadn’t had much effect—but anyone deserved to go clean to their grave.

I paused. That was a thought. Would we be able to bury her? Or might she just rest peacefully under the huckleberry jam and the sacks of dried beans until spring?

I tidied her clothes, breathing out, openmouthed, trying to judge the temperature from the steam of my breath. This would be only the second major snowfall of the winter, and we had not yet had a really hard freeze; that usually happened in mid to late January. If the ground had not yet frozen, we could probably bury her—provided the men were willing to shovel away the snow.

Rollo had lain down, resigned, while I went about my business, but at this point, his head jerked upright, ears pointed.

“What?” I said, startled, and turned round on my knees to look out the open pantry door. “What’s happening?”

“SHALL WE TAKE HIM NOW?” Ian murmured. He had his bow over one shoulder; he let his arm fall, and the bow dropped silently into his hand, ready.

“No. Let him find it first.” Jamie spoke slowly, trying to make up his mind what was right to do with the man, so suddenly reappeared before him.

Not kill him; he and his wife had made a good deal of trouble with their treachery, aye, but hadn’t intended harm to his family—not to start, at least. Was Arch Bug even truly a thief, by his own lights? Surely Jamie’s aunt Jocasta had no greater—if no lesser—claim to the gold than he did.

He sighed and put a hand to his belt, where his dirk and pistol hung. Still, he couldn’t allow Bug to make off with the gold, nor could he merely drive him off and leave him free to make more trouble. As to what in God’s name to do with him once caught … it would be like having a snake in a sack. But naught to do now save catch him, and worry later what to do with the sack. Perhaps some bargain might be struck …

The figure had reached the black smear of the foundations and was climbing awkwardly among the stones and the charred timbers that remained, the dark cloak lifting and billowing as the air shifted.

Snow began to fall, sudden and silent, big, lazy flakes that seemed not so much to fall from the sky as simply to appear, whirling out of the air. They brushed his face and stuck thick in his lashes; he wiped them away, and motioned to Ian.

“Go behind,” he whispered. “If he runs, send a shaft past his nose to stop him. And keep well back, aye?”

“You keep well back, Uncle,” Ian whispered back. “If ye get within decent pistol shot o’ the man, he can brain ye with his ax. And I’m no going to explain that to Auntie Claire.”

Jamie snorted briefly and nudged Ian away. He loaded and primed his pistol, then walked firmly out through the falling snow toward the ruin of his house.

He’d seen Arch fell a turkey with his ax at twenty feet. And it was true that most pistols weren’t accurate at much more than that. But he didn’t mean to shoot the man, after all. He drew the pistol, holding it clear in his hand.

“Arch!” he called. The figure had its back to him, bent over as it rooted about in the ashes. At his call, it seemed to stiffen, still crouched.

“Arch Bug!” he shouted. “Come out o’ there, man. I’d speak with ye!”

In answer, the figure drew itself up abruptly, turned, and a spurt of flame lit the falling snow. In the same instant, the flame seared his thigh, and he staggered.

He was conscious mostly of surprise; he’d never known Arch Bug to use a pistol, and was impressed that he could aim so well with his left—

He’d gone to one knee in the snow, but even as he brought his own weapon up to bear, he realized two things: the black figure was aiming a second pistol at him—but not with the left hand. Which meant—

“Jesus! Ian!” But Ian had seen him fall, and seen the second pistol, too. Jamie didn’t hear the arrow’s flight, above the rush of wind and snow; it appeared as though by magic, stuck in the figure’s back. The figure went straight and stiff, then fell in a heap. Almost before it hit the ground, he was running, hobbling, his right leg buckling under him with every step.

“God, no, God, no,” he was saying, and it sounded like someone else’s voice.

A voice came through snow and night, calling out in desperation. Then Rollo was bounding past him, a blur—who had let him out?—and a rifle cracked from the trees. Ian bellowed, somewhere near, calling the dog, but Jamie had no time to look, was scrambling heedless over the blackened stones, slipping on the skim of fresh snow, stumbling, his leg was cold and hot at once, but no matter, oh, God, please, no …

He reached the black figure and flung himself on his knees beside it, grappling. He knew at once; he’d known from the moment he realized the pistol had been held in her right hand. Arch, with his missing fingers, couldn’t fire a pistol right-handed. But, oh, God, no …

He’d got her over, feeling the short, heavy body limp and unwieldy as a fresh-killed deer. Pushed back the hood of the cloak, and passed his hand, gentle, helpless, over the soft round face of Murdina Bug. She breathed against his hand—perhaps … but he felt the shaft of the arrow, too, against his hand. It had come through her neck, and her breath bubbled wet; his hand was wet, too, and warm.

“Arch?” she said hoarsely. “I want Arch.” And died.

LIFE FOR LIFE

I TOOK JAMIE into the pantry. It was dark, and cold, particularly for a man with no breeches on, but I didn’t want to risk any of the Higginses being wakened. God, not now. They’d all erupt from their sanctum like a flight of panicked quail—and I quailed myself at thought of having to deal with them before I had to. It would be sufficiently horrible to tell them what had happened by daylight; I couldn’t face the prospect now.

For lack of any better alternative, Jamie and Ian had laid Mrs. Bug in the pantry alongside Grannie MacLeod, tucked under the lowest shelf, her cloak drawn up over her face. I could see her feet sticking out, with their cracked, worn boots and striped stockings. I had a sudden vision of the Wicked Witch of the West, and clapped a hand to my mouth before anything truly hysterical could escape.

Jamie turned his head toward me, but his gaze was inward, his face haggard, deep-lined in the glow of the candle he carried.

“Eh?” he said vaguely.

“Nothing,” I said, my voice trembling. “Nothing at all. Sit—sit down.” I put down the stool and my medical kit, took the candle and tin of hot water from him, and tried to think of absolutely nothing but the job before me. Not feet. Not, for God’s sake, Arch Bug.

Jamie had a blanket wrapped round his shoulders, but his legs were necessarily bare, and I could feel the hairs bristling with gooseflesh as my hand brushed them. The bottom of his shirt was soaked with half-dried blood; it stuck to his leg, but he made no sound when I pulled it loose and nudged his legs apart.

He had been moving like a man in a bad dream, but the approach of a lighted candle to his balls roused him.

“Ye’ll take care wi’ that candle, Sassenach, aye?” he said, putting a protective hand over his genitals.

Seeing his point, I gave him the candle to hold, and with a brief admonition to beware of dripping hot wax, returned to my inspection.

The wound was oozing blood, but plainly minor, and I plunged a cloth into the hot water and began to work. His flesh was chilled, and the cold damped even the pungent odors of the pantry, but I could still smell him, his usual dry musk tainted with blood and frantic sweat.

It was a deep gouge that ran four inches through the flesh of his thigh, high up. Clean, though.

“A John Wayne special,” I said, trying for a light, dry tone. Jamie’s eyes, which had been fixed on the candle flame, changed focus and fixed on me.

“What?” he said hoarsely.

“Nothing serious,” I said. “The ball just grazed you. You may walk a little oddly for a day or two, but the hero lives to fight another day.” The ball had in fact gone between his legs, deeply creasing the inside of his thigh, near both to his testicles and his femoral artery. One inch to the right, and he’d be dead. One inch higher …

“Not a great help, Sassenach,” he said, but the ghost of a smile touched his eyes.

“No,” I agreed. “But some?”

“Some,” he said, and briefly touched my face. His hand was very cold, and trembled; hot wax ran over the knuckles of his other hand, but he didn’t seem to feel it. I took the candlestick gently from him and set it on the shelf.

I could feel the grief and self-reproach coming off him in waves, and fought to keep it at bay. I couldn’t help him if I gave in to the enormity of the situation. I wasn’t sure I could help him in any case, but I’d try.

“Oh, Jesus,” he said, so softly I barely heard him. “Why did I not let him take it? What did it matter?” He struck a fist on his knee, soundless. “God, why did I not just let him take it!?”

“You didn’t know who it was, or what they meant to do,” I said, just as softly, putting a hand on his shoulder. “It was an accident.” His muscles were bunched, hard with anguish. I felt it, too, a hard knot of protest and denial—No, it can’t be true, it can’t have happened!—in my throat, but there was work to be done. I’d deal with the inescapable later.

He put a hand over his face, shaking his head slowly to and fro, and neither spoke nor moved while I finished the cleaning and bandaging of the wound.

“Can ye do aught for Ian?” he said, when I’d finished. He took his hand away and looked up at me as I stood, his face drawn in exhausted misery, but calm again. “He’s …” He swallowed, and glanced at the door. “He’s badly, Sassenach.”

I glanced at the whisky I’d brought: a quarter of a bottle. Jamie followed the direction of my gaze and shook his head.

“Not enough.”

“You drink it, then.” He shook his head, but I put the bottle in his hand and pressed his fingers round it.

“Orders,” I said, soft but very firm. “Shock.” He resisted, made to put the bottle back, and I tightened my hand on his.

“I know,” I said. “Jamie—I know. But you can’t give in. Not now.”

He looked up at me for a moment, but then he nodded, accepting it because he had to, the muscles of his arm relaxing. My own fingers were stiff, chilled from water and frigid air, but still warmer than his. I folded both hands round his free one, and held it, hard.

“There’s a reason why the hero never dies, you know,” I said, and attempted a smile, though my face felt stiff and false. “When the worst happens, someone still has to decide what to do. Go into the house now, and get warm.” I glanced out at the night, lavender-skied and wild with swirling snow. “I’ll … find Ian.”

WHERE WOULD HE have gone? Not far, not in this weather. Given his state of mind when he and Jamie had come back with Mrs. Bug’s body, he might, I thought, simply have walked off into the woods, not caring where he went or what happened to him—but he’d had the dog with him. No matter what he felt like, he wouldn’t take Rollo off into a howling blizzard.

And a blizzard was what it was shaping up to be. I made my way slowly uphill toward the outbuildings, sheltering my lantern under a fold of my cloak. It came to me suddenly to wonder whether Arch Bug might have taken shelter in the springhouse or the smoke shed. And … oh, God—did he know? I stopped dead on the path for an instant, letting the thickly falling snow settle like a veil on my head and shoulders.

I had been so shocked by what had happened that I hadn’t thought to wonder whether Arch Bug knew that his wife was dead. Jamie said that he had called out, called for Arch to come, as soon as he realized—but there had been no answer. Perhaps Arch had suspected a trick; perhaps he had simply fled, seeing Jamie and Ian and assuming that they would certainly not harm his wife. In which case …

“Oh, bloody hell,” I said under my breath, appalled. But there was nothing I could do about that. I hoped there was something I could do about Ian. I rubbed a forearm over my face, blinked snow from my lashes, and went on, slowly, the light from the lantern swallowed in the vortex of whirling snow. Were I to find Arch … My fingers clenched on the lantern’s handle. I’d have to tell him, bring him back to the cabin, let him see … Oh, dear. If I came back with Arch, could Jamie and Ian occupy him long enough for me to remove Mrs. Bug from the pantry and display her in more seemly fashion? I hadn’t had time to remove the jutting arrow or lay out the body decently. I dug the fingernails of my free hand into the palm, trying to get a grip of myself.

“Jesus, don’t let me find him,” I said under my breath. “Please don’t let me find him.”

But springhouse, smoke shed, and corncrib were all—thank God—empty, and no one could have hidden in the chicken coop without the chickens making a fuss about it; they were silent, sleeping out the storm. The sight of the coop brought Mrs. Bug suddenly to mind, though—the vision of her scattering corn from her apron, crooning to the silly things. She’d named them all. I didn’t bloody care whether we were eating Isobeaìl or Alasdair for supper, but just at the moment, the fact that no one now would ever be able to tell one from another, or rejoice in the fact that Elspeth had hatched ten chicks, seemed unspeakably heartrending.

I found Ian at last in the barn, a dark form huddled in the straw by the feet of Clarence the mule, whose ears pricked up at my appearance. He brayed ecstatically at the prospect of more company, and the goats blatted hysterically, thinking I was a wolf. The horses, surprised, tossed their heads, snorting and nickering in question. Rollo, nestled in the hay next to his master, gave a short, sharp bark of displeasure at the racket.

“Ruddy Noah’s Ark in here,” I remarked, shaking snow off my cloak and hanging the lantern on a hook. “All we need is a pair of elephants. Hush, Clarence!”

Ian turned his face toward me, but I could see from his blank expression that he hadn’t taken in what I’d said.

I squatted next to him and cupped a hand round his cheek; it was cold, bristled with young beard.

“It wasn’t your fault,” I said gently.

“I know,” he said, and swallowed. “But I dinna see how I can live.” He wasn’t dramatic about it at all; his voice was simply bewildered. Rollo licked his hand, and his fingers sank into the dog’s ruff, as though for support.

“What can I do, Auntie?” He looked at me, helpless. “There’s nothing, is there? I canna take it back, or undo it. And yet I keep looking for some way that I can. Something I can do to make things right. But there’s … nothing.”

I sat down in the hay next to him and put an arm round his shoulder, pressing his head toward me. He came, reluctantly, though I felt small constant shudders of exhaustion and grief running through him like a chill.

“I loved her,” he said, so low I could barely hear him. “She was like my grandmother. And I—”

“She loved you,” I whispered. “She wouldn’t blame you.” I had been holding on to my own emotions like grim death, in order to do what had to be done. But now … Ian was right. There was nothing, and in sheer helplessness, tears began to roll down my face. I wasn’t crying. Grief and shock simply overflowed; I could not contain them.

Whether he felt the tears on his skin or only the vibrations of my grief, I couldn’t tell, but quite suddenly Ian gave way as well, and he wept in my arms, shaking.

I wished with all my heart that he was a small boy, and that the storm of grief could wash away his guilt and leave him cleansed, at peace. But he was far beyond such simple things; all I could do was hold him, and stroke his back, making small, helpless noises myself. Then Clarence offered his own support, breathing heavily on Ian’s head and nibbling thoughtfully on a lock of his hair. Ian jerked away, slapping at the mule’s nose.

“Och, awa’ wi’ ye!”

He choked, laughed in a shocked way, wept a little more, and then straightened up and wiped his nose on his sleeve. He sat still for a little while, gathering the pieces of himself, and I let him be.

“When I killed that man in Edinburgh,” he said at last, his voice thick but controlled, “Uncle Jamie took me to confession, and told me the prayer that ye say when ye’ve killed someone. To commend them to God. Will ye say it with me, Auntie?”

I hadn’t thought of—let alone said—“Soul Leading” in many years, and stumbled awkwardly through the words. Ian spoke it without hesitation, though, and I wondered how often he had used it through those years.

The words seemed puny and powerless, swallowed among the sounds of hay rustling and beasts chewing. But I felt a tiny bit of comfort for having said them. Perhaps it was only that the sense of reaching out to something larger than yourself gives you some feeling that there is something larger—and there really has to be, because plainly you aren’t sufficient to the situation. I surely wasn’t.

Ian sat for a time, eyes closed. Finally, he opened them and looked at me, his eyes black with knowledge, face very pale under the stubble of his beard.

“And then, he said, ye live with it,” he said softly.

He rubbed a hand across his face.

“But I dinna think I can.” It was a simple statement of fact, and scared me badly. I had no more tears, but felt as though I looked into a black, bottomless hole—and couldn’t look away.

I drew a deep breath, trying to think of something to say, then pulled a handkerchief from my pocket and gave it to him.

“Are you breathing, Ian?”

His mouth twitched a little.

“Aye, I think so.”

“That’s all you have to do, for now.” I got up, brushed hay from my skirts, and held out a hand to him. “Come along. We need to go back to the cabin before we’re snowed in here.”

The snow was thicker now, and a gust of wind put out the candle in my lantern. It didn’t matter; I could have found the cabin blindfolded. Ian went ahead of me without comment, breaking a trail through the fresh-fallen snow. His head was bent against the storm, his narrow shoulders hunched.

I hoped the prayer had helped him, at least a little, and wondered whether the Mohawk had any better means of dealing with unjust death than did the Catholic Church.

Then I realized that I knew exactly what the Mohawk would do in such a case. So did Ian; he’d done it. I pulled the cloak tighter round me, feeling as though I had swallowed a large ball of ice.

NOT YET AWHILE

AFTER A GOOD DEAL of discussion, the two corpses were carried gently outside and laid at the edge of the porch. There simply was no room to lay them out properly inside, and given the circumstances …

“We canna let auld Arch be in doubt any longer than he must,” Jamie had said, putting an end to the arguments. “If the body’s in plain sight, maybe he’ll come out and maybe he’ll not—but he’ll ken his wife’s dead.”

“He will,” Bobby Higgins said, with an uneasy look toward the trees. “And what d’ye think he’ll do then?”

Jamie stood for a moment, looking toward the wood, then shook his head.

“Grieve,” he said quietly. “And in the morning, we’ll see what’s to do.”

It wasn’t the normal sort of wake, but it was conducted with what ceremony we could manage. Amy had donated her own shroud—made after her first wedding, and carefully kept by—for Mrs. Bug, and Grannie MacLeod was clad in the remnants of my spare chemise and a couple of aprons, hastily stitched up into respectability. They were laid one on either side of the porch, foot to foot, with a small saucer of salt and a slice of bread on the chest of each corpse, though no sin-eater was available. I had packed a small clay firepot with coals and set this near the bodies, and it was agreed that we would all take it in turns through the night to sit over the deceased, as the porch would hold no more than two or three people.

“The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow/Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,” I said softly. It did; the storm had blown over and the three-quarter moon cast a pure, cold light that made each snow-covered tree stand out, stark and delicate as a painting in Japanese ink. And in the distant ruins of the Big House, the jackstraw of charred timbers hid whatever lay below.

Jamie and I were taking the first watch. No one had argued when Jamie announced this. No one spoke of it, but the image of Arch Bug, lurking alone in the forest, was in everyone’s mind.

“You think he’s there?” I asked Jamie, low-voiced. I nodded toward the dark trees, peaceful in their own soft shrouds.

“If it were you lying here, a nighean,” Jamie said, looking down at the still white figures at the edge of the porch, “I should be beside ye, alive or dead. Come sit down.”

I sat down beside him, the firepot close to our cloak-wrapped knees.

“Poor things,” I said, after a bit. “It’s a long way from Scotland.”

“It is,” he said, and took my hand. His fingers were no warmer than my own, but the size and strength of them were a comfort, nonetheless. “But they’ll be buried amongst folk who ken their ways, if not among their own kin.”

“True.” Should Grannie MacLeod’s grandsons ever come back, at least they would find a marker for her grave and know she had been treated with kindness. Mrs. Bug hadn’t any kin, save Arch—no one to come and look for the grave marker. But she would be among people who’d known and loved her. What about Arch, though? If he had kin in Scotland, he’d never mentioned it. His wife had been everything to him, as he to her.

“You, um, don’t think that Arch might … do away with himself?” I asked delicately. “Once he knows?”

Jamie shook his head, definite.

“No,” he said. “It’s not in him.”

On one level, I was relieved to hear this. On a lower and less compassionate level, I couldn’t help wondering uneasily just what a man of Arch’s passions might do, stricken by this mortal blow, now bereft of the woman who had been his anchor and safe harbor for most of his life.

What would such a man do? I wondered. Run before the wind until he hit a reef and sank? Or tie his life to the makeshift anchor of fury, and take revenge as his new compass? I’d seen the guilt Jamie and Ian were bearing; how much more was Arch carrying? Could any man bear such guilt? Or must he turn it outward, as a matter of simple survival?

Jamie had said nothing about his own speculations, but I’d noticed that he had both pistol and dirk in his belt—and the pistol was loaded and primed; I could smell the whiff of black powder under the resinous breath of spruce and fir. Of course, it might be for driving off a roving wolf or foxes …

We sat in silence for a little while, watching the shifting glow of the coals in the firepot and the flicker of light in the folds of the shrouds.

“Ought we to pray, do you think?” I whispered.

“I havena given over praying since it happened, Sassenach.”

“I know what you mean.” I did—the passionate prayer that it might not be, and the desperate prayer for guidance thereafter; the need to do something, when nothing, really, could be done. And, of course, prayer for the repose of the recently departed. At least Grannie MacLeod had expected death—and welcomed it, I thought. Mrs. Bug, on the other hand, must have been terribly startled at being so suddenly dead. I had a disconcerting vision of her standing in the snow just off the porch, glaring at her corpse, hands on stout hips, lips pursed in annoyance at having been so rudely disembodied.

“It was rather a shock,” I said apologetically to her shade.

“Aye, it was that.”

Jamie reached into his cloak and drew out his flask. Uncorking this, he leaned forward and carefully poured a few drops of whisky on the head of each of the dead women, then lifted the flask in silent toast to Grannie MacLeod, then to Mrs. Bug.

“Murdina, wife of Archibald, ye were a great cook,” he said simply. “I’ll recall your biscuits all my life, and think of ye wi’ my morning parritch.”

“Amen,” I said, my voice trembling between laughter and tears. I accepted the flask and took a sip; the whisky burned through the thickness in my throat, and I coughed.

“I know her receipt for piccalilli. That shouldn’t be lost; I’ll write it down.”

The thought of writing reminded me quite suddenly of the unfinished letter, still folded up in my workbag. Jamie felt the slight stiffening of my posture and turned his head toward me in question.

“I was only thinking of that letter,” I said, clearing my throat. “I mean, in spite of Roger and Bree knowing the house has burnt down, they’ll be happy to hear that we’re still alive—always supposing they do eventually get it.”

Aware both of the precarious times and of the uncertain survival of historical documents, Jamie and Roger had worked out several schemes for the passage of information, ranging from the publication of coded messages in various newspapers to something elaborate involving the Church of Scotland and the Bank of England. All of these, of course, relied upon the basic fact of the MacKenzie family having made the passage through the stones safely and arrived in more or less the right time—but I was obliged for my own peace of mind to assume that they had.

“But I don’t want to end it by having to tell them—about this.” I nodded toward the shrouded figures. “They loved Mrs. Bug—and Bree would be so upset for Ian.”

“Aye, ye’re right,” Jamie said thoughtfully. “And chances are that Roger Mac would think it all through and realize about Arch. Knowing, and not able to do anything about it … aye, they’d be worrit, ’til they found another letter telling them how it’s all come out—and God knows how long it may be before it has all come out.”

“And if they didn’t get the next letter …” Or if we didn’t survive long enough to write it, I thought.

“Aye, best not tell them. Not yet awhile.”

I moved closer, leaning against him, and he put his arm round me. We sat quiet for a bit, still troubled and sorrowful, but comforted at thought of Roger, Bree, and the children.

I could hear sounds from the cabin behind me; everyone had been quiet, shocked—but normality was fast reasserting itself. Children couldn’t be kept quiet long, and I could hear high-pitched questions, demands for food, the chatter of little ones excited at being up so late, their voices threading through the clanging and thumps of food preparation. There would be bannocks and pasties for the next part of the wake; Mrs. Bug would be pleased. A sudden shower of sparks flew from the chimney and fell all round the porch like falling stars, brilliant against the dark night and the white, fresh snow.

Jamie’s arm tightened round me, and he made a small sound of pleasure at the sight.

“That—what ye said about the breast o’ the new-fallen snow”—the word emerged as “breest” in his soft Highland lilt—“that’s a poem, is it?”

“It is. Not really appropriate to a wake—it’s a comic Christmas poem called ‘A Visit from Saint Nicholas.’ ”

Jamie snorted, his breath white.

“I dinna think the word ‘appropriate’ has much to do wi’ a proper wake, Sassenach. Give the mourners enough drink, and they’ll be singing ‘ O thoir a-nall am Botul ’ and the weans dancing ring-a-round-a-rosy in the dooryard by moonlight.”

I didn’t quite laugh, but could envision it, all too easily. There was enough to drink, too; there was a fresh tub of beer just brewed in the pantry, and Bobby had fetched down the emergency keg of whisky from its hiding place in the barn. I lifted Jamie’s hand and kissed the cold knuckles. The shock and sense of dislocation had begun to fade with the growing awareness of the pulse of life behind us. The cabin was a small, vibrant island of life, afloat in the cold of the black and white night.

“No man is an island, entire of itself,” Jamie said softly, picking up my unspoken thought.

“Now, that one is appropriate,” I said, a little dryly. “Maybe too appropriate.”

“Aye? How so?”

“Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee? I never hear No man is an island without that last line tolling right behind it.”

“Mmphm. Ken the whole of it, do ye?” Not waiting for my reply, he leaned forward and stirred the coals with a stick, sending up a tiny drift of silent sparks. “It isna really a poem, ken—or the man didna mean it to be one.”

“No?” I said, surprised. “What is it? Or was it?”

“A meditation—something atwixt a sermon and a prayer. John Donne wrote it as part of his ‘Devotions upon Emergent Occasions.’ That’s sufficiently appropriate, no?” he added, with a hint of wry humor.

“They don’t get much more emergent than this, no. What am I missing, then?”

“Mmm.” He pulled me closer, and bent his head to rest on mine. “Let me call what I can to mind. I’ll not have all of it, but there are bits that struck me, so I remember those.” I could hear his breathing, slow and easy, concentrating.

“All mankind is of one author,” he said slowly, “ and is one volume. When one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. Then there are bits I havena got by heart, but I liked this one: The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth”—and his hand squeezed mine gently—“and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God.”

“Hmm.” I thought about that for a bit. “You’re right; that’s less poetic, but a bit more … hopeful?”

I felt him smile.

“I’ve always found it so, aye.”

“Where did you get that?”

“John Grey lent me a wee book of Donne’s writing, when I was prisoner at Helwater. That was in it.”

“A very literate gentleman,” I said, somewhat piqued at this reminder of the substantial chunk of Jamie’s life that John Grey had shared and I had not—but grudgingly glad that he had had a friend through that time of trial. How often, I wondered suddenly, had Jamie heard that tolling bell?

I sat up, reached for the flask, and took a cleansing swallow. The smell of baking, of onion and simmered meat, was seeping through the door, and my stomach rumbled in an unseemly manner. Jamie didn’t notice; he was squinting thoughtfully off toward the west, where the bulk of the mountain lay hidden by cloud.

“The MacLeod lads said the passes were already hip-deep in snow when they came down,” he said. “If there’s a foot of new snow on the ground here, there are three in the high passes. We’re going nowhere ’til the spring thaw, Sassenach. Time enough to carve proper grave markers, at least,” he added, with a glance at our quiet guests.

“You do still mean to go to Scotland, then?” He’d said so, after the Big House burned, but hadn’t mentioned it since then. I wasn’t sure whether he’d meant it or had merely been reacting to the pressure of events at the time.

“Aye, I do. We canna be staying here, I think,” he said, with some regret. “Come the spring, the backcountry will be boiling again. We’ve come close enough to the fire.” He lifted his chin in the direction of the Big House’s charred remains. “I’ve no mind to be roasted, next time.”

“Well … yes.” He was right, I knew. We could build another house—but it was unlikely we would be allowed to live peaceably in it. Among other things, Jamie was—or at least had been—a colonel of militia. Short of physical incapacity or simple absence, he couldn’t relinquish that responsibility. And sentiment in the mountains was by no means all in favor of rebellion. I knew a number of people who had been beaten, burnt out, and driven into the woods or swamps, or killed outright as the direct result of injudiciously expressed political sentiments.

The weather prevented our leaving, but it also put a stopper on the movement of militias—or roving bands of brigands. The thought of that sent a sudden bolt of cold through me, and I shivered.

“Shall ye go in, a nighean?” Jamie asked, noticing. “I can bear watch alone for a bit.”

“Right. And we’ll come out with the bannocks and honey and find you stretched out beside the old ladies with an ax in your head. I’m fine.” I took another sip of whisky, and handed him the flask.

“We wouldn’t necessarily have to go to Scotland, though,” I said, watching him drink. “We could go to New Bern. You could join Fergus in the printing business there.” That’s what he’d said he meant to do: go to Scotland, fetch the printing press he had left in Edinburgh, then come back to join the fight, armed with lead in the form of type slugs, rather than musket balls. I wasn’t sure which method might be the more dangerous.

“Ye dinna suppose your presence would stop Arch trying to brain me, if that’s what he’s got in mind?” Jamie smiled briefly at that, slanted eyes creasing into triangles. “No—Fergus has a right to put himself in danger, and he wants to. But I’ve no right to drag him and his family into my own.”

“Which tells me all I need to know about what sort of printing you have in mind to do. And my presence might not stop Arch going for you, but I could at least shout ‘Look out!’ if I saw him creeping up behind you.”

“I should always want ye at my back, Sassenach,” he assured me gravely. “Ye kent already what I mean to do, surely?”

“Yes,” I said with a sigh. “Occasionally I have the vain hope that I’m wrong about you—but I never am.”

That made him laugh outright.

“No, ye’re not,” he agreed. “But ye’re still here, aye?” He lifted the flask in salute to me, and drank from it. “Good to know someone will miss me, when I fall.”

“I did not miss that ‘when,’ rather than ‘if,’ ” I said coldly.

“It’s always been ‘when,’ Sassenach,” he said gently. “Every chapter must be so translated. Aye?”

I took a deep breath and watched it drift out in a plume of mist.

“I sincerely hope I’m not going to have to do it,” I said, “but should the question arise—would you want to be buried here? Or taken back to Scotland?” I was thinking of a granite marriage stone in the graveyard at St. Kilda, with his name on it, and mine, too. The bloody thing had nearly given me heart failure when I saw it, and I wasn’t sure I had forgiven Frank for it, even though it had accomplished what he’d meant it to.

Jamie made a small snorting noise, not quite a laugh.

“I shall be lucky to be buried at all, Sassenach. Much more likely I shall be drowned, burnt, or left to rot on some battlefield. Dinna fash yourself. If ye’ve got to dispose of my carcass, just leave it out for the crows.”

“I’ll make a note of that,” I said.

“Will ye mind going to Scotland?” he asked, eyebrows raised.

I sighed. Despite my knowing that he wasn’t going to lie under that particular gravestone, I couldn’t quite rid myself of the notion that he would at some point die there.

“No. I’ll mind leaving the mountains. I’ll mind watching you turn green and puke your guts out on the ship, and I may well mind whatever happens on the way to said ship, but … Edinburgh and printing presses aside, you want to go to Lallybroch, don’t you?”

He nodded, eyes on the glowing coals. The light from the firepot was faint but warm on the ruddy arch of his brows, a line of gilding down the long, straight bridge of his nose.

“I promised, aye?” he said simply. “I said I’d bring Young Ian back to his mother. And after this … best he goes.”

I nodded silently. Three thousand miles of ocean might not be enough for Ian to escape his memories—but it couldn’t hurt. And perhaps the joy of seeing his parents, his brothers and sisters, the Highlands … perhaps it would help heal him.

Jamie coughed, and rubbed a knuckle over his lips.

“There’s the one other thing,” he said, a little shy. “Another promise, ye might say.”

“What’s that?”

He turned his head then, and met my eyes, his own dark and serious.

“I’ve sworn to myself,” he said, “that I shallna ever face my son across the barrel of a gun.”

I took a deep breath and nodded. After a moment’s silence, I looked up from my contemplation of the shrouded women.

“You didn’t ask what I want done with my body.” I’d meant it at least half in jest, to lighten his mood, but his fingers curled so abruptly over mine that I gasped.

“No,” he said softly. “And I never will.” He wasn’t looking at me but at the whiteness before us. “I canna think of ye dead, Claire. Anything else—but not that. I can’t.”

He stood abruptly. The rattle of wood, the clang of a falling pewter dish, and voices raised in adjuration inside saved me from reply. I simply nodded and let him lift me to my feet, as the door opened, spilling light.

THE MORNING DAWNED clear and bright, with a scant foot of fresh snow on the ground. By noon, the icicles that hung from the cabin’s eaves had begun to loose their hold, dropping like random daggers with muffled, intermittent thunks. Jamie and Ian had gone up the hill to the small burying ground, with spades, to see whether the ground might be dug deep enough for two decent graves.

“Take Aidan and one or two of the other boys with you,” I’d said at breakfast. “They need to be gotten out from underfoot.” Jamie had given me a sharp glance, but nodded. He knew very well what I was thinking. If Arch Bug didn’t yet know that his wife was dead, he’d certainly start drawing conclusions if he saw a grave being dug.

“Best if he’ll come and speak to me,” Jamie had said quietly to me, under cover of the noise made by the boys readying themselves to go, their mothers packing lunch to be taken up the hill, and the smaller children playing ring-a-round-a-rosy in the back room.

“Yes,” I said, “and the boys won’t stop him doing that. But if he doesn’t choose to come out and speak to you …” Ian had told me that he’d heard a rifle fired during the encounter the night before; Arch Bug was no particular marksman, though, and would presumably hesitate to fire on a group that included young children.

Jamie had nodded, silent, and sent Aidan to fetch his two eldest cousins.

Bobby and Clarence the mule had gone up with the grave-digging party. There was a stock of freshly sawn pine boards at the site higher up on the mountainside, where Jamie had declared our new house would one day rise; if graves could be dug, Bobby would bring back some of the boards to make coffins.

From my viewpoint on the front porch, I could see Clarence now, heavily laden, but mincing downhill with ballerina grace, ears pointed delicately to either side as though to aid his balance. I caught a glimpse of Bobby walking on the far side of the mule, reaching up now and then to keep the load from slipping; he saw me and waved, smiling. The M branded on his cheek was visible even at this distance, livid against the cold-chapped ruddiness of his skin.

I waved back and turned in to the house, to tell the women that we would indeed have a funeral.

WE MADE OUR WAY up the winding trail to the small graveyard next morning. The two old ladies, unlikely companions in death, lay side by side in their coffins on a sledge, pulled by Clarence and one of the McCallum women’s mules, a little black jenny called Puddin’.

We were not dressed in our best; no one had a “best,” with the exception of Amy McCallum Higgins, who had worn her lace-trimmed wedding kerchief as a sign of respect. We were mostly clean, though, and the adults at least were sober in aspect, and watchful. Very watchful.

“Which will be the new guardian, Mam?” Aidan asked his mother, eyeing the two coffins as the sledge creaked slowly uphill ahead of us. “Which died first?”

“Why … I dinna ken, Aidan,” Amy replied, looking mildly taken aback. She frowned at the coffins, then glanced at me. “D’ye know that, Mrs. Fraser?”

The question hit me like a thrown pebble, and I blinked. I did know, of course, but—with some effort, I refrained from glancing into the trees that lined the trail. I had no idea exactly where Arch Bug was, but he was near; I had no doubt of that at all. And if he were near enough to overhear this conversation …

Highland superstition held that the last person to be buried in a graveyard became the guardian and must defend the souls who rested there from any evil, until another should die and take the guardian’s place—whereupon the earlier guardian was released and might go on to heaven. I didn’t think Arch would be at all happy about the notion of his wife trapped on earth to guard the graves of Presbyterians and sinners like Malva Christie.

I felt a small chill in the heart at thought of Malva—who was, now I thought of it, presumably the graveyard’s present guardian. “Presumably,” because while other people had died on the Ridge since her own death, she was the last to have been buried in the graveyard proper. Her brother, Allan, was buried nearby, a little way into the forest, in a secret, unmarked grave; I didn’t know whether that was near enough to count. And her father …

I coughed into my fist, and clearing my throat said, “Oh, Mrs. MacLeod. She was dead when we came back to the cabin with Mrs. Bug.” Which was strictly true; the fact that she’d been dead when I left the cabin seemed better suppressed.

I had been looking at Amy when I spoke. I turned my head back to the trail, and there he was, right in front of me. Arch Bug, in his rusty black cloak, white head bared and bent, following the sledge through the snow, slow as an earthbound raven. A faint shudder ran through the mourners.

He turned his head then, and saw me.

“Will ye sing, Mrs. Fraser?” he asked, his voice quiet and courtly. “I’d have her taken to her rest wi’ the proper observances.”

“I—yes, of course.” Enormously flustered, I groped for something suitable. I simply wasn’t up to the challenge of composing a proper caithris, a lament for the dead—let alone providing the formal wailing that a truly first-class Highland funeral would have.

I settled hastily for a Gaelic psalm that Roger had taught me, “Is e Dia fèina’s buachaill dhomh.” It was a line chant, each line meant to be sung by a precentor, then echoed line by line by the congregation. It was simple, though, and while my voice seemed thin and insubstantial on the mountainside, those around me were able to take it up, and by the time we reached the burying ground, we had achieved a respectable level of fervor and volume.

The sledge stopped at the edge of the pine-circled clearing. A few wooden crosses and cairns were visible through the half-melted snow, and the two fresh graves gaped in the center, muddy and brutal. The sight of them stopped the singing as abruptly as a pail of cold water.

The sun shone pale and bright through the trees, and there was a gang of nuthatches conversing in the branches at the edge of the clearing, incongruously cheerful. Jamie had been leading the mules, and had not glanced back at Arch’s appearance. Now, though, he turned to Arch and with a small gesture at the nearer coffin, asked in a low voice, “Will ye look upon your wife once more?”

It was only as Arch nodded and moved to the side of the sledge, that I realized that while the men had nailed down the lid of Mrs. MacLeod’s coffin, they had left Mrs. Bug’s lying loose. Bobby and Ian lifted it off, their eyes on the ground.

Arch had unbound his hair as a sign of grief; I had never seen it loose before. It was thin, pure white, and wavered about his face like wisps of smoke as he bent and gently lifted the shroud from Murdina’s face.

I swallowed hard, clenching my hands. I’d removed the arrow—not a pleasant business—and had then wrapped her throat carefully in a clean bandage before combing her hair. She looked all right, though terribly unfamiliar; I didn’t think I’d ever seen her without her cap, and the bandage across her full throat gave her the sternly formal air of a Presbyterian minister. I saw Arch flinch, just slightly, and his own throat move. He got control of his face almost at once, but I saw the lines that ran from nose to chin like gullies through wet clay, and the way in which he opened and closed his hands, over and over, seeking a grip on something that wasn’t there.

He gazed into the coffin for a long moment, then reached into his sporran and drew out something. I saw when he put back his cloak that his belt was empty; he had come without weapons.

The thing in his hand was small and glittering. He leaned down and tried to fix it to the shroud, but could not, with his missing fingers. He fumbled, said something under his breath in Gaelic, then looked up at me, with something near panic in his eyes. I went at once to him, and took the thing from his hand.

It was a brooch, a small, beautifully made thing in the shape of a flying swallow. Made of gold, and very new-looking. I took it from him and, turning back the shroud, pinned it to Mrs. Bug’s kerchief. I’d never seen the brooch before, either on Mrs. Bug or among her things, and it came to me that Arch had likely had it made from the gold he had taken from Jocasta Cameron—perhaps when he began to take the ingots, one by one; perhaps later. A promise made to his wife—that their years of penury and dependence were over. Well … indeed they were. I glanced at Arch, and at his nod, pulled the shroud gently up over his wife’s cold face.

I put out a hand impulsively to touch him, take his arm, but he drew away and stood back, watching impassively as Bobby nailed down the lid. At one point, his gaze rose and passed slowly over Jamie, then Ian, in turn.

I pressed my lips tight, glancing at Jamie as I came back to his side, seeing the trouble etched so plainly on his face. So much guilt! Not that there wasn’t enough and to spare—and plainly enough, Arch felt his own. Did it not occur to any of them that Mrs. Bug had had something to do with this, herself? Had she not fired at Jamie … but people didn’t always behave intelligently, or well, and did the fact that someone had contributed to their own demise lessen the tragedy of it?

I caught sight of the small boulder that marked the grave of Malva and her son, only the top of it visible through the snow—rounded, wet, and dark, like the crowning of a baby’s head at birth.

Rest in peace, I thought, and felt a small easing of the tension I’d been under for the last two days. You can go now.

It occurred to me that whatever I’d told Amy and Aidan, it didn’t alter the truth of which woman really had died first. Still, considering Mrs. Bug’s personality, I rather thought she might enjoy being in charge, clucking and fussing after the resident souls like her flock of much-loved chickens, banishing evil spirits with a sharp word and a brandished sausage.

That thought got me through the brief reading from the Bible, the prayers, the tears—from the women and the children, most of whom had no idea why they were crying—the removal of the coffins from the sledge, and a rather disjoint recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. I missed Roger very much—his sense of calm order and genuine compassion in the conducting of a funeral. And he would, perhaps, have known what to say in eulogy of Murdina Bug. As it was, no one spoke when the prayer concluded, and there was a long, awkward pause, people shifting uneasily from foot to foot—we were standing in a foot of snow, and the women’s petticoats were wet to the knee.

I saw Jamie shift his shoulders, as though his coat was too tight, and glance at the sledge, where the shovels lay under a blanket. Before he could signal Ian and Bobby, though, Ian drew a deep, gasping breath and stepped forward.

He came to the side of Mrs. Bug’s waiting coffin, opposite the bereaved husband, and stopped, plainly wanting to speak. Arch ignored him for a long moment, staring down into the hole, but finally raised his face, impassive. Waiting.

“It was by my hand that this”—Ian swallowed—“that this woman of great worth has died. I didna take her life by malice, or of purpose, and it is sorrow to me. But she died by my hand.”

Rollo whined softly by Ian’s side, feeling his master’s distress, but Ian laid a hand on his head, and he stilled. Ian drew the knife from his belt and laid it on the coffin in front of Arch Bug, then straightened and looked him in the eye.

“Ye swore once to my uncle, in a time of great wrong, and offered life for life, for this woman. I swear by my iron, and I offer the same.” His lips pressed together for an instant, and his throat moved, his eyes dark and sober. “I think ye maybe didna mean it, sir—but I do.”

I found that I was holding my breath, and forced myself to breathe. Was this Jamie’s plan? I wondered. Ian plainly meant what he said. Still, the chances of Arch accepting that offer on the spot and cutting Ian’s throat in front of a dozen witnesses were slim, no matter how exigent his feelings. But if he publicly declined the offer—then the possibility of a more formal and less bloody recompense was opened, yet young Ian would be relieved of at least a measure of his guilt. Bloody Highlander, I thought, glancing up at Jamie—not without a certain admiration.

I could feel small jolts of energy running through him, though, every few seconds, each one suppressed. He wouldn’t interfere with Ian’s attempt at atonement—but neither would he see him injured, if by chance old Arch did opt for blood. And evidently he thought it a possibility. I glanced at Arch, and thought so, too.

The old man looked at Ian for a moment, heavy brows wild with curling iron-gray old-man hairs—and the eyes beneath them iron-gray, too, and cold as steel.

“Too easy, boy,” he said at last, in a voice like rusty iron.

He looked down at Rollo, who was standing next to Ian, ears pricked and wolf eyes wary.

“Will ye give me your hound to kill?”

Ian’s mask broke in an instant, shock and horror making him suddenly young. I heard him gulp air and steady himself, but his voice was cracked in reply.

“No,” he said. “He’s done nothing. It’s my—my crime, not his.”

Arch smiled then, very slightly, though it did not touch his eyes.

“Aye. Ye see, then. And he’s no but a flea-ridden beast. Not a wife.” “Wife” was spoken in barely a whisper. His throat worked as he cleared it. Then he looked carefully from Ian to Jamie, and then at me.

“Not a wife,” he said softly. I’d thought my blood ran cold already; that froze my heart.

In no hurry, Arch turned his gaze deliberately upon each man in turn; Jamie, then Ian, whom he regarded for an instant that seemed a lifetime.

“When you’ve something worth taking, boy—you’ll see me again,” he said quietly, then turned upon his heel and walked into the trees.

MORALITY FOR TIME-TRAVELERS

THERE WAS AN electric desk lamp in his study, but Roger often preferred to work by candlelight in the evening. He took a match from the box, and struck it with one soft scratch. After Claire’s letter, he didn’t think he’d ever light a match again without thinking of her story of the burning of the Big House. God, he wished he’d been there.

The match flame shrank as he touched it to the wick, and the translucent wax of the candle went a dim, unearthly blue for an instant, then brightened into its normal glow. He glanced at Mandy, singing to a collection of stuffed toys on the sofa; she’d had her bath and was meant to be keeping out of trouble while Jem had his. Keeping one eye on her, he sat down at his desk and opened his notebook.

He’d begun it half as a joke. The other half as the only thing he could think of to combat paralyzing fear.

“You can teach kids not to cross the street alone,” Bree had pointed out. “Surely you can teach them to stay the heck away from standing stones.”

He’d agreed, but with substantial mental reservations. Small kids, yes; you could brainwash them into not sticking forks in the electric outlets. But as they became teenagers, with all that inchoate yearning for self-discovery and things unknown? He recalled his own teenaged self much too vividly. Tell a teenaged boy not to stick forks in the outlet, and he’d be off rifling the silverware drawer the minute your back was turned. Girls might be different, but he doubted it.

He glanced again at the sofa, where Amanda was now lying on her back, legs thrust into the air and a large, ratty-looking stuffed bear balanced on her feet, to which she was singing “Frère Jacques.” Mandy had been so young that she wouldn’t remember. Jem would. He did; Roger could tell, when the little boy woke up from nightmares, eyes huge and staring at nothing, and could not describe his dream. Thank God, it didn’t happen often.

He still broke out in a cold sweat whenever he remembered it himself. That last passage. He’d clutched Jemmy to his chest and stepped into … God, there was no name for it, because humanity at large had never experienced it, and lucky for them they hadn’t. It wasn’t even like anything to which it could be compared.

None of the senses worked there—and at the same time, all of them did, in such a state of hypersensitivity that you’d die of it if it lasted any longer than it did. A howling void, where sound seemed to batter you, pulsing through your body, trying to separate each cell from the next. Absolute blindness, but the blindness of looking into the sun. And the impact of … bodies? Ghosts? Unseen others who brushed past like moth wings or seemed to hurtle right through you in a colliding thump of entangling bones. A constant sense of screaming.

Did it smell? He paused, frowning, trying to remember. Yes, it damned well did. And oddly enough, it was a describable smell: the scent of air burnt by lightning—ozone.

It smells strongly of ozone, he wrote, feeling remarkably relieved to have even this small foothold of reference to the normal world.

This relief disappeared in the next instant, as he returned to the struggle of memory.

He’d felt as though nothing save his own will held them together, nothing but raw determination to survive held him together. Knowing what to expect hadn’t helped in the slightest; it was different—and much worse—than his previous experiences.

He did know not to look at them. The ghosts, if that’s what they were. “Look” wasn’t the right word … pay attention to them? Again, there wasn’t a word, and he sighed in exasperation.

“Sonnez le matines, sonnez le matines …”

“Din dan don,” he sang softly with her chorus. “Din dan don.”

He tapped the pen on the paper for a minute, thinking, then shook his head and bent over the paper again, trying to explain his first attempt, the occasion on which he’d come within … moments? inches? Some unthinkably small degree of separation of meeting his father—and destruction.

I think you cannot cross your own lifeline, he wrote slowly. Both Bree and Claire—the scientific women—had assured him that two objects cannot exist in the same space, whether said objects were subatomic particles or elephants. That being true, it would explain why one couldn’t exist twice in the same time period, he supposed.

He assumed it was that phenomenon that had come so close to killing him on his first attempt. He had been thinking of his father when he entered the stones, and—presumably—of his father as he, Roger, had known him. Which was, of course, during the period of his own life.

He tapped the pen on the page again, thinking, but could not bring himself just now to write about that encounter. Later. Instead, he flipped back to the rudimentary outline in the front of the book.A Practical Guide for Time-Travelers

I. Physical Phenomena

Known Locations (Ley Lines?)

Genetic Inheritance

Mortality

The Influence and Properties of Gemstones

Blood?

He’d scratched through that last one, but hesitated, looking at it. Did he have an obligation to tell everything he knew, believed, or suspected? Claire thought that the notion of a blood sacrifice being required or useful was nonsense—a pagan superstition without real validity. She might be right; she was the scientist, after all. But he had the uneasy memory of the night Geillis Duncan had gone through the stones.

Long blond hair, flying in the rising wind of a fire, the whipping locks silhouetted for an instant against the face of a standing stone. The gagging scent of petrol mingled with roasting flesh, and the log that was not a log lying charred in the center of the circle. And Geillis Duncan had gone too far.

“It’s always two hundred years, in the old fairy tales,” Claire had told him. Literal fairy tales; stories of people stolen by the fairies, “taken through the stones” of faerie hills. It was a time, two hundred years ago, such tales often began. Or the people were returned to their own place—but two hundred years past the time they had left. Two hundred years.

Claire, Bree, himself—each time they had traveled, the span of time was the same: two hundred and two years, close enough to the two hundred years of the ancient tales. But Geillis Duncan had gone too far.

With great reluctance, he slowly wrote Blood again, and added a parenthetical (Fire??), but nothing beneath it. Not now; later.

For reassurance, he glanced at the spot on the bookshelf where the letter lay, weighted down by a small snake carved of cherrywood. We are alive….

He wanted suddenly to go and fetch the wooden box, pull out the other letters, rip them open and read. Curiosity, sure, but something more—wanting to touch them, Claire and Jamie, press the evidence of their lives against his face, his heart, erase the space and time between them.

He forced back the impulse, though. They’d decided—or rather, Bree had, and they were her parents.

“I don’t want to read them all at once,” she’d said, turning over the contents of the box with long, gentle fingers. “It’s … it’s like once I’ve read them all, then they’ll be … really gone.”

He’d understood. As long as one letter remained unread, they were alive. In spite of his historian’s curiosity, he shared her sentiment. Besides …

Brianna’s parents had not written those letters as journal entries, meant for the eventual eyes of a vaguely imagined posterity. They’d been written with the definite and specific intent of communication—with Bree, with him. Which meant that they might well contain unsettling things; both his in-laws had a talent for such revelation.

Despite himself, he rose, took down the letter and unfolded it, and read the postscript once more, just to assure himself he hadn’t been imagining it.

He hadn’t. With the word “blood” ringing faintly in his ears, he sat back down. An Italian gentleman. That was Charles Stuart; couldn’t be anyone else. Christ. After staring off into space for a bit—Mandy had now started in on “Jingle Bells”—he shook himself, flipped over a few pages and started in again, doggedly.II. MoralityA. Murder and Wrongful DeathNaturally, we assume that the killing of someone for any reason short of self-defense, the protection of another, or the legitimate use of force in wartime is completely indefensible.

He looked at that for a moment, muttered, “Pompous ass,” and ripped the page out of the notebook, crumpling it.

Ignoring Mandy’s warbling rendition of “Gingle bells, Bamman smells, Wobin waid enegg!” he scooped up the notebook and stomped across the hall to Brianna’s study.

“Who am I to be gassing on about morality?” he demanded. She looked up from a sheet showing the disassembled components of a hydroelectric turbine, with the rather blank look that indicated she was aware of being spoken to, but had not detached her mind sufficiently from the subject matter as to realize who was speaking or what they were saying. Familiar with this phenomenon, he waited with mild impatience for her mind to let go of the turbine and focus on him.

“ … gassing on … ?” she said, frowning. She blinked at him and her gaze sharpened. “Who are you gassing on to?”

“Well …” He lifted the scribbled notebook, feeling suddenly shy. “The kids, sort of.”

“You’re supposed to gas on to your kids about morality,” she said reasonably. “You’re their father; it’s your job.”

“Oh,” he said, rather at a loss. “But—I’ve done a lot of the things I’m telling them not to.” Blood. Yeah, maybe it was protection of another. Maybe it wasn’t.

She raised a thick, ruddy brow at him.

“You never heard of benign hypocrisy? I thought they teach you stuff like that when you go to minister school. Since you mention gassing away about morality. That’s a minister’s job, too, isn’t it?”

She stared at him, blue-eyed and waiting. He took a good, deep breath. Trust Bree, he thought wryly, to walk straight up to the elephant in the room and grab it by the trunk. She hadn’t said a word since their return about his near-ordination, or what he proposed to do now about his calling. Not a word, during their year in America, Mandy’s surgery, their decision to move to Scotland, the months of renovation after they’d bought Lallybroch—not until he’d opened the door. Once opened, of course, she’d walked straight through it, knocked him over, and planted a foot on his chest.

“Yeah,” he said evenly. “It is,” and stared back.

“Okay.” She smiled, very gently, at him. “So what’s the problem?”

“Bree,” he said, and felt his heart stick in his scarred throat. “If I knew, I’d tell you.”

She stood up then and put her hand on his arm, but before either of them could say more, the thump of small, bare feet came hop-skipping down the hall, and Jem’s voice came from the door of Roger’s study, saying, “Daddy?”

“Here, pal,” he called back, but Brianna was already moving toward the door. Following, he found Jem—in his blue Superman pajamas, wet hair standing up in spikes—standing by his desk, examining the letter with interest.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“Wassis?” Mandy echoed faithfully, rushing over and scrambling up on the chair to see.

“It’s a letter from your grandda,” Brianna replied, not missing a beat. She put a hand casually on the letter, obscuring most of the postscript, and pointed with the other at the last paragraph. “He sent you a kiss. See there?”

A huge smile lighted Jem’s face.

“He said he wouldn’t forget,” he said, contented.

“Kissy, Grandda,” Mandy exclaimed, and bending forward so her mass of black curls fell over her face, planted a loud, “MWAH!” on the letter.

Caught between horror and laughter, Bree snatched it up and wiped the moisture off it—but the paper, old as it was, was tough. “No harm done,” she said, and handed the letter casually to Roger. “Come on, what story are we reading tonight?”

“Aminal Nursy Tales!”

“An-i-mal,” Jem said, bending down to speak distinctly into his sister’s face. “An-i-mal Nur-ser-y Tales.”

“Okay,” she said amiably. “Me first!” and scampered madly out the door, giggling, followed by her brother in hot pursuit. Brianna took three seconds to seize Roger by the ears and kiss him firmly on the mouth, then released him and set off after their offspring.

Feeling happier, he sat down, listening to the uproar of toothbrushing and face-washing above. Sighing, he put the notebook back in the drawer. Plenty of time, he thought. Years before it might be needed. Years and years.

He folded up the letter with care, and standing on tiptoe, put it on the highest shelf of the bookcase, moving the little snake to guard it. He blew out the candle then, and went to join his family.

Postscriptum: I see I am to have the last Word—a rare Treat to a Man living in a House that contains (at last count) eight Women. We propose to leave the Ridge so soon as the Climate thaws, and to go to Scotland, there to procure my printing Press, and return with it. Travel in these times is uncertain, and I cannot predict when—or if—it will be possible to write again. (Nor do I know whether you will receive this Letter at all, but I proceed in necessary Faith that you will.)I wished to tell you of the Disposition of the Property which was once held in trust by the Camerons for an Italian Gentleman. I think it unwise to carry this with us, and have therefore removed it to a Place of safety. Jem knows the Place. If you should at some Time have need of this Property, tell him the Spaniard guards it. If so, be sure to have it blessed by a Priest; there is Blood upon it.Sometimes I wish that I might see the Future; much more often, I give thanks to God that I cannot. But I will always see your Faces. Kiss the Children for me.Your loving father,

JF

THE CHILDREN WASHED, toothbrushed, kissed, and put to bed, their parents returned to the library, a dram of whisky, and the letter.

“An Italian gentleman?” Bree looked at Roger, one brow raised in a way that brought Jamie Fraser so immediately to mind that Roger glanced involuntarily at the sheet of paper. “Does he mean—”

“Charles Stuart? He can’t mean anyone else.”

She picked the letter up and read the postscript for perhaps the dozenth time.

“And if he does mean Charles Stuart, then the property …”

“He’s found the gold. And Jem knows where it is?” Roger couldn’t help this last taking on the tone of a question, as he cast his eyes toward the ceiling, above which his children were presumably asleep, wrapped in virtue and cartoon pajamas.

Bree frowned.

“Does he? That isn’t exactly what Da said—and if he did know … that’s an awfully big secret to ask an eight-year-old boy to keep.”

“True.” Eight or not, Jem was very good at keeping secrets, Roger thought. But Bree was right—her father would never burden anyone with dangerous information, let alone his beloved grandson. Certainly not without a good reason, and his postscript made it clear that this information was provided only as a contingency in case of need.

“You’re right. Jem doesn’t know anything about the gold—just about this Spaniard, whatever that may be. He’s never mentioned anything like that to you?”

She shook her head, then turned as a sudden puff of wind from the open window blew through the curtains, breathing immanent rain. Bree got up and went hastily to close it, then trotted upstairs to close the windows there, waving at Roger to see to those on the ground floor. Lallybroch was a large house, and unusually well provided with windows—the children kept trying to count them, but never came up with the same number twice.

Roger supposed he could go and count them himself one day and settle the matter, but was reluctant to do this. The house, like most old houses, had a distinct personality. Lallybroch was welcoming, all right; large and gracious, comfortably rather than grandly built, with the echoes of generations murmuring in its walls. But it was a place that had its secrets, too, no doubt of that. And hiding the number of its windows was quite in keeping with the sense he had of the house as being rather playful.

The windows in the kitchen—now equipped with modern refrigerator, Aga cooker, and decent plumbing, but still with its ancient granite counters stained with the juice of currants, the blood of game and poultry—were all closed, but he went through it nonetheless, and through the scullery. The light in the back hall was off, but he could see the grating in the floor near the wall that gave air to the priest’s hole below.

His father-in-law had hidden there briefly, during the days after the Rising, before being imprisoned at Ardsmuir. Roger had gone down there once—also briefly—when they had bought the house, and had come up out of the dank, fetid little space with a complete understanding of why Jamie Fraser had chosen to live in a wilderness on a remote mountaintop, where there was no constraint in any direction.

Years of hiding, of duress, of imprisonment … Jamie Fraser was not a political creature, and he knew better than most what the true cost of war was, whatever its presumed purpose. But Roger had seen his father-in-law now and then rub absently at his wrists, where the marks of fetters had long since faded—but the memory of their weight had not. Roger had not the slightest doubt that Jamie Fraser would live free, or die. And wished for an instant, with a longing that gnawed his bones, that he might be there, to fight by his father-in-law’s side.

The rain had started; he could hear the patter of it on the slate roofs of the outbuildings, then the rush as it came on in earnest, wrapping the house in mist and water.

“For ourselves … and our posterity,” he said aloud, but quietly.

It was a bargain made between men—unspoken, but understood completely. Nothing mattered but that the family be preserved, the children protected. And whether the cost of it was paid in blood, sweat, or soul—it would be paid.

“Oidche mhath,” he said, with a brief nod in the direction of the priest’s hole. Good night, then.

He stood a moment longer in the old kitchen, though, feeling the embrace of the house, its solid protection against the storm. The kitchen had always been the heart of the house, he thought, and found the warmth of the cooker as much a comfort as the fire on the now-empty hearth had once been.

He met Brianna at the foot of the stairs; she’d changed for bed—as opposed to sleep. The air in the house was always cool, and the temperature had dropped several degrees with the onset of rain. She wasn’t wearing her woolies, though; rather, a thin nightgown of white cotton, deceptively innocent-looking, with a small red ribbon threaded through it. The white cloth clung to the shape of her breasts like cloud to a mountain peak.

He said as much, and she laughed—but made no objection when he cupped his hands around them, her nipples against his palms round as beach pebbles through the thin cloth.

“Upstairs?” she whispered, and leaning in, ran the tip of her tongue along his lower lip.

“No,” he said, and kissed her solidly, quelling the tickle of the touch. “In the kitchen. We haven’t done it there, yet.”

He had her, bent over the ancient counter with its mysterious stains, the sound of her small grunts a punctuation to the rush of wind and rain on the ancient shutters. Felt her shiver and liquefy and let go, too, his knees trembling with it, so he fell slowly forward, clutched her by the shoulders, his face pressed into the shampoo-fragrant waves of her hair, the old granite smooth and cool beneath his cheek. His heart was beating slow and hard, steady as a bass drum.

He was naked, and a cold draft from somewhere raised gooseflesh down his back and legs. Brianna felt him shiver and turned her face to his.

“Cold?” she whispered. She wasn’t; she glowed like a live coal, and he wanted nothing more than to slide into bed beside her and ride out the storm in snug warmth.

“I’m fine.” He bent and scooped up the clothes he had thrown on the floor. “Let’s go to bed.”

The rain was louder upstairs.

“Oh, the animals went in two by two,” Bree sang softly, as they climbed the stairs, “the elephants and the kangaroos …”

Roger smiled. You could imagine the house an ark, floating on a roaring world of water—but all snug within. Two by two—two parents, two kids … maybe more, someday. There was plenty of room, after all.

With the lamp put out and the beating of rain on the shutters, Roger lingered on the edge of sleep, reluctant to surrender the pleasure of the moment.

“We won’t ask him, will we?” Bree whispered. Her voice was drowsy, her soft weight warm all down the side of his body. “Jem?”

“Oh? No. Of course not. No need.”

He felt the prick of curiosity—who was the Spaniard? And the notion of buried treasure was always a lure—but they didn’t need it; they had enough money for the present. Always assuming the gold was still wherever Jamie had put it, which was a long shot in itself.

Nor had he forgotten the last injunction of Jamie’s postscript.

Have it blessed by a priest; there is blood upon it. The words melted as he thought them, and what he saw on the inside of his eyelids was not gold ingots but the old granite counter in the kitchen, dark stains sunk so far into the stone as to have become part of it, ineradicable by the most vigorous scrubbing, let alone an invocation.

But it didn’t matter. The Spaniard, whoever he was, could keep his gold. The family was safe.

PART TWO

Blood, Sweat, and Pickles

LONG ISLAND

ON JULY 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia.

ON JULY 24, Lieutenant General Sir William Howe arrived on Staten Island, where he set up field headquarters at the Rose and Crown Tavern in New Dorp.

ON AUGUST 13, Lieutenant General George Washington arrived in New York to reinforce the fortifications of the city, which the Americans held.

ON AUGUST 21, William Ransom, Lieutenant Lord Ellesmere, arrived at the Rose and Crown in New Dorp, reporting—somewhat late—for duty as the newest and most junior member of General Howe’s staff.

ON AUGUST 22 …

LIEUTENANT EDWARD MARKHAM, Marquis of Clarewell, peered searchingly into William’s face, offering him an unappetizingly close view of a juicy pimple—just ready to burst—on the former’s forehead.

“You all right, Ellesmere?”

“Fine.” William managed the word between clenched teeth.

“Only, you look rather … green.” Clarewell, looking concerned, reached into his pocket. “Want a suck of my pickle?”

William just about made it to the rail in time. There was a certain amount of jocularity going on behind him regarding Clarewell’s pickle, who might suck it, and how much its owner would be obliged to pay for said service. This, interspersed with Clarewell’s protestations that his aged grandmother swore by a sour pickle for the prevention of seasickness, and plainly it worked, for look at him, solid as a rock …

William blinked watering eyes and fixed his vision on the approaching shore. The water wasn’t particularly rough, though the weather was brewing, no doubt about it. It didn’t matter, though; even the gentlest of up-and-down motions on water, the briefest of journeys, and his stomach promptly tried to turn itself inside out. Every damned time!

It was still trying, but as there was nothing left in it, he could pretend it wasn’t. He wiped his mouth, feeling clammy despite the heat of the day, and straightened his shoulders.

They would drop anchor any minute; time he was going below and badgering the companies under his command into some kind of order before they went into the boats. He risked a brief glance over the rail, and saw the River and the Phoenix just astern. The Phoenix was Admiral Howe’s flagship, and his brother the general was aboard. Would they have to wait, bobbing like corks on the increasingly choppy waves, until General Howe and Captain Pickering, his aide-de-camp, got ashore? God, he hoped not.

In the event, the men were allowed to disembark at once. “With ALL POSSIBLE SPEED, gennelmun!” Sergeant Cutter informed them at the top of his voice. “We’re going to catch the rebel whoresons on the ’op, so we are! And WOE BETIDE any man what I see lollygaggin’! YOU, there … !” He strode off, forceful as a plug of black tobacco, to apply the spurs to a delinquent second lieutenant, leaving William feeling somewhat better. Surely nothing truly terrible could happen in a world containing Sergeant Cutter.

He followed his men down the ladder and into the boats, forgetting his stomach entirely in the rush of excitement. His first real battle was waiting to be fought, somewhere on the plains of Long Island.

EIGHTY-EIGHT FRIGATES. That’s what he’d heard Admiral Howe had brought, and he didn’t doubt it. A forest of sails filled Gravesend Bay, and the water was choked with small boats, ferrying troops ashore. William was half choked himself, with anticipation. He could feel it gathering among the men, as the corporals collected their companies from the boats and marched off in good order, making room for the next wave of arrivals.

The officers’ horses were being swum ashore, rather than rowed, the distance not being great. William ducked aside as one big bay surged up out of the surf nearby and shook himself in a shower of salt spray that drenched everyone within ten feet. The stable-lad clinging to his bridle looked like a drowned rat, but shook himself off likewise and grinned at William, his face blanched with cold but vivid with excitement.

William had a horse, too—somewhere. Captain Griswold, a senior member of Howe’s staff, was lending him a mount, there having been no time to organize anything else. He supposed whoever was minding the horse would find him, though he didn’t see how.

Organized confusion reigned. The shore here was a tidal flat, and coveys of red coats swarmed amongst the sea wrack like flocks of shorebirds, the bellowing of sergeants a counterpoint to the shrieking of gulls overhead.

With some difficulty, as he’d been introduced to the corporals only that morning and did not have their faces firmly fixed in memory yet, William located his four companies and marched them up the shore into sand dunes thick with some sort of wiry grass. It was a hot day, sweltering in heavy uniform and full equipment, and he let the men take their ease, drink water or beer from their canteens, eat a bit of cheese and biscuit. They’d be on the move soon.

Where? That was the question preying on his mind at the moment. A hasty staff meeting the night before—his first—had reiterated the basics of the invasion plan. From Gravesend Bay, half the army would march inland, turning north toward the Brooklyn Heights, where the rebel forces were thought to be entrenched. The remainder of the troops would spread outward along the shore to Montauk, forming a line of defense that could move inward across Long Island, forcing the rebels back into a net, if necessary.

William wanted, with an intensity that knotted his spine, to be in the vanguard, attacking. Realistically, he knew it wasn’t likely. He was completely unfamiliar with his troops, and not impressed with their looks. No sensible commander would put such companies in the front line—unless to serve as cannon fodder. That thought gave him pause for a moment, but only a moment.

Howe wasn’t a waster of men; he was known to be cautious, sometimes to a fault. His father had told him that. Lord John hadn’t mentioned that that consideration was the major reason for his consent to William’s joining Howe’s staff, but William knew it anyway. He didn’t care; he’d calculated that his chances of seeing significant action were still a great deal better with Howe than fiddling about in the North Carolina swamps with Sir Peter Packer.

And after all … he turned slowly, side to side. The sea was a mass of British ships, the land before him crawling with soldiers. He would never have admitted aloud to being impressed by the sight—but his stock was tight across his throat. He realized he was holding his breath and consciously let it go.

The artillery was coming ashore, floating perilously on flat-bottomed barges, manned by swearing soldiers. The limbers, the caissons, and the draft horses and oxen needed to drag them were splashing up the beach in a thrashing, sand-spattered herd, neighing and lowing in protest, having come ashore farther south. It was the biggest army he had ever seen.

“Sir, sir!” He looked down to see a short private soldier, perhaps no older than William himself, plump-cheeked and anxious.

“Yes?”

“Your spontoon, sir. And your horse has come,” the private added, gesturing at the rangy light bay gelding whose reins he held. “Captain Griswold’s compliments, sir.”

William took the spontoon, seven feet long, its burnished steel head gleaming dully even under the clouded sky, and felt the weight of it thrill through his arm.

“Thank you. And you are … ?”

“Oh. Perkins, sir.” The private hastily knuckled his brow in salute. “Third company, sir; the Hackers, they call us.”

“Do they? Well, we will hope to give you plenty of opportunity to justify your name.” Perkins looked blank.

“Thank you, Perkins,” William said, gesturing the private off.

He took the bridle of the horse, joy rising in his heart. It was the biggest army he’d ever seen. And he was part of it.

HE WAS LUCKIER THAN he’d thought he might be, if not as lucky as he’d hoped. His companies were to be in the second wave, following up the vanguard of foot, guarding the artillery. Not a guarantee of action, but a good chance nonetheless, if the Americans were half the fighters they were reputed to be.

It was past noon before he lifted his spontoon into the air and shouted, “Forward, march!” The brewing weather had broken in a spattering rain, a welcome relief from the heat.

Beyond the shore, a fringe of woods gave way to a broad and beautiful plain. Waving grasses lay before them, flecked with wildflowers, the colors rich in the dim, rainy light. Far ahead, he could see flights of birds—doves? quail? too far to see—rising into the air despite the rain, as the marching soldiers drove them from their cover.

His own companies marched close to the center of the advancing line, snaking in orderly columns behind him, and he directed a grateful thought toward General Howe. As a junior staff officer, he should by rights have been delegated to messenger duty, scampering to and fro among the companies on the field, relaying orders from Howe’s headquarters, carrying information to and from the two other generals, Sir Henry Clinton and Lord Cornwallis.

Given his late arrival, though, he knew none of the other officers or the army’s disposition; he was completely ignorant of who was whom, let alone where they should be at any moment. He would be useless as a messenger. General Howe, somehow finding a moment in the bustle of the oncoming invasion, had not only welcomed him with great courtesy but had offered him the choice: accompany Captain Griswold, serving in such manner as the captain might direct—or take command of a few companies orphaned of their own lieutenant, who had fallen ill of the ague.

He had jumped at the chance, and now sat proud in his saddle, his spontoon resting in its loop, leading men to war. He shifted a little, enjoying the feel of the new red wool coat on his shoulders, the orderly club of the queued pigtail on his neck, the stiff leather stock about his throat, and the small weight of his officer’s gorget, that tiny silver remnant of Roman armor. He’d not worn uniform for nearly two months and, rain-damp or not, felt its resumption to be a glorious apotheosis.

A company of light horse traveled near them; he heard the shout of their officer and saw them draw ahead and turn toward a distant copse of wood. Had they seen something?

No. A tremendous cloud of blackbirds exploded from the copse, in a chatter so great that many of the horses shied and spooked. The horse soldiers foraged about, weaving through the trees with sabers drawn, slashing at branches, but just for show. If anyone had been hiding there, they had gone, and the light horse rode back to rejoin the advance, catcalling each other.

He relaxed back into his saddle, releasing his grip on the spontoon.

No Americans in sight—but they wouldn’t be. He’d seen and heard enough in his intelligencing to know that only real Continentals were likely to fight in an organized fashion. He’d seen militia drilling in village squares, shared food with men who belonged to such militias. None of them were soldiers—seen in groups drilling, they were laughable, barely able to march in a line, let alone in step—but nearly all were skilled hunters, and he’d seen too many of them shoot wild geese and turkey on the fly to share the common contempt of most British soldiers.

No, if there were Americans nearby, the first warning of it was likely to be men falling dead. He signaled to Perkins, had him convey orders to the corporals, to keep the men alert, weapons loaded and primed. He saw one corporal’s shoulders stiffen at receipt of this message, which he plainly considered an insult—but the man did it nonetheless, and William’s sense of tension eased a bit.

His thoughts returned to his recent journey, and he wondered when—and where—he might meet with Captain Richardson, to turn over the results of his intelligencing.

He had committed most of his observations to memory while on the road, writing down only what he must, and that coded in a small copy of the New Testament that his grandmother had given him. It was still in the pocket of his civilian coat, back on Staten Island. Now that he was safely returned to the bosom of the army, perhaps he ought to write up his observations, in proper reports? He could—

Something raised him in his stirrups, just in time to catch the flash and crack of musket fire from the woods on the left.

“Hold!” he shouted, seeing his men start to lower their weapons. “Wait!”

It was too far, and there was another column of infantry, closer to the wood. These swung into firing order and loosed a volley into the woods; the first rank knelt and the second fired over their heads. Return fire came from the wood; he saw one or two men fall, others stagger, but the line pulled together.

Another two volleys, the sparks of returning fire, but more sporadic—from the corner of his eye, he saw movement and whirled in his saddle, to see a gang of woodsmen in hunting shirts running from the far side of the copse.

The company in front of him saw them, too. A shout from their sergeant, and they fixed bayonets and ran, though it was plain to William that they’d never catch the fleeing woodsmen.

This sort of random skirmishing kept up all afternoon, as the army pressed on. The fallen were picked up and carried to the rear, but they were few. One of William’s companies was fired upon at one point, and he felt godlike as he gave the order to attack and they poured into the wood like a stream of angry hornets, bayonets fixed, managing to kill one rebel, whose body they dragged out onto the plain. The corporal suggested hanging it from a tree as discouragement to the other rebels, but William firmly declined this suggestion as not honorable and made them lay the man at the edge of the wood, where he could be found by his friends.

Toward evening, orders came along the line of march, from General Clinton. They would not stop to make camp. A brief pause for cold rations, and then press on.

There were murmurs of surprise in the ranks, but no grumbling. They’d come to fight, and the march resumed with a greater sense of urgency.

It was raining sporadically, and the harassment from skirmishers faded with the sullen light. It was not cold, and despite the growing soddenness of his garments, William preferred the chill and damp to the sultry oppression of the day before. At least the rain dampened the spirits of his horse, which was a good thing; it was a nervous, skittish creature, and he had cause to doubt Captain Griswold’s goodwill in lending it to him. Worn down by the long day, though, the gelding ceased shying at windblown branches and jerking at the reins, and plodded onward with its ears falling sideways in tired resignation.

It wasn’t bad for the first several hours of the night march. After midnight, though, the strain of exertion and sleeplessness began to tell on the men. Soldiers began to stumble and slow, and a sense of the vast expanse of dark and effort between themselves and dawn settled upon them.

William called Perkins up beside him. The soft-cheeked private showed up yawning and blinking, and paced beside him, a hand on William’s stirrup leather as William explained what he wanted.

“Sing?” Perkins said doubtfully. “Well, I s’pose I can sing, yes, sir. Nobbut hymns, though.”

“Not quite what I had in mind,” William said. “Go and ask Sergeant … Millikin, is it? The Irishman? Anything he likes, so long as it’s loud and lively.” After all, they weren’t trying to hide their presence; the Americans knew exactly where they were.

“Yes, sir,” Perkins said dubiously, and let go the stirrup, fading at once into the night. William rode for some minutes, then heard Patrick Millikin’s very loud Irish voice lifted in a very bawdy song. There was a ripple of laughter through the men, and by the time he reached the first chorus, a few had joined in. Two more verses and they were all roaring lustily along, William included.

They couldn’t keep it up for hours while marching at speed with full equipment, of course, but by the time they had exhausted their favorite songs and grown breathless, everyone was awake and optimistic once more.

Just before dawn, William smelled the sea and the rank mud scent of a marsh in the rain. The men, already wet, began to splash through a number of tiny tidal inlets and creeks.

A few minutes later, the boom of cannon broke the night, and marsh birds rose into the lightening sky with shrieks of alarm.

OVER THE COURSE OF the next two days, William never had any idea where he was. Names such as “Jamaica Pass,” “Flatbush,” and “Gowanus Creek” occurred now and then in the dispatches and hasty messages that passed through the army, but they might as well have said “Jupiter” or “the backside of the moon” for all the meaning they had.

He did see Continentals, at last. Hordes of them, swarming out of the marshes. The first few clashes were fierce, but William’s companies were held to the rear, supporting; only once were they close enough to fire, in order to repulse an oncoming group of Americans.

Nonetheless, he was in a constant state of excitement, trying to hear and see everything at once, intoxicated by the smell of powder smoke, even as his flesh quivered at the report of cannon. When the firing ceased at sunset, he took a little biscuit and cheese, but without tasting it, and slept only briefly, from sheer exhaustion.

In late afternoon of the second day, they found themselves some little way behind a large stone farmhouse that the British and some Hessian troops had taken over as an artillery emplacement; the barrels of cannon protruded from the upper windows, shining wet with the constant rain.

Wet powder was a problem now; the cartridges were all right, but if the powder poured into priming pans was left more than a few minutes, it began to cake and go dead. The order to load, then, had to be delayed until the last possible moment before firing; William found himself grinding his teeth in anxiety as to when the order should be given.

On the other hand, sometimes there was no doubt at all. With hoarse shouts, a number of Americans charged out of the trees near the front of the house and made for the doors and windows. Musket fire from the troops inside got several of them, but some made it as far as the house itself, where they began to clamber into the shattered windows. William automatically reined up and rode to the right, far enough to get a look at the rear of the house. Sure enough, a larger group was already at it, a number of them climbing the wall by means of the ivy that covered the back of the house.

“That way!” he bellowed, wheeling his horse around and waving his spontoon. “Olson, Jeffries, the back! Load and fire as soon as you’re in range!”

Two of his companies ran, ripping the ends of cartridges with their teeth, but a party of green-coated Hessians was there before him, seizing Americans by the legs and pulling them from the ivy to club them on the ground.

He reined round and dashed the other way, to see what was happening in front, and came in sight just in time to see a British artilleryman fly out of one of the open upper windows. The man landed on the ground, one leg bent under him, and lay screaming. One of William’s men, close enough, darted forward and grabbed the man’s shoulders, only to be shot by someone within the house. He crumpled and fell, his hat rolling off into the bushes.

They spent the rest of that day at the stone farmhouse; four times, the Americans made forays—twice, they succeeded in overcoming the inhabitants and briefly seizing the guns, but both times were overrun by fresh waves of British troops and evicted or killed. William never got closer than two hundred yards or so to the house itself, but once managed to interpose one of his companies between the house and a surge of desperate Americans dressed like Indians and yelling like banshees. One of them raised a long rifle and fired directly at him, but missed. He drew his sword, intending to ride the man down, but a shot from somewhere struck the man and sent him rolling down the face of a small hillock.

William urged his mount closer, to see whether the man was dead or not—the man’s companions had already fled round the far corner of the house, pursued by British troops. The gelding wasn’t having any; trained to the sound of musket fire, it found artillery unnerving, and the cannon happening to speak at this particular moment, the gelding laid its ears flat back and bolted.

William had his sword still in hand, the reins loosely wrapped round his other hand; the sudden jolt unseated him, and the horse whipped to the left, jerking his right foot from the stirrup and pitching him off. He had barely presence of mind to let go of the sword as he fell, and landed on one shoulder, rolling.

Simultaneously thanking God that his left foot hadn’t been trapped in its stirrup and cursing the horse, he scrambled up onto hands and knees, smeared with grass and mud, heart in his mouth.

The guns in the house had stopped; the Americans must be in there again, engaged in hand-to-hand fighting with the gun crews. He spat out mud, and began to make a cautious withdrawal; he thought he was in range of the upper windows.

To his left, though, he caught sight of the American who had tried to shoot him, still lying in the wet grass. With a wary glance at the house, he crawled to the man, who was lying on his face, unmoving. He wanted to see the man’s face, for what reason he couldn’t have said. He rose on his knees and took the man by both shoulders, pulling him over.

The man was clearly dead, shot through the head. Mouth and eyes sagged half open and his body felt strange, heavy and flopping. He wore a militia uniform of sorts; William saw the wooden buttons, with “PUT” burnt into them. That meant something, but his dazed mind made no sense of it. Gently laying the man back in the grass, he rose and went to fetch his sword. His knees felt peculiar.

Halfway to the spot where his sword lay, he stopped, turned round, and came back. Kneeling down, cold-fingered and hollow-bellied, he closed the man’s dead eyes against the rain.

THEY MADE CAMP that night, to the pleasure of the men. Camp kitchens were dug, the cook wagons brought up, and the scent of roasting meat and fresh bread filled the damp air. William had just sat down to eat when Perkins, that harbinger of doom, appeared apologetically at his side with a message: report to General Howe’s field headquarters at once. Snatching a loaf of bread and a steaming chunk of roast pork to put in it, he went, chewing.

He found the three generals and all of their staff officers gathered together, deep in a discussion of the day’s results. The generals sat at a small table thick with dispatches and hastily drawn maps. William found a place among the staff officers, standing respectfully back against the walls of the big tent.

Sir Henry was arguing for an attack on the Brooklyn Heights, come morning.

“We could dislodge them easily,” Clinton said, waving a hand at the dispatches. “They’ve lost half their men, if not more—and weren’t such a lot of ’em to start with.”

“Not easily,” said my lord Cornwallis, pursing fat lips. “You saw them fight. Yes, we could get them out of there—but at some cost. What say you, sir?” he added, turning deferentially to Howe.

Howe’s lips all but disappeared, only a white line marking their former existence.

“I can’t afford another victory like the last one,” he snapped. “Or if I could, I don’t want it.” His eyes left the table and passed over the juniors standing against the wall. “I lost every man on my staff at that damned hill in Boston,” he said, more quietly. “Twenty-eight of them. Every one.” His eyes lingered on William, the youngest of the junior officers present, and he shook his head, as though to himself, and turned back to Sir Henry.

“Stop the fighting,” he said.

Sir Henry wasn’t pleased, William could see that, but he merely nodded.

“Offer them terms?”

“No,” Howe said shortly. “They’ve lost nearly half their men, as you said. No one but a madman would go on fighting without cause. They—you, sir. Did you have an observation to make?”

With a start, William realized that Howe was addressing this remark to him; those round eyes were boring into his chest like bird shot.

“I—” he began, but then caught himself and drew up straight. “Yes, sir. It’s General Putnam in command. There at the creek. He’s … perhaps not a madman, sir,” he added carefully, “but he has the name of a stubborn man.”

Howe paused, eyes narrowed.

“A stubborn man,” he repeated. “Yes. I should say he is.”

“He was one of the commanders at Breed’s Hill, wasn’t he?” objected Lord Cornwallis. “The Americans ran fast enough away from there.”

“Yes, but—” William stopped dead, paralyzed by the fixed joint stares of three generals. Howe motioned him impatiently to go on.

“With respect, my lord,” he said, and was glad that his voice didn’t shake, “I … hear that the Americans did not run in Boston until they had exhausted every scrap of ammunition. I think … that is not the case, here. And with regard to General Putnam—there was no one behind him at Breed’s Hill.”

“And you think that there is now.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yes, sir.” William tried not to look pointedly at the stack of dispatches on Sir William’s table. “I’m sure of it, sir. I think nearly all of the Continentals are on the island, sir.” He tried not to make that sound like a question; he’d heard as much from a passing major the day before, but it might not be true. “If Putnam’s in command here—”

“How do you know it’s Putnam, Lieutenant?” Clinton interrupted, giving William the fish-eye.

“I am lately come from an—an intelligencing expedition, sir, which took me through Connecticut. I heard there, from many people, that militia were gathering to accompany General Putnam, who was to join with General Washington’s forces near New York. And I saw a button on one of the rebel dead near the creek this afternoon, sir, with ‘PUT’ carved on it. That’s what they call him, sir—General Putnam: ‘Old Put.’ ”

General Howe straightened himself before Clinton or Cornwallis could interject anything further.

“A stubborn man,” he repeated. “Well, perhaps he is. Nonetheless … suspend the fighting. He is in an untenable position, and must know it. Give him a chance to think it over—to consult with Washington if he likes. Washington is perhaps a more sensible commander. And if we might gain the surrender of the whole Continental army without further bloodshed … I think it worth the risk, gentlemen. But we will not offer terms.”

Which meant that if the Americans saw sense, it would be an unconditional surrender. And if they didn’t? William had heard stories about the fight at Breed’s Hill—granted, stories told by Americans, and therefore he took them with several grains of salt. But by account, the rebels there had taken the nails from the fencing of their fortifications—from the very heels of their shoes—and fired them at the British when their shot ran out. They had retreated only when reduced to throwing stones.

“But if Putnam’s expecting reinforcement from Washington, he’ll only sit and wait,” Clinton said, frowning. “And then we’ll have the whole boiling of them. Had we best not—”

“That’s not what he meant,” Howe interruputed. “Was it, Ellesmere? When you said there was no one behind him at Breed’s Hill?”

“No, sir,” William said, grateful. “I meant … he has something to protect. Behind him. I don’t think he’s waiting for the rest of the army to come to his aid. I think he’s covering their retreat.”

Lord Cornwallis’s hooped brows shot up at that. Clinton scowled at William, who recalled too late that Clinton had been the field commander at the Pyrrhic victory of Breed’s Hill and was likely sensitive on the subject of Israel Putnam.

“And why are we soliciting the advice of a boy still wet behind the—have you ever even seen combat, sir?” he demanded of William, who flushed hotly.

“I’d be fighting now, sir,” he said, “were I not detained here!”

Lord Cornwallis laughed, and a brief smile flitted across Howe’s face.

“We shall make certain to have you properly blooded, Lieutenant,” he said dryly. “But not today. Captain Ramsay?” He motioned to one of the senior staff, a short man with very square shoulders, who stepped forward and saluted. “Take Ellesmere here and have him tell you the results of his … intelligencing. Convey to me anything which strikes you as being of interest. In the meantime”—he turned back to his two generals—“suspend hostilities until further notice.”

WILLIAM HEARD NO MORE of the generals’ deliberations, he being led away by Captain Ramsay.

Had he spoken too much out of turn? he wondered. Granted, General Howe had asked him a direct question; he had had to answer. But to put forward his paltry month’s intelligencing, against the combined knowledge of so many experienced senior officers …

He said something of his doubts to Captain Ramsay, who seemed a quiet sort but friendly enough.

“Oh, you hadn’t any choice but to speak up,” Ramsay assured him. “Still …”

William dodged round a pile of mule droppings in order to keep up with Ramsay.

“Still?” he asked.

Ramsay didn’t answer for a bit, but led the way through the encampment, down neat aisles of canvas tents, waving now and then at men round a fire who called out to him.

At last, they arrived at Ramsay’s own tent, and he held back the flap for William, gesturing him in.

“Heard of a lady called Cassandra?” Ramsay said at last. “Some sort of Greek, I think. Not very popular.”

THE ARMY SLEPT SOUNDLY after its exertions, and so did William.

“Your tea, sir?”

He blinked, disoriented and still wrapped in dreams of walking through the Duke of Devonshire’s private zoo, hand in hand with an orangutan. But it was Private Perkins’s round and anxious face, rather than the orangutan’s, that greeted him.

“What?” he said stupidly. Perkins seemed to swim in a sort of haze, but this was not dispelled by blinking, and when he sat up to take the steaming cup, he discovered the cause of it was that the air itself was permeated with a heavy mist.

All sound was muffled; while the normal noises of a camp rising were to be heard, they sounded far away, subdued. No surprise, then, when he poked his head out of his tent a few minutes later, to find the ground blanketed with a drifting fog that had crept in from the marshes.

It didn’t matter much. The army was going nowhere. A dispatch from Howe’s headquarters had made the suspension of hostilities official; there was nothing to do but wait for the Americans to see sense and surrender.

The army stretched, yawned, and sought distraction. William was engaged in a hot game of hazard with Corporals Yarnell and Jeffries when Perkins came up again, breathless.

“Colonel Spencer’s compliments, sir, and you’re to report to General Clinton.”

“Yes? What for?” William demanded. Perkins looked baffled; it hadn’t occurred to him to ask the messenger what for.

“Just … I suppose he wants you,” he said, in an effort to be helpful.

“Thank you very much, Private Perkins,” William said, with a sarcasm wasted on Perkins, who beamed in relief and retired without being dismissed.

“Perkins!” he bellowed, and the private turned, round face startled. “Which way?”

“What? Er … what, sir, I mean?”

“In which direction does General Clinton’s headquarters lie?” William asked, with elaborate patience.

“Oh! The hussar … he came from …” Perkins rotated slowly, like a weather vane, frowning in concentration. “That way!” He pointed. “I could see that bit of hillock behind him.” The fog was still thick near the ground, but the crests of hills and tall trees were now and then visible, and William had no difficulty in spotting the hillock to which Perkins referred; it had an odd lumpy look to it.

“Thank you, Perkins. Dismissed,” he added quickly, before Perkins could make off again. He watched the private disappear into the shifting mass of fog and bodies, then shook his head and went to hand command over to Corporal Evans.

The gelding didn’t like the fog. William didn’t like it, either. Fog gave him an uneasy feeling, as though someone was breathing on the back of his neck.

This was a sea fog, though: heavy, dank, and cold, but not smothering. It thinned and thickened, with a sense of movement to it. He could see a few feet before him, and could just make out the dim shape of the hillock Perkins had indicated, though the top kept appearing and disappearing like some fantastic conjuration in a fairy tale.

What might Sir Henry want with him? he wondered. And was it only him who’d been sent for, or was this a meeting called to apprise the line officers of some change of strategy?

Maybe Putnam’s men had surrendered. They should, certainly; they had no hope of victory in the circumstances, and that must be plain to them.

But he supposed Putnam would need, perhaps, to consult with Washington. During the fighting at the old stone farmhouse, he’d seen a small group of horsemen on the crest of a distant hill, an unfamiliar flag fluttering amongst them; someone at the time had pointed at it and said, “That’s him there, Washington. Shame we’ve not got a twenty-four in place—teach him to gawk!” and laughed.

Sense said they’d surrender. But he had an uneasy feeling that had nothing to do with the fog. During his month on the road, he’d had occasion to listen to a good many Americans. Most were uneasy themselves, not wanting conflict with England, particularly not wanting to be anywhere near armed strife—a very sensible conclusion. But the ones who were decided on revolt … were very decided indeed.

Maybe Ramsay had conveyed some of this to the generals; he hadn’t seemed at all impressed by any of William’s information, let alone his opinions, but perhaps—

The horse stumbled, and he lurched in his saddle, accidentally jerking the reins. The horse, annoyed, whipped round its head and bit him, big teeth scraping on his boot.

“Bastard!” He smacked the horse across the nose with the ends of the reins, and hauled the gelding’s head round forcibly, until the rolling eyes and curled lip were nearly in his lap. Then, his point made, he slowly released the pressure. The horse snorted and shook his mane violently, but resumed progress without further argument.

He seemed to have been riding for some time. But time as well as distance was deceiving in fog. He glanced up at the hillock that was his goal, only to discover that it had vanished again. Well, doubtless it would come back.

Only it didn’t.

The fog continued to shift around him, and he heard the dripping of moisture from the leaves of the trees that seemed to come suddenly out of the mist at him and as suddenly retreat again. But the hillock stayed stubbornly invisible.

It occurred to him that he hadn’t heard any sounds of men for some time now.

He should have.

If he were approaching Clinton’s headquarters, he should not only be hearing all the normal camp sounds, he should have encountered any number of men, horses, campfires, wagons, tents …

There was no noise anywhere near him, save the rushing of water. He’d bloody bypassed the camp.

“Damn you, Perkins,” he said under his breath.

He drew up for a moment and checked the priming of his pistol, sniffing at the powder in the pan; it smelled different when the damp got at it. Still all right, he thought; it smelled hot and nose-prickling, not so much of the rotten-egg scent of sulfur as wet powder had.

He kept the pistol in his hand, though so far he’d seen nothing threatening. The fog was too heavy to see more than a few feet in front of him, though; someone could come out of it suddenly, and he’d have to decide on the instant whether to shoot them or not.

It was quiet; their own artillery was silent; there was no random musket fire like the day before. The enemy was in retreat; no doubt about that. But if he should stumble across a stray Continental, lost in the fog like himself, ought he to shoot? The thought made his hands sweat, but he thought he must; the Continental would likely have no hesitation about shooting him, the instant he saw the red uniform.

He was somewhat more worried about the humiliation of being shot by his own troops than about the actual prospect of death, but was not entirely oblivious to the risk of that, either.

The bloody fog had got thicker, if anything. He looked in vain for the sun, to give some sense of direction, but the sky was invisible.

He fought back the small quiver of panic that tickled his tailbone. Right, there were 34,000 British troops on this bloody island; he had to be within pistol shot of any number of them at this moment. And you only need be in pistol shot of one American, he reminded himself, grimly pushing through a growth of larches.

He heard rustlings and the cracking of branches nearby; the wood was inhabited, no doubt about it. But by whom?

The British troops wouldn’t be moving in this fog, that was one thing. Curse Perkins! If he heard movement, then, as of a body of men, he’d stop and stay hidden. And otherwise … all he could hope to do was to run across a body of troops, or to hear something unmistakably military in nature—shouted orders, perhaps …

He rode on slowly for some time, and finally put the pistol away, finding the weight of it wearisome. God, how long had he been out? An hour? Two? Ought he to turn around? But he had no way of knowing what “around” was—he might be traveling in circles; the ground all looked the same, a gray blur of trees and rocks and grasses. Yesterday, he’d spent every minute keyed to fever pitch, ready for the attack. Today, his enthusiasm for fighting had ebbed substantially.

Someone stepped out in front of him and the horse reared, so abruptly that William had only the vaguest impression of the man. Enough to know he wasn’t wearing a British uniform, though, and he would have snatched his pistol out, were both hands not occupied in trying to control the horse.

The horse, having given way to hysteria, crow-hopped in mad circles, jarring William to the spine with each landing. His surroundings spun past in a blur of gray and green, but he was half conscious of voices, whooping in what might be either derision or encouragement.

After what seemed an age, but must be only half a minute or so, William succeeded in bringing the bloody creature to a standstill, panting and blowing, still flinging its head around, the whites of its eyes showing, gleaming wet.

“You fucking piece of cat’s meat!” William said to it, hauling its head round. The horse’s breath sank damp and hot through the doeskin of his breeches, and its sides heaved under him.

“Not the best-tempered horse I ever seen,” a voice agreed, and a hand came up, seizing the bridle. “Healthy-looking, though.”

William got a glimpse of a man in hunting dress, stout and swarthy—and then someone else seized him round the waist from behind and hauled him bodily off the horse.

He hit the ground hard and flat on his back, knocking out his wind, but tried valiantly to get to his pistol. A knee pressed into his chest, and a large hand wrestled the pistol out of his grip. A bearded face grinned down at him.

“Not very sociable,” the man said, reproving. “Thought you-all was meant to be civilized, you British.”

“You let him get up and at you, Harry, I imagine he’d civilize you, all right.” This was another man, shorter and slightly built, with a soft, educated voice like a schoolmaster, who peered over the shoulder of the man kneeling on William’s chest. “You could let him breathe, though, I suppose.”

The pressure on William’s chest relaxed, and he got a whisper of air into his lungs. This was promptly driven out again when the man who had held him down punched him in the stomach. Hands promptly began to rifle his pockets, and his gorget was jerked off over his head, painfully scraping the underside of his nose. Someone reached round him and unbuckled his belt, neatly removing it with a whistle of pleasure at the equipment attached.

“Very nice,” said the second man, approving. He glanced down at William, lying on the ground and gasping like a landed fish. “I thank you, sir; we’re much obliged. All right, Allan?” he called, turning toward the man holding the horse.

“Aye, I’ve got ’im,” said a nasal Scottish voice. “Let’s be off!”

The men moved away, and for an instant, William thought they had left. Then a meaty hand seized his shoulder and flipped him over. He writhed up onto his knees by sheer will, and the same hand seized his pigtail and jerked his head back, exposing his throat. He caught the gleam of a knife, and the man’s broad grin, but had neither breath nor time for prayers or curses.

The knife slashed down, and he felt a yank at the back of his head that brought water to his eyes. The man grunted, displeased, and hacked twice more, finally coming away triumphant, William’s pigtail held up in a ham-sized hand.

“Souvenir,” he said to William, grinning, and whirling on his heel, made off after his friends. The horse’s whinny drifted back to William through the fog, mocking.

HE WISHED, URGENTLY, that he had managed to kill at least one of them. But they’d taken him as easily as a child, plucked him like a goose and left him lying on the ground like a fucking turd! His rage was so overwhelming that he had to stop and punch a tree trunk. The pain of that left him gasping, still murderous but breathless.

He clutched the injured hand between his thighs, hissing between his teeth until the pain abated. Shock was mingling with fury; he felt more disoriented than ever, his head spinning. Chest heaving, he reached behind his head with his sound hand, feeling the bristly stumpage left there—and overcome with fresh rage, kicked the tree with all his strength.

He limped round in circles, swearing, then finally collapsed onto a rock and put his head down on his knees, panting.

Gradually, his breath slowed, and his ability to think rationally began to return.

Right. He was still lost in the wilds of Long Island, only now minus horse, food, or weapons. Or hair. That made him sit up straight, fists clenched, and he fought back the fury, with some difficulty. Right. He hadn’t time to be angry now. If he ever laid eyes on Harry, Allan, or the little man with the educated voice … well, time enough for that when it happened.

For now, the important thing was to locate some part of the army. His impulse was to desert on the spot, take ship to France, and never come back, leaving the army to presume that he’d been killed. But he couldn’t do that for assorted reasons, not least his father—who’d probably prefer that he was killed than run cravenly away.

No help for it. He rose resignedly to his feet, trying to feel grateful that the bandits had at least left him his coat. The fog was lifting a little here and there, but still lay damp and chilly on the ground. Not that he was troubled by that; his own blood was still boiling.

He glared round at the shadowy shapes of rocks and trees. They looked just like all the other fucking rocks and trees he’d encountered in the course of this misbegotten day.

“Right,” he said aloud, and stabbed a finger into the air, turning as he did so. “Eeny-meeny-miney-mo, catch a Frenchy by the toe, if he’s squealing—oh, the hell with it.”

Limping slightly, he set off. He had no idea where he was going, but he had to move, or burst.

He entertained himself for some little time in reimagining the recent encounter, with satisfying visions of himself seizing the fat man named Harry and wringing his nose into bloody pulp before smashing his head on a rock. Grabbing the knife away from him and gutting that supercilious little bastard … ripping his lungs out … there was a thing called the “blood eagle” that the savage German tribes used to do, slitting a man’s back and dragging out his lungs through the slits, so they flapped like wings as he died …

Gradually, he grew calmer, only because it was impossible to sustain such a level of fury.

His foot felt better; his knuckles were skinned, but not throbbing as much, and his fantasies of revenge began to seem faintly absurd to him. Was that what the fury of battle was like? he wondered. Did you want not just to shoot and stab because it was your duty to kill, but did you like it? Want it like wanting a woman? And did you feel like a fool after doing it?

He’d thought about killing in battle. Not all the time, but on and off. He’d made a great effort to visualize it when he’d made up his mind to join the army. And he did realize that there might be regret attached to the act.

His father had told him, baldly and with no effort at self-justification, about the circumstances under which he had killed his first man. Not in battle, but following one. The point-blank execution of a Scot, wounded and left on the field at Culloden.

“Under orders,” his father had said. “No quarter to be given; those were our written orders, signed by Cumberland.” His father’s eyes had been fixed on his bookshelves during the telling, but at this point he’d looked at William directly.

“Orders,” he repeated. “You follow orders, of course; you have to. But there will be times when you have no orders, or find yourself in a situation which has changed suddenly. And there will be times—there will be times, William—when your own honor dictates that you cannot follow an order. In such circumstances, you must follow your own judgment, and be prepared to live with the consequences.”

William had nodded, solemn. He’d just brought his commission papers for his father to look over, Lord John’s signature being required as his guardian. He’d regarded the signing as a mere formality, though; he hadn’t been expecting either a confession or a sermon—if that’s what this was.

“I shouldn’t have done it,” his father had said abruptly. “I shouldn’t have shot him.”

“But—your orders—”

“They didn’t affect me, not directly. I hadn’t yet got my commission; I’d gone with my brother on campaign, but I wasn’t a soldier yet; I wasn’t under the army’s authority. I could have refused.”

“If you had, wouldn’t someone else have shot him?” William asked practically.

His father smiled, but without humor.

“Yes, they would. But that’s not the point. And it’s true that it never occurred to me that I had a choice in the matter—but that is the point. You always have a choice, William. Do remember that, will you?”

Without waiting for an answer, he’d leaned forward and plucked a quill from the blue-and-white Chinese jar on his desk, and flipped open his rock-crystal inkwell.

“You’re sure?” he’d said, looking seriously at William, and at the latter’s nod, signed his name with a flourish. Then had looked up and smiled.

“I’m proud of you, William,” he’d said quietly. “I always will be.”

William sighed. He didn’t doubt that his father would always love him, but as for making him proud … this particular expedition did not seem likely to cover him in glory. He’d be lucky to get back to his own troops before someone noticed how long he’d been gone and raised the alarm. God, how ignominious, to get lost and robbed, as his first notable act!

Still, better than having his first notable act being killed by bandits.

He continued to make his way cautiously through the fog-draped woods. The footing wasn’t bad, though there were boggy places where the rain had pooled in low spots. Once, he heard the ragged crack of musket fire and hurried toward it, but it stopped before he came in sight of whoever had been firing.

He trudged grimly along, wondering just how long it might take to traverse the whole of the bloody island on foot, and how close he was to having done so? The ground had risen sharply; he was climbing now, sweat running freely down his face. He fancied the fog was thinning as he climbed, and sure enough, at one point he emerged onto a small rocky promontory and had a brief glimpse of the ground below—completely covered in swirling gray fog. The sight gave him vertigo, and he was obliged to sit down on a rock for a few moments with his eyes closed before continuing.

Twice, he heard the sound of men and horses, but the sound was subtly wrong; the voices didn’t have the rhythms of the army, and he turned away, edging cautiously in the opposite direction.

He found the ground change abruptly, becoming a sort of scrub forest, full of stunted trees poking from a light-colored soil that scrunched under his boots. Then he heard water—waves lapping on a beach. The sea! Well, thank God for that, he thought, and hastened his steps toward the sound.

As he made his way toward the sound of the waves, though, he suddenly perceived other sounds.

Boats. The grating of hulls—more than one—on gravel, the clank of oarlocks, splashing. And voices. Hushed voices, but agitated. Bloody hell! He ducked under the limb of a runty pine, hoping for a break in the drifting fog.

A sudden movement sent him lunging sideways, hand reaching for his pistol. He barely remembered that the pistol was gone, before realizing that his adversary was a great blue heron, which eyed him with a yellow glare before launching itself skyward in a clatter of affront. A cry of alarm came from the bushes, no more than ten feet away, together with the boom of a musket, and the heron exploded in a shower of feathers, directly over his head. He felt drops of the bird’s blood, much warmer than the cold sweat on his face, and sat down very suddenly, black spots dizzy before his eyes.

He didn’t dare move, let alone call out. There was a whisper of voices from the bushes, but not loud enough that he could make out any words. After a few moments, though, he heard a stealthy rustling that moved gradually away. Making as little noise as possible, he rolled onto hands and knees and crawled for some distance in the other direction, until he felt it safe to rise to his feet again.

He thought he still heard voices. He crept closer, moving slowly, his heart thumping. He smelled tobacco, and froze.

Nothing moved near him, though—he could still hear the voices, but they were a good way distant. He sniffed, cautiously, but the scent had vanished; perhaps he was imagining things. He moved on, toward the sounds.

He could hear them clearly now. Urgent, low-voiced calls, the rattle of oarlocks and the splash of feet in the surf. The shuffle and murmur of men, blending—almost—with the susurrus of sea and grass. He cast one last desperate glance at the sky, but the sun was still invisible. He had to be on the western side of the island; he was sure of it. Almost sure of it. And if he was …

If he was, the sounds he was hearing had to be those of American troops, fleeing the island for Manhattan.

“Don’t. Stir.” The whisper behind him coincided exactly with the pressure of a gun’s barrel, jammed hard enough into his kidney as to freeze him where he stood. It withdrew for an instant and returned, rammed home with a force that blurred his eyes. He made a guttural sound and arched his back, but before he could speak, someone with horny hands had seized his wrists and jerked them back.

“No need,” said the voice, deep, cracked, and querulous. “Stand aside and I’ll shoot him.”

“No, ’ee won’t,” said another, just as deep but less annoyed. “ ’e’s nobbut a youngun. And pretty, too.” One of the horny hands stroked his cheek and he stiffened, but whoever it was had already bound his hands tight.

“And if ’ee meant to shoot ’im, you’m ’ve done it already, sister,” the voice added. “Turn y’self, boy.”

Slowly, he turned round, to see that he had been captured by a pair of old women, short and squat as trolls. One of them, the one with the gun, was smoking a pipe; it was her tobacco he’d smelled. Seeing the shock and disgust on his features, she lifted one corner of a seamed mouth while keeping a firm grip on the pipestem with the stumps of brown-stained teeth.

“ ’andsome is as ’andsome does,” she observed, looking him up and down. “Still, no need to waste shot.”

“Madam,” he said, collecting himself and trying for charm. “I believe you mistake me. I am a soldier of the King, and—”

Both of them burst into laughter, creaking like a pair of rusty hinges.

“Wouldn’t never’ve guessed,” the pipe-smoker said, grinning round the stem of her pipe. “Thought ’ee was a jakesman, sure!”

“Hush up, sonny,” her sister interrupted his further attempt to speak. “We bain’t going to harm ’ee, so long as ’ee stands still and keeps mum.” She eyed him, taking in the damage.

“Been in the wars, have ’ee?” she said, not without sympathy. Not waiting for an answer, she pushed him down onto a rock, this liberally crusted with mussels and dripping weed, from which he deduced his closeness to the shore.

He didn’t speak. Not for fear of the old women, but because there was nothing to say.

He sat, listening to the sounds of the exodus. No idea how many men might be involved, as he had no notion how long it had been going on. Nothing useful was said; there were only the breathless half-heard exchanges of men working, the mutter of waiting, here and there the sort of muffled laughter born of nervousness.

The fog was lifting off the water. He could see them now—not more than a hundred yards away, a tiny fleet of rowboats, dories, here and there a fishing ketch, moving slowly to and fro across water smooth as glass—and a steadily dwindling crowd of men on shore, keeping their hands on their guns, glancing continually over their shoulders, alert for pursuit.

Little did they know, he reflected bitterly.

At the moment, he had no concern for his own future; the humiliation of being an impotent witness as the entire American army escaped under his nose—and the further thought of being obliged to return and recount this occurrence to General Howe—was so galling that he didn’t care whether the old women had it in mind to cook and eat him.

Focused as he was on the scene on the beach, it didn’t occur to him at once that if he could now see the Americans, he was himself visible to them. In fact, so intent were the Continentals and militiamen on their retreat that none of them did notice him, until one man turned away from the retreat, seeming to search the upper reaches of the shore for something.

The man stiffened, then, with a brief glance back at his oblivious companions, came purposefully up across the shingle, eyes fixed on William.

“What’s this, Mother?” he asked. He was dressed in the uniform of a Continental officer, built short and wide, much like the two women, but a good deal bigger, and while his face was outwardly calm, there were calculations going on behind his bloodshot eyes.

“Been fishing,” said the pipe-smoker. “Caught this wee redfish, but we think we’ll throw ’im back.”

“Aye? Maybe not just yet.”

William had stiffened with the man’s appearance, and stared up at him, keeping his own face as grim as possible.

The man glanced up at the shredding fog behind William.

“More like you at home, are there, boy?”

William sat silent. The man sighed, drew back his fist, and hit William in the stomach. He doubled up, fell off the rock, and lay retching on the sand. The man grasped him by the collar and hauled him up, as though he weighed nothing.

“Answer me, lad. I haven’t much time, and ’ee don’t want me to be hasty in my asking.” He spoke mildly, but touched the knife at his belt.

William wiped his mouth, as well as he could, on his shoulder and faced the man, eyes burning. All right, he thought, and felt a certain calmness descend on him. If this is where I die, at least I’ll die for something. The thought was almost a relief.

The pipe-smoker’s sister put paid to the dramatics, though, poking his interrogator in the ribs with her musket.

“If there was more, sister and I’d’a heard ’em long since,” she said, mildly disgusted. “They ain’t quiet, sojers.”

“True, that,” the pipe-smoker agreed, and paused to remove her pipe long enough to spit. “This ’un’s only lost, ’ee can see as much. ’Ee can see he won’t talk to ’ee, either.” She grinned familiarly at William, displaying one remaining yellow dogtooth. “Rather die than speak, eh, lad?”

William inclined his head a stiff inch, and the women giggled. No other word for it: they giggled at him.

“Get on with ’ee,” the aunt told the man, waving a hand at the beach behind him. “They’ll leave without ’ee.”

The man didn’t look at her—didn’t take his eyes off William’s. After a moment, though, he nodded briefly and turned on his heel.

William felt one of the women behind him; something sharp touched his wrist, and the twine they’d bound him with parted. He wanted to rub his wrists, but didn’t.

“Go, boy,” the pipe-smoker said, almost gently. “Before someun else sees ’ee and gets ideas.”

He left.

At the top of the beach, he paused and looked back. The old women had vanished, but the man was sitting in the stern of a rowboat, drawing rapidly away from the shore, now nearly empty. The man was staring at him.

William turned away. The sun was finally visible, a pale orange circle burning through the haze. It was coming down the sky now, early afternoon. He turned inland and struck southwest, but felt eyes on his back for a long time after the shore had fallen out of sight behind him.

His stomach was sore, and the only thought in his mind was what Captain Ramsay had said to him. Heard of a lady called Cassandra?

AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE

Lallybroch

Inverness-shire, Scotland

September 1980

NOT ALL OF the letters were dated, but some were. Bree sorted gingerly through the half-dozen on top, and with a sense of being poised at the top of a roller coaster, chose one with 2 March, A.D. 1777 written across the flap.

“I think this one’s next.” She had trouble taking a full breath. “It’s—thin. Short.”

It was, no more than a page and a half, but the reason for its brevity was clear; her father had written the whole of it. His awkward, determined writing wrung her heart.

“We are never letting a teacher try to make Jemmy write with his right hand,” she said fiercely to Roger. “Never!”

“Right,” he said, surprised and a little amused at her outburst. “Or left, if you prefer.”2 March, Anno Domini 1777

Fraser’s Ridge, colony of North CarolinaMy dearest daughter—

We prepare now to remove to Scotland. Not forever, or even for long. My Life—our Lives—lie here in America. And in all Honesty, I should greatly prefer to be stung to Death by Hornets than set foot on board another Ship; I try not to dwell upon the Prospect. But there are two chief Concerns which compel me to this Decision.Had I not the Gift of Knowledge that you and your Mother and Roger Mac have brought me, I would likely think—as the great Majority of People in the Colony do think—that the Continental Congress will not last six Months, and Washington’s Army less than that. I have spoken myself with a man from Cross Creek, who was discharged (honourably) from the Continental army on account of a festering Wound in the Arm—your Mother has of course dealt with this; he screamed a great Deal and I was pressed into service to sit upon him—who tells me that Washington has no more than a few thousand regular Soldiers, all very poor in Equipment, Clothes, and Arms, and all owed Money, which they are unlikely to receive. Most of his men are Militia, enlisted on short Contracts of two or three Months, and already melting away, needing to return Home for the Planting.But I do know. At the same Time, I cannot be sure how the Things that I know will come about. Am I meant to be in some Way Part of this? Should I hold back, will that somehow damage or prevent the Success of our Desires? I often wish I could discuss these Questions with your Husband, though Presbyterian that he is, I think he would find them even more unsettling than I do. And in the end, it does not matter. I am what God has made me, and must deal with the Times in which He has placed me.While I have not yet lost the Faculties of Sight or Hearing, nor even Control of my Bowels, I am not a young Man. I have a Sword, and a Rifle, and can use them both—but I also have a printing Press, and can use that to much greater Effect; it does not escape me that one can wield Sword or Musket only upon one Enemy at a time, while Words may be employed upon any Number.Your Mother—doubtless contemplating the Prospect of my being seasick for several Weeks in her immediate Vicinity—suggests that I might enter Business with Fergus, making use of L’Oignon’s Press, rather than travel to Scotland to retrieve my own.I considered this, but I cannot in Conscience expose Fergus and hisFamily to Danger by making use of their Press for such Purposes as I intend. Theirs is one of only a few Presses in operation between Charleston and Norfolk; even were I to do my Printing with the utmost Secrecy, Suspicion would focus upon them in short order—New Bern is a Hotbed of Loyalist Sentiment, and the Origins of my pamphleteering would become known almost immediately.Beyond Consideration for Fergus and his Family, I think there may be some Benefit in visiting Edinburgh in order to retrieve my own Press. I had a varied Acquaintance there; some may have escaped Prison or the Noose.The second—and most important—Consideration that compels me to Scotland, though, is your Cousin Ian. Years ago, I swore to his Mother—upon the Memory of our own Mother—that I would bring him Home to her, and this I mean to do, though the Man I bring back to Lallybroch is not the Lad who left there. God alone knows what they will make of each other, Ian and Lallybroch—and God has a most peculiar Sense of Humor. But if he is to go back at all, it must be now.The Snow is melting; Water drips from the Eaves all Day, and Icicles reach from the Roof of the Cabin nearly to the Ground by Morning. Within a few Weeks, the Roads will be clear enough for Travel. It seems strange to ask that you pray for the Safety of a Voyage which will have been long completed by the Time you learn of it—-for good or ill—but I ask it, nonetheless. Tell Roger Mac that I think God takes no account of Time. And kiss the Children for me.Your most affectionate Father,

JF

Roger sat back a little, eyebrows raised, and glanced at her.

“The French Connection, you think?”

“The what?” She frowned over his shoulder, saw where his finger marked the text. “Where he’s talking about his friends in Edinburgh?”

“Aye. Were not a good many of his Edinburgh acquaintances smugglers?”

“That’s what Mama said.”

“Hence the remark about nooses. And where were they smuggling things from, mostly?”

Her stomach gave a small hop.

“Oh, you’re kidding. You think he’s planning to mess with French smugglers?”

“Well, not smugglers, necessarily; he apparently knew a good many seditionists, thieves, and prostitutes, too.” Roger smiled briefly, but then grew serious again.

“But I told him as much as I knew about the shape of the Revolution—admittedly, not a lot of detail, it not being my period—and I certainly told him how important France would be to the Americans. I’m just thinking”—he paused, a little awkwardly, then looked up at her—“he isn’t going to Scotland to avoid the fighting; he’s pretty clear about that.”

“So you think he might be looking for political connections?” she asked slowly. “Not just grabbing his printing press, dropping Ian off at Lallybroch, and beating it back to America?”

She found the idea something of a relief. The notion of her parents intriguing in Edinburgh and Paris was much less hair-raising than her visions of them in the midst of explosions and battlefields. And it would be both of them, she realized. Where her father went, her mother would be, too.

Roger shrugged.

“That offhand remark about being what God made him. Ye ken what he means by that?”

“A bloody man,” she said softly, and moved closer to Roger, putting a hand on his shoulder as though to ensure that he wouldn’t suddenly vanish. “He told me he was a bloody man. That he’d seldom chosen to fight, but knew he was born to do it.”

“Aye, that,” Roger said, just as softly. “But he’s no longer the young laird who took up his sword and led thirty crofters to a doomed battle—and took them home again. He knows a lot more now, about what one man can do. I think he means to do it.”

“I think so, too.” Her throat felt tight, but as much with pride as fear.

Roger reached up and put his hand over hers, squeezing.

“I remember …” he said slowly. “A thing your mother said, telling us about—about when she came back, and how she became a doctor. A thing your—Frank—that he said to her. Something about it being bloody inconvenient to the people round her, but a great blessing that she knew what it was she was meant to be. He was right about that, I think. And Jamie does know.”

She nodded. She probably shouldn’t say it, she thought. But she couldn’t hold the words back any longer.

“Do you know?”

He was silent for a long time, looking at the pages on the table, but at last shook his head, the motion so small that she felt rather than saw it.

“I used to,” he said quietly, and let go of her hand.

HER FIRST IMPULSE WAS to punch him in the back of the neck; her second was to seize him by the shoulders, bend down with her eyeballs an inch from his, and say—calmly, but distinctly—“What the hell do you mean by that?”

She refrained from doing either, only because both were likely to lead to a prolonged conversation of a sort deeply inappropriate for children, and both the kids were in the hall a few feet from the study door; she could hear them talking.

“See that?” Jemmy was saying.

“Un-huh.”

“Bad people came here, a long time ago, looking for Grandda. Bad English people. They did that.”

Roger’s head turned as he caught what Jemmy was saying, and he caught Brianna’s eye, with a half smile.

“Bad Engwish!” Mandy repeated obligingly. “Make ’em cwean it up!”

In spite of her annoyance, Brianna couldn’t help sharing Roger’s smile, though she felt a small shimmer in the pit of her stomach, recalling her uncle Ian—so calm, so kind a man—showing her the saber slashes in the wooden paneling of the hall and telling her, “We keep it so, to show the children—and tell them, this is what the English are.” There had been steel in his voice—and hearing a faint, absurdly childish echo of it in Jemmy’s voice, she had her first doubts regarding the wisdom of keeping this particular family tradition.

“Did you tell him about it?” she asked Roger, as the children’s voices moved away toward the kitchen. “I didn’t.”

“Annie’d told him part of it; I thought I’d best tell him the rest.” He raised his eyebrows. “Should I have told him to ask you?”

“Oh. No. No,” she repeated, dubiously. “But—should we be teaching him to hate English people?”

Roger smiled at that.

“ ‘Hate’ might be pitching it a bit strong. And he did say bad English people. They were bad English people who did that. Besides, if he’s going to grow up in the Highlands, he’ll likely hear a few barbed remarks regarding Sassenachs—he’ll balance those against his memories of your mother; your da always called her ‘Sassenach,’ after all.”

He glanced at the letter on the table, caught a glimpse of the wall clock, and rose abruptly.

“Christ, I’m late. I’ll stop at the bank whilst I’m in town—need anything from the Farm and Household?”

“Yes,” she said dryly, “a new pump for the milk separator.”

“Right,” he said, and kissing her hastily, went out, one arm already into his jacket.

She opened her mouth to call after him that she’d been joking, but on second thought closed it. The Farm and Household Stores just might have a pump for a milk separator. A large, bewilderingly crowded building on the edge of Inverness, the Farm and Household supplied just about anything a farm might need, including pitchforks, rubber fire buckets, baling wire, and washing machines, as well as crockery, jars for canning, and not a few mysterious implements whose use she could only guess at.

She stuck her head into the corridor, but the kids were in the kitchen with Annie MacDonald, the hired girl; laughter and the wire clong! of the ancient toaster—it had come with the house—floated past the ratty green baize door, along with the enticing scent of hot buttered toast. The smell and the laughter drew her like a magnet, and the warmth of home flowed over her, golden as honey.

She paused to fold up the letter, though, before going to join them, and the memory of Roger’s last remark tightened her mouth.

“I used to.”

Snorting ferociously, she tucked the letter back into the box and went out into the hall, only to be arrested by sight of a large envelope on the table near the door, where the daily mail—and the contents of Roger’s and Jemmy’s pockets—were daily unloaded. She grabbed the envelope out of the pile of circulars, pebbles, pencil stubs, links of bicycle chain, and … was that a dead mouse? It was; flattened and dried, but adorned with a stiff loop of pink tail. She picked it up gingerly and, with the envelope clasped against her breast, made her way toward tea and toast.

In all honesty, she thought, Roger wasn’t the only one keeping things to himself. The difference was, she planned to tell him what she was thinking—once it was settled.

SPRING THAW

Fraser’s Ridge, colony of North Carolina

March 1777

ONE THING ABOUT a devastating fire, I reflected. It did make packing easier. At present, I owned one gown, one shift, three petticoats—one woolen, two muslin—two pairs of stockings (I’d been wearing one pair when the house burned; the other had been carelessly left drying on a bush a few weeks before the fire and was discovered later, weathered but still wearable), a shawl, and a pair of shoes. Jamie had procured a horrible cloak for me somewhere—I didn’t know where, and didn’t want to ask. Made of thick wool the color of leprosy, it smelled as though someone had died in it and lain undiscovered for a couple of days. I’d boiled it with lye soap, but the ghost of its previous occupant lingered.

Still, I wouldn’t freeze.

My medical kit was nearly as simple to pack. With a regretful sigh for the ashes of my beautiful apothecary’s chest, with its elegant tools and numerous bottles, I turned over the pile of salvaged remnants from my surgery. The dented barrel of my microscope. Three singed ceramic jars, one missing its lid, one cracked. A large tin of goose grease mixed with camphor—now nearly empty after a winter of catarrhs and coughs. A handful of singed pages, ripped from the casebook started by Daniel Rawlings and continued by myself—though my spirits were lifted a bit by the discovery that the salvaged pages included one bearing Dr. Rawlings’s special receipt for Bowel-Bind.

It was the only one of his receipts I’d found effective, and while I’d long since committed the actual formula to memory, having it to hand kept my sense of him alive. I’d never met Daniel Rawlings in life, but he’d been my friend since the day Jamie gave me his chest and casebook. I folded the paper carefully and tucked it into my pocket.

Most of my herbs and compounded medications had perished in the flames, along with the earthenware jars, the glass vials, the large bowls in which I incubated penicillin broth, and my surgical saws. I still had one scalpel and the darkened blade of a small amputation saw; the handle had been charred, but Jamie could make me a new one.

The residents of the Ridge had been generous—as generous as people who had virtually nothing themselves could be at the tail end of winter. We had food for the journey, and many of the women had brought me bits of their household simples; I had small jars of lavender, rosemary, comfrey, and mustard seed, two precious steel needles, a small skein of silk thread to use for sutures and dental floss (though I didn’t mention that last use to the ladies, who would have been deeply affronted by the notion), and a very small stock of bandages and gauze for dressings.

One thing I had in abundance, though, was alcohol. The corncrib had been spared from the flames, and so had the still. Since there was more than enough grain for both animals and household, Jamie had thriftily transformed the rest into a very raw—but potent—liquor, which we would take along to trade for necessary goods along the way. One small cask had been kept for my especial use, though; I’d carefully painted the legend Sauerkraut on the side, to discourage theft on the road.

“And what if we should be set upon by illiterate banditti?” Jamie had asked, amused by this.

“Thought of that,” I informed him, displaying a small corked bottle full of cloudy liquid. “Eau de sauerkraut. I’ll pour it on the cask at first sight of anyone suspicious.”

“I suppose we’d best hope they’re not German bandits, then.”

“Have you ever met a German bandit?” I asked. With the exception of the occasional drunkard or wife-beater, almost all the Germans we knew were honest, hardworking, and virtuous to a fault. Not all that surprising, given that so many of them had come to the colony as part of a religious movement.

“Not as such,” he admitted. “But ye mind the Muellers, aye? And what they did to your friends. They wouldna have called themselves bandits, but the Tuscarora likely didna make the same distinction.”

That was no more than the truth, and a cold thumb pressed the base of my skull. The Muellers, German neighbors, had had a beloved daughter and her newborn child die of measles, and had blamed the nearby Indians for the infection. Deranged by grief, old Herr Mueller had led a party of his sons and sons-in-law to take revenge—and scalps. My viscera still remembered the shock of seeing my friend Nayawenne’s white-streaked hair spill out of a bundle into my lap.

“Is my hair turning white, do you think?” I said abruptly. He raised his eyebrows, but bent forward and peered at the top of my head, fingering gently through my hair.

“There’s maybe one hair in fifty that’s gone white. One in five-and-twenty is silver. Why?”

“I suppose I have a little time, then. Nayawenne …” I hadn’t spoken her name aloud in several years, and found an odd comfort in the speaking, as though it had conjured her. “She told me that I’d come into my full power when my hair turned white.”

“Now there’s a fearsome thought,” he said, grinning.

“No doubt. Since it hasn’t happened yet, though, I suppose if we stumble into a nest of sauerkraut thieves on the road, I’ll have to defend my cask with my scalpel,” I said.

He gave me a slightly queer look at this, but then laughed and shook his head.

His own packing was a little more involved. He and Young Ian had removed the gold from the house’s foundation the night after Mrs. Bug’s funeral—a delicate process preceded by my putting out a large slop basin of stale bread soaked in corn liquor, then calling “Sooo-eeee!” at the top of my lungs from the head of the garden path.

A moment of silence, and then the white sow emerged from her den, a pale blotch against the smoke-stained rocks of the foundation. I knew exactly what she was, but the sight of that white, rapidly moving form still made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. It had come on to snow—one of the reasons for Jamie’s decision to act at once—and she came through the whirl of big, soft flakes with a velocity that made her seem like the spirit of the storm itself, leading the wind.

For an instant, I thought she was going to charge me; I saw her head swing toward me and caught the loud snuff as she took my scent—but she scented the food as well, and swerved away. An instant later, the ungodly sounds of a pig in ecstasy floated through the hush of the snow, and Jamie and Ian hurried out of the trees to begin their work.

It took more than two weeks to move the gold; they worked only at night, and only when fresh snow was either falling or about to fall, to cover their tracks. Meantime, they took it in turn to guard the remains of the Big House, keeping an eye peeled for any sign of Arch Bug.

“Do you think he still cares about the gold?” I’d asked Jamie in the midst of this endeavor, chafing his hands to get enough heat into them for him to hold his spoon. He’d come in for breakfast, frozen and exhausted after a long night spent walking round and round the burnt house to keep his blood flowing.

“He’s no much else left to care about, has he?” He spoke softly, to avoid waking the Higgins family. “Other than Ian.”

I shivered, as much from thought of old Arch, living wraithlike in the forest, surviving on the heat of his hatred, as from the cold that had come in with Jamie. He’d let his beard grow for warmth—all the men did in winter, on the mountain—and ice glimmered in his whiskers and frosted his brows.

“You look like Old Man Winter himself,” I whispered, bringing him a bowl of hot porridge.

“I feel like it,” he replied hoarsely. He passed the bowl under his nose, inhaling the steam and closing his eyes beatifically. “Pass the whisky, aye?”

“You’re proposing to pour it on your porridge? It’s got butter and salt on, already.” Nonetheless, I passed him the bottle from its shelf over the hearth.

“Nay, I’m going to thaw my wame enough to eat it. I’m solid ice from the neck down.”

No one had seen hide nor hair of Arch Bug—not even an errant track in the snow—since his appearance at the funeral. He might be denned up for the winter, snug in some refuge. He might have gone away to the Indian villages. He might be dead, and I rather hoped he was, uncharitable as the thought might be.

I mentioned this, and Jamie shook his head. The ice in his hair had melted now, and the firelight glimmered like diamonds on the water droplets in his beard.

“If he’s dead, and we never learn of it, Ian willna have a moment’s peace—ever. D’ye want him to be looking over his shoulder at his wedding, afraid of a bullet through his wife’s heart as she speaks her vows? Or wed with a family, fearing each day to leave his house and his bairns, for fear of what he might come back to?”

“I’m impressed at the scope and morbidity of your imagination—but you’re right. All right, I don’t hope he’s dead—not unless we find his body.”

But no one did find his body, and the gold was moved, bit by bit, to its new hiding place.

That had taken a bit of thought and considerable private discussion between Jamie and Ian. Not the whisky cave. Very few people knew about that—but some did. Joseph Wemyss, his daughter, Lizzie, and her two husbands—I marveled, rather, that I’d got to the point where I could think about Lizzie and the Beardsleys without boggling—all knew, of necessity, and Bobby and Amy Higgins would need to be shown its location before we left, as they would be making whisky themselves in our absence. Arch Bug had not been told of the cave’s location—but very likely knew it.

Jamie was adamant that no one should know even of the gold’s existence on the Ridge, let alone its location.

“Let even a rumor of it get out, and everyone here is in danger,” he’d said. “Ye ken what happened when yon Donner told folk we had jewels here.”

I kent, all right. I still woke up in the midst of nightmares, hearing the muffled whumph! of exploding ether fumes, hearing the crash of glass and smashing wood as the raiders wrecked the house.

In some of these dreams, I ran fruitlessly to and fro, trying to rescue someone—who?—but met always by locked doors, blank walls, or rooms engulfed in flame. In others, I stood rooted, unable to move a muscle, as fire crawled up the walls, fed with delicate greed on the clothes of bodies at my feet, burst through a corpse’s hair, caught in my skirts and swarmed upward, wrapping my legs in a blazing web.

I still felt overpowering sadness—and a deep, cleansing rage—when I looked at the sooty smudge in the clearing that had once been my home, but I always had to go out in the morning after one of these dreams and look at it nonetheless: walk round the cold ruins and smell the taint of dead ash, in order to quench the flames that burned behind my eyes.

“Right,” I said, and pulled my shawl tighter round me. We were standing by the springhouse, looking down on the ruins as we talked, and the chill was seeping into my bones. “So … where, then?”

“The Spaniard’s Cave,” he said, and I blinked at him.

“The what?”

“I’ll show ye, a nighean,” he said, grinning at me. “When the snow melts.”

SPRING HAD SPRUNG, and the creek was rising. Swelled by melting snow and fed by hundreds of tiny waterfalls that trickled and leapt down the mountain’s face, it roared past my feet, exuberant with spray. I could feel it cold on my face, and knew that I’d be wet to the knees within minutes, but it didn’t matter. The fresh green of arrowhead and pickerelweed rimmed the banks, some plants dragged out of the soil by the rising water and whirled downstream, more hanging on by their roots for dear life, leaves trailing in the racing wash. Dark mats of cress swirled under the water, close by the sheltering banks. And fresh greens were what I wanted.

My gathering basket was half full of fiddleheads and ramp shoots. A nice big lot of tender new cress, crisp and cold from the stream, would top off the winter’s vitamin C deficiency very well. I took off my shoes and stockings, and after a moment’s hesitation, took off my gown and shawl as well and hung them over a tree branch. The air was chilly in the shade of the silver birches that overhung the creek here, and I shivered a bit but ignored the cold, kirtling up my shift before wading into the stream.

That cold was harder to ignore. I gasped, and nearly dropped the basket, but found my footing among the slippery rocks and made my way toward the nearest mat of tempting dark green. Within seconds, my legs were numb, and I’d lost any sense of cold in the enthusiasm of forager’s frenzy and salad hunger.

A good deal of our stored food had been saved from the fire, as it was kept in the outbuildings: the springhouse, corncrib, and smoking shed. The root cellar had been destroyed, though, and with it not only the carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes but most of my carefully gathered stock of dried apples and wild yams, and the big hanging clusters of raisins, all meant to keep us from the ravages of scurvy. The herbs, of course, had gone up in smoke, along with the rest of my surgery. True, a large quantity of pumpkins and squashes had escaped, these having been piled in the barn, but one grows tired of squash pie and succotash after a couple of months—well, after a couple of days, speaking personally.

Not for the first time, I mourned Mrs. Bug’s abilities as a cook, though of course I did miss her for her own sake. Amy McCallum Higgins had been raised in a crofter’s cottage in the Highlands of Scotland and was, as she put it, “a good plain cook.” Essentially, that meant she could bake bannocks, boil porridge, and fry fish simultaneously, without burning any of it. No mean feat, but a trifle monotonous, in terms of diet.

My own pièce de résistance was stew—which, lacking onions, garlic, carrots, and potatoes, had devolved into a sort of pottage consisting of venison or turkey stewed with cracked corn, barley, and possibly chunks of stale bread. Ian, surprisingly, had turned out to be a passable cook; the succotash and squash pie were his contributions to the communal menu. I did wonder who had taught him to make them, but thought it wiser not to ask.

So far no one had starved, nor yet lost any teeth, but by mid-March, I would have been willing to wade neck-deep in freezing torrents in order to acquire something both edible and green.

Ian had, thank goodness, gone on breathing. And after a week or so had ceased acting quite so shell-shocked, eventually regaining something like his normal manner. But I noticed Jamie’s eyes follow him now and then, and Rollo had taken to sleeping with his head on Ian’s chest, a new habit. I wondered whether he really sensed the pain in Ian’s heart, or whether it was simply a response to the cramped sleeping conditions in the cabin.

I stretched my back, hearing the small pops between my vertebrae. Now that the snowmelt had come, I could hardly wait for our departure. I would miss the Ridge and everyone on it—well, almost everyone. Possibly not Hiram Crombie, so much. Or the Chisholms, or—I short-circuited this list before it became uncharitable.

“On the other hand,” I said firmly to myself, “think of beds.”

Granted, we would be spending a good many nights on the road, sleeping rough—but eventually we would reach civilization. Inns. With food. And beds. I closed my eyes momentarily, envisioning the absolute bliss of a mattress. I didn’t even aspire to a feather bed; anything that promised more than an inch of padding between myself and the floor would be paradise. And, of course, if it came with a modicum of privacy—even better.

Jamie and I had not been completely celibate since December. Lust aside—and it wasn’t—we needed the comfort and warmth of each other’s body. Still, covert congress under a quilt, with Rollo’s yellow eyes fixed upon us from two feet away, was less than ideal, even assuming that Young Ian was invariably asleep, which I didn’t think he was, though he was sufficiently tactful as to pretend.

A hideous shriek split the air, and I jerked, dropping the basket. I flung myself after it, barely snatching the handle before it was whirled away on the flood, and stood up dripping and trembling, heart hammering as I waited to see whether the scream would be repeated.

It was—followed in short order by an equally piercing screech, but one deeper in timbre and recognizable to my well-trained ears as the sort of noise made by a Scottish Highlander suddenly immersed in freezing water. Fainter, higher-pitched shrieks, and a breathless “Fook!” spoken in a Dorset accent indicated that the gentlemen of the household were taking their spring bath.

I wrang out the hem of my shift and, snatching my shawl from the branch where I’d left it, slipped on my shoes and made my way in the direction of the bellowing.

There are few things more enjoyable than sitting in relative warmth and comfort while watching fellow human beings soused in cold water. If said human beings present a complete review of the nude male form, so much the better. I threaded my way through a small growth of fresh-budding river willows, found a conveniently screened rock in the sun, and spread out the damp skirt of my shift, enjoying the warmth on my shoulders, the sharp scent of the fuzzy catkins, and the sight before me.

Jamie was standing in the pool, nearly shoulder-deep, his hair slicked back like a russet seal. Bobby stood on the bank, and picking up Aidan with a grunt, threw him to Jamie in a pinwheel of flailing limbs and piercing shrieks of delighted fright.

“Me-me-me-me!” Orrie was dancing around his stepfather’s legs, his chubby bottom bouncing up and down among the reeds like a little pink balloon.

Bobby laughed, bent, and hoisted him up, holding him for a moment high overhead as he squealed like a seared pig, then flung him in a shallow arc out over the pool.

He hit the water with a tremendous splash and Jamie grabbed him, laughing, and pulled him to the surface, whence he emerged with a look of openmouthed stupefaction that made them all hoot like gibbons. Aidan and Rollo were both dog-paddling round in circles by now, shouting and barking.

I looked across to the opposite side of the pool and saw Ian rush naked down the small hill and leap like a salmon into the pool, uttering one of his best Mohawk war cries. This was cut off abruptly by the cold water, and he vanished with scarcely a splash.

I waited—as did the others—for him to pop back up, but he didn’t. Jamie looked suspiciously behind him, in case of a sneak attack, but an instant later Ian shot out of the water directly in front of Bobby with a bloodcurdling yell, grabbed him by the leg, and yanked him in.

Matters thereafter became generally chaotic, with a great deal of promiscuous splashing, yelling, hooting, and jumping off of rocks, which gave me the opportunity to reflect on just how delightful naked men are. Not that I hadn’t seen a good many of them in my time, but aside from Frank and Jamie, most men I’d seen undressed usually had been either ill or injured, and were encountered in such circumstances as to prevent a leisurely appreciation of their finer attributes.

From Orrie’s chubbiness and Aidan’s spidery winter-white limbs to Bobby’s skinny, pale torso and neat little flat behind, the McCallum-Higginses were as entertaining to watch as a cageful of monkeys.

Ian and Jamie were something different—baboons, perhaps, or mandrills. They didn’t really resemble each other in any attribute other than height, and yet were plainly cut from the same cloth. Watching Jamie squatting on a rock above the pool, thighs tensing for a leap, I could easily see him preparing to attack a leopard, while Ian stretched himself glistening in the sun, warming his dangly bits while keeping an alert watch for intruders. All they needed were purple bottoms, and they could have walked straight onto the African veldt, no questions asked.

They were all lovely, in their wildly various ways, but it was Jamie my gaze returned to, over and over again. He was battered and scarred, his muscles roped and knotted, and age had grooved the hollows between them. The thick welt of the bayonet scar writhed up his thigh, wide and ugly, while the thinner white line of the scar left by a rattlesnake’s bite was nearly invisible, clouded by the thick fuzz of his body hair, this beginning to dry now and stand out from his skin in a cloud of reddish-gold. The scimitar-shaped sword cut across his ribs had healed well, too, no more than a hair-thin white line by now.

He turned round and bent to pick up a cake of soap from the rock, and my insides turned over. It wasn’t purple but could not otherwise have been improved on, being high, round, delicately dusted with red-gold, and with a delightful muscular concavity to the sides. His balls, just visible from behind, were purple with the cold, and gave me a strong urge to creep up behind him and cup them in my rock-warmed hands.

I wondered whether the resultant standing broad-jump would enable him to clear the pool.

I had not, in fact, seen him naked—or even substantially undressed—in several months.

But now … I threw back my head, closing my eyes against the brilliant spring sun, enjoying the tickle of my own fresh-washed hair against my shoulder blades. The snow was gone, the weather was good—and the whole outdoors beckoned invitingly, filled with places where privacy could be assured, bar the odd skunk.

I LEFT THE MEN dripping and sunning themselves on the rocks, and went to retrieve my clothes. I didn’t put these on, though. Instead, I went quickly up to the springhouse, where I submerged my basket of greens in the cool water—if I took it to the cabin, Amy would seize them and boil them into submission—and left my gown, stays, and stockings rolled up on the shelf where the cheeses were stacked. Then I went back toward the stream.

The splashing and shouting had ceased. Instead, I heard low-voiced singing, coming along the trail. It was Bobby, carrying Orrie, sound asleep after his exertions. Aidan, groggy with cleanliness and warmth, ambled slowly beside his stepfather, dark head tilting to and fro to the rhythm of the song.

It was a lovely Gaelic lullaby; Amy must have taught it to Bobby. I did wonder if she’d told him what the words meant.S’iomadh oidhche fhliuch is thioram

Sìde nan seachd sian

Gheibheadh Griogal dhomhsa creagan

Ris an gabhainn dìon.

(Many a night, wet and dry

Even in the worst of weather

Gregor would find a little rock for me

Beside which I could shelter.)

Òbhan, òbhan òbhan ìri

Òbhan ìri ò!

Òbhan, òbhan òbhan ìri

’S mòr mo mhulad’s mòr.

(Woe is me, woe is me

Woe is me, great indeed is my sorrow.)

I smiled to see them, though with a catch in my throat. I remembered Jamie carrying Jem back from swimming, the summer before, and Roger singing to Mandy in the night, his harsh, cracked voice little more than a whisper—but music, all the same.

I nodded to Bobby, who smiled and nodded back, though without interrupting his song. He raised his brows and jerked a thumb over his shoulder and uphill, presumably indicating where Jamie had gone. He betrayed no surprise at seeing me in shift and shawl—doubtless he thought I was bound for the stream to wash, as well, inspired by the singular warmth of the day.Eudail mhòir a shluagh an domhain

Dhòirt iad d’ fhuil an dè

’S chuir iad do cheann air stob daraich

Tacan beag bhod chrè.

(Great sweetheart of all people of the world

They poured your blood yesterday

And they put your head on an oak stick

A short distance from your body.)

Òbhan, òbhan òbhan ìri

Òbhan ìri ò!

Òbhan, òbhan òbhan ìri

’S mòr mo mhulad ’s mòr.

(Woe is me, woe is me

Woe is me, great indeed is my sorrow.)

I waved briefly and turned up the side trail that led to the upper clearing. “New House,” everyone called it, though the only indications that there might someday be a house there were a stack of felled logs and a number of pegs driven into the ground, with strings tied between them. These were meant to mark the placement and dimensions of the house Jamie intended to build in replacement of the Big House—when we came back.

He’d been moving the pegs, I saw. The wide front room was now wider, and the back room intended for my surgery had developed a growth of some sort, perhaps a separate stillroom.

The architect was sitting on a log, surveying his kingdom, stark naked.

“Expecting me, were you?” I asked, taking off my shawl and hanging it on a convenient branch.

“I was.” He smiled, and scratched his chest. “I thought the sight of my naked backside would likely inflame ye. Or was it maybe Bobby’s?”

“Bobby hasn’t got one. Do you know, you haven’t got a single gray hair below the neck? Why is that, I wonder?”

He glanced down, inspecting himself, but it was true. There were only a few strands of silver among the fiery mass of his hair, though his beard—the winter growth tediously and painfully removed a few days before—was heavily frosted with white. But the hair on his chest was still a dark auburn, and that below a fluffy mass of vivid ginger.

He combed his fingers thoughtfully through the exuberant foliage, looking down.

“I think it’s hiding,” he remarked, and glanced up at me, one eyebrow raised. “Want to come and help me hunt for it?”

I came round in front of him and obligingly knelt down. The object in question was in fact quite visible, though admittedly looking rather shell-shocked by the recent immersion, and a most interesting shade of pale blue.

“Well,” I said, after a moment’s contemplation. “Great oaks from tiny acorns grow. Or so I’m told.”

A shiver ran through him at the warmth of my mouth and I lifted my hands involuntarily, cradling his balls.

“Holy God,” he said, and his hands rested lightly on my head in benediction.

“What did ye say?” he asked, a moment later.

“I said,” I said, coming up momentarily for air, “I find the gooseflesh rather erotic.”

“There’s more where that came from,” he assured me. “Take your shift off, Sassenach. I havena seen ye naked in nearly four months.”

“Well … no, you haven’t,” I agreed, hesitating. “And I’m not sure I want you to.”

One eyebrow went up.

“Whyever not?”

“Because I’ve been indoors for weeks on end without sun or exercise to speak of. I probably look like one of those grubs you find under rocks—fat, white, and squidgy.”

“Squidgy?” he repeated, breaking into a grin.

“Squidgy,” I said with dignity, wrapping my arms around myself.

He pursed his lips and exhaled slowly, eyeing me with his head on one side.

“I like it when ye’re fat, but I ken quite well that ye’re not,” he said, “because I’ve felt your ribs when I put my arms about you, each night since the end of January. As for white—ye’ve been white all the time I’ve known ye; it’s no likely to come a great shock to me. As for the squidgy part”—he extended one hand and wiggled the fingers beckoningly at me—“I think I might enjoy that.”

“Hmm,” I said, still hesitant. He sighed.

“Sassenach,” he said, “I said I havena seen ye naked in four months. That means if ye take your shift off now, ye’ll be the best thing I’ve seen in four months. And at my age, I dinna think I remember farther back than that.”

I laughed, and without further ado, stood up and pulled the ribbon tie at the neck of my shift. Wriggling, I let it fall in a puddle round my feet.

He closed his eyes. Then breathed deep and opened them again.

“I’m blinded,” he said softly, and held out a hand to me.

“Blinded as in sun bouncing off a vast expanse of snow?” I asked dubiously. “Or as in coming face to face with a gorgon?”

“Seeing a gorgon turns ye to stone, not strikes ye blind,” he informed me. “Though come to think”—he prodded himself with an experimental forefinger—“I may turn to stone yet. Will ye come here, for God’s sake?”

I came.

I FELL ASLEEP IN the warmth of Jamie’s body, and woke some time later, snugly wrapped in his plaid. I stretched, alarming a squirrel overhead, who ran out on a limb to get a better view. Evidently he didn’t like what he saw, and began scolding and chattering.

“Oh, hush,” I said, yawning, and sat up. The squirrel took exception to this gesture and began having hysterics, but I ignored him. To my surprise, Jamie was gone.

I thought he’d likely just stepped into the wood to relieve himself, but a quick glance round didn’t discover him, and when I scrambled to my feet, the plaid clutched to me, I saw no sign of him.

I hadn’t heard anything; surely if someone had come, I would have wakened—or Jamie would have wakened me. I listened carefully, but—the squirrel having now gone about its own business—heard nothing beyond the normal sounds of a forest waking to spring: the murmur and rush of wind through new-leafed trees, punctuated by the occasional crack of a falling branch, or the rattle of last year’s pinecones and chestnut hulls bouncing through the canopy; the call of a distant jay, the conversation of a gang of pygmy nuthatches foraging in the long grass nearby, the rustle of a hungry vole in the winter’s dead leaves.

The jay was still calling; another had joined it now, shrill with alarm. Perhaps that was where Jamie had gone.

I unwound myself from the plaid and pulled on my shift and shoes. It was getting on for evening; we—or I, at least—had slept a long time. It was still warm in the sun, but the shadows under the trees were cold, and I put on my shawl and bundled up Jamie’s plaid into my arms—likely he’d want it.

I followed the calling of the jays uphill, away from the clearing. There was a pair nesting near the White Spring; I’d seen them building the nest only two days before.

It wasn’t far from the house site at all, though that particular spring always had the air of being remote from everything. It lay in the center of a small grove of white ash and hemlock, and was shielded on the east by a jagged outcropping of lichen-covered rock. All water has a sense of life about it, and a mountain spring carries a particular sense of quiet joy, rising pure from the heart of the earth. The White Spring, so called for the big pale boulder that stood guardian over its pool, had something more—a sense of inviolate peace.

The closer I came to it, the surer I was that that was where I’d find Jamie.

“There’s something there that listens,” he’d told Brianna once, quite casually. “Ye see such pools in the Highlands; they’re called saints’ pools—folk say the saint lives by the pool and listens to their prayers.”

“And what saint lives by the White Spring?” she’d asked, cynical. “Saint Killian?”

“Why him?”

“Patron saint of gout, rheumatism, and whitewashers.”

He’d laughed at that, shaking his head.

“Whatever it is that lives in such water is older than the notion of saints,” he assured her. “But it listens.”

I walked softly, approaching the spring. The jays had fallen silent now.

He was there, sitting on a rock by the water, wearing only his shirt. I saw why the jays had gone about their business—he was still as the white boulder itself, his eyes closed, hands turned upward on his knees, loosely cupped, inviting grace.

I stopped at once when I saw him. I had seen him pray here once before—when he’d asked Dougal MacKenzie for help in battle. I didn’t know who he was talking to just now, but it wasn’t a conversation I wished to intrude upon.

I ought to leave, I supposed—but aside from the fear that I might disturb him by an inadvertent noise, I didn’t want to go. Most of the spring lay in shadow, but fingers of light came down through the trees, stroking him. The air was thick with pollen, and the light was filled with motes of gold. It struck answering glints from the crown of his head, the smooth high arch of his foot, the blade of his nose, the bones of his face. He might have grown there, part of earth and stone and water, might have been himself the spirit of the spring.

I didn’t feel unwelcome. The peace of the place reached out to touch me gently, slow my heart.

Was that what he sought here, I wondered? Was he drawing the peace of the mountain into himself, to remember, to sustain him during the months—the years, perhaps—of coming exile?

I would remember.

The light began to go, brightness falling from the air. He stirred, finally, lifting his head a little.

“Let me be enough,” he said quietly.

I started at the sound of his voice, but he hadn’t been speaking to me.

He opened his eyes and rose then, quiet as he’d sat, and came past the stream, long feet bare and silent on the layers of damp leaves. As he came past the outcropping of rock, he saw me and smiled, reaching out to take the plaid I held out to him, wordless. He said nothing, but took my cold hand in his large warm one and we turned toward home, walking together in the mountain’s peace.

A FEW DAYS LATER, he came to find me. I was foraging along the creek bank for leeches, which had begun to emerge from their winter’s hibernation, ravenous for blood. They were simple to catch; I merely waded slowly through the water near shore.

At first, the thought of acting as live bait for the leeches was repellent, but after all, that was how I usually obtained leeches—by letting Jamie, Ian, Bobby, or any of a dozen young males wade through the streams and pick them off. And once you got used to the sight of the creatures, slowly engorging with your blood, it wasn’t all that bad.

“I have to let them have enough blood to sustain themselves,” I explained, grimacing as I eased a thumbnail under the sucker of a leech in order to dislodge it, “but not enough that they’ll be comatose, or they won’t be of any use.”

“A matter of nice judgment,” Jamie agreed, as I dropped the leech into a jar filled with water and duckweed. “When ye’ve done feeding your wee pets, then, come along and I’ll show ye the Spaniard’s Cave.”

It was no little distance. Perhaps four miles from the Ridge, through cold, muddy creeks and up steep slopes, then through a crack in a granite cliff face that made me feel as though I were being entombed alive, only to emerge into a wilderness of jutting boulders, smothered in nets of wild grape.

“We found it, Jem and I, out hunting one day,” Jamie explained, lifting a curtain of leaves for me to pass beneath. The vines snaked over the rocks, thick as a man’s forearm and knotted with age, the rusty-green leaves of spring not yet quite covering them. “It was a secret between us. We agreed we’d tell no one else—not even his parents.”

“Nor me,” I said, but wasn’t offended. I heard the loss in his voice at the mention of Jem.

The entrance to the cave was a crack in the ground, over which Jamie had pushed a large, flat rock. He slid this back with some effort, and I bent over cautiously, experiencing a brief clench of the innards at the faint sound of moving air through the fissure. The surface air was warm, though; the cave was drawing, not blowing.

I remembered all too well the cave at Abandawe, that had seemed to breathe around us, and it took some force of will to follow Jamie as he disappeared into the earth. There was a rough wooden ladder—new, I saw, but replacing a much older one that had fallen to pieces; some bits of rotted wood were still in place, dangling from the rock on rusted iron spikes.

It could have been no more than ten or twelve feet to the bottom, but the neck of the cave was narrow, and the descent seemed endless. At last I reached the bottom, though, and saw that the cave had opened out, like the bottom of a flask. Jamie was crouched to one side; I saw him draw out a small bottle and smelled the sharp scent of turpentine.

He’d brought a torch, a pine knot with a head dipped in tar and wrapped with a rag. He soaked the rag with turpentine, then drew the fire-starter Bree had made for him. A shower of sparks lit his face, intent and ruddy. Twice more, and the torch caught, the flame bursting through the flammable cloth and catching the tar.

He lifted the torch, and gestured toward the floor behind me. I turned and nearly jumped out of my skin.

The Spaniard leaned against the wall, bony legs stretched out, skull fallen forward as if in a doze. Tufts of reddish, faded hair still clung here and there, but the skin had gone entirely. His hands and feet were mostly gone, too, the small bones carried away by rodents. No large animals had been able to get at him, though, and while the torso and long bones showed signs of nibbling, they were largely intact; the swell of the rib cage poked through a tissue of cloth so faded that there was no telling what color it had ever been.

He was a Spaniard, too. A crested metal helmet, red with rust, lay by him, along with an iron breastplate and a knife.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I whispered. Jamie crossed himself, and knelt by the skeleton.

“I’ve no notion how long he’s been here,” he said, also low-voiced. “We didna find anything with him save the armor and that.” He pointed to the gravel just in front of the pelvis. I leaned closer to look; a small crucifix, probably silver, now tarnished black, and a few inches away, a tiny triangular shape, also black.

“A rosary?” I asked, and Jamie nodded.

“I expect he was wearing it about his neck. It must have been made of wood and string, and when it rotted, the metal bits fell. That”—his finger gently touched the little triangle—“says Nr. Sra. Ang. on the one side—Nuestra Señora de los Angeles, I think it means, ‘Our Lady of the Angels.’ There’s a wee picture of the Blessed Virgin on the other side.”

I crossed myself by reflex.

“Was Jemmy scared?” I asked, after a moment’s respectful silence.

“I was,” Jamie said dryly. “It was dark when I came down the shaft, and I nearly stepped on this fellow. I thought he was alive, and the shock of it liked to stop my heart.”

He’d cried out in alarm, and Jemmy, left aboveground with strict instructions not to move from the spot, had promptly scrambled into the hole, losing his grip of the broken ladder halfway down and landing feetfirst on his grandfather.

“I heard him scrabbling and looked up, just in time to have him plunge out of the heavens and strike me in the breast like a cannonball.” Jamie rubbed the left side of his chest with rueful amusement. “If I hadn’t looked up, he’d have broken my neck—and he’d never have got out, by himself.”

And we’d never have known what happened to either one of you. I swallowed, dry-mouthed at the thought. And yet … on any given day, something just as random might happen. To anyone.

“A wonder neither one of you broke anything,” I said instead, and gestured toward the skeleton. “What do you think happened to this gentleman?” His people never knew.

Jamie shook his head.

“I dinna ken. He wasna expecting an enemy, because he wasna wearing his armor.”

“You don’t think he fell in and couldn’t get out?” I squatted by the skeleton, tracing the tibia of the left leg. The bone was dried and cracked, gnawed at the end by small sharp teeth—but I could see what might be a greenstick fracture of the bone. Or might just be the cracking of age.

Jamie shrugged, glancing up.

“I shouldna think so. He was a good bit shorter than I am, but I think the original ladder must have been here when he died—for if someone built the ladder later, why would they leave this gentleman here at the bottom of it? And even with a broken leg, he should have been able to climb it.”

“Hmm. He might have died of a fever, I suppose. That would account for his taking off his breastplate and helmet.” Though I personally would have taken them off at the first opportunity; depending on the season, he must either have been boiled alive or suffered severely from mildew, semi-enclosed in metal.

“Mmphm.”

I glanced up at this sound, which indicated dubious acceptance of my reasoning but disagreement with my conclusion.

“You think he was killed?”

He shrugged.

“He has armor—but nay weapon save a wee knife. And ye can see he was right-handed, but the knife’s lying to his left.”

The skeleton had been right-handed; the bones of the right arm were noticeably thicker, even by the flicker of torchlight. Possibly a swordsman? I wondered.

“I kent a good many Spanish soldiers in the Indies, Sassenach. All of them fair bristled wi’ swords and spears and pistols. If this man died of a fever, his companions might take his arms—but they’d take the armor, too, and the knife. Why leave it?”

“But by that token,” I objected, “why did whoever killed him—if he was killed—leave the armor and the knife?”

“As for the armor—they didna want it. It wouldna be particularly useful to anyone other than a soldier. As for the knife—because it was sticking in him?” Jamie suggested. “And it’s no a very good knife to begin with.”

“Very logical,” I said, swallowing again. “Putting aside the question of how he died—what in God’s name was he doing in the mountains of North Carolina in the first place?”

“The Spanish sent explorers up as far as Virginia, fifty or sixty years ago,” he informed me. “The swamps discouraged them, though.”

“I can see why. But why … this?” I stood up, waving a hand to encompass the cave and its ladder. He didn’t reply, but took my arm and lifted his torch, turning me to the side of the cave opposite the ladder. Well above my head, I saw another small fissure in the rock, black in the torchlight, barely wide enough for a man to wriggle through.

“There’s a smaller cave through there,” he said, nodding upward. “And when I put Jem up to look, he told me there were marks in the dust—square marks, as though heavy boxes had sat there.”

Which is why, when the need to hide treasure had occurred to him, so had thought of the Spaniard’s Cave.

“We’ll bring the last of the gold tonight,” he said, “and pile rocks to hide the opening up there. Then we’ll leave the señor here to his rest.”

I was obliged to admit that the cave made as suitable a resting place as any. And the Spanish soldier’s presence would likely discourage anyone who stumbled on the cave from further investigation, both Indians and settlers having a distinct aversion to ghosts. For that matter, so did Highlanders, and I turned curiously to Jamie.

“You and Jem—you weren’t troubled about being haunted by him?”

“Nay, we said the proper prayer for the repose of his soul, when I sealed the cave, and scattered salt around it.”

That made me smile.

“You know the proper prayer for every occasion, don’t you?”

He smiled faintly in return, and rubbed the head of the torch in the damp gravel to extinguish it. A faint shaft of light from above glowed on the crown of his head.

“There’s always a prayer, a nighean, even if it’s only A Dhia, cuidich mi.” Oh, God—help me.

A KNIFE THAT KNOWS MY HAND

NOT ALL THE GOLD rested with the Spaniard. Two of my petticoats had an extra turnup in the hem, with shavings of gold evenly distributed in tiny pockets, and my large pocket itself had several ounces of gold stitched into the seam at the bottom. Jamie and Ian each carried a small amount in his sporran. And each of them would carry two substantial shot pouches on his belt. We had retired, the three of us, to the New House clearing, to make the shot in private.

“Now, ye’ll no forget which side to load from, aye?” Jamie dropped a fresh musket ball out of the mold, glowing like a miniature sunrise, into the pot of grease and soot.

“As long as ye dinna take my shot bag in mistake, no,” Ian said caustically. He was making lead shot, dropping the hot fresh balls into a hollow lined with moist leaves, where they smoked and steamed in the crisp spring evening.

Rollo, lying nearby, sneezed as a wisp of smoke drifted past his nose, and snorted explosively. Ian glanced at him with a smile.

“Will ye like chasing the red deer through the heather, a cù?” he asked. “Ye’ll need to keep off the sheep, though, or someone’s like to shoot ye for a wolf.”

Rollo sighed and let his eyes go to drowsy slits.

“Thinking what ye’ll say to your mam when ye see her?” Jamie asked, squinting against the smoke of the fire as he held the ladle of gold shavings over the flame.

“Tryin’ not to think too much,” Ian replied frankly. “I get a queer feeling in my wame when I think of Lallybroch.”

“Good queer or bad queer?” I asked, gingerly scooping the cooled gold balls out of the grease with a wooden spoon and dropping them into the shot pouches.

Ian frowned, eyes fixed on his ladle as the lead went suddenly from crumpled blobs to a quivering puddle.

“Both, I think. Brianna told me once about a book she’d read in school that said ye can’t go home again. I think that’s maybe true—but I want to,” he added softly, eyes still on his work. The melted lead hissed into the mold.

I looked away from the wistfulness in his face, and found Jamie looking at me, his gaze quizzical, eyes soft with sympathy. I looked away from him, too, and rose to my feet, groaning slightly as my knee joint cracked.

“Yes, well,” I said briskly. “I suppose it depends on what you think home is, doesn’t it? It isn’t always a place, you know.”

“Aye, that’s true.” Ian held the bullet mold for an instant, letting it cool. “But even when it’s a person—ye can’t always go back, aye? Or maybe ye can,” he added, his mouth quirking a little as he glanced up at Jamie, and then at me.

“I think ye’ll find your parents much as ye left them,” Jamie said dryly, choosing to ignore Ian’s reference. “You may come as a greater shock to them.”

Ian glanced down at himself and smiled.

“Got a bit taller,” he said.

I gave a brief snort of amusement. He’d been fifteen when he’d left Scotland—a tall, scrawny gowk of a boy. He was a couple of inches taller now. He was also lean and hard as a strip of dried rawhide, and normally tanned to much the same color, though the winter had bleached him, making the tattooed dots that ran in semicircles across his cheekbones stand out more vividly.

“You remember that other line I told you?” I asked him. “When we came back to Lallybroch from Edinburgh, after I … found Jamie again. Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Ian raised a brow, looked from me to Jamie, and shook his head.

“Nay wonder ye’re sae fond of her, Uncle. She must be a rare comfort to ye.”

“Well,” Jamie said, his eyes fixed on his work, “she keeps takin’ me in—so I suppose she must be home.”

THE WORK FINISHED, Ian and Rollo took the filled shot pouches back to the cabin, while Jamie stamped out the fire and I packed up the paraphernalia of bullet-making. It was growing late, and the air—already so fresh it tickled the lungs—acquired that extra edge of cool liveliness that caressed the skin as well, the breath of spring moving restless over the earth.

I stood for a moment, enjoying it. The work had been close, and hot, despite being done in the open, and the cold breeze that lifted the hair off my neck was delightful.

“Have ye got a penny, a nighean?” said Jamie, next to me.

“A what?”

“Well, any sort of money will do.”

“I don’t think so, but …” I rummaged in the pocket tied at my waist, which by this point in our preparations held nearly as large a collection of improbabilities as did Jamie’s sporran. Among hanks of thread, twists of paper containing seeds or dried herbs, needles stuck through bits of leather, a small jar full of sutures, a woodpecker’s black-and-white-spotted feather, a chunk of white chalk, and half a biscuit, which I had evidently been interrupted while eating, I did in fact discover a grubby half-shilling, covered in lint and biscuit crumbs.

“That do you?” I asked, wiping it off and handing it over.

“It will,” he said, and held out something toward me. My hand closed automatically over what turned out to be the handle of a knife, and I nearly dropped it in surprise.

“Ye must always give money for a new blade,” he explained, half smiling. “So it kens ye for its owner, and willna turn on ye.”

“Its owner?” The sun was touching the edge of the Ridge, but there was still plenty of light, and I looked at my new acquisition. It was a slender blade, but sturdy, single-edged and beautifully honed; the cutting edge shone silver in the dying sun. The hilt was made from a deer’s antler, smooth and warm in my hand—and had been carved with two small depressions, these just fitting my grip. Plainly it was my knife.

“Thank you,” I said, admiring it. “But—”

“Ye’ll feel safer if ye have it by you,” he said, matter-of-fact. “Oh—just the one more thing. Give it here.”

I handed it back, puzzled, and was startled to see him draw the blade lightly across the ball of his thumb. Blood welled up from the shallow cut, and he wiped it on his breeches and stuck his thumb in his mouth, handing me back the knife.

“Ye blood a blade, so it knows its purpose,” he explained, taking the wounded digit out of his mouth.

The hilt of the knife was still warm in my hand, but a small chill went through me. With rare exceptions, Jamie wasn’t given to purely romantic gestures. If he gave me a knife, he thought I’d need it. And not for digging up roots and hacking tree bark, either. Know its purpose, indeed.

“It fits my hand,” I said, looking down and stroking the small groove that fit my thumb. “How did you know to make it so exactly?”

He laughed at that.

“I’ve had your hand round my cock often enough to know the measure of your grip, Sassenach,” he assured me.

I snorted briefly in response to this, but turned the blade and pricked the end of my own thumb with the point. It was amazingly sharp; I scarcely felt it, but a bead of dark-red blood welled up at once. I put the knife into my belt, took his hand, and pressed my thumb to his.

“Blood of my blood,” I said.

I didn’t make romantic gestures, either.

FIRESHIP

New York

August 1776

IN FACT, WILLIAM’S news of the Americans’ escape was received much better than he had expected. With the intoxicating feeling that they had the enemy cornered, Howe’s army moved with remarkable speed. The admiral’s fleet was still in Gravesend Bay; within a day, thousands of men were marched hastily to the shore and reembarked for the quick crossing to Manhattan; by sunset of the next day, armed companies began the attack upon New York—only to discover the trenches empty, the fortifications abandoned.

While something of a disappointment to William, who had hoped for a chance of direct and physical revenge, this development pleased General Howe inordinately. He moved, with his staff, into a large mansion called Beekman House and set about solidifying his hold upon the colony. There was a certain amount of chafing among senior officers in favor of running the Americans to ground—certainly William favored that notion—but General Howe was of the opinion that defeat and attrition would shred Washington’s remaining forces, and the winter would finish them off.

“And meanwhile,” said Lieutenant Anthony Fortnum, looking round the stifling attic to which the three most junior staff officers had been consigned, “we are an army of occupation. Which means, I think, that we are entitled to the pleasures of the post, are we not?”

“And what would those be?” William inquired, looking in vain for a spot in which to put the weathered portmanteau that presently contained most of his worldly goods.

“Well, women,” Fortnum said consideringly. “Certainly women. And surely New York has fleshpots?”

“I didn’t see any on the way in,” Ralph Jocelyn said dubiously. “And I looked!”

“Not hard enough,” Fortnum said firmly. “I feel sure there must be fleshpots.”

“There’s beer,” William suggested. “Decent public house called Fraunces Tavern, just off Water Street. I had a good pint there on the way in.”

“Has to be something closer than that,” Jocelyn objected. “I’m not walking miles in this heat!” Beekman House had a pleasant situation, with spacious grounds and clean air—but was a good way outside the city.

“Seek and ye shall find, my brothers.” Fortnum twisted a side-curl into place and slung his coat over one shoulder. “Coming, Ellesmere?”

“No, not just now. I’ve letters to write. If you find any fleshpots, I shall expect a written report. In triplicate, mind.”

Left momentarily to his own devices, he dropped his bag on the floor and took out the small sheaf of letters Captain Griswold had handed him.

There were five of them; three with his stepfather’s smiling half-moon seal—Lord John wrote to him promptly on the fifteenth of every month, though at other times, as well—one from his uncle Hal, and he grinned at sight of that; Uncle Hal’s missives were occasionally confusing, but invariably entertaining—and one in an unfamiliar but feminine-looking hand, with a plain seal.

Curious, he broke the seal and opened the letter to discover two closely written sheets from his cousin Dottie. His eyebrows went up at that; Dottie had never written to him before.

They stayed up as he perused the letter.

“I will be damned,” he said aloud.

“Why?” asked Fortnum, who had come back to retrieve his hat. “Bad news from home?”

“What? Oh. No. No,” he repeated, returning to the first page of the letter. “Just … interesting.”

Folding up the letter, he put it inside his coat, safely away from Fortnum’s interested gaze, and took up Uncle Hal’s note, with its crested ducal seal. Fortnum’s eyes widened at sight of that, but he said nothing.

William coughed and broke the seal. As usual, the note occupied less than a page and included neither salutation nor closing, Uncle Hal’s opinion being that since the letter had a direction upon it, the intended recipient was obvious, the seal indicated plainly who had written it, and he did not waste his time in writing to fools.Adam is posted to New York under Sir Henry Clinton. Minnie has given him some obnoxiously cumbersome Things for you. Dottie sends her Love, which takes up much less room.John says you are doing something for Captain Richardson. I know Richardson and I think you shouldn’t.Give Colonel Spencer my regards, and don’t play Cards with him.

Uncle Hal, William reflected, could cram more information—cryptic as it often was—into fewer words than anyone he knew. He did wonder whether Colonel Spencer cheated at cards or was simply very good or very lucky. Uncle Hal had doubtless omitted purposely to say, because if it had been one of the latter alternatives, William would have been tempted to try his skill—dangerous as he knew it was to win consistently against a superior officer. Once or twice, though … No, Uncle Hal was a very good cardsman himself, and if he was warning William off, prudence suggested he take the warning. Perhaps Colonel Spencer was both honest and an indifferent player but a man to take offense—and revenge—if beaten too often.

Uncle Hal was a cunning old devil, William thought, not without admiration.

Which was what worried him, rather, about that second paragraph. I know Richardson … In this instance, he understood quite well why Uncle Hal had omitted the particulars; mail might be read by anyone, and a letter with the Duke of Pardloe’s crest might attract attention. Granted, the seal didn’t seem to have been tampered with, but he’d seen his own father remove and replace seals with the greatest dexterity and a hot knife, and was under no illusions on that score.

That didn’t stop him from wondering just what Uncle Hal knew about Captain Richardson and why he was suggesting that William stop his intelligencing—for evidently Papa had told Uncle Hal what he was doing.

Further food for thought—if Papa had told his brother what William was doing, then Uncle Hal would have told Papa what he knew about Captain Richardson, if there was anything to the captain’s discredit. And if he had done that—

He put by Uncle Hal’s note and ripped open the first of his father’s letters. No, nothing about Richardson…. The second? Again no. In the third, a veiled reference to intelligencing, but only a wish for his safety and an oblique remark about his posture.

A tall man is always notable in company; the more so if his glance be direct and his dress neat.

William smiled at that. Westminster, where he’d gone to school, held its classes in one large room, this divided by a hanging curtain into the upper and lower classes, but there were boys of all ages being taught together, and William had quickly learned when—and how—to be either inconspicuous or outstanding, depending upon the immediate company.

Well, then. Whatever Uncle Hal knew about Richardson, it wasn’t something that troubled Papa. Of course, he reminded himself, it needn’t be anything discreditable. The Duke of Pardloe was fearless on his own behalf, but tended to excessive caution with regard to his family. Perhaps he only thought Richardson reckless; if that was the case, Papa would presumably trust to William’s own good sense, and thus not mention it.

The attic was stifling; sweat was running down William’s face and wilting his shirt. Fortnum had gone out again, leaving the end of his cot tilted up at an absurd angle over his protruding trunk. It did leave just enough floor space vacant as to allow William to stand up and walk to the door, though, and he made his escape into the outer air with a sense of relief. The air outside was hot and humid, but at least it was moving. He put his hat on his head and set off to find out just where his cousin Adam was billeted. Obnoxiously cumbersome sounded promising.

As he pressed through a crowd of farm wives headed for the market square, though, he felt the crackle of the letter in his coat, and remembered Adam’s sister.

Dottie sends her love, which takes up much less room. Uncle Hal was cunning, William thought, but the cunningest of devils has the occasional blind spot.

OBNOXIOUSLY CUMBERSOME fulfilled its promise: a book, a bottle of excellent Spanish sherry, a quart of olives to accompany it, and three pairs of new silk stockings.

“I am awash in stockings,” his cousin Adam assured William, when the latter tried to share this bounty. “Mother buys them by the gross and dispatches them by every carrier, I think. You’re lucky she didn’t think to send you fresh drawers; I get a pair in every diplomatic pouch, and if you don’t think that’s an awkward thing to explain to Sir Henry … Wouldn’t say no to a glass of your sherry, though.”

William was not entirely sure his cousin was joking about the drawers; Adam had a grave mien that served him well in relations with senior officers, and had also the Grey family trick of saying the most outrageous things with a perfectly straight face. William laughed, nonetheless, and called downstairs for a pair of glasses.

One of Adam’s friends brought three, helpfully staying to assist with disposal of the sherry. Another friend appeared, apparently out of the woodwork—it was very good sherry—and produced a half bottle of porter from his chest to add to the festivities. With the inevitability of such gatherings, both bottles and friends multiplied, until every surface in Adam’s room—admittedly a small one—was occupied by one or the other.

William had generously made free with his olives, as well as the sherry, and toward the bottom of the bottle raised a glass to his aunt for her generous gifts, not omitting to mention the silk stockings.

“Though I rather think your mother was not responsible for the book?” he said to Adam, lowering his empty glass with an explosion of breath.

Adam broke into a fit of the giggles, his usual gravity quite dissolved in a quart of rum punch.

“No,” he said, “nor Papa, neither. That was my own contribution to the cause of cutlural, culshural, I mean, advanshment in the colonies.”

“A signal service to the sensibilities of civilized man,” William assured him gravely, showing off his own ability to hold his liquor and manage his tongue, no matter how many slippery esses might throw themselves in his way.

A general cry of “What book? What book? Let us see this famous book!” resulting, he was obliged to produce the prize of his collection of gifts—a copy of Mr. Harris’s famous List of Covent Garden Ladies, this being a lavishly descriptive catalog of the charms, specialities, price, and availability of the best whores to be found in London.

Its appearance was greeted with cries of rapture, and following a brief struggle over possession of the volume, William rescued it before it should be torn to pieces, but allowed himself to be induced to read some of the passages aloud, his dramatic rendering being greeted by wolflike howls of enthusiasm and hails of olive pits.

Reading is of course dry work, and further refreshment was called for and consumed. He could not have said who first suggested that the party should constitute itself an expeditionary force for the purpose of compiling a similar list for New York. Whoever first bruited the suggestion, though, was roundly seconded and hailed in bumpers of rum punch—the bottles having all been drained by now.

And so it fell out that he found himself wandering in a spirituous haze through narrow streets whose darkness was punctuated by the pinpricks of candlelit windows and the occasional hanging lantern at a crossroad. No one appeared to have any direction in mind, and yet the whole body advanced insensibly as one, drawn by some subtle emanation.

“Like dogs following a bitch in heat,” he observed, and was surprised to receive a buffet and shout of approbation from one of Adam’s friends—he hadn’t realized that he’d spoken aloud. And yet he had been correct, for eventually they came to an alley down which two or three lanterns hung, sheathed in red muslin so the light spilled in a bloody glow across the doorways—all welcomingly ajar. Whoops greeted the sight, and the body of would-be investigators advanced a-purpose, pausing only for a brief argument in the center of the street regarding the choice of establishment in which to begin their researches.

William himself took little part in the argument; the air was close, muggy, and fetid with the stench of cattle and sewage, and he was suddenly aware that one of the olives he had consumed had quite possibly been a wrong ’un. He was sweating heavily and unctuously, and his wet linen clung to him with a clasping insistence that terrified him with the thought that he might not be able to get his breeches down in time, should his inward disturbance move suddenly southward.

He forced a smile, and with a vague swing of the arm, indicated to Adam that he might proceed as he liked—William would venture a bit farther.

This he did, leaving the moil of riotous young officers behind him, and staggered past the last of the red lanterns. He was looking rather desperately for some semblance of seclusion in which to be sick, but finding nothing to his purpose, at length stumbled to a halt and vomited profusely in a doorway—whereupon, to his horror, the door swung open, revealing a highly indignant householder, who did not wait for explanations, apologies, or offers of recompense, but seized a cudgel of some kind from behind his door and, bellowing incomprehensible oaths in what might be German, chased William down the alleyway.

What with one thing and another, it was some time of wandering through pig yards, shacks, and ill-smelling wharves before he found his way back to the proper district, there to find his cousin Adam going up and down the street, banging on doors and hallooing loudly in search of him.

“Don’t knock on that one!” he said in alarm, seeing Adam about to attack the door of the cudgel-wielding German. Adam swung about in relieved surprise.

“There you are! All right, old man?”

“Oh, yes. Fine.” He felt somewhat pale and clammy, despite the sweltering heat of the summer night, but the acute inner distress had purged itself, and had the salutary side effect of sobering him in the process.

“Thought you’d been robbed or murdered in an alleyway. I’d never be able to look Uncle John in the face, was I to have to tell him I’d got you done in.”

They were walking down the alley, back toward the red lanterns. All of the young men had disappeared into one or another of the establishments, though the sounds of revelry and banging from within suggested that their high spirits had not abated, but merely been relocated.

“Did you find yourself decently accommodated?” Adam asked. He jerked his chin in the direction from which William had come.

“Oh, fine. You?”

“Well, she wouldn’t rate more nor a paragraph in Harris, but not bad for a sinkhole like New York,” Adam said judiciously. His stock was hanging loose round his neck, and as they passed the faint glow of a window, William saw that one of the silver buttons of his cousin’s coat was missing. “Swear I’ve seen a couple of these whores in camp, though.”

“Sir Henry send you out to make a census, did he? Or do you just spend so much time with the camp followers you know them all by—”

He was interrupted by a change in the noise coming from one of the houses down the street. Shouting, but not of the genially drunken sort evident heretofore. This was ugly shouting, a male voice in a rage and the shrieks of a woman.

The cousins exchanged glances, then started as one toward the racket.

This had increased as they hurried toward its source, and as they came even with the farthest house, a number of half-dressed soldiers spilled out into the alleyway, followed by a burly lieutenant to whom William had been introduced during the party in Adam’s room, but whose name he did not recall, dragging a half-naked whore by one arm.

The lieutenant had lost both coat and wig; his dark hair was polled close and grew low on his brow, which, together with his thick-shouldered build, gave him the look of a bull about to charge. In fact, he did, turning and ramming a shoulder into the woman he’d dragged out, slamming her into the wall of the house. He was roaring drunk, and bellowing incoherent profanities.

“Fireship.”

William didn’t see who’d spoken the word, but it was taken up in excited murmurs, and something ugly ran through the men in the alley.

“Fireship! She’s a fireship!”

Several women had gathered in the doorway. The light behind them was too dim to show their faces, but they were clearly frightened, huddling together. One called out, tentative, stretching out an arm, but the others pulled her back. The black-haired lieutenant took no notice; he was battering the whore, punching her repeatedly in the stomach and breasts.

“Hoy, fellow!”

William started forward, shouting, but several hands grasped his arms, preventing him.

“Fireship!” The men were beginning to chant it, with each blow of the lieutenant’s fists.

A fireship was a poxed whore, and as the lieutenant left off his bashing and hauled the woman under the light of the red lantern, William could see that indeed she was; the rash across her face was plain.

“Rodham! Rodham!” Adam was shouting the lieutenant’s name, trying to break through the crush of men, but they moved together, pushing him back, and the chant of “Fireship!” got louder.

Shrieks came from the whores in the doorway, and they crammed back as Rodham flung the woman down on the doorstep. William lunged and succeeded in breaking through the press, but before he could reach the lieutenant, Rodham had seized the lantern and, dashing it against the front of the house, flung blazing oil over the whore.

He fell back then, panting, eyes wide and staring as though in disbelief, as the woman leapt to her feet, arms windmilling in panic as the flames caught her hair, her gauzy shift. Within seconds, she was wrapped in fire, screaming in a high, thin voice that cut through the confusion of noise in the street and ran straight into William’s brain.

The men fell back as she staggered toward them, lurching, hands reaching—whether in a futile plea for help or in the desire to immolate them, as well, he couldn’t tell. He stood rooted to the spot, his body clenched with the need to do something, the impossibility of doing anything, the overwhelming sense of disaster. An insistent pain in his arm made him glance mechanically aside, to find Adam beside him, fingers digging hard into the muscle of his forearm.

“Let’s go,” Adam whispered, his face white and sweating. “For God’s sake, let’s go!”

The door of the whorehouse had slammed shut. The burning woman fell against it, hands pressed against the wood. The appetizing smell of roasting meat filled the close, hot confines of the alley, and William felt his gorge rise once more.

“God curse you! May your goddamned pricks all rot and fall off!” The scream came from a window above; William’s head jerked up and he saw a woman shaking a fist at the men below. There was a rumble from the men, and one shouted something foul in reply; another bent and seized a cobblestone and rising, flung it hard. It bounced against the front of the house below the window, and fell back, striking one of the soldiers, who cursed and shoved the man who’d thrown it.

The burning woman had sunk down by the door; the flames had made a charred spot on it. She was still making a faint keening noise, but had ceased to move.

Suddenly William lost his mind and, grabbing the man who had thrown the stone, took him by the neck and cracked his head against the doorpost of the house. The man stiffened and slumped, his knees giving way, and sat in the street, moaning.

“Get out!” William bellowed. “All of you! Leave!” Fists clenched, he turned on the black-haired lieutenant, who, his rage all vanished, was standing motionless, staring at the woman on the stoop. Her skirts had vanished; a pair of blackened legs twitched feebly in the shadow.

William reached the man in one stride and took him by the front of his shirt, yanking him round.

“Go,” he said, in a dangerous voice. “Leave. Now!”

He released the man, who blinked, swallowed, and, turning, walked like an automaton into the dark.

Panting, William turned on the rest of them, but they had lost the thirst for violence as quickly as it had come upon them. There were a few glances toward the woman—she had gone still now—and shufflings, incoherent murmurs. None of them would meet another’s eye.

He was vaguely conscious of Adam by his side, trembling with shock but solidly beside him. He put a hand on his smaller cousin’s shoulder and held on, trembling himself, as the men melted away. The man sitting in the street got slowly to his hands and feet, half-rose, and lurched after his companions, caroming off the fronts of houses as he made his way into the dark.

The alley fell quiet. The fire had gone out. The other red lanterns in the street had been extinguished. He felt as though he had grown to the spot, would stand in this hateful place forever—but Adam moved a little, and his hand fell from his cousin’s shoulder and he found that his feet would carry him.

They turned away, and walked in silence back through the dark streets. They came by a sentry point, where soldiers on guard were standing round a fire, keeping casual watch. They were to keep order in the occupied city, the guards. The sentries glanced at them, but did not stop them.

In the light of the fire, he saw the tracks of wetness on Adam’s face and realized that his cousin was crying.

So was he.

TRANSVERSE LIE

Fraser’s Ridge

March 1777

THE WORLD WAS DRIPPING. Freshets leapt down the mountain, grass and leaves were wet with dew, and the shingles steamed in the morning sun. Our preparations were made and the passes were clear. There remained only one more thing to do before we could leave.

“Today, d’ye think?” Jamie asked hopefully. He was not a man made for peaceful contemplation; once a course of action was decided upon, he wanted to be acting. Babies, unfortunately, are completely indifferent to both convenience and impatience.

“Maybe,” I said, trying to keep a grip on my own patience. “Maybe not.”

“I saw her last week, and she looked then as though she was goin’ to explode any minute, Auntie,” Ian remarked, handing Rollo the last bite of his muffin. “Ken those mushrooms? The big round ones? Ye touch one and poof!” He flicked his fingers, scattering muffin crumbs. “Like that.”

“She’s only having the one, no?” Jamie asked me, frowning.

“I told you—six times so far—I think so. I bloody hope so,” I added, repressing an urge to cross myself. “But you can’t always tell.”

“Twins run in families,” Ian put in helpfully.

Jamie did cross himself.

“I’ve heard only one heartbeat,” I said, keeping a grip on my temper, “and I’ve been listening for months.”

“Can ye not count the bits that stick out?” Ian inquired. “If it seemed to have six legs, I mean …”

“Easier said than done.” I could, of course, make out the general aspect of the child—a head was reasonably easy to feel, and so were buttocks; arms and legs a bit more problematical. That was what was disturbing me at the moment.

I’d been checking Lizzie once a week for the past month—and had been going up to her cabin every other day for the last week, though it was a long walk. The child—and I did think there was only one—seemed very large; the fundus of the uterus was a good bit higher than I thought it should be. And while babies frequently changed position in the weeks prior to birth, this one had remained in a transverse lie—wedged sideways—for a worryingly long time.

The fact was that without a hospital, operating facilities, or anesthesia, my ability to deal with an unorthodox delivery was severely limited. Sans surgical intervention, with a transverse lie, a midwife had four alternatives: let the woman die after days of agonizing labor; let the woman die after doing a cesarean section without benefit of anesthesia or asepsis—but possibly save the baby; possibly save the mother by killing the child in the womb and then removing it in bits (Daniel Rawlings had had several pages in his book—illustrated—describing this procedure), or attempting an internal version, trying to turn the baby into a position in which it might be delivered.

While superficially the most attractive option, that last one could easily be as dangerous as the others, resulting in the deaths of mother and child.

I’d tried an external version the week before, and managed—with difficulty—to induce the child to turn head-down. Two days later, it had turned right back, evidently liking its supine position. It might turn again by itself before labor started—and it might not.

Experience being what it was, I normally managed to distinguish between intelligent planning for contingencies and useless worrying over things that might not happen, thus allowing myself to sleep at night. I’d lain awake into the small hours every night for the last week, though, envisioning the possibility that the child wouldn’t turn in time, and running through that short, grim list of alternatives in futile search for one more choice.

If I had ether … but what I’d had had gone when the house burned.

Kill Lizzie, in order to save the new child? No. If it came to that, better to kill the child in utero, and leave Rodney with a mother, Jo and Kezzie with their wife. But the thought of crushing the skull of a full-term child, healthy, ready to be born … or decapitating it with a loop of sharp wire—

“Are ye no hungry this morning, Auntie?”

“Er … no. Thank you, Ian.”

“Ye look a bit pale, Sassenach. Are ye sickening for something?”

“No!” I got up hastily before they could ask any more questions—there was absolutely no point in anyone but me being terrorized by what I was thinking—and went out to fetch a bucket of water from the well.

Amy was outside; she had started a fire going under the big laundry kettle, and was chivying Aidan and Orrie, who were scrambling round to fetch wood, pausing periodically to throw mud at each other.

“Are ye wanting water, a bhana-mhaighstir?” she asked, seeing the bucket in my hand. “Aidan will fetch it down for ye.”

“No, that’s all right,” I assured her. “I wanted a bit of air. It’s so nice out in the mornings now.” It was; still chilly until the sun got high, but fresh, and dizzy with the scents of grass, resin-fat buds, and early catkins.

I took my bucket up to the well, filled it, and made my way down the path again, slowly, looking at things as you do when you know you might not see them again for a long time. If ever.

Things had changed drastically on the Ridge already, with the coming of violence, the disruptions of the war, the destruction of the Big House. They’d change a great deal more, with Jamie and me both gone.

Who would be the natural leader? Hiram Crombie was the de facto head of the Presbyterian fisher-folk who had come from Thurso—but he was a rigid, humorless man, much more likely to cause friction with the rest of the community than to maintain order and foster cooperation.

Bobby? After considerable thought, Jamie had appointed him factor, with the responsibility of overseeing our property—or what was left of it. But aside from his natural capabilities or lack thereof, Bobby was a young man. He—along with many of the other men on the Ridge—could so easily be swept up in the coming storm, taken away and obliged to serve in one of the militias. Not the Crown’s forces, though; he had been a British soldier, stationed in Boston seven years before, where he and several of his fellows had been menaced by a mob of several hundred irate Bostonians. In fear for their lives, the soldiers had loaded their muskets and leveled them at the crowd. Stones and clubs were thrown, shots were fired—by whom, no one could establish; I had never asked Bobby—and men had died.

Bobby’s life had been spared at the subsequent trial, but he bore a brand on his cheek—”M,” for “Murder.” I had no idea of his politics—he never spoke of such things—but he would never fight with the British army again.

I pushed open the door to the cabin, my equanimity somewhat restored.

Jamie and Ian were now arguing as to whether the new child would be a sister or brother to little Rodney or a half sibling.

“Well, no way of telling, is there?” Ian said. “Nobody kens whether Jo or Kezzie fathered wee Rodney, and the same for this bairn. If Jo is Rodney’s father, and Kezzie this one’s—”

“It doesn’t really matter,” I interrupted, pouring water from the bucket into the cauldron. “Jo and Kezzie are identical twins. That means their … er … their sperm is identical, as well.” That was oversimplifying matters, but it was much too early in the day to try to explain reproductive meiosis and recombinant DNA. “If the mother is the same—and she is—and the father is genetically the same—and they are—any children born would be full sisters or brothers to each other.”

“Their spunk’s the same, too?” Ian demanded, incredulous. “How can ye tell? Did ye look?” he added, giving me a look of horrified curiosity.

“I did not,” I said severely. “I didn’t have to. I know these things.”

“Oh, aye,” he said, nodding with respect. “Of course ye would. I forget sometimes what ye are, Auntie Claire.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant by that, exactly, but it didn’t seem necessary either to inquire or to explain that my knowledge of the Beardsleys’ intimate processes was academic, rather than supernatural.

“But it is Kezzie that’s this one’s father, no?” Jamie put in, frowning. “I sent Jo away; it’s Kezzie she’s been living with this past year.”

Ian gave him a pitying look.

“Ye think he went? Jo?”

“I’ve not seen him,” Jamie said, but the thick red brows drew together.

“Well, ye wouldn’t,” Ian conceded. “They’ll ha’ been gey careful about it, not wantin’ to cross ye. Ye never do see more than one of them—at a time,” he added, offhanded.

We both stared at him. He looked up from the chunk of bacon in his hand and raised his brows.

“I ken these things, aye?” he said blandly.

AFTER SUPPER, the household shifted and settled for the night. All the Higginses retired to the back bedroom, where they shared the single bedstead.

Obsessively, I opened my midwifery bundle and laid out the kit, checking everything over once more. Scissors, white thread for the cord. Clean cloths, rinsed many times to remove all trace of lye soap, scalded and dried. A large square of waxed canvas, to waterproof the mattress. A small bottle of alcohol, diluted fifty percent with sterile water. A small bag containing several twists of washed—but not boiled—wool. A rolled-up sheet of parchment, to serve in lieu of my stethoscope, which had perished in the fire. A knife. And a length of thin wire, sharpened at one end, coiled up like a snake.

I hadn’t eaten much at dinner—or all day—but had a constant sense of rising bile at the back of my throat. I swallowed and wrapped the kit up again, tying the twine firmly round it.

I felt Jamie’s eyes on me and looked up. He said nothing, but smiled a little, warmth in his eyes, and I felt a momentary easing—then a fresh clenching, as I wondered what he would think, if worst came to worst, and I had to—but he’d seen that twist of fear in my face. With his eyes still on mine, he quietly took his rosary from his sporran, and began silently to tell the beads, the worn wood sliding slowly through his fingers.

TWO NIGHTS LATER, I came instantly awake at the sound of feet on the path outside and was on my own feet, pulling on my clothes, before Jo’s knock sounded on the door. Jamie let him in; I heard them murmuring together as I burrowed under the settle for my kit. Jo sounded excited, a little worried—but not panicked. That was good; if Lizzie had been frightened or in serious trouble, he would have sensed it at once—the twins were nearly as sensitive to her moods and welfare as they were to each other’s.

“Shall I come?” Jamie whispered, looming up beside me.

“No,” I whispered back, touching him for strength. “Go back to sleep. I’ll send, if I need you.”

He was tousled from sleep, the embers of the fire making shadows in his hair, but his eyes were alert. He nodded and kissed my forehead, but instead of stepping back, he laid his hand on my head and whispered, “O blessed Michael of the Red Domain …” in Gaelic, then touched my cheek in farewell.

“I’ll see ye in the morning then, Sassenach,” he said, and pushed me gently toward the door.

To my surprise, it was snowing outside. The sky was gray and full of light and the air alive with huge, whirling flakes that brushed my face, melting instantly on my skin. It was a spring storm; I could see the flakes settle briefly on the grass stems, then vanish. There would likely be no trace of snow by morning, but the night was filled with its mystery. I turned to look back, but could not see the cabin behind us—only the shapes of trees half shrouded, uncertain in the pearl-gray light. The path before us looked likewise unreal, the trace disappearing into strange trees and unknown shadows.

I felt weirdly disembodied, caught between past and future, nothing visible save the whirling white silence that surrounded me. And yet I felt calmer than I had in many days. I felt the weight of Jamie’s hand on my head, with its whispered blessing. O blessed Michael of the Red Domain …

It was the blessing given to a warrior going out to battle. I had given it to him, more than once. He’d never done such a thing before, and I had no idea what had made him do it now—but the words glowed in my heart, a small shield against the dangers ahead.

The snow covered the ground now in a thin blanket that hid dark earth and sprouting growth. Jo’s feet left crisp black prints that I followed upward, the needles of fir and balsam brushing cold and fragrant against my skirt, as I listened to a vibrant silence that rang like a bell.

If ever there were a night when angels walked, I prayed it might be this one.

IT WAS NEARLY an hour’s walk to the Beardsley cabin, in daylight and good weather. Fear hastened my footsteps, though, and Jo—I thought it was Jo, by his voice, was hard-pressed to keep up with me.

“How long has she been at it?” I asked. You could never tell, but Lizzie’s first labor had been fast; she’d delivered little Rodney quite alone and without incident. I didn’t think we were going to be that lucky tonight, though my mind couldn’t help hopefully envisioning an arrival at the cabin to find Lizzie already holding the new baby, safely popped out without difficulty.

“Not long,” he panted. “Her waters came all of a sudden, when we were all abed, and she said I best come fetch you at once.”

I tried not to notice that “all abed”—after all, he and/or Kezzie might have slept on the floor—but the Beardsley ménage was the literal personification of double entendre; nobody who knew the truth could think of them without thinking of …

I didn’t bother asking how long he and Kezzie had both been living at the cabin; from what Ian had said, they’d likely both been there all the time. Given the normal conditions of life in the backcountry, no one would have blinked at the notion of a man and his wife living with his brother. And so far as the general population of the Ridge was aware, Lizzie was married to Kezzie. She was. She was also married to Jo, as the result of a set of machinations that still caused me to marvel, but the Bearsdley household kept that fact quiet, on Jamie’s orders.

“Her pap’ll be there,” Jo said, breath pluming white as he pulled alongside me where the trail opened out. “And Auntie Monika. Kezzie went to fetch ’em.”

“You left Lizzie alone?”

His shoulders hunched defensively, uncomfortable.

“She said to,” he said simply.

I didn’t bother replying, but hastened my step, until a stitch in my side made me slow a little. If Lizzie hadn’t already given birth and hemorrhaged or had some other disaster while alone, it might be a help to have “Auntie Monika”—Mr. Wemyss’s second wife—to hand. Monika Berrisch Wemyss was a German lady, of limited and eccentric English but boundless courage and common sense.

Mr. Wemyss had his share of courage, too, though it was a quiet sort. He was waiting for us on the porch, with Kezzie, and it was clear that Mr. Wemyss was supporting his son-in-law, rather than the reverse. Kezzie was openly wringing his hands and jigging from foot to foot, while Mr. Wemyss’s slight figure bent consolingly toward him, a hand on his arm. I caught low murmurs, and then they saw us and turned toward us, sudden hope in the straightening of their bodies.

A long, low howl came from the cabin, and all the men stiffened as though it had been a wolf springing out of the dark at them.

“Well, she sounds all right,” I said mildly, and all of them exhaled at once, audibly. I wanted to laugh, but thought better not, and pushed open the door.

“Ugh,” said Lizzie, looking up from the bed. “Oh, it’s you, ma’am. Thank the Lord!”

“Gott bedanket, aye,” agreed Auntie Monika, tranquilly. She was on her hands and knees, sponging the floor with a wad of cloth. “Not so long now, I hope.”

“I hope not, too,” said Lizzie, grimacing. “GAAAAARRRRRGH!” Her face convulsed into a rictus and went bright red, and her swollen body arched backward. She looked more like someone in the grip of tetanus than an expectant mother, but luckily the spasm was short-lived, and she collaped into a limp heap, panting.

“It wasna like this, last time,” she complained, opening one eye as I palpated her abdomen.

“It’s never the same,” I said absently. One quick glance had made my heart leap; the child was no longer sideways. On the other hand … it wasn’t neatly head-down, either. It wasn’t moving—babies generally didn’t, during labor—and while I thought I had located the head up under Lizzie’s ribs, I wasn’t at all sure of the disposition of the rest.

“Let me just have a look here …” She was naked, wrapped in a quilt. Her wet shift was hanging over the back of a chair, steaming in front of the fire. The bed wasn’t soaked, though, and I deduced that she’d felt the rupturing of her membranes and made it to a standing position before her water broke.

I’d been afraid to look, and let my breath out in audible relief. The chief fear with a breech presentation was that part of the umbilical cord would prolapse when the membranes ruptured, the loop then being squeezed between the pelvis and some part of the fetus. All clear, though, and a quick feel indicated that the cervix was very nearly effaced.

The only thing to do now was to wait and see what came out first. I undid my bundle, and—shoving the coil of sharpened wire hastily under a packet of cloths—spread out the waxed canvas, hoicking Lizzie onto it with Auntie Monika’s help.

Monika blinked and glanced at the trundle where little Rodney was snoring when Lizzie let out another of those unearthly howls. She looked to me for reassurance that nothing was wrong, then took hold of Lizzie’s hands, murmuring softly to her in German while she grunted and wheezed.

The door creaked gently, and I looked round to see one of the Beardsleys peering in, his face showing a mixture of fear and hope.

“Is it here?” he whispered hoarsely.

“NO!” bellowed Lizzie, sitting bolt upright. “Get your neb out of my sight, or I’ll twist your wee ballocks off! All four o’ them!”

The door promptly closed, and Lizzie subsided, puffing.

“I hate them,” she said through clenched teeth. “I want them to die!”

“Mmm-hmm,” I said sympathetically. “Well, I’m sure they’re suffering, at least.”

“Good.” She went from fury to pathos in a split second, tears welling in her eyes. “Am I going to die?”

“No,” I said, as reassuringly as possible.

“EEEAAAAARRRRRRGGGGG!”

“Gruss Gott,”Auntie Monika said, crossing herself. “Ist gut?”

“Ja,”I said, still reassuring. “I don’t suppose there are any scissors … ?”

“Oh, ja,” she replied, reaching for her bag. She produced a tiny pair of very worn but once-gilded embroidery scissors. “Dese you need?”

“Danke.”

“BLOOOOOORRRRRGGGG!”

Monika and I both looked at Lizzie.

“Don’t overdo it,” I said. “They’re frightened, but they aren’t idiots. Besides, you’ll scare your father. And Rodney,” I added, with a glance at the little heap of bedclothes in the trundle bed.

She subsided, panting, but managed a nod and the ghost of a smile.

Matters proceeded fairly rapidly thereafter; she was fast. I checked her pulse, then her cervix, and felt my own heart rate double as I touched what was plainly a tiny foot, on its way out. Could I get the other one?

I glanced at Monika, with an eye to size and strength. She was tough as whipcord, I knew, but not that large. Lizzie, on the other hand, was the size of—well, Ian had not been exaggerating when he thought it might be twins.

The creeping thought that it still might be twins made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, despite the humid warmth of the cabin.

No, I said firmly to myself. It isn’t; you know it isn’t. One is going to be bad enough.

“We’re going to need one of the men, to help hold her shoulders up,” I said to Monika. “Get one of the twins, will you?”

“Both,” Lizzie gasped, as Monika turned toward the door.

“One will be—”

“Both! Nnnnnnggggg …”

“Both,” I said to Monika, who nodded in a matter-of-fact manner.

The twins came in on a rush of cold air, their faces identical ruddy masks of alarm and excitement. Without my saying anything to them, they came at once to Lizzie, like a pair of iron filings to a magnet. She had struggled into a sitting position, and one of them knelt behind her, his hands gently kneading her shoulders as they relaxed from the last spasm. His brother sat beside her, a supportive arm round what used to be her waist, his other hand smoothing back the sweat-soaked hair from her brow.

I tried to arrange the quilt round her, over her protruding belly, but she pushed it away, hot and fretful. The cabin was filled with moist heat, from the steaming cauldron and the sweat of effort. Well, presumably the twins were somewhat more familiar with her anatomy than I was, I reflected, and handed the wadded quilt to Auntie Monika. Modesty had no place in childbirth.

I knelt in front of her, scissors in hand, and snipped the episiotomy quickly, feeling a tiny spray of warm blood across my hand. I seldom needed to do one for a routine birth, but for this, I was going to need room to maneuver. I pressed one of my clean cloths to the cut, but the amount of bleeding was negligible, and the insides of her thighs were streaked with bloody show in any case.

It was a foot; I could see the toes, long ones, like a frog’s, and glanced automatically at Lizzie’s bare feet, planted solidly on the floor to either side of me. No, hers were short and compact; it must be the twins’ influence.

The humid, swampish scent of birth waters, sweat, and blood rose like fog from Lizzie’s body, and I felt my own sweat running down my sides. I groped upward, hooked a finger round the heel, and brought the foot down, feeling the life in the child move in its flesh, though the baby itself was not moving, helpless in the grip of birth.

The other one, I needed the other one. Feeling urgently through the belly wall between one contraction and the next, I slid my other hand up the emergent leg, found the tiny curve of the buttock. Switched hands hastily and, with my eyes closed, found the curve of the flexed thigh. Bloody hell, it seemed to have its knee tucked up under its chin … felt the yielding stiffness of tiny, cartilaginous bones, solid in the squish of fluid, the stretch of muscle … got a finger, two fingers, circling the other ankle, and—snarling, “Brace her! Hold her!” as Lizzie’s back arched and her bottom scooted toward me—brought the second foot down.

I sat back, eyes open and breathing hard, though it hadn’t been a physical strain. The little froggy feet twitched once, then drooped, as the legs came into view with the next push.

“Once more, sweetheart,” I whispered, a hand on Lizzie’s straining thigh. “Give us one more like that.”

A growl from the depths of the earth as Lizzie reached that point where a woman no longer cares whether she lives, dies, or splits apart, and the child’s lower body slid slowly into view, the umbilicus pulsing like a thick purple worm looped across the belly. My eyes were fixed on that, thinking, Thank God, thank God, when I became aware of Auntie Monika, peering intently over my shoulder.

“Ist das balls?” she said, puzzled, pointing at the child’s genitals.

I hadn’t spared time to look, concerned as I was with the cord, but I glanced down and smiled.

“No. Ist eine Mädchen,” I said. The baby’s sex was edematous; it did look much like a little boy’s equipment, the clitoris protruding from swollen labia, but wasn’t.

“What? What is it?” One of the Beardsleys was asking, leaning down to look.

“You haff a leedle girl,” Auntie Monika told him, beaming up.

“A girl?” the other Beardsley gasped. “Lizzie, we have a daughter!”

“Will you fucking shut up?!?” Lizzie snarled. “NNNNNNNGGGGG!”

At this point, Rodney woke up and sat bolt upright, openmouthed and wide-eyed. Auntie Monika was on her feet at once, scooping him out of his bed before he could start to scream.

Rodney’s sister was inching reluctantly into the world, shoved by each contraction. I was counting in my head, One hippopotamus, two hippopotamus … From the appearance of the umbilicus to successful delivery of the mouth and the first breath, we could afford no more than four minutes before brain damage from lack of oxygen began to occur. But I couldn’t pull and risk damage to the neck and head.

“Push, sweetheart,” I said, bracing my hands on both Lizzie’s knees, my voice calm. “Hard, now.”

Thirty-four hippopotamus, thirty-five …

All we needed now was for the chin to hang up on the pelvic bone. When the contraction eased, I slid my fingers hastily up onto the child’s face, and got two fingers over the upper maxilla. I felt the next contraction coming, and gritted my teeth as the force of it crushed my hand between the bones of the pelvis and the baby’s skull, but didn’t pull back, fearful of losing my traction.

Sixty-two hippopotamus …

Relaxation, and I drew down, slowly, slowly, pulling the child’s head forward, easing the chin past the rim of the pelvis …

Eighty-nine hippopotamus, ninety hippopotamus …

The child was hanging from Lizzie’s body, bloody-blue and shining in the firelight, swaying in the shadow of her thighs like the clapper of a bell—or a body from a gibbet, and I pushed that thought away …

“Should not we take … ?” Auntie Monika whispered to me, Rodney clutched to her breast.

One hundred.

“No,” I said. “Don’t touch it—her. Not yet.” Gravity was slowly helping the delivery. Pulling would injure the neck, and if the head were to stick …

One hundred ten hippo—that was a lot of hippopotami, I thought, abstractedly envisaging herds of them marching down to the hollow, there they will wallow, in mud, glooooorious …

“Now,” I said, poised to swab the mouth and nose as they emerged—but Lizzie hadn’t waited for prompting, and with a long deep sigh and an audible pop!, the head delivered all at once, and the baby fell into my hands like a ripe fruit.

I DIPPED A LITTLE more water from the steaming cauldron into the washing bowl and added cold water from the bucket. The warmth of it stung my hands; the skin between my knuckles was cracked from the long winter and the constant use of dilute alcohol for sterilization. I’d just finished stitching Lizzie up and cleaning her, and the blood floated away from my hands, dark swirls in the water.

Behind me, Lizzie was tucked up neatly in bed, clad in one of the twins’ shirts, her own shift being not yet dried. She was laughing with the euphoria of birth and survival, the twins on either side of her, fussing over her, murmuring admiration and relief, one tucking back her loose, damp fair hair, the other softly kissing her neck.

“Are you fevered, my lover?” one asked, a tinge of concern in his voice. That made me turn round to look; Lizzie suffered from malaria, and while she hadn’t had an attack in some time, perhaps the stress of birth …

“No,” she said, and kissed Jo or Kezzie on the forehead. “I’m only flushed from bein’ happy.” Kezzie or Jo beamed at her in adoration, while his brother took up the neck-kissing duties on the other side.

Auntie Monika coughed. She’d wiped down the baby with a damp cloth and some wisps of the wool I’d brought—soft and oily with lanolin—and had it now swaddled in a blanket. Rodney had got bored with the proceedings long since and gone to sleep on the floor by the wood-basket, a thumb in his mouth.

“Your vater, Lizzie,” she said, a slight hint of reproof in her voice. “He vill cold begetting. Und die Mädel he vant see, mit you, but maybe not so much mit der …” She managed to incline her head toward the bed, while simultaneously modestly averting her eyes from the frolicsome trio on it. Mr. Wemyss and his sons-in-law had had a gingerly reconciliation after the birth of Rodney, but best not to press things.

Her words galvanized the twins, who hopped to their feet, one stooping to scoop up Rodney, whom he handled with casual affection, the other rushing for the door to retrieve Mr. Wemyss, forgotten on the porch in the excitement.

While slightly blue round the edges, relief made his thin face glow as though lit from within. He smiled with heartfelt joy at Monika, sparing a brief glance and a ginger pat for the swaddled bundle—but his attention was all for Lizzie, and hers for him.

“Your hands are frozen, Da,” she said, giggling a little, but tightening her grip as he made to pull away. “No, stay; I’m warm enough. Come sit by me and say good e’en to your wee granddaughter.” Her voice rang with a shy pride, as she reached out a hand to Auntie Monika.

Monika set the baby gently in Lizzie’s arms, and stood with a hand on Mr. Wemyss’s shoulder, her own weathered face soft with something much deeper than affection. Not for the first time, I was surprised—and vaguely abashed that I should be surprised—by the depth of her love for the frail, quiet little man.

“Oh,” Mr. Wemyss said softly. His finger touched the baby’s cheek; I could hear her making small smacking noises. She’d been shocked by the trauma of birth and not interested in the breast at first, but plainly was beginning to change her mind.

“She’ll be hungry.” A rustle of bedclothes as Lizzie took up the baby and put her to the breast with practiced hands.

“What will ye call her, a leannan?” Mr. Wemyss asked.

“I hadna really thought of a girl’s name,” Lizzie answered. “She was so big, I thought sure she was a—ow!” She laughed, a low, sweet sound. “I’d forgot how greedy a newborn wean is. Ooh! There, a chuisle, aye, that’s better …”

I reached for the sack of wool, to rub my own raw hands with one of the soft, oily wisps, and happened to see the twins, standing back out of the way, side by side, their eyes fixed on Lizzie and their daughter, and each wearing a look that echoed Auntie Monika’s. Not taking his eyes away, the Beardsley holding little Rodney bent his head and kissed the top of the little boy’s round head.

So much love in one small place. I turned away, my own eyes misty. Did it matter, really, how unorthodox the marriage at the center of this odd family was? Well, it would to Hiram Crombie, I reflected. The leader of the rock-ribbed Presbyterian immigrants from Thurso, he’d want Lizzie, Jo, and Kezzie stoned, at the least—together with the sinful fruit of their loins.

No chance of that happening, so long as Jamie was on the Ridge—but with him gone? I slowly cleaned blood from under my nails, hoping that Ian was right about the Beardsleys’ capacity for discretion—and deception.

Distracted by these musings, I hadn’t noticed Auntie Monika, who had come quietly up beside me.

“Danke,” she said softly, laying a gnarled hand on my arm.

“Gern geschehen.” I put my hand over hers and squeezed gently. “You were a great help—thank you.”

She still smiled, but a line of worry bisected her forehead.

“Not so much. But I am afraid, ja?” She glanced over her shoulder at the bed, then back at me. “What happens, next time, you are not hier? Dey don’t stop, you know,” she added, discreetly making a circle of thumb and forefinger and running the middle finger of the other hand into it in a most indiscreet illustration of exactly what she meant.

I converted a laugh hastily into a coughing fit, which fortunately went ignored by the relevant parties, though Mr. Wemyss glanced over his shoulder in mild concern.

“You’ll be here,” I told her, recovering. She looked horrified.

“Me? Nein,” she said, shaking her head. “Das reicht nicht. Me—” She poked herself in her meager chest, seeing that I hadn’t understood. “I … am not enough.”

I took a deep breath, knowing that she was right. And yet …

“You’ll have to be,” I said, very softly.

She blinked once, her large, wise brown eyes fixed on mine. Then slowly nodded, accepting.

“Mein Gott, hilf mir,” she said.

JAMIE HADN’T BEEN ABLE to go back to sleep. He had trouble sleeping these days, in any case, and often lay awake late, watching the fading glow of embers in the hearth and turning things over in his mind, or seeking wisdom in the shadows of the rafters overhead. If he did fall asleep easily, he often came awake later, sudden and sweating. He knew what caused that, though, and what to do about it.

Most of his strategies for reaching slumber involved Claire—talking to her, making love to her—or only looking at her while she slept, finding solace in the solid long curve of her collarbone, or the heartbreaking shape of her closed eyelids, letting sleep steal upon him from her peaceful warmth.

But Claire, of course, was gone.

Half an hour of saying the rosary convinced him that he had done as much in that direction as was necessary or desirable for the sake of Lizzie and her impending child. Saying the rosary for penance—aye, he saw the point of that, particularly if you had to say it on your knees. Or to quiet one’s mind, fortify the soul, or seek the insight of meditation on sacred topics, aye, that, too. But not for petition. If he were God, or even the Blessed Virgin, who was renowned for patience, he thought he would find it tedious to listen to more than a decade or so of someone saying please about something over and over, and surely there was no point to boring a person whose aid you sought?

Now, the Gaelic prayers seemed much more useful to the purpose, being as they were concentrated upon a specific request or blessing, and more pleasing both in rhythm and variety. If you asked him, not that anyone was likely to.Moire gheal is Bhride;

Mar a rug Anna Moire,

Mar a rug Moire Criosda,

Mar a rug Eile Eoin Baistidh

Gun mhar-bhith dha dhi,

Cuidich i na ’h asaid,

Cuidich i a Bhride!

Mar a gheineadh Criosd am Moire

Comhliont air gach laimh,

Cobhair i a mise, mhoime,

An gein a thoir bho ’n chnaimh;

’S mar a chomhn thu Oigh an t-solais,

Gun or, gun odh, gun ni,

Comhn i ’s mor a th’ othrais,

Comhn i a Bhride!

he murmured as he climbed.Mary fair and Bride;

As Anna bore Mary,

As Mary bore Christ,

As Eile bore John the Baptist

Without flaw in him,

Aid thou her in her unbearing,

Aid her, O Bride!

As Christ was conceived of Mary

Full perfect on every hand,

Assist thou me, foster mother,

The conception to bring from the bone;

And as thou didst aid the Virgin of joy,

Without gold, without corn, without kine,

Aid thou her, great is her sickness, Aid her, O Bride!

He’d left the cabin, unable to bear its smothering confines, and wandered in a contemplative fashion through the Ridge in the falling snow, ticking through mental lists. But the fact was that all his preparation was done, bar the packing of the horses and mules, and without really thinking about it, he found that he was making his way up the trail toward the Beardsley place. The snow had ceased to fall now, but the sky stretched gray and gentle overhead, and cold white lay calm upon the trees and stilled the rush of wind.

Sanctuary, he thought. It wasn’t, of course—there was no safe place in time of war—but the feel of the mountain night reminded him of the feel of churches: a great peace, waiting.

Notre Dame in Paris … St. Giles’ in Edinburgh. Tiny stone churches in the Highlands, where he’d sometimes gone in his years of hiding, when he thought it safe. He crossed himself, remembering that; the plain stones, often nothing more than a wooden altar inside—and yet the relief of entering, sitting on the floor if there was no bench, just sitting, and knowing himself to be not alone. Sanctuary.

Whether the thought of churches or of Claire reminded him, he remembered another church—the one they had married in, and he grinned to himself at the memory of that. Not a peaceful waiting, no. He could still feel the thunder of his heart against his ribs as he’d stepped inside, the reek of his sweat—he’d smelled like a rutting goat, and hoped she didn’t notice—the inability to draw a full breath. And the feel of her hand in his, her fingers small and freezing cold, clutching at him for support.

Sanctuary. They’d been that for each other then—and were so now. Blood of my blood. The tiny cut had healed, but he rubbed the ball of his thumb, smiling at the matter-of-fact way she’d said it.

He came in sight of the cabin, and saw Joseph Wemyss waiting on the porch, hunched and stamping his feet against the cold. He was about to hail Joseph, when the door suddenly opened and one of the Beardsley twins—Christ, what were they doing in there?—reached out and seized his father-in-law by the arm, nearly pulling him off his feet in his excitement.

It was excitement, too, not grief or alarm; he’d seen the boy’s face clearly in the glow of the firelight. He let out the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, white in the dark. The child was come, then, and both it and Lizzie had survived.

He relaxed against a tree, touching the rosary around his neck.

“Moran taing,” he said softly, in brief but heartfelt thanks. Someone in the cabin had put more wood on the fire; a shower of sparks flew up from the chimney, lighting the snow in red and gold and hissing black where cinders fell.

Yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward. He’d read that line of Job many times in prison, and made no great sense of it. Upward-flying sparks caused no trouble, by and large, unless you had very dry shingles; it was the ones that spat straight out of the hearth that might set your house on fire. Or if the writer had meant only that it was the nature of man to be in trouble—as plainly it was, if his own experience was aught to go by—then he was making a comparison of inevitability, saying that sparks always flew upward—which anyone who’d ever watched a fire for long could tell you they didn’t.

Still, who was he to be criticizing the Bible’s logic, when he ought to be repeating psalms of praise and gratitude? He tried to think of one, but was too content to think of more than odd bits and pieces.

He realized with a small shock that he was entirely happy. The safe birth of the child was a great thing in itself, to be sure—but it also meant that Claire had come safe through her trial, and that he and she were now free. They might leave the Ridge, knowing they had done all that could be done for the folk who remained.

Aye, there was always a sadness in leaving home—but in this case, it might be argued that their home had left them, when the house burned, and in any case, it was overbalanced by his rising sense of anticipation. Free and away, Claire by his side, no daily chores to do, no petty squabbles to settle, no widows and orphans to provide for—well, that was an unworthy thought, doubtless, and yet …

War was a terrible thing, and this one would be, too—but it was undeniably exciting, and the blood stirred in him from scalp to soles.

“Moran taing,” he said again, in heartfelt gratitude.

A short time later, the door of the cabin opened again, spilling light, and Claire came out, pulling up the hood of her cloak, her basket over her arm. Voices followed her, and bodies crowded the door. She turned to wave farewell to them, and he heard her laugh; the sound of it sent a small thrill of pleasure through him.

The door closed and she came down the path in the gray-lit dark; he could see that she staggered just a little, from weariness, and yet there was an air of something about her—he thought it might be the same euphoria that lifted him.

“Like the sparks that fly upward,” he murmured to himself, and smiling, stepped out to greet her.

She wasn’t startled, but turned at once and came toward him, seeming almost to float on the snow.

“It’s well, then,” he said, and she sighed and came into his arms, solid and warm within the cold folds of her cloak. He reached inside it, drew her close, inside the wool of his own big cloak.

“I need you, please,” she whispered, her mouth against his, and without reply he took her up in his arms—Christ, she was right, that cloak stank of dead meat; had the man who sold it to him used it to haul a butchered deer in from the forest?—and kissed her deep, then put her down and led her down the hill, the light snow seeming to melt away from their feet as they walked.

It seemed to take no time at all to reach the barn; they spoke a little on the trail, but he could not have said what they talked about. It only mattered to be with each other.

It wasn’t precisely cozy inside the barn, but not freezing, either. Welcoming, he thought, with the pleasant warm smell of the beasts in the dark. The weird gray light of the sky filtered in, just a bit, so you could see the hunched shapes of horses and mules dozing in their stalls. And there was dry straw to lie on, for all it was old and a trifle musty.

It was too cold to undress, but he laid his cloak in the straw, her upon it, and lay upon her, both of them shivering as they kissed, so their teeth clacked together and they drew back, snorting.

“This is silly,” she said, “I can see my breath—and yours. It’s cold enough to blow smoke rings. We’ll freeze.”

“No, we won’t. Ken the way the Indians make fire?”

“What, rubbing a dry stick on a …”

“Aye, friction.” He’d got her petticoats up; her thigh was smooth and cold under his hand. “I see it’s no going to be dry, though—Christ, Sassenach, what have ye been about?” He had her firmly in the palm of his hand, warm and soft and juicy, and she squealed at the chill of his touch, loud enough that one of the mules let out a startled wheeze. She wriggled, just enough to make him take his hand out from between her legs and insert something else, quick.

“Ye’re going to rouse the whole barn,” he observed, breathless. God, the enveloping shock of the heat of her made him giddy.

She ran her cold hands up under his shirt and pinched both his nipples, hard, and he yelped, then laughed.

“Do that again,” he said, and bending, stuck his tongue in her cold ear for the pleasure of hearing her shriek. She wriggled and arched her back, but didn’t—he noticed—actually turn her head away. He took her earlobe gently between his teeth and began to worry it, rogering her slowly and laughing to himself at the noises she made.

It had been a long time of making silent love.

Her hands were busy at his back; he’d only let down the flap of his breeks and pulled his shirttail up out of the way, but she’d got the shirt out at the back now, and shoved both hands down his breeks and got his hurdies in a good two-handed grip. She pulled him in tight, digging in her nails, and he took her meaning. He let go her ear, rose on his hands, and rode her solid, the straw a-rustle round them like the crackle of burning.

He wanted simply to let go at once, spill himself and fall on her, hold her to his body and smell her hair in a doze of warmth and joy. A dim sense of obligation reminded him that she’d asked him for this, she’d needed it. He couldn’t go and leave her wanting.

He closed his eyes and slowed himself, lowered himself onto her so her body strained and rose along his length, the cloth of their clothes rasping and bunching up between them. He got a hand down under her, cupped her bare bum, and slid his fingers into the straining warm crease of her buttocks. Slid one a little farther, and she gasped. Her hips rose, trying to get away, but he laughed deep in his throat and didn’t let her. Wiggled the finger.

“Do that again,” he whispered in her ear. “Make that noise again for me.”

She made a better one, one he’d never heard before, and jerked under him, quivering and whimpering.

He pulled out the finger and guddled her, light and quick, all along the slick deep parts, feeling his own cock under his fingers, big and slippery, stretching her …

He made a terrible noise himself—like a dying cow—but was too happy to be shamed.

“Ye’re no verra peaceful, Sassenach,” he murmured a moment later, breathing in the smell of musk and new life. “But I like ye fine.”

ENOUGH

I TOOK MY LEAVE, starting from the springhouse. Stood inside for a moment, listening to the trickle of the water in its stone channel, breathing the cold, fresh smell of the place, with its faint sweet scents of milk and butter. Coming out, I turned left, passing the weathered palisades of my garden, covered with the tattered, rattling remnants of gourd vines. I paused, hesitating; I hadn’t set foot in the garden since the day that Malva and her child had died there. I set my hands on two of the wooden stakes, leaning to look between them.

I was glad I hadn’t looked before; I couldn’t have borne to see it in its winter desolation, the ragged stems blackened and stiff, the rags of leaves rotted into the ground. It was still a sight to strike a pang to a gardener’s heart, but no longer desolate. Fresh green sprouted everywhere, spangled with tiny flowers; the kindness of spring laying garlands over winter’s bones. Granted, half the green things growing were grass and weeds; by summer, the woods would have reclaimed the garden, smothering the stunted sproutings of cabbages and onions. Amy had made a new vegetable patch near the old cabin; neither she nor anyone else on the Ridge would set foot here.

Something stirred in the grass, and I saw a small gopher snake slide through, hunting. The sight of something live comforted me, little as I cared for snakes, and I smiled as I lifted my eyes and saw that bees were humming to and fro from one of the old bee gums that still stood at the foot of the garden.

I looked last at the spot where I had planted salad greens; that’s where she had died. In memory, I’d always seen the spreading blood, imagined it still there, a permanent stain soaked dark into the earth among the churned wreckage of uprooted lettuces and wilting leaves. But it was gone; nothing marked the spot save a fairy ring of mushrooms, tiny white heads poking out of the wild grass.

“I will arise and go now,” I said softly, “and go to Innisfree, and a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made; nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee, and live alone in the bee-loud glade.” I paused for a moment, and as I turned away, added in a whisper, “And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow.”

I made my way briskly down the path then; no need to apostrophize the ruins of the house, nor yet the white sow. I’d remember them without effort. As for the corncrib and hen coop—if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

I could see the little gathering of horses, mules, and people moving in the slow chaos of imminent departure in front of the cabin. I wasn’t quite ready yet for goodbyes, though, and stepped into the wood to pull myself together.

The grass was long beside the trail, soft and feathery against the hem of my weighted skirts. Something heavier than grass brushed them, and I looked down to see Adso. I’d been looking for him most of yesterday; typical of him to show up at the last minute.

“So there you are,” I said, accusing. He looked at me with his huge calm eyes of celadon green, and licked a paw. On impulse, I scooped him up and held him against me, feeling the rumble of his purr and the soft, thick fur of his silvery belly.

He’d be all right; I knew that. The woods were his private game preserve, and Amy Higgins liked him and had promised me to see him right for milk and a warm spot by the fire in bad weather. I knew that.

“Go on, then,” I said, and set him on the ground. He stood for a moment, tail waving slowly, head raised in search of food or interesting smells, then stepped into the grass and vanished.

I bent, very slowly, arms crossed, and shook, weeping silently, violently.

I cried until my throat hurt and I couldn’t breathe, then sat in the grass, curled into myself like a dried leaf, tears that I couldn’t stop dropping on my knees like the first fat drops of a coming storm. Oh, God. It was only the beginning.

I rubbed my hands hard over my eyes, smearing the wetness, trying to scrub away grief. A soft cloth touched my face, and I looked up, sniffing, to find Jamie kneeling in front of me, handkerchief in hand.

“I’m sorry,” he said, very softly.

“It’s not—don’t worry, I’m … He’s only a cat,” I said, and a small fresh grief tightened like a band round my chest.

“Aye, I know.” He moved beside me and put an arm round my shoulders, pulling my head to his chest, while he gently wiped my face. “But ye couldna weep for the bairns. Or the house. Or your wee garden. Or the poor dead lass and her bairn. But if ye weep for your cheetie, ye know ye can stop.”

“How do you know that?” My voice was thick, but the band round my chest was not quite so tight.

He made a small, rueful sound.

“Because I canna weep for those things, either, Sassenach. And I havena got a cat.”

I sniffled, wiped my face one last time, and blew my nose before giving him back the handkerchief, which he stuffed into his sporran without grimace or thought.

Lord, he’d said. Let me be enough. That prayer had lodged in my heart like an arrow when I’d heard it and thought he asked for help in doing what had to be done. But that wasn’t what he’d meant at all—and the realization of what he had meant split my heart in two.

I took his face between my hands, and wished so much that I had his own gift, the ability to say what lay in my heart, in such a way that he would know. But I hadn’t.

“Jamie,” I said at last. “Oh, Jamie. You’re … everything. Always.”

An hour later, we left the Ridge.

UNREST

I AN LAY DOWN WITH a sack of rice under his head for a pillow. It was hard, but he liked the whisper of the small grains when he turned his head and the faint starched smell of it. Rollo rooted under the plaid with his snout, snorting as he worked his way close against Ian’s body, ending with his nose cozily buried in Ian’s armpit. Ian scratched the dog’s ears gently, then lay back, watching the stars.

It was a sliver moon, thin as a nail paring, and the stars were big and brilliant in the purple-black of the sky. He traced the constellations overhead. Would he see the same stars in Scotland? he wondered. He’d not paid much mind to the stars when he was home in the Highlands, and you couldn’t see stars at all in Edinburgh, for the smoke of the reeking lums.

His aunt and uncle lay on the other side of the smoored fire, close enough together as to look like one log, sharing warmth. He saw the blankets twitch, settle, twitch again, and then a stillness, waiting. He heard a whisper, too low to make out the words but the intent behind them clear enough.

He kept his breathing regular, a little louder than usual. A moment, and then the stealthy movements began again. It was hard to fool Uncle Jamie, but there are times when a man wants to be fooled.

His hand rested gently on the dog’s head, and Rollo sighed, the huge body going limp, warm and heavy against him. If not for the dog, he would never be able to sleep out of doors. Not that he ever slept soundly, or for long—but at least he could surrender now and then to bodily need, trusting that Rollo would hear any footstep long before he did.

“Ye’re safe enough,” his uncle Jamie had told him, their first night on the road. He’d been unable to fall asleep then for nerviness, even with Rollo’s head on his chest, and had got up to sit by the fire, poking sticks into the embers until the flames rose up into the night, pure and vivid.

He was well aware that he was perfectly visible to anyone who might be watching, but there was nothing to be done about that. And if he had a target painted on his chest, lighting it up wouldn’t make a deal of difference.

Rollo, lying watchful beside the growing fire, had lifted his big head suddenly, but only turned it toward a faint sound in the dark. That meant someone familiar, and Ian wasn’t bothered, nor yet surprised when his uncle came out of the wood where he’d gone to relieve himself and sat down beside him.

“He doesna want ye dead, ken,” Uncle Jamie had said without preamble. “You’re safe enough.”

“I dinna ken if I want to be safe,” he’d blurted, and his uncle had glanced at him, his face troubled—but not surprised. Uncle Jamie had only nodded, though.

He knew what his uncle meant; Arch Bug didn’t want him to die, because that would end his guilt, and thus his suffering. Ian had looked into those ancient eyes, the whites of them yellowed and threaded with red, watering with cold and grief, and seen something there that had frozen the core of his soul. No, Arch Bug wouldn’t kill him—yet.

His uncle was staring into the fire, the light of it warm on the broad bones of his face, and the sight gave Ian both comfort and panic.

Does it not occur to you? he’d thought, anguished, but did not say. He said he’d take what I love. And there ye sit beside me, clear as day.

The first time the thought had come to him, he’d pushed it away; old Arch owed Uncle Jamie, for what he’d done for the Bugs, and he was a man to acknowledge a debt—though perhaps more ready to claim one. And he had nay doubt Bug respected his uncle as a man, too. For a time, that had seemed to settle the matter.

But other thoughts had come to him, uneasy, many-legged things that crept out of the sleepless nights since he’d killed Murdina Bug.

Arch was an old man. Tough as a fire-hardened spear, and twice as dangerous—but old. He’d fought at Sheriffmuir; he had to be rising eighty. Revenge might keep him alive for a time, but all flesh came to an end. He might well think that he hadn’t time to wait for Ian to acquire “something worth taking.” If he meant to keep his threat, he’d need to act soon.

Ian could hear the subtle shifts and rustlings from the other side of the fire, and swallowed, his mouth dry. Old Arch might try to take his aunt, for surely Ian loved her, and she would be much easier to kill than Uncle Jamie. But no—Arch might be half crazed with grief and rage, but he wasn’t insane. He’d know that to touch Auntie Claire—without killing Uncle Jamie at the same time—would be suicide.

Maybe he wouldn’t care. That was another thought that walked over his belly with small, cold feet.

He should leave them; he knew that. He’d meant to—he still meant to. Wait ’til they’d fallen asleep, then rise and steal away. They’d be safe then.

But his heart had failed him, that first night. He’d been trying to gather his courage, there by the fire, to go—but his uncle had forestalled him, coming out of the wood and sitting by him, silent but companionable, until Ian had felt able to lie down again.

Tomorrow, he’d thought. After all, there was no sign of Arch Bug; hadn’t been, since his wife’s funeral. And maybe he’s dead. He was an old man, and alone.

And there was the consideration that if he left without a word, Uncle Jamie would come after him. He’d made it clear that Ian was going back to Scotland, whether he did it willingly or tied in a sack. Ian grinned, despite his thoughts, and Rollo made a small grunt as the chest under him moved in a silent laugh.

He’d barely spared a thought for Scotland and what might await him there.

Perhaps it was the noises from the other side of the fire that made him think it—a sudden high-pitched intake of breath and the deep twin sighs that followed it, his familiarity providing a vivid physical memory of the action that had caused that sigh—but he wondered suddenly whether he might find a wife in Scotland.

He couldn’t. Could he? Would Bug be able to follow him so far? Maybe he’s already dead, he thought again, and shifted a bit. Rollo grumbled in his throat but, recognizing the signs, shuffled off him and curled up a little distance away.

His family would be there. Surrounded by the Murrays, surely he—and a wife—would be safe. It was simple to lurk and steal through the dense woods here in the mountains—not nearly so simple in the Highlands, where every eye was sharp and no stranger passed unnoticed.

He didn’t know quite what his mother would do when she saw him—but once she got used to it, maybe she could think of a girl who wouldn’t be too frightened of him.

A suck of breath and a sound not quite a moan from his uncle—he did that when she put her mouth on his nipple; Ian had seen her do it once or twice, by the glow of embers from the cabin’s hearth, her eyes closed, a quick wet gleam of teeth, and her hair falling back from naked shoulders in a cloud of light and shadow.

He put a hand on his cock, tempted. He had a private collection of images that he cherished for the purpose—and not a few of them were of his cousin, though it shamed him a little. She was Roger Mac’s wife, after all. But he’d thought at one point that he’d need to marry her himself, and while terrified at the prospect—he’d been only seventeen and she considerably older—had been emboldened at the thought of having her to bed.

He’d watched her close for several days, seeing her arse round and solid, the dark shadow of her red-haired quim under the thin muslin of her shift when she went to bathe, imagining the thrill of seeing it plain on the night when she’d lie down and open her legs for him.

What was he doing? He couldn’t be thinking of Brianna like that, not lying a dozen feet from her father!

He grimaced and squinched his eyes tight shut, hand slowing as he summoned up a different image from his private library. Not the witch—not tonight. Her memory aroused him with great urgency, often painfully, but was tinged with a sense of helplessness. Malva … No, he was afraid to summon her; he often thought her spirit was not yet so very far away.

Wee Mary. Aye, her. His hand settled at once into its rhythm and he sighed, escaping with relief to the small pink breasts and encouraging smile of the first lass he’d ever lain with.

Hovering moments later on the edge of a dream of a wee blond girl who was his wife, he thought drowsily, Aye, maybe he’s already dead.

Rollo made a deep, dissentient noise in his throat, and rolled over with his paws in the air.

DELICATE MATTERS

London

November 1776

THERE WERE MANY compensations to growing older, Lord John thought. Wisdom, perspective, position in life, the sense of accomplishment, of time well spent, a richness of affection for friends and family … and the fact that he needn’t keep his back pressed against a wall when talking to Lord George Germain. While both his looking glass and his valet assured him that he continued to be presentable, he was at least twenty years too old to appeal to the secretary of state, who liked them young and tender-skinned.

The clerk who had shown him in met this description, being equipped also with long dark lashes and a soft pout. Grey spared him no more than a glance; his own tastes were harder-edged.

It was not early—knowing Germain’s habits, he had waited until one o’clock—but the man still showed the effects of a long night. Deep blue pouches cupped eyes like soft-boiled eggs, which surveyed Grey with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. Still, Germain made an effort at courtesy, bidding Grey sit and sending the doe-eyed clerk for brandy and biscuits.

Grey seldom took strong drink before teatime, and wanted a clear head now. He therefore barely sipped his own brandy, excellent though it was, but Germain dipped the famous Sackville nose—sharply protrusive as a letter opener—into his glass, inhaled deeply, then drained it and poured another. The liquid appeared to have some restorative effect, for he emerged from his second glass looking somewhat happier and inquired of Grey how he did.

“Very well, I thank you,” Grey said politely. “I have recently returned from America, and have brought you several letters from mutual acquaintances there.”

“Oh, have you?” Germain brightened a bit. “Kind of you, Grey. Decent voyage, was it?”

“Tolerable.” In fact, it had been miserable; they had run a gauntlet of storms across the Atlantic, pitching and yawing without cease for days on end, to the point that Grey had wished fervently for the ship to sink, just to put an end to it all. But he did not want to waste time on trivial chat.

“I had a rather remarkable encounter, just before leaving the colony of North Carolina,” he said, judging that Germain was now sufficiently alert as to listen. “Allow me to tell you about it.”

Germain was both vain and petty, and had brought the art of political vagueness to a fine point—but could apply himself to a matter when he wished, which was largely when he perceived some benefit to himself in a situation. The mention of the Northwest Territory focused his attention admirably.

“You did not speak to this Beauchamp further?” A third glass of brandy sat by Germain’s elbow, half drunk.

“No. He had delivered his message; there was nothing to be gained by further conversation, as plainly he has no power to act upon his own. And had he intended to divulge the identity of his principals, he would have done so.”

Germain picked up his glass, but did not drink, instead turning it in his hands as an aid to thought. It was plain, not faceted, and smeared with fingerprints and the smudges of Germain’s mouth.

“Is the man familiar to you? Why did he seek you out, in particular?” No, not stupid, Grey thought.

“I had encountered him many years ago,” he replied equably. “In the course of my work with Colonel Bowles.”

Nothing on earth would compel Grey to reveal Percy’s true identity to Germain; Percy had been—well, still was—stepbrother to himself and Hal, and only good fortune and Grey’s own determination had prevented an almighty scandal at the time of Percy’s presumed death. Some scandals dimmed with time—that one wouldn’t.

Germain’s plucked eyebrow flickered at mention of Bowles, who had headed England’s Black Chamber for many years.

“A spy?” Mild distaste showed in his voice; spies were vulgar necessities; not something a gentleman would touch with his bare hands.

“At one time, perhaps. Apparently he has risen in the world.” He picked up his own glass, took a healthy mouthful—it was very good brandy, after all—then set it down and stood up to take his leave. He knew better than to prod Germain. Leave the matter in the secretary’s lap, and trust to his own self-interest to pursue it.

Grey left Germain sitting back in his chair, staring contemplatively into his empty glass, and took his cloak from the soft-lipped clerk, whose hand brushed his in passing.

NOT, HE REFLECTED, pulling the cloak around him and tugging down his hat against the rising wind, that he proposed to leave the matter to Germain’s capricious sense of responsibility. Germain was secretary of state for America, true—but this was not a matter that concerned only America. There were two other secretaries of state in Lord North’s cabinet—one for the Northern Department, that being all of Europe, and another for the Southern Department, this constituting the rest of the world. He would have preferred not to deal with Lord Germain at all. However, both protocol and politics prevented him from going straight to Lord North, which had been his first impulse. He’d give Germain a day’s head start, then call upon the Southern secretary, Thomas Thynne, Viscount Weymouth, with the invidious Mr. Beauchamp’s proposal. The Southern secretary was charged with dealing with the Catholic countries of Europe, thus matters with a French connection were his concern as well.

If both men chose to take up the matter, it would certainly come to Lord North’s attention—and North, or one of his ministers, would come to Grey.

A storm was rolling up the Thames; he could see billows of black cloud, fuming as though to unleash their fury directly upon the Houses of Parliament.

“A bit of thunder and lightning would do them good,” he murmured balefully, and hailed a cab, as the first thick drops began to fall.

The rain was pelting down in sheets by the time he arrived at the Beefsteak, and he was nearly drenched in the three paces from curb to doorway.

Mr. Bodley, the elderly steward, received him as though he had come in the day before, rather than some eighteen months.

“Turtle soup with sherry tonight, my lord,” he informed Grey, gesturing to a minion to take Grey’s damp hat and cloak. “Very warming to the stomach. Followed by a nice lamb cutlet with new potatoes?”

“The very thing, Mr. Bodley,” Grey replied, smiling. He took his place in the dining room, soothed by its good fire and cool white napery. As he leaned back to allow Mr. Bodley to tuck the napkin under his chin, though, he noted a new addition to the room’s decoration.

“Who is that?” he asked, startled. The painting, prominently displayed upon the wall opposite, showed a stately Indian, festooned in ostrich plumes and embroidered draperies. It looked distinctly odd, set as it was among the staid portraits of several distinguished—and mostly deceased—members.

“Oh, that is Mr. Brant, of course,” Mr. Bodley said, with an air of mild reproof. “Mr. Joseph Brant. Mr. Pitt brought him to dine last year, when he was in London.”

“Brant?”

Mr. Bodley’s brows rose. Like most Londoners, he assumed that everyone who had been in America must of necessity know every other person there.

“He is a Mohawk chief, I believe,” he said, pronouncing the word “Mohawk” carefully. “He has been to visit the King, you know!”

“Indeed,” Grey murmured. He wondered whether the King or the Indian had been more impressed.

Mr. Bodley withdrew, presumably to fetch the soup, but returned within moments to lay a letter upon the cloth before Grey.

“This was sent for you in care of the secretary, sir.”

“Oh? Thank you, Mr. Bodley.” Grey took it up, recognizing his son’s hand immediately, and suffering a mild drop of the stomach in consequence. What had Willie not wanted to send in care either of his grandmother or of Hal?

Something he didn’t want to risk either of them reading. His mind supplied the logical answer at once, and he took up his fish knife to open the letter with due trepidation.

Was it Richardson? Hal disliked the man, and hadn’t approved at all of William’s working for him, though he had nothing concrete to adduce against him. Perhaps he should have been more cautious about setting William on that particular path, knowing what he did about the black world of intelligencing. Still, it had been imperative to get Willie away from North Carolina, before he came face-to-face with either Jamie Fraser or Percy so-called Beauchamp.

And you did have to let a son go, to make his own way in the world, no matter what it cost you; Hal had told him that, more than once. Three times, to be exact, he thought with a smile—every time one of Hal’s boys had taken up his commission.

He unfolded the letter with caution, as though it might explode. It was penned with a care that he found instantly sinister; Willie was normally legible, but not above the odd blot.To Lord John Grey

The Society for Appreciation of the English Beefsteak

From Lieutenant William Lord Ellesmere

7 September, 1776

Long Island

The Royal Colony of New York

Dear Father,

I have a Matter of some delicacy to confide.

Well, there was a sentence to chill the blood of any parent, Grey thought. Had Willie got a young woman with child, gambled and lost substantial property, contracted a venereal complaint, challenged someone or been challenged to a duel? Or—had he encountered something sinister in the course of his intelligencing, on his way to General Howe? He reached for the wine, and took a prophylactic swallow before returning, thus braced, to the letter. Nothing could have prepared him for the next sentence, though.I am in love with Lady Dorothea.

Grey choked, spluttering wine over his hand, but waved off the steward hastening toward him with a towel, instead wiping his hand on his breeches as he hastily scanned the rest of the page.We have both been conscious of a growing Attraction for some time, but I hesitated to make any Declaration, knowing that I was soon to depart for America. However, we discovered ourselves unexpectedly alone in the Garden at Lady Belvedere’s Ball, the Week before I left, and the beauty of the Setting, the romantic sense of the Evening, and the intoxicating nearness of the Lady overpowered my Judgment.

“Oh, Jesus,” Lord John said aloud. “Tell me you didn’t deflower her under a bush, for God’s sake!”

He caught the interested gaze of a nearby diner, and with a brief cough, returned to the letter.I blush with Shame to admit that my Feelings overcame me, to an Extent that I hesitate to commit to Paper. I apologized, of course, not that there could be any sufficient Apology for such dishonourable Conduct. Lady Dorothea was both generous in her Forgiveness and vehement in her Insistence that I must not—as I was at first inclined—to go at once to her Father.

“Very sensible of you, Dottie,” Grey murmured, envisioning all too well the response of his brother to any such revelation. He could only hope that Willie was blushing over some indiscretion a good deal short of …I intended to ask you to speak to Uncle Hal for me next Year, when I should return Home and be able to formally request Lady Dorothea’s Hand in Marriage. However, I have just learned that she has received another Offer, from Viscount Maxwell, and that Uncle Hal is seriously considering this.I would not besmirch the lady’s Honour in any Way, but under the Circumstances, clearly she cannot marry Maxwell.

You mean Maxwell would discover that she’s not a virgin, Grey thought grimly, and come barreling round the morning after the wedding night to tell Hal so. He rubbed a hand hard over his face and went on.Words cannot convey my Remorse at my actions, Father, and I cannot bring myself to ask a Forgiveness I do not deserve, for so grievously disappointing you. Not for my Sake, but for hers, I beg that you will speak to the Duke. I hope that he can be persuaded to entertain my Suit and allow us to be affianced, without the Necessity of making such explicit Discoveries to him as might distress the Lady.Your most humble Prodigal, William

He sank back in the chair and closed his eyes. The first shock was beginning to dissipate, and his mind come to grips with the problem.

It should be possible. There would be no bar to a marriage between William and Dottie. While titularly cousins, there were no blood ties between them; William was his son in all ways that mattered, but not by blood. And while Maxwell was young, wealthy, and very suitable, William was an earl in his own right, as well as heir to Dunsany’s baronetcy, and far from poor.

No, that part was all right. And Minnie liked William very much. Hal and the boys … well, provided they never got wind of William’s behavior, they should be agreeable. On the other hand, should any of them discover it, William would be lucky to escape with being horsewhipped and having every bone in his body broken. So would Grey.

Hal would be very much surprised, of course—the cousins had seen a good deal of each other during Willie’s time in London, but William had never spoken of Dottie in a way that would have indicated …

He picked up the letter and read it over again. And again. Set it down and gazed at it for several minutes with narrowed eyes, thinking.

“I’m damned if I believe it,” he said aloud, at last. “What the devil are you up to, Willie?”

He crumpled the letter, and taking a candlestick from a nearby table with a nod of apology, set fire to the missive. The steward, observing this, instantly produced a small china dish, into which Grey dropped the flaming paper, and together they watched the writing blacken into ash.

“Your soup, my lord,” said Mr. Bodley, and waving the smoke of conflagration gently away with a napkin, placed a steaming plate before him.

WILLIAM BEING OUT of reach, the obvious course of action must be to go and confront his partner in crime—whatever sort of crime it was. The more he considered, the more convinced he became that whatever complicity lay between William, Ninth Earl of Ellesmere, and Lady Dorothea Jacqueline Benedicta Grey, it was not the complicity either of love or guilty passion.

How was he to speak to Dottie, though, without exciting the notice of either of her parents? He could not hang about in the street until both Hal and Minnie went somewhere, hopefully leaving Dottie alone. Even if he managed to catch her somehow alone at home and interview her privately, the servants would certainly mention that he had done so, and Hal—who had a sense of protective alertness regarding his daughter akin to that of a large mastiff regarding its favorite bone—would be round promptly to find out why.

He declined the doorman’s offer to secure him a carriage, and walked back to his mother’s house, pondering ways and means. He could invite Dottie to dine with him … but it would be very unusual for such an invitation not to include Minnie. Likewise, were he to invite her to a play or opera; he often escorted the women, as Hal could not sit still long enough to hear an entire opera, and considered most plays to be tedious twaddle.

His way lay through Covent Garden, and he skipped nimbly out of the way of a swash of water, flung from a bucket to wash the slimy cabbage leaves and rotten apples from the cobbles by a fruiterer’s stall. In summer, wilted blooms littered the pavement; before dawn, the fresh flowers would come in by cart from the countryside, and fill the square with scent and freshness. In autumn, the place held a ripely decadent smell of squashed fruit, decaying meat, and broken vegetables that was the signature to the changing of the guard in Covent Garden.

During the day, vendors shouted their wares, haggled, fought pitched battles with one another, fought off thieves and pickpockets, and shambled off at nightfall to spend half their profits in the taverns in Tavistock and Brydges streets. With the shades of evening drawing nigh, the whores claimed the Garden for their own.

The sight of a couple of these, arrived early and trolling hopefully for customers among the home-going vendors, distracted him momentarily from his familial quandary and returned his thoughts to the earlier events of his day.

The entrance to Brydges Street lay before him; he could just see the genteel house that stood near the far end, set back a little in elegant discretion. That was a thought; whores knew a great deal—and could find out more, with suitable inducement. He was tempted to go and call upon Nessie now, if only for the pleasure her company gave him. But no—not yet.

He needed to find out what was already known about Percy Beauchamp in more official circles, before he started his own hounds in pursuit of that rabbit. And before he saw Hal.

It was too late in the day to make official calls. He’d send a note, though, making an appointment—and in the morning, would visit the Black Chamber.

THE BLACK CHAMBER

GREY WONDERED what romantic soul had originally christened the Black Chamber—or whether it was in fact a romantic designation. Perhaps the spies of an earlier day had been consigned to a windowless hole under the stairs at Whitehall, and the name was purely descriptive. These days, the Black Chamber designated a class of employment rather than a specific location.

All the capitals of Europe—and not a few lesser cities—had Black Chambers, these being the centers wherein mail intercepted en route or by spies or simply removed from diplomatic pouches was inspected, decoded with varying degrees of success, and then sent to whichever person or agency had need of the information thus derived. England’s Black Chamber had employed four gentlemen—not counting clerks and office boys—when Grey had labored there. There were more of them now, distributed in random holes and corners in the buildings down Pall Mall, but the main center of such operations was still in Buckingham Palace.

Not in any of the beautifully equipped areas that served the Royal Family or their secretaries, ladies’ maids, housekeepers, butlers, or other upper servants—but still, within the palace precincts.

Grey passed the guard at the back gate with a nod—he’d worn his uniform, with the lieutenant-colonel’s insignia, to facilitate entry—and made his way down a shabby, ill-lit corridor whose scent of ancient floor polish and ghosts of boiled cabbage and burnt tea cake gave him a pleasant frisson of nostalgia. The third door on the left stood ajar, and he entered without knocking.

He was expected. Arthur Norrington greeted him without rising, and motioned him to a chair.

He’d known Norrington for years, though they were not particular friends, and found it comforting that the man seemed not to have changed at all in the years since their last meeting. Arthur was a large, soft man, whose large, slightly protruding eyes and thick lips gave him the mien of a turbot on ice: dignified and faintly reproachful.

“I appreciate your help, Arthur,” Grey said, and as he sat, deposited on the corner of the desk a small wrapped parcel. “A small token of that appreciation,” he added, waving a hand at it.

Norrington raised one thin brow and took the package, which he unwrapped with greedy fingers.

“Oh!” he said, with unfeigned delight. He turned the tiny ivory carving over gently in his large, soft hands, bringing it close to his face to see the details, entranced. “Tsuji?”

Grey shrugged, pleased with the effect of his gift. He knew nothing of netsuke himself, but knew a man who dealt in ivory miniatures from China and Japan. He had been surprised at the delicacy and artistry of the tiny thing, which showed a half-clothed woman engaged in a very athletic form of sexual congress with a naked obese gentleman with his hair in a topknot.

“I’m afraid it has no provenance,” he said apologetically, but Norrington waved that aside, eyes still fixed on the new treasure. After a moment, he sighed happily, then tucked the thing away in the inner pocket of his coat.

“Thank you, my lord,” he said. “As for the subject of your own inquiry, I am afraid that we have relatively little material available regarding your mysterious Mr. Beauchamp.” He nodded at the desk, where a battered, anonymous leather folder reposed. Grey could see that there was something bulky inside—something not paper; the folder was pierced, and a small piece of twine ran through it, fastening the object in place.

“You surprise me, Mr. Norrington,” he said politely, and reached for the folder. “Still, let me see what you do have, and perhaps—”

Norrington pressed his fingers flat against the file and frowned for a moment, trying to convey the impression that official secrets could not be imparted to just anyone. Grey smiled at him.

“Come off it, Arthur,” he said. “If you want to know what I know about our mysterious Mr. Beauchamp—and I assure you, you do—you’ll show me every word you have about him.”

Norrington relaxed a little, letting his fingers slide back—though still with a show of reluctance. Cocking one eyebrow, Grey picked up the leather folder and opened it. The bulky object was revealed to be a small cloth bag; beyond that, there were only a few sheets of paper. Grey sighed.

“Poor protocol, Arthur,” he said reprovingly. “There are snowdrifts of paper involving Beauchamp—cross-referenced to that name, too. Granted, he hasn’t been active in years, but someone ought to have looked.”

“We did,” Norrington said, an odd note in his voice that made Grey look sharply up. “Old Crabbot remembered the name, and we looked. The files are gone.”

The skin across Grey’s shoulders tightened, as though he’d been struck with a lash.

“That is odd,” he said calmly. “Well, then …” He bent his head over the folder, though it took a moment to subdue his racing thoughts enough to see what he was looking at. No sooner had his eyes focused on the page than the name “Fraser” leapt out of it, nearly stopping his heart.

Not Jamie Fraser, though. He breathed slowly, turned the page, read the next, turned back. There were four letters in all, only one completely decoded, though another had been started; it bore someone’s tentative notes in the margin. His lips tightened; he had been a good decoder in his day, but had been absent from the field of battle far too long to have any notion of the current common idioms in use by the French, let alone the idiosyncratic terms an individual spy might use—and these letters were the work of at least two different hands; so much was clear.

“I’ve looked them over,” Norrington said, and Grey looked up to find Arthur’s protruding hazel eyes fixed on him like a toad eyeing a juicy fly. “I haven’t officially decoded them yet, but I’ve a good general idea what they say.”

Well, he’d already decided that it had to be done, and he’d come prepared to tell Arthur, who was the most discreet of his old Black Chamber contacts.

“Beauchamp is one Percival Wainwright,” he said bluntly, wondering even as he said it, why he kept the secret of Percival’s real name. “He’s a British subject—was an army officer, arrested for the crime of sodomy but never tried. It was thought that he’d died in Newgate awaiting trial, but”—he smoothed the letters and closed the folder over them—“evidently not.”

Arthur’s plump lips rounded in a soundless “O.”

Grey wondered for an instant if he could leave it there—but no. Arthur was persistent as a dachshund digging into a badger sett, and if he discovered the rest of it on his own, he would at once suspect Grey of withholding much more.

“He’s also my stepbrother,” Grey said, as casually as possible, and laid the folder on Arthur’s desk. “I saw him in North Carolina.”

Arthur’s mouth sagged for an instant. He firmed it up at once, blinking.

“I see,” he said. “Well, then … I see.”

“Yes, you do,” Grey said dryly. “You see exactly why I must know the contents of these letters”—he nodded at the folder—“as soon as possible.”

Arthur nodded, compressing his lips, and settled himself, taking the letters into his hands. Once determined to be serious, there was no nonsense about him.

“Most of what I could decode seems to deal with matters of shipping,” he said. “Contacts in the West Indies, cargoes to be delivered—simple smuggling, though on a fairly large scale. One reference to a banker in Edinburgh; I couldn’t make out his connection exactly. But three of the letters mentioned the same name en clair—you will have seen that, of course.”

Grey didn’t bother denying it.

“Someone in France wants very much to find a man named Claudel Fraser,” Arthur said, and raised one brow. “Any idea who that is?”

“No,” Grey said, though he certainly had the glimmer of an idea. “Any idea who it is that wants to find him—or why?”

Norrington shook his head.

“No idea why,” he said frankly. “As to who, though—I think it may be a French nobleman.” He opened the folder again and, from the little bag attached to it, carefully removed two wax seals, one cracked almost in half, the other largely intact. Both showed a martlet against a rising sun.

“Haven’t found anyone yet who recognized it,” Norrington said, poking one of the seals gently with a podgy forefinger. “Do you, by chance?”

“No,” Grey said, his throat gone suddenly dry. “But you might look into one Baron Amandine. Wainwright mentioned that name to me as—a personal connexion of his.”

“Amandine?” Norrington looked puzzled. “Never heard of him.”

“Neither has anyone else.” Grey sighed and rose to his feet. “I begin to wonder whether he exists.”

HE WAS STILL WONDERING, as he made his way to Hal’s house. The Baron Amandine might or might not exist; if he did, he might be only a front, disguising the interest of someone much more prominent. If he didn’t … matters became simultaneously more confusing and simpler of approach; with no way of knowing who was behind the matter, Percy Wainwright was the only possible avenue of approach.

None of Norrington’s letters had mentioned the Northwest Territory nor held any hint of the proposition Percy had put before him. That was not surprising, though; it would have been extremely dangerous to put such information on paper, though he had certainly known spies do such things before. If Amandine did exist, and was directly involved, apparently he was both sensible and cautious.

Well, Hal would have to be told about Percy, in any case. Perhaps he would know something regarding Amandine, or could find out; Hal had a number of friends in France.

The thought of what Hal must be told reminded him abruptly of William’s letter, which he had nearly forgotten in the intrigues of the morning. He breathed strongly through his nose at the thought. No. He wasn’t mentioning that to his brother until he’d had a chance to speak to Dottie, alone. Perhaps he could contrive a private word with her, arrange to meet later.

Dottie proved not to be at home, though, when Grey arrived at Argus House.

“She’s at one of Miss Brierley’s musical afternoons,” his sister-in-law Minnie informed him, when he inquired politely how his niece and goddaughter did. “She’s very sociable these days. She’ll be sorry to have missed you, though.” She stood on tiptoe and kissed him, beaming. “It’s good to see you again, John.”

“And you, Minnie,” he said, meaning it. “Is Hal at home?”

She rolled her eyes expressively at the ceiling.

“He’s been at home for a week, with the gout. Another week, and I shall put poison in his soup.”

“Ah.” That reinforced his decision not to speak to Hal of William’s letter. Hal in good spirits was a prospect that daunted hardened soldiers and lifetime politicians; Hal in ill health … Presumably that was why Dottie had had the good sense to absent herself.

Well, it wasn’t as though his news would improve Hal’s mood in any case, he thought. He pushed open the door to Hal’s study with due caution, though; his brother had been known to throw things when peevish—and nothing peeved him more than bodily indisposition.

As it was, Hal was asleep, slumped in his chair before the fire, his bandaged foot on a stool. The smell of some strong and acrid medicine floated in the air, overlying the scents of burning wood, melted tallow, and stale bread. A congealed plate of soup sat upon a tray at Hal’s side, untasted. Perhaps Minnie had made her threat explicit, Grey thought with a smile. Aside from himself and their mother, Minnie was likely the only other person in the world who was never afraid of Hal.

He sat down quietly, wondering whether to wake his brother. Hal looked ill and tired, much thinner than usual—and Hal was normally lean to start with. He could not look less than elegant, even clad in breeches and a worn linen shirt, bare-legged, and with a ratty shawl draped about his shoulders, but the lines of a life spent fighting were eloquent in his face.

Grey’s heart contracted with a sudden, unexpected tenderness, and he wondered whether, after all, he should trouble Hal with his news. But he couldn’t risk Hal being confronted unexpectedly with the tidings of Percy’s untimely resurrection; he would have to be warned.

Before he could make up his mind whether to go away and come back, though, Hal’s eyes opened abruptly. They were clear and alert, the same light blue as Grey’s own, with no sign of drowsiness or distraction.

“You’re back,” Hal said, and smiled with great affection. “Pour me a brandy.”

“Minnie says you have the gout,” Grey said, with a glance at Hal’s foot. “Don’t the quacks say you ought not to take strong drink, with the gout?” Nonetheless, he rose to his feet.

“They do,” Hal said, pulling himself upright in his chair and grimacing as the movement jarred his foot. “But from the look of you, you’re about to tell me something that means I’ll need it. Best bring the decanter.”

IT WAS SEVERAL HOURS before he left Argus House—declining Minnie’s invitation to stay for supper—and the weather had deterioriated substantially. There was autumn chill in the air; a gusty wind was getting up, and he could taste salt in the air—the traces of sea fog drifting toward shore. It would be a good night to stay indoors.

Minnie had apologized for not being able to offer her coach, as Dottie had gone off to her afternoon salon in it. He had assured her that walking suited him, assisting him to think. It did, but the whoosh of wind flapping the skirts of his coat and threatening to carry away his hat was a distraction, and he was beginning to regret the coach, when he suddenly saw the equipage itself, waiting in the drive of one of the big houses near the Alexandra Gate, the horses blanketed against the wind.

He turned in at the gate and, hearing a cry of “Uncle John!” looked toward the house and was in time to see his niece, Dottie, bearing down on him like a ship under full sail—literally. She wore a plum silk mantua and a rose-pink cloak and, with the wind behind her, billowed alarmingly. In fact, she scudded toward him with such velocity that he was obliged to catch her in his arms in order to halt her forward progress.

“Are you a virgin?” he demanded without preamble.

Her eyes widened, and without the least hesitation, she wrested one arm free and slapped his cheek.

“What?” she said.

“My apologies. That was a trifle abrupt, wasn’t it?” He glanced at her waiting coach—and the driver, looking rigidly ahead—and, calling to the driver to wait, took her by the arm and turned her in the direction of the park.

“Where are we going?”

“Just for a little walk. I have a few questions to ask you, and they aren’t the sort that I wish to have overheard—nor do you, I assure you.”

Her eyes widened still further, but she didn’t argue; merely clapped a hand to her saucy little hat and came with him, her skirts foaming in the wind.

Weather and passersby prevented his asking any of the questions he had in mind until after they had made their way well into the park and found themselves in a more or less deserted path that led through a small topiary garden, where evergreen bushes and trees had been clipped into fanciful shapes.

The wind had dropped momentarily, though the sky was darkening. Dottie pulled to a halt in the shelter of a topiary lion and said, “Uncle John. What is this taradiddle about?”

Dottie had her mother’s autumn-leaf coloring, with hair the color of ripened wheat and cheeks with the perpetual faint flush of rose hips. But where Minnie’s face was pretty and gently appealing, Dottie’s was underlain by Hal’s fine bones and embroidered with his dark lashes; her beauty had a dangerous edge to it.

The edge was uppermost in the look she turned on her uncle, and he thought that, in fact, if Willie was enamored of her, it was perhaps not surprising. If he was.

“I had a letter from William, intimating that he had—if not actually forced his attentions upon you—behaved in a manner unbecoming a gentleman. Is it true?”

Her mouth fell open in undissimulated horror.

“He told you what?”

Well, that relieved his mind of one burden. She was likely still a virgin, and he needn’t have William shipped off to China to avoid her brothers.

“It was, as I say, an intimation. He didn’t provide me with details. Come, let us walk before we freeze.” He took her by the arm and guided her up one of the paths that led to a small oratory. Here they took shelter in the vestibule, overlooked only by a stained-glass window of St. Barbara, carrying her severed breasts on a platter. Grey affected to study this elevating image, allowing Dottie a moment to settle her wind-flustered garments—and decide what she was going to tell him.

“Well,” she began, turning to him with her chin raised, “it’s true that we—well, that I let him kiss me.”

“Oh? Where? I mean”—he added hastily, seeing the momentary shock in her eye—and that was interesting, for would a completely inexperienced young lady realize that it was possible to be kissed elsewhere than on lips or hand?—“in what geographical location?”

The flush in her cheeks deepened, for she realized as well as he what she had just given away, but she met his eye directly.

“In Lady Windermere’s garden. We’d both come to her musicale, and the supper wasn’t ready, so William invited me to walk outside with him for a bit, and—I did. It was such a beautiful evening,” she added ingenuously.

“Yes, he noted that, as well. I had not previously realized the intoxicant properties of good weather.”

She gave him a slight glare.

“Well, anyway, we’re in love! Did he say that, at least?”

“Yes, he did,” Grey replied. “He began with a statement to that effect, in fact, before going on to make his scandalous confessions regarding your virtue.”

Her eyes widened.

“He—what, exactly, did he say?” she demanded.

“Enough to persuade me—he hoped—to go at once to your father and put before him the desirability of William’s suit for your hand.”

“Oh.” She drew a deep breath at that, as though relieved, and looked away for a moment. “Well. Are you going to, then?” she asked, swiveling big blue eyes back in his direction. “Or have you already?” she added, with an air of hopefulness.

“No, I have said nothing to your father regarding William’s letter. For one thing, I thought I had best speak to you first, and see whether you were in such agreement with William’s sentiments as he appears to think.”

She blinked, then gave him one of her radiant smiles.

“That was very considerate of you, Uncle John. Many men wouldn’t bother with the woman’s opinion of the situation—but you’ve always been so thoughtful. Mother cannot say enough good things about your kindness.”

“Don’t over-egg the pudding, Dottie,” he said tolerantly. “So you say that you are willing to marry William?”

“Willing?” she cried. “Why, I desire it more than anything!”

He gave her a long, level look, and while she continued to meet his eye, the blood rose precipitously in her throat and cheeks.

“Oh, yes?” he said, allowing all the skepticism he felt to show in his voice. “Why?”

She blinked twice, very fast.

“Why?”

“Why?” he repeated patiently. “What is there in William’s character—or appearance, I suppose,” he added fairly, for young women had no great reputation as judges of character, “that so attracts you as to desire marriage to him? And hasty marriage at that.”

He could just about see one or both of them developing an attraction—but what was the hurry? Even if William feared Hal’s deciding to allow Viscount Maxwell’s suit, Dottie herself could not possibly be under the illusion that her doting father would force her to marry anyone she did not want to.

“Well, we are in love, of course!” she said, though with a rather uncertain note in her voice for such a theoretically fervent declaration. “As for his—his character … why, Uncle, you are his own father; surely you cannot be in ignorance of his … his … intelligence!” She came up with the word triumphantly. “His kindness, his good humor …” she was picking up speed now, “… his gentleness …”

Now it was Lord John’s turn to blink. William was undoubtedly intelligent, good-humored, and reasonably kind, but “gentle” was not the word that sprang immediately to mind with regard to him. On the other hand, the hole in the paneling of his mother’s dining room, through which William had inadvertently thrown a companion during a tea party, had still not been repaired, and this image was fresh in Grey’s mind. Probably Willie behaved more circumspectly in Dottie’s company, but still …

“He is the very model of a gentleman!” she declaimed with enthusiasm, having now got the bit well between her teeth. “And his appearance—well, of course he is admired by every woman I know! So tall, so imposing a figure …”

He noticed, with an air of clinical detachment, that while she touched on several of William’s notable characteristics, she did not at any point mention his eyes. Aside from his height—which could scarcely escape notice—his eyes were probably his most striking feature, being a deep and brilliant blue, and unusually shaped, with a catlike slant. They were, in fact, Jamie Fraser’s eyes, and they gave John a faint, passing clench of the heart whenever Willie looked at him with a certain expression.

Willie knew the effect his eyes had on young women excellently well—and had no hesitation in making the most of it. Had he been gazing longingly into Dottie’s own eyes, she would have been transfixed, whether she loved him or not. And that touching account of rapture in the garden … Following a musicale, or during a ball, and at Lady Belvedere’s or at Lady Windermere’s …

He had been so occupied by his own thoughts that he did not realize for a moment that she had stopped talking.

“I beg your pardon,” he said, with great courtesy. “And I thank you for the encomia regarding William’s character, which cannot fail to warm a father’s heart. Still—what is the urgency in arranging a marriage? William will be sent home in a year or two, surely.”

“He might be killed!” she said, and there was in her voice a sudden note of real fear, so real that his attention sharpened. She swallowed visibly, a hand going to her throat.

“I couldn’t bear it,” she said, her voice suddenly small. “If he were killed, and we’d never … never had a chance to …” She looked up at him, her eyes brilliant with emotion, and put her hand pleadingly on his arm.

“I have to,” she said. “Really, Uncle John. I must, and I cannot wait. I want to go to America and be married.”

His mouth fell open. Wanting to be married was one thing, but this … !

“You cannot possibly be serious,” he said. “You cannot think that your parents—your father, in particular—would ever countenance such a thing.”

“He would,” she countered. “If you put the matter to him properly. He values your opinion more than anyone’s,” she went on persuasively, squeezing a little. “And you, of all people, must understand the horror I feel at the thought that something might … happen to William before I see him again.”

Indeed, he thought, the only thing weighing in her favor was the feeling of desolation that the mention of William’s possible death caused in his own heart. Yes, he could be killed. Any man might be, in time of war, and most particularly a soldier. That was one of the risks you took—and he could not in conscience have prevented William taking it, even though the mere thought of William blown to pieces by cannon fire or shot through the head or dying in agony of the flux …

He swallowed, dry-mouthed, and with some effort shoved those pusillanimous images firmly back into the locked mental closet in which he normally kept them confined.

He took a long breath.

“Dorothea,” he said firmly. “I will discover what you’re up to.”

She looked at him for a long, thoughtful moment, as though estimating the chances. The corner of her mouth rose insensibly as her eyes narrowed, and he saw the response on her face, as clearly as if she’d said it aloud.

No. I don’t think so.

The expression was no more than a flicker, though, and her face resumed its air of indignation mingled with pleading.

“Uncle John! How dare you accuse me and William—your own son!—of, of … what are you accusing us of?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted.

“Well, then! Will you speak to Papa for us? For me? Please? Today?”

Dottie was a born flirt; as she spoke, she leaned toward him, so that he could smell the fragrance of violets in her hair, and twined her fingers charmingly in the lapels of his coat.

“I can’t,” he said, striving to extricate himself. “Not just now. I’ve already given him one bad shock today; another might finish him off.”

“Tomorrow, then,” she coaxed.

“Dottie.” He took her hands in his, and was rather touched to find them cold and trembling. She did mean it—or mean something, at least.

“Dottie,” he repeated, more gently. “Even if your father were disposed to send you to America to be married—and I cannot think that anything less exigent than your being with child would compel it—there is no possibility of sailing before April. There is therefore no need to harry Hal into an early grave by telling him any of this, at least not until he has recovered from his current indisposition.”

She wasn’t pleased, but was obliged to admit the force of his reasoning.

“Besides,” he added, letting go of her hands, “campaigning ceases in winter; you know that. The fighting will stop soon, and William will be relatively safe. You need have no fears for him.” Other than accident, flux, ague, blood poisoning, griping belly, tavern brawls, and ten or fifteen other life-threatening possibilities, he added privately to himself.

“But—” she began, but stopped, and sighed. “Yes, I suppose you’re right. But … you will speak to Papa soon, won’t you, Uncle John?”

He sighed in turn, but smiled at her nonetheless.

“I will, if that is what you truly desire.” A gust of wind hit the oratory and the stained-glass image of St. Barbara shivered in its leaded frame. A rush of sudden rain rattled across the roof slates, and he drew his cloak around him.

“Stay here,” he advised his niece. “I’ll fetch the coach round to the road.”

As he made his way against the wind, one hand on his hat to prevent it taking flight, he recalled with some unease his own words to her: I cannot think that anything less exigent than your being with child would compel it.

She wouldn’t. Would she? No, he assured himself. Become pregnant by someone in order to convince her father to allow her to marry someone else? Fat chance; Hal would have her married to the guilty party before she could say “cat.” Unless, of course, she chose someone impossible to do the deed: a married man, say, or—But this was nonsense! What would William say, were she to arrive in America, pregnant by another man?

No. Not even Brianna Fraser MacKenzie—the most hair-raisingly pragmatic woman he had ever known—would have done something like that. He smiled a little to himself at thought of the formidable Mrs. MacKenzie, recalling her attempt at blackmailing him into marriage—while pregnant by someone who was definitely not him. He’d always wondered if the child was in fact her husband’s. Perhaps she would. But not Dottie.

Surely not.

UNARMED CONFLICT

Inverness, Scotland

October 1980

THE OLD HIGH CHURCH of St. Stephen’s stood serene on the bank of the Ness, the weathered stones in its kirkyard a testament to righteous peace. Roger was aware of the serenity—but none of it was for him.

His blood was still throbbing in his temples, and the collar of his shirt was damp from exertion, chilly though the day was. He’d walked from the High Street car park, at a ferocious pace that seemed to eat the distance in seconds.

She’d called him a coward, by God. She’d called him a lot of other things, too, but that was the one that stung—and she knew it.

The fight had started after supper the day before, when she’d put a crusted pot into the old stone sink, turned to him, drawn a deep breath, and informed him that she had an interview for a job at the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board.

“Job?” he’d said stupidly.

“Job,” she’d repeated, narrowing her eyes at him.

He had been swift enough to suppress the automatic “But you’ve got a job” that had sprung to his lips, substituting a rather mild—he thought—“Why?”

Never one for quiet diplomacy, she’d fixed him with a stare and said, “Because one of us needs to work, and if isn’t going to be you, it’ll have to be me.”

“What do you mean, ‘needs to work’?” he’d asked—damn it, she was right, he was a coward, because he knew goddamned well what she meant by it. “We’ve money enough for a time.”

“For a time,” she agreed. “A year or two—maybe more, if we’re careful. And you think we should just sit on our asses until the money runs out, and then what? Then you start thinking about what you ought to be doing?”

“I’ve been thinking,” he said through his teeth. True, that; he’d been doing little else for months. There was the book, of course; he was writing down all the songs he’d committed to memory in the eighteenth century with commentary—but that was hardly a job in itself, nor would it earn much money. Mostly thinking.

“Yeah? So have I.” She turned her back on him, turning on the tap, either to drown out whatever he might say next, or just in order to get a grip on herself. The water ceased, and she turned round again.

“Look,” she said, trying to sound reasonable. “I can’t wait much longer. I can’t stay out of the field for years and years and just walk back into it anytime. It’s been nearly a year since the last consulting job I did—I can’t wait any longer.”

“You never said you meant to go back to work full-time.” She’d done a couple of small jobs in Boston—brief consulting projects, once Mandy was out of the hospital and all right. Joe Abernathy had got them for her.

“Look, man,” Joe had said confidentially to Roger, “she’s antsy. I know that girl; she needs to move. She’s been focused on the baby day and night, probably since she was born, been cooped up with doctors, hospitals, clingy kids for weeks now. She’s gotta get out of her own head.”

And I don’t? Roger had thought—but couldn’t say so.

An elderly man in a flat cap was weeding round one of the gravestones, a limp mass of uprooted greenery lying on the ground beside him. He’d been watching Roger as he hesitated near the wall, and nodded to him in a friendly way, but didn’t speak.

She was a mother, he’d wanted to say. Wanted to say something about the closeness between her and the kids, the way they needed her, like they needed air and food and water. He was now and then jealous over not being needed in the same primal way; how could she deny that gift?

Well, he’d tried to say something of the kind. The result had been what might be expected by lighting a match in a mine filled with gas.

He turned abruptly and walked out of the kirkyard. He couldn’t speak to the rector right this minute—couldn’t speak at all, come to that; he’d have to cool down first, get his voice back.

He turned left and went down along Huntly Street, seeing the facade of St. Mary’s across the river from the corner of his eye; the only Catholic church in Inverness.

During one of the earlier, more rational parts of the fight, she’d made an effort. Asked if it was her fault.

“Is it me?” she’d asked seriously. “Being a Catholic, I mean. I know—I know that makes it more complicated.” Her lips twitched. “Jem told me about Mrs. Ogilvy.”

He hadn’t felt at all like laughing, but couldn’t help a brief smile at the memory. He’d been out by the barn, shoveling well-rotted manure into a wheelbarrow to spread on the kailyard, Jem assisting with his own small spade.

“Sixteen tons and what do you get?” Roger had sung—if the sort of hoarse croaking he produced could be called that.

“Another day older and deeper in shit!” Jem bellowed, doing his best to pitch his voice down into Tennessee Ernie Ford range, but then losing control in a glissando of giggles.

It was at this unfortunate moment that he’d turned round to find that they had visitors: Mrs. Ogilvy and Mrs. MacNeil, pillars of the Ladies’ Altar and Tea Society at the Free North Church in Inverness. He knew them—and he knew just what they were doing here, too.

“We’ve come to call upon your good wife, Mr. MacKenzie,” Mrs. MacNeil said, smiling with pursed lips. He wasn’t sure whether the expression was meant to indicate inner reservations, or whether it was merely that she feared her ill-fitting false teeth might fall out if she opened her mouth more than a quarter of an inch.

“Ah. She’ll be away to the town just now, I’m afraid.” He’d wiped his hand on his jeans, thinking to offer it, but looked at it, thought better of it, and nodded to them instead. “But please to come in. Will I have the girl make tea?”

They shook their heads in unison.

“We havena seen your wife in kirk as yet, Mr. MacKenzie.” Mrs. Ogilvy fixed him with a fishy eye.

Well, he’d been expecting that one. He could buy a little time by saying, ach, the baby’d been ailing—but no point; the nettle would have to be grasped sooner or later.

“No,” he said pleasantly, though his shoulders stiffened by reflex. “She’s a Catholic. She’ll be to the Mass at St. Mary’s of a Sunday.”

Mrs. Ogilvy’s square face sagged into a momentary oval of astonishment.

“Your wife’s a Papist?” she said, giving him a chance to correct the clearly insane thing he’d just said.

“She is, aye. Born one.” He shrugged lightly.

There had been relatively little conversation following this revelation. Just a glance at Jem, a sharp question about whether he went to Sunday school, an intake of breath at the answer, and a gimlet-eyed stare at Roger before they took their leave.

Do you want me to convert? Bree had demanded, in the course of the argument. And it had been a demand, not an offer.

He’d wanted suddenly and fiercely to ask her to do just that—only to see if she would, for love of him. But religious conscience would never let him do such a thing; still less, his conscience as her lover. Her husband.

Huntly Street turned suddenly into Bank Street, and the foot traffic of the shopping precinct disappeared. He passed the small memorial garden, put up to commemorate the service of nurses during World War II, and thought—as he always did—of Claire, though this time with less than the usual admiration he had for her.

And what would you say? he thought. He knew damned well what she’d say—or at least, whose side she’d be on, in this. She hadn’t hung about being a full-time mum, had she? She’d gone to medical school when Bree was seven. And Bree’s dad, Frank Randall, had taken up the slack, whether he wanted to or not. He slowed his step briefly, realizing. No wonder, then, if Bree was thinking …

He passed the Free North Church and half-smiled at it, thinking of Mrs. Ogilvy and Mrs. MacNeil. They’d be back, he knew, if he didn’t do something about it. He knew their brand of determined kindliness. Dear God, if they heard that Bree had gone to work and—to their way of thinking—abandoned him with two small children, they’d be running shepherd’s pies and hot stovies out to him in relays. That mightn’t be such a bad thing, he thought, meditatively licking his lips—save that they’d stay to poke their noses into the workings of his household, and letting them into Brianna’s kitchen would be not merely playing with dynamite but deliberately throwing a bottle of nitroglycerin into the midst of his marriage.

“Catholics don’t believe in divorce,” Bree had informed him once. “We do believe in murder. There’s always Confession, after all.”

On the far shore was the only Anglican church in Inverness, St. Andrew’s. One Catholic church, one Anglican church—and no fewer than six Presbyterian churches, all standing foursquare by the river, in the space of less than a quarter mile. Tell you all you needed to know, he thought, about the basic character of Inverness. And he had told Bree—though without, he admitted, mentioning his own crisis of faith.

She hadn’t asked. He’d give her that. He’d come within a hair of ordination in North Carolina—and in the traumatic aftermath of that interruption, with Mandy’s birth, the disintegration of the Ridge’s community, the decision to risk the passage through the stones … no one had mentioned it. Likewise, when they’d come back, the immediate demands of taking care of Mandy’s heart and then assembling some kind of life … the question of his ministry had been ignored.

He thought Brianna hadn’t mentioned it because she wasn’t sure how he meant to handle it and didn’t want to seem to push him in either direction—if her being a Catholic made his being a Presbyterian minister in Inverness more complicated, he couldn’t ignore the fact that his being a minister would cause major complications in her life, and she’d know that.

The upshot was that neither of them had talked about it when working out the details of their return.

They’d worked out the practicalities as best they could. He couldn’t go back to Oxford—not without a truly elaborate cover story.

“You just can’t drop in and out of academia,” he’d explained to Bree and to Joe Abernathy, the doctor who had been Claire’s longtime friend before her own departure to the past. “You can go on a sabbatical, true—or even an extended leave. But you have to have a stated purpose and something to show for your absence when you come back, in terms of published research.”

“You could write a killer book about the Regulation, though,” Joe Abernathy had observed. “Or the run-up to the Revolution in the South.”

“I could,” he admitted. “But not a respectable scholarly one.” He’d smiled wryly, feeling a slight itch in the joints of his fingers. He could write a book—one that no one else could write. But not as a historian.

“No sources,” he’d explained, with a nod at the shelves in Joe’s study, where they were holding the first of several councils of war. “If I wrote a book as a historian, I’d need to provide sources for all the information—and for most of the unique situations I could describe, I’m sure nothing was ever recorded. ‘Eyewitness testimony of author’ wouldn’t go over well with a university press, I assure you. I’d have to do it as a novel.” That idea actually held some small appeal—but wouldn’t impress the colleges of Oxford.

Scotland, though …

People didn’t appear in Inverness—or anywhere else in the Highlands—unremarked. But Roger wasn’t an “incomer.” He’d grown up in the manse in Inverness, and there were still a good many people who had known him as an adult. And with an American wife and children to explain his absence …

“See, folk there don’t really care what it is you were doing when you were away,” he explained. “They only care about what you do when you’re there.”

He’d reached the Islands of the Ness by now. A small, quiet park set on small islets that lay only a few feet off the river’s bank, it had packed-dirt paths, big trees, and little traffic at this time of day. He wandered the paths, trying to empty his mind, let it be filled only with the sound of the rushing water, the quietness of the overcast sky.

He reached the end of the island and stood for a time, half-seeing the debris left in the branches of the bushes that edged the water—wodges of dead leaves, birds’ feathers, fish bones, the odd cigarette packet, deposited by the passage of high water.

He had, of course, been thinking of himself. What he’d be doing, what folk would think about him. Why had it never occurred to him to wonder what Brianna intended doing, if they went to Scotland?

Well, that was obvious—if stupid—in retrospect. On the Ridge, Bree had done … well, a bit more than the usual woman there did, true—one couldn’t overlook the buffalo-hunting, turkey-shooting, goddess-huntress, pirate-killing side of her—but also what the usual woman did. Mind her family, feed, clothe, comfort—or occasionally smack—them. And with Mandy sick, and Brianna grieving the loss of her parents, the question of working at anything had been irrelevant. Nothing could have separated her from her daughter.

But Mandy was well now—hair-raisingly healthy, as the trail of destruction that followed her testified. The painstaking details of reestablishing their identities in the twentieth century had been accomplished, the purchase of Lallybroch made from the bank that owned it, the physical removal to Scotland accomplished, Jem settled—more or less—into the village school nearby, and a nice girl from the same village engaged to come clear up and help look after Mandy.

And now Brianna was going to work.

Roger was going to hell. Metaphorically, if not literally.

BRIANNA COULDN’T SAY she hadn’t been warned. It was a man’s world she was walking into.

A rough job it had been, a tough undertaking—the toughest, digging the tunnels that carried the miles of cable from the turbines of the hydroelectric plants. “Tunnel tigers,” they’d called the men who dug them, many of them Polish and Irish immigrants who’d come for a job in the 1950s.

She’d read about them, seen pictures of them, grimy-faced and white-eyed as coal miners, in the Hydro Electric authority office—the walls were covered with them, documentation of Scotland’s proudest modern achievement. What had been Scotland’s proudest ancient achievement? she wondered. The kilt? She’d suppressed a laugh at the thought, but evidently it made her look pleasant, because Mr. Campbell, the personnel manager, had smiled kindly at her.

“You’re in luck, lass; we’ve an opening at Pitlochry, starting in a month,” he’d said.

“That’s wonderful.” She had a folder in her lap, containing her credentials. He didn’t ask to see it, which rather surprised her, but she set it on the desk before him, flipping it open. “Here are my … er … ?” He was staring at the curriculum vitae on top, his mouth hanging open far enough for her to see the steel fillings in his back teeth.

He shut his mouth, glanced up at her in astonishment, then looked back at the folder, slowly lifting the CV as though afraid there might be something even more shocking underneath.

“I think I have all the qualifications,” she said, restraining the nervous urge to clench her fingers in the fabric of her skirt. “To be a plant inspector, I mean.” She knew damned well she did. She had the qualifications to build a freaking hydroelectric station, let alone inspect one.

“Inspector …” he said faintly. Then he coughed, and flushed a bit. Heavy smoker; she could smell the fug of tobacco that clung to his clothes.

“I’m afraid there’s been a bit of a misunderstanding, my dear,” he said. “It’s a secretary we’re needing at Pitlochry.”

“Perhaps you do,” she said, giving in to the cloth-clenching urge. “But the advertisement I replied to was for plant inspector, and that’s the position I’m applying for.”

“But … my dear …” He was shaking his head, clearly appalled. “You’re a woman!”

“I am,” she said, and any of a hundred men who’d known her father would have picked up the ring of steel in her voice and given in on the spot. Mr. Campbell unfortunately hadn’t known Jamie Fraser—but was about to be enlightened. “Would you care to explain to me exactly which aspects of plant inspection require a penis?”

His eyes bulged and he turned the shade of a turkey’s wattles in courting season.

“That—you—that is—” With evident effort, he mastered himself enough to speak courteously, though the shock was still plain on his blunt features.

“Mrs. MacKenzie. I’m not unfamiliar with the notion of women’s liberation, aye? I’ve daughters of my own.” And none of them would have said something like that to me, his raised brow said. “It’s not that I think ye’d be incompetent.” He glanced at the open folder, raised both brows briefly, then shut it firmly. “It’s the—the work environment. It wouldn’t be suitable for a woman.”

“Why not?”

He was recovering his aplomb by now.

“The conditions are often physically rough—and to be honest, Mrs. MacKenzie, so are the men you would encounter. The company cannot in good conscience—or as a matter of good business—risk your safety.”

“You employ men who would be likely to assault a woman?”

“No! We—”

“You have plants that are physically dangerous? Then you do need an inspector, don’t you?”

“The legalities—”

“I’m well up on the regulations pertaining to hydroelectric plants,” she said firmly, and reaching into her bag, produced the printed booklet of regulations—obviously well thumbed—supplied by the Highlands and Islands Development Board. “I can spot problems, and I can tell you how to rectify them promptly—and as economically as possible.”

Mr. Campbell was looking deeply unhappy.

“And I hear that you haven’t had many applicants for this position,” she finished. “None, to be exact.”

“The men …”

“Men?” she said, and allowed the smallest edge of amusement to tinge the word. “I’ve worked with men before. I get on with them well.”

She looked at him, not saying anything. I know what it’s like to kill a man, she thought. I know just how easy it is. And you don’t. She was not aware of having changed expression, but Campbell lost a bit of his high color and looked away. She wondered for a split second whether Roger would look away, if he saw that knowledge in her eyes. But this was no time to think of things like that.

“Why don’t you show me one of the work sites?” she said gently. “Then we’ll talk some more.”

IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY, St. Stephen’s had been used as a temporary prison for captured Jacobites. Two of them had been executed in the graveyard, by some accounts. It wasn’t the worst thing to have as your last sight of earth, he supposed: the wide river and the vast sky, both flowing to the sea. They carried an abiding sense of peace, wind and cloud and water did, despite their constant movement.

“If ever you find yourself in the midst of paradox, you can be sure you stand on the edge of truth,” his adoptive father had told him once. “You may not know what it is, mind,” he’d added with a smile. “But it’s there.”

The rector at St. Stephen’s, Dr. Weatherspoon, had had a few aphorisms to share, too.

“When God closes a door, he opens a window.” Yeah. The problem was that this particular window opened off the tenth story, and he wasn’t so sure God supplied parachutes.

“Do You?” he asked, looking up at the drifting sky over Inverness.

“Beg pardon?” said the startled sexton, popping up from the gravestone behind which he’d been working.

“Sorry.” Roger flapped a hand, embarrassed. “Just … talking to myself.”

The elderly man nodded understandingly. “Aye, aye. Nay bother, then. It’s when ye start getting answers ye should worry.” Chuckling hoarsely, he descended back out of sight.

Roger made his way down from the high graveyard to street level, walking slowly back to the car park. Well, he’d taken the first step. Well past the time he should have done—Bree was right, to a degree; he had been a coward—but he had done it.

The difficulty wasn’t resolved as yet, but it had been a great comfort, only being able to lay it out for someone who understood and sympathized.

“I’ll pray for you,” Dr. Weatherspoon had said, shaking his hand in parting. That was a comfort, too.

He started up the dank concrete steps of the car park, fumbling in his pocket for the keys. Couldn’t say he was entirely at peace with himself, just yet—but he felt a lot more peaceable toward Bree. Now he could go home and tell her …

No, damn it. He couldn’t, not yet. He had to check.

He didn’t have to check; he knew he was right. But he had to have it in his hands, had to be able to show Bree.

Turning abruptly on his heel, he strode past a puzzled car-park attendant coming up behind him, took the stairs two at a time, and walked up Huntly Street as though he trod on red-hot coals. He stopped briefly at the Fox, digging in his pocket for coins, and rang through from the call box to Lallybroch. Annie answered the phone with her customary rudeness, saying “Yiss?” with such abruptness that it emerged as little more than an interrogatory hiss.

He didn’t bother rebuking her phone manners.

“It’s Roger. Tell the Missus I’m going down to Oxford to look something up. I’ll spend the night.”

“Mmphm,” she said, and hung up.

SHE WANTED TO HIT Roger over the head with a blunt object. Something like a champagne bottle, maybe.

“He went where?” she asked, though she’d heard Annie MacDonald clearly. Annie lifted both narrow shoulders to the level of her ears, indicating that she understood the rhetorical nature of the question.

“To Oxford,” she said. “To England.” The tone of her voice underlined the sheer outrageousness of Roger’s action. He hadn’t simply gone to look up something in an old book—which would have been strange enough, though to be sure himself was a scholar and they’d do anything—but had abandoned his wife and children without notice and hied away to a foreign country!

“Himself did say as he’d come home tomorrow,” Annie added, with great dubiousness. She picked up the bottle of champagne in its carrier bag, gingerly, as though it might explode. “Ought I put this to the ice, d’ye think?”

“To the—oh, no, don’t put it in the freezer. Just in the fridge. Thank you, Annie.”

Annie disappeared into the kitchen, and Brianna stood in the drafty hall for a moment, trying to get her feelings firmly under control before going to find Jem and Mandy. Kids being kids, they had ultra-sensitive radar concerning their parents. They already knew something was the matter between her and Roger; having their father suddenly disappear was not calculated to give them a feeling of cozy security. Had he even said goodbye to them? Assured them he’d be back? No, of course not.

“Bloody selfish, self-centered …” she muttered. Unable to find a satisfying noun with which to complete this, she said, “rat-fink bastard!” and then snorted with reluctant laughter. Not merely at the silliness of the insult, but with a wry acknowledgment that she’d got what she wanted. Both ways.

Granted, he couldn’t have stopped her going for the job—and once he got past the dislocations involved, she thought he’d be all right with it.

“Men hate things to change,” her mother had once casually told her. “Unless it’s their idea, of course. But you can make them think it is their idea, sometimes.”

Maybe she should have been less direct about it; tried to get Roger to feel that at least he had something to say about her going to work, even if not to think it was his idea—that would have been pushing it. She’d been in no mood to be devious, though. Or even diplomatic.

As for what she’d done to him … well, she’d put up with his immobility for as long as she could, and then she’d pushed him off a cliff. Deliberately.

“And I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it!” she said to the coatrack.

She hung up her coat slowly, taking a little extra time to check the pockets for used tissues and crumpled receipts.

So, had he gone off out of pique—to get back at her for going back to work? Or out of anger at her having called him a coward? He hadn’t liked that one bit; his eyes had gone dark and he’d nearly lost his voice—strong emotion choked him, quite literally, freezing his larynx. She’d done it on purpose, though. She knew where Roger’s soft spots were—just as he knew hers.

Her lips tightened at that, just as her fingers closed on something hard in the inner pocket of her jacket. A weathered shell, turreted and smooth, worn white by sun and water. Roger had picked it up on the shingle by Loch Ness and handed it to her.

“To live in,” he’d said, smiling, but given away by the gruffness of his damaged voice. “When ye need a hiding place.”

She closed her fingers gently over the shell, and sighed.

Roger wasn’t petty. Ever. He wouldn’t go off to Oxford—a reluctant bubble of amusement floated up at the thought of Annie’s shocked description: to England!—just to worry her.

So he’d gone for some specific reason, doubtless something jarred loose by their fight—and that worried her a bit.

He’d been wrestling with things since they came back. So had she, of course: Mandy’s illness, decisions about where to live, all the petty details of relocating a family in both space and time—they’d done all that together. But there were things he wrestled with alone.

She’d grown up an only child, just as he had; she knew how it was, how you live in your own head a lot. But damn him, whatever he was living with in his head was eating him up before her eyes, and if he wouldn’t tell her what it was, it was either something he considered too private to share—which bugged her, but she could live with it—or it was something he thought too disturbing or too dangerous to share, and she wasn’t bloody having that.

Her fingers had clenched round the shell, and she deliberately loosened them, trying to calm down.

She could hear the kids upstairs, in Jem’s room. He was reading something to Mandy—The Gingerbread Man, she thought. She couldn’t hear the words, but could tell by the rhythm, counterpointed by Mandy’s excited shouts of “Wun! Wun!”

No point in interrupting them. Time enough later to tell them Daddy’d be away overnight. Maybe they wouldn’t be bothered, if she was matter-of-fact about it; he’d never left them since they’d come back, but when they lived on the Ridge, he was often gone with Jamie or Ian, hunting. Mandy wouldn’t remember that, but Jem …

She’d meant to go into her study, but found herself drifting across the hall, through the open door to Roger’s. It was the old speak-a-word room of the house; the room where her uncle Ian had run the affairs of the estate for years—her father for a short time before that, and her grandfather before him.

And now it was Roger’s. He’d asked if she wanted the room, but she’d said no. She liked the little sitting room across the hall, with its sunny window and the shadows of the ancient yellow rose that flagged that side of the house with its color and scent. Aside from that, though, she just felt that this room was a man’s place, with its clean, scuffed wooden floor and comfortably battered shelves.

Roger had managed to find one of the old farm ledgers, from 1776; it sat on an upper shelf, its worn cloth binding sheltering the patient, careful minutiae of life on a Highland farm: one-quarter pound of silver fir seed, a he-goat for breeding, six rabbits, thirty-weight of seed potatoes … had her uncle written it? She didn’t know, had never seen a sample of his writing.

She wondered, with an odd little quiver of the insides, if her parents had made it back to Scotland—back here. Had seen Ian and Jenny again; if her father had sat—would sit?—here in this room, at home once more, talking over the matters of Lallybroch with Ian. And her mother? From the little Claire had said about it, she hadn’t parted from Jenny on the best of terms, and Brianna knew her mother felt sad about that; once, they had been close friends. Maybe things could be mended—maybe they had been mended.

She glanced at the wooden box, safe on its high shelf beside the ledger, the little cherrywood snake curved in front of it. On impulse, she took the snake down, finding some comfort in the sleek curve of the body and the comical look of its face, peering back over its nonexistent shoulder. She smiled back at it, involuntarily.

“Thanks, Uncle Willie,” she said softly, out loud, and felt an extraordinary shiver run through her. Not fear, or cold—a kind of delight, but a quiet kind. Recognition.

She’d seen that snake so often—on the Ridge, and now here, where it had first been made—that she never thought of its maker, her father’s older brother, dead at the age of eleven. But he was here, too, in the work of his hands, in the rooms that had known him. When she’d visited Lallybroch before—in the eighteenth century—there had been a painting of him on the upstairs landing, a small, sturdy red-haired boy, standing with a hand on the shoulder of his baby brother, blue-eyed and serious.

Where is that now? she wondered. And the other paintings done by her grandmother? There was the one self-portrait, which had made it somehow to the National Portrait Gallery—she must be sure to take the kids down to London to see it, when they were a little older—but the others? There had been one of a very young Jenny Murray feeding a tame pheasant who had her uncle Ian’s soft brown eyes, and she smiled at the memory.

It had been the right thing. Coming here, bringing the kids … home. It didn’t matter if it took a little doing for her and Roger to find their places. Though maybe she shouldn’t speak for Roger, she thought with a grimace.

She looked up at the box again. She wished her parents were here—either of them—so she could tell them about Roger, ask their opinion. Not that she wanted advice, so much…. What she wanted, if she was honest, she thought, was a reassurance that she’d done the right thing.

With a heightened flush in her cheeks, she reached up with both hands and brought down the box, feeling guilty for not waiting to share the next letter with Roger. But … she wanted her mother just now. She took the first letter on top that bore her mother’s writing on the outside.Offices of L’Oignon, New Bern, North Carolina April 12, 1777

Dear Bree (and Roger and Jem and Mandy, of course),

We’ve made it to New Bern, without major incident. Yes, I hear you thinking, Major? And it is true that we were held up by a pair of would-be bandits on the road south of Boone. Given that they were probably nine and eleven respectively, and armed solely with an ancient wheel-lock musket that would have blown them both to bits had they been able to fire it, though, we weren’t in any marked danger.Rollo leapt out of the wagon and knocked one of them flat, whereupon his brother dropped the gun and legged it. Your cousin Ian ran him down, though, hauling him back by the scruff of the neck.It took your father some time to get anything sensible out of them, but a little food worked wonders. They said their names are Herman and—no, really—Vermin. Their parents died during the winter—their father went hunting and didn’t come back, the mother died giving birth, and the baby died a day later, as the two boys had no way to feed it. They know of no people on their father’s side, but they said their mother’s family name was Kuykendall. Luckily, your father knows a Kuykendall family, near Bailey Camp, and so Ian took the little vagabonds off to find the Kuykendalls and see if they could be settled. If not, I suppose he’ll bring them along to New Bern, and we’ll try to apprentice them somewhere, or perhaps take them with us to Wilmington and find them a berth as cabin boys.Fergus and Marsali and the children seem all to be doing very well, both physically—bar a family tendency to enlarged adenoids and the biggest wart I’ve ever seen on Germain’s left elbow—and financially.Aside from the Wilmington Gazette, L’Oignon is the only regular newspaper in the colony, and Fergus thus gets a great deal of business. Add in the printing and sale of books and pamphlets, and he’s doing very well indeed. The family now owns two milch goats, a flock of chickens, a pig, and three mules, counting Clarence, whom we are bequeathing to them on our way to Scotland.Conditions and uncertainties being what they are [meaning, Brianna thought, that you don’t know who might read this letter, or when] I’d better not be specific about what he’s printing, besides newspapers. L’Oignon itself is carefully evenhanded, printing rabid denunciations by both Loyalists and those less loyal, and publishing satirical poetry by our good friend “Anonymous,” lampooning both sides of the present political conflict. I’ve seldom seen Fergus so happy.War agrees with some men, and Fergus, rather oddly, is one of them. Your cousin Ian is another, though in his case, I think perhaps it keeps him from thinking too much.I do wonder what his mother will make of him. But knowing her as I do, my guess is that after the first shock has passed, she’ll begin the work of finding him a wife. Jenny is a very perceptive woman, all things said—and just as stubborn as your father. I do hope he remembers that.Speaking of your father, he’s out and about a good deal with Fergus, doing bits of “business” (unspecified, which means he’s probably doing something that would turn my hair white—or whiter—to know about) and inquiring among the merchants for a possible ship—though I think our chances of finding one will be better in Wilmington, where we’ll go as soon as Ian joins us.Meanwhile, I’ve set up my shingle—literally. It’s tacked to the front of Fergus’s printshop, and says, TEETH PULLED, RASHES, PHLEGM, AND THE AGUE CURED, this being Marsali’s work. She wanted to add a line about the pox, but both Fergus and I dissuaded her—he from a fear that it would lower the tone of his establishment, self from a certain morbid attachment to truth in advertising, as there is in fact nothing I can presently do about any condition they call the pox. Phlegm … well, there’s always something you can do aboutphlegm, even if it’s nothing more than a cup of hot tea (these days, that’s hot water over sassafras root, catnip, or lemon balm) with a dram in it.I called on Dr. Fentiman in Cross Creek on our way, and was able to buy several necessary instruments and a few medicines from him to refurbish my kit (this at the cost of a bottle of whisky and of being forced to admire the latest addition to his ghastly collection of pickled curiosities—no, you don’t want to know; you really don’t. A good thing he can’t see Germain’s wart, or he’d be down to New Bern in a flash, sneaking round the printshop with an amputation saw).I still lack a pair of good surgical scissors, but Fergus knows a silversmith called Stephen Moray in Wilmington who he says could make a pair to my specifications. For the moment, I occupy myself largely in the pulling of teeth, as the barber who used to do it was drowned last November, having fallen into the harbor while drunk.With all my love,

Mama

P.S. Speaking of the Wilmington Gazette, your father has it in mind to call there and see if he can find out just who left that blasted notice about the fire. Though I suppose I oughtn’t to complain; if you hadn’t found it, you might never have come back. And while there are a lot of things I wish hadn’t happened as a result of your coming—I can’t ever regret that you know your father, and he you.

WEE DEMONS

IT WASN’T MUCH DIFFERENT than any of the deer trails they’d come across; in fact, it had doubtless begun as one of them. But there was something about this particular trace that said “people” to Ian, and he’d been so long accustomed to such judgments that he seldom registered them consciously. He didn’t now, but gave Clarence’s leading rein a twitch, turning his own horse’s head aside.

“Why’re we stoppin’?” Herman asked suspiciously. “Ain’t nothin’ here.”

“There’s someone living up there.” Ian jerked his chin toward the wooded slope. “The trail’s not wide enough for horses; we’ll tie up here, and walk.”

Herman and Vermin exchanged a wordless glance of deep skepticism, but slid off the mule and trudged after Ian, up the trail.

He was beginning to have his doubts; no one he’d spoken to in the last week knew of any Kuykendalls in the area, and he couldn’t take too much more time about the matter. He might have to bring the wee savages down to New Bern with him, after all, and he had no notion how they’d take to the suggestion.

He had no notion how they took much of anything, come to that. They were not so much shy as secretive, whispering together behind him as they rode, then shutting up like clams the minute he looked at them, regarding him with carefully bland faces, behind which he plainly saw any amount of reckoning going on. What the devil were they plotting?

If they meant to run from him, he thought he might not make any monstrous great effort to chase them down. If, on the other hand, they meant to steal Clarence and the horse while he slept, that was another matter.

The cabin was there, a curl of smoke coming from its chimney; Herman turned a look of surprise on him, and he smiled at the boy.

“Told ye,” he said, and hallooed.

The door creaked open, and the barrel of a musket poked out of it. This was not an uncommon response to strangers in the far backcountry, and Ian was not put off by it. He raised his voice and stated his business, pushing Herman and Vermin in front of him as evidence of his bona fides.

The gun wasn’t withdrawn, but lifted in a significant manner. Obeying instinct, Ian flung himself flat, yanking the boys down with him, as the shot roared overhead. A woman’s voice yelled something strident in a foreign tongue. He didn’t understand the words, but took the meaning clearly, and pulling the little boys to their feet, ushered them hastily back down the trail.

“Ain’t gonna live with her,” Vermin informed him, focusing a narrow glare of dislike over his shoulder. “Tell you that for free.”

“No, ye’re not,” Ian agreed. “Keep moving, aye?” For Vermin had stopped dead.

“Gotta shit.”

“Oh, aye? Well, be quick about it.” He turned away, having discovered early on that the boys had an exaggerated requirement for privacy in such matters.

Herman had gone on already; the tangled mess of his dirty-blond hair was just visible, some twenty yards down the slope. Ian had suggested that the boys might cut, if not comb, their hair, and maybe wash their faces, as a gesture of civility toward any relations who might be faced with the prospect of taking them in, but this suggestion had been rejected with vehemence. Fortunately he was not responsible for forcing the wee buggers to wash—and to be fair, he thought washing would make little difference to their smell, given the state of their clothes, which they had plainly been living in for some months. He did make them sleep on the other side of the fire from himself and Rollo at night, in hopes of limiting his exposure to the lice both of them crawled with.

Could the notable infestation he sported possibly be where the younger boy’s parents had acquired his name? he wondered. Or had they no notion of its meaning and had only picked it to rhyme with his elder brother’s?

Clarence’s earsplitting bray pulled him abruptly from his thoughts. He lengthened his stride, berating himself for having left his own gun in its saddle loop. He hadn’t wanted to approach the house armed, but—

A shriek from below sent him dodging off the path, into the trees. Another shriek was cut off suddenly, and he scrambled down the slope, as quickly as he might without making a racket. Panther? A bear? Nay, Clarence would be bellowing like a grampus, if it was that; instead, he was gurgling and wheezing like he did when he spotted—

Someone he knew.

Ian stopped dead, behind a screen of poplars, his heart cold in his chest.

Arch Bug turned his head, hearing the noise, faint as it was.

“Come on out, lad,” he called. “I see ye there.”

Plainly he did; the ancient eyes were looking straight at him, and Ian came slowly out of the trees.

Arch had taken the gun from the horse; it was slung across his shoulder. He had an arm crooked round Herman’s throat, and the little boy’s face was bright red from the choking; his feet kicked like a dying rabbit’s, a few inches off the ground.

“Where’s the gold?” Arch said, without preamble. His white hair was neatly bound up, and he seemed, so far as Ian could see, to have taken no harm from the winter. Must have found folk to bide with. Where? he wondered. Brownsville, maybe? Bloody dangerous, if he’d told the Browns about the gold—but he thought old Arch was too downy a bird to talk in such company.

“Where ye’ll never find it,” Ian said bluntly. He was thinking furiously. He’d a knife in his belt—but it was a good deal too far to throw it, and if he missed …

“What d’ye want wi’ that wean?” he asked, moving a little closer. “He’s naught to do wi’ you.”

“No, but he seems somewhat to do wi’ you.” Herman was making rasping squeaks, and his feet, while still kicking, were slowing.

“No, he’s naught to me, either,” Ian said, striving for casualness. “I’m only helping him to find his people. Ye plan to cut his throat if I dinna tell ye where the gold is? Go ahead; I’m no telling ye.”

He didn’t see Arch pull the knife, but it was there, suddenly, in his right hand, held awkwardly because of the missing fingers, but doubtless useful enough.

“All right,” Arch said calmly, and put the point of the knife under Herman’s chin.

A scream burst from behind Ian, and Vermin half-ran, half-fell down the last few feet of the trail. Arch Bug looked up, startled, and Ian crouched to rush him, but was forestalled by Vermin.

The little boy rushed at Arch Bug and gave him a tremendous kick in the shin, shouting, “You bad old man! You let her go right now!”

Arch seemed as startled by the speech as by the kick, but didn’t let go.

“Her?” he said, and looked down at the child in his grasp, who promptly turned her—her?—head and bit him fiercely in the wrist. Ian, seizing the moment, lunged at him, but was impeded by Vermin, who had now seized Arch by the thigh and was clinging like grim death, trying to punch the old man in the balls with one small clenched fist.

With a ferocious grunt, Arch jerked the little girl—if that’s what she was—up and flung her staggering into Ian. He then brought one big fist down on top of Vermin’s head, stunning him. He shook the child off his leg, kicked the boy in the ribs as he staggered back, then turned and ran.

“Trudy, Trudy!” Herman ran for his—no, her—brother, who was lying in the leaf mold, mouth opening and closing like a landed trout.

Ian hesitated, wanting to pursue Arch, worried that Vermin might be badly hurt—but Arch was already gone, vanished into the wood. Gritting his teeth, he crouched and passed his hands rapidly over Vermin. No blood, and the wean was getting back his breath now, gulping and wheezing like a leaky bellows.

“Trudy?” Ian said to Herman, who was clinging tightly to Vermin’s neck. Not waiting for an answer, he pulled up Vermin’s ragged shirt, pulled out the waistband of his too-big breeches, and peeked inside. He let go hastily.

Herman leapt up, eyes bugged and hands clasped protectively over her—yes, her!—crotch.

“No!” she said. “I won’t let you stick your nasty prick in me!”

“Ye couldna pay me to,” Ian assured her. “If this is Trudy”—he nodded at Vermin, who had rolled up onto his—no, her—hands and knees and was vomiting into the grass—“what the devil’s your name?”

“Hermione,” the lassie said, sullen. “She’s Ermintrude.”

Ian ran a hand over his face, trying to adjust to this information. Now he looked … well, no, they still looked like filthy wee demons rather than little girls, their slitted eyes burning through the greasy, matted underbrush of their hair. They’d have to have their heads shaved, he supposed, and hoped he was nowhere in the neighborhood when it was done.

“Aye,” he said, for lack of anything sensible. “Well, then.”

“You’ve got gold?” said Ermintrude, having stopped her retching. She sat up, wiped a small hand over her mouth, and spat expertly. “Where?”

“If I wouldna tell him, why would I tell you? And ye can just forget that notion right now,” he assured her, seeing her eyes dart to the knife in his belt.

Damn. What was he to do now? He pushed away the shock of Arch Bug’s appearance—time to think of that later—and ran a hand slowly through his hair, considering. The fact that they were girls didn’t change anything, really, but the fact that they knew he had gold hidden did. He didn’t dare leave them with anyone now, because if he did …

“If you leave us, we’ll tell about the gold,” Hermione said promptly. “We don’t want to live in a stinky cabin. We want to go to London.”

“What?” He stared at her, incredulous. “What d’ye ken of London, for God’s sake?”

“Our mam came from there,” Herman—no, Hermione—said, and bit her lip to stop it trembling at mention of her mother. It was the first time she had spoken of her mother, Ian noted with interest. Let alone displayed any sign of vulnerability. “She told us about it.”

“Mmphm. And why would I no just kill ye myself?” he demanded, exasperated. To his astonishment, Herman smiled at him, the first halfway-pleasant expression he’d ever seen on her face.

“The dog likes you,” she said. “He wouldn’t like you if you killed people.”

“That’s all you know,” he muttered, and stood up. Rollo, who had been off about his own business, chose this opportune moment to saunter out of the underbrush, sniffing busily.

“And where were you when I needed ye?” Ian demanded. Rollo smelled carefully round the spot where Arch Bug had stood, then lifted his leg and urinated on a bush.

“Would that bad old man have killed Hermie?” the little one asked suddenly, as he boosted her onto the mule behind her sister.

“No,” he said, with certainty. But as he swung up into his own saddle, he wondered. He had the very uncomfortable feeling that Arch Bug understood the nature of guilt much too well. Enough to kill an innocent child, only because her death would make Ian feel guilty for it? And Ian would; Arch knew that.

“No,” he repeated more strongly. Arch Bug was both vengeful and vindictive—and had a right to be, he’d admit that. But Ian had nay grounds to think the man a monster.

Still, he made the little girls ride in front of him, until they made camp that night.

THERE WAS NO further sign of Arch Bug, though Ian felt now and then the crawling sensation of being watched, when they camped. Was the man following him? Very likely he was, Ian thought—for surely it wasn’t accident that had made him appear so suddenly.

So. He’d gone back to the ruins of the Big House, then, thinking to retrieve the gold after Uncle Jamie had left, only to find it gone. He wondered briefly whether Arch had managed to kill the white sow, but dismissed that notion; his uncle said the creature was plainly from the infernal regions and thus indestructible, and he was himself inclined to believe it.

He glanced at Rollo, who was dozing by his feet, but the dog gave no sign that anyone was near, though his ears were half cocked. Ian relaxed a little, though he kept the knife on his person, even while sleeping.

Not entirely in respect of Arch Bug, marauders, or wild beasts, either. He looked across the fire, to where Hermione and Trudy lay rolled up together in his blank—only they weren’t. The blanket was cunningly wadded so as to appear to contain bodies, but a gust of wind had pulled a corner loose, and he could see that it lay flat.

He closed his eyes in exasperation, then opened them and glanced down at the dog.

“Why did ye no say something?” he demanded. “Surely ye saw them leave!”

“We ain’t gone,” said a gruff, small voice behind him, and he whirled to find the two of them crouched on either side of his open saddlebag, busily rifling it for food.

“We ’uz hungry,” said Trudy, matter-of-factly stuffing the remains of a journeycake into her face.

“I fed ye!” He’d shot a few quail and baked them in mud. Granted, it wasn’t a feast, but—

“We’s still hungry,” Hermione said, with impeccable logic. She licked her fingers and burped.

“Have ye drunk all the beer?” he demanded, snatching up a stone bottle rolling near her feet.

“Mmm-hmm,” she said dreamily, and sat down, quite suddenly.

“Ye canna be thieving food,” he said severely, taking the depleted saddlebag from Trudy. “If ye eat it all now, we’ll be starving before I get ye to—wherever we’re going,” he ended, rather weakly.

“If we don’t eat it, we’ll starve now,” Trudy said logically. “Best starve later.”

“Where are we going?” Hermione was swaying gently to and fro, like a small filthy flower in the wind.

“To Cross Creek,” he said. “It’s the first good-sized town we’ll come to, and I ken folk there.” Whether he knew anyone who might be of help in this present circumstance … too bad about his great-auntie Jocasta. Were she still at River Run, he could easily have left the girls there, but as it was, Jocasta and her husband, Duncan, had immigrated to Nova Scotia. There was Jocasta’s body slave, Phaedre … He thought she was employed as a barmaid in Wilmington. But, no, she couldn’t—

“Is it as big as London?” Hermione collapsed gently onto her back and lay with her arms spread out. Rollo got up and came and sniffed her; she giggled—the first innocent sound he’d heard from her.

“You all right, Hermie?” Trudy scampered over to her sister and squatted next to her in concern. Rollo, having smelled Hermione thoroughly, turned his attention to Trudy, who merely pushed aside his inquisitive nose. Hermione was now humming tunelessly to herself.

“She’s fine,” Ian said, after a quick glance. “She’s no but a bit drunk. It’ll pass.”

“Oh.” Reassured, Trudy sat down next to her sister, hugging her knees. “Pap used to get drunk. He hollered and broke things, though.”

“Did he?”

“Uh-huh. He broke my mam’s nose once.”

“Oh,” Ian said, having no idea how to answer this. “Too bad.”

“You think he’s dead?”

“I hope so.”

“Me, too,” she said, satisfied. She yawned hugely—he could smell her rotting teeth from where he sat—and then curled herself on the ground, cuddling close to Hermione.

Sighing, Ian got up and fetched the blanket, and covered them both, tucking it gently round their small, limp bodies.

Now what? He wondered. The recent exchange was the closest thing he’d had yet to an actual conversation with the girls, and he was under no illusions that their brief foray into amiability would last past daylight. Where would he find someone willing and able to deal with them?

A tiny snore, like the buzzing of a bee’s wings, came from the blanket, and he smiled involuntarily. Wee Mandy, Bree’s daughter, had made a noise like that when she slept.

He’d held Mandy, sleeping, now and then—once for more than an hour, not wanting to surrender the tiny, warm weight, watching the flicker of the pulse in her throat. Imagining, with longing and a pain tempered by distance, his own daughter. Stillborn, her face a mystery to him. Yeksa’a, the Mohawk had called her—“little girl,” too young to have a name. But she did have a name. Iseabaìl. That’s what he’d called her.

He wrapped himself in the ragged plaid Uncle Jamie had given him when he’d chosen to be a Mohawk and lay down by the fire.

Pray. That’s what his uncle, his parents, would have advised. He was unsure who to pray to, really, or what to say. Should he speak to Christ, or His mother, or perhaps one of the saints? The spirit of the red cedar that stood sentinel beyond the fire, or the life that moved in the wood, whispering on the night breeze?

“A Dhia,” he whispered at last to the open sky, “cuidich mi,” and slept.

Whether it was God or the night itself who answered him, at dawn he woke with a notion.

HE’D BEEN EXPECTING the walleyed maid, but Mrs. Sylvie came to the door herself. She recalled him; he saw a flicker of recognition and—he thought—pleasure in her eyes, though it didn’t go so far as a smile, of course.

“Mr. Murray,” she said, cool and calm. She looked down then, and lost a trifle of her composure. She pushed the wire-rimmed spectacles up on her nose for a better look at what accompanied him, then raised her head and fixed him with suspicion.

“What’s this?”

He’d been expecting this reaction and was ready for it. Without answering, he held up the fat wee pouch he’d made ready and shook it, so she could hear the metal clink inside.

Her face changed at that, and she stood back to let them in, though she went on looking wary.

Not so wary as the little heathens—he still had trouble thinking of them as girls—who hung back until he took them each by a scrawny neck and propelled them firmly into Mrs. Sylvie’s parlor. They sat—under compulsion—but looked as though they had something in mind, and he kept a beady gaze on them, even as he talked with the proprietor of the establishment.

“Maids?” she said, in open disbelief, looking at the girls. He’d washed them in their clothes—forcibly, and had several bites to show for it, though luckily none had festered yet—but there had been nothing to do about their hair save chop it off, and he wasn’t about to come near either one with a knife, for fear of injuring them or himself in the subsequent struggle. They sat and glared through the mats of their hair like gargoyles, red-eyed and malignant.

“Well, they dinna want to be whores,” he said mildly. “And I dinna want them to be, either. Not that I’ve any objection to the profession personally,” he added for the sake of politeness.

A muscle twitched by her mouth and she shot him a sharp glance—tinged with amusement—through her spectacles.

“I’m glad to hear it,” she said dryly. And dropped her eyes to his feet and raised them slowly, almost appraisingly, up the length of his body in a way that made him feel suddenly as though he’d been dipped in hot water. The eyes came to rest on his face again, and the look of amusement had intensified considerably.

He coughed, recollecting—with a mixture of embarrassment and lust—a number of interesting images from their encounter more than two years before. Outwardly, she was a plain woman past thirty, her face and manner much more those of an autocratic nun than a whore. Beneath the unassuming calico gown and muslin apron, though … she gave fair value, did Mistress Sylvie.

“I’m no asking as a favor, aye?” he said, and nodded at the pouch, which he had put down on the table by his chair. “I had it in mind to apprentice them, maybe?”

“Apprentice girls. In a brothel.” She didn’t make it a question, but her mouth twitched again.

“Ye could start them as maids—surely ye’ve cleaning to be done? Chamber pots to be emptied, and the like? And then if they should be clever enough”—he shot them a narrow glance of his own, and Hermione stuck out her tongue at him—“ye could maybe train them up to be cooks. Or sempstresses. Ye must need a deal of mending done, aye? Torn sheets and the like?”

“Torn shifts, more like,” she said, very dryly. Her eyes flickered toward the ceiling, where a sound of rhythmic squeaking indicated the presence of a paying customer.

The girls had sidled off their stools and were prowling the parlor like wild cats, nosing things and bristling with caution. He realized suddenly that they’d never seen a town, let alone a civilized person’s house.

Mrs. Sylvie leaned forward and picked up the pouch, her eyes widening in surprise at the weight of it. She opened it and poured a handful of greasy black shot into her hand, glancing sharply up from it to him. He didn’t speak, but smiled and, reaching forward, took one of the balls from the palm of her hand, dug his thumbnail hard into it, and dropped it back into her hand, the scored line glinting bright gold amid the darkness.

She pursed her lips, weighing the bag again.

“All of it?” It was, he’d estimated, more than fifty pounds’ worth of gold: half what he’d been carrying.

He made a long reach and took a china ornament out of Hermione’s hands.

“It’ll no be an easy job,” he said. “Ye’ll earn it, I think.”

“I think so, too,” she said, watching Trudy, who—with extreme nonchalance—had lowered her breeches and was relieving herself in a corner of the hearth. The secret of their sex revealed, the girls had quite abandoned their requirements of privacy.

Mrs. Sylvie rang her silver bell, and both girls turned toward the sound in surprise.

“Why me?” she asked.

“I couldna think of anyone else who might be able to deal with them,” Ian said simply.

“I’m very flattered.”

“Ye should be,” he said, smiling. “Have we a bargain, then?”

She drew a deep breath, eyeing the girls, who had their heads together, whispering, as they viewed her with the deepest suspicion. She let it out again, shaking her head.

“I think it’s likely a bad bargain—but times are hard.”

“What, in your business? I should think the demand must be fairly constant.” He’d meant to joke, but she rounded on him, eyes narrowing.

“Oh, the customers are ready enough to knock on my door, no matter what,” she said. “But they’ve no money these days—no one does. I’ll take a chicken or a flitch of bacon—but half of them haven’t got so much as that. They’ll pay with proclamation money, or Continentals, or scrip from a militia unit—want to guess how much any of those are worth in the market?”

“Aye, I—” But she was steaming like a kettle, and turned on him, hissing.

“Or they don’t pay at all. When times are fair, so are men, mostly. But pinch them a bit, and they stop seeing just why they need to pay for their pleasure—after all, what does it cost me? And I cannot refuse, or they will simply take what they want and then burn my house or hurt us for my temerity. You see that, I suppose?”

The bitterness in her voice stung like a nettle, and he abruptly abandoned a half-formed impulse to propose that they seal their bargain in a personal way.

“I see that,” he replied, as evenly as he could. “Is such a thing not always a risk of your profession, though? And ye’ve prospered so far, aye?”

Her mouth compressed for an instant.

“I had a … patron. A gentleman who offered me protection.”

“In return for … ?”

A hot flush rose in her thin cheeks.

“None of your business, sir.”

“Is it not?” He nodded at the pouch in her hand. “If I’m placing my—these—well, them”—he gestured at the girls, now fingering the fabric of a curtain—“with you, surely I am entitled to ask whether I might be placing them in danger by doing so?”

“They’re girls,” she replied briefly. “They were born in danger and will live their lives in that condition, regardless of circumstance.” But her hand had tightened on the pouch, knuckles white. He was that bit impressed that she was so honest, given that she plainly did need the money badly. In spite of her bitterness, though, he was rather enjoying the joust.

“D’ye think life’s no dangerous for a man, then?” he asked, and without pausing, “What happened to your pimp?”

The blood washed abruptly from her face, leaving it white as bleached bone. Her eyes flashed in it like sparks.

“He was my brother,” she said, and her voice dropped to a furious whisper. “The Sons of Liberty tarred and feathered him and left him on my doorstep to die. Now, sir—have you any further questions regarding my affairs, or is our business done?”

Before he could make shift to find any response at all to this, the door opened and a young woman came in. He felt a visceral shock at seeing her, and the edges of his vision went white. Then the room steadied round him and he found he could draw breath again.

It wasn’t Emily. The young woman—looking curiously from him to the little savages wrapped in the curtains—was part-Indian, small and gracefully built, with Emily’s long, thick, raven’s-wing hair flowing loose down her back. With Emily’s broad cheekbones and delicate round chin. But she wasn’t Emily.

Thank God, he thought, but at the same time suffered a hollowness of the wame. He felt as though the sight of her had been a cannonball that had struck him and, having passed straight through his body, left a gaping hole in its wake.

Mrs. Sylvie was giving the Indian girl brisk instructions, pointing at Hermione and Trudy. The girl’s black brows rose briefly, but she nodded, and smiling at the girls, invited them to accompany her to the kitchen for some food.

The little girls promptly disentangled themselves from the curtains; it had been a long time since breakfast, and he’d had nothing for them then save a bit of drammach and some jerked bear meat, hard as shoe leather.

They followed the Indian girl to the door of the room, sparing him not a glance. At the door, though, Hermione turned, and hitching up her baggy-seated breeches, fixed him with a glare and pointed a long, skinny finger of accusation at him.

“If we turns out to be whores after all, you fucker, I’m gonna hunt you down, cut your balls off, and stuff ’em up your arse.”

He took his leave with what dignity he could, the peals of Mrs. Sylvie’s laughter ringing in his ears.

PULLING TEETH

New Bern, colony of North Carolina

April 1777

I HATED PULLING TEETH. The figure of speech that likens something of extreme difficulty to pulling teeth is not hyperbole. Even in the best of situations—a large person with a big mouth and a placid temperament, the affected tooth one of those toward the front of the mouth and in the upper jaw (less in the way of roots and much easier of access)—it was a messy, slippery, bone-crack business. And underlying the sheer physical unpleasantness of the job was usually an inescapable feeling of depression at the probable outcome.

It was necessary—beyond the pain of an abscessed tooth, a bad abscess could release bacteria into the bloodstream, causing septicemia and even death—but to remove a tooth, with no good means of replacing it, was to compromise not merely the patient’s appearance but also the function and structure of the mouth. A missing tooth allowed all those near it to shift out of place, altering the bite and making chewing much less efficient. Which in turn affected the patient’s nutrition, general health, and prospects for a long and happy life.

Not, I reflected grimly, changing position yet again in hopes of gaining a view of the tooth I was after, that even the removal of several teeth would greatly damage the dentition of the poor little girl whose mouth I was working on.

She couldn’t be more than eight or nine, with a narrow jaw and a pronounced overbite. Her canine baby teeth had not fallen out on time, and the permanent ones had come in behind them, giving her a sinister double-fanged appearance. This was aggravated by the unusual narrowness of her upper jaw, which had forced the two emergent front incisors to buckle inward, turning toward each other in such a way that the front surfaces of each tooth almost touched each other.

I touched the abscessed upper molar and she jerked against the straps that bound her to the chair, letting out a shriek that ran under my fingernails like a bamboo splinter.

“Give her a bit more, please, Ian.” I straightened up, feeling as though my lower back had been squeezed in a vise; I’d been working for several hours in the front room of Fergus’s printshop, and had a small bowl full of bloodstained teeth at my elbow and a rapt crowd outside the window to show for it.

Ian made a dubious Scottish noise, but picked up the bottle of whisky and made an encouraging clucking noise toward the little girl, who screamed again at sight of his tattooed face and clamped her mouth shut. The girl’s mother, out of patience, slapped her briskly, snatched the bottle from Ian’s hand, and inserting it into her daughter’s mouth, upended it, pinching the girl’s nose shut with the other hand.

The child’s eyes went round as pennies and an explosion of whisky droplets sprayed from the corners of her mouth—but her scrawny little neck bobbed convulsively as she swallowed, nonetheless.

“I really think that’s enough,” I said, rather alarmed at the quantity of whisky the child was swallowing. It was very bad whisky, acquired locally, and while Jamie and Ian had both tasted it and, after some discussion, decided that it probably wouldn’t make anyone go blind, I had reservations about using it in any great amount.

“Hmm,” said the mother, examining her daughter critically, but not removing the bottle. “That’ll do it, I suppose.”

The child’s eyes had rolled back in her head, and the straining little body suddenly relaxed, falling limp against the chair. The mother removed the whisky bottle, wiped the mouth of it tidily on her apron, and handed it back to Ian with a nod.

I hastily examined her pulse and breathing, but she seemed in reasonably good shape—so far, at least.

“Carpe diem,” I muttered, grabbing my tooth pliers. “Or perhaps I mean carpe vinorum? Watch to see she keeps breathing, Ian.”

Ian laughed and tilted the bottle, wetting a tiny swab of clean cloth with whisky for the mopping up.

“I think ye’ll have time to take more than the one tooth, Auntie, if ye want. Ye could likely pull every tooth in the poor lassie’s head and she wouldna twitch.”

“It’s a thought,” I said, turning the child’s head. “Can you bring the mirror, Ian?”

I had a tiny square of looking glass which could, with luck, be used to direct sunlight into a patient’s mouth. And there was sunlight streaming through the window in abundance, warm and bright. Unfortunately, there were any number of curious heads pressed against the window, too, which kept moving into the path of the sun, frustrating Ian’s attempts to beam sunlight where I needed it.

“Marsali!” I called, a thumb on the girl’s pulse, just in case.

“Aye?” She came through from the back room where she’d been cleaning—or, rather, dirtying—type, wiping inky hands on a rag. “D’ye need Henri-Christian again?”

“If you—or he—don’t mind.”

“Not him,” she assured me. “Likes nothing better, the wee praise-hog. Joanie! Félicité! Come fetch the wean, will ye? He’s wanted out front.”

Félicité and Joan—aka the hell-kittens, as Jamie called them—came eagerly; they enjoyed Henri-Christian’s performances nearly as much as he did.

“Come on, Bubbles!” Joanie called, holding open the door to the kitchen. Henri-Christian came scampering out, rolling from side to side on short, bowed legs, ruddy face beaming.

“Hoopla, hoopla, hoopla!” he shouted, making for the door.

“Put his hat on him!” Marsali called. “The wind will get in his ears.”

It was a bright day, but was windy, and Henri-Christian had a tendency to ear infection. He had a woolen hat that tied under the chin, though, knitted in blue and white stripes and decorated with a row of red bobbles—Brianna had made it for him, and the sight of it squeezed my heart a little, warmth and pain together.

The girls each took him by a hand—Félicité stretching up at the last moment to grab an old slouch hat of her father’s from the peg, to put out for coins—and went out, to cheers and whistles from the crowd. Through the window, I could see Joanie clearing the books displayed on the table outside, and Félicité hoisting Henri-Christian up in their stead. He spread his stubby, powerful arms, beaming, and bowed in accomplished fashion to one side and the other. Then he bent, put his hands on the tabletop, and, with a remarkable degree of controlled grace, stood on his head.

I didn’t wait to watch the rest of his show—it was mostly simple dancing and kicks, interspersed with somersaults and headstands, but made enchanting by his dwarfed stature and vivid personality. He had shifted the crowd away from the window momentarily, though, which was what I wanted.

“Now, Ian,” I said, and went back to work. With the flickering light from the mirror, it was a little easier to see what I was doing, and I got to grips with the tooth almost at once. This was the tricky part, though; the tooth was badly cracked, and there was a good chance that it might fracture when I twisted it, rather than draw cleanly. And if that should happen …

But it didn’t. There was a small, muffled crack! as the roots of the tooth parted from the jawbone, and I was holding the tiny white thing, intact.

The child’s mother, who had been watching intently, sighed and relaxed a little. The little girl sighed, too, and settled in the chair. I checked again, but her pulse was fine, though her breathing was shallow. She’d likely sleep for—

A thought struck me.

“You know,” I said to the mother, a little hesitantly, “I could draw one or two more teeth without hurting her. See …” I moved aside, motioning her to look. “These”—I touched the overdue baby canines—“ought to be drawn at once, to let the teeth behind take their places. And you see these front teeth, of course…. Well, I’ve taken the upper bicuspid molar on the left; if I were to take the same tooth on the right, I think that perhaps her teeth would shift a bit, to fill the empty space. And if you could persuade her to press with her tongue against those front teeth, whenever she thought of it …” It wasn’t orthodontia by any means, and it did carry some increased risk of infection, but I was sorely tempted. The poor child looked like a cannibal bat.

“Hmmmm,” said the mother, frowning into her daughter’s mouth. “How much will you give me for them?”

“How much … you want me to pay you?”

“They’re fine, sound teeth,” the mother replied promptly. “The tooth-drawer down to the harbor ’ud give me a shilling apiece. And Glory’ll need the money for her dowry.”

“Her dowry?” I repeated, surprised. The mother shrugged.

“No one’s likely to take the poor creature for her looks, now, are they?”

I was obliged to admit that this was likely true; her deplorable dentition quite aside, calling the child homely would be a compliment.

“Marsali,” I called. “Have you got four shillings?” The gold in my hem swung heavily round my feet, but I couldn’t make use of it in this situation.

Marsali turned from the window, where she’d been keeping an eye on Henri-Christian and the girls, startled.

“Not cash money, no.”

“It’s all right, Auntie. I’ve some money.” Ian put down the mirror and dug in his sporran, emerging with a handful of coins. “Mind,” he said, fixing the woman with a hard eye, “ye’d no get more nor thruppence each for sound teeth—and likely no but a penny for a child’s.”

The woman, nothing daunted, looked down her nose at him.

“There speaks a grasping Scotchman,” she said. “For all you’re tattooed like a savage. Sixpence each, then, you penny-pinching miser!”

Ian grinned at her, displaying his own fine teeth, which, if not entirely straight, were in excellent condition.

“Going to carry the wean down to the quay and let yon butcher rip her mouth to shreds?” he inquired pleasantly. “She’ll be awake by then, ken. And screaming. Three.”

“Ian!” I said.

“Well, I’m no going to let her cheat ye, Auntie. Bad enough she’s wantin’ ye to draw the lassie’s teeth for nothing, let alone pay for the honor!”

Emboldened by my intervention, the woman stuck out her chin and repeated, “Sixpence!”

Marsali, attracted by the altercation, came to peer into the girl’s mouth.

“Ye’ll not find that one a husband for less than ten pound,” she informed the woman bluntly. “Not lookin’ like that. A man would be feart of bein’ bitten when he kissed her. Ian’s right. In fact, ye should be payin’ double for it.”

“Ye agreed to pay when ye came in, no?” Ian pressed. “Tuppence to have the tooth drawn—and my aunt made ye a bargain at that, out of pity for the wean.”

“Bloodsuckers!” the woman exclaimed. “It’s true what they say—you Scots ’ud take the pennies from a dead man’s eyes!”

Plainly this wasn’t going to be settled in a hurry; I could feel both Ian and Marsali settling down to an enjoyable session of tag-team haggling. I sighed and took the mirror out of Ian’s hand. I wouldn’t need it for the canines, and perhaps by the time I got to the other bicuspid, he’d be paying attention again.

In fact, the canines were simple; baby teeth, almost without roots, and ready to fall—I could probably have tweaked them out with my fingers. One quick twist each and they were out, the gums barely bleeding. Pleased, I dabbed the sites with a whisky-soaked swab, then considered the bicuspid.

It was on the other side of the mouth, which meant that by tilting the girl’s head back, I could get a bit of light without using the mirror. I took Ian’s hand—he was so engaged in argument that he barely noticed—and put it on the girl’s head to hold it back and steady, then carefully insinuated my pliers.

A shadow crossed my light, vanished—then came back, blocking it utterly. I turned in annoyance, to find a rather elegant-looking gentleman peering through the window, a look of interest on his face.

I scowled at him and motioned him aside. He blinked at me, but then nodded apology and stepped aside. Not waiting for any further interruption, I crouched, got hold of the tooth, and twisted it free with a lucky wrench.

Humming with satisfaction, I dribbled whisky over the bleeding hole, then tilted her head to the other side and pressed a swab gently over the gum, to help drain the abscess. Felt a sudden extra slackness in the wobbly little neck and froze.

Ian felt it, too; he broke off in the middle of a sentence and shot me a startled look.

“Untie her,” I said. “Quick.”

He had her loosed in an instant, and I seized her under the arms and laid her on the floor, her head flopping like a rag doll’s. Ignoring startled exclamations from Marsali and the girl’s mother, I tilted back her head, swiped the swab out of her mouth, and, pinching shut her nose with my fingers, sealed my mouth to hers and started resuscitation.

It was like blowing up a small, tough balloon: reluctance, resistance, then, finally, a rise of the chest. But chests don’t yield like rubber; the blowing didn’t get easier.

I had the fingers of my other hand on her neck, feeling desperately for a carotid pulse. There … Was it? … Yes, it was! Her heart was still beating, though faintly.

Breathe. Pause. Breathe. Pause … I felt the tiny gush of exhalation, and then the narrow chest moved by itself. I waited, blood pounding in my ears, but it didn’t move again. Breathe. Pause. Breathe …

Again the chest moved, and this time continued to rise and fall under its own power. I sat up on my heels, my own breath coming fast and a cold sweat misting my face.

The girl’s mother was staring down at me, her mouth half open. I noted dimly that her own dentition wasn’t bad; God knew what her husband looked like.

“She’s—is she … ?” the woman asked, blinking and glancing back and forth between me and her daughter.

“She’s fine,” I said flatly. I stood up slowly, feeling lightheaded. “She can’t go until the whisky’s worn off, though; I think she’ll be all right, but she might stop breathing again. Someone needs to watch her ’til she wakes. Marsali … ?”

“Aye, I’ll put her in the trundle,” Marsali said, coming to look. “Oh, there ye are, Joanie—will ye come and keep an eye on this poor wean for a bit? She needs to lie down on your bed.”

The children had come in, red-cheeked and giggling, with a hatful of small coins and buttons, but seeing the girl on the floor, hurried over to look, too.

“Hoopla,” Henri-Christian remarked, impressed.

“Is she deid?” Félicité asked, more practically.

“If she was, Maman wouldna be asking me to watch her,” Joanie pointed out. “She’s no going to sick up in my bed, is she?”

“I’ll put a towel down,” Marsali promised, squatting to scoop the little girl up. Ian beat her to it, lifting the child gently.

“We’ll just charge ye tuppence, then,” he said to the mother. “But we’ll give ye all the teeth for free, aye?”

Looking stunned, she nodded, then followed the crowd into the back of the house. I heard the thunder of multiple feet going up the stairs, but didn’t follow; my own legs had gone to water, and I sat down quite suddenly.

“Are you all right, madame?” I looked up to find the elegant stranger inside the shop, looking curiously at me.

I picked up the half-empty bottle of whisky and took a substantial swallow. It burned like brimstone and tasted like charred bones. I made wheezing noises and my eyes watered, but I didn’t actually cough.

“Fine,” I said hoarsely. “Perfectly fine.” I cleared my throat and wiped my eyes on my sleeve. “Can I help you?”

A faint look of amusement crossed his features.

“I do not require to have a tooth drawn, which is probably good luck for both of us. However—may I?” He withdrew a slim silver flask from his pocket and handed it to me, then sat down. “I think it’s perhaps a little more fortifying than … that.” He nodded at the uncorked whisky bottle, his nose wrinkling a little.

I uncorked the flask, and the full-bodied scent of very good brandy floated out like a genie.

“Thank you,” I said briefly, and drank, closing my eyes. “Very much indeed,” I added a moment later, opening them. Fortifying, indeed. Warmth collected in my center and purled like smoke through my limbs.

“My pleasure, madame,” he said, and smiled. He was undeniably a dandy, and a rich one, too, with a good deal of lace about his person, gilt buttons on his waistcoat, a powdered wig, and two black silk beauty patches on his face—a star beside his left brow, and a rearing horse on his right cheek. Not a getup one saw often in North Carolina, especially not these days.

Despite the encrustations, he was a handsome man, I thought, perhaps forty or so, with soft dark eyes that glinted with humor, and a delicate, sensitive face. His English was very good, though it carried a distinct Parisian accent.

“Have I the honor of addressing Mrs. Fraser?” he asked. I saw his eyes pass over my scandalously bare head, but he politely made no comment.

“Well, you have,” I said dubiously. “But I may not be the one you want. My daughter-in-law is Mrs. Fraser, too; she and her husband own this shop. So if you were wanting something printed—”

“Mrs. James Fraser?”

I paused instinctively, but there wasn’t much alternative to answering.

“I am, yes. Is it my husband you want?” I asked warily. People wanted Jamie for a lot of things, and it wasn’t always desirable that they find him.

He smiled, eyes crinkling pleasantly.

“It is indeed, Mrs. Fraser. The captain of my ship said that Mr. Fraser had come to speak with him this morning, seeking passage.”

My heart gave a sharp leap at this.

“Oh! You have a ship, Mr…. ?”

“Beauchamp,” he said, and, picking up my hand, kissed it gracefully. “Percival Beauchamp, at your service, madame. I do—she is called Huntress.”

I actually thought my heart had stopped for a moment, but it hadn’t, and resumed beating with a noticeable thump.

“Beauchamp,” I said. “Beechum?” He’d pronounced it in the French way, but at this, he nodded, smile growing wider.

“Yes, the English say it that way. You said your daughter-in-law … so the Mr. Fraser who owns this shop is your husband’s son?”

“Yes,” I said again, but automatically. Don’t be silly, I scolded myself. It isn’t an uncommon name. Likely he hasn’t anything at all to do with your family! And yet—a French-English connection. I knew my father’s family had come from France to England sometime in the eighteenth century—but that was all I knew about them. I stared at him in fascination. Was there anything familiar about his face, anything I could match with my faint recollections of my parents, the stronger ones of my uncle?

He had pale skin, like mine, but then, most upper-class people did, they taking great pains to shelter their faces from the sun. His eyes were much darker than mine, and beautiful, but shaped differently, rounder. The brows—had my uncle Lamb’s brows had that shape, heavy near the nose, trailing off in a graceful arch … ?

Absorbed in this tantalizing puzzle, I’d missed what he was saying.

“I beg your pardon?”

“The little boy,” he repeated, with a nod toward the door through which the children had disappeared. “He was shouting, ‘Hoopla!’ As French street performers do. Has the family a French connection of some kind?”

Belated alarms began to go off, and unease rippled the hairs on my forearms.

“No,” I said, trying to iron my face into a politely quizzical expression. “Likely he’s just heard it from someone. There was a small troupe of French acrobats who passed through the Carolinas last year.”

“Ah, doubtless that’s it.” He leaned forward a little, dark eyes intent. “Did you see them yourself?”

“No. My husband and I … don’t live here,” I ended hurriedly. I’d been about to tell him where we did live, but I didn’t know how much—if anything—he knew about Fergus’s circumstances. He sat back, pursing his lips a little in disappointment.

“Ah, too bad. I thought perhaps the gentleman I am in search of might have belonged to this troupe. Though I suppose you would not have known their names, even had you seen them,” he added as an afterthought.

“You’re looking for someone? A Frenchman?” I lifted the bowl of bloodstained teeth and began to pick through it, affecting nonchalance.

“A man named Claudel. He was born in Paris—in a brothel,” he added, with a faint air of apology for using such an indelicate term in my presence. “He would be in his early forties now—forty-one or -two, perhaps.”

“Paris,” I repeated, listening for Marsali’s footfalls on the stair. “What leads you to suppose that he’s in North Carolina?”

He lifted one shoulder in a graceful shrug.

“He may well not be. I do know that roughly thirty years ago, he was taken from the brothel by a Scotsman, and that this man was described as of striking appearance, very tall, with brilliant red hair. Beyond that, I encountered a morass of possibilities …” He smiled wryly. “Fraser was described to me variously as a wine merchant, a Jacobite, a Loyalist, a traitor, a spy, an aristocrat, a farmer, an importer—or a smuggler; the terms are interchangeable—with connections reaching from a convent to the Royal court.”

Which was, I thought, an extremely accurate portrait of Jamie. Though I could see why it hadn’t been much help in finding him. On the other hand … here Beauchamp was.

“I did discover a wine merchant named Michael Murray, who, upon hearing this description, told me that it resembled his uncle, one James Fraser, who had emigrated to America more than ten years ago.” The dark eyes were less humorous now, fixed intently upon me.

“When I inquired about the child Claudel, though, Monsieur Murray professed complete ignorance of such a person. In rather vehement terms.”

“Oh?” I said, and picked up a large molar with serious caries, squinting at it. Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ. I knew Michael only by name; one of Young Ian’s elder brothers, he had been born after my departure and had already gone to France by the time I returned to Lallybroch—there to be educated and taken into the wine business with Jared Fraser, an elderly and childless cousin of Jamie’s. Michael had, of course, grown up with Fergus at Lallybroch and knew bloody well what his original name was. And apparently had detected or suspected something in this stranger’s demeanor that had alarmed him.

“Do you mean to say that you came all the way to America, knowing nothing except a man’s name and that he has red hair?” I asked, trying to seem mildly incredulous. “Goodness—you must have considerable interest in finding this Claudel!”

“Oh, I do, madame.” He looked at me, smiling faintly, head on one side. “Tell me, Mrs. Fraser—has your husband red hair?”

“Yes,” I said. There was no point in denying it, since anyone in New Bern would tell him so—and likely had already, I reflected. “So do any number of his relations—and about half the population of the Scottish Highlands.” This was a wild overstatement, but I was reasonably sure that Mr. Beauchamp hadn’t been combing the Highlands personally, either.

I could hear voices upstairs; Marsali might be coming down any minute, and I didn’t want her walking into the midst of this particular conversation.

“Well,” I said, and got to my feet in a decided manner. “I’m sure you’ll be wanting to talk to my husband—and he to you. He’s gone on an errand, though, and won’t be back until sometime tomorrow. Are you staying somewhere in the town?”

“The King’s Inn,” he said, rising, as well. “If you will tell your husband to find me there, madame? I thank you.” Bending low, he took my hand and kissed it again, then smiled at me and backed out of the shop, leaving a scent of bergamot and hyssop mingled with the ghost of good brandy.

A GOOD MANY merchants and businessmen had left New Bern, owing to the chaotic state of politics; with no civil authority, public life had come to a standstill, bar the simplest of market transactions, and many people—of both Loyalist and rebel sympathies—had left the colony out of fear of violence. There were only two good inns in New Bern these days; the King’s Inn was one, and the Wilsey Arms the other. Luckily, Jamie and I had a room in the latter.

“Will you go and talk to him?” I had just finished telling Jamie about the visit of Monsieur Beauchamp—an account that had left him with a deep crease of concern between his brows.

“Christ. How did he find out all that?”

“He must have begun with a knowledge that Fergus was at that brothel, and started his inquiries there. I imagine it wouldn’t have been difficult to find someone who’d seen you there, or heard about the incident. You’re rather memorable, after all.” Despite my own agitation, I smiled at the memory of Jamie, aged twenty-five, who had taken temporary refuge in the brothel in question armed—quite coincidentally—with a large sausage, and then escaped through a window, accompanied by a ten-year-old pickpocket and sometime child-whore named Claudel.

He shrugged, looking mildly embarrassed.

“Well, aye, perhaps. But to discover quite so much …” He scratched his head, thinking. “As to speaking with him—not before I speak to Fergus. I think we might want to know a bit more about this Monsieur Beauchamp, before we make him a present of ourselves.”

“I’d like to know a bit more about him, too,” I said. “I did wonder whether … Well, it’s a remote possibility, the name isn’t all that uncommon—but I did wonder whether he might be connected in some way with a branch of my family. They were in France in the eighteenth century, I know that much. But not much more.”

He smiled at me.

“And what would ye do, Sassnenach, if I discover that he’s really your six-times-greatgrandfather?”

“I—” I stopped abruptly because, in fact, I didn’t know what I’d do in such a circumstance. “Well … probably nothing,” I admitted. “And we probably can’t find that out for sure in any case, since I don’t recall—if I ever knew—what my six-times-greatgrandfather’s first name was. I just—would be interested to know more, that’s all,” I finished, feeling mildly defensive.

“Well, of course ye would,” he said, matter-of-fact. “But not if my asking might put Fergus in any danger, would ye?”

“Oh, no! Of course not. But do you—”

I was interrupted by a soft knock on the door that struck me dumb. I raised my brows at Jamie, who hesitated a moment, but then shrugged and went to open it.

Small as the room was, I could see the door from where I sat; to my surprise, it was filled with what appeared to be a deputation of women—the corridor was a sea of white caps, floating in the dimness like jellyfish.

“Mr. Fraser?” One of the caps bobbed briefly. “I am—my name is Abigail Bell. My daughters”—she turned, and I caught a glimpse of a strained white face—“Lillian and Miriam.” The other two caps—yes, there were only three, after all—bobbed in turn. “May we speak with you?”

Jamie bowed and ushered them into the room, raising his eyebrows at me as he followed them in.

“My wife,” he said, nodding as I rose, murmuring pleasantries. There was only the bed and one stool, so we all remained standing, awkwardly smiling and bobbing at one another.

Mrs. Bell was short and rather stout, and had probably once been as pretty as her daughters. Her once-plump cheeks now sagged, though, as though she had lost weight suddenly, and her skin was creased with worry. Her daughters looked worried, too; one was twisting her hands in her apron, and the other kept stealing glances at Jamie from downcast eyes, as though afraid he might do something violent if gazed at too directly.

“I beg your pardon, sir, for coming to you in this bold way.” Mrs. Bell’s lips were trembling; she had to stop and compress them briefly before continuing. “I—I hear that you are looking for a ship bound to Scotland.”

Jamie nodded warily, plainly wondering where this woman had learned of it. He’d said everyone in the town would know within a day or two—evidently he’d been right about that.

“Do ye ken someone with such a voyage in view?” he asked politely.

“No. Not exactly. I … that is … perhaps—it is my husband,” she blurted, but the speaking of the word made her voice break, and she clapped a handful of apron to her mouth. One of the daughters, a dark-haired girl, took her mother gently by the elbow and drew her aside, standing up bravely to face the fearsome Mr. Fraser herself.

“My father is in Scotland, Mr. Fraser,” she said. “My mother is in hopes that you might find him, when you go there, and assist him to return to us.”

“Ah,” Jamie said. “And your father would be … ?”

“Oh! Mr. Richard Bell, sir, of Wilmington.” She curtsied hastily, as though further politeness would help to make her case. “He is—he was—”

“He is!” her sister hissed, low-voiced but emphatic, and the first sister, the dark one, gave her a glare.

“My father was a merchant in Wilmington, Mr. Fraser. He had considerable business interests, and in the course of his business he … had reason to have contact with various British officers, who came to him for supplies. It was entirely a matter of business!” she assured him.

“But business in these dreadful times is never only business.” Mrs. Bell had got hold of herself, and came to stand shoulder to shoulder with her daughter. “They said—my husband’s enemies—they put it about that he was a Loyalist.”

“Only because he was,” put in the second sister. This one—fair-haired and blue-eyed—wasn’t trembling; she faced Jamie with a lifted chin and blazing eyes. “My father was true to his King! I for one do not think that is something to be excused and apologized for! Nor do I think it right to pretend otherwise, only to get the help of a man who has broken every oath—”

“Oh, Miriam!” said her sister, exasperated. “Could you not keep quiet for one second? Now you’ve spoilt everything!”

“I haven’t,” Miriam snapped. “Or if I have, it wasn’t ever going to work in the first place! Why should someone like him hel—”

“Yes, it would! Mr. Forbes said—”

“Oh, bother Mr. Forbes! What would he know?”

Mrs. Bell moaned softly into her apron.

“Why did your father go to Scotland?” Jamie asked, cutting through the confusion.

Taken by surprise, Miriam Bell actually answered him.

“He didn’t go to Scotland. He was abducted in the street and thrust onto a ship bound for Southampton.”

“By whom?” I asked, wiggling my way through the obstructing forest of skirts on my way to the door. “And why?”

I stuck my head out into the corridor and gestured to the boy cleaning boots on the landing that he should go down to the taproom and bring up a jug of wine. Given the apparent state of the Bells, I thought something to restore the social amenities might be a good idea.

I popped back inside in time to hear Miss Lillian Bell explaining that they didn’t actually know who had abducted her father.

“Or not by name, at least,” she said, face flushed with fury at the telling. “The villains wore hoods over their heads. But it was the Sons of Liberty, I know it!”

“Yes, it was,” Miss Miriam said decidedly. “Father had had threats from them—notes pinned to the door, a dead fish wrapped in a bit of red flannel and left upon the porch to make a stink. That sort of thing.”

The matter had gone beyond threats at the end of the previous August. Mr. Bell had been on his way to his warehouse, when a group of hooded men had rushed out from an alleyway, seized him, and carried him down the quay, then flung him bodily aboard a ship that had just cast off its hawser, sails filling as it drew slowly away.

I had heard of troublesome Loyalists being summarily “deported” in this manner, but hadn’t run into an actual occurrence of the practice before.

“If the ship was bound for England,” I inquired, “how did he end up in Scotland?”

There was a certain amount of confusion as all three Bells tried to explain at once what had happened, but Miriam won out once again.

“He arrived in England penniless, of course, with no more than the clothes on his back, and owing money for food and passage on the ship. But the ship’s captain had befriended him, and took him from Southampton to London, where my father knew some men with whom he had done business in the past. One of these advanced him a sum to cover his indebtedness to the captain, and promised him passage to Georgia, if he would oversee the cargo on a voyage from Edinburgh to the Indies, thence to America.

“So he traveled to Edinburgh under the auspices of his patron, only to discover there that the intended cargo to be picked up in the Indies was a shipload of Negroes.”

“My husband is an abolitionist, Mr. Fraser,” Mrs. Bell put in, with timid pride. “He said he could not countenance slavery, nor assist in its practice, no matter what the cost to himself.”

“And Mr. Forbes told us what you had done for that woman—Mrs. Cameron’s body slave,” Lillian put in, anxious-faced. “So we thought … even if you were …” She trailed off, embarrassed.

“An oath-breaking rebel, aye,” Jamie said dryly. “I see. Mr. Forbes—this would be … Neil Forbes, the lawyer?” He sounded faintly incredulous, and with good reason.

Some years before, Forbes had been a suitor for Brianna’s hand—encouraged by Jocasta Cameron, Jamie’s aunt. Bree had rejected him, none too gently, and he had taken his revenge some time later by having her abducted by a notorious pirate. A very messy state of affairs had ensued, involving Jamie’s reciprocal abduction of Forbes’s elderly mother—the old lady had loved the adventure—and the cutting off of Forbes’s ear by Young Ian. Time might have healed his external wounds, but I couldn’t imagine anyone less likely to have been singing Jamie’s praises.

“Yes,” said Miriam, but I didn’t miss the uncertain look that passed between Mrs. Bell and Lillian.

“What, exactly, did Mr. Forbes say about me?” Jamie asked. All three of them went pale, and his eyebrows went up.

“What?” he repeated, with a definite edge. He said it directly to Mrs. Bell, whom he had instantly identified as the weakest link in the family chain.

“He said what a good thing it was that you were dead,” that lady replied faintly. Whereupon her eyes rolled up into her head and she slumped to the floor like a bag of barleycorn.

FORTUNATELY, I HAD got a bottle of spirits of ammonia from Dr. Fentiman. This roused Mrs. Bell promptly into a sneezing fit, and her daughters helped her, gasping and choking, onto the bed. The wine fortunately arriving at this juncture, I served liberal helpings to everyone in sight, reserving a sizable mugful for myself.

“Now, then,” Jamie said, giving the women the sort of slow, penetrating look intended to cause miscreants to go weak in the knees and confess everything, “tell me where ye heard Mr. Forbes say about my being dead.”

Miss Lillian, settled on the bed with a protective hand on her mother’s shoulder, spoke up.

“I heard him. In Symond’s ordinary. While we were still in Wilmington—before we came here to live with Aunt Burton. I’d gone to get a pitcher of hot cider—it was sometime in February; it was still very cold out. Anyway, the woman—Faydree, she’s called—she works there, and went to draw and heat the cider for me. Mr. Forbes came in while I was there, and spoke to me. He knew about Father, and was sympathetic, asking how we were managing … then Faydree came out with the pitcher, and he saw her.”

Forbes had, of course, recognized Phaedre, whom he’d seen many times at River Run, Jocasta’s plantation. Expressing great surprise at her presence, he had inquired for an explanation and received a suitably modified version of the truth—in which Phaedre had apparently made much of Jamie’s kindness in securing her freedom.

I gurgled briefly in my mug at this. Phaedre knew exactly what had happened to Neil Forbes’s ear. She was a very quiet, soft-spoken person, Phaedre, but not above sticking pins in people she didn’t like—and I knew she didn’t like Neil Forbes.

“Mr. Forbes was rather flushed—perhaps it was from the cold,” Lillian said tactfully, “and he said, yes, he understood that Mr. Fraser had always had a great regard for Negroes…. I’m afraid he said that rather nastily,” she added, with an apologetic look at Jamie. “And then he laughed, though he tried to pretend he was coughing, and said what a pity it was that you and your family had all been burnt to cinders, and no doubt there would be great lamentations in the slave quarter.”

Jamie, who had been taking a swallow of wine, choked.

“Why did he think that?” I demanded. “Did he say?”

Lillian nodded earnestly.

“Yes, ma’am. Faydree asked him that, too—I think she thought he was only saying it to upset her—and he said he’d read it in the newspaper.”

“The Wilmington Gazette,” Miriam put in, plainly not liking her sister to be hogging the limelight. “We don’t read newspapers, of course, and since Daddy … well, we seldom have callers anymore.” She glanced down involuntarily, her hand automatically pulling her neat apron straight, to hide a large patch on her skirt. The Bells were tidy and well-groomed, and their clothes had originally been of good quality but were growing noticeably threadbare round the hems and sleeves. I imagined that Mr. Bell’s business affairs must have been substantially impaired, both by his absence and by the interference of war.

“My daughter had told me about the meeting.” Mrs. Bell had recovered herself so far as to sit up, her cup of wine clasped carefully in both hands. “So when my neighbor told me last night that he had met you by the docks … well, I didn’t know quite what to think, but supposed there had been a stupid mistake of some kind—really, you cannot believe anything you read these days, the newspapers are grown quite wild. And my neighbor mentioned that you were seeking passage to Scotland. So we began to think …” Her voice trailed off, and she dipped her face toward her wine cup, embarrassed.

Jamie rubbed a finger down his nose, thinking.

“Aye, well,” he said slowly. “It’s true that I mean to go to Scotland. And of course I should be pleased to inquire after your husband and assist him if I can. But I’ve no immediate prospect of obtaining passage. The blockade—”

“But we can get you a ship!” Lillian interrupted eagerly. “That’s the point!”

“We think we can get you to a ship,” Miriam corrected. She gave Jamie a considering, narrow-eyed sort of look, judging his character. He smiled faintly at her, acknowledging the scrutiny, and after a moment she returned the smile, grudging.

“You remind me of someone,” she said. Evidently, whoever it was, it was someone she liked, though, for she nodded to her mother, giving permission. Mrs. Bell sighed, her shoulders slumping a little in relief.

“I do still have friends,” she said, with a tinge of defiance. “In spite of … everything.”

Among these friends was a man named DeLancey Hall, who owned a fishing ketch, and—like half the town, probably—augmented his income with the odd bit of smuggling.

Hall had told Mrs. Bell that he expected the arrival of a ship from England, coming into Wilmington sometime within the next week or so—always assuming that it hadn’t been seized or sunk en route. As both ship and cargo were the property of one of the local Sons of Liberty, it could not venture into the Wilmington harbor, where two British warships were still crouched. It would, therefore, lurk just outside the harbor, where assorted small local craft would make rendezvous with it, unloading the cargo for surreptitious transport to shore. After which, the ship would sail north to New Haven, there to retrieve a cargo.

“And then will sail for Edinburgh!” Lillian put in, her face bright with hope.

“My father’s kinsman there is named Andrew Bell,” Miriam put in, lifting her chin a little. “He is very well known, I believe. He is a printer, and—”

“Wee Andy Bell?” Jamie’s face had lighted up. “Him who printed the great encyclopedia?”

“The very man,” Mrs. Bell said, surprised. “You do not mean to say you know him, Mr. Fraser?”

Jamie actually laughed, startling the Bells.

“Many’s the evening I’ve passed in a tavern wi’ Andy Bell,” he assured them. “In fact, he’s the man I mean to see in Scotland, for he’s got my printing press, safe in his shop. Or at least I hope he does,” he added, though his cheerfulness was unimpaired.

This news—along with a fresh round of wine—heartened the Bell women to an amazing extent, and when they left us at last, they were flushed with animation and chattering amongst themselves like a flock of amiable magpies. I glanced out the window and saw them making their way down the street, clustered together in hopeful excitement, staggering into the street occasionally from the effects of wine and emotion.

“We don’t only sing but we dance just as good as we walk,” I murmured, watching them go.

Jamie gave me a startled look.

“Archie Bell and the Drells,” I explained. “Never mind. Do you think it’s safe? This ship?”

“God, no.” He shuddered, and kissed the top of my head. “Put aside the question of storms, woodworm, bad caulking, warped timbers, and the like, there’s the English warships in the harbor, privateers outside the harbor—”

“I didn’t mean that,” I interrupted. “That’s more or less par for the course, isn’t it? I meant the owner—and this DeLancey Hall. Mrs. Bell thinks she knows what their politics are, but …” But the thought of delivering ourselves—and our gold—so completely into the hands of unknown persons was unsettling.

“But,” he agreed. “Aye, I mean to go and speak to Mr. Hall first thing tomorrow morning. And maybe Monsieur Beauchamp, as well. For now, though—” He ran a hand lightly down my back and cupped my bottom. “Ian and the dog willna be back for an hour, at least. Will ye have another glass of wine?”

HE LOOKED LIKE a Frenchman, Jamie thought. Which was to say, thoroughly out of place in New Bern. Beauchamp had just come out of Thorogood Northrup’s warehouse and stood in casual conversation with Northrup himself, the breeze off the water fluttering the silk ribbon that tied back his dark hair. Elegant, Claire had described him as, and he was that: not—not quite—foppish, but dressed with taste and expense. A good deal of expense, he thought.

“He looks like a Frenchman,” Fergus observed, echoing his thoughts. They were seated next to the window in the Whinbush, a middling tavern that catered to the needs of fishermen and warehouse laborers, and whose atmosphere was composed of equal parts beer, sweat, tobacco, tar, and aged fish guts.

“Is that his ship?” Fergus asked, a frown creasing his brow as he nodded toward the very trim black-and-yellow sloop that rocked gently at anchor, some distance out.

“It’s the ship he travels in. Couldna say whether he owns it. Ye dinna ken his face, though?”

Fergus leaned into the window, nearly flattening his own face against the wavery panes in an attempt to get a better look at Monsieur Beauchamp.

Jamie, beer in hand, studied Fergus’s face in turn. Despite having lived in Scotland since the age of ten, and in America for the last ten years or more, Fergus himself still looked French, he thought. It was something more than a matter of feature; something in the bone itself, perhaps.

The bones of Fergus’s face were pronounced, with a jaw sharp enough to cut paper, an imperiously beaked nose, and eye sockets set deep under the ridges of a high brow. The thick dark hair brushed back from that brow was threaded with gray, and it gave Jamie a queer moment to see that; he carried within himself a permanent image of Fergus as the ten-year-old orphaned pickpocket he had rescued from a Paris brothel, and that image sat oddly on the gaunt, handsome face before him.

“No,” Fergus said at last, sitting back on the bench and shaking his head. “I have never seen him.”

Fergus’s deep-set dark eyes were alive with interest and speculation. “No one else in the town knows him, either. Though I have heard that he had made inquiries for this Claudel Fraser”—his nostrils flared with amusement; Claudel was his own birth name, and the only one he had, though Jamie thought likely no one had ever used it outside Paris or anytime in the last thirty years—“in Halifax and Edenton, as well.”

Jamie opened his mouth to observe that he hoped Fergus had been careful in his inquiries, but thought better of it, and drank his beer instead. Fergus hadn’t been surviving as a printer in these troublous times by having a lack of discretion.

“Does he remind ye of anyone?” he asked instead. Fergus gave him a brief look of surprise, but returned to his neck-craning before settling back, shaking his head.

“No. Should he?”

“I dinna think so.” He didn’t, but was glad of Fergus’s corroboration. Claire had told him her thought—that the man might be some relation of hers, perhaps a direct ancestor. She had tried to be casual about it, dismiss the idea even as she spoke it, but he’d seen the eager light in her eyes and been touched. The fact that she had no family or close kin in her own time had always struck him as a dreadful thing, even while he realized that it had much to do with her devotion to him.

He’d looked as carefully as he could, with that in mind, but saw nothing in Beauchamp’s face or carriage that reminded him much of Claire—let alone Fergus.

He didn’t think that thought—that Beauchamp might be some actual relation to himself—had crossed Fergus’s mind. Jamie was reasonably sure that Fergus thought of the Frasers of Lallybroch as his only family, other than Marsali and the children, whom he loved with all the fervor of his passionate nature.

Beauchamp was taking his leave of Northrup now, with a very Parisian bow, accompanied by a graceful flutter of his silk handkerchief. Fortuitous that the man had happened to step out of the warehouse just in front of them, Jamie thought. They’d planned to go and have a keek at him later in the day, but his timely appearance saved them having to go and look for him.

“It’s a good ship,” Fergus observed, his attention deflected to the sloop called Huntress. He glanced back at Jamie, considering. “You’re sure you do not wish to investigate the possibility of passage with Monsieur Beauchamp?”

“Aye, I’m sure,” Jamie said dryly. “Put myself and my wife in the power of a man I dinna ken and whose motives are suspect, in a wee boat on a wide sea? Even a man who didna suffer from seasickness might boggle at that prospect, no?”

Fergus’s face split in a grin.

“Milady proposes to stick you full of needles again?”

“She does,” Jamie replied, rather crossly. He hated being stabbed repeatedly, and disliked being obliged to appear in public—even within the limited confines of a ship—bristling with spines like some outlandish porcupine. The only thing that would make him do it was the sure knowledge that if he didn’t, he’d be puking his guts out for days on end.

Fergus didn’t notice his discontent, though; he was leaning into the window again.

“Nom d’nom …” he said softly, with such an expression of apprehension that Jamie turned on the bench at once to look.

Beauchamp had proceeded some way down the street, but was still in sight. He had come to a stop, though, and appeared to be executing a sort of ungainly jig. This was sufficiently odd, but what was more disturbing was that Fergus’s son Germain was crouched in the street directly in front of the man, and seemed to be hopping to and fro in the manner of an agitated toad.

These peculiar gyrations continued for a few seconds longer and then came to an end, Beauchamp now standing still, but waving his arms in expostulation, while Germain seemed to be groveling in front of the man. The boy stood up, though, tucking something into his shirt, and after a few moments’ conversation, Beauchamp laughed and put out his hand. They exchanged a brief bow and handshake, and Germain came down the street toward the Whinbush while Beauchamp continued on his course.

Germain came in and, spotting them, slid onto the bench beside his father, looking pleased with himself.

“I’ve met that man,” he said without preamble. “The man who wants Papa.”

“Aye, we saw,” Jamie said, brows raised. “What the devil were ye doing with him?”

“Well, I saw him coming, but I did not think he would stop and talk to me if I only shouted at him. So I tossed Simon and Peter into his path.”

“Who—” Jamie began, but Germain was already groping within the depths of his shirt. Before Jamie could finish the sentence, the boy had produced two sizable frogs, one green and one a sort of vile yellow color, who huddled together on the bare boards of the table, goggling in a nervous manner.

Fergus cuffed Germain round the ear.

“Take those accursed creatures off the table, before we are thrown out of here. No wonder you are covered in warts, consorting with les grenouilles!”

“Grandmère told me to,” Germain protested, nonetheless scooping up his pets and returning them to captivity.

“She did?” Jamie was not usually startled anymore by his wife’s cures, but this seemed odd, even by her standards.

“Well, she said there was nothing to do for the wart on my elbow except rub it with a dead frog and bury it—the frog, I mean—at a crossroads at midnight.”

“Oh. I think she might possibly have been being facetious. What did the Frenchman say to ye, then?”

Germain looked up, wide-eyed and interested.

“Oh, he’s not a Frenchman, Grandpère.”

A brief pulse of astonishment went through him.

“He’s not? Ye’re sure?”

“Oh, aye. He cursed most blasphemous when Simon landed on his shoe—but not the way Papa does.” Germain aimed a bland look at his father, who looked disposed to cuff him again, but desisted at Jamie’s gesture. “He is an Englishman. I’m sure.”

“He cursed in English?” Jamie asked. It was true; Frenchmen often invoked vegetables when cursing, not infrequently mingled with sacred references. English cursing generally had nothing to do with saints, sacraments, or cucumbers, but dealt with God, whores, or excrement.

“He did. But I cannot say what he said, or Papa will be offended. He has very pure ears, Papa,” Germain added, with a smirk at his father.

“Leave off deviling your father and tell me what else the man said.”

“Aye, well,” Germain said obligingly. “When he saw it was no but a pair o’ wee froggies, he laughed and asked me was I taking them home for my dinner. I said no, they were my pets, and asked him was it his ship out there, because everyone said so and it was a bonny thing, no? I was making out to be simple, aye?” he explained, in case his grandfather might not have grasped the stratagem.

Jamie suppressed a smile.

“Verra clever,” he said dryly. “What else?”

“He said no, the ship is not his but belongs to a great nobleman in France. And I of course said, oh, who was that? And he said it is the Baron Amandine.”

Jamie exchanged looks with Fergus, who looked surprised and raised one shoulder in a shrug.

“I asked then how long he might remain, for I should like to bring my brother down to see the ship. And he says he will sail tomorrow on the evening tide, and asked me—but he was joking, I could tell—if I wished to come and be a cabin boy on the voyage. I told him no, my frogs suffer from seasickness—like my grandfather.” He turned the smirk on Jamie, who eyed him severely.

“Has your father taught ye ‘Ne petez pas plus haute que votre cul’?”

“Mama will wash your mouth out with soap if you say things like that,” Germain informed him virtuously. “Do you want me to pick his pocket? I saw him go into the inn on Cherry Street. I could—”

“You could not,” Fergus said hastily. “And do not say such things where people can hear. Your mother will assassinate both of us.”

Jamie felt a cold prickle at the back of his neck, and glanced hastily round to make sure that no one had heard.

“Ye’ve been teaching him to—”

Fergus looked mildly shifty.

“I thought it a pity that the skills should be lost. It is a family legacy, you might say. I do not let him steal things, of course. We put them back.”

“We’ll have a word in private later, I think,” Jamie said, giving the pair of them a look full of menace. Christ, if Germain had been caught at it … He’d best put the fear of God into the two of them before they both ended up pilloried, if not hanged from a tree outright for theft.

“What about the man you were actually sent to find?” Fergus asked his son, seizing the chance of deflecting Jamie’s ire.

“I found him,” Germain said, and nodded toward the door. “There he is.”

DELANCEY HALL WAS a small, neat man, with the quiet, nose-twitching manner of a church mouse. Anything less like a smuggler to look at could scarcely have been imagined—which, Jamie thought, was likely a valuable attribute in that line of business.

“A shipper of dry goods” was the way Hall discreetly described his business. “I facilitate the finding of ships for specific cargoes. Which is no easy matter these days, gentlemen, as you may well suppose.”

“I do indeed.” Jamie smiled at the man. “I have nay cargo to ship, but I am in hopes that ye might know of a situation that would suit. Myself, my wife, and my nephew seek passage to Edinburgh.” His hand was under the table, in his sporran. He had taken some of the gold spheres and flattened them with a hammer, into irregular disks. He took three of these and, moving only slightly, placed them on Hall’s lap.

The man didn’t change expression in the slightest, but Jamie felt the hand dart out and seize the disks, weigh them for an instant, and then vanish into his pocket.

“I think that might be possible,” he said blandly. “I know a captain departing from Wilmington in about two weeks’ time, who might be induced to carry passengers—for a consideration.”

Sometime later, they walked back toward the printshop, Jamie and Fergus together, discussing the probabilities of Hall’s being able to produce a ship. Germain wandered dreamily in front of them, zigzagging to and fro in response to whatever was going on inside his remarkably fertile brain.

Jamie’s own brain was more than occupied. Baron Amandine. He knew the name, but had no face to go with it, nor did he recall the context in which he knew it. Only that he had encountered it at some point, in Paris. But when? When he had attended the université there … or later, when he and Claire—yes. That was it; he’d heard the name at court. But no matter how he cudgeled his brain, it would give up no further information.

“D’ye want me to speak to this Beauchamp?” Jamie asked abruptly. “I could perhaps find out what he means toward you.”

Fergus’s mouth drew in a bit, then relaxed as he shook his head.

“No,” he said. “I said I had heard this man had made inquiries concerning me in Edenton?”

“Ye’re sure it is you?” Not that the ground in North Carolina crawled with Claudels, but still …

“I think so, yes.” Fergus spoke very softly, with an eye on Germain, who had started emitting soft croaks, evidently conversing with the frogs in his shirt. “The person who told me of this said that man had not only a name, but a small information, of sorts. That the Claudel Fraser he sought had been taken from Paris by a tall red-haired Scotsman. Named James Fraser. So I think you cannot speak to him, no.”

“Not without exciting his attention, no,” Jamie agreed. “But … we dinna ken what his purpose is, but it may be something of great advantage to ye, aye? How likely is it that someone in France would go to the trouble and expense of sending someone like him to do ye harm, when they could be content just to leave ye be in America?” He hesitated. “Perhaps … the Baron Amandine is some relation to ye?”

The notion seemed the stuff of romances, and likely the sheerest moonshine. But at the same time, Jamie was at a loss to think of some sensible reason for a French nobleman to be hunting a brothel-born bastard across two continents.

Fergus nodded, but didn’t reply at once. He was wearing his hook today, rather than the bran-stuffed glove he wore for formal occasions, and delicately scratched his nose with the tip before answering.

“For a long time,” he said at last, “when I was small, I pretended to myself that I was the bastard of some great man. All orphans do this, I think,” he added dispassionately. “It makes life easier to bear, to pretend that it will not always be as it is, that someone will come and restore you to your rightful place in the world.”

He shrugged.

“Then I grew older, and knew this was not true. No one would come to rescue me. But then—” He turned his head and gave Jamie a smile of surpassing sweetness.

“Then I grew older still, and discovered that, after all, it was true. I am the son of a great man.”

The hook touched Jamie’s hand, hard and capable.

“I wish for nothing more.”

AE FOND KISS

Wilmington, colony of North Carolina

April 18, 1777

THE HEADQUARTERS of the Wilmington Gazette were easy to find. The embers had cooled, but the all-too-familiar reek of burning was still thick in the air. A roughly dressed gentleman in a slouch hat was poking through the charred timbers in a dubious way, but left off at Jamie’s hailing him and made his way out of the wreckage, lifting his feet high in ginger avoidance.

“Are ye the proprietor of the newspaper, sir?” Jamie asked, extending a hand to help him over a pile of half-burnt books that sprawled over the threshold. “My sympathies, if so.”

“Oh, no,” the man replied, wiping smudges of soot from his fingers onto a large, filthy handkerchief, which he then passed to Jamie. “Amos Crupp, he’d be the printer. He’s gone, though—lit out when they burnt the shop. I’m Herbert Longfield; I own the land. Did own the shop,” he added, with a rueful glance behind him. “You wouldn’t be a salvor, would you? Got a nice lump of iron, there.”

Fergus and Marsali’s printing press was now evidently the sole press in operation between Charleston and Newport. The Gazette’s press stood twisted and blackened amid the wreckage: still recognizable, but beyond salvage as anything save scrap.

“How long ago did it happen?” I asked.

“Night before last. Just after midnight. It was well a-gone before the bucket brigade could get started.”

“An accident with the furnace?” Jamie asked. He bent and picked up one of the scattered pamphlets.

Longfield laughed cynically.

“Not from around here, are you? You said you were looking for Amos?” He glanced warily from Jamie to me and back again. He wasn’t likely to confide anything to strangers of unknown political affiliations.

“James Fraser,” Jamie said, reaching out to shake his hand firmly. “My wife, Claire. Who was it? The Sons of Liberty?”

Longfield’s eyebrows arched high.

“You really aren’t from around here.” He smiled, but not happily. “Amos was with the Sons. Not quite one of ’em, maybe, but of their mind. I told him to walk a narrow road with what he wrote and what he printed in the paper, and he mostly tried. But these days, it doesn’t take much. A whisper of treason, and a man’s beaten half to death in the street, tarred and feathered, burnt out—killed, even.”

He eyed Jamie consideringly.

“So you didn’t know Amos. May I ask what your business with him was?”

“I had a question regarding a bit of news that was published in the Gazette. Ye say Crupp’s gone. D’ye ken where I might find him? I mean him nay ill,” he added.

Mr. Longfield glanced thoughtfully at me, apparently gauging the prospects that a man bound on political violence would bring his wife along. I smiled, trying to look as respectably charming as possible, and he smiled uncertainly back. He had a long upper lip that gave him the aspect of a rather worried camel, this being substantially enhanced by his eccentric dentition.

“No, I don’t,” he said, turning back to Jamie with the air of a man making up his mind. “He did have a business partner, though, and a devil. Might be that one of them would know what you’re looking for?”

Now it was Jamie’s turn to size up Longfield. He made his own mind up in an instant, and handed the pamphlet to me.

“It might be. A small item of news regarding a house fire in the mountains was published last year. I wish to discover who might have given that item to the newspaper.”

Longfield frowned, puzzled, and scratched at his long upper lip, leaving a smudge of soot.

“I don’t recall that, myself. But then—well, I tell you what, sir. I was bound to see George Humphries—that’s Amos’s business partner—after looking over the premises …” He looked over his shoulder, grimacing. “Why don’t you come along with me and ask your question?”

“That’s most obliging of ye, sir.” Jamie flicked an eyebrow at me, as a signal that I was no longer required for window dressing and thus might go about my own business. I wished Mr. Longfield good day, accordingly, and went to forage in the fleshpots of Wilmington.

Business here was somewhat better than it was in New Bern. Wilmington had a deepwater harbor, and while the English blockade had of necessity affected importing and exporting, local boats and coastal packets still came into the port. Wilmington also was substantially larger and still boasted a thriving market in the town square, where I spent a pleasant hour collecting herbs and picking up local gossip, before acquiring a cheese roll for my lunch, whereupon I wandered down to the harbor to eat it.

I strolled casually along, hoping to spot the vessel that might be carrying us to Scotland, but saw nothing at anchor that looked in any way large enough for such a voyage. But of course—DeLancey Hall had said that we would need to embark on a small ship, perhaps his own fishing ketch, and slip out of the harbor to rendezvous with the larger ship at sea.

I sat down on a bollard to eat, drawing a small crowd of interested seagulls, who floated down like overweight snowflakes to surround me.

“Think again, mate,” I said, pointing a monitory finger at one particularly intransigent specimen, who was sidling toward my feet, eyeing my basket. “It’s my lunch.” I still had the half-burnt pamphlet Jamie had handed me; I flapped it vigorously at the gulls, who whirled up in a screech of alarm but then resettled round me, at a slightly more respectful distance, beady eyes all focused on the roll in my hand.

“Ha,” I said to them, and moved the basket behind my feet, just in case. I kept a good grip on my roll and one eye on the gulls. The other was free to survey the harbor. A British man-of-war was anchored a little way out, and the sight of the Union Jack flying from its bow gave me a peculiarly paradoxical feeling of pride and unease.

The pride was reflexive. I’d been an Englishwoman all my life. I’d served Great Britain in hospitals, on battlefields—in duty and with honor—and I’d seen many of my countrymen and women fall in that same service. While the Union Jack I saw now was slightly different in design to the one I’d lived with, it was identifiably the same flag, and I felt the same instinctive lift of the heart at sight of it.

At the same time, I was all too aware of the menace that that flag now posed to me and mine. The ship’s upper gunports were open; evidently some drill was being conducted, for I saw the cannon rolled rapidly in and out, in succession, blunt snouts poking out, then drawing in, like the heads of pugnacious gophers. There had been two men-of-war in the harbor the day before; the other had gone … where? On a particular mission—or merely cruising restlessly up and down outside the harbor mouth, ready to board, seize, fire upon, or sink any ship that looked suspicious?

I couldn’t think of anything that would look more suspicious than the ship belonging to Mr. Hall’s smuggling friend.

I thought again of the mysterious Mr. Beauchamp. France was still neutral; we would be a good deal safer in a ship flying French colors. Safer from the depredations of the British Navy, at least. As for Beauchamp’s own motives … I reluctantly accepted Fergus’s desire to have nothing to do with the man, but still wondered what on earth Beauchamp’s interest in Fergus could be.

I also still wondered whether he might have any connection to my own family of Beauchamps, but there was no way of knowing; Uncle Lamb had done a rudimentary family genealogy, I knew—mostly for my sake—but I’d paid no attention to it. Where was it now? I wondered. He’d given it to me and Frank when we married, neatly typed up and put in a manila folder.

Perhaps I’d mention Mr. Beauchamp in my next letter to Brianna. She’d have all our old family records—the boxes of ancient income-tax forms, the collections of her own schoolwork and art projects…. I smiled at the memory of the clay dinosaur she’d made at the age of eight, a toothy creature leaning drunkenly to one side, a small cylindrical object hanging from its jaws.

“That’s a mammal he’s eating,” she had informed me.

“What happened to the mammal’s legs?” I’d asked.

“They fell off when the dinosaur stepped on it.”

The memory had distracted me for a moment, and a bold gull swooped low and struck my hand, knocking the last remnant of my roll to the ground, where it was instantly engulfed by a shrieking crowd of its fellows.

I said a bad word—the gull had left a bleeding scratch across the back of my hand—and, picking up the pamphlet, flung it into the midst of the scrabbling birds. It hit one of them in the head, and the bird rolled over in a mad flutter of wings and pages that dispersed the mob, who all flapped off, yelling gull curses, leaving not a crumb behind.

“Ha,” I said again, with a certain grim satisfaction. With some obscure twentieth-century inhibition against littering—certainly no such notions existed here—I retrieved the pamphlet, which had come apart into several pieces, and tidied them back into a rough rectangle.

An Examination of Mercy, it was titled, with a subtitle reading, Thoughts upon the Nature of Divine Compassion, its Manifestation within the Human Bosom, and the Instruction of its Inspiration to the Improvement of the Individual and Mankind. Possibly not one of Mr. Crupp’s bestselling titles, I thought, stuffing it into the end of my basket.

Which led me to another thought. I wondered whether Roger would see it in an archive someday. I rather thought he might.

Did that mean that we—or I—ought to be doing things on purpose to ensure our appearance in said record? Given that most of the things that made the press in any era were war, crime, tragedy, and other hideous disasters, I rather thought not. My few brushes with notoriety had not been pleasant, and the last thing I wanted Roger to find was a report of my being hanged for bank robbery, executed for witchcraft, or having been pecked to death by vengeful gulls.

No, I concluded. I’d best just tell Bree about Mr. Beauchamp and the Beauchamp family genealogy, and if Roger wanted to poke about in that, well and good. Granted, I’d never know if he found Mr. Percival in the list, but if so, Jem and Mandy would have a little further knowledge of their family tree.

Now, where was it, that folder? The last time I’d seen it, it had been in Frank’s office, sitting on his filing cabinet. I remembered it distinctly, because Uncle Lamb had rather whimsically drawn what I assumed to be the family coat of—

“I beg your pardon, madam,” a deep voice said respectfully behind me. “I see that you—”

Jarred abruptly from my memory, I turned blankly toward the voice, thinking vaguely that I knew—

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” I blurted, leaping to my feet. “You!”

I took a step backward, stumbled over the basket, and nearly fell into the harbor, saved only by Tom Christie’s instinctive grab for my arm.

He jerked me away from the edge of the quay and I fell against his chest. He recoiled as though I were made of molten metal, then seized me in his arms, pressed me hard against himself, and kissed me with passionate abandon.

He broke off, peered into my face, and gasped, “You’re dead!”

“Well, no,” I said, stunned into apology.

“I beg—I beg your pardon,” he managed, letting his arms drop. “I—I—I—” He looked white as a ghost, and I rather thought he might fall into the harbor. I doubted that I looked much better, but I did at least have my feet under me.

“You’d better sit down,” I said.

“I—not here,” he said abruptly.

He was right. The quay was a very public place, and our little rencontre had attracted considerable notice. A couple of idlers were staring openly, nudging each other, and we were collecting slightly less-obvious glances from the traffic of merchants, seamen, and dock laborers going about their business. I was beginning to recover from the shock, enough to think.

“You have a room? Oh, no—that won’t do, will it?” I could imagine all too well what sorts of stories would be flying round town within minutes of our leaving the docks; if we left and repaired to Mr. Christie’s—I couldn’t think of him presently as anything but “Mr. Christie”—room …

“The ordinary,” I said firmly. “Come on.”

IT WAS ONLY A FEW minutes’ walk to Symonds’ ordinary, and we passed those minutes in total silence. I stole occasional glances at him, though, both to assure myself that he wasn’t a ghost and to assess his current situation.

The latter seemed tolerable; he was decently dressed in a dark gray suit, with clean linen, and if he was not fashionable—I bit my lip at the thought of Tom Christie being fashionable—he was at least not shabby.

Otherwise, he looked very much as I’d last seen him—well, no, I corrected myself. He actually looked much better. I’d last seen him in the extremity of exhausted grief, shredded by the tragedy of his daughter’s death and its subsequent complications. My last sight of him had been on the Cruizer, the British ship on which Governor Martin had taken refuge when he was driven out of the colony, almost two years ago.

At that point, Mr. Christie had declared, first, his intent to confess to the murder of his daughter—of which I was accused—secondly, his love for me, and thirdly, his intent to be executed in my place. All of which made his sudden resurrection not merely surprising but more than slightly awkward.

Adding to the awkwardness was the question as to what—if anything—he knew about the fate of his son, Allan, who had been responsible for Malva Christie’s death. The circumstances were nothing that any father ought to have to hear, and panic gripped me at the thought that I might have to tell him.

I glanced at him again. His face was deeply lined, but he was neither gaunt nor overtly haunted. He wore no wig, though his wiry salt-and-pepper hair was close-clipped as always, matching his neatly trimmed beard. My face tingled, and I barely kept myself from scrubbing my hand across my mouth to erase the feeling. He was clearly disturbed—well, so was I—but had got himself back under control, and opened the door of the ordinary for me with impeccable courtesy. Only the twitch of a muscle beside his left eye betrayed him.

I felt as though my entire body was twitching, but Phaedre, serving in the taproom, glanced at me with no more than mild interest and a cordial nod. Of course, she’d never met Thomas Christie, and while she’d doubtless heard about the scandal following my arrest, she wouldn’t connect the gentleman accompanying me with it.

We found a table by the window in the dining room, and sat down.

“I thought you were dead,” I said abruptly. “What did you mean, you thought I was dead?”

He opened his mouth to answer but was interrupted by Phaedre, who came to serve us, smiling pleasantly.

“I get you something, sir, ma’am? You wanting food? We’ve a nice ham today, roast taters, and Mrs. Symonds’s special mustard ’n raisin sauce to go along of it.”

“No,” Mr. Christie said. “I—just a cup of cider, if ye please.”

“Whisky,” I said. “A lot of it.”

Mr. Christie looked scandalized, but Phaedre only laughed and whisked off, the grace of her movement attracting the quiet admiration of most of the male patrons.

“Ye haven’t changed,” he observed. His eyes traveled over me, intense, taking in every detail of my appearance. “I ought to have known ye by your hair.”

His voice was disapproving, but tinged with a reluctant amusement; he had always been vociferous in his disapproval of my refusal to wear a cap or otherwise restrain my hair. “Wanton,” he’d called it.

“Yes, you should,” I said, reaching up to smooth the hair in question, which was considerably the worse for recent encounters. “You didn’t recognize me ’til I turned round, though, did you? What made you speak to me?”

He hesitated, but then nodded toward my basket, which I’d set on the floor beside my chair.

“I saw that ye had one of my tracts.”

“What?” I said blankly, but looked where he was looking and saw the singed pamphlet on Divine Compassion sticking out from under a cabbage. I reached down and pulled it out, only now noticing the author: by Mr. T. W. Christie, MA, University of Edinburgh.

“What does the ‘W’ stand for?” I asked, laying it down.

He blinked.

“Warren,” he replied rather gruffly. “Where in God’s name did ye come from?”

“My father always claimed he’d found me under a cabbage leaf in the garden,” I replied flippantly. “Or did you mean today? If so—the King’s Arms.”

He was beginning to look a little less shocked, his normal irritation at my lack of womanly decorum drawing his face back into its usual stern lines.

“Don’t be facetious. I was told that ye were dead,” he said, accusingly. “You and your entire family were burnt up in a fire.”

Phaedre, delivering the drinks, glanced at me, eyebrows raised.

“She ain’t looking too crispy round the edges, sir, if you pardon my mention of it.”

“Thank ye for the observation,” he said between his teeth. Phaedre exchanged a glance of amusement with me, and went off again, shaking her head.

“Who told you that?”

“A man named McCreary.”

I must have looked blank, for he added, “from Brownsville. I met him here—in Wilmington, I mean—in late January. He had just come down from the mountain, he said, and told me of the fire. Was there a fire?”

“Well, yes, there was,” I said slowly, wondering whether—and how much—to tell him of the truth of that. Very little, in a public place, I decided. “Maybe it was Mr. McCreary, then, who placed the notice of the fire in the newspaper—but he can’t have.” The original notice had appeared in 1776, Roger had said—nearly a year before the fire.

“I placed it,” Christie said. Now it was my turn to blink.

“You what? When?” I took a good-sized mouthful of whisky, feeling that I needed it more than ever.

“Directly I heard of it. Or—well, no,” he corrected. “A few days thereafter. I … was very much distressed at the news,” he added, lowering his eyes and looking away from me for the first time since we’d sat down.

“Ah. I’m sorry,” I said, lowering my own voice, and feeling rather apologetic—though why I should feel apologetic for not having been burnt up …

He cleared his throat.

“Yes. Well. It, er, seemed to me that some … something should be done. Some formal observance of your—your passing.” He looked up then, gray eyes direct. “I could not abide the thought that you—all of you,” he added, but it was clearly an afterthought, “should simply vanish from the earth, with no formal marking of the—the event.”

He took a deep breath, and a tentative sip of the cider.

“Even if a proper funeral had been held, there would be no point in my returning to Fraser’s Ridge, even if I—well. I could not. So I thought I would at least make a record of the event here. After all,” he added more softly, looking away again, “I could not lay flowers on your grave.”

The whisky had steadied me a bit, but also rasped my throat and made it difficult to talk when hampered by emotion. I reached out and touched his hand briefly, then cleared my throat, finding momentarily neutral ground.

“Your hand,” I said. “How is it?”

He looked up, surprised, but the taut lines of his face relaxed a bit.

“Very well, I thank you. See?” He turned over his right hand, displaying a large Z-shaped scar upon the palm, well healed but still pink.

“Let me see.”

His hand was cold. With an assumption of casualness, I took it in mine, turning it, bending the fingers to assess their flexibility and degree of movement. He was right: it was doing well; the movement was nearly normal.

“I—did the exercises you set me,” he blurted. “I do them every day.”

I looked up to find him regarding me with a sort of anguished solemnity, his cheeks now flushed above his beard, and realized that this ground was not nearly so neutral as I’d thought. Before I could let go his hand, it turned in mine, covering my fingers—not tightly, but sufficiently that I couldn’t free myself without a noticeable effort.

“Your husband.” He stopped dead, having obviously not thought of Jamie at all to this point. “He is alive, too?”

“Er, yes.”

To his credit, he didn’t grimace at this news, but nodded, exhaling.

“I am—glad to hear it.”

He sat in silence for a moment, looking at his undrunk cider. He was still holding my hand. Without looking up, he said in a low voice, “Does he … know? What I—how I—I did not tell him the reason for my confession. Did you?”

“You mean your”—I groped for some suitable way of putting it—“your, um, very gallant feelings toward me? Well, yes, he does; he was very sympathetic toward you. He knowing from experience what it’s like to be in love with me, I mean,” I added tartly.

He almost laughed at that, which gave me an opportunity to extricate my fingers. He did not, I noticed, inform me that he wasn’t in love with me any longer. Oh, dear.

“Well, anyway, we aren’t dead,” I said, clearing my throat again. “What about you? Last time I saw you …”

“Ah.” He looked less than happy, but gathered himself, changing gears, and nodded. “Your rather hasty departure from the Cruizer left Gover nor Martin without an amanuensis. Discovering that I was to some degree literate”—his mouth twisted a little—“and could write a fair hand, thanks to your ministrations, he had me removed from the brig.”

I wasn’t surprised at that. Driven completely out of his colony, Governor Martin was obliged to conduct his business from the tiny captain’s cabin of the British ship on which he had taken refuge. Such business perforce consisted entirely of letters—all of which must be not only composed, drafted, and fair-copied but then reproduced several times each. A copy was required first for the governor’s own official correspondence files, then for each person or entity having some interest in the subject of the letter, and, finally, several additional copies of any letters going to England or Europe must be made, because they would be sent by different ships, in hopes that at least one copy would make it through, should the others be sunk, seized by pirates or privateers, or otherwise lost in transit.

My hand ached at the mere memory of it. The exigencies of bureaucracy in a time before the magic of Xerox had kept me from rotting in a cell; no wonder they had freed Tom Christie from durance vile as well.

“You see?” I said, rather pleased. “If I hadn’t fixed your hand, he’d likely have had you either executed on the spot or at least sent back to shore and immured in some dungeon.”

“I am duly grateful,” he said, with extreme dryness. “I was not, at the time.”

Christie had spent several months as de facto secretary to the governor. In late November, though, a ship had arrived from England, bearing orders to the governor—essentially ordering him to subdue the colony, though offering no troops, armament, or useful suggestions as to how this might be managed—and an official secretary.

“At this point, the governor was faced with the prospect of disposing of me. We had … become acquainted, working in such close quarters …”

“And as you were no longer quite an anonymous murderer, he didn’t want to yank the quill out of your hand and hang you from the yardarm,” I finished for him. “Yes, he’s actually rather a kind man.”

“He is,” Christie said thoughtfully. “He has not had an easy time of it, poor fellow.”

I nodded. “He told you about his little boys?”

“Aye, he did.” His lips compressed—not out of anger, but to control his own emotion. Martin and his wife had lost three small sons, one after another, to the plagues and fevers of the colony; small wonder if hearing of the governor’s pain had reopened Tom Christie’s own wounds. He shook his head a little, though, and returned to the subject of his deliverance.

“I had … told him a bit about … about my daughter.” He picked up the barely touched cup of cider and drank half of it off at a swallow, as if dying of thirst. “I admitted privately to him that my confession had been false—though I stated also that I was certain of your innocence,” he assured me. “And if you should ever be arrested again for the crime, my confession would stand.”

“Thank you for that,” I said, and wondered with still greater uneasiness whether he knew who had killed Malva. He had to have suspected, I thought—but that was a long way from having to know, let alone having to know why. And no one knew where Allan was now—save me, Jamie, and Young Ian.

Governor Martin had received this admission with some relief, and decided that the only thing to do in the circumstances was to put Christie ashore, there to be dealt with by the civil authorities.

“There aren’t any civil authorities anymore,” I said. “Are there?”

He shook his head.

“None capable of dealing with such a matter. There are still gaols and sheriffs, but neither courts nor magistrates. Under the circumstances”—he almost smiled, dour though the expression was—“I thought it a waste of time to try to find someone to whom to surrender myself.”

“But you said you had sent a copy of your confession to the newspaper,” I said. “Weren’t you, er, received coldly by the people in New Bern?”

“By the grace of divine Providence, the newspaper there had ceased its operations before my confession was received by them, the printer being a Loyalist. I believe Mr. Ashe and his friends called upon him, and he wisely decided to find another mode of business.”

“Very wise,” I said dryly. John Ashe was a friend of Jamie’s, a leading light of the local Sons of Liberty, and the man who had instigated the burning of Fort Johnston and effectively driven Governor Martin into the sea.

“There was some gossip,” he said, looking away again, “but it was overwhelmed by the rush of public events. No one quite knew what had happened on Fraser’s Ridge, and after a time it became fixed in everyone’s mind simply that some personal tragedy had befallen me. People came to regard me with a sort of … sympathy.” His mouth twisted; he wasn’t the sort to receive sympathy with any graciousness.

“You seem to be thriving,” I said, with a nod at his suit. “Or at least you aren’t sleeping in the gutter and living off discarded fish heads from the docks. I had no idea that the tract-writing business was profitable.”

He’d gone back to his normal color during the previous conversation, but flushed up again at this—with annoyance, this time.

“It isn’t,” he snapped. “I take pupils. And I—I preach of a Sunday.”

“I can’t imagine anyone better for the job,” I said, amused. “You’ve always had a talent for telling everyone what’s wrong with them in Biblical terms. Have you become a clergyman, then?”

His color grew deeper, but he choked down his choler and answered me evenly.

“I was nearly destitute upon my arrival here. Fish heads, as you say—and the occasional bit of bread or soup given by a New Light congregation. I came in order to eat, but remained for the service out of courtesy. I thus heard a sermon given by the Reverend Peterson. It—remained with me. I sought him out, and we … spoke. One thing led to another.” He glanced up at me, his eyes fierce. “The Lord does answer prayer, ye know.”

“What had you prayed for?” I asked, intrigued.

That took him back a bit, though it had been an innocent question, asked from simple curiosity.

“I—I—” He broke off and stared at me, frowning. “You are a most uncomfortable woman!”

“You wouldn’t be the first person to think so,” I assured him. “And I don’t mean to pry. I just … wondered.”

I could see the urge to get up and leave warring with the compulsion to bear witness to whatever had happened to him. But he was a stubborn man, and he stayed put.

“I … asked why,” he said at last, very evenly. “That’s all.”

“Well, it worked for Job,” I observed. He looked startled, and I nearly laughed; he was always startled at the revelation that anyone other than himself had read the Bible. He got a grip, though, and glowered at me in something more like his usual fashion.

“And now you are here,” he said, making it sound like an accusation. “I suppose your husband has formed a militia—or joined one. I have had enough of war. I am surprised that your husband has not.”

“I don’t think it’s precisely a taste for war,” I said. I spoke with an edge, but something in him compelled me to add, “It’s that he feels he was born to it.”

Something flickered deep in Tom Christie’s eyes—surprise? Acknowledgment?

“He is,” he said quietly. “But surely—” He didn’t finish the thought, but instead asked abruptly, “What are you doing here, though? In Wilmington?”

“Looking for a ship,” I said. “We’re going to Scotland.”

I’d always had a talent for startling him, but this one took the biscuit. He had lifted his mug to drink, but upon hearing my declaration, abruptly spewed cider across the table. The subsequent choking and wheezing attracted a good bit of attention, and I sat back, trying to look less conspicuous.

“Er … we’ll be going to Edinburgh, for my husband’s printing press,” I said. “Is there anyone you’d like me to see for you? Deliver a message, I mean? You have a brother there, I think you said.”

His head shot up and he glared at me, eyes streaming. I felt a spasm of horror at the sudden recollection and could have bitten my tongue off at the root. His brother had had an affair with Tom’s wife while Tom was imprisoned in the Highlands after the Rising, and his wife had then poisoned his brother and subsequently been executed for witchcraft.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, low-voiced. “Forgive me, please. I didn’t—”

He seized my hand in both of his, so hard and so abruptly that I gasped, and a few heads turned curiously in our direction. He paid no attention, but leaned toward me across the table.

“Listen to me,” he said, low and fierce. “I have loved three women. One was a witch and a whore, the second only a whore. Ye well may be a witch yourself, but it makes nay whit o’ difference. The love of you has led me to my salvation, and to what I thought was my peace, once I thought ye dead.”

He stared at me and shook his head slowly, his mouth going tight for a moment in the seam of his beard.

“And here you are.”

“Er … yes.” I felt once more as though I should apologize for not being dead, but didn’t.

He drew a deep breath and let it out in a sigh.

“I shall have no peace while ye live, woman.”

Then he lifted my hand and kissed it, stood up, and walked away.

“Mind,” he said, turning at the door to look back at me over his shoulder, “I dinna say I regret it.”

I picked up the glass of whisky and drained it.

I WENT ABOUT THE REST of my errands in a daze—not entirely induced by whisky. I hadn’t any idea what to think of the resurrection of Tom Christie, but was thoroughly unsettled by it. Still, there seemed nothing, really, to do about him, and so I went on to the shop of Stephen Moray, a silversmith from Fife, to commission a pair of surgical scissors. Luckily, he proved an intelligent man, who appeared to understand both my specifications and the purpose behind them, and promised to have the scissors made within three days. Heartened by this, I ventured a slightly more problematic commission.

“Needles?” Moray knit his white brows in puzzlement. “Ye dinna require a silversmith for—”

“Not sewing needles. These are longer, quite thin, and without an eye. They have a medical purpose. And I should like you to make them from this.”

His eyes went wide as I laid what appeared to be a gold nugget the size of a walnut on the counter. It was in fact a bit of one of the French ingots, hacked off and hammered into a lump, then rubbed with dirt by way of disguise.

“My husband won it in a card game,” I said, with the tone of mingled pride and apology that seemed appropriate to such an admission. I didn’t want anyone thinking that there was gold on Fraser’s Ridge—in any form. Boosting Jamie’s reputation as a card player wasn’t likely to do any harm; he was already well known—if not quite notorious—for his abilities in that line.

Moray frowned a bit over the written specifications for the acupuncture needles, but agreed to make them. Luckily, he appeared never to have heard of voodoo dolls, or I might have had a bit more trouble.

With the visit to the silversmith and a quick trip through the market square for spring onions, cheese, peppermint leaves, and anything else available in the herbal line, it was late afternoon before I came back to the King’s Arms.

Jamie was playing cards in the taproom, with Young Ian watching over his shoulder, but he saw me come in and, giving over his hand to Ian, came to take my basket, following me up the stairs to our room.

I turned round inside the door, but before I could speak, he said, “I know Tom Christie’s alive. I met him in the street.”

“He kissed me,” I blurted.

“Aye, I heard,” he said, eyeing me with what might have been amusement. For some reason, I found that very annoying. He saw that, and the amusement deepened.

“Like it, did ye?”

“It wasn’t funny!”

The amusement didn’t go away, but it retreated a bit.

“Did ye like it?” he repeated, but now there was curiosity in his voice, rather than teasing.

“No.” I turned away abruptly. “That—I hadn’t time to … to think about it.”

Without warning, he put a hand behind my neck and kissed me briefly. And by simple reflex, I slapped him. Not hard—I’d tried to pull back even as I struck—and clearly I hadn’t hurt him. I was as surprised and discomfited as though I’d knocked him flat.

“Doesna take much thought, does it?” he said lightly, and stepped back, surveying me with interest.

“I’m sorry,” I said, feeling simultaneously mortified and angry—and angrier still in that I didn’t understand why I was angry in the slightest. “I didn’t mean to—I’m sorry.”

He tilted his head to one side, eyeing me.

“Had I better go and kill him?”

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous.” I fidgeted, untying my pocket, not wanting to meet his eyes. I was prickly, discomfited, irritated—and the more discomfited by not really knowing why.

“It was an honest question, Sassenach,” he said quietly. “Not a serious one, maybe—but honest. I think ye maybe owe me an honest answer.”

“Of course I don’t want you to kill him!”

“D’ye want me to tell you why ye slapped me, instead?”

“Why—” I stood with my mouth open for a second, then closed it. “Yes. I do.”

“I touched ye against your will,” he said, his eyes intent on mine. “Didn’t I?”

“You did,” I said, and breathed a little easier. “And so did Tom Christie. And, no, I didn’t like it.”

“But not on Tom’s account,” he finished. “Poor fellow.”

“He wouldn’t want your sympathy,” I said tartly, and he smiled.

“He would not. But he’s got it, nonetheless. Still, I’m glad of it,” he added.

“Glad of what? That he’s alive—or—surely not that he thinks he’s in love with me?” I said, incredulous.

“Dinna belittle his feelings, Sassenach,” he said, more quietly. “He’s laid down his life for ye once. I’d trust him to do it again.”

“I didn’t want him to do it the first time!”

“You’re bothered,” he said, in a tone of clinical interest.

“Yes, I am bloody bothered!” I said. “And”—the thought struck me and I gave him a hard look—“so are you.” I recalled suddenly that he’d said he’d met Tom Christie in the street. What had Tom said to him?

He tilted his head in mild negation, but didn’t deny it.

“I willna say I like Thomas Christie,” he said consideringly, “but I respect him. And I am verra much pleased to find him alive. Ye didna do wrong to grieve him, Sassenach,” he said gently. “I did, too.”

“I hadn’t even thought of that.” In the shock of seeing him, I hadn’t remembered, but I’d wept for him—and for his children. “I don’t regret it, though.”

“Good. The thing about Tom Christie,” he went on, “is that he wants ye. Badly. But he doesna ken a thing about you.”

“And you do.” I left it somewhere between question and challenge, and he smiled. He turned and shot the bolt on the door, then crossed the room and drew the calico curtain on the one small window, casting the room into a pleasant blue dimness.

“Oh, I’ve need and want in plenty—but I’ve knowing, too.” He was standing very close, close enough that I had to look up to him. “I’ve never kissed ye without knowing who ye were—and that’s a thing poor Tom will never know.” God, what had Tom told him?

My pulse, which had been jumping up and down, settled down to a quick, light thump, discernible in my fingertips.

“You didn’t know a thing about me when you married me.”

His hand closed gently on my behind.

“No?”

“Besides that, I mean!”

He made a small Scottish sound in his throat, not quite a chuckle.

“Aye, well, it’s a wise man who kens what he doesna know—and I learn fast, a nighean.”

He drew me gently close then, and kissed me—with thought and tenderness, with knowing—and with my full consent. It didn’t obliterate my memory of Tom Christie’s impassioned, blundering embrace, and I thought it wasn’t meant to; it was meant to show me the difference.

“You can’t be jealous,” I said, a moment later.

“I can,” he said, not joking.

“You can’t possibly think—”

“I don’t.”

“Well, then—”

“Well, then.” His eyes were dark as seawater in the dimness, but the expression in them was entirely readable, and my heart beat faster. “I ken what ye feel for Tom Christie—and he told me plain what he feels for you. Surely ye ken that love’s nothing to do wi’ logic, Sassenach?”

Knowing a rhetorical question when I heard one, I didn’t bother answering that, but instead reached out and tidily unbuttoned his shirt. There was nothing I could reasonably say about Tom Christie’s feelings, but I had another language in which to express my own. His heart was beating fast; I could feel it as though I held it in my hand. Mine was, too, but I breathed deep and took comfort in the warm familiarity of his body, the soft crispness of the cinnamon-colored hairs of his chest, and the gooseflesh that raised them under my fingers. While I was thus engaged, he slid his fingers into my hair, separating a lock which he viewed appraisingly.

“It’s not gone white yet. I suppose I’ve a little time, then, before ye get too dangerous for me to bed.”

“Dangerous, forsooth,” I said, setting to work on the buttons of his breeks. I wished he had on his kilt. “Exactly what do you think I might do to you in bed?”

He scratched his chest consideringly, and rubbed absently at the tiny knot of scar tissue where he’d cut Jack Randall’s brand from his flesh.

“Well, so far, ye’ve clawed me, bitten me, stabbed me—more than once—and—”

“I have not stabbed you!”

“Ye did, too,” he informed me. “Ye stabbed me in the backside wi’ your nasty wee needle spikes—fifteen times! I counted—and then a dozen times or more in the leg with a rattlesnake’s fang.”

“I was saving your bloody life!”

“I didna say otherwise, did I? Ye’re no going to deny ye enjoyed it, though, are ye?”

“Well … not the rattlesnake fang, so much. As for the hypodermic …” My mouth twitched, despite myself. “You deserved it.”

He gave me a look of profound cynicism.

“Do nay harm, is it?”

“Besides, you were counting what I’d done to you in bed,” I said, neatly returning to the point. “You can’t count the shots.”

“I was in bed!”

“I wasn’t!”

“Aye, ye took unfair advantage,” he said, nodding. “I wouldna hold that against ye, though.”

He’d got my jacket off and was busily untying my laces, head bent in absorption.

“How’d you like it if I were jealous?” I asked the crown of his head.

“I’d like that fine,” he replied, breath warm on my exposed flesh. “And ye were. Of Laoghaire.” He looked up, grinning, eyebrow raised. “Maybe ye still are?”

I slapped him again, and this time I meant it. He could have stopped me but didn’t.

“Aye, that’s what I thought,” he said, wiping a watering eye. “Will ye come to bed wi’ me, then? It’ll be just us,” he added.

IT WAS LATE WHEN I woke; the room was dark, though a slice of fading sky showed at the top of the curtain. The fire hadn’t yet been lit and the room was chilly, but it was warm and cozy under the quilts, snug against Jamie’s body. He had turned onto his side, and I curled spoonlike against his back and put my arm over him, feeling the gentle rise and fall of his breath.

It had been just us. I’d worried, at the start, that the memory of Tom Christie and his awkward passion might fall between us—but Jamie, evidently thinking the same thing and determined to avoid any echo of Tom’s embrace that might remind me, had started at the other end, kissing my toes.

Given the size of the room and the fact that the bed was jammed tightly into one end of it, he had been obliged to straddle me in order to do this, and the combination of having my feet nibbled and the view from directly behind and beneath a naked Scotsman had been sufficient to remove anything else from my head.

Warm, safe, and calm now, I could think about the earlier encounter without feeling threatened, though. And I had felt threatened. Jamie had seen that. D’ye want me to tell you why ye slapped me? … I touched ye against your will.

He was right; it was one of the minor aftereffects of what had happened to me when I had been abducted. Crowds of men made me nervous with no cause, and being grabbed unexpectedly made me recoil and jerk away in panic. Why hadn’t I seen that?

Because I didn’t want to think about it, that’s why. I still didn’t. What good would thinking do? Let things heal on their own, if they would.

But even things that heal leave scars. The evidence of that was literally in front of my face—pressed against it, in fact.

The scars on Jamie’s back had faded into a pale spiderweb, with only a slight raised bit here or there, ridged under my fingers when we made love, like barbed wire beneath his skin. I remembered Tom Christie taunting him about them once, and my jaw tightened.

I laid a hand softly on his back, tracing one pale loop with my thumb. He twitched in his sleep and I stilled, hand flat.

What might be coming? I wondered. For him. For me. I heard Tom Christie’s sarcastic voice: I have had enough of war. I am surprised that your husband has not.

“Well enough for you,” I muttered under my breath. “Coward.” Tom Christie had been imprisoned as a Jacobite—which he was, but not a soldier. He’d been a commissary supply officer in Charles Stuart’s army. He’d risked his wealth and his position—and lost both—but not his life or body.

Still, Jamie did respect him—which meant something, Jamie being no mean judge of character. And I knew enough from watching Roger to realize that becoming a clergyman was not the easy path that some people thought it. Roger was not a coward, either, and I wondered how he would find his path in the future?

I turned over, restless. Supper was being prepared; I could smell the rich, saltwater smell of fried oysters from the kitchen below, borne on a wave of woodsmoke and roasting potatoes.

Jamie stirred a little and rolled onto his back, but didn’t wake. Time enough. He was dreaming; I could see the movement of his eyes, twitching beneath sealed lids, and the momentary tightening of his lips.

His body tightened, too, suddenly hard beside me, and I jerked back, startled. He growled low in his throat, and his body arched with effort. He was making strangled noises, whether shouting or screaming in his dream I didn’t know, and didn’t wait to find out.

“Jamie—wake up!” I said sharply. I didn’t touch him—I knew better than to do that while he was in the grip of a violent dream; he’d nearly broken my nose once or twice. “Wake up!”

He gasped, caught his breath, and opened unfocused eyes. Plainly he didn’t know where he was, and I spoke to him more gently, repeating his name, reassuring him that he was all right. He blinked, swallowed heavily, then turned his head and saw me.

“Claire,” I said helpfully, seeing him groping for my name.

“Good,” he said hoarsely. He closed his eyes, shook his head, and then opened them again. “All right, Sassenach?”

“Yes. You?”

He nodded, closing his eyes again briefly.

“Aye, fine. I was dreaming about the house burning. Fighting.” He sniffed. “Is something burning?”

“Supper, at a guess.” The savory smells from below had in fact been interrupted by the acrid stench of smoke and scorched food. “I think the stewpot boiled over.”

“Perhaps we’ll eat elsewhere tonight.”

“Phaedre said Mrs. Symonds had baked ham with mustard and raisin sauce at noon. There might be some left. Are you all right?” I asked again. The room was cold, but his face and breast were sheened with sweat.

“Oh, aye,” he replied, sitting up and rubbing his hands vigorously through his hair. “That sort of dream, I can live with.” He shoved his hair out of his face and smiled at me. “Ye look like a milkweed puff, Sassenach. Were ye sleeping restless, too?”

“No,” I told him, getting up and pulling my shift on before groping for my hairbrush. “It was the restless part before we fell asleep. Or do you not remember that bit?”

He laughed, wiped his face, and got up to use the chamber pot, then pulled his shirt on.

“What about the other dreams?” I asked abruptly.

“What?” He emerged from the shirt, looking quizzical.

“You said, ‘That sort of dream, I can live with.’ What about the ones you can’t live with?”

I saw the lines of his face shiver like the surface of water when you’ve thrown a pebble into it, and on impulse, reached out and clutched his wrist.

“Don’t hide,” I said softly. I held his eyes with mine, keeping him from raising his mask. “Trust me.”

He did look away then, but only to gather himself; he didn’t hide. When he glanced back at me, it was all still there in his eyes—confusion, embarrassment, humiliation, and the vestiges of a pain long suppressed.

“I dream … sometimes …” he said haltingly, “about things that were done to me against my will.” He breathed through his nose, deep, exasperated. “And I wake from it with a cockstand and my balls throbbing and I want to go and kill someone, starting with myself,” he ended in a rush, grimacing.

“It doesna happen often,” he added, giving me a brief, direct look. “And I never … I would never turn to you in the wake of such a thing. Ye should know that.”

I tightened my grip on his wrist. I wanted to say, “You could—I wouldn’t mind,” for that was the truth, and once I would have said it without hesitation. But I knew a great deal more now, and had it been me, had I ever dreamed of Harley Boble or the heavy, soft-bodied man and wakened from it aroused—and thank God I never had—no, the last thing I would ever have done would be to take that feeling and turn to Jamie, or use his body to purge it.

“Thank you,” I said instead, quietly. “For telling me,” I added. “And for the knife.”

He nodded, and turned to pick up his breeks.

“I like ham,” he said.

I REGRET …

Long Island, colony of New York

September 1776

WILLIAM WISHED he could speak to his father. It wasn’t, he assured himself, that he wanted Lord John to exert any influence; certainly not. He just wanted a bit of practical advice. Lord John had returned to England, though, and William was on his own.

Well, not precisely on his own. He was at the moment in charge of a detachment of soldiers guarding a customs checkpoint on the edge of Long Island. He slapped viciously at a mosquito that lighted on his wrist, and, for once, obliterated it. He wished he could do the same to Clarewell.

Lieutenant Edward Markham, Marquis of Clarewell. Otherwise known—to William and a couple of his more intimate friends—as Chinless Ned, or the Ponce. William swatted at a crawling sensation on his own prominent jaw, noticed that two of his men had momentarily disappeared, and stalked toward the wagon they had been inspecting, bellowing their names.

Private Welch appeared from behind the wagon like a jack-in-the-box, looking startled and wiping his mouth. William leaned forward, sniffed his breath, and said briefly, “Charges. Where’s Launfal?”

In the wagon, hastily concluding a bargain with the wagon’s owner for three bottles of the contraband brandywine that gentleman was seeking to illicitly import. William, grimly slapping at the man-eating hordes of mosquitoes that swarmed out of the nearby marshes, arrested the wagoneer, summoned the other three men of his detail, and told them off to escort the smuggler, Welch, and Launfal to the sergeant. He took up a musket then and stood in the middle of the road, alone and ferocious, his attitude daring anyone to try to pass.

Ironically, though the road had been busy all morning, no one did try for some time, giving him opportunity to refocus his bad temper on the thought of Clarewell.

Heir of a very influential family, and one with intimate ties to Lord North, Chinless Ned had arrived in New York a week before William and likewise been placed on Howe’s staff, where he had nestled cozily into the woodwork, smarming round General Howe—who, to his credit, tended to blink and stare hard at the Ponce, as though trying to remember who the devil he was—and Captain Pickering, the general’s chief aide-de-camp, a vain man, and one much more susceptible to Ned’s enthusiastic arse-creeping.

As a result, Chinless had been routinely bagging the choicer assignments, riding with the general on short exploratory expeditions, attending him in meetings with Indian dignitaries and the like, while William and several other junior officers were left to shuffle papers and kick their heels. Hard cheese, after the freedoms and excitements of intelligencing.

He could have stood the constraints of life in quarters and army bureaucracy. His father had schooled him thoroughly in the necessity of restraint in trying circumstances, the withstanding of boredom, the handling of dolts, and the art of icy politeness as a weapon. Someone lacking William’s strength of character, though, had snapped one day and, unable to resist the possibilities for caricature conjured up by a contemplation of Ned’s profile, had drawn a cartoon of Captain Pickering with his breeches round his ankles, engaged in lecturing the junior staff and apparently ignorant of the Ponce, emergent headfirst and smirking from Pickering’s arse.

William had not drawn this bit of diversion—though he rather wished he had—but had been discovered laughing at it by Ned himself, who—in a rare show of manliness—had punched William in the nose. The resultant brawl had cleared the junior officers’ quarters, broken a few inconsequent items of furniture, and resulted in William, dripping blood onto his shirtfront, standing to attention in front of a cold-eyed Captain Pickering, the scurrilous cartoon laid out in evidence on the desk.

William had, of course, denied authorship of the thing but declined to identify the artist. He’d used the icy-politeness thing, which had worked to the extent that Pickering had not in fact sent William to the stockade. Merely to Long Island.

“Frigging fart-catcher,” he muttered, glaring at an approaching milkmaid with such ferocity that she stopped dead, then edged past him, eyeing him with a wide-eyed alarm that suggested she thought he might explode. He bared his teeth at her, and she emitted a startled squeak and scuttled off so fast that some of her milk slopped out of the buckets she carried on a yoke across her shoulders.

That made him repentant; he wished he could follow her and apologize. But he couldn’t; a pair of drovers were coming down the road toward him, bringing in a herd of pigs. William took one look at the oncoming mass of heaving, squealing, spotted hog flesh, tatter-eared and mud-besmeared, and hopped nimbly up onto the bucket that served as his command post. The drovers waved gaily at him, shouting what might be either greetings or insults—he wasn’t sure they were even speaking English, and didn’t care to find out.

The pigs passed, leaving him amid a sea of hoof-churned mud, liberally scattered with fresh droppings. He slapped at the cloud of mosquitoes that had regathered inquisitively round his head, and thought that he’d had just about enough. He’d been on Long Island for two weeks—which was thirteen and a half days too long. Not quite long enough yet to make him apologize to either Chinless or the captain, though.

“Lickspittle,” he muttered.

He did have an alternative. And the longer he spent out here with the mosquitoes, the more attractive it began to look.

It was far too long a ride from his customs outpost to headquarters to make the journey twice each day. In consequence, he’d been temporarily billeted on a man called Culper and his two sisters. Culper wasn’t best pleased; his left eye began to twitch whenever he saw William, but the two elderly ladies made much of him, and he returned the favor when he could, bringing them the odd confiscated ham or flask of cambric. He’d come in the night before with a flitch of good bacon, to have Miss Abigail Culper inform him in a whisper that he had a visitor.

“Out a-smoking in the yard,” she’d said, inclining her bonneted head toward the side of the house. “Sister wouldn’t let him smoke in the house, I’m afraid.”

He’d expected to find one of his friends, come to bear him company or perhaps with news of an official pardon that would bring him back from exile on Long Island. Instead, he’d found Captain Richardson, pipe in hand, meditatively watching the Culpers’ rooster tread a hen.

“Pleasures of a bucolic life,” the captain remarked, as the rooster fell off backward. The cock staggered to his feet and crowed in disheveled triumph, while the hen shook her feathers into order and resumed pecking as though nothing had happened. “Very quiet out here, is it not?”

“Oh, yes,” William said. “Your servant, sir.”

In fact, it was not. Miss Beulah Culper kept a half-dozen goats, who blatted day and night, though Miss Beulah assured William that they served to keep thieves out of the corncrib. One of the creatures at this point gave a wild braying laugh from its pen, causing Captain Richardson to drop his tobacco pouch. Several more of the goats commenced to utter loud mehs, as though jeering.

William bent and picked the pouch up, keeping his face tactfully blank, though his heart was pounding. Richardson hadn’t come all the way out to Long Island simply to pass the time.

“Christ,” Richardson muttered, with a look at the goats. He shook his head, and gestured toward the road. “Will you walk a bit with me, Lieutenant?”

William would, gladly.

“I heard a bit regarding your present situation.” Richardson smiled. “I’ll have a word with Captain Pickering, if you like.”

“That’s very kind of you, sir,” William said. “But I’m afraid I can’t apologize for something I haven’t done.”

Richardson waved his pipe, dismissing it. “Pickering’s got a short temper, but he doesn’t hold a grudge. I’ll see to it.”

“Thank you, sir.” And what do you want in return? William thought.

“There is a Captain Randall-Isaacs,” Richardson said casually, “who is traveling within the month to Canada, where he has some military business to transact. While there, though, it is possible that he will meet with … a certain person who may provide the army with valuable information. I have some reason to suppose that this person has little English, though—and Captain Randall-Isaacs, alas, has no French. A traveling companion fluent in that language might be … useful.”

William nodded, but asked no questions. Time enough for that, if he decided to accept Richardson’s commission.

They exchanged commonplaces for the remainder of the walk back, whereupon Richardson politely declined Miss Beulah’s invitation to take supper, and left with a reiterated promise to speak to Captain Pickering.

Should he do it? William wondered later, listening to Abel Culper’s wheezing snores below. The moon was full, and while the loft had no windows, he could feel its pull; he never could sleep when the moon was full.

Ought he to hang on in New York, in hopes either of improving his position, or at least of eventually seeing some action? Or cut his losses and take Richardson’s new commission?

His father would doubtless advise the former course of action; an officer’s best chance of advancement and notice lay in distinguishing himself in battle, not in the shady—and vaguely disreputable—realm of intelligencing. Still … the routine and constraints of the army chafed, rather, after his weeks of freedom. And he had been useful, he knew.

What difference could one lieutenant make, buried under the crushing weight of the ranks above him, perhaps given command of his own companies but still obliged to follow orders, never allowed to act according to his own judgment…. He grinned up at the rafters, dimly visible a foot above his face, thinking what his uncle Hal might have to say regarding the judgment of junior officers.

But Uncle Hal was much more than simply a career soldier; he cared passionately for his regiment: its welfare, its honor, the men under his command. William had not really thought beyond the immediate future in terms of his own career with the army. The American campaign wouldn’t last long; what next?

He was rich—or would be, when he achieved his majority, and that wasn’t far off, though it seemed like one of those pictures his father was fond of, with a vanishing perspective that led the eye into an impossible infinity. But when he did have his money, he could buy a better commission where he liked—perhaps a captaincy in the Lancers…. It wouldn’t matter whether he’d done anything to distinguish himself in New York.

His father—William could hear him now, and put the pillow over his face to drown him out—would tell him that reputation depended often on the smallest of actions, the daily decisions made with honor and responsibility, not the huge drama of heroic battles. William was not interested in daily responsibility.

It was, however, much too hot to stay under the pillow, and he threw it off onto the floor with an irritable grunt.

“No,” he said aloud to Lord John. “I’m going to Canada,” and flopped back into his damp and lumpy bed, shutting eyes and ears against any further wise counsel.

A WEEK LATER, the nights had grown chilly enough to make William welcome Miss Beulah’s hearth and her oyster stew—and, thank God, cold enough to discourage the damned mosquitoes. The days were still very warm, though, and William found it almost a pleasure when his detail was told off to comb the shore in search of a supposed smuggler’s cache that Captain Hanks had caught wind of.

“A cache of what?” Perkins asked, mouth hanging half open as usual.

“Lobsters,” William answered flippantly, but relented at Perkins’s look of confusion. “I don’t know, but you’ll probably recognize it if you find it. Don’t drink it, though—come fetch me.”

Smugglers’ boats brought almost everything into Long Island, but the odds of the current rumor concerning a cache of bed linens or boxes of Dutch platters were low. Might be brandy, might be ale, but almost certainly something drinkable; liquor was by far the most profitable contraband. William sorted the men into pairs and sent them off, watching until they were a decent distance away before heaving a deep sigh and leaning back against a tree.

Such trees as grew near the shore here were runty twisted pines, but the sea wind moved pleasantly among their needles, soughing in his ears with a soothing rush. He sighed again, this time in pleasure, remembering just how much he liked solitude; he hadn’t had any in a month. If he took Richardson’s offer, though … Well, there’d be Randall-Isaacs, of course, but still—weeks on the road, free of the army constraints of duty and routine. Silence in which to think. No more Perkins!

He wondered idly whether he might be able to sneak into the junior officers’ quarters and pound Chinless to a pulp before vanishing into the wilderness like a red Indian. Need he wear a disguise? Not if he waited ’til after dark, he decided. Ned might suspect, but couldn’t prove anything if he couldn’t see William’s face. Was it cowardly to attack Ned in his sleep, though? Well, that was all right; he’d douse Chinless with the contents of his chamber pot to wake him up before setting in.

A tern swept by within inches of his head, startling him out of these enjoyable cogitations. His movement in turn startled the bird, which let out an indignant shriek at finding him not edible after all and sailed off over the water. He scooped up a pinecone and flung it at the bird, missing by a mile, but not caring. He’d send a note to Richardson this very evening, saying yes. The thought of it made his heart beat faster, and a sense of exhilaration filled him, buoyant as the tern’s drift upon the air.

He rubbed sand off his fingers onto his breeches, then stiffened, seeing movement on the water. A sloop was tacking to and fro, just offshore. Then he relaxed, recognizing it—that villain Rogers.

“And what are you after, I should like to know?” he muttered. He stepped out onto the sandy edge of the shore and stood amid the marram grass, fists on his hips, letting his uniform be seen—just in case Rogers had somehow missed the sight of William’s men strung all down the shore, reddish dots crawling over the sandy dunes like bedbugs. If Rogers had heard about the smuggler’s cache, too, William meant to make sure Rogers knew that William’s soldiers had rights over it.

Robert Rogers was a shady character who’d come slinking into New York a few months before and somehow wangled a major’s commission from General Howe and a sloop from his brother, the admiral. Said he was an Indian fighter, and was fond of dressing up as an Indian himself. Effective, though: he’d recruited men enough to form ten companies of nattily uniformed rangers, but Rogers continued to prowl the coastline in his sloop with a small company of men as disreputable-looking as he was, looking for recruits, spies, smugglers, and—William was convinced—anything that wasn’t nailed down.

The sloop came in a little closer, and he saw Rogers on deck: a dark-skinned man in his late forties, seamed and battered-looking, with an evil cast to his brow. He spotted William, though, and waved genially. William raised a civil hand in reply; if his men found anything, he might need Rogers to carry the booty back to the New York side—accompanied by a guard to keep it from disappearing en route.

There were a lot of stories about Rogers—some plainly put about by Rogers himself. But so far as William knew, the man’s chief qualification was that he had at one point attempted to pay his respects to General Washington, who not only declined to receive him but had him slung unceremoniously out of the Continentals’ camp and refused further entry. William considered this evidence of good judgment on the part of the Virginian.

Now what? The sloop had dropped her sails, and was putting out a small boat. It was Rogers, rowing over on his own. William’s wariness was roused at once. Still, he waded in and grabbed the gunwale, helping Rogers to drag the boat up onto the sand.

“Well met, Lieutenant!” Rogers grinned at him, gap-toothed but self-confident. William saluted him briefly and formally.

“Major.”

“Your fellows looking for a cache of French wine, by chance?”

Damn, he’d already found it!

“We had word of smuggling activities taking place in this vicinity,” William said stiffly. “We are investigating.”

“’Course you are,” Rogers agreed amiably. “Save you a bit of time? Try up the other way …” He turned, lifting his chin toward a cluster of dilapidated fishing shacks a quarter mile in the distance. “It’s—”

“We did,” William interrupted.

“It’s buried in the sand behind the shacks,” Rogers finished, ignoring the interruption.

“Much obliged, Major,” William said, with as much cordiality as he could manage.

“Saw two fellows a-burying it last evening,” Rogers explained. “But I don’t think they’ve come back for it yet.”

“You’re keeping an eye on this stretch of shore, I see,” William observed. “Anything in particular you’re looking for? Sir,” he added.

Rogers smiled.

“Since you mention it, sir, I am. There’s a fellow walking round asking questions of a damnable inquisitive sort, and I should very much like to talk to him. If might be as you or your men should spot the man … ?”

“Certainly, sir. Do you know his name, or his appearance?”

“Both, as it happens,” Rogers replied promptly. “Tall fellow, with scars upon his face from a gunpowder explosion. You’d know him if you saw him. A rebel, from a rebel family in Connecticut—Hale is his name.”

William experienced a sharp jolt to the midsection.

“Oh, you have seen him?” Rogers spoke mildly, but his dark eyes had sharpened. William felt a stab of annoyance that his face should be so readable, but inclined his head.

“He passed the customs point yesterday. Very voluble fellow,” he added, trying to recall the details of the man. He’d noticed the scars: faded welts that mottled the man’s cheeks and forehead. “Nervous; he was sweating and his voice shook—the private who stopped him thought he had tobacco or something else concealed, and made him turn out his pockets, but he hadn’t any contraband.” William closed his eyes, frowning in the effort of recall. “He had papers…. I saw them.” He’d seen them, all right, but had not had the chance to examine them himself, as he’d been concerned with a merchant bringing in a cartload of cheeses, bound—he said—for the British commissary. By the time he’d done with that, the man had been waved on.

“The man who spoke with him …” Rogers was peering down the shore toward the desultory searchers in the distance. “Which is he?”

“A private soldier named Hudson. I’ll call him for you if you like,” William offered. “But I doubt he can tell you much about the papers; he can’t read.”

Rogers looked vexed at this, but nodded for William to call Hudson anyway. Thus summoned, Hudson verified William’s account of the matter, but could recall nothing regarding the papers, save that one of the sheets had had some numbers written upon it. “And a drawing, I think,” he added. “Didn’t notice what it was, though, sir, I’m afraid.”

“Numbers, eh? Good, good,” Rogers said, all but rubbing his hands together. “And did he say whence he was bound?”

“To visit a friend, sir, as lived near Flushing.” Hudson was respectful, but looked curiously at the ranger; Rogers was barefoot and dressed in a pair of ratty linen breeches with a short waistcoat made of muskrat fur. “I didn’t ask the friend’s name, sir. Didn’t know as it might be important.”

“Oh, I doubt it is, Private. Doubt the friend exists at all.” Rogers chuckled, seeming delighted at the news. He stared into the hazy distance, eyes narrowed as though he might distinguish the spy among the dunes, and nodded slowly in satisfaction.

“Very good,” he said softly, as though to himself, and was turning to go when William stopped him with a word.

“My thanks for the information regarding the smuggler’s cache, sir.” Perkins had overseen the digging whilst William and Rogers were interviewing Hudson, and was now chivying a small group of soldiers along, several sand-caked casks rolling bumpily down the dunes before them. One of the casks hit a hard spot in the sand, bounced into the air, and landed hard, rolling off at a crazy angle, pursued with whoops by the soldiers.

William flinched slightly, seeing this. If the wine survived its rescue, it wouldn’t be drinkable for a fortnight. Not that that was likely to stop anyone trying.

“I should like to request permission to bring the seized contraband aboard your sloop for transport,” he said formally to Rogers. “I will accompany and deliver it myself, of course.”

“Oh, of course.” Rogers seemed amused, but nodded agreement. He scratched his nose, considering something. “We shan’t be sailing back until tomorrow—d’you want to come along of us tonight? You might be of help, as you’ve actually seen the fellow we’re after.”

William’s heart leapt with excitement. Miss Beulah’s stew paled in comparison with the prospect of hunting a dangerous spy. And being in at the capture could do nothing but good to his reputation, even if the major share of the credit was Rogers’s.

“I should be more than pleased to assist you in any way, sir!”

Rogers grinned, then eyed him up and down.

“Good. But you can’t go spy-catching like that, Lieutenant. Come aboard, and we’ll fit you out proper.”

WILLIAM PROVED TO BE six inches taller than the tallest of Rogers’s crew, and thus ended up awkwardly attired in a flapping shirt of rough linen—the tails left out by necessity, to disguise the fact that the top buttons of his flies were left undone—and canvas breeches that threatened to emasculate him should he make any sudden moves. These could not be buckled, of course, and William elected to emulate Rogers and go barefoot, rather than suffer the indignity of striped stockings that left his knees and four inches of hairy shin exposed between stocking-top and breeches.

The sloop had sailed to Flushing, where Rogers, William, and four men disembarked. Rogers maintained an informal recruiting office here, in the back room of a merchant’s shop in the high road of the village. He vanished into this establishment momentarily, returning with the satisfactory news that Hale had not been seen in Flushing and was likely therefore stopping at one of the two taverns to be found at Elmsford, two or three miles from the village.

The men accordingly walked in that direction, dividing for the sake of caution into smaller groups, so that William found himself walking with Rogers, a ragged shawl slung round his shoulders against the evening chill. He had not shaved, of course, and fancied that he looked a proper companion for the ranger, who had added a slouch hat with a dried flying fish stuck through the brim to his costume.

“Do we pose as oystermen, or carters, perhaps?” William asked. Roger grunted in brief amusement and shook his head.

“You’d not pass for either, should anyone hear you talk. Nay, lad, keep your mouth shut, save to put something in it. The boys and I ’ull manage the business. All you need do is nod, if you spot Hale.”

The wind had come onshore and blew the scent of cold marshes toward them, spiced with a distant hint of chimney smoke. No habitation was yet in sight, and the fading landscape was desolate around them. The cold, sandy dirt of the road was soothing to his bare feet, though, and he did not find the bleakness of their surroundings depressing in the least; he was too eager at thought of what lay ahead.

Rogers was silent for the most part, pacing with his head down against the cold breeze. After a bit, though, he said casually, “I carried Captain Richardson over from New York. And back.”

William thought momentarily of saying, “Captain Richardson?” in tones of polite ignorance, but realized in time that this wouldn’t do.

“Did you?” he said instead, and kept his own silence. Rogers laughed.

“Fly cove, aren’t you? Perhaps he’s right, then, choosing you.”

“He told you that he had chosen me for … something?”

“Good lad. Never give anything away for free—but sometimes it pays to oil the wheels a bit. Nay, Richardson’s a downy bird—he said not a word about you. But I know who he is, and what he does. And I know where I left him. He wasn’t calling upon the Culpers, I’ll warrant that.”

William made an indeterminate sound of interest in his throat. Plainly, Rogers meant to say something. Let him say, then.

“How old are you, lad?”

“Nineteen,” William said, with an edge. “Why?”

Rogers shrugged, his outline little more than a shadow among many in the gathering dusk.

“Old enough to risk your neck on purpose, then. But you might want to think twice before saying yes to whatever Richardson’s suggesting to you.”

“Assuming that he did indeed suggest something—again, why?”

Rogers touched his back, urging him forward.

“You’re about to see that for yourself, lad. Come on.”

THE WARM SMOKY LIGHT of the tavern and the smell of food embraced William. He had not been really conscious of cold, dark, or hunger, his mind intent on the adventure at hand. Now, though, he drew a long, lingering breath, filled with the scent of fresh bread and roast chicken, and felt like an insensible corpse, newly roused from the grave and restored to full life upon the day of Resurrection.

The next breath stopped dead in his throat, though, and his heart gave a tremendous squeeze that sent a surge of blood through his body. Rogers, next to him, made a low warning hum in his throat, and glanced casually round the room as he led the way to a table.

The man, the spy, was sitting near the fire, eating chicken and chatting with a couple of farmers. Most of the men in the tavern had glanced at the door when the newcomers appeared—more than one of them blinked at William—but the spy was so absorbed in his food and conversation that he didn’t even look up.

William had taken little notice of the man when first seen, but would have known him again at once. He was not so tall as William himself, but several inches more than the average, and striking in appearance, with flax-blond hair and a high forehead, this displaying the flash-mark scars of the gunpowder accident Rogers had mentioned. He had a round, broad-brimmed hat, which lay on the table beside his plate, and wore an unremarkable plain brown suit.

Not in uniform … William swallowed heavily, not entirely in respect of his hunger and the smell of food.

Rogers sat down at the next table, motioning William to a stool across from him, and raised his brows in question. William nodded silently, but didn’t look again in Hale’s direction.

The landlord brought them food and beer, and William devoted himself to eating, glad that he was not required to join in conversation. Hale himself was relaxed and voluble, telling his companions that he was a Dutch schoolmaster from New York.

“Conditions there are so unsettled, though,” he said, shaking his head, “that the majority of my students have gone—fled with their families to relatives in Connecticut or New Jersey. I might suppose similar—or perhaps worse—conditions obtain here?”

One of the men at his table merely grunted, but the other blew out his lips with a derisive sound.

“You might say so. Goddam lobsterbacks seize everything as hasn’t been buried. Tory, Whig, or rebel, makes no goddam difference to those greedy bastards. Speak a word of protest, and you’re like to be struck over the head or dragged off to the goddam stockade, so as to make it easier for ’em. Why, one hulking brute stopped me at the customs point last week, and took my whole load of apple cider and the goddam wagon to boot! He—”

William choked on a bite of bread, but didn’t dare cough. Christ, he hadn’t recognized the man—the man’s back was to him—but he recalled the apple cider well enough. Hulking brute?

He reached for his beer and gulped, trying to dislodge the chunk of bread; it didn’t work and he coughed silently, feeling his face go purple and seeing Rogers frowning at him in consternation. He gestured feebly at the cider farmer, struck himself in the chest, and, rising, made his way out of the room as quietly as possible. His disguise, excellent as it was, would in no way conceal his essential hulkingness, and if the man were to recognize him as a British soldier, bang went the whole enterprise.

He managed not to breathe until he was safely outside, where he coughed until he thought the bottom of his stomach might force its way out of his mouth. At last he stopped, though, and leaned against the side of the tavern, taking long, gasping breaths. He wished he’d had the presence of mind to bring some beer with him, instead of the chicken leg he held.

The last of Rogers’s men had come along the road, and with a baffled glance at William, went inside. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and, straightening up, crept round the side of the building until he reached a window.

The new arrivals were taking up their own spot, near to Hale’s table. Standing carefully to one side to save being spotted, he saw that Rogers had now insinuated himself into conversation with Hale and the two farmers, and appeared to be telling them a joke. The apple-cider fellow hooted and pounded the table at the end; Hale made an attempt at a grin, but looked frankly shocked; the jest must have been indelicate.

Rogers leaned back, casually including the whole table with the sweep of a hand, and said something that had them nodding and murmuring agreement. Then he leaned forward, intent, to ask Hale something.

William could catch only snatches of the conversation, above the general noise of the tavern and the whistling of the cold wind past his ears. So far as he could gather, Rogers was professing to be a rebel, his own men nodding agreement from their table, gathering closer to form a secretive knot of conversation about Hale. Hale looked intent, excited, and very earnest. He might easily have been a schoolmaster, William thought—though Rogers had said he was a captain in the Continental army. William shook his head; Hale didn’t look any sort of a soldier.

At the same time, he hardly looked the part of a spy, either. He was noticeable, with his fair good looks, his flash-scarred face, his … height.

William felt a small, cold lump in the pit of his stomach. Christ. Was that what Rogers had meant? Saying that there was something William should be warned of, with regard to Captain Richardson’s errands, and that he would see for himself, tonight?

William was quite accustomed both to his own height and to people’s automatic responses to it; he quite liked being looked up to. But on his first errand for Captain Richardson, it had never struck him for a moment that folk might recall him on account of it—or that they could describe him with the greatest of ease. Hulking brute was no compliment, but it was unmistakable.

With a sense of incredulity, he heard Hale not only reveal his own name and the fact that he held rebel sympathies, but also confide that he was making observations regarding the strength of the British presence—this followed by an earnest inquiry as to whether the fellows he spoke with might have noticed any redcoated soldiers in the vicinity?

William was so shocked by this recklessness that he put his eye to the edge of the window frame, in time to see Rogers glance round the room in exaggerated caution before leaning in confidentially, tapping Hale upon the forearm, and saying, “Why, now, sir, I have, indeed I have, but you must be more wary of what you say in a public place. Why, anyone at all might hear you!”

“Pshaw,” said Hale, laughing. “I am among friends here. Have we not all just drunk to General Washington and to the King’s confusion?” Sobering, but still eager, he pushed his hat aside and waved to the landlord for more beer. “Come, have another, sir, and tell me what you have seen.”

William had a sudden overwhelming impulse to shout, “Shut your mouth, you ninnyhammer!” or to throw something at Hale through the window. But it was far too late, even could he actually have done it. The chicken leg he had been eating was still in his hand; noticing, he tossed it away. His stomach was knotted, and there was a taste of sick at the back of his throat, though his blood still boiled with excitement.

Hale was making still more damaging admissions, to the admiring encouragements and patriotic shouts of Rogers’s men, all of whom were playing out their parts admirably, he had to admit. How long would Rogers let it go on? Would they take him here, in the tavern? Probably not—some others of those present were doubtless rebel sympathizers, who might be moved to intervene on Hale’s behalf, did Rogers go to arrest him in their midst.

Rogers appeared in no hurry. Nearly half an hour of tedious raillery followed, Rogers giving what appeared to be small admissions, Hale making much larger ones in return, his slab-sided cheeks glowing with beer and excitement over the information he was gaining. William’s legs, feet, hands, and face were numb, and his shoulders ached with tension. A crunching sound nearby distracted him from his close attendance on the scene within, and he glanced down, suddenly aware of a penetrating aroma that had somehow insinuated itself without his cognizance.

“Christ!” He jerked back, nearly putting his elbow through the window, and fell into the wall of the tavern with a heavy thump. The skunk, disturbed in its enjoyment of the discarded chicken leg, instantly elevated its tail, the white stripe making the movement clearly visible. William froze.

“What was that?” someone said inside, and he heard the scrape of a bench being pushed back. Holding his breath, he edged one foot to the side, only to be frozen in place again by a faint thumping noise and the quivering of the white stripe. Damn, the thing was stamping its feet. An indication of imminent attack, he’d been told—and told by people whose sorry condition made it apparent that they spoke from experience.

Feet were coming toward the door, someone coming to investigate. Christ, if they found him eavesdropping outside … He gritted his teeth, nerving himself to what duty told him must be a self-sacrificial lunge out of sight—but if he did, what then? He could not rejoin Rogers and the others, reeking of skunk. But if—

The opening of the door put paid to all speculations. William lunged for the corner of the building by simple reflex. The skunk also acted by reflex—but, startled by the opening of the door, apparently adjusted its aim in consequence. William tripped over a branch and sprawled at full length into a heap of discarded rubbish, hearing a full-throated shriek behind him as the night was made hideous.

William coughed, choked, and tried to stop breathing long enough to get out of range. He gasped from necessity, though, and his lungs were filled with a substance that went so far beyond the concept of smell as to require a completely new sensory description. Gagging and spluttering, eyes burning and watering from the assault, he stumbled into the darkness on the other side of the road, from which vantage point he witnessed the skunk making off in a huff and the skunk’s victim collapsed in a heap on the tavern’s step, making noises of extreme distress.

William hoped it wasn’t Hale. Beyond the practical difficulties involved in arresting and transporting a man who had suffered such an assault, simple humanity compelled one to think that hanging the victim would be adding insult to injury.

It wasn’t Hale. He saw the flaxen hair shining in the torchlight among the heads that were thrust out in inquiry, only to be drawn hastily back again.

Voices reached him, discussing how best to proceed. Vinegar, it was agreed, was needed, and in quantity. The victim had by now sufficiently recovered himself as to crawl off into the weeds, from which the sounds of violent retching proceeded. This, added to the mephitis still tainting the atmosphere, caused a number of other gentlemen to vomit, as well, and William felt his own gorge rise, but controlled it by vicious nose-pinching.

He was nearly chilled through, though thankfully aired out, by the time the victim’s friends saw him off—driving him like a cow along the road, as no one would touch him—and the tavern emptied, no one having further appetite for either food or drink in such an atmosphere. He could hear the landlord cursing to himself as he leaned out to take down the torch that burned beside the hanging sign and plunge it, sizzling, into the rain barrel.

Hale bade a general good night, his educated voice distinctive in the dark, and set off along the road toward Flushing, where doubtless he meant to seek a bed. Rogers—William knew him by the fur waistcoat, identifiable even by starlight—lingered near the road, silently collecting his men about him as the crowd departed. Only when everyone was out of sight did William venture to join them.

“Yes?” Rogers said, seeing him. “All present, then. Let’s go.” And they moved off, a silent pack coursing down the road, intent upon the track of their unknowing prey.

THEY SAW THE FLAMES from the water. The city was burning, mostly the district near the East River, but the wind was up, and the fire was spreading. There was much excited speculation among Rogers’s men; had rebel sympathizers fired the city?

“Just as likely drunken soldiers,” Rogers said, his voice grimly dispassionate. William felt queasy, seeing the red glow in the sky. The prisoner was silent.

They found General Howe—eventually—in his headquarters at Beekman House outside the city, red-eyed from smoke, lack of sleep, and a rage that was buried bone-deep. It stayed buried, though, for the moment. He summoned Rogers and the prisoner into the library where he had his office, and—after one brief, astonished look at William’s attire—sent him to his bed.

Fortnum was in the attic, watching the city burn from the window. There was nothing to be done about it. William came to stand beside him. He felt strangely empty, somehow unreal. Chilled, though the floor was warm under his bare feet.

An occasional fountain of sparks shot up now and then, as the flames struck something particularly flammable, but from such a distance there was really little to be seen but the bloody glow against the sky.

“They’ll blame us, you know,” Fortnum said after a bit.

THE AIR WAS STILL THICK with smoke at noon the next day.

He couldn’t take his eyes off Hale’s hands. They had clenched involuntarily as a private soldier tied them, though he had put them behind his back with no protest. Now his fingers were clasped tight together, so hard that the knuckles had gone white.

Surely the flesh protested, William thought, even if the mind had resigned itself. His own flesh was protesting simply being here, his skin twitching like a horse plagued by flies, his bowels cramping and loosening in horrid sympathy—they said a hanged man’s bowels gave way; would Hale’s? Blood washed through his face at the thought, and he looked at the ground.

Voices made him look up again. Captain Moore had just asked Hale whether he wished to make any remarks. Hale nodded; evidently he had been prepared for this.

William felt that he should himself have been prepared by now; Hale had spent the last two hours in Captain Moore’s tent, writing notes to be delivered to his family, while the men assembled for the hasty execution shifted their weight from foot to foot, waiting. He wasn’t prepared at all.

Why was it different? He’d seen men die, some horribly. But this preliminary courtesy, this formality, this … obscene civility, all conducted with the certain knowledge of imminent and shameful death. Deliberation. The awful deliberation, that was it.

“At last!” Clarewell muttered in his ear. “Bloody get on with it; I’m starving.”

A young black man named Billy Richmond, a private soldier whom William knew casually, was sent up the ladder to tie the rope to the tree. He came down now, nodding to the officer.

Now Hale was mounting the ladder, the sergeant major steadying him. The noose was round his neck, a thick rope, new-looking. Didn’t they say new ropes stretched? But it was a high ladder …

William was sweating like a pig, though the day was mild. He mustn’t close his eyes or look away. Not with Clarewell watching.

He tightened the muscles of his throat and concentrated again on Hale’s hands. The fingers were twisting, helplessly, though the man’s face was calm. They were leaving faint damp marks on the skirt of his coat.

A grunt of effort and a grating noise; the ladder was pulled away, and there was a startled whoof! from Hale as he dropped. Whether it was the newness of the rope or something else, his neck did not break cleanly.

He’d refused the hood, and so the spectators were obliged to watch his face for the quarter of an hour it took him to die. William stifled a horrific urge to laugh from pure nerves, seeing the pale blue eyes bulge to bursting point, the tongue thrust out. So surprised. He looked so surprised.

There was only a small group of men assembled for the execution. He saw Richardson a little way away, watching with a look of remote abstraction. As though aware of his glance, Richardson looked sharply up at him. William looked away.

THE MINISTER’S CAT

Lallybroch

October 1980

SHE WAS UP EARLY, before the children, though she knew this was foolish—whatever Roger had gone to Oxford for, it would take him a good four or five hours to drive there, and the same back. Even if he had left at dawn—and he might not be able to, if he hadn’t arrived in time to do whatever it was the day before—he couldn’t be home before midday at the earliest. But she’d slept restlessly, dreaming one of those monotonous and inescapably unpleasant dreams, this one featuring the sight and sound of the tide coming in, lapping wave by lapping wave by lapping … and wakened at first light feeling dizzy and unwell.

It had occurred to her for one nightmare instant that she might be pregnant—but she’d sat up abruptly in bed, and the world had settled at once into place around her. None of that sense of having shoved one foot through the looking glass that early pregnancy entails. She set one foot cautiously out of bed, and the world—and her stomach—stayed steady. Good, then.

Still, the feeling of unease—whether from the dream, Roger’s absence, or the specter of pregnancy—stayed with her, and she went about the daily business of the household with a distracted mind.

She was sorting socks toward midday when she became aware that things were quiet. Quiet in a way that made the hair rise on the back of her neck.

“Jem?” she called. “Mandy?”

Total silence. She stepped out of the laundry, listening for the usual thumps, bangings, and screeches from above, but there was not the slightest sound of trampling feet, toppling blocks, or the high-pitched voices of sibling warfare.

“Jem!” she shouted. “Where are you?”

No reply. The last time this had happened, two days before, she’d discovered her alarm clock in the bottom of the bathtub, neatly disassembled into its component parts, and both children at the far end of the garden, glowing with unnatural innocence.

“I didn’t do it!” Jem had declared virtuously, hauled into the house and faced with the evidence. “And Mandy’s too little.”

“Too widdle,” Mandy had agreed, nodding her mop of black curls so ferociously as to obscure her face.

“Well, I don’t think Daddy did it,” Bree said, raising a stern brow. “And I’m sure it wasn’t Annie Mac. Which doesn’t leave very many suspects, does it?”

“Shussspects, shussspects,” Mandy said happily, enchanted by the new word.

Jem shook his head in resigned fashion, viewing the scattered gears and dismembered hands.

“We must have got piskies, Mama.”

“Pishkies, pishkies,” Mandy chirped, pulling her skirt up over her head and yanking at her frilly underpants. “Needa go pishkie, Mama!”

In the midst of the urgency occasioned by this statement, Jem had faded artfully, not to be seen again until dinner, by which time the affair of the alarm clock had been superseded by the usual fierce rush of daily events, not to be recalled until bedtime, when Roger remarked the absence of the alarm clock.

“Jem doesn’t usually lie,” Roger had said thoughtfully, having been shown the small pottery bowl now containing the clock’s remains.

Bree, brushing out her hair for bed, gave him a jaundiced look.

“Oh, you think we have pixies, too?”

“Piskies,” he said absently, stirring the small pile of gears in the bowl with a finger.

“What? You mean they really are called ‘piskies’ here? I thought Jem was just mispronouncing it.”

“Well, no—‘pisky’ is Cornish; they’re called pixies in other parts of the West Country, though.”

“What are they called in Scotland?”

“We haven’t really got any. Scotland’s got its fair share of the fairy folk,” he said, scooping up a handful of clock innards and letting them tinkle musically back into the bowl. “But Scots tend toward the grimmer manifestations of the supernatural—water horses, ban-sidhe, blue hags, and the Nuckelavee, aye? Piskies are a wee bit frivolous for Scotland. We have got brownies, mind,” he added, taking the brush from her hand, “but they’re more of a household help, not mischief-makers like piskies. Can ye put the clock back together?”

“Sure—if the piskies didn’t lose any of the parts. What on earth is a Nuckelavee?”

“It’s from the Orkneys. Nothing ye want to hear about just before bed,” he assured her. And, bending, breathed very softly on her neck, just below the earlobe.

The faint tingle engendered by the memory of what had happened after that momentarily overlaid her suspicions of what the children might be up to, but the sensation faded, to be replaced by increasing worry.

There was no sign of either Jem or Mandy anywhere in the house. Annie MacDonald didn’t come on Saturdays, and the kitchen … At first glance, it seemed undisturbed, but she was familiar with Jem’s methods.

Sure enough, the packet of chocolate biscuits was missing, as was a bottle of lemon squash, though everything else in the cupboard was in perfect order—and the cupboard was six feet off the ground. Jem showed great promise as a cat burglar, she thought. At least he’d have a career if he got chucked out of school for good one of these days after telling his classmates something especially picturesque he’d picked up in the eighteenth century.

The missing food allayed her uneasiness. If they’d taken a picnic, they were outside, and while they might be anywhere within a half mile of the house—Mandy wouldn’t walk farther than that—chances were they wouldn’t have gone far before sitting down to eat biscuits.

It was a beautiful fall day, and despite the need to track down her miscreants, she was glad to be out in the sun and breeze. Socks could wait. And so could turning the vegetable beds. And speaking to the plumber about the geyser in the upstairs bath. And …

“It doesna matter how many things ye do on a farm, there’s always more than ye can do. A wonder the place doesna rise up about my ears and swallow me, like Jonah and the whale.”

For an instant, she heard her father’s voice, full of exasperated resignation at encountering another unexpected chore. She glanced round at him, smiling, then stopped, realization and longing sweeping over her in waves.

“Oh, Da,” she said softly. She walked on, more slowly, suddenly seeing not the albatross of a big, semi-decayed house, but the living organism that was Lallybroch, and all those of her blood who had been part of it—who still were.

The Frasers and Murrays who had put their own sweat and blood and tears into its buildings and soil, woven their lives into its land. Uncle Ian, Aunt Jenny—the swarm of cousins she had known so briefly. Young Ian. All of them dead now … but, curiously enough, not gone.

“Not gone at all,” she said aloud, and found comfort in the words. She’d reached the back gate of the kailyard and paused, glancing up the hill toward the ancient broch that gave the place its name; the burying ground was up on that same hill, most of its stones so weathered that the names and their dates were indecipherable, the stones themselves mostly obliterated by creeping gorse and sweet broom. And amidst the splashes of gray, black-green, and brilliant yellow were two small moving splotches of red and blue.

The pathway was badly overgrown; brambles ripped at her jeans. She found the children on hands and knees, following a trail of ants—who were in turn following a trail of cookie crumbs, carefully placed so as to lead the ants through an obstacle course of sticks and pebbles.

“Look, Mama!” Jem barely glanced up at her, absorbed in the sight before him. He pointed at the ground, where he had sunk an old teacup into the dirt and filled it with water. A black glob of ants, lured to their doom by chocolate crumbs, were struggling in the midst of it.

“Jem! That’s mean! You mustn’t drown ants—unless they’re in the house,” she added, with vivid memories of a recent infestation in the pantry.

“They’re not drowning, Mama. Look—see what they do?”

She crouched beside him, looking closer, and saw that, in fact, the ants weren’t drowning. Single ants that had fallen in struggled madly toward the center, where a large mass of ants clung together, making a ball that floated, barely denting the surface. The ants in the ball were moving, slowly, so that they changed places constantly, and while one or two near the edge of the mass were motionless, possibly dead, the majority were clearly in no immediate danger of drowning, supported by the bodies of their fellows. And the mass itself was gradually drawing closer to the rim of the cup, propelled by the movements of the ants in it.

“That’s really cool,” she said, fascinated, and sat beside him for some time, watching the ants, before finally decreeing mercy and making him scoop the ball of ants out on a leaf, where once laid on the ground, they scattered and at once went back to their business.

“Do you think they do it on purpose?” she asked Jem. “Cluster together like that, I mean. Or are they just looking for anything to hang on to?”

“Dinna ken,” he said, shrugging. “I’ll look in my ant book and see does it say.”

She gathered up the remnants of the picnic, leaving one or two biscuit fragments for the ants, who had, she felt, earned them. Mandy had wandered off while she and Jem watched the ants in the teacup, and was presently squatting in the shade of a bush some way uphill, engaged in animated conversation with an invisible companion.

“Mandy wanted to talk to Grandda,” Jem said matter-of-factly. “That’s why we came up here.”

“Oh?” she said slowly. “Why is here a good place to talk to him?”

Jem looked surprised, and glanced toward the weathered, tipsy stones of the burying ground.

“Isn’t he here?”

Something much too powerful to be called a shiver shot up her spine. It was as much Jem’s matter-of-factness as the possibility that it might be true that took her breath away.

“I—don’t know,” she said. “I suppose he could be.” While she tried not to think too much about the fact that her parents were now dead, she had somehow vaguely assumed that they would have been buried in North Carolina—or somewhere else in the Colonies, if war had taken them away from the Ridge.

But she remembered the letters suddenly. He’d said he meant to come back to Scotland. And Jamie Fraser being a determined man, more than likely he’d done just that. Had he never left again? And if he hadn’t—was her mother here, too?

Without really meaning to, she found herself making her way upward, past the foot of the old broch and through the stones of the burying ground. She’d come up here once, with her aunt Jenny. It had been early evening, with a breeze whispering in the grass, and an air of peace upon the hillside. Jenny had shown her the graves of her grandparents, Brian and Ellen, together under a marriage stone; yes, she could still make out the curve of it, overgrown and mossy as it was, the names weathered away. And the child who had died with Ellen was buried with her—her third son. Robert, Jenny said; her father, Brian, had insisted he be baptized, and her wee dead brother’s name was Robert.

She was standing among the stones now; so many of them. A good many of the later ones were still readable, these with dates in the late 1800s. Murrays and McLachlan’s and McLean’s, for the most part. Here and there the odd Fraser or MacKenzie.

The earlier ones, though, were all too weathered to read, no more than the shadows of letters showing through the black stains of lichen and the soft, obliterating moss. There, next to Ellen’s grave, was the tiny square stone for Caitlin Maisri Murray, Jenny and Ian’s sixth child, who had lived only a day or so. Jenny had shown Brianna the stone, stooping to run a gentle hand across the letters and laying a yellow rose from the path beside it. There had been a small cairn there, too—pebbles left by those who visited the grave. The cairn had been scattered long since, but Brianna stooped and found a pebble now and placed it by the little stone.

There was another, she saw, beside it. Another small stone, as for a child. Not quite as weathered, but plainly almost as old. Only two words on it, she thought, and, closing her eyes, ran her fingers slowly over the stone, feeling out the shallow, broken lines. There was an “E” in the first line. A “Y,” she thought, in the second. And maybe a “K.”

What sort of Highland name begins with “Y”? she thought, puzzled. There’s McKay, but that’s in the wrong order …

“You—er—don’t know which grave might be Grandda’s, do you?” she asked Jem hesitantly. She was almost afraid to hear the answer.

“No.” He looked surprised, and glanced where she was looking, toward the assemblage of stones. Obviously he hadn’t connected their presence with his grandfather. “He just said he’d like to be buried here, and if I came here, I should leave him a stane. So I did.” His accent slid naturally into the word, and she heard her father’s voice again, distinctly, but this time smiled a little.

“Where?”

“Up there. He likes to be up high, ken? Where he can see,” Jem said casually, pointing up the hill. Just beyond the shadow of the broch, she could see the traces of something not quite a trail through a mass of gorse, heather, and broken rock. And poking out of the mass at the crest of the hill, a big, lumpy boulder, on whose shoulder sat a tiny pyramid of pebbles, barely visible.

“Did you leave all those today?”

“No, I put one whenever I come. That’s what ye’re meant to do, aye?”

There was a small lump in her throat, but she swallowed it and smiled. “Aye, it is. I’ll go up and leave one, too.”

Mandy was now sitting on one of the fallen gravestones, laying out burdock leaves as plates around the dirty teacup, which she had unearthed and set in the middle. She was chatting to the guests at her invisible tea party, politely animated. There was no need to disturb her, Brianna decided, and followed Jem up the rocky trail—the last of the journey accomplished on hands and knees, owing to the steepness.

It was windy, so near the crest of the hill, and they weren’t much bothered by the midgies. Damp with perspiration, she added her own pebble ceremoniously to the wee cairn, and sat down for a moment to enjoy the view. Most of Lallybroch was visible from here, as was the road that led to the highway. She looked that way, but no sign yet of Roger’s bright-orange Morris Mini. She sighed and looked away.

It was nice, up so high. Quiet, with just the sigh of the cool wind and the buzz of bees busy working in the yellow blossoms. No wonder her father liked—

“Jem.” He was slumped comfortably against the rock, looking out over the surrounding hills.

“Aye?”

She hesitated, but had to ask.

“You … can’t see your grandda, can you?”

He shot her a startled blue look.

“No. He’s dead.”

“Oh,” she said, at once relieved and slightly disappointed. “I know. I … just wondered.”

“I think maybe Mandy can,” Jem said, nodding toward his sister, a bright red blot on the landscape below. “But ye can’t really tell. Babies talk to lots of people ye can’t see,” he added tolerantly. “Grannie says so.”

She didn’t know whether to wish he would stop referring to his grandparents in the present tense or not. It was more than slightly unnerving, but he had said he couldn’t see Jamie. She didn’t want to ask whether he could see Claire—she supposed not—but she felt her parents close, whenever Jem or Mandy mentioned them, and she certainly wanted Jem and Mandy to feel close to them, as well.

She and Roger had explained things to the kids as well as such things could be explained. And evidently her father had had his own private talk with Jem; a good thing, she thought. Jamie’s blend of devout Catholicism and matter-of-fact Highland acceptance of life, death, and things not seen was probably a lot better suited to explaining things like how you could be dead on one side of the stones, but—

“He said he’d look after us. Grandda,” he added, turning to look at her.

She bit her tongue. No, he was not reading her mind, she told herself firmly. They’d just been talking of Jamie, after all, and Jem had chosen this particular place in which to pay his respects. So it was only natural that his grandfather would be still in his mind.

“Of course he will,” she said, and put a hand on his square shoulder, massaging the knobby bones at the base of his neck with her thumb. He giggled and ducked out from under her hand, then hopped suddenly down the trail, sliding on his bottom partway, to the detriment of his jeans.

She paused for a last look round before following him, and noticed the jumble of rock on top of a hill a quarter mile or so away. A jumble of rock was exactly what one might expect to see on any Highland hilltop—but there was something slightly different about this particular assortment of stones. She shaded her eyes with her hand, squinting. She might be wrong—but she was an engineer; she knew the look of a thing built by men.

An Iron Age fortress, maybe? she thought, intrigued. There were layered stones at the bottom of that heap, she’d swear it. A foundation, perhaps. She’d have to climb up there one of these days for a closer look—maybe tomorrow, if Roger … Again, she glanced at the road, and again found it empty.

Mandy had grown tired of her tea party and was ready to go home. Holding her daughter firmly by one hand and the teacup in the other, Brianna made her way down the hill toward the big white-harled house, its windows fresh-washed and glinting companionably.

Had Annie done that? she wondered. She hadn’t noticed, and surely window-washing on that scale would have entailed a good bit of fuss and bother. But then, she’d been distracted, what with the anticipations and apprehensions of the new job. Her heart gave a small hop at the thought that on Monday she would fit back one more piece of who she’d once been, one more stone in the foundation of who she now was.

“Maybe the piskies did it,” she said aloud, and laughed.

“Piskies diddit,” Mandy echoed happily.

Jem had nearly reached the bottom, and turned, impatient, waiting for them.

“Jem,” she said, the thought occurring as they came even with him. “Do you know what a Nuckelavee is?”

Jem’s eyes went huge, and he clapped his hands over Mandy’s ears. Something with a hundred cold tiny feet skittered up Brianna’s back.

“Aye,” he said, his voice small and breathless.

“Who told you about it?” she asked, keeping her voice calm. She’d kill Annie MacDonald, she thought.

But Jem’s eyes slid sideways, as he glanced involuntarily over her shoulder, up at the broch.

“He did,” he whispered.

“He?”she said sharply, and grabbed Mandy by the arm as the little girl wiggled free and turned furiously on her brother. “Don’t kick your brother, Mandy! Who do you mean, Jemmy?”

Jem’s lower teeth caught his lip.

“Him,” he blurted. “The Nuckelavee.”

“THE CREATURE’S HOME was in the sea, but it ventured upon land to feast upon humans. The Nuckelavee rode a horse on land, and its horse was sometimes indistinguishable from its own body. Its head was ten times larger than that of a man, and its mouth thrust out like a pig’s, with a wide, gaping maw. The creature had no skin, and its yellow veins, muscle structure, and sinews could clearly be seen, covered in a red slimy film. The creature was armed with venomous breath and great strength. It did, however, have one weakness: an aversion to freshwater. The horse on which it rode is described as having one red eye, a mouth the size of a whale’s, and flappers like fins around its forelegs.”

“Ick!” Brianna put down the book—one of Roger’s collection of Scottish folklore—and stared at Jem. “You saw one of these? Up by the broch?”

Her son shifted from foot to foot. “Well, he said he was. He said if I didna clear straight off, he’d change into himself, and I didna want to see that, so I cleared.”

“Neither would I.” Brianna’s heart began to slow down a little. All right. He’d met a man, then, not a monster. Not that she’d actually believed … but the fact that someone had been hanging around the broch was worrying enough.

“What did he look like, this man?”

“Well … big,” Jem said dubiously. Given that Jem was not quite nine, most men would be.

“As big as Daddy?”

“Maybe.”

Further catechism elicited relatively few details; Jem knew what a Nuckelavee was—he’d read most of the more sensational items in Roger’s collection—and had been so terrified at meeting someone who might at any moment shed his skin and eat him that his impressions of the man were sparse. Tall, with a short beard, hair that wasn’t very dark, and clothes “like Mr. MacNeil wears.” Working clothes, then, like a farmer.

“Why didn’t you tell me or Daddy about him?”

Jem looked about to cry.

“He said he’d come back and eat Mandy if I did.”

“Oh.” She put an arm around him and pulled him to her. “I see. Don’t be afraid, honey. It’s all right.” He was trembling now, as much with relief as with memory, and she stroked his bright hair, soothing him. A tramp, most likely. Camping in the broch? Likely he was gone by now—so far as she could tell from Jem’s story, it had been more than a week since he had seen the man—but …

“Jem,” she said slowly. “Why did you and Mandy go up there today? Weren’t you afraid the man would be there?”

He looked up at her, surprised, and shook his head, red hair flying.

“Nay, I cleared, but I hid and watched him. He went away to the west. That’s where he lives.”

“He said so?”

“No. But things like that all live in the west.” He pointed at the book. “When they go away to the west, they dinna come back. And I’ve not seen him again; I watched, to be sure.”

She nearly laughed, but was still too worried. It was true; a good many Highland fairy tales did end with some supernatural creature going away to the west, or into the rocks or the water where they lived. And of course they didn’t come back, since the story was over.

“He was just a nasty tramp,” she said firmly, and patted Jem’s back before releasing him. “Don’t worry about him.”

“Sure?” he said, obviously wanting to believe her, but not quite ready to relax into security.

“Sure,” she said firmly.

“Okay.” He heaved a deep sigh and pushed away from her. “Besides,” he added, looking happier, “Grandda wouldn’t let him eat Mandy or me. I should have thought o’ that.”

IT WAS NEARLY SUNSET by the time she heard the chugging of Roger’s car on the farm road. She rushed outside, and he’d barely got out of the car before she flung herself into his arms.

He didn’t waste time with questions. He embraced her passionately and kissed her in a way that made it clear that their argument was over; the details of mutual apology could wait. For an instant, she allowed herself to let go of everything, feeling weightless in his arms, breathing the scents of petrol and dust and libraries full of old books that overlay his natural smell, that indefinable faint musk of sun-warmed skin, even when he hadn’t been in the sun.

“They say women can’t really identify their husbands by smell,” she remarked, reluctantly coming back to earth. “I don’t believe it. I could pick you out of King’s Cross tube station in the pitch-dark.”

“I did have a bath this morning, aye?”

“Yes, and you stayed in college, because I can smell the horrible industrial-strength soap they use there,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “I’m surprised it doesn’t take your skin off. And you had black pudding for your breakfast. With fried tomato.”

“Right, Lassie,” he said, smiling. “Or do I mean Rin-Tin-Tin? Saved any small children or tracked any robbers to their lairs today, have ye?”

“Well, yes. Sort of.” She glanced up at the hill behind the house, where the broch’s shadow had grown long and black. “But I thought I’d better wait until the sheriff came back from town before I went any further.”

ARMED WITH A STOUT blackthorn walking stick and an electric torch, Roger approached the broch, angry but cautious. It wasn’t likely the man was armed, if he was still there, but Brianna was at the kitchen door, the telephone—at the full stretch of its long cord—beside her, and two nines already dialed. She’d wanted to come with him, but he’d convinced her that one of them had to stay with the kids. Still, it would have been a comfort to have her at his back; she was a tall, muscular woman, and not one to shrink from physical violence.

The door of the broch hung askew; the ancient leather hinges had long since rotted away and been replaced with cheap iron, which had rusted in turn. The door was still attached to its frame, but barely. He lifted the latch and maneuvered the heavy, splintering wood inward, pulling it away from the floor so it swung without scraping.

There was still plenty of light outside; it wouldn’t be full dark for half an hour yet. Inside the broch, though, it was black as a well. He shone his torch on the floor and saw fresh drag marks in the dirt that crusted the stone floor. Aye, someone had been here, then. Jem might be able to move the door, but the kids weren’t allowed to go in the broch without an adult, and Jem swore he hadn’t.

“Halloooo!” he shouted, and was answered by a startled movement somewhere far above. He gripped his stick in reflex, but recognized the flutter and rustle for what it was almost at once. Bats, hanging up under the conical roof. He flashed his light round the ground floor and saw a few stained and crumpled newspapers by the wall. He picked one up and smelled it: old, but the scent of fish and vinegar was still discernible.

He hadn’t thought Jem was making up the Nuckelavee story, but this evidence of recent human occupation renewed his anger. That someone should not only come and lurk on his property, but threaten his son … He almost hoped the fellow was still here. He wanted a word.

He wasn’t, though. No one with sense would have gone to the upper floors of the broch; the boards were half rotted, and as his eyes adjusted, he could see the gaping holes, a faint light coming through them from the slit windows higher up. Roger heard nothing, but an urge to be certain propelled him up the narrow stone stair that spiraled round the inside of the tower, testing each step for loose stones before trusting his weight to it.

He disturbed a quantity of pigeons on the top floor, who panicked and whirled round the inside of the tower like a feathery tornado, shedding down feathers and droppings, before finding their way out of the windows. He pressed himself against the wall, heart pounding as they battered blindly past his face. Something—a rat, a mouse, a vole—ran over his foot, and he jerked convulsively, nearly losing his torch.

The broch was alive, all right; the bats up above were shifting around, uneasy at all the racket below. But no sign of an intruder, human or not.

Coming down, he put his head out to signal to Bree that all was well, then closed the door and made his way down to the house, brushing dirt and pigeon feathers off his clothes.

“I’ll put a new hasp and a padlock on that door,” he told Brianna, lounging against the old stone sink as she started the supper. “Though I doubt he’ll be back. Likely just a traveler.”

“From the Orkneys, do you think?” She was reassured, he could tell, but there was still a line of worry between her brows. “You said that’s where they have stories about the Nuckelavee.”

He shrugged.

“Possible. But ye find the stories written down; the Nuckelavee’s not so popular as kelpies or fairies, but anyone might come across him in print. What’s that?” She had opened the refrigerator to get the butter out, and he’d glimpsed the bottle of champagne on the shelf, its foiled label gleaming.

“Oh, that.” She looked at him, ready to smile, but with a certain apprehension in her eyes. “I, um, got the job. I thought we might … celebrate?” The tentative question smote him to the heart, and he smacked himself on the forehead.

“Christ, I forgot to ask! That’s great, Bree! I knew ye would, mind,” he said, smiling with every bit of warmth and conviction he could muster. “Never a doubt.”

He could see the tension leave her body as her face lit up, and felt a certain peace descend on him, as well. This pleasant feeling lasted through the rib-cracking hug she gave him and the very nice kiss that followed, but was obliterated when she stepped back and, taking up a saucepan, asked with elaborate casualness, “So … did you find what you were looking for in Oxford?”

“Yeah.” It came out in a gruff croak; he cleared his throat and tried again. “Yeah, more or less. Look—can the supper wait a bit, d’ye think? I think I’d have more appetite if I tell ye first.”

“Sure,” she said slowly, putting down the saucepan. Her eyes were fixed on him, interested, maybe a bit fearful. “I fed the kids before you got home. If you’re not starving …”

He was; he hadn’t stopped for lunch on the way back and his stomach was flapping, but it didn’t matter. He reached out a hand to her.

“Come on out. The evening’s fine.” And if she took it badly, there were no saucepans out of doors.

“I WENT ROUND to Old St. Stephen’s,” he said abruptly, as soon as they’d left the house. “To talk to Dr. Weatherspoon; he’s rector there. He was a friend of the Reverend’s—he’s known me since I was a lad.”

Her hand had tightened on his arm as he spoke. He risked a glance at her and saw her looking anxious but hopeful.

“And … ?” she said, tentative.

“Well … the upshot of it is I’ve got a job, too.” He smiled, self-conscious. “Assistant choirmaster.”

That, of course, hadn’t been what she was expecting at all, and she blinked. Then her eyes went to his throat. He knew fine what she was thinking.

“Are you going to wear that?” she had asked, hesitant, the first time they prepared to go into Inverness for shopping.

“I was, aye. Why, have I got a spot?” He’d craned to look over the shoulder of his white shirt. No surprise if he had. Mandy had rushed in from her play to greet him, plastering his legs with sandy hugs. He’d dusted her off a bit before lifting her for a proper kiss, but …

“Not that,” Bree had said, her lips compressing for a minute. “It’s just … What will you say about …”She made a throat-cutting gesture.

His hand had gone to the open collar of his shirt, where the rope scar made a curving line, distinct to the touch, like a chain of tiny pebbles under the skin. It had faded somewhat, but was still very visible.

“Nothing.”

Her brows rose, and he’d given her a lopsided smile.

“But what will they be thinking?”

“I suppose they’ll just assume I’m into autoerotic asphyxiation and went a bit too far one day.”

Familiar as he was with the rural Highlands, he imagined that was the least of what they would think. Externally proper his putative congregation might be—but no one could imagine more lurid depravity than a devout Scottish Presbyterian.

“Did … er … did you tell Dr. Weatherspoon … What did you tell him?” she asked now, after a moment’s consideration. “I mean—he had to have noticed.”

“Oh, aye. He noticed. I didn’t say anything, though, and neither did he.”

“Look, Bree,” he’d told her on that first day, “it’s a straight choice. We tell everyone the absolute truth, or we tell them nothing—or as close to nothing as possible—and let them think what they like. Concocting a story won’t work, will it? Too many ways to trip up.”

She hadn’t liked it; he could still see the way her eyes had drawn down at the corners. But he was right, and she knew it. Decision had spread across her face, and she’d nodded, her shoulders squaring.

They’d had to do a certain amount of lying, of course, in order to legalize the existence of Jem and Mandy. But it was the late seventies; communes abounded in the States, and impromptu bands of “travelers,” as they called themselves, drifted to and fro across Europe in cavalcades of rusted buses and clapped-out vans. They had brought very little through the stones with them, bar the children themselves—but among the tiny hoard Brianna had tucked into her pockets and down her stays were two handwritten birth certificates, attested by one Claire Beauchamp Randall, MD, attending physician.

“It’s the proper form for a home birth,” Claire had said, making the loops of her signature with care. “And I am—or I was,” she’d corrected, with a wry twist of the mouth, “a registered physician, licensed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

“Assistant choirmaster,” Bree said now, eyeing him.

He drew a deep breath; the evening air was fine, clear and soft, if beginning to be populated by midgies. He waved a cloud of them away from his face, and grasped the nettle.

“I didn’t go for a job, mind. I went to … to get my mind clear. About being a minister.”

She stopped dead at that.

“And … ?” she prompted.

“Come on.” He pulled her gently into motion once more. “We’ll be eaten alive if we stand here.”

They strolled through the kailyard and out past the barn, walking along the path that led by the back pasture. He’d already milked the two cows, Milly and Blossom, and they’d settled for the night, big humped dark shapes in the grass, peacefully chewing their cuds.

“I told you about the Westminster Confession, aye?” This was the Presbyterian equivalent to the Catholics’ Nicene Creed—their statement of officially accepted doctrine.

“Uh-huh.”

“Well, see, to be a Presbyterian minister, I’d need to be able to swear that I accepted everything in the Westminster Confession. I did, when I—well, before.” He’d come so close, he thought. He’d been on the eve of ordination as a minister when fate had intervened, in the person of Stephen Bonnet. Roger had been compelled to drop everything, to find and rescue Brianna from the pirate’s lair on Ocracoke. Not that he regretted doing it, mind…. She paced beside him, red and long-limbed, graceful as a tiger, and the thought that she might so easily have vanished from his life forever—and that he’d never have known his daughter …

He coughed and cleared his throat, abstractedly touching the scar.

“Maybe I still do. But I’m not sure. And I have to be.”

“What changed?” she asked curiously. “What could you accept then that you can’t now?”

What changed? he thought wryly. Good question.

“Predestination,” he said. “In a manner of speaking.” There was still enough light that he saw a look of mildly derisive amusement flicker across her face, though whether simply from the ironic juxtaposition of question and answer or from the concept itself, he didn’t know. They’d never argued questions of faith—they were more than cautious with each other on those grounds—but they were at least familiar with the general shape of each other’s beliefs.

He’d explained the idea of predestination in simple terms: not some inescapable fate ordained by God, nor yet the notion that God had laid out each person’s life in great detail before his or her birth—though not a few Presbyterians saw it just that way. It had to do with salvation and the notion that God chose a pathway that led to that salvation.

“For some people,” she’d said skeptically. “And He chooses to damn the rest?”

A lot of people thought that, too, and it had taken better minds than his to argue their way past that impression.

“There are whole books written about it, but the basic idea is that salvation’s not just the result of our choice—God acts first. Extending the invitation, ye might say, and giving us an opportunity to respond. But we’ve still got free choice. And really,” he added quickly, “the only thing that’s not optional—to be a Presbyterian—is a belief in Jesus Christ. I’ve still got that.”

“Good,” she said. “But to be a minister … ?”

“Yeah, probably. And—well, here.” He reached abruptly into his pocket and handed her the folded photocopy.

“I thought I’d best not steal the book,” he said, trying for levity. “In case I do decide to be minister, I mean. Bad example for the flock.”

“Ho-ho,” she said absently, reading. She looked up, one eyebrow quirked.

“It’s different, isn’t it?” he said, the breathless feeling back beneath his diaphragm.

“It’s …” Her eyes shot back to the document, and a frown creased her brow. She looked up at him a moment later, pale and swallowing. “Different. The date’s different.”

He felt a slight easing of the tension that had wound him up for the last twenty-four hours. He wasn’t losing his mind, then. He put out a hand, and she gave him back the copy of the clipping from the Wilmington Gazette—the death notice for the Frasers of the Ridge.

“It’s only the date,” he said, running a thumb beneath the blurred type of the words. “The text—I think that’s the same. Is it what you remember?” She’d found the same information, looking for her family in the past—it was what had propelled her through the stones, and him after her. And that, he thought, has made all the difference. Thank you, Robert Frost.

She’d pressed against him, to read it over again. Once, and twice, and once more for good measure, before she nodded.

“Only the date,” she said, and he heard the same breathlessness in her voice. “It … changed.”

“Good,” he said, his voice sounding queer and gruff. “When I started wondering … I had to go and see, before I talked to you about it. Just to check—because the clipping I’d seen in a book, that couldn’t be right.”

She nodded, still a little pale.

“If I … if I went back to the archive in Boston where I found that newspaper—would it have changed, too, do you think?”

“Yeah, I do.”

She was silent for a long moment, looking at the paper in his hand. Then she looked at him, intent.

“You said, when you started wondering. What made you start wondering?”

“Your mother.”

IT HAD BEEN a couple of months before they left the Ridge. Unable to sleep one night, he’d gone out into the woods and, roaming restlessly to and fro, had encountered Claire, kneeling in a hollow full of white flowers, their shapes like a mist around her.

He’d just sat down then and watched her at her gathering, as she broke stems and stripped leaves into her basket. She wasn’t touching the flowers, he saw, but pulling up something that grew beneath them.

“You need to gather these at night,” she remarked to him after a little. “Preferably at the dark of the moon.”

“I shouldn’t have expected—” he began, but broke off abruptly.

She laughed, a small fizzing sound of amusement.

“You wouldn’t have expected that I should put stock in such superstitions?” she asked. “Wait, young Roger. When you’ve lived as long as I, you may begin to regard superstitions yourself. As for this one …” Her hand moved, a pale blur in the darkness, and broke a stem with a soft, juicy snap. A pungent aroma suddenly filled the air, sharp and plangent through the softer aroma of the flowers.

“Insects come and lay their eggs on the leaves of some plants, do you see? The plants secrete certain rather strong-smelling substances in order to repel the bugs, and the concentration of these substances is highest when the need is greatest. As it happens, those insecticidal substances happen also to have quite powerful medicinal properties, and the chief thing that troubles this particular sort of plant”—she brushed a feathery stem under his nose, fresh and damp—“is the larvae of moths.”

“Ergo, it has more of the substance late at night, because that’s when the caterpillars feed?”

“Got it.” The stem was withdrawn, the plant thrust into her bag with a rustle of muslin, and her head bent as she felt about for more. “And some plants are fertilized by moths. Those, of course …”

“Bloom at night.”

“Most plants, though, are troubled by daylight insects, and so they begin to secrete their useful compounds at dawn; the concentration rises as the day waxes—but then, when the sun gets too hot, some of the oils will begin to vaporize from the leaves, and the plant will stop producing them. So most of the very aromatic plants, you pick in late morning. And so the shamans and the herbalists tell their apprentices to take one plant in the dark of the moon and another at midday—thus making it a superstition, hmm?” Her voice was rather dry, but still amused.

Roger sat back on his heels, watching her grope about. Now that his eyes were accustomed, he could make out her shape with ease, though the details of her face were still hidden.

She worked for a time, and then sat back on her heels and stretched; he heard the creak of her back.

“I saw him once, you know.” Her voice was muffled; she had turned away from him, probing under the drooping branches of a rhododendron.

“Saw him? Who?”

“The King.” She found something; he heard the rustle of leaves as she tugged at it, and the snap of the breaking stem.

“He came to Pembroke Hospital, to visit the soldiers there. He came and spoke separately to us—the nurses and doctors. He was a quiet man, very dignified, but warm in his manner. I couldn’t tell you a thing that he said. But it was … remarkably inspiring. Just that he was there, you know.”

“Mmphm.” Was it the onset of war, he wondered, making her recall such things?

“A journalist asked the Queen if she would be taking her children and evacuating to the country—so many were, you know.”

“I know.” Roger saw suddenly in his mind’s eye a pair of children: a boy and a girl, thin-faced and silent, huddling near each other beside a familiar hearth. “We had two of them—at our house in Inverness. How odd, I hadn’t remembered them at all until just now.”

She wasn’t paying attention, though.

“She said—and I may not have the quote exactly right, but this is the gist of it—‘Well, the children can’t leave me, and I can’t leave the King—and of course the king won’t leave.’ When was your father killed, Roger?”

Whatever he’d been expecting her to say, it wasn’t that. For an instant, the question seemed so incongruous as not to be comprehensible.

“What?” But he had heard her, and shaking his head to dispel a feeling of surreality, he answered, “October 1941. I’m not sure I remember the exact date—no, I do, the Reverend had it written on his genealogy. The thirty-first of October, 1941. Why?” “Why in God’s name,” he wanted to say, but he’d been trying to control the impulse toward casual blasphemy. He choked off the stronger impulse to escape into random thought and repeated, very calmly, “Why?”

“You said he’d been shot down in Germany, didn’t you?”

“Over the Channel on his way to Germany. So I was told.” He could just make out her features in the moonlight, but couldn’t read her expression.

“Who told you? Do you remember?”

“The Reverend, I suppose. Or I suppose it might have been my mother.” The sense of unreality was wearing off, and he was beginning to feel angry. “Does it matter?”

“Probably not. When we first met you—Frank and I, in Inverness—the Reverend said then that your father had been shot down over the Channel.”

“Yes? Well …” So what? was unspoken, but she plainly picked it up, for there was a small snort of not-quite laughter from the rhododendrons.

“You’re right, it doesn’t matter. But—both you and the Reverend mentioned that he was a Spitfire pilot. Is that correct?”

“Yes.” Roger wasn’t sure why, but he was beginning to have an uneasy sense at the back of his neck, as though something might be standing behind him. He coughed, making an excuse to turn his head, but glimpsed nothing behind him but the black-and-white forest, smudged by moonlight.

“I do know that for sure,” he said, feeling oddly defensive. “My mother had a photograph of him with his plane. Rag Doll, the plane was called; the name was painted on the nose, with a crude picture of a dolly in a red dress, with black curls.” He did know that for sure. He’d slept with the picture under his pillow for a long time after his mother was killed—the studio portrait of his mother was too big, and he worried that someone would notice it missing.

“Rag Doll,” he repeated, suddenly struck by something.

“What? What is it?”

He waved a hand, awkward.

“It—nothing. I—I just realized that ‘Rag Doll’ was probably what my father called my mother. A nickname, you know? I saw a few of his letters to her; they were usually addressed to Dolly. And just now, thinking of the black curls—my mother’s portrait … Mandy. Mandy’s got my mother’s hair.”

“Oh, good,” Claire said dryly. “I’d hate to think I was entirely responsible for it. Do tell her that, when she’s older, will you? Girls with very curly hair invariably hate it—at least in the early years, when they want to look like everyone else.”

Despite his preoccupation, he heard the small note of desolation in her voice, and reached for her hand, disregarding the fact that she still held a plant in it.

“I’ll tell her,” he said softly. “I’ll tell her everything. Don’t ever think we’d let the kids forget you.”

She squeezed his hand, hard, and the fragrant white flowers spilled over the darkness of her skirt.

“Thank you,” she whispered. He heard her sniff a little, and she wiped the back of her other hand swiftly across her eyes.

“Thanks,” she said again, more strongly, and straightened herself. “It is important. To remember. If I didn’t know that, I wouldn’t tell you.”

“Tell me … what?”

Her hands, small and hard and smelling of medicine, wrapped his.

“I don’t know what happened to your father,” she said. “But it wasn’t what they told you.”

“I WAS THERE, ROGER,” she repeated, patient. “I read the papers—I nursed airmen; I talked to them. I saw the planes. Spitfires were small, light planes, meant for defense. They never crossed the Channel; they hadn’t the range to go from England into Europe and back, though they were used there later.”

“But …” Whatever argument he’d meant to make—blown off course, miscalculation—faded. The hairs had risen on his forearms without his noticing.

“Of course, things happen,” she said, as though able to read his thoughts. “Accounts get garbled, too, over time and distance. Whoever told your mother might have been mistaken; she might have said something that the Reverend misconstrued. All those things are possible. But during the War, I had letters from Frank—he wrote as often as he could, up until they recruited him into MI6. After that, I often wouldn’t hear anything for months. But just before that, he wrote to me, and mentioned—just as casual chat, you know—that he’d run into something strange in the reports he was handling. A Spitfire had gone down, crashed—not shot down, they thought it must have been an engine failure—in Northumbria, and while it hadn’t burned, for a wonder—there was no sign of the pilot. None. And he did mention the name of the pilot, because he thought Jeremiah rather an appropriately doomed sort of name.”

“Jerry,” Roger said, his lips feeling numb. “My mother always called him Jerry.”

“Yes,” she said softly. “And there are circles of standing stones scattered all over Northumbria.”

“Near where the plane—”

“I don’t know. “ He saw the slight movement as she shrugged, helpless.

He closed his eyes and breathed deep, the air thick with the scent from the broken stems.

“And you’re telling me now because we’re going back,” he said, very calmly.

“I’ve been arguing with myself for weeks,” she said, sounding apologetic. “It was only a month or so ago that I remembered. I don’t often think about the—my—past, but what with everything …” She waved a hand, encompassing their imminent departure and the intense discussions surrounding it. “I was just thinking of the War—I wonder if anyone who was in it ever thinks of it without a capital ‘W’—and telling Jamie about it.”

It was Jamie who had asked her about Frank. Wanted to know what role he had played in the war.

“He’s curious about Frank,” she said abruptly.

“I would be, too, under the circumstances,” Roger had replied dryly. “Was Frank not curious about him?”

That seemed to unsettle her, and she’d not replied directly but had pulled the conversation firmly back on track—if you could use such a word for such a conversation, he thought.

“Anyway,” she said, “it was that that reminded me of Frank’s letters. And I was trying to recall the things he’d written me about, when suddenly I remembered that one phrase—about Jeremiah being a name with a certain doom about it.” He heard her sigh.

“I wasn’t sure … but I talked to Jamie, and he said I should tell you. He says he thinks you’ve a right to know—and that you’d do the right thing with the knowledge.”

“I’m flattered,” he said. More like flattened.

“SO THAT’S IT.” The evening stars had begun to come out, faint over the mountains. Not as brilliant as the stars had been on the Ridge, where the mountain night came down like black velvet. They’d come back to the house by now, but lingered in the dooryard, talking.

“I’d thought about it, now and again: how does the time-traveling fit into God’s plan? Can things be changed? Ought they be changed? Your parents—they tried to change history, tried damned hard, and couldn’t do it. I’d thought that was all there was to it—and from a Presbyterian point of view.” He let a little humor show in his voice. “It was a comfort, almost, to think that it couldn’t change. It shouldn’t be able to be changed. Ye know: God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world sort of thing.”

“But.” Bree was holding the folded photocopy; she waved it at a passing moth, a tiny white blur.

“But,” he agreed. “Proof that things can be changed.”

“I talked to Mama a little bit about it,” Bree said, after a moment’s thought. “She laughed.”

“Did she?” Roger said dryly, and got the breath of a laugh from Bree in answer.

“Not like she thought it was funny,” she assured him. “I’d asked her if she thought it was possible for a traveler to change things, change the future, and she told me it was, obviously—because she changed the future every time she kept someone from dying who would have died if she hadn’t been there. Some of them went on to have children they wouldn’t have had, and who knew what those children would do, that they wouldn’t have done if they hadn’t … and that was when she laughed and said it was a good thing Catholics believed in Mystery and didn’t insist on trying to figure out exactly how God worked, like Protestants do.”

“Well, I don’t know that I’d say—oh, was she talking about me?”

“Probably. I didn’t ask.”

Now it was his turn to laugh, though it hurt his throat to do it.

“Proof,” she said thoughtfully. She was sitting on the bench near the front door, folding the photocopy in long, nervously deft fingers. “I don’t know. Is it proof?”

“Maybe not up to your rigorous engineering standards,” he said. “But I do remember—and so do you. If it was only me, then, yeah, I’d think it was just my mind going. But I’ve got a little more faith in your mental processes. Are you making a paper airplane out of that?”

“No, it’s—whoa. Mandy.” She was up and moving before he’d quite registered the wail from the nursery upstairs, and had vanished into the house a moment later, leaving him to lock up below. They didn’t usually bother locking the doors—no one did, in the Highlands—but tonight …

His heart rate surged as a long gray shadow shot out across the path in front of him. Then dropped as he smiled. Wee Adso, out for a prowl. A neighbor boy had come round with a basket of kittens a few months before, looking for homes for them, and Bree had taken the gray one, a green-eyed ringer for her mother’s cat, and given it the same name. If they got a watchdog, would they name it Rollo? he wondered.

“Chat a Mhinister …” he said. The minister’s cat is a hunting cat.

“Good hunting, then,” he added to the tail disappearing under the hydrangea bush, and bent to retrieve the half-folded paper from the path where Brianna had dropped it.

No, it wasn’t a paper airplane. What was it? A paper hat? No telling, and he tucked it into his shirt pocket and went in.

He found Bree and Mandy in the front parlor, in front of a freshly made fire. Mandy, comforted and given milk, had half-dozed off again already in Bree’s arms; she blinked sleepily at him, sucking on a thumb.

“Aye, what’s the trouble, then, a leannan?” he asked her softly, pushing tumbled curls out of her eyes.

“Bad dream,” Bree said, her voice carefully casual. “A naughty thing outside, trying to get in her window.”

He and Brianna had been sitting below that very window at the time, but he glanced reflexively at the window beside him, which reflected only the domestic scene of which he was a part. The man in the glass looked wary, shoulders hunched in readiness to lunge at something. He got up and drew the curtains.

“Here,” he said abruptly, sitting down and reaching for Mandy. She came into his arms with the slow amiability of a tree sloth, sticking her wet thumb in his ear in the process.

Bree went to fetch them cups of cocoa, returning with a rattle of crockery, the scent of hot milk and chocolate, and the look of someone who’s been thinking what to say about a difficult matter.

“Did you … I mean, given the nature of the, er, difficulty … did you maybe think of asking God?” she said, diffident. “Directly?”

“Yeah, I did think of that,” he assured her, torn between annoyance and amusement at the question. “And yes, I did ask—a number of times. Especially on the way to Oxford. Where I found that.” He nodded at the bit of paper. “What is it, by the way? The shape, I mean.”

“Oh.” She picked it up and made the last few folds, quick and sure, then held it out on the palm of her hand. He frowned at it for a moment, then realized what it was. A Chinese fortune-teller, kids called them; there were four pockets showing, and you put your fingers in them and could open the thing in different combinations as questions were asked, so as to show the different answers—Yes, No, Sometimes, Always—written on the flaps inside.

“Very appropriate,” he said.

They fell silent for a moment, drinking cocoa in a silence that balanced precariously on the edge of question.

“The Westminster Confession also says, God alone is Lord of the conscience. I’ll make my peace with it,” he said quietly, at last, “or I won’t. I said to Dr. Weatherspoon that it seemed a bit odd, having an assistant choirmaster who couldn’t sing—he just smiled and said he was wanting me to take the job so as to keep me in the fold while I thought things over, as he put it. Probably afraid I’d jump ship else, and go over to Rome,” he added, as a feeble joke.

“That’s good,” she said softly, not looking up from the depths of the cocoa she wasn’t drinking.

More silence. And the shade of Jerry MacKenzie, RAF, came and sat down by the fire in his fleece-lined leather flight jacket, watching the play of light in his granddaughter’s ink-black hair.

“So you—” He could hear the little pop as her tongue parted from her dry mouth. “You’re going to look? See if you can find out where your father went? Where he might … be?”

Where he might be. Here, there, then, now? His heart gave a sudden convulsive lurch, thinking of the tramp who’d stayed in the broch. God … no. It couldn’t be. No reason to think it, none. Only wanting.

He’d thought about it a lot, on the way to Oxford, between the praying. What he’d say, what he’d ask, if he had the chance. He wanted to ask everything, say everything—but there really was only the one thing to say to his father, and that thing was snoring in his arms like a drunken bumblebee.

“No.” Mandy squirmed in her sleep, emitted a small burp, and settled back against his chest. He didn’t look up, but kept his eyes fixed in the dark labyrinth of her curls. “I couldn’t risk my own kids losing their father.” His voice had nearly disappeared; he felt his vocal cords grinding like gears to force the words out.

“It’s too important. You don’t forget having a dad.”

Bree’s eyes slid sideways, the blue of them no more than a spark in the firelight.

“I thought … you were so young. You do remember your father?”

Roger shook his head, the chambers of his heart clenching hard, grasping emptiness.

“No,” he said softly, and bent his head, breathing in the scent of his daughter’s hair. “I remember yours.”

FLUTTERBY

Wilmington, colony of North Carolina

May 3, 1777

I COULD SEE AT ONCE that Jamie had been dreaming again. His face had an unfocused, inward look, as though he were seeing something other than the fried black pudding on his plate.

Seeing him like this gave me an urgent desire to ask what he had seen—quelled at once, for fear that if I asked too soon, he might lose some part of the dream. It also, truth be told, knotted me with envy. I would have given anything to see what he saw, whether it was real or not. That hardly mattered—it was connection, and the severed nerve ends that had joined me to my vanished family sparked and burned like shorted-out electrical cables when I saw that look on his face.

I couldn’t stand not to know what he had dreamed, though in the usual manner of dreams, it was seldom straightforward.

“You’ve been dreaming of them, haven’t you?” I said, when the serving maid had gone out. We’d risen late, tired from the long ride to Wilmington the day before, and were the only diners in the inn’s small front room.

He glanced at me and nodded slowly, a small frown between his brows. That made me uneasy; the occasional dreams he had of Bree or the children normally left him peaceful and happy.

“What?” I demanded. “What happened?”

He shrugged, still frowning.

“Nothing, Sassenach. I saw Jem and the wee lass—” A smile came over his face at that. “God, she’s a feisty wee baggage! She minds me o’ you, Sassenach.”

This was a dubious compliment as phrased, but I felt a deep glow at the thought. I’d spent hours looking at Mandy and Jem, memorizing every small feature and gesture, trying to extrapolate, imagine what they would look like as they grew—and I was almost sure that Mandy had my mouth. I knew for a fact that she had the shape of my eyes—and my hair, poor child, for all it was inky black.

“What were they doing?”

He rubbed a finger between his brows as though his forehead itched.

“They were outside,” he said slowly. “Jem told her to do something and she kicked him in the shin and ran away from him, so he chased her. I think it was spring.” He smiled, eyes fixed on whatever he’d seen in his dream. “I mind the wee flowers, caught in her hair, and lying in drifts across the stones.”

“What stones?” I asked sharply.

“Oh. The gravestones,” he answered, readily enough. “That’s it—they were playing among the stones on the hill behind Lallybroch.”

I sighed happily. This was the third dream that he’d had, seeing them at Lallybroch. It might be only wishful thinking, but I knew it made him as happy as it made me, to feel that they had made a home there.

“They could be,” I said. “Roger went there—when we were looking for you. He said the place was standing vacant, for sale. Bree would have money; they might have bought it. They could be there!” I’d told him that before, but he nodded, pleased.

“Aye, they could be,” he said, his eyes still soft with his memory of the children on the hill, chasing through the long grass and the worn gray stones that marked his family’s rest.

“A flutterby came with them,” he said suddenly. “I’d forgot that. A blue one.”

“Blue? Are there blue butterflies in Scotland?” I frowned, trying to remember. Such butterflies as I’d ever noticed had tended to be white or yellow, I thought.

Jamie gave me a look of mild exasperation.

“It’s a dream, Sassenach. I could have flutterbys wi’ tartan wings, and I liked.”

I laughed, but refused to be distracted.

“Right. What was it that bothered you, though?”

He glanced curiously at me.

“How did ye ken I was troubled?”

I looked at him down my nose—or as much down my nose as was possible, given the disparity of height.

“You may not have a glass face, but I have been married to you for thirty-odd years.”

He let the fact that I hadn’t actually been with him for twenty of those years pass without comment, and only smiled.

“Aye. Well, it wasna anything, really. Only that they went into the broch.”

“The broch?” I said uncertainly. The ancient tower for which Lallybroch was named did stand on the hill behind the house, its shadow passing daily through the burying ground like the stately march of a giant sundial. Jamie and I had gone up there often of an evening in our early days at Lallybroch, to sit on the bench that stood against the broch’s wall and be away from the hubbub of the house, enjoying the peaceful sight of the estate and its grounds spread white and green below us, soft with twilight.

The small frown was back between his brows.

“The broch,” he repeated, and looked at me, helpless. “I dinna ken what it was. Only that I didna want them to go in. It … felt as though there was something inside. Waiting. And I didna like it at all.”

PART THREE

Privateer

CORRESPONDENCE FROM THE FRONT

October 3, 1776

Ellesmere

to Lady Dorothea Grey

Dear Coz—I write in haste to catch the Courier. I am embarked upon a brief Journey in company with another Officer, on behalf of Captain Richardson, and do not know for certain what my Whereabouts may be for the immediate Future. You may write to me in care of your Brother Adam; I will endeavor to keep in Correspondence with him.I have executed your Commission to the best of my Ability, and will persevere in your Service. Give my Father and yours my best Regards and Respects, as well as my continuing Affection, and do not omit to keep a large Part of this last Quantity for yourself.Your most obedient,

William

October 3, 1776

Ellesmere to Lord John GreyDear Father,After due Thought, I have decided to accept Captain Richardson’s Proposal that I accompany a senior Officer on a Mission to Quebec, acting as Interpreter for him, my French being thought adequate to the Purpose. General Howe is agreeable.I have not yet met Captain Randall-Isaacs, but will join him in Albany next Week. I do not know when we may return, and cannot say what Opportunities there may be to write, but I will do so when I can, and in the meantime beg that you will think fondly ofYour son,

William

Late October 1776

Quebec

WILLIAM WASN’T SURE quite what to make of Captain Denys Randall-Isaacs. On the surface, he was just the sort of genial, unremarkable fellow you found in any regiment: about thirty, decent with cards, ready with a joke, good-looking in a dark sort of way, open-faced, and reliable. He was a very pleasant traveling companion, too, with a fund of entertaining stories for the road and a thoroughgoing knowledge of bawdy songs and poems of the lower sort.

What he didn’t do was talk about himself. Which, in William’s experience, was what most people did best—or at least most frequently.

He’d tried a little tentative prodding, offering the rather dramatic story of his own birth, and receiving in turn a few spare facts: Randall-Isaacs’s own father, an officer of dragoons, had died in the Highlands campaign before Denys’s birth, and his mother had remarried a year later.

“My stepfather is a Jew,” he’d told William. “A rich one,” he’d added, with a wry smile.

William had nodded, amiable.

“Better than a poor one,” he’d said, and left it at that. It wasn’t much, as facts went, but it did go some way to explain why Randall-Isaacs was working for Richardson rather than pursuing fame and glory with the Lancers or the Welch Fusiliers. Money would buy a commission, but it would not ensure a warm reception in a regiment nor the sorts of opportunity that family connections and the influence spoken of delicately as “interest” would.

It occurred—fleetingly—to William to wonder just why he was turning his back on his own substantial connections and opportunities in order to engage in Captain Richardson’s shadowy ventures, but he dismissed that consideration as a matter for later contemplation.

“Amazing,” Denys murmured, looking up. They had reined in their horses on the road that led up from the bank of the St. Lawrence to the citadel of Quebec; from here, they could see the steep cliff face that Wolfe’s troops had climbed, seventeen years before, to capture the citadel—and Quebec—from the French.

“My father made that climb,” William said, trying to sound casual.

Randall-Isaacs’s head swiveled toward him in astonishment. “He did? Lord John, you mean—he fought on the Plains of Abraham with Wolfe?”

“Yes.” William eyed the cliff with respect. It was thick with saplings, but the underlying rock was crumbling shale; he could see the jagged dark fissures and quadrangular cracks through the leaves. The notion of scaling that height in the dark, and not only climbing it, but hauling all the artillery up the cliff-side with them … !

“He said the battle was over almost as soon as it started—only the one great volley—but the climb to the battlefield was the worst thing he’d ever done.”

Randall-Isaacs grunted respectfully, and paused for a moment before gathering his reins.

“You said your father knows Sir Guy?” he said. “Doubtless he’ll appreciate hearing the story.”

William glanced at his companion. Actually, he hadn’t said that Lord John knew Sir Guy Carleton, the commander in chief for North America—though he did. His father knew everyone. And with that simple thought, he realized suddenly what his true function on this expedition was. He was Randall-Isaacs’s calling card.

It was true that he spoke French very well—languages came easy to him—and that Randall-Isaacs’s French was rudimentary. Richardson had likely been telling the truth about that bit; always best to have an interpreter you can trust. But while Randall-Isaacs had exhibited a flattering interest in William, William became aware ex post facto that Randall-Isaacs was much more specifically interested in Lord John: the highlights of his military career, where he had been posted, whom he had served with or under, who he knew.

It had happened twice already. They’d called upon the commanders of Fort Saint-Jean and Fort Chambly, and in both instances Randall-Isaacs had presented their credentials, mentioning casually that William was the son of Lord John Grey. Whereupon the official welcome had warmed at once into a long, late evening of reminiscence and conversation, fueled by good brandy. During which—William now realized—he and the commanders had done all the talking. And Randall-Isaacs had sat listening, his handsome, high-colored face aglow with a flattering interest.

Huh, William thought to himself. Having worked it out, he wasn’t sure how he felt about it. On the one hand, he was pleased with himself for having smoked what was going on. On the other, he was less pleased to think that he was desirable mainly for his connections, rather than his own virtues.

Well, it was useful, if humbling, to know. What he didn’t know was exactly what Randall-Isaacs’s role was. Was he only gathering information for Richardson? Or had he other business, unspoken? Often enough, Randall-Isaacs had left him to his own devices, saying casually that he had a private errand for which he thought his own French adequate.

They were—according to the very limited instruction Captain Richardson had given him—assessing the sentiments of the French habitants and English settlers in Quebec, with an eye to future support in case of incursion by the American rebels or attempted threats and seductions by the Continental Congress.

These sentiments so far seemed clear, if not what he might have expected. The French settlers in the area were in sympathy with Sir Guy, who—as governor general of North America—had passed the Quebec Act, which legalized Catholicism and protected the French Catholics’ trade. The English were disgruntled by the same act, for obvious reasons, and had declined en masse to answer Sir Guy’s calls for militia assistance during the American attack on the city during the previous winter.

“They must have been insane,” he remarked to Randall-Isaacs, as they crossed the open plain before the citadel. “The Americans who tried it on here last year, I mean.”

They’d reached the top of the cliff now, and the citadel rose from the plain before them, peaceful and solid—very solid—in the autumn sun. The day was warm and beautiful, and the air was alive with the rich, earthy smells of the river and forest. He’d never seen such a forest. The trees that edged the plain and grew all along the banks of the St. Lawrence grew impenetrably thick, now blazing with gold and crimson. Seen against the darkness of the water and the impossible deep blue of the vast October sky, the whole of it gave him the dreamlike feeling of riding through a medieval painting, glowing with gold leaf and burning with a sense of otherworldly fervor.

But beyond the beauty of it, he felt the savagery of the place. Felt it with a clarity that made his bones feel transparent. The days were still warm, but the chill of winter was a sharp tooth that bit harder with each day’s twilight, and it took very little imagination for him to see this plain as it would be a few weeks from now, cloaked in bitter ice, whitely inhospitable to all life. With a ride of two hundred miles behind him, and an immediate understanding of the problems of supply for two riders on the rugged journey north in good weather, combined with what he knew of the rigors of supplying an army in bad weather …

“If they weren’t insane, they wouldn’t be doing what they are doing.” Randall-Isaacs interrupted his thoughts, he, too, drawing up for a moment to look over the prospect with a soldier’s eye. “It was Colonel Arnold who led them here, though. That man is certainly insane. But a damned good soldier.” Admiration showed in his voice, and William glanced curiously at him.

“Know him, do you?” he asked casually, and Randall-Isaacs laughed.

“Not to speak to,” he replied. “Come on.” He spurred up, and they turned toward the citadel gate. He wore an amused, half-contemptuous expression, though, as if dwelling on a memory, and after a few moments, he spoke again.

“He might have done it. Arnold, I mean; taken the city. Sir Guy hadn’t any troops to speak of, and had Arnold got here when he planned to, and with the powder and shot he needed … well, it would have been a different story. But he chose the wrong man to ask directions of.”

“What do you mean by that?”

Randall-Isaacs looked suddenly wary, but then seemed to shrug internally, as though to say, “What does it matter?” He was in good humor, already looking forward to a hot dinner, a soft bed, and clean linen, after weeks of camping in the dark forests.

“He couldn’t make it overland,” he said. “Seeking a way to carry an army and its necessities north by water, Arnold had gone looking for someone who had made the hazardous trip and knew the rivers and portages,” Randall-Isaacs said. “He’d found one, too—Samuel Goodwin.”

“But it never occurred to him that Goodwin might be a Loyalist.” Randall-Isaacs shook his head at this naïveté. “Goodwin came to me and asked what he should do. So I told him, and he gave Arnold his maps—carefully rewritten to serve their purpose.”

And serve their purpose they had. By misstating distances, removing landmarks, indicating passages where there were none, and providing maps that were pure figments of imagination, Mr. Goodwin’s guidance succeeded in luring Arnold’s force deep into the wilderness, obliging them to carry their ships and supplies overland for days on end, and eventually delaying them so badly that the winter caught them, well short of Quebec City.

Randall-Isaacs laughed, though there was a tinge of regret about it, William thought.

“I was amazed when they told me he’d made it after all. Aside from everything else, he’d been swindled by the carpenters who made his ships—I do believe that was sheer incompetence, not politics, though these days it’s sometimes hard to tell. Made with green timbers and badly fitted. More than half of them came apart and sank within days of launching.

“It had to have been sheer hell,” Randall-Isaacs said, as though to himself. He pulled himself up straight then, shaking his head.

“But they followed him. All his men. Only one company turned back. Starving, half naked, freezing … they followed him,” he repeated, marveling. He glanced sideways at William, smiling. “Think your men would follow you, Lieutenant? In such conditions?”

“I hope I should have better sense than to lead them into such conditions,” William replied dryly. “What happened to Arnold in the end? Was he captured?”

“No,” Randall-Isaacs said thoughtfully, lifting a hand to wave at the guards by the citadel gate. “No, he wasn’t. As to what’s happened to him now, God only knows. Or God and Sir Guy. I’m hoping the latter can tell us.”

JOYEUX NÖEL

London

December 24, 1776

MOST PROSPEROUS MADAMS WERE stout creatures, Lord John reflected. Whether it was only the satisfaction of appetites denied in their early years, or was a shield against the possibility of a return to the lower stations of their trade, almost all of them were well armored in flesh.

Not Nessie. He could see the shadow of her body through the thin muslin of her shift—he had inadvertently roused her from her bed—as she stood before the fire to pull on her bed-sacque. She bore not an ounce more upon her scrawny frame than she had when he’d first met her, then aged—she’d said—fourteen, though he’d suspected at the time that she might be eleven. That would make her thirty-odd. She still looked fourteen. He smiled at the notion, and she smiled back, tying her gown. The smile aged her a bit, for there were gaps among her teeth, and the remainder showed black at the root. If she was not stout, it was because she lacked the capacity to become so; she adored sugar, and would eat an entire box of candied violets or Turkish Delight in minutes, compensating for the starvation of her youth in the Scottish Highlands. He’d brought her a pound of sugar plums.

“Think I’m that cheap, do ye?” she said, raising a brow as she took the prettily wrapped box from him.

“Never,” he assured her. “That is merely by way of apology for having disturbed your rest.” That was improvisation; he had in fact expected to find her at work, it being past ten o’clock at night.

“Aye, well, it is Christmas Eve,” she said, answering his unasked question. “Any man wi’ a home to go to’s in it.” She yawned, pulled off her nightcap, and fluffed her fingers through the wild mass of curly dark hair.

“Yet you seem to have some custom,” he observed. Distant singing came from two floors below, and the parlor had seemed well populated when he passed.

“Och, aye. The desperate ones. I leave them to Maybelle to deal with; dinna like to see them, poor creatures. Pitiful. They dinna really want a woman, the ones who come on Christmas Eve—only a fire to sit by, and folk to sit with.” She waved a hand and sat down, greedily pulling the bow from her present.

“Let me wish you a happy Christmas, then,” he said, watching her with amused affection. She popped one of the sweetmeats into her mouth, closed her eyes, and sighed in ecstasy.

“Mmp,” she said, not pausing to swallow before inserting and masticating another. From the cordial intonation of this remark, he assumed her to be returning the sentiment.

He’d known it was Christmas Eve, of course, but had somehow put the knowledge of it out of his head during the long, cold hours of the day. It had poured all day, driving needles of freezing rain, augmented now and then by irritable bursts of hail, and he’d been chilled through since just before dawn, when Minnie’s footman had roused him with the summons to Argus House.

Nessie’s room was small but elegant, and smelled comfortably of sleep. Her bed was vast, hung with woolen bed curtains done in the very fashionable pink and black “Queen Charlotte” checks. Tired, cold, and hungry as he was, he felt the pull of that warm, inviting cavern, with its mounds of goose-down pillows, quilts, and clean, soft sheets. What would she think, he wondered, if he asked to share her bed for the night?

“A fire to sit by, and folk to sit with.” Well, he had that, at least for the moment.

Grey became aware of a low buzzing noise, something like a trapped bluebottle flinging itself against a windowpane. Glancing toward the sound, he perceived that what he had thought to be merely a heap of rumpled bedclothes in fact contained a body; the elaborately passementeried tassel of a nightcap trailed across the pillow.

“That’s no but Rab,” said an amused Scottish voice, and he turned to find her grinning at him. “Fancy it three ways, do ye?”

He realized, even as he blushed, that he liked her not only for herself, or for her skill as an intelligence agent, but because she had an unexcelled ability to disconcert him. He thought she did not know the shape of his own desires exactly, but she’d been a whore since childhood and likely had a shrewd apprehension of almost anyone’s desires, whether conscious or not.

“Oh, I think not,” he said politely. “I shouldn’t wish to disturb your husband.” He tried not to think of Rab MacNab’s brutal hands and solid thighs; Rab had been a chairman, before his marriage to Nessie and the success of the brothel they owned. Surely he didn’t also … ?

“Ye couldna wake yon wee oaf wi’ cannon fire,” she said, with an affectionate glance into the bed. She got up, though, and pulled the curtains across, muffling the snoring.

“Speak o’ cannon,” she added, bending to peer at Grey as she returned to her seat, “ye look as though ye’ve been in the wars yourself. Here, have a dram, and I’ll ring for a bit of hot supper.” She nodded at the decanter and glasses that stood on the elbow table and reached for the bell rope.

“No, I thank you. I haven’t much time. But I will take a drop to keep the cold out, thank you.”

The whisky—she drank nothing else, scorning gin as a beggar’s drink and regarding wine as good but insufficient to its purpose—warmed him, and his wet coat had begun to steam in the fire’s heat.

“Ye’ve not much time,” she said. “Why’s that, then?”

“I’m bound for France,” he said. “In the morning.”

Her eyebrows shot up, and she put another comfit in her mouth.

“ ’Oo ’don me tkp Kismus wi yrfmily?”

“Don’t talk with your mouth full, my dear,” he said, smiling nonetheless. “My brother suffered a bad attack last night. His heart, the quack says, but I doubt he really knows. The usual Christmas dinner is likely to be somewhat less of an occasion than usual, though.”

“I’m that sorry to hear,” Nessie said, more clearly. She wiped sugar from the corner of her mouth, brow puckered with a troubled frown. “His lordship’s a fine man.”

“Yes, he—” He stopped, staring at her. “You’ve met my brother?”

Nessie dimpled demurely at him.

“Discretion is a madam’s most val-u-able stock in trade,” she chanted, clearly parroting the wisdom of a former employer.

“Says the woman who’s spying for me.” He was trying to envision Hal … or perhaps not to envision Hal … for surely he wouldn’t … to spare Minnie his demands, perhaps? But he’d thought …

“Aye, well, spying’s no the same as idle gossip, now, is it? I want tea, even if you don’t. Talking’s thirsty work.” She rang the bell for the porter, then turned back, one eyebrow raised. “Your brother’s dying, and ye’re goin’ to France? Must be summat urgent, then.”

“He’s not dying,” Grey said sharply. The thought of it split the carpet at his feet, a grinning abyss waiting to pull him in. He looked determinedly away from it.

“He … had a shock. Word was brought that his youngest son was wounded in America and has been captured.”

Her eyes widened at that, and she clutched the dressing gown closer to her nonexistent breasts.

“The youngest. That would be … Henry, no?”

“It would. And how the devil do you know that?” he demanded, agitation making his voice harsh. A gap-toothed smile glimmered at him, but then went away as she saw the depth of his distress.

“One of his lordship’s footmen is a regular,” she said simply. “Thursdays; it’s his night off.”

“Oh.” He sat still, hands on his knees, trying to bring his thoughts—and his feelings—under some kind of control. “It—I see.”

“It’s late in the year to be getting messages from America, no?” She glanced at the window, which was covered in layers of red velvet and lace that were unable to keep out the sound of lashing rain. “Did a late ship come in?”

“Yes. Blown off course and limped in to Brest with a wounded mainmast. The message was brought overland.”

“And is it Brest ye’re going to, then?”

“It is not.”

A soft scratching came at the door before she could ask anything further, and she went to let in the porter, who had—without being asked, Grey noted—brought up a tray laden with tea things, including a thickly iced cake.

He turned it over in his mind. Could he tell her? But she hadn’t been joking about discretion, he knew. In her own way, she kept secrets as much—and as well—as he did.

“It’s about William,” he said, as she shut the door and turned back to him.

HE KNEW DAWN WAS near, from the ache in his bones and the faint chime of his pocket watch. There was no sign of it in the sky. Clouds the color of chimney sweepings brushed the rooves of London, and the streets were blacker than they had been at midnight, all lanterns having been long since extinguished, all hearth fires burnt low.

He’d been up all night. There were things he must do; he ought to go home and sleep for a few hours before catching the Dover coach. He couldn’t go without seeing Hal once more, though. Just to assure himself.

There were lights in the windows of Argus House. Even with the drapes drawn, a faint gleam showed on the wet cobbles outside. It was snowing thickly, but wasn’t yet sticking to the ground. There was a good chance that the coach would be detained—was sure to be slow, bogged down on the miry roads.

Speaking of coaches—his heart gave a sickly leap at the sight of a battered-looking carriage standing in the porte cochere, which he thought belonged to the doctor.

His thump at the door was answered at once by a half-dressed footman, nightshirt tucked hastily into his breeches. The man’s anxious face relaxed a little when he recognized Grey.

“The duke—”

“Took bad in the night, my lord, but easier now,” the man—Arthur, that was his name—interrupted him, stepping back to let him in and taking the cloak from his shoulders, shaking off the snow.

He nodded and made for the stair, not waiting to be shown up. He met the doctor coming down—a thin gray man, marked by his black ill-smelling coat and the bag in his hand.

“How is he?” he demanded, seizing the man by the sleeve as he reached the landing. The doctor drew back, affronted, but then saw his face in the glow from the sconce and, recognizing his resemblance to Hal, settled his ruffled feathers.

“Somewhat better, my lord. I have let him blood, three ounces, and his breathing is grown easier.”

Grey let go the sleeve and bounded up the stairs, his own chest tight. The door to Hal’s suite of rooms stood open and he went in at once, startling a maid who was carrying out a chamber pot, lidded and then delicately draped with a cloth handsomely embroidered with large, brilliant flowers. He brushed past her with a nod of apology and went into Hal’s bedroom.

Hal was sitting up against the bolster, pillows wedged behind him; he looked nearly dead. Minnie was beside him, her pleasant round face gaunt with anxiety and sleeplessness.

“I see you even shit with style, Your Grace,” Grey remarked, sitting down on the other side of the bed.

Hal opened one gray lid and eyed him. The face might be that of a skeleton, but the pale, sharp eye was the living Hal, and Grey felt his chest flood with relief.

“Oh, the cloth?” Hal said, weakly but clearly. “That’s Dottie. She will not go out, even though I assured her that if I thought I was going to die, I should certainly wait for her return to do it.” He paused to breathe, with a faint wheezing note, then coughed and went on: “She is not the sort, thank God, to indulge in pieties, she has no musical talent, and her vitality is such that she is a menace to the kitchen staff. So Minnie set her to needlework, as some outlet for her formidable energies. She takes after Mother, you know.”

“I am sorry, John,” Minnie said apologetically to him. “I sent her to bed, but I saw that her candle is still lit. I believe she is at work this moment on a pair of carpet slippers for you.”

Grey thought carpet slippers were likely innocuous, whatever motif she had chosen, and said so.

“So long as she isn’t embroidering a pair of drawers for me. The knotwork, you know …”

That made Hal laugh, which in turn made him cough alarmingly, though it brought a little color back into his face.

“So you aren’t dying?” Grey asked.

“No,” Hal said shortly.

“Good,” said Grey, smiling at his brother. “Don’t.”

Hal blinked, and then, recalling the occasion on which he had said exactly that to Grey, smiled back.

“Do my best,” he said dryly, and then, turning, laid an affectionate hand on Minnie’s. “My dear …”

“I’ll have some tea brought up,” she said, rising at once. “And a good hot breakfast,” she added, after a scrutinizing look at Grey. She closed the door delicately behind her.

“What is it?” Hal hitched himself higher on the pillow, disregarding the bloodstained cloth wrapped round one forearm. “You have news?”

“Very little. But a great number of alarming questions.”

The news of Henry’s capture had been enclosed as a note for Hal inside a letter to himself, from one of his contacts in the intelligencing world, and carried an answer to his inquiries regarding the known French connections of one Percival Beauchamp. He hadn’t wanted to discuss that with Hal until he’d seen Nessie, though—and Hal had been in no condition for such discussions, anyway.

“No known connections between Beauchamp and Vergennes”—naming the French foreign minister—“but he has been seen often in company with Beaumarchais.”

That provoked another coughing fit.

“Little fucking wonder,” Hal observed hoarsely, upon his recovery. “A mutual interest in hunting, no doubt?” That last was a sarcastic reference, both to Percy’s disinclination for blood sports and to Beaumarchais’s title of “Lieutenant General of Hunting,” bestowed upon him some years previous by the late king.

“And,” Grey went on, ignoring this, “with one Silas Deane.”

Hal frowned. “Who?”

“An American merchant. In Paris on behalf of the American Congress. He skulks round Beaumarchais, rather. And he’s been seen speaking with Vergennes.”

“Oh, him.” Hal flapped a hand. “Heard of him. Vaguely.”

“Have you heard of a business called Rodrigue Hortalez et Cie?”

“No. Sounds Spanish, doesn’t it?”

“Or Portuguese. My informant had nothing but the name and a rumor that Beaumarchais has something to do with it.”

Hal grunted and lay back.

“Beaumarchais has his fingers in any number of pies. Makes watches, for God’s sake, as though writing plays weren’t bad enough. Has Beauchamp anything to do with this company?”

“Not known. It’s all vague associations at this point, nothing more. I asked for everything that could be turned up that had anything—anything not generally known, I mean—to do with Beauchamp or the Americans; this is what came back.”

Hal’s slender fingers played restless scales on the coverlet.

“Does your informant know what this Spanish company does?”

“Trade, what else?” Grey replied ironically, and Hal snorted.

“If they were bankers, as well, I’d think you might have something.”

“I might, at that. But the only way to find out, I think, is to go and poke at things with a sharp stick. I’m taking the coach to Dover in”—he squinted at the carriage clock on the mantel, obscured by the gloom—“three hours.”

“Ah.”

The voice was noncommittal, but Grey knew his brother very well indeed.

“I’ll be back from France by the end of March at the latest,” he said, adding gently, “I shall be on the first ship that sails for the Colonies in the new year, Hal. And I’ll bring Henry back.” Alive or dead. Neither of them spoke the words; they didn’t need to.

“I’ll be here when you do,” Hal said at last, quietly.

Grey put his hand over his brother’s, which turned at once to take his. It might look frail, but he was heartened at the determined strength in Hal’s grasp. They sat in silence, hands linked, until the door opened and Arthur—now fully dressed—sidled in with a tray the size of a card table, laden with bacon, sausages, kidneys, kippers, shirred eggs in butter, grilled mushrooms and tomatoes, toast, jam, marmalade, a huge pot of fragrantly steaming tea, bowls of sugar and milk—and a covered dish which he set ceremoniously before Hal, this proving to be filled with a sort of nasty thin gruel.

Arthur bowed and went out, leaving Grey wondering whether he was the footman who went to Nessie’s house on Thursdays. He turned back to find Hal helping himself liberally to Grey’s kidneys.

“Aren’t you meant to be eating your slop?” Grey inquired.

“Don’t tell me you’re determined to hasten me into my grave, too,” Hal said, closing his eyes in brief rapture as he chewed. “How the devil anyone expects me to recover, fed on things like rusks and gruel …” Huffing, he speared another kidney.

“Is it really your heart, do you think?” Grey asked.

Hal shook his head.

“I really don’t think so,” he said, his tone detached. “I listened to it, you know, after the first attack. Whanging away just as usual.” He paused to prod himself experimentally in the chest, fork suspended in the air. “It doesn’t hurt there. Surely it would, wouldn’t it?”

Grey shrugged.

“What sort of attack was it, then?”

Hal swallowed the last of the kidney and reached for a slice of buttered toast, taking up the marmalade knife in his other hand.

“Couldn’t breathe,” he said casually. “Turned blue, that kind of thing.”

“Oh. Well, then.”

“I feel quite well, just now,” Hal said, sounding mildly surprised.

“Do you?” Grey said, smiling. He had a moment’s reservation, but after all … he was going abroad, and unexpected things not only could happen but often did. Best not leave the matter hanging, just in case something un toward befell either one of them before they met again.

“Well, then … if you’re sure that a minor shock will not shuffle off your mortal coil, allow me to tell you something.”

His news regarding the tendresse existing between Dottie and William made Hal blink and stop eating momentarily, but after a moment’s contemplation he nodded and resumed chewing.

“All right,” he said.

“All right?” Grey echoed. “You have no objections?”

“Hardly sit well with you if I did, would it?”

“If you expect me to believe that a concern for my feelings would in any way affect your own actions, your illness has severely damaged you.”

Hal grinned briefly, and drank tea.

“No,” he said, setting down the empty cup. “Not that. It’s just—” He leaned back, hands clasped over his—very slightly—protruding belly, and gave Grey a straight look. “I could die. Don’t mean to; don’t think I will. But I could. I’d die easier if I knew she was settled with someone who’d protect her and look after her properly.”

“I’m flattered that you think William would,” Grey said dryly, though he was in fact immensely pleased.

“Of course he would,” Hal said, matter-of-fact. “He’s your son, isn’t he?”

A church bell began to ring, somewhere in the distance, reminding Grey.

“Oh!” he said. “Happy Christmas!”

Hal looked equally surprised, but then smiled.

“The same to you.”

GREY WAS STILL FILLED with Christmas feeling when he set off for Dover—literally, as the pockets of his greatcoat were jammed with sweetmeats and small gifts and he carried under his arm a wrapped parcel containing the infamous carpet slippers, these lavishly embellished with lily pads and green frogs done in crewelwork. He had hugged Dottie when she gave them to him, managing to whisper in her ear that her job was done. She had kissed him with such vigor that he could still feel it on his cheek and rubbed absently at the spot.

He must write to William at once—though in fact there was no particular hurry, as a letter could not be carried any faster than he would go himself. He’d meant what he’d told Hal; as soon as a ship could set sail in the spring, he’d be on it. He only hoped he’d be in time.

And not only for Henry.

The roads were quite as bad as he’d expected, and the Calais ferry was worse, but he was oblivious to the cold and discomfort of the journey. With his anxiety for Hal somewhat allayed, he was free to think about what Nessie had told him—a bit of information he’d thought of mentioning to Hal but hadn’t, not wanting to burden his brother’s mind, in case it might hamper his recovery.

“Your Frenchman didn’t come here,” Nessie had told him, licking sugar off her fingers. “But he went to Jackson’s regular, when he was in town. He’s gone off now, though; back to France, they say.”

“Jackson’s,” he’d said slowly, wondering. He didn’t patronize bawdy houses himself—bar Nessie’s establishment—but he certainly knew about Jackson’s and had been there once or twice with friends. A flash house, offering music on the ground floor, gaming on the first floor, and more private diversions higher up. Very popular with mid-echelon army officers. But not, he was certain, a place catering to Percy Beauchamp’s particular tastes.

“I see,” he’d said, calmly drinking tea, feeling his heart beat in his ears. “And have you ever come across an officer named Randall-Isaacs?” That was the part of his letter he hadn’t told Hal; Denys Randall-Isaacs was an army officer known to frequent Beauchamp’s company, both in France and in London, his informant had said—and the name had gone straight through Grey’s heart like an icicle.

It might be no more than coincidence that a man known to associate with Percy Beauchamp had taken William on an intelligencing expedition to Quebec—but damned if he thought it was.

Nessie had lifted her head abruptly at the name “Randall-Isaacs,” like a dog hearing the rustle of something in the brush.

“Aye, I have,” she said slowly. There was a blob of fine sugar on her lower lip; he wished to wipe it off for her, and in other circumstances would have. “Or heard of him. He’s a Jew, they say.”

“A Jew?” That startled him. “Surely not.” A Jew would never be allowed to take a commission in the army or navy, no more than a Catholic.

Nessie arched a dark brow at him.

“Perhaps he doesna want anyone to know,” she said, and, licking her lips like a cat, tidied away the blob of sugar. “But if not, he ought to stay awa’ from kittle-hoosies, that’s all I can say!” She laughed heartily, then sobered, hunching her bed-sacque over her shoulders and staring at him, dark-eyed in the firelight.

“He’s got summat to do wi’ your wee lad, the Frenchie, too,” she said. “For it was a girl from Jackson’s told me about the Jewish cove and what a shock it was to her when he took his breeches off. She said she wouldn’t’ve, only his friend the Frenchie was there, too, wanting to watch, and when he—the Frenchie, I mean—saw she was put off, he offered her double, so she did it. She said when ye came right down to it”—and here she grinned lewdly at him, the tip of her tongue resting against the front teeth she still had—“it was nicer than some.”

“Nicer than some,” he muttered distractedly to himself, only half-noticing the wary glance cast toward him by the only other ferry passenger hardy enough to stay abovedecks. “Bloody hell!”

The snow was falling thickly over the Channel, and now swept nearly horizontal as the howling wind changed direction and the ship gave a sickening lurch. The other man shook himself and went below, leaving Grey to eat brandied peaches with his fingers from a jar in his pocket and stare bleakly at the oncoming coast of France, visible only in glimpses through lowlying clouds.

December 24, 1776

Quebec CityDear Papa—I write you from a Convent. Not, I hasten to explain, one of the Covent Garden variety, but a real Roman Convent, run by Ursuline Nuns.Captain Randall-Isaacs and I arrived at the Citadel in late October, intending to call upon Sir Guy and discover his Opinion of the local Sympathies regarding the American Insurrection, only to be told that Sir Guy had marched to Fort Saint-Jean, to deal personally with an Outbreak of said Insurrection, this being a Sea Battle (or so I suppose I must call it), which took place upon Lake Champlain, this a narrow Body connecting with Lake George, which perhaps you will know from your own Time here.I was much in favor of going to join Sir Guy, but Captain Randall-Isaacs was reluctant in consideration of the Distance involved and the Time of Year. In Fact his Judgment was proved sound, as the next Day brought freezing Rain, this giving way shortly to a howling Blizzard, so fierce as to darken the Sky so that you could not tell Day from Night, and which buried the World in Snow and Ice within Hours. Seeing this Spectacle of Nature, I will admit that my Disappointment at missing an Opportunity to join Sir Guy was substantially allayed.As it was, I should have been too late in any Case, as the Engagement had already taken place, upon the 1st October. We did not learn the Particulars until mid-November, when some Hessian Officers from Baron von Riedesel’s Regiment arrived at the Citadel with News of it. Most likely you will have heard more official and direct Descriptions of the Engagement by the Time you receive this Letter, but there may be some Details of interest omitted from the official Versions—and to be frank, the Composition of such an Account is the only Employment available to me at present, as I have declined a kind Invitation from the Mother Superior to attend the Mass they hold at midnight tonight in observance of Christmas. (The Bells of the city’s Churches ring every quarter Hour, marking time through the Day and Night. The convent’s Chapel lies directly beyond the Wall of the Guesthouse in which I am lodged upon the highest Floor, and the Bell is perhaps twenty Feet from my Head when I lie in Bed. I can thus inform you faithfully that it is now 9:15 p.m.)To particulars, then: Sir Guy was alarmed by the attempted Invasion of Quebec last Year, even though it ended in abject Failure, and had thus determined to increase his Hold upon the upper Hudson, this being the only possible Avenue by which further Trouble could come, the Difficulties of land Travel being so exigent as to prevent any but the most determined (I have a small Jar of spirits of Wine with which to present you, this containing a Deerfly measuring nearly two Inches in Length, as well as a Quantity of very large Ticks, these removed from my Person with the assistance of Honey, which smothers them if applied liberally, causing them to loose their Grip).While the Invasion of last Winter did not succeed, Colonel Arnold’s Men determined to deny Sir Guy Access to the Lakes, and thus sank or burned all the Ships at Fort Saint-Jean as they withdrew, as well as burning the Sawmill and the Fort itself.Sir Guy had therefore requisitioned collapsible Ships to be sent to him from England (I wish I had seen these!) and, ten of them arriving, went down to St. John to oversee their assembly upon the upper Richelieu River. Meanwhile, Colonel Arnold (who seems an amazing, industrious Fellow, if half what I hear of him is true) had been madly building his own Fleet of ramshackle Galleys and hog-beamed Sloops.Not content with his Prodigies of collapsibility, Sir Guy also had the Indefatigable, a Frigate of some 180 tonnes (some Argument between my informants as to the number of Guns she carries; after a secondBottle of the convent’s Claret [the Nuns make it themselves, and from the Shade of the priest’s Nose, no little of it gets consumed here, too], Consensus was reached, with “a bloody Lot, mate,” always allowing for Errors of Translation, being the final Number), taken apart, hauled to the River, and there reassembled.Colonel Arnold apparently decided that to wait any longer was to lose what Advantage of Initiative he might possess, and sallied out from his Hiding place at Valcour Island on 30 September. By Report, he had fifteen Craft, to Sir Guy’s twenty-five, these former all hastily built, unseaworthy, and manned by Landsmen who did not know a Binnacle from a Bunion—the American Navy, in all its glory!Still, I must not laugh too much. The more I hear of Colonel Arnold (and I hear a great Deal about him, here in Quebec), the more I think he must be a Gentleman of Gall and Kidney, as Grandpapa Sir George is wont to say; I should like to meet him one day.There is Singing outside; the habitants are coming to the Cathedral nearby. I don’t know the Music, and it’s too far to make out the Words, but I can see the Glow of Torches from my Eyrie. The Bells say it is ten o’clock.(The Mother Superior says that she knows you, by the way—Soeur Immaculata is her Name. I should scarcely have been startled by this; told her that you know the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope, by which she professed to be much impressed, and begs you will convey her most humble Obeisance to His Holiness when next you see him. She kindly asked me to Dinner, and told me Stories of the taking of the Citadel in ’59, and how you quartered a number of Highlanders upon the Convent. How shocked the Sisters all were by their bare Legs, and sought a Requisition of Canvas that they might make the men Trousers. My Uniform has suffered noticeably through the last few Weeks of Travel, but I am still decently covered below the Waist, I am relieved to say. So was Mother Superior, no doubt!)I return to my Account of the Battle: Sir Guy’s Fleet sailed south, intending to reach and recapture Crown Point, then Ticonderoga. As they passed Valcour Island, though, two of Arnold’s Ships sprang out upon them, firing in challenge. These then attempted to withdraw, but one (Royal Savage, they said) could not make Way against the Headwinds, and ran aground. Several British Gunboats swarmed her and captured a few Men, but were forced to withdraw under heavy Fire from the Americans—though not omitting to set Fire to the Royal Savage as they did so.A great deal of Maneuvering then ensued in the Strait, and the Battle began in earnest about Midday, the Carleton and Inflexible bearing most of the Brunt of the Action, along with the Gunboats. Arnold’s Revenge and Philadelphia were badly hit by Broadsides, and the Philadelphia sank near Evening.The Carleton continued firing until a fortunate Shot from the Americans severed the Line to her Anchor, causing her to drift. She washeavily attacked and a number of her Men killed or injured, the Butcher’s Bill including her Captain, a Lieutenant James Dacres (I have an uneasy feeling that I have met him, perhaps at a Dance last Season) and the senior Officers. One of her Midshipmen took Command and carried her to Safety. They said it was Edward Pellew—and I know I have met him, once or twice, at Boodles with Uncle Harry.To resume: Another lucky Shot struck the Magazine of a Gunboat and blew it up, but meanwhile, the Inflexible was finally brought into play and battered the American Boats with her heavy Guns. The smaller of Sir Guy’s Craft landed Indians meanwhile upon the Shores of Valcour Island and the Shore of the Lake, thus cutting off this Avenue of Escape, and the Remnants of Arnold’s Fleet were thus obliged to retreat down the Lake.They succeeded in slipping past Sir Guy, the Night being foggy, and took Refuge at Schuyler Island, some miles south. Sir Guy’s Fleet pursued them, though, and was able to draw within Sight of them the next Day, Arnold’s Boats being much hampered by Leakage, Damage, and the Weather, which had turned to heavy Rain and high Wind. The Washington was caught, attacked, and forced to strike her Colors, her Crew of more than a hundred Men being captured. The rest of Arnold’s Fleet, though, managed to get through to Buttonmold Bay, where, I understand, the Waters are too shallow to allow Sir Guy’s Ships to follow.There Arnold beached, stripped, and set afire most of his Craft—their Flags still flying, as a Mark of Defiance, the Germans said; they were amused by this, but admired it. Colonel Arnold (or must we now call him Admiral Arnold?) personally set Fire to the Congress, this being his Flagship, and set off Overland, narrowly escaping the Indians who had been set to prevent him. His troops did reach Crown Point, but did not linger there, pausing only to destroy the Fort before withdrawing to Ticonderoga.Sir Guy did not march his Prisoners back to Quebec, but returned them to Ticonderoga under a Flag of Truce—a very pretty Gesture, much admired by my Informants.10:30. Did you see the aurora borealis when you were here, or was it too early in the Year? It is a most remarkable Sight. Snow has fallen all Day, but ceased near Sunset and the Sky has cleared. From my Window, I see a northern Exposure, and there is presently an amazing shimmer that fills the whole Sky, waves of pale blue and some green—though I have seen it to be red sometimes—that swirl like Drops of Ink spilt in Water and stirred. I cannot hear it at present, because of the Singing—someone is Playing a Fiddle in the Distance; it is a very sweet and piercing Tune—but when I have seen the Phenomenon outside the City, in the Woods, there is often a most peculiar Sound, or Sounds, that accompany it. Sometimes a sort of faint Whistling, as of Wind around a Building, though there is no Movement of the Air; sometimes a strange, high, hissing Noise, interrupted now and then by a Fusillade of Clicks and Cracklings, as though a Horde of Crickets were advancingupon the Listener through dry Leaves—though by the time the Aurora begins to be seen, the Cold has long since killed all Insects (and good riddance! We applied an Ointment used by the local Indians, which was of some help against stinging Flies and Mosquitoes, but does nothing to discourage the inquisitiveness of Earwigs, Roaches, and Spiders).We had a Guide for our Journey between St. John and Quebec, a Man of mixed Blood (he had a most remarkable Head of Hair, thick and curly as Sheep’s Wool and the color of Cinnamon Bark) who told us that some of the native People think that the Sky is a Dome, separating Earth from Heaven, but that there are Holes in the Dome, and that the Lights of the Aurora are the Torches of Heaven, sent out to guide the Spirits of the Dead through the Holes.But I see I have yet to finish my Account, though it is only to add that following the Battle, Sir Guy withdrew to winter Quarters in St. John, and likely will not return to Quebec until the Spring.So now I come to the true Point of my letter. I rose Yesterday to discover Captain Randall-Isaacs had decamped during the Night, leaving me with a brief Note stating that he had urgent Business, had enjoyed my Company and valuable Assistance, and that I was to remain here until either his Return or the arrival of new Orders.The Snow is deep, more may come at any Moment, and Business must be urgent indeed which could compel a man to venture any Distance. I am of course somewhat disturbed at Captain Randall-Isaacs’s abrupt Departure, curious as to what might have happened to cause it, and somewhat anxious as to his Welfare. This does not seem a Situation in which I would be justified in ignoring my Orders, however, and so … I wait.11:30. I stopped writing for some little time, to stand and watch the Sky. The Lights of the Aurora come and go, but I think they have gone altogether now; the Sky is black, the Stars bright but tiny by contrast with the vanished brilliance of the Lights. There is a vast Emptiness in the Sky that one seldom senses in a City. Despite the Clangor of the Bells, the Bonfires in the Square, and the Singing of People—there is a Procession of some kind going on—I can feel the great Silence beyond it.The Nuns are going in to their Chapel. I leaned out of my Window just now to watch them hurrying along, two by two like a marching Column, their dark Gowns and Cloaks making them look like small Pieces of the Night, drifting among the Stars of their Torches. (I have been writing a long Time, you must forgive the Fancies of an exhausted Brain.)This is the first Christmas I have spent with no Sight of Home or Family. The First of many, no doubt.I think of you often, Papa, and hope you are well and looking forward to roast Goose tomorrow with Grandmama and Grandpapa Sir George. Give my Love to them, please, and to Uncle Hal and his family. (And to my Dottie, especially.)A very merry Christmas from your Son, William

PostScriptum: 2:00 a.m. I went down after all, and stood at the Back of the Chapel. It was somewhat Popish, and there was a great Deal of Incense, but I said a Prayer for Mother Geneva and for Mama Isobel. When I emerged from the Chapel, I saw that the Lights have come back. Now they are blue.

THE BOSOM OF THE DEEP

May 15, 1777My dears,

I hate Boats. I despise them with the utmost Fiber of my Being. And yet I find myself once more launched upon the dreadful Bosom of the Sea, aboard a Craft known as the Tranquil Teal, from which Absurdity you may deduce the grim Whimsy of her Captain. This Gentleman is a Smuggler of mixed Race, evil Countenance, and low Humor, who tells me, straight-faced, that his name is Trustworthy Roberts.

JAMIE PAUSED TO DIP his quill, glanced at the receding shore of North Carolina, and, observing it to rise and fall in an unsettling manner, fixed his eyes at once upon the page he had tacked to his lap desk to prevent its being borne away by the stiff breeze that filled the sails above his head.

We are in good Health, he wrote slowly. Putting aside the notion of seasickness, upon which he did not propose to dwell. Ought he to tell them about Fergus? he wondered.

“Feeling all right?”

He looked up to see Claire, bending to peer at him with that look of intent but cautious curiosity she reserved for people who might at any moment vomit, spurt blood, or die. He’d already done the first two, as a result of her having accidentally put one of her needles into a small blood vessel in his scalp, but hoped she didn’t distinguish any further signs of his impending demise.

“Well enough.” He didn’t want even to think about his stomach, for fear of inciting it, and changed the subject in order to avoid further discussion. “Shall I tell Brianna and Roger Mac about Fergus?”

“How much ink have you got?” she asked, with a sidelong smile. “Yes, of course you should. They’ll be very interested. And it will distract you,” she added, squinting slightly at him. “You’re still rather green.”

“Aye, thanks.”

She laughed with the cheerful callousness of the good sailor, kissed the top of his head—avoiding the four needles protruding from his forehead—and went to stand by the rail, watching the wavering land recede from view.

He averted his gaze from this distressing prospect, and returned to his letter.Fergus and his family are also well, but I must tell you of a puzzling occurrence. A man who calls himself Percival Beauchamp …

It took him most of a page to describe Beauchamp and his baffling interest. He glanced up at Claire, wondering whether he should also include the possibility of Beauchamp’s relationship to her family, but decided against it. His daughter certainly knew her mother’s maiden name and would notice it at once. He had no further useful information to provide in that respect—and his hand was beginning to ache.

Claire was still at the rail, one hand on it for balance, her face dreaming.

She had tied back the mass of her hair with ribbon, but the wind was whipping strands of it out, and with hair and skirts and shawl streaming back, the cloth of her gown molded to what was still a very fine bosom, he thought she looked like a ship’s figurehead, graceful and fierce, a protective spirit against the dangers of the deep.

He found that thought obscurely comforting, and returned to his composition in better heart, despite the disturbing content he had now to confide.Fergus elected not to speak with Monsieur Beauchamp, which I thought wise, and so we presumed this to be the end of the Matter.While we were in Wilmington, though, I went down to the Docks one Evening to meet Mr. DeLancey Hall, our Liaison with Captain Roberts. Owing to the Presence of an English Man-of-war in the Harbor, the Arrangement was that we should repair discreetly aboard Mr. Hall’s fishing Ketch, which would transport us outwith the Harbor, whence we should rendezvous with the Teal, Captain Roberts disliking close Proximity to the British navy. (This is a fairly universal Response on the part of private and merchant Captains, owing both to the prevalence of Contraband aboard most Ships and to the Navy’s rapacious Attitude toward the Ships’ Crews, who are routinely abducted—pressed, they call it—and to all Intents and Purposes, enslaved for Life, save they are willing to risk Hanging for Desertion.)I had brought with me some minor Items of Luggage, intending under the Pretext of taking these aboard to inspect both the Ketch and Mr. Hall more closely before entrusting our Lives to either. The Ketch was not at Anchor, though, and Mr. Hall did not appear for some Time, so that I began to worry lest I had mistaken his Instructions or that he had run afoul either of His Majesty’s Navy or some fellow Rapscallion or Privateer.I waited until it had grown Dark, and was on the point of returning to our Inn, when I saw a small Boat come into the Harbor with a blue Lantern at its Tail. This was Mr. Hall’s Signal, and the Boat was his Ketch, which I assisted him to tie up to the Quay. He told me that he had some News, and we repaired to a local Tavern, where he said that he had been in New Bern the Day before, and there found the Town in an Uproar, owing to an infamous Assault upon the Printer, Mr. Fraser.By report, he—Fergus—was making his Rounds of Delivery, and had just got down from the Mule Cart when someone sprang upon him from behind, thrusting a Sack over his Head, and someone else attempted at the same Time to seize his Hands, presumably with the Intent of binding them. Fergus naturally resisted these Attempts with some Vigor, and according to Mr. Hall’s Story, succeeded in wounding one Assailant with his Hook, there being a certain Amount of Blood to substantiate this Assumption. The wounded Man fell back with a Scream and uttered loud Oaths (I should have been interested to know the content of said Oaths, in order to know whether the Speaker might be French or English, but this Information was not included), whereupon Clarence (who you will remember, I think) became excited and apparently bit the second Assailant, this Man and Fergus having fallen against the Mule in their Struggle. The second Man was discouraged by this vigorous Intervention, but the first returned to the Fray at this Point, and Fergus—still blinded by the Sack but bellowing for Help—grappled with him, striking at him again with his Hook. Some Reports (says Mr. Hall) claim that the Villain wrenched the Hook from Fergus’s Wrist, while others claim that Fergus succeeded in striking him again but that the Hook became entangled in the Villain’s Clothing and was pulled off in the Struggle.In any Event, people in Thompson’s Ordinary heard the Stramash and rushed out, whereupon the Villains fled, leaving Fergus somewhat bruised and most indignant at the loss of his Hook, but otherwise unharmed, for which God and St. Dismas (he being Fergus’s particular Patron) be thanked.I questioned Mr. Hall as closely as I could, but there was little more to be learned. He said that public Opinion was divided, with many saying that this was an attempted Deportation and the Sons of Liberty were to blame for the attack, while some members of the Sons of Liberty indignantly denied this Accusation, claiming that it was the work of Loyalists incensed over Fergus’s printing of a particularly inflammatory Speech by Patrick Henry, and the Abduction was a Prelude to Tar and Feathers. Apparently Fergus has been so successful in avoiding the Appearance of taking Sides in the Conflict that both Sides are equally likely to have taken Offense and decided to eliminate his Influence.This is, of course, possible. But with the Presence and Behavior of Monsieur Beauchamp in Mind, I think a third Explanation is more likely. Fergus declined to speak with him, but it would not have required a great deal of further Inquiry for him to learn that despitehis Name and Scottish Wife, Fergus is a Frenchman. Surely most of the Inhabitants of New Bern know this, and someone could easily have told him.I confess myself to be at a Loss as to why Beauchamp should wish to abduct Fergus, rather than simply come and confront him in Person to inquire whether he might be the Person for whom the Gentleman claimed to be searching. I must assume that he does not mean Fergus immediate Harm, for if he did, it would be a fairly simple Matter to have arranged to have him killed; there are a great many Men of no Attachment and mean Character drifting through the Colony these Days.The Occurrence is worrying, but there is little I can do about it in my present abject Position. I have sent Fergus a Letter—ostensibly regarding the Specifications of a printing Job—which lets him know that I have placed a Sum with a Goldsmith in Wilmington, which he may draw upon in case of Need. I had discussed with him the Dangers of his present Position, not knowing at the Time how dangerous they might actually be, and he agreed that there might be some Advantage to his Family’s Safety in his moving to a City where public Opinion is more strongly aligned with his own Inclinations. This latest Incident may compel his Decision, the more particularly as Proximity to ourselves is no longer a Consideration.

He had to stop again, as pain was radiating through his hand and up his wrist. He stretched the fingers, stifling a groan; a hot wire seemed to stab from his fourth finger up his forearm in brief electric jolts.

He was more than worried for Fergus and his family. If Beauchamp had tried once, he would try again. But why?

Perhaps the fact of Fergus’s being French was not sufficient evidence that he was the Claudel Fraser that Beauchamp sought, and he proposed to satisfy himself upon this point in privacy, by whatever means came to hand? Possible, but that argued a coldness of purpose that disturbed Jamie more than he had wished to say in his letter.

And in fairness, he must admit that the notion of the attack having been executed by persons of inflamed political sensibility was a distinct possibility, and perhaps of a higher probability than the sinister designs of Monsieur Beauchamp, which were both romantical and theoretical to a high degree.

“But I havena lived this long without knowing the smell of a rat when I see one,” he muttered, still rubbing his hand.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” said his personal figurehead, appearing suddenly beside him with an expression of marked concern. “Your hand!”

“Aye?” He looked down at it, cross with discomfort. “What’s amiss? All my fingers are still attached to it.”

“That’s the most that could be said for it. It looks like the Gordian knot.” She knelt down beside him and took the hand into hers, massaging it in a forceful way that was doubtless helpful but so immediately painful that it made his eyes water. He closed them, breathing slowly through clenched teeth.

She was scolding him for writing too much at once. What was the hurry, after all?

“It will be days before we reach Connecticut, and then months on the way to Scotland. You could write one sentence per day and quote the whole Book of Psalms along the way.”

“I wanted to,” he said.

She said something derogatory under her breath, in which the words “Scot” and “pigheaded” featured, but he chose to take no notice. He had wanted to; it clarified his thoughts to put them down in black and white, and it was to some degree a relief to express them on paper, rather than to have the worry clogged up in his head like mud in mangrove roots.

And beyond that—not that he required an excuse, he thought, narrowing his eyes at the top of his wife’s bent head—seeing the shore of North Carolina drop away had made him lonely for his daughter and Roger Mac, and he’d wanted the sense of connection that writing to them gave him.

“Do you think you will see them?” Fergus had asked him that, soon before they took leave of each other. “Perhaps you will go to France.” So far as Fergus and Marsali and the folk on the Ridge were concerned, Brianna and Roger Mac had gone to France to escape the oncoming war.

“No,” he’d said, hoping the bleakness of his heart didn’t show in his voice. “I doubt we shall ever see them again.”

Fergus’s strong right hand had tightened on his forearm, then relaxed.

“Life is long,” he said quietly.

“Aye,” he’d answered, but thought, No one’s life is that long.

His hand was growing easier now; while she still massaged it, the motion no longer hurt so much.

“I miss them, too,” she said quietly, and kissed his knuckles. “Give me the letter; I’ll finish it.”

Your father’s hand won’t stand any more today. There is one notable thing about this ship, beyond the captain’s name. I was down in the hold earlier in the day, and saw a good number of boxes, all stenciled with the name “Arnold” and “New Haven, Connecticut.” I said to the hand (whose name is a very pedestrian John Smith, though no doubt to make up for this distressing lack of distinction he has three gold earrings in one ear and two in the other. He told me that each one represents his survival from the sinking of a ship. I am hoping that your father doesn’t know this) that Mr. Arnold must be a very successful merchant. Mr. Smith laughed and said that, in fact, Mr. Benedict Arnold is a colonel in the Continental army, and a very gallant officer he is, too. The boxes are bound for delivery to his sister, Miss Hannah Arnold, who minds both his three small sons and his importing and dry-goods store in Connecticut, while he is about the business of the war.I must say that a goose walked across my grave when I heard that. I’ve met men whose history I knew before—and at least one of those Iknew to carry a doom with him. You don’t get used to the feeling, though. I looked at those boxes and wondered—ought I to write to Miss Hannah? Get off the ship in New Haven and go to see her? And tell her what, exactly?All our experience to date suggests that there is absolutely nothing I could do to alter what’s going to happen. And looking at the situation objectively, I don’t see any way … and yet. And yet!And yet, I’ve come close to so many people whose actions have a noticeable effect, whether or not they end up making history as such. How can it not be so? your father says. Everyone’s actions have some effect upon the future. And plainly he’s right. And yet, to brush so close to a name like Benedict Arnold gives one a right turn, as Captain Roberts is fond of saying. (No doubt a situation that gave one a left turn would be very shocking indeed.)Well. Returning tangentially to the original subject of this letter, the mysterious Monsieur Beauchamp. If your father’s—Frank’s, I mean—if you still have the boxes of papers and books from his home office, and a free moment, you might go through them and see if you find an old manila folder in there, with a coat of arms drawn on it in colored pencil. I think that it’s azure and gold, and I recall that it has martlets on it. With luck, it still contains the Beauchamp family genealogy that my uncle Lamb wrote up for me, lo these many years ago.You might just have a look and see whether the incumbent of the name in 1777 was perhaps a Percival. For the sake of curiosity.The wind’s come up a bit, and the water’s getting rough. Your father has gone rather pale and clammy, like fish bait; I’ll close and take him down below for a nice quiet vomit and a nap, I think.All my love,

Mama

STAG AT BAY

ROGER BLEW THOUGHTFULLY ACROSS the mouth of an empty stout bottle, making a low, throaty moan. Close. A little deeper, though … and of course it lacked that hungry sound, that growling note. But the pitch … He got up and rummaged in the refrigerator, finding what he was looking for behind a heel of cheese and six margarine tubs full of God knew what; he’d lay odds it wasn’t margarine.

There was no more than an inch or so of champagne left in the bottle—a remnant of their celebratory dinner the week before, in honor of Bree’s new job. Someone had thriftily covered the neck of the bottle with tinfoil, but the wine had of course gone flat. He went to pour it out in the sink, but a lifetime of Scottish thrift was not so easily dismissed. With no more than an instant’s hesitation, he drank the rest of the champagne, lowering the empty bottle to see Annie MacDonald holding Amanda by the hand and staring at him.

“Well, at least ye’re no puttin’ it on your cornflakes yet,” she said, edging past him. “Here, pet, up ye go.” She hoisted Mandy into her booster seat and went out, shaking her head over her employer’s low moral character.

“Gimme, Daddy!” Mandy reached for the bottle, attracted by the shiny label. With the statutory parental pause as he mentally ran through potential scenarios of destruction, he instead gave her his glass of milk and hooted across the champagne bottle’s fluted lip, producing a deep, melodious tone. Yes, that was it—something close to the F below middle C.

“Do again, Daddy!” Mandy was charmed. Feeling mildly self-conscious, he hooted again, making her fall about in a cascade of giggles. He picked up the stout bottle and blew across that one, then alternated, working up a two-note variation to the rhythm of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Attracted by the hooting and Mandy’s ecstatic shrieks, Brianna appeared in the doorway, a bright blue plastic hard hat in her hand.

“Planning to start your own jug band?” she asked.

“Already got one,” he replied, and having decided that the worst thing Mandy could do with the champagne bottle was drop it onto the rug, handed it to her and stepped out into the hall with Brianna, where he pulled her close and kissed her deeply, the baize door swinging shut with a cushioned foosh.

“Champagne for breakfast?” she broke the kiss long enough to ask, then returned for more, tasting him.

“Needed the bottle,” he mumbled, tasting back. She’d had porridge with butter and honey for breakfast, and her mouth was sweet, turning the champagne bitter on the edges of his tongue. The hall was chilly, but she was warm as toast under her fleece jumper. His fingers lingered just under the edge of it, on the bare soft skin at the small of her back.

“Ye’ll have a good day, aye?” he whispered. He fought the urge to slide his fingers down the back of her jeans; not respectful to be fingering the arse of a brand-new inspector of the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board. “You’re bringing the hat home, after?”

“Sure. Why?”

“Thought ye might wear it in bed.” He took it from her hand and set it gently on her head. It made her eyes go navy blue. “Wear it, and I’ll tell ye what I wanted with the champagne bottle.”

“Oh, now there’s an offer I can’t re—” The navy-blue eyes slid suddenly sideways, and Roger glanced in that direction, to see Annie at the end of the hall, broom and dustpan in hand and an expression of deep interest on her narrow face.

“Yeah. Ah… have a good day,” Roger said, letting go hastily.

“You, too.” Face twitching, Brianna took him firmly by the shoulders and kissed him, before striding down the hall and past a round-eyed Annie, whom she airily wished good day in the Gaelic.

A sudden crash came from the kitchen. He turned automatically toward the baize door, though less than half his attention was on the incipient disaster. The greater part was focused on the sudden realization that his wife appeared to have departed for work wearing no knickers.

MANDY HAD, God knew how, managed to throw the champagne bottle through the window and was standing on the table, reaching for the jagged edge of the pane, when Roger rushed in.

“Mandy!” He grabbed her, swung her off the table, and in the same motion smacked her bottom once. She emitted an ear-piercing howl, and he carried her out under his arm, passing Annie Mac, who stood in the doorway with mouth and eyes all round as “O”s.

“See to the glass, aye?” he said.

He felt guilty as hell; what had he been thinking, handing her the bottle? Let alone leaving her by herself with it!

He also felt a certain irritation with Annie Mac—after all, she was employed to watch the children—but fairness made him admit that he ought to have made sure she’d come back to watch Mandy before he left. The irritation extended to Bree, as well, prancing off to her new job, expecting him to mind the household.

He recognized that the irritation was only his attempt to escape the guilt, though, and did his best to put it aside while soothing Mandy, having a wee chat about not standing on tables, not throwing things in the house, not touching sharp things, calling for a grown-up if she needed help—fat chance, he thought, with a wry inward smile; Mandy was the most independent three-year-old he’d ever seen. Which was saying something, considering that he’d also seen Jem at that age.

One thing about Amanda: she didn’t hold a grudge. Five minutes after being smacked and scolded, she was giggling and begging him to play dollies with her.

“Daddy’s got to work this morning,” he said, but bent so she could scramble onto his shoulders. “Come on, we’ll find Annie Mac; you and the dollies can maybe help her get the pantry sorted.”

Leaving Mandy and Annie Mac happily working in the pantry, supervised by an assortment of scabby-looking dolls and grubby stuffed animals, he went back to his office and got out the notebook into which he was transcribing the songs he’d so painstakingly committed to memory. He had an appointment later in the week to talk with Siegfried MacLeod, the choirmaster at St. Stephen’s, and had it in mind to present him with a copy of some of the rarer songs, by way of creating goodwill.

He thought he might need it. Dr. Weatherspoon had been reassuring, saying that MacLeod would be delighted to have help, especially with the children’s choir, but Roger had spent enough time in academic circles, Masonic lodges, and eighteenth-century taverns to know how local politics worked. MacLeod might well resent having an outsider—so to speak—foisted on him without warning.

And there was the delicate issue of a choirmaster who couldn’t sing. He touched his throat, with its pebbled scar.

He’d seen two specialists, one in Boston, another in London. Both of them had said the same thing. There was a possibility that surgery might improve his voice, by removing some of the scarring in his larynx. There was an equal possibility that the surgery might further damage—or completely destroy—his voice.

“Surgery on the vocal cords is a delicate business,” one of the doctors had said to him, shaking his head. “Normally, we don’t risk it unless there’s a dire necessity, such as a cancerous growth, a congenital malformation that’s preventing any useful speech—or a strong professional reason. A well-known singer with nodules, for instance; in that case, the desire to restore the voice might be sufficient motive to risk surgery—though in such cases, there usually isn’t a major risk of rendering the person permanently mute. In your case …”

He pressed two fingers against his throat and hummed, feeling the reassuring vibration. No. He remembered all too well what it felt like to be unable to speak. He’d been convinced at the time that he’d never speak—let alone sing—again; the memory of that despair made him sweat. Never speak to his children, to Bree? No, he wasn’t risking that.

Dr. Weatherspoon’s eyes had lingered on his throat with interest, but he hadn’t said anything. MacLeod might be less tactful.

Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth. Weatherspoon—to his credit—hadn’t said that in the course of their discussion. It had, however, been the quotation chosen for that week’s Bible group; it had been printed on their flyer, which was sitting on the rector’s desk. And in Roger’s hypersensitive frame of mind at the time, everything looked like a message.

“Well, if that’s what Ye’ve got in mind, I appreciate the compliment,” he said out loud. “Be all right with me if I wasn’t Your favorite just this week, though.”

It was said half jokingly, but there was no denying the anger behind it. Resentment at having to prove himself—to himself—one more time. He’d had to do it physically last time. Now to do it again, spiritually, in this slippery, less straightforward world? He’d been willing, hadn’t he?

“You asked. Since when do Ye not take yes for an answer? Am I missing something here?”

Bree had thought so; the height of their quarrel came back to him now, making him flush with shame.

“You had—I thought you had,” she’d corrected, “a vocation. Maybe that’s not what Protestants call it, but that’s what it is, isn’t it? You told me that God spoke to you.” Her eyes were intent on his, unswerving, and so penetrating that he wanted to look away—but didn’t.

“Do you think God changes His mind?” she asked more quietly, and laid her hand on his arm, squeezing. “Or do you think you were mistaken?”

“No,” he’d said, in instant reflex. “No, when something like that happens … well, when it did happen, I wasn’t in any doubt.”

“Are you now?”

“You sound like your mother. Making a diagnosis.” He’d meant it as a joke, but it wasn’t. Bree resembled her father physically to such a degree that he seldom saw Claire in her, but the calm ruthlessness in her questions was Claire Beauchamp to the life. So was the slight arch of one brow, waiting for an answer. He took a deep breath. “I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do.”

Anger bubbled up, sudden and bright, and he’d jerked his arm away from her grasp.

“Where in hell do you get off telling me what I know?”

She widened her stare. “I’m married to you.”

“You think that entitles you to try to read my mind?”

“I think that entitles me to worry about you!”

“Well, don’t!”

They’d made it up, of course. Kissed—well, a bit more than that—and forgiven each other. Forgiving, of course, didn’t mean forgetting.

“Yes, you do.”

Did he know?

“Yes,” he said defiantly to the broch, visible from his window. “Yes, I damned well do!” What to do about it: that was the difficulty.

Was he perhaps meant to be a minister but not a Presbyterian? Become a nondenominational, an evangelical … a Catholic? The thought was so disturbing, he was obliged to get up and walk to and fro for a bit. It wasn’t that he had anything against Catholics—well, bar the reflexes inbred by a life spent as a Protestant in the Highlands—but he just couldn’t see it. “Going over to Rome” was how Mrs. Ogilvy and Mrs. MacNeil and all the rest of them would see it (“Going straight to the Bad Place” being the unspoken implication); his defection would be discussed in tones of low horror for … well, for years. He grinned reluctantly at the thought.

Well, and besides, he couldn’t be a Catholic priest, now, could he? Not with Bree and the kids. That made him feel a little calmer, and he sat down again. No. He’d have to trust that God—through the agency of Dr. Weatherspoon—proposed to show him the way through this particular thorny passage of his life. And if He did … well, was that not evidence of predestination in itself?

Roger groaned, thrust the whole thing out of his head, and immersed himself doggedly in his notebook.

Some of the songs and poems he’d written down were well-known: selections from his previous life, traditional songs he’d sung as a performer. Many of the rare ones, he’d acquired during the eighteenth century, from Scottish immigrants, travelers, peddlers, and seamen. And some he’d unearthed from the trove of boxes the Reverend had left behind. The garage of the old manse had been filled with them, and he and Bree had made no more than a dent in it. Pure luck that he’d run across the wooden box of letters so soon after their return.

He glanced up at it, tempted. He couldn’t read the letters without Bree; that wouldn’t be right. But the two books—they’d looked briefly at the books when they found the box, but had been concerned mostly with the letters and with finding out what had happened to Claire and Jamie. Feeling like Jem absconding with a packet of chocolate biscuits, he brought the box down carefully—it was very heavy—and set it on the desk, rummaging carefully down under the letters.

The books were small, the largest what was called a crown octavo volume, about five by seven inches. It was a common size, from a time when paper was expensive and difficult to get. The smaller was likely a crown sixteenmo, only about four by five inches. He smiled briefly, thinking of Ian Murray; Brianna had told him her cousin’s scandalized response to her description of toilet paper. He might never wipe his arse again without a feeling of extravagance.

The small one was carefully bound in blue-dyed calfskin, with gilt-edged pages; an expensive, beautiful book. Pocket Principles of Health, it was entitled, by C. E. B. F. Fraser, M.D. A limited edition, produced by A. Bell, Printer, Edinburgh.

That gave him a small thrill. So they’d made it to Scotland, under the care of Captain Trustworthy Roberts. Or at least he supposed they must—though the scholar in him cautioned that this wasn’t proof; it was always possible that the manuscript had somehow made it to Scotland, without necessarily being carried in person by the author.

Had they come here? he wondered. He looked around the worn, comfortable room, easily envisioning Jamie at the big old desk by the window, going through the farm ledgers with his brother-in-law. If the kitchen was the heart of the house—and it was—this room had likely always been its brain.

Moved by impulse, he opened the book and nearly choked. The frontispiece, in customary eighteenth-century style, showed an engraving of the author. A medical man, in a neat tiewig and black coat, with a high black stock. From above which his motherin-law’s face looked serenely out at him.

He laughed out loud, causing Annie Mac to peer cautiously in at him, in case he might be having a fit of some kind, as well as talking to himself. He waved her off and shut the door before returning to the book.

It was her, all right. The wide-spaced eyes under dark brows, the graceful firm bones of cheek, temple, and jaw. Whoever had done the engraving had not got her mouth quite right; it had a sterner shape here, and a good thing, too—no man had lips like hers.

How old… ? He checked the date of printing: MDCCLXXVIII. 1778. Not much older than when he’d last seen her, then—and looking still a good deal younger than he knew her to be.

Was there a picture of Jamie in the other … ? He seized it and flipped it open. Sure enough, another steel-point engraving, though this was a more homely drawing. His father-in-law sat in a wing chair, his hair tied simply back, a plaid draped over the chair behind him, and a book open upon his knee. He was reading to a small child sitting upon his other knee—a little girl with dark curly hair. She was turned away, absorbed in the story. Of course—the engraver couldn’t have known what Mandy’s face would look like.

Grandfather Tales, the book was titled, with the subtitle, “Stories from the Highlands of Scotland and the Backcountry of the Carolinas,” by James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Again, printed by A. Bell, Edinburgh, in the same year. The dedication said simply, For my grandchildren.

Claire’s portrait had made him laugh; this one moved him almost to tears, and he closed the book gently.

Such faith they had had. To create, to hoard, to send these things, these fragile documents, down through the years, with only the hope that they would survive and reach those for whom they were intended. Faith that Mandy would be here to read them one day. He swallowed, the lump in his throat painful.

How had they managed it? Well, they did say faith moved mountains, even if his own seemed presently not adequate to flatten a molehill.

“Jesus,” he muttered, not sure if this was simple frustration or a prayer for assistance.

A flicker of motion through the window distracted him from the paper, and he glanced up to see Jem coming out of the kitchen door at the far end of the house. He was red in the face, small shoulders hunched, and had a large string bag in one hand, through which Roger could see a bottle of lemon squash, a loaf of bread, and a few other foodlike bulges. Startled, Roger looked at the clock on the mantel, thinking he had lost complete track of time—but he hadn’t. It was just on one o’clock.

“What the—” Shoving the paper aside, he got up and made for the back of the house, emerging just in time to see Jem’s small figure, clad in windcheater and jeans—he wasn’t allowed to wear jeans to school—making its way across the hayfield.

Roger could have caught him up easily, but instead slowed his pace, following at a distance.

Plainly Jem wasn’t ill—so likely something drastic had happened at school. Had the school sent him home, or had he simply left on his own? No one had called, but it was just past the school’s dinner hour; if Jem had seized the opportunity to run for it, it was possible they hadn’t yet missed him. It was nearly two miles to walk, but that was nothing to Jem.

Jem had got to the stile in the drystone dyke that walled the field, hopped over, and was making determinedly across a pasture full of sheep. Where was he heading?

“And what the bloody hell did you do this time?” Roger muttered to himself.

Jem had been in the village school at Broch Mordha for only a couple of months—his first experience with twentieth-century education. After their return, Roger had tutored Jem at home in Boston, while Bree was with Mandy during her recovery from the surgery that had saved her life. With Mandy safe home again, they’d had to decide what to do next.

It was mostly Jem that had made them go to Scotland rather than stay in Boston, though Bree had wanted that anyway.

“It’s their heritage,” she’d argued. “Jem and Mandy are Scots on both sides, after all. I want to keep that for them.” And the connection with their grandfather; that went without saying.

He’d agreed, and agreed also that Jem would likely be less conspicuous in Scotland—despite exposure to television and months in the United States, he still spoke with a strong Highland lilt that would make him a marked man in a Boston elementary school. On the other hand, as Roger observed privately, Jem was the sort of person who drew attention, no matter what.

Still, there was no question that life on Lallybroch and in a small Highland school were a great deal more like what Jem had been accustomed to in North Carolina—though given the natural flexibility of kids, he thought he’d adapt pretty well to wherever he found himself.

As to his own prospects in Scotland … he’d kept quiet about that.

Jem had reached the end of the pasture and shooed off a group of sheep that were blocking the gate that led to the road. A black ram lowered its head and menaced him, but Jem wasn’t bothered about sheep; he shouted and swung his bag, and the ram, startled, backed up sharply, making Roger smile.

He had no qualms about Jem’s intelligence—well, he did, but not about its lack. Much more about what kind of trouble it could lead him into. School wasn’t simple for anyone, let alone a new school. And a school in which one stuck out, for any reason … Roger remembered his own school in Inverness, where he was peculiar first for having no real parents, and then as the minister’s adopted son. After a few miserable weeks of being poked, taunted, and having his lunch stolen, he’d started hitting back. And while that had led to a certain amount of difficulty with the teachers, it had eventually taken care of the problem.

Had Jem been fighting? He hadn’t seen any blood, but he might not have been close enough. He’d be surprised if it was that, though.

There’d been an incident the week before, when Jem had noticed a large rat scurrying into a hole under the school’s foundation. He had brought a bit of twine with him next day, set a snare just before going in to the first lesson, and gone out at the recess to retrieve his prey, which he had then proceeded to skin in a businesslike manner, to the admiration of his male classmates and the horror of the girls. His teacher hadn’t been best pleased, either; Miss Glendenning was a city woman from Aberdeen.

Still, it was a Highland village school, and most of the students came from the nearby farms and crofts. Their fathers fished and hunted—and they certainly understood about rats. The principal, Mr. Menzies, had congratulated Jem on his cunning, but told him not to do it again at school. He had let Jem keep the skin, though; Roger had nailed it ceremoniously to the door of the toolshed.

Jem didn’t trouble opening the pasture gate; just ducked between the bars, dragging the bag after him.

Was he making for the main road, planning to hitchhike? Roger put on a bit of speed, dodging black sheep droppings and kneeing his way through a cluster of grazing ewes, who gave way in indignation, uttering sharp baahs.

No, Jem had turned the other way. Where the devil could he be going? The dirt lane that led to the main road in one direction led absolutely nowhere in the other—it petered out where the land rose into steep, rocky hills.

And that, evidently, was where Jem was headed—for the hills. He turned out of the lane and began climbing, his small form almost obscured by the luxuriant growth of bracken and the drooping branches of rowan trees on the lower slopes. Evidently he was taking to the heather, in the time-honored manner of Highland outlaws.

It was the thought of Highland outlaws that made the penny drop. Jem was heading for the Dunbonnet’s cave.

Jamie Fraser had lived there for seven years after the catastrophe of Culloden, almost within sight of his home but hidden from Cumberland’s soldiers—and protected by his tenants, who never used his name aloud but called him “the Dunbonnet,” for the color of the knitted Highland bonnet he wore to conceal his fiery hair.

That same hair flashed like a beacon, halfway up the slope, before disappearing again behind a rock.

Realizing that, red hair or no, he could easily lose Jem in the rugged landscape, Roger lengthened his stride. Ought he to call out? He knew approximately where the cave was—Brianna had described its location to him—but he hadn’t yet been up there himself. It occurred to him to wonder how Jem knew where it was. Perhaps he didn’t and was searching for it.

Still, he didn’t call, but started up the hill himself. Now he came to look, he could see the narrow path of a deer trail through the growth and the partial print of a small sneaker in the mud of it. He relaxed a little at the sight, and slowed down. He wouldn’t lose Jem now.

It was quiet on the hillside, but the air was moving, restless in the rowan trees.

The heather was a haze of rich purple in the hollows of the soaring rock above him. He caught the tang of something on the wind and turned after it, curious. Another flash of red: a stag, splendidly antlered and reeking of rut, ten paces from him on the slope below. He froze, but the deer’s head came up, wide black nostrils flaring to scent the air.

He realized suddenly that his hand was pressed against his belt, where he’d once carried a skinning knife, and his muscles were tensed, ready to rush down and cut the deer’s throat, once the hunter’s shot took it down. He could all but feel the tough hairy skin, the pop of the windpipe, and the gush of hot, reeking blood over his hands, see the long yellow teeth exposed, slimed with the green of the deer’s last meal.

The stag belled, a guttural, echoing roar, his challenge to any other stag within hearing. For the space of a breath, Roger expected one of Ian’s arrows to whir out of the rowans behind the deer or the echo of Jamie’s rifle to crack the air. Then he shook himself back into his skin and, bending, picked up a stone to throw—but the deer had heard him and was off, with a crash that took it rattling into the dry bracken.

He stood still, smelling his own sweat, still dislocated. But it wasn’t the North Carolina mountains, and the knife in his pocket was meant for cutting twine and opening beer bottles.

His heart was pounding, but he turned back to the trail, still fitting himself back into time and place. Surely it got easier with practice? They’d been back well more than a year now, and still he woke sometimes at night with no notion where or when he was—or, worse, stepped through some momentary wormhole into the past while still awake.

The kids, being kids, hadn’t seemed to suffer much from that sense of being … otherwhere. Mandy, of course, had been too young and too sick to remember anything, either of her life in North Carolina or the trip through the stones. Jem remembered. But Jem—he’d taken one look at the automobiles on the road they’d reached half an hour after their emergence from the stones on Ocracoke and stood transfixed, a huge grin spreading across his face as the cars whizzed past him.

“Vroom,” he’d said contentedly to himself, the trauma of separation and time travel—Roger had himself barely been able to walk, feeling that he had left a major and irretrievable piece of himself trapped in the stones—apparently forgotten.

A kindly motorist had stopped for them, sympathized with their story of a boating accident, and driven them to the village, where a collect phone call to Joe Abernathy had sorted out the immediate contingencies of money, clothes, a room, and food. Jem had sat on Roger’s knee, gazing openmouthed out the window as they drove up the narrow road, the wind from the open window fluttering his soft, bright hair.

Couldn’t wait to do it again. And once they’d got settled at Lallybroch, had pestered Roger into letting him drive the Morris Mini round the farm tracks, sitting in Roger’s lap, small hands clenching the steering wheel in glee.

Roger smiled wryly to himself; he supposed he was lucky Jem had decided to abscond on foot this time—another year or two, and he’d likely be tall enough to reach the pedals. He’d best start hiding the car keys.

He was high above the farm now, and slowed to look up the slope. Brianna had said the cave was on the south face of the hill, about forty feet above a large whitish boulder known locally as “Leap o’ the Cask.” So known because the Dunbonnet’s servant, bringing ale to the hidden laird, had encountered a group of British soldiers and, refusing to give them the cask he carried, had had his hand cut off—

“Oh, Jesus,” Roger whispered. “Fergus. Oh, God, Fergus.” Could see at once the laughing, fine-boned face, dark eyes snapping with amusement as he lifted a flapping fish with the hook he wore in place of his missing left hand—and the vision of a small, limp hand, lying bloody on the path before him.

Because it was here. Right here. Turning, he saw the rock, big and rough, bearing silent, stolid witness to horror and despair—and to the sudden grip of the past that took him by the throat, fierce as the bite of a noose.

He coughed hard, trying to open his throat, and heard the hoarse eerie bell of another stag, close above him on the slope but still invisible.

He ducked off the trail, flattening himself against the rock. Surely to God he hadn’t sounded bad enough that the stag had taken him for a rival? No—more likely it was coming down in challenge to the one he’d seen a few moments before.

Sure enough; an instant later a big stag came down from above, picking its way almost daintily through heather and rocks. It was a fine animal, but was already showing the strain of rutting season, its ribs shadowed under the thick coat and the flesh of its face sunk in, eyes red with sleeplessness and lust.

It saw him; the big head swiveled in his direction, and he saw the rolling, bloodshot eyes fix on him. It wasn’t afraid of him, though; likely had no room in its brain for anything save fighting and copulation. It stretched its neck in his direction and belled at him, eyes showing white with the effort.

“Look, mate, you want her, you can have her.” He backed slowly away, but the deer followed him, menacing him with lowered antlers. Alarmed, he spread his arms, waved and shouted at the deer; normally that would have sent it bounding away. Red deer in rut weren’t normal; the thing lowered its head and charged him.

Roger dodged aside and threw himself flat at the base of the rock. He was wedged as tightly next the rock’s face as he could get, in hopes of keeping the maddened stag from trampling him. It stumbled to a stop a few feet from him, thrashing at the heather with its antlers and breathing like a bellows—but then it heard the blatting of the challenger below, and jerked its head up.

Another roar from below, and the new stag turned on its haunches and bounded clear over the trail, the sound of its hell-bent passage down the slope marked by the crunch of breaking heather and the rattle of stones spurned by its hooves.

Roger scrambled to his feet, adrenaline running through his veins like quicksilver. He hadn’t realized the red deer were at it up here, or he’d not have been wasting time strolling along maundering about the past. He needed to find Jem now, before the boy ran afoul of one of the things.

He could hear the roars and clashing of the two below, fighting it out for control of a harem of hinds, though they were out of sight from where he stood.

“Jem!” he bellowed, not caring whether he sounded like a rutting deer or a bull elephant. “Jem! Where are you? Answer me this minute!”

“I’m up here, Da.” Jemmy’s voice came from above him, a little tremulous, and he whirled to see Jem sitting on the Leap o’ the Cask, string bag clutched to his chest.

“Right, you. Down. Now.” Relief fought with annoyance but edged it out. He reached up, and Jem slid down the rock, landing heavily in his father’s arms.

Roger grunted and set him down, then leaned down to pick up the string bag, which had fallen to the ground. In addition to bread and lemon squash, he saw, it held several apples, a large chunk of cheese, and a packet of chocolate biscuits.

“Planning to stay for a while, were ye?” he asked. Jemmy flushed and looked away.

Roger turned and looked up the slope.

“Up there, is it? Your grandda’s cave?” He couldn’t see a thing; the slope was a jumble of rock and heather, liberally splotched with scrubby gorse bushes and the odd sprout of rowan and alder.

“Aye. Just there.” Jemmy pointed up the slope. “See, where that witch tree’s leaning?”

He saw the rowan—a full-grown tree, gnarled with age; surely it couldn’t have been there since Jamie’s time, could it?—but still saw no sign of the cave’s opening. The sounds of combat from below had ceased; he glanced round in case the loser should be coming back this way, but evidently not.

“Show me,” he said.

Jem, who had been looking deeply uneasy, relaxed a little at this and, turning, scrambled up the slope, Roger at his heels.

You could be right next to the cave’s opening and never see it. It was screened by an outcrop of rock and a heavy growth of gorse; you couldn’t see the narrow opening at all unless you were standing in front of it.

A cool breath came out of the cave, moist on his face. He knelt down to peer in; couldn’t see more than a few feet inside, but it wasn’t inviting.

“Be cold to sleep in there,” he said. He glanced at Jem, and motioned to a nearby rock.

“Want to sit down and tell me what happened at school?”

Jem swallowed and shifted from foot to foot.

“No.”

“Sit down.” He didn’t raise his voice, but made it evident he expected to be obeyed. Jem didn’t quite sit down but edged backward, leaning against the rocky outcrop that hid the cave mouth. He wouldn’t look up.

“I got the strap,” Jem muttered, chin buried in his chest.

“Oh?” Roger kept his voice casual. “Well, that’s a bugger. I got it once or twice, when I was at school. Didn’t like it.”

Jem’s head jerked up, eyes wide.

“Aye? What for, then?”

“Fighting, mostly,” Roger said. He supposed he oughtn’t to be telling the boy that—bad example—but it was the truth. And if fighting was Jem’s problem…

“That what happened today?” He’d looked Jem over briefly when he sat down, and gave him a closer look now. Jem seemed undamaged, but when he turned his head away, Roger could see that something had happened to his ear. It was a deep crimson, the lobe of it nearly purple. He suppressed an exclamation at sight of it and merely repeated, “What happened?”

“Jacky McEnroe said if ye heard I’d got the strap, ye’d give me another whipping when I got home.” Jem swallowed, but now looked at his father directly. “Will you?”

“I don’t know. I hope I won’t have to.”

He’d tawsed Jemmy once—he’d had to—and neither of them wanted to repeat the experience. He reached out and touched Jem’s flaming ear gently.

“Tell me what happened, son.”

Jem took a deep breath, blowing out his cheeks, then deflated into resignation.

“Aye. Well, it started when Jimmy Glasscock said Mam and me and Mandy were all goin’ to burn in hell.”

“Yeah?” Roger wasn’t all that surprised; Scottish Presbyterians weren’t known for their religious flexibility, and the breed hadn’t altered all that much in two hundred years. Manners might keep most of them from telling their papist acquaintance they were going straight to hell—but most of them likely thought it.

“Well, ye know what to do about that, though, don’t you?” Jem had heard similar sentiments expressed on the Ridge—though generally more quietly, Jamie Fraser being who he was. Still, they’d talked about it, and Jem was well prepared to answer that particular conversational gambit.

“Oh, aye.” Jem shrugged, looking down at his shoes again. “Just say, ‘Aye, fine, I’ll see ye there, then.’ I did.”

“And?”

Deep sigh.

“I said it in the Gàidhlig.”

Roger scratched behind his ear, puzzled. Gaelic was disappearing in the Highlands, but was still common enough that you heard it once in a while in the pub or the post office. No doubt a few of Jem’s classmates had heard it from their grans, but even if they didn’t understand what he’d said… ?

“And?” he repeated.

“And Miss Glendenning grabbed me by the ear and like to tore it off.” A flush was rising in Jemmy’s cheeks at the memory. “She shook me, Da!”

“By the ear?” Roger felt an answering flush in his own cheeks.

“Yes!” Tears of humiliation and anger were welling in Jem’s eyes, but he dashed them away with a sleeve and pounded his fist on his leg. “She said, ‘We—do—not—speak—like—THAT! We—speak—ENGLISH!’ ” His voice was some octaves higher than the redoubtable Miss Glendenning’s, but his mimicry made the ferocity of her attack more than evident.

“And then she took a strap to you?” Roger asked incredulously.

Jem shook his head, and wiped his nose on his sleeve.

“No,” he said. “That was Mr. Menzies.”

“What? Why? Here.” He handed Jem a crumpled paper handkerchief from his pocket, and waited while the boy blew his nose.

“Well… I was already fussed wi’ Jimmy, and when she grabbed me like that, it hurt bad. And… well, my dander got up,” he said, giving Roger a blue-eyed look of burning righteousness that was so much his grandfather that Roger nearly smiled, despite the situation.

“And ye said something else to her, did ye?”

“Aye.” Jem dropped his eyes, rubbing the toe of his sneaker in the dirt. “Miss Glendenning doesna like the Gàidhlig, but she doesn’t know any, either. Mr. Menzies does.”

“Oh, God.”

Drawn by the shouting, Mr. Menzies had emerged onto the play yard just in time to hear Jem giving Miss Glendenning the benefit of some of his grandfather’s best Gaelic curses, at the top of his lungs.

“So he made me bend over a chair and gave me three good ones, then sent me to the cloakroom to stay ’til school was out.”

“Only you didn’t stay there.”

Jem shook his head, bright hair flying.

Roger bent and picked up the string bag, fighting back outrage, dismay, laughter, and a throat-clutching sympathy. On second thought, he let a bit of the sympathy show.

“Running away from home, were ye?”

“No.” Jem looked up at him, surprised. “I didna want to go to school tomorrow, though. Not and have Jimmy laugh at me. So I thought to stay up here ’til the weekend, and maybe by Monday, things would get sorted. Miss Glendenning might die,” he added hopefully.

“And maybe your mam and I would be so worried by the time ye came down, ye’d get off without a second whipping?”

Jem’s deep-blue eyes widened in surprise.

“Och, no. Mam would give me laldy if I just went off wi’ no word. I put a note on my bed. Said I was living rough a day or two.” He said this with perfect matter-of-factness. Then he wiggled his shoulders and stood up, sighing.

“Can we get it over and go home?” he asked, his voice trembling only a little. “I’m hungry.”

“I’m not going to whip you,” Roger assured him. He reached out an arm and gathered Jemmy to him. “Come here, pal.”

Jemmy’s brave facade gave way at that, and he melted into Roger’s arms, crying a little in relief but letting himself be comforted, cuddling like a puppy against his father’s shoulder, trusting Da to make it all right. And his da bloody would, Roger promised silently. No matter if he had to strangle Miss Glendenning with his bare hands.

“Why is it bad to speak Gàidhlig, Da?” he murmured, worn out by so much emotion. “I didna mean to do anything bad.”

“It’s not,” Roger whispered, smoothing the silky hair behind Jem’s ear. “Dinna fash yourself. Mam and I will get it sorted. I promise. And ye haven’t got to go to school tomorrow.”

Jem sighed at that, going inert as a bag of grain. Then he lifted his head and gave a small giggle.

“D’ye think Mam will give Mr. Menzies laldy?”

TUNNEL TIGERS

BRIANNA’S FIRST INTIMATION of disaster was the slice of light on the track, shrinking to nothing in the split second it took for the enormous doors to swing shut, echoing behind her with a boom that seemed to shiver the air in the tunnel.

She said something that she would have washed Jem’s mouth out for saying, and said it with heartfelt fury—but said it also under her breath, having realized in the instant that it took the doors to close what was happening.

She couldn’t see a thing save the swirls of color that were her retinas’ response to sudden dark, but she was only ten feet or so inside the tunnel and could still hear the sound of the bolts sliding home; they were worked by big wheels on the outside of the steel doors and made a grinding sound like bones being chewed. She turned carefully, took five steps, and put out her hands. Yes, there were the doors; big, solid, made of steel, and now solidly locked. She could hear the sound of laughter outside.

Giggling, she thought with furious contempt. Like little boys!

Little boys, indeed. She took a few deep breaths, fighting off both anger and panic. Now that the dazzle of the darkness had faded, she could see the thin line of light that bisected the fifteen-foot doors. A man-height shadow interrupted the light but was jerked away, to the accompaniment of whispers and more giggling. Someone trying to peek in, the idiot. Good luck to him, seeing anything in here. Aside from the hair of light between the doors, the hydroelectric tunnel under Loch Errochty was dark as the pits of hell.

At least she could use that hair of light for orientation. Still breathing with deliberation, she made her way—stepping carefully; she didn’t want to amuse the baboons outside any more than necessary by stumbling and falling noisily—to the metal box on the left wall where the power switches that controlled the tunnel lighting were located.

She found the box and was momentarily panicked to find it locked, before recalling that she had the key; it was on the big jangle of grubby keys that Mr. Campbell had given her, each one dangling a worn paper tag with its function written on. Of course, she couldn’t read the bloody tags—and frigging Andy Davies had casually borrowed the flashlight that should have been in her belt, on the pretext of looking under the truck for an oil leak.

They’d planned it pretty well, she thought grimly, trying one key, then the next, fumbling and scratching to insert the tip in the tiny invisible slot. All three of them were clearly in on it: Andy, Craig McCarty, and Rob Cameron.

She was of an orderly mind, and when she’d tried each key in careful turn with no result, didn’t try them again. She knew they’d thought of that one, too; Craig had taken the keys from her to unlock the toolbox in the panel truck, and returned them with a bow of exaggerated gallantry.

They’d stared at her—naturally—when she was introduced to them as the new safety inspector, though she supposed they’d already been informed she was that shocking thing, a woman. Rob Cameron, a handsome young man who clearly fancied himself, had looked her frankly up and down before extending his hand with a smile. She’d returned the slow up-and-down before taking it, and the other two had laughed. So had Rob, to his credit.

She hadn’t sensed any hostility from them on the drive to Loch Errochty, and she thought she’d have seen it if it had been there. This was just a stupid joke. Probably.

In all honesty, the doors closing behind her had not been her first intimation that something was up, she thought grimly. She’d been a mother much too long to miss the looks of secretive delight or preternatural innocence that marked the face of a male up to mischief, and such looks had been all over the faces of her maintenance and repair team, if she’d spared the attention to look at them. Her mind had been only half on her job, though; the other half had been in the eighteenth century, worried for Fergus and Marsali, but encouraged by the vision of her parents and Ian safely bound at last for Scotland.

But whatever was going on—had gone on, she corrected herself firmly—in the past, she had other things to worry about in the here and now.

What did they expect her to do? she wondered. Scream? Cry? Beat on the doors and beg to be let out?

She walked quietly back to the door and pressed her ear to the crack, in time to hear the roar of the truck’s engine starting up and the spurt of gravel from its wheels as it turned up the service road.

“You bloody bastards!” she said out loud. What did they mean by this? Since she hadn’t satisfied them by shrieking and crying, they’d decided simply to leave her entombed for a while? Come back later in hopes of finding her in shards—or, better yet, red-faced with fury? Or—more-sinister thought—did they mean to go back to the Hydro Electric Board office, innocent looks on their faces, and tell Mr. Campbell that his new inspector simply hadn’t shown up for work this morning?

She breathed out through her nose, slow, deliberate.

Right. She’d eviscerate them when the opportunity offered. But what to do just now?

She turned away from the power box, looking into the utter black. She hadn’t been in this particular tunnel before, though she’d seen one like it during her tour with Mr. Campbell. It was one of the original tunnels of the hydroelectric project, dug by hand with pick and shovel by the “hydro boys” back in the 1950s. It ran nearly a mile through the mountain and under part of the flooded valley that now held the greatly expanded Loch Errochty, and a toylike electric train ran on its track down the center of the tunnel.

Originally, the train had carried the workmen, the “tunnel tigers,” to the work face and back; now reduced to only an engine, it served the occasional hydroelectric workers checking the huge cables that ran along the tunnel’s walls or servicing the tremendous turbines at the foot of the dam, far off at the other end of the tunnel.

Which was, it occurred to her, what Rob, Andy, and Craig were meant to be doing. Lifting one of the massive turbines and replacing its damaged blade.

She pressed her back against the tunnel wall, hands flat on the rough rock, and thought. That’s where they’d gone, then. It made no difference, but she closed her eyes to improve her concentration and summoned up the pages of the massive binder—presently on the seat of the vanished truck—that contained the structural and engineering details of all the hydroelectric stations under her purview.

She’d looked at the diagrams for this one last night and again, hastily, while brushing her teeth this morning. The tunnel led to the dam, and had obviously been used in the construction of the lower levels of that dam. How low? If the tunnel joined at the level of the turbine chamber itself, it would have been walled off. But if it joined at the level of the servicing chamber above—a huge room equipped with the multi-ton ceiling cranes needed to lift the turbines from their nests—then there would still be a door; there would have been no need to seal it off, with no water on the other side.

Try as she might, she couldn’t bring the diagrams to mind in sufficient detail to be sure there was an opening into the dam at the far end of the tunnel—but it would be simple enough to find out.

SHE’D SEEN THE TRAIN, in that brief moment before the doors closed; it didn’t take much fumbling round to get into the open cab of the tiny engine. Now, had those clowns taken the key to the engine, too? Ha. There was no key; it worked by a switch on the console. She flipped it, and a red button glowed with sudden triumph as she felt the hum of electricity run through the track beneath.

The train couldn’t have been simpler to run. It had a single lever, which you pushed forward or back, depending on which direction you meant to go. She shoved it gently forward, and felt air move past her face as the train moved silently off into the bowels of the earth.

She had to go slowly. The tiny red button shed a comforting glow over her hands, but did nothing to pierce the darkness ahead, and she had no idea where or how much the track curved. Neither did she want to hit the end of the track at a high rate of speed and derail the engine. It felt as though she was inching through the dark, but it was much better than walking, feeling her way over a mile of tunnel lined with high-voltage cables.

It hit her in the dark. For a split second, she thought someone had laid a live cable on the track. In the next instant, a sound that wasn’t a sound thrummed through her, plucking every nerve in her body, making her vision go white. And then her hand brushed rock and she realized that she had fallen across the console, was hanging halfway out of the tiny, trundling engine, was about to fall out into darkness.

Head spinning, she managed to grab the edge of the console and pull herself back into the cab. Flipped the switch with one shaking hand and half-fell to the floor, where she curled up, gripping her knees, her breath a whimpering in the dark.

“Holy God,” she whispered. “Oh, Blessed Mother. Oh, Jesus.”

She could feel it out there. Still feel it. It didn’t make a sound now, but she felt its nearness and couldn’t stop trembling.

She sat still for a long time, head on her knees, until rational thought began to come back.

She couldn’t be mistaken. She’d passed through time twice, and knew the feeling. But this hadn’t been nearly so shocking. Her skin still prickled and her nerves jumped and her inner ears rang as though she’d thrust her head into a hive of hornets—but she felt solid. She felt as though a red-hot wire had sliced her in two, but she hadn’t had the horrible sense of being disassembled, turned physically inside out.

A terrible thought sent her surging to her feet, clinging to the console. Had she jumped? Was she somewhere—somewhen—else? But the metal console was cool and solid under her hands, the smell of damp rock and cable insulation unchanged.

“No,” she whispered, and flicked the power light for reassurance. It came on, and the train, still in gear, gave a sudden lurch. Hastily, she throttled back the speed to less than a crawl.

She couldn’t have jumped into the past. Small objects in direct contact with a traveler’s person seemed to move with them, but an entire train and its track was surely pushing it. “Besides,” she said out loud, “if you’d gone more than twenty-five years or so into the past, the tunnel wouldn’t be here. You’d be inside… solid rock.” Her gorge rose suddenly, and she threw up.

The sense of… it… was receding, though. It—whatever it was—was behind her. Well, that settled it, she thought, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. There bloody well had to be a door at the far end, because there was no way she was going back the way she’d come.

There was a door. A plain, ordinary, industrial metal door. And a padlock, unlocked, hanging from an open hasp. She could smell WD-40; someone had oiled the hinges, very recently, and the door swung open easily when she turned the knob. She felt suddenly like Alice, after falling down the White Rabbit’s hole. A really mad Alice.

A steep flight of steps lay on the other side of the door, dimly lit—and at the top was another metal door, edged with light. She could hear the rumble and the metallic whine of a ceiling crane in operation.

Her breath was coming fast, and not from the effort of climbing the stairs. What would she find on the other side? It was the servicing chamber inside the dam; she knew that much. But would she find Thursday on the other side? The same Thursday she’d had when the tunnel doors had closed behind her?

She gritted her teeth and opened the door. Rob Cameron was waiting, lounging back against the wall, lit cigarette in hand. He broke into an enormous grin at sight of her, dropped the butt, and stepped on it.

“Knew ye’d make it, hen,” he said. Across the room, Andy and Craig turned from their work and applauded.

“Buy ye a pint after work, then, lass,” Andy called.

“Two!” shouted Craig.

She could still taste bile at the back of her throat. She gave Rob Cameron the sort of look she’d given Mr. Campbell.

“Don’t,” she said evenly, “call me hen.”

His good-looking face twitched and he tugged at his forelock with mock subservience.

“Anything you say, boss,” he said.

HILLTOPS

IT WAS NEARLY SEVEN by the time he heard Brianna’s car in the drive. The kids had had their supper, but came swarming out to her, clinging to her legs as though she’d just come back from darkest Africa or the North Pole.

It was some time before the kids were settled for the night and Bree had time to give her undivided attention to him. He didn’t mind. “Are you starving?” she said. “I can fix—”

He interrupted her, taking her by the hand and drawing her into his office, where he carefully closed and locked the door. She was standing there, hair half matted from her hard hat, grimy from spending the day in the bowels of the earth. She smelled of earth. Also engine grease, cigarette smoke, sweat, and… beer?

“I’ve a lot to tell you,” he said. “And I know ye’ve a lot to tell me. But first… could ye just slip off your jeans, maybe, sit on the desk, and spread your legs?”

Her eyes went perfectly round.

“Yes,” she said mildly. “I could do that.”

ROGER HAD OFTEN WONDERED whether it was true what they said about redheaded people being more volatile than the usual—or whether it was just that their emotions showed so suddenly and alarmingly on their skins. Both, he thought.

Maybe he should have waited ’til she’d got her clothes on before telling her about Miss Glendenning. If he had, though, he’d have missed the remarkable sight of his wife, naked and flushed with fury from the navel upward.

“That bloody old besom! If she thinks she can get away with—”

“She can’t,” he interrupted firmly. “Of course she can’t.”

“You bet she can’t! I’ll go down there first thing tomorrow and—”

“Well, maybe not.”

She stopped and looked at him, one eye narrowed.

“Maybe not what?”

“Maybe not you.” He fastened his own jeans, and picked hers up. “I was thinking it might be best if I go.”

She frowned, turning that one over.

“Not that I think ye’d lose your temper and set about the old bitch,” he added, smiling, “but you have got your job to go to, aye?”

“Hmmm,” she said, seeming skeptical of his ability to adequately impress Miss Glendenning with the magnitude of her crime.

“And if ye did lose the heid and nut the woman, I’d hate to have to explain to the kids why we were visiting Mummy in jail.”

That made her laugh, and he relaxed a little. He really didn’t think she’d resort to physical violence, but then, she hadn’t seen Jemmy’s ear right after he’d come home. He’d had a strong urge himself to go straight down to the school and show the woman what it felt like, but he was in better command of himself now.

“So what do you mean to say to her?” She fished her brassiere out from under the desk, giving him a succulent view of her rear aspect, as she hadn’t put the jeans on yet.

“Nothing. I’ll speak to the principal. He can have a word with her.”

“Well, that might be better,” she said slowly. “We don’t want Miss Glendenning to take it out on Jemmy.”

“Right.” The beautiful flush was fading. Her hard hat had rolled off under the chair; he picked it up and set it on her head again. “So—how was work today? And why don’t ye wear knickers to work?” he asked, suddenly remembering.

To his startlement, the flush roared back like a brushfire.

“I got out of the habit in the eighteenth century,” she snapped, plainly taking the huff. “I only wear knickers for ceremonial purposes anymore. What did you think, I was planning to seduce Mr. Campbell?”

“Well, not if he’s anything like you described him, no,” he said mildly. “I just noticed when ye left this morning, and wondered.”

“Oh.” She was still ruffled, he could see that and wondered why. He was about to ask again about her day when she took the hat off and eyed him speculatively.

“You said if I wore the hat, you’d tell me what you were doing with that champagne bottle. Other than giving it to Mandy to throw through the window,” she added, with a tinge of wifely censoriousness. “What were you thinking, Roger?”

“Well, in all honesty, I was thinking about your arse,” he said. “But it never occurred to me that she’d throw the thing. Or that she could throw it like that.”

“Did you ask her why she did it?”

He stopped, nonplused.

“It hadn’t occurred to me that she’d have a reason,” he confessed. “I snatched her off the table as she was about to pitch face-first into the broken window, and I was so frightened that I just picked her up and smacked her bum.”

“I don’t think she’d do something like that for no reason,” Bree said meditatively. She’d put aside the hard hat and was scooping herself into her brassiere, a spectacle Roger found diverting under just about any circumstances.

It wasn’t until they’d gone back to the kitchen for their own late supper that he remembered to ask again how her workday had gone.

“Not bad,” she said, with a good assumption of casualness. Not so good as to convince him, but good enough that he thought better of prodding, and instead asked, “Ceremonial purposes?”

A broad grin spread across her face.

“You know. For you.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you and your fetish for women’s lacy underthings.”

“What—you mean you only wear knickers for—”

“For you to take off, of course.”

There was no telling where the conversation might have gone from this point, but it was interrupted by a loud wail from above, and Bree disappeared hastily in the direction of the stairs, leaving Roger to contemplate this latest revelation.

He’d got the bacon fried and the tinned beans simmering by the time she reappeared, a small frown between her brows.

“Bad dream,” she said, in answer to his lifted brow. “The same one.”

“The bad thing trying to get in her window again?”

She nodded and took the saucepan of beans he handed her, though she didn’t move immediately to serve out the food.

“I asked her why she threw the bottle.”

“Aye?”

Brianna took the bean spoon, holding it like a weapon.

“She said she saw him outside the window.”

“Him? The—”

“The Nuckelavee.”

IN THE MORNING, the broch was just as it had been the last time he’d looked. Dark. Quiet, save for the rustling of the doves overhead. He’d taken away the rubbish; no new fish papers had come. Swept and garnished, he thought. Waiting for the occupation of whatever roaming spirit might happen by?

He shook that thought off and closed the door firmly. He’d get new hinges and a padlock for it, next time he passed by the Farm and Household Stores.

Had Mandy really seen someone? And if she had, was it the same tramp who had frightened Jem? The idea of someone hanging round, spying on his family, made something hard and black curl through his chest, like a sharp-pointed iron spring. He stood for a moment, narrowly surveying the house, the grounds, for any trace of an intruder. Anywhere a man might hide. He’d already searched the barn and the other outbuildings.

The Dunbonnet’s cave? The thought—with his memory of Jem standing right by the mouth of the cave—chilled him. Well, he’d soon find out, he thought grimly, and with a last glance at Annie MacDonald and Mandy, peacefully hanging out the family washing in the yard below, he set off.

He kept a sharp ear out today. He heard the echo of the red stags belling, still hard at it, and once saw a small herd of hinds in the distance, but luckily met no lust-crazed males. No lurking tramps, either.

It took him some time of casting about to find the cave’s entrance, even though he’d been there only the day before. He made a good bit of noise, approaching, but stood outside and called, “Hallo, the cave!” just in case. No answer.

He approached the entrance from the side, pressing back the covering gorse with a forearm, ready in case the tramp might be lurking inside—but he could tell as soon as the damp breath of the place touched his face that it was unoccupied.

Nonetheless, he poked his head in, then swung himself down into the cave itself. It was dry, for a cave in the Highlands, which was not saying all that much. Cold as a tomb, though. It was no wonder Highlanders had a reputation for toughness; anyone who wasn’t would have succumbed to starvation or pneumonia in short order.

Despite the chill of the place, he stood for a minute, imagining his father-in-law here. It was empty and cold, but oddly peaceful, he thought. No sense of foreboding. In fact, he felt… welcomed, and the notion made the hairs prickle on his arms.

“Grant, Lord, that they may be safe,” he said quietly, his hand resting on the stone at the entrance. Then he climbed out, into the sun’s warm benediction.

That strange sense of welcome, of having been somehow acknowledged, remained with him.

“Well, what now, athair-céile?” he said aloud, half joking. “Anyplace else I should look?”

Even as he said it, he realized that he was looking. On the top of the next small hill was the heap of stones Brianna had told him about. Human-made, she’d said, and thought it might be an Iron Age fort. There didn’t look to be enough of whatever it was standing to offer shelter to anyone, but out of sheer restlessness, he made his way down through the tumble of rock and heather, splashed through a tiny burn that gurgled through the rock at the foot of the hill, and toiled his way up to the heap of ancient rubble.

It was ancient—but not as old as the Iron Age. What he found looked like the ruins of a small chapel; a stone on the ground had a cross chiseled crudely into it, and he saw what looked like the weathered fragments of a stone statue, scattered by the entrance. There was more of it than he’d thought from a distance; one wall still reached as high as his waist, and there were parts of two more. The roof had long since fallen in and disappeared, but a length of the rooftree was still there, the wood gone hard as metal.

Wiping sweat from the back of his neck, he stooped and picked up the statue’s head. Very old. Celtic, Pictish? Not enough left to tell even the statue’s intended gender.

He passed a thumb gently over the statue’s sightless eyes, then set the head carefully atop the half wall; there was a depression there, as though there might once have been a niche in the wall.

“Okay,” he said, feeling awkward. “See you later, then.” And, turning, made his way down the rough hill toward home, still with that odd sense of being accompanied on his way.

The Bible says, “Seek, and ye shall find,” he thought. And said aloud to the vibrant air, “But there’s no guarantee about what you’ll find, is there?”

CONVERSATION WITH A HEADMASTER

AFTER A PEACEFUL LUNCH with Mandy, who seemed to have forgotten all about her nightmares, he dressed with some care for his interview with the headmaster of Jem’s school.

Mr. Menzies was a surprise; Roger hadn’t thought to ask Bree what the man was like, and had been expecting something squat, middle-aged, and authoritarian, along the lines of his own headmaster at school. Instead, Menzies was close to Roger’s own age, a slender, pale-skinned man with spectacles and what looked like a humorous eye behind them. Roger didn’t miss the firm set of the mouth, though, and thought he’d been right to keep Bree from coming.

“Lionel Menzies,” the headmaster said, smiling. He had a solid handshake and a friendly air, and Roger found himself revising his strategy.

“Roger MacKenzie.” He let go and took the proffered seat, across the desk from Menzies. “Jem’s—Jeremiah’s—dad.”

“Oh, aye, of course. I rather thought I might see you or your wife, when Jem didn’t turn up at school this morning.” Menzies leaned back a little, folding his hands. “Before we go very far… could I just ask exactly what Jem told ye about what happened?”

Roger’s opinion of the man rose a grudging notch.

“He said that his teacher heard him say something to another lad in the Gaelic, whereupon she grabbed him by the ear and shook him. That made him mad and he called her names—also in Gaelic—for which you belted him.” He’d spotted the strap itself, hung up inconspicuously—but still quite visible—on the wall beside a filing cabinet.

Menzies’s eyebrows rose behind his spectacles.

“Is that not what happened?” Roger asked, wondering for the first time whether Jem had lied or omitted something even more horrible from his account.

“No, that’s what happened,” Menzies said. “I’ve just never heard a parent give such a concise account. Generally speaking, it’s a half hour of prologue, dissociated trivia, contumely, and contradiction—that’s if both parents come—and personal attacks before I can make out precisely what the trouble is. Thank you.” He smiled, and quite involuntarily, Roger smiled back.

“I was sorry to have to do it,” Menzies went on, not pausing for reply. “I like Jem. He’s clever, hardworking—and really funny.”

“He is that,” Roger said. “But—”

“But I hadn’t a choice, really,” Menzies interrupted firmly. “If none of the other students had known what he was saying, we might have done with a simple apology. But—did he tell ye what it was he said?”

“Not in detail, no.” Roger hadn’t inquired; he’d heard Jamie Fraser curse someone in Gaelic only three or four times—but it was a memorable experience, and Jem had an excellent memory.

“Well, I won’t, either, then, unless you insist. But the thing is, while only a few of the kids on the play yard likely understood him, they would tell—well, they have told, in fact—all their friends exactly what he said. And they know I understood it, too. I’ve got to support the authority of my teachers; if there’s no respect for the staff, the whole place goes to hell…. Did your wife tell me ye’d taught yourself? At Oxford, I think she said? That’s very impressive.”

“That was some years ago, and I was only a junior don, but yes. And I hear what you’re saying, though I unfortunately had to keep order and respect without the threat of physical force.” Not that he wouldn’t have loved to be able to punch one or two of his Oxford second-year students in the nose…

Menzies eyed him with a slight twinkle.

“I’d say your presence was likely adequate,” he said. “And given that you’re twice my size, I’m pleased to hear that you’re not inclined to use force.”

“Some of your other parents are?” Roger asked, raising his own brows.

“Well, none of the fathers has actually struck me, no, though it’s been threatened once or twice. Did have one mother come in with the family shotgun, though.” Menzies inclined his head at the wall behind him, and looking up, Roger saw a spray of black pockmarks in the plaster, mostly—but not entirely—covered by a framed map of Africa.

“Fired over your head, at least,” Roger said dryly, and Menzies laughed.

“Well, no,” he said, deprecating. “I asked her please to set it down carefully, and she did, but not carefully enough. Caught the trigger somehow and blam! The poor woman was really unnerved—though not quite as much as I was.”

“You’re bloody good, mate,” Roger said, smiling in acknowledgment of Menzies’s skill in handling difficult parents—including Roger—but leaning forward a little to indicate that he meant to take control of the conversation. “But I’m not—not yet, anyway—complaining about your belting Jem. It’s what led to that.”

Menzies drew breath and nodded, setting his elbows on the desk and steepling his hands.

“Aye, right.”

“I understand the need to support your teachers,” Roger said, and set his own hands on the desk. “But that woman nearly tore my son’s ear off, and evidently for no crime greater than saying a few words—not cursing, just words—in the Gàidhlig.”

Menzies eyes sharpened, catching the accent.

“Ah, you’ve got it, then. Wondered, ken, was it you or your wife had it.”

“You make it sound like a disease. My wife’s an American—surely ye noticed?”

Menzies gave him an amused look—no one failed to notice Brianna—but said only, “Aye, I noticed. She told me her da was Scots, though, and a Highlander. You speak it at home?”

“No, not much. Jem got it from his grandda. He’s … no longer with us,” he added.

Menzies nodded.

“Ah,” he said softly. “Aye, I had it from my grandparents, as well—my mam’s folk. Dead, too, now. They were from Skye.” The usual implied question hovered, and Roger answered it.

“I was born in Kyle of Lochalsh, but I grew up mostly in Inverness. Picked up most of my own Gaelic on the fishing boats in the Minch.” And in the mountains of North Carolina.

Menzies nodded again, for the first time looking down at his hands rather than at Roger.

“Been on a fishing boat in the last twenty years?”

“No, thank God.”

Menzies smiled briefly, but didn’t look up.

“No. You won’t find much of the Gaelic there these days. Spanish, Polish, Estonian… quite a bit of those, but not the Gaelic. Your wife said ye’d spent a number of years in America, so you’ll maybe not have noticed, but it’s not much spoken in public anymore.”

“To be honest, I hadn’t paid it much mind—not ’til now.”

Menzies nodded again, as though to himself, then took off his spectacles and rubbed at the marks they’d left on the bridge of his nose. His eyes were pale blue and seemed suddenly vulnerable, without the protection of his glasses.

“It’s been on the decline for a number of years. Much more so for the last ten, fifteen years. The Highlands are suddenly part of the UK—or at least the rest of the UK says so—in a way they’ve never been before, and keeping a separate language is seen as not only old-fashioned but outright destructive.

“It’s no what you’d call a written policy, to stamp it out, but the use of Gaelic is strongly… discouraged… in schools. Mind”—he raised a hand to forestall Roger’s response—“they couldn’t get away with that if the parents protested, but they don’t. Most of them are eager for their kids to be part of the modern world, speak good English, get good jobs, fit in elsewhere, be able to leave the Highlands… Not so much for them here, is there, save the North Sea?”

“The parents…”

“If they’ve learnt the Gaelic from their own parents, they deliberately don’t teach it to their kids. And if they haven’t got it, they certainly make no effort to learn. It’s seen as backward, ignorant. Very much a mark of the lower classes.”

“Barbarous, in fact,” Roger said, with an edge. “The barbarous Erse?”

Menzies recognized Samuel Johnson’s dismissive description of the tongue spoken by his eighteenth-century Highland hosts, and the brief, rueful smile lit his face again.

“Exactly. There’s a great deal of prejudice—much of it outspoken—against…”

“Teuchters?” “Teuchter” was a Lowland Scots term for someone in the Gaeltacht, the Gaelic-speaking Highlands, and in cultural terms the general equivalent of “hillbilly” or “trailer trash.”

“Oh, ye do know, then.”

“Something.” It was true; even as recently as the sixties, Gaelic speakers had been viewed with a certain derision and public dismissiveness, but this… Roger cleared his throat.

“Regardless, Mr. Menzies,” he said, coming down a bit on the “Mr.,” “I object very much to my son’s teacher not only disciplining him for speaking Gaelic but actually assaulting him for doing so.”

“I share your concern, Mr. MacKenzie,” Menzies said, looking up and meeting his eyes in a way that made it seem as though he truly did. “I’ve had a wee word with Miss Glendenning, and I think it won’t happen again.”

Roger held his gaze for moment, wanting to say all sorts of things but realizing that Menzies was not responsible for most of them.

“If it does,” he said evenly, “I won’t come back with a shotgun—but I will come back with the sheriff. And a newspaper photographer, to document Miss Glendenning being taken off in handcuffs.”

Menzies blinked once and put his spectacles back on.

“You’re sure ye wouldn’t rather send your wife round with the family shotgun?” he asked wistfully, and Roger laughed, despite himself.

“Fine, then.” Menzies pushed back his chair and stood up. “I’ll see ye out; I’ve got to lock up. We’ll see Jem on the Monday, then, will we?”

“He’ll be here. With or without handcuffs.”

Menzies laughed.

“Well, he needn’t worry about his reception. Since the Gaelic-speaking kids did tell their friends what it was he said, and he took his belting without a squeak, I think his entire form now regards him as Robin Hood or Billy Jack.”

“Oh, God.”

SHIPS THAT PASS IN THE NIGHT

May 19, 1777

THE SHARK WAS EASILY twelve feet long, a dark, sinuous shape keeping pace with the ship, barely visible through the storm-stirred gray waters. It had appeared abruptly just before noon, startling me badly when I looked over the rail and saw its fin cut the surface.

“What’s amiss with its head?” Jamie, appearing in response to my startled cry, frowned into the dark water. “It has a growth of some sort.”

“I think it’s what they call a hammerhead.” I clung tight to the railing, slippery with spray. The head did look misshapen: a queer, clumsy, blunt thing at the end of such a sinisterly graceful body. As we watched, though, the shark came closer to the surface and rolled, bringing one fleshy stalk and its distant cold eye momentarily clear of the water.

Jamie made a sound of horrified disgust.

“They normally look like that,” I informed him.

“Why?”

“I suppose God was feeling bored one day.” That made him laugh, and I viewed him with approval. His color was high and healthy, and he’d eaten breakfast with such appetite that I’d felt I could dispense with the acupuncture needles.

“What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen? An animal, I mean. A non-human animal,” I added, thinking of Dr. Fentiman’s ghastly collection of pickled deformities and “natural curiosities.”

“Strange by itself? Not deformed, I mean, but as God meant it to be?” He squinted into the sea, thinking, then grinned. “The mandrill in Louis of France’s zoo. Or … well, no. Maybe a rhinoceros, though I havena seen one of those in the flesh. Does that count?”

“Let’s say something you’ve seen in the flesh,” I said, thinking of a few pictorial animals I’d seen in this time that appeared to have been deeply affected by the artist’s imagination. “You thought the mandrill was stranger than the orangutan?” I recalled his fascination with the orangutan, a solemn-faced young animal who had seemed equally fascinated by him, this leading to a number of jokes regarding the origins of red hair on the part of the Duc d’Orleans, who’d been present.

“Nay, I’ve seen a good many people who looked stranger than the orangutan,” he said. The wind had shifted, yanking auburn lashings of hair out of his ribbon. He turned to face into the breeze and smoothed them back, sobering a little. “I felt sorry for the creature; it seemed to ken it was alone and might never see another of its kind again.”

“Maybe it did think you were one of its kind,” I suggested. “It seemed to like you.”

“It was a sweet wee thing,” he agreed. “When I gave it an orange, it took the fruit from my hand like a Christian, verra mannerly. Do ye suppose…” His voice died away, his eyes going vague.

“Do I suppose … ?”

“Oh. I was only thinking”—he glanced quickly over his shoulder, but we were out of earshot of the sailors—“what Roger Mac said about France being important to the Revolution. I thought I should ask about, when we’re in Edinburgh. See whether there might be any of the folk I knew who had fingers in France…” He lifted one shoulder.

“You aren’t actually thinking of going to France, are you?” I asked, suddenly wary.

“No, no,” he said hurriedly. “I only happened to think—if by some chance we did, might the orangutan still be there? It’s been a great while, but I dinna ken how long they live.”

“Not quite as long as people, I don’t think, but they can live to a great age, if they’re well cared for,” I said dubiously. The doubt was not all on the orangutan’s account. Go back to the French court? The mere thought made my stomach flip-flop.

“He’s dead, ken,” Jamie said quietly. He turned his head to look at me, eyes steady. “Louis.”

“Is he?” I said blankly. “I… when?”

He ducked his head and made a small noise that might have been a laugh.

“He died three years ago, Sassenach,” he said dryly. “It was in the papers. Though I grant ye, the Wilmington Gazette didna make a great deal of the matter.”

“I didn’t notice.” I glanced down at the shark, still patiently keeping company with the ship. My heart, after the initial leap of surprise, had relaxed. My general reaction, in fact, was thankfulness—and that in itself surprised me, rather.

I’d come to terms with my memory of sharing Louis’s bed—for the ten minutes it had taken—long since, and Jamie and I had long since come to terms with each other, turning to each other in the wake of the loss of our first daughter, Faith, and all the terrible things that had happened in France before the Rising.

It wasn’t that hearing of Louis’s death made any real difference at all—but still, I had a feeling of relief, as though some tiresome bit of music that had been playing in the far distance had finally come to a graceful end, and now the silence of peace sang to me in the wind.

“God rest his soul,” I said, rather belatedly. Jamie smiled, and laid his hand over mine.

“ Fois shìorruidh thoir dha,” he echoed. God rest his soul. “Makes ye wonder, ken? How it might be for a king, to come before God and answer for your life. Might it be a great deal worse, I mean, having to answer for all the folk under your care?”

“Do you think he would?” I asked, intrigued—and rather uneasy at the thought. I hadn’t known Louis in any intimate way—bar the obvious, and that seemed less intimate than a handshake; he’d never even met my eyes—but he hadn’t seemed like a man consumed by care for his subjects. “Can a person really be held to account for the welfare of a whole kingdom? Not just his own peccadilloes, you think?”

He considered that seriously, the stiff fingers of his right hand tapping slowly on the slippery rail.

“I think so,” he said. “Ye’d answer for what ye’d done to your family, no? Say ye’d done ill by your children, abandoned them or left them to starve. Surely that would weigh against your soul, for you’re responsible for them. If you’re born a king, then ye’re given responsibility for your subjects. If ye do ill by them, then—”

“Well, but where does that stop?” I protested. “Suppose you do well by one person and badly by another? Suppose you have people under your care—so to speak—and their needs are in opposition to one another? What do you say to that?”

He broke into a smile.

“I’d say I’m verra glad I’m not God and havena got to try to reckon such things.”

I was silent for a moment, imagining Louis standing before God, trying to explain those ten minutes with me. I was sure he’d thought he had a right—kings, after all, were kings—but on the other hand, both the seventh and the ninth commandments were fairly explicit and didn’t seem to have any clauses exempting royalty.

“If you were there,” I said impulsively, “in heaven, watching that judgment—would you forgive him? I would.”

“Who?” he said, surprised. “Louis?” I nodded, and he frowned, rubbing a finger slowly down the bridge of his nose. Then he sighed and nodded.

“Aye, I would. Wouldna mind watching him squirm a bit first, mind,” he added, darkly. “A wee pitchfork in the arse would be fine.”

I laughed at that, but before I could say anything further, we were interrupted by a shout of “Sail, ho!” from above. While we’d been alone the instant before, this advice caused sailors to pop out of hatches and companionways like weevils out of a ship’s biscuit, swarming up into the rigging to see what was up.

I strained my eyes, but nothing was immediately visible. Young Ian, though, had gone aloft with the others, and now landed on the deck beside us with a thump. He was flushed with wind and excitement.

“A smallish ship, but she’s got guns,” he told Jamie. “And she’s flying the Union flag.”

“She’s a naval cutter,” said Captain Roberts, who had appeared on my other side and was peering grimly through his telescope. “Shit.”

Jamie’s hand went to his dirk, unconsciously checking, and he looked over the captain’s shoulder, eyes narrowed against the wind. I could see the sail now, coming up rapidly to starboard.

“Can we outrun her, Cap’n?” The first mate had joined the crowd at the rail, watching the oncoming ship. She did have guns; six, that I could see—and there were men behind them.

The captain pondered, absently clicking his glass open and shut, then glanced up into the rigging, presumably estimating the chances of our putting on enough sail to outdistance the pursuer. The mainmast was cracked; he’d been intending to replace it in New Haven.

“No,” he said gloomily. “The main’ll be away, if there’s any strain put on her.” He shut the telescope with a decisive click and stowed it away in his pocket. “Have to brass it out, best we can.”

I wondered just how much of Captain Roberts’s cargo was contraband. His taciturn face didn’t give anything away, but there was a distinct air of uneasiness among the hands, which grew noticeably as the cutter drew alongside, hailing.

Roberts gave the terse order to heave to, and the sails loosened, the ship slowing. I could see seamen at the guns and rail of the cutter; glancing sideways at Jamie, I saw that he was counting them and glanced back.

“I make it sixteen,” Ian said, low-voiced.

“Undermanned, God damn it,” said the captain. He looked at Ian, estimating his size, and shook his head. “They’ll likely mean to press what they can out of us. Sorry, lad.”

The rather formless alarm I’d felt at the cutter’s approach sharpened abruptly at this—and sharpened still further as I saw Roberts glance appraisingly at Jamie.

“You don’t think they—” I began.

“Shame you shaved this morning, Mr. Fraser,” Roberts observed to Jamie, ignoring me. “Takes twenty years off your age. And you look a damned sight healthier than men half your age.”

“I’m obliged to ye for the compliment, sir,” Jamie replied dryly, one eye on the railing, where the cocked hat of the cutter’s captain had suddenly poked up like an ill-omened mushroom. He unbuckled his belt, slid the dirk’s scabbard free, and handed it to me.

“Keep that for me, Sassenach,” he said under his breath, buckling his belt again.

The cutter’s captain, a squat middle-aged man with a sullen brow and a pair of much-mended breeches, took a quick, piercing look around the deck when he came aboard, nodded to himself as though his worst suspicions had been confirmed, then shouted back over his shoulder for six men to follow.

“Search the hold,” he said to his minions. “You know what to look for.”

“What sort of way is this to carry on?” Captain Roberts demanded angrily. “You’ve no right to search my ship! What do you lot think you are, a raft of bloody pirates?”

“Do I look like a pirate?” The cutter’s captain looked more pleased than insulted by the idea.

“Well, you can’t be a naval captain, I’m sure,” Roberts said coldly. “A nice, gentlemanlike set of individuals, I’ve always found His Majesty’s navy. Not the sort to board a respectable merchant without leave, let alone without proper introduction.”

The cutter’s captain appeared to find this funny. He took off his hat and bowed—to me.

“Allow me, mum,” he said. “Captain Worth Stebbings, your most humble.” He straightened up, clapping on his hat, and nodded to his lieutenant. “Go through the holds like a dose of salts. And you—” He tapped Roberts on the chest with a forefinger. “Get all your men on deck, front and center, cully. All of them, mind. If I have to drag them up here, I won’t be best pleased, I warn you.”

Tremendous bangings and rumblings from below ensued, with seamen popping up periodically to relay news of their findings to Captain Stebbings, who lounged by the rail, watching as the men of the Teal were rounded up and herded together on deck—Ian and Jamie among them.

“Here, now!” Captain Roberts was game, I’d give him that. “Mr. Fraser and his nephew aren’t crew; they’re paying passengers! You’ve no call to molest free men, about their lawful business. And no right to press my crew, either!”

“They’re British subjects,” Stebbings informed him briefly. “I’ve every right. Or do you all claim to be Americans?” He leered briefly at that; if the ship could be considered a rebel vessel, he could simply take the whole thing as a prize, crew and all.

A mutter at this ran through the men on deck, and I saw more than one of the hands’ eyes dart to the belaying pins along the rail. Stebbings saw it, too, and called over the rail for four more men to be brought aboard—with arms.

Sixteen minus six minus four is six, I thought, and edged a little closer to the rail to peer into the cutter rocking in the swell a little way below and tethered by a line to the Teal. If the sixteen doesn’t include Captain Stebbings. If it does…

One man was at the helm, this being not a wheel but a sort of sticklike arrangement poking up through the deck. Two more were manning a gun, a long brass thing on the bow, pointed at the Teal’s side. Where were the others? Two on deck. The others perhaps below.

Captain Roberts was still haranguing Stebbings behind me, but the cutter’s crew were bumping barrels and bundles over the deck, calling for a rope to lower away to the cutter. I looked back to find Stebbings walking along the row of crewmen, indicating his choices to four burly men who followed him. These jerked his choices out of line and set about tying them together, a line running from ankle to ankle. Three men had already been chosen, John Smith among them, looking white-faced and tense. My heart jumped at sight of him, then nearly stopped altogether as Stebbings came to Ian, who looked down at him impassively.

“Likely, likely,” Stebbings said with approval. “A cross-grained son of a bitch, by the looks of you, but we’ll soon knock sense into you. Take him!”

I saw the muscles swell in Ian’s forearms as his fists clenched, but the pressgang was armed, two with pistols drawn, and he stepped forward, though with an evil look that would have given a wiser man pause. I had already observed that Captain Stebbings was not a wise man.

Stebbings took two more, then paused at Jamie, looking him up and down. Jamie’s face was carefully blank. And slightly green; the wind was still up, and with no forward way on the ship, she was rising and falling heavily, with a lurch that would have disconcerted a much better sailor than he was.

“Nice big ’un, sir,” said one of the pressgang, with approval.

“Trifle elderly,” Stebbings said dubiously. “And I don’t much like the look on his face.”

“I dinna care much for the look of yours,” Jamie said pleasantly. He straightened, squaring his shoulders, and looked down his long, straight nose at Stebbings. “If I didna ken ye for an arrant coward by your actions, sir, I should know ye for a fig-licker and a fopdoodle by your foolish wee face.”

Stebbings’s maligned face went blank with astonishment, then darkened with rage. One or two of the pressgang grinned behind his back, though hastily erasing these expressions as he whirled round.

“Take him,” he growled to the pressgang, shouldering his way toward the booty collected by the rail. “And see that you drop him a few times on the way.”

I was frozen in shock. Clearly Jamie couldn’t let them press Ian and take him away, but surely he couldn’t mean to abandon me in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, either.

Not even with his dirk thrust into the pocket tied beneath my skirt, and my own knife in its sheath around my thigh.

Captain Roberts had watched this little performance openmouthed, though whether with respect or astonishment, I couldn’t tell. He was a short man, rather tubby, and clearly not constructed for physical confrontation, but he set his jaw and stamped up to Stebbings, seizing him by the sleeve.

The crew ushered their captives over the rail.

There wasn’t time to think of anything better.

I seized the rail and more or less rolled over it, skirts flying. I hung by my hands for a terrifying instant, feeling my fingers slide across the wet wood, groping with my toes for the rope ladder the cutter’s crew had thrown over the rail. A roll of the ship threw me hard against the side, I lost my grip, plunged several feet, and caught the ladder, just above the cutter’s deck.

The rope had burned through my right hand, and it felt as though I’d lost all the skin off my palm, but there was no time to trouble about that now. Any minute, one of the cutter’s crew would see me, and—

Timing my jump to the next heave of the cutter’s deck, I let go and landed like a bag of rocks. A sharp pain shot up the inside of my right knee, but I staggered to my feet, lurching to and fro with the roll of the deck, and lunged toward the companionway.

“Here! You! What you doing?” One of the gunners had seen me and was gaping at me, clearly unable to decide whether to come down and deal with me or stay with his gun. His partner looked over his shoulder at me and bellowed at the first man to stay put, it wasn’t but monkey business of some sort, he said. “Stay put, God damn your eyes!”

I ignored them, my heart pounding so hard I could scarcely breathe. What now? What next? Jamie and Ian had disappeared.

“Jamie!” I shouted, as loudly as I could. “I’m here!” And then ran toward the line that held the cutter to the Teal, jerking up my skirt as I ran. I did this only because my skirts had twisted in my undignified descent, and I couldn’t find the slit to reach through in order to get at the knife in its sheath on my thigh, but the action itself seemed to disconcert the helmsman, who had turned at my shout.

He gawped like a goldfish, but had sufficient presence of mind as to keep his hand on the tiller. I got my own hands on the line and dug my knife into the knot, using it to pry the tight coils loose.

Roberts and his crew, bless them, were making a terrible racket on the Teal above, quite drowning out the shouts of the helm and gunners. One of these, with a desperate glance toward the deck of the Teal above, finally made up his mind and came toward me, jumping down from the bow.

What wouldn’t I give for a pistol just now? I thought grimly. But a knife was what I had, and I jerked it out of the half-loosened knot and drove it into the man’s chest as hard as I could. His eyes went round, and I felt the knife strike bone and twist in my hand, skipping through the flesh. He shrieked and fell backward, landing on deck in a thump and nearly—but not quite—taking my knife with him.

“Sorry,” I gasped, and, panting, resumed work on the knot, the fractious rope now smeared with blood. There were noises coming from the companionway now. Jamie and Ian might not be armed, but my guess was that that wouldn’t matter a lot, in close quarters.

The rope slid reluctantly free. I jerked the last coil loose and it fell, slapping against the Teal’s side. At once, the current began to carry the boats apart, the smaller cutter sliding past the big sloop. We weren’t moving quickly at all, but the optical illusion of speed made me stagger, gripping at the rail for balance.

The wounded gunner had got onto his feet and was advancing on me, staggering but furious. He was bleeding, but not heavily, and was by no means disabled. I stepped quickly sideways and glancing at the companionway, was relieved beyond measure to see Jamie coming out of it.

He reached me in three strides.

“Quick, my dirk!”

I stared blankly at him for a moment, but then remembered, and with no more than minimum fumbling, managed to get at my pocket. I jerked at the hilt of the dirk, but it was tangled in the fabric. Jamie seized it, ripped it free—tearing both the pocket and the waistband of my skirt in the process—whirled, and charged back into the bowels of the ship. Leaving me facing a wounded gunner, an unwounded gunner now making his way cautiously down from his station, and the helmsman, who was yelling hysterically for someone to do something to some sort of sail.

I swallowed and took a good hold on the knife.

“Stand back,” I said, in as loud and commanding a voice as I could manage. Given my shortness of breath, the wind, and the prevailing noise, I doubt they heard me. On the other hand, I doubted that it would have made a difference if they had. I yanked my sagging skirt up with one hand, crouched, and lifted the knife in a determined manner, meant to indicate that I knew what to do with it. I did.

Waves of heat were going over my skin and I felt perspiration prickle my scalp, drying at once in the cold wind. The panic had gone, though; my mind felt very clear and very remote.

You aren’t going to touch me was the only thing in my mind. The man I had wounded was cautious, hanging back. The other gunner saw nothing but a woman and didn’t bother to arm himself, simply reaching for me with angry contempt. I saw the knife move upward, fast, and arc as though moving by itself, the shimmer of it dulled with blood as I slashed him across the forehead.

Blood poured down over his face, blinding him, and he gave a strangled yell of hurt and astonishment and backed away, both hands pressed to his face.

I hesitated for a moment, not quite sure what to do next, the blood still pounding through my temples. The ship was drifting, rising and falling on the waves; I felt the gold-laden hem of my skirt scrape across the boards, and jerked the torn waistband up again, feeling irritated.

Then I saw a belaying pin stuck into its hole in the railing, a line wrapped round it. I walked over and, poking the knife down the bodkin of my stays for lack of any better place to put it, took hold of the pin with both hands and jerked it free. Holding it like a short baseball bat, I shifted back on one heel and brought it down with as much force as I could on the head of the man whose face I’d slashed. The wooden pin bounced off his skull with a hollow ringing noise, and he staggered away, caroming off the mast.

The helmsman at this point had had enough. Leaving his helm to mind itself, he scrambled up out of his station and made for me like an angry monkey, all reaching limbs and bared teeth. I tried to hit him with the pin, but I’d lost my grip when I struck the gunner, and it slipped out of my hand, rolling away down the heaving deck as the helmsman flung himself on me.

He was small and thin, but his weight bore me back and we lurched together toward the rail; my back struck it and all my breath rushed out in a whoosh, the impact a solid bar of shock across my kidneys. This transformed within seconds to live agony, and I writhed under him, sliding downward. He came with me, grappling for my throat with a single-minded purpose. I flailed at him, my arms, my hands striking windmill-like at his head, the bones of his skull bruising me.

The wind was roaring in my ears; I heard nothing but breathless cursing, harsh gasps that might be mine or his, and then he knocked my hands away and grabbed me by the neck, one-handed, his thumb digging hard up under my jaw.

It hurt and I tried to knee him, but my legs were swaddled in my skirt and pinned beneath his weight. My vision went dark, with little bursts of gold light going off in the blackness, tiny fireworks heralding my death. Someone was making little mewling noises, and I realized dimly that it must be me. The grip on my neck tightened, and the flashing lights faded into black.

I WOKE WITH A confused sense of being simultaneously terrified and rocked in a cradle. My throat hurt, and when I tried to swallow, the resultant pain made me choke.

“Ye’re all right, Sassenach.” Jamie’s soft voice came out of the surrounding gloom—where was I?—and his hand squeezed my forearm, reassuring.

“I’ll… take your… word for it,” I croaked, the effort making my eyes water. I coughed. It hurt, but seemed to help a little. “What… ?”

“Have a bit of water, a nighean.” A big hand cradled my head, lifting it a bit, and the mouth of a canteen pressed against my lip. Swallowing the water hurt, too, but I didn’t care; my lips and throat were parched, and tasted of salt.

My eyes were beginning to accustom themselves to the darkness. I could see Jamie’s form, hunched under a low ceiling, and the shape of rafters—no, timbers—overhead. A strong smell of tar and bilges. Ship. Of course, we were in a ship. But which ship?

“Where… ?” I whispered, waving a hand.

“I havena got the slightest idea,” he said, sounding rather irritable. “The Teal’s people are managing the sails—I hope—and Ian’s holding a pistol on one o’ the naval folk to make him steer, but for all I ken, the man’s taking us straight out to sea.”

“I meant… what… ship.” Though his remarks had made that clear enough; we must be on the naval cutter.

“They said the name of it’s the Pitt.”

“How very appropriate.” I looked glassily around the murky surroundings, and my sense of reality suffered another jolt as I saw a huge mottled bundle of some kind, apparently hanging in the dim air a few feet beyond Jamie. I sat up abruptly—or tried to, only at this point realizing that I was in a hammock.

Jamie seized me by the waist with a cry of alarm, in time to save me pitching out on my head, and as I steadied, clutching him, I realized that the thing I had taken as an enormous cocoon was in fact a man, lying in another hammock suspended from the rafters, but trussed up in it like a spider’s dinner and gagged. His face pressed against the mesh, glaring at me.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt…,” I croaked, and lay back, breathing heavily.

“D’ye want to rest a bit, Sassenach, or shall I set ye on your feet?” Jamie asked, clearly edgy. “I dinna want to leave Ian on his own too long.”

“No,” I said, struggling upright once more. “Help me out, please.” The room—cabin, whatever it was—spun round me, as well as heaving up and down, and I was obliged to cling to Jamie with my eyes closed for a moment, until my internal gyroscope took hold.

“Captain Roberts?” I asked. “The Teal?”

“God knows,” Jamie said tersely. “We ran for it as quick as I could set the men to sailing this thing. For all I ken, they’re on our tail, but I couldna see anything when I looked astern.”

I was beginning to feel steadier, though the blood still throbbed painfully in my throat and temples with each heartbeat, and I could feel the tender patches of bruising on my elbows and shoulders, and a vivid band across my back, where I’d fallen against the rail.

“We’ve shut most of the crew up in the hold,” Jamie said, with a nod at the man in the hammock, “save this fellow. I didna ken whether ye might want to look at him first. In the medical way, I mean,” he added, seeing my momentary incomprehension. “Though I dinna think he’s hurt badly.”

I approached the fellow in the hammock and saw that it was the helmsman who had tried to throttle me. There was a large lump visible on his forehead, and he had the beginnings of a monstrous black eye, but from what I could see, leaning close in the dim light, his pupils were the same size and—allowing for the rag stuffed into his mouth—his breath was coming regularly. Probably not badly hurt, then. I stood for a moment staring at him. It was difficult to tell—the only light belowdecks came from a prism embedded in the deck above—but I thought that perhaps what I had taken for a glare was really just a look of desperation.

“Do you need to have a pee?” I inquired politely.

The man and Jamie made nearly identical noises, though in the first case it was a groan of need, and in Jamie’s, of exasperation.

“For God’s sake!” he said, grabbing my arm as I started to reach for the man. “I’ll deal with him. Go upstairs.” It was apparent from his much-tried tone that he had just about reached the last-straw stage, and there was no point in arguing with him. I left, making my ginger way up the companionway ladder to the accompaniment of a lot of Gaelic muttering that I didn’t try to translate.

The belting wind above was enough to make me sway alarmingly as it caught my skirts, but I seized a line and held on, letting the fresh air clear my head before I felt steady enough to go aft. There I found Ian, as advertised, sitting on a barrel, a loaded pistol held negligently atop one knee, evidently engaged in amiable discourse with the sailor at the helm.

“Auntie Claire! All right, are ye?” he asked, jumping up and gesturing me toward his barrel.

“Fine,” I said, taking it. I didn’t think I had torn anything in my knee, but it felt a little wobbly. “Claire Fraser,” I said, nodding politely to the gentleman at the helm, who was black and bore facial tattoos of an elaborate sort, though from the neck down he was dressed in ordinary sailor’s slops.

“Guinea Dick,” he said, with a broad grin that displayed—no doubt about it—filed teeth. “Youah sahvint, Mum!”

I regarded him openmouthed for a moment, but then regained some semblance of self-possession and smiled at him.

“I see His Majesty takes his seamen where he can get them,” I murmured to Ian.

“He does for a fact. Mr. Dick here was pressed out of a Guinea pirate, who took him from a slave ship, who in turn took him from a barracoon on the Guinea coast. I’m no so sure whether he thinks His Majesty’s accommodations are an improvement—but he says he’s got nay particular reservation about going along of us.”

“Is your trust upon him?” I asked, in halting Gaelic.

Ian gave me a mildly scandalized look.

“Of course not,” he replied in the same language. “And you will oblige me by not going too close to him, wife of my mother’s brother. He says to me that he does not eat human flesh, but this is no surety that he is safe.”

“Right,” I said, returning to English. “What happened to—”

Before I could complete my question, a loud thump on deck made me turn, to see John Smith—he of the five gold earrings—who had dropped out of the rigging. He, too, smiled when he saw me, though his face was strained.

“Well enough so far,” he said to Ian, and touched his forelock to me. “You all right, ma’am?”

“Yes.” I looked aft, but saw nothing save tumbling waves. The same in all the other directions, as well. “Er… do you happen to know where we’re going, Mr. Smith?”

He looked a trifle surprised at that.

“Why, no, ma’am. The captain hasn’t said.”

“The cap—”

“That would be Uncle Jamie,” Ian said, sounding amused. “Puking his guts out below, is he?”

“Not when last seen.” I began to have an uneasy feeling at the base of my spine. “Do you mean to tell me that no one aboard this ship has any idea where—or even which way—we’re heading?”

An eloquent silence greeted this question.

I coughed.

“The, um, gunner. Not the one with the slashed forehead—the other one. Where is he, do you know?”

Ian turned and looked at the water.

“Oh,” I said. There was a large splotch of blood on the deck where the man had fallen when I stabbed him. “Oh,” I said again.

“Och, which reminds me, Auntie. I found this lyin’ on the deck.” Ian took my knife from his belt and handed it to me. It had been cleaned, I saw.

“Thank you.” I slipped it back through the slit of my petticoats and found the scabbard, still fastened round my thigh, though someone had removed my torn skirt and pocket. With thought for the gold in the hem, I hoped it was Jamie. I felt rather peculiar, as though my bones were filled with air. I coughed and swallowed again, massaging my bruised throat, then returned to my earlier point.

“So no one knows which way we’re heading?”

John Smith smiled a little.

“Well, we’re not aheading out to sea, ma’am, if that’s what you were fearing.”

“I was, actually. How do you know?”

All three of them smiled at that.

“Him sun over dere,” Mr. Dick said, shrugging a shoulder at the object in question. He nodded in the same direction. “So him land over dere, too.”

“Ah.” Well, that was comforting, to be sure. And in fact, since “him sun” was over there—that is, sinking rapidly in the west—that meant we were in fact headed north.

Jamie joined the party at this point, looking pale.

“Captain Fraser,” Smith said respectfully.

“Mister Smith.”

“Orders, Cap’n?”

Jamie stared at him bleakly.

“I’ll be pleased if we don’t sink. Can ye manage that?”

Mr. Smith didn’t bother hiding his grin.

“If we don’t hit another ship or a whale, sir, I think we’ll stay afloat.”

“Good. Kindly don’t.” Jamie wiped the back of his hand across his mouth and straightened up. “Is there a port we might reach within the next day or so? The helmsman says there’s food and water enough for three days, but the less of it we need, the happier I’ll be.”

Smith turned to squint toward the invisible land, the setting sun glinting off his earrings.

“Well, we’re past Norfolk,” he said, thoughtful. “The next big regular port would be New York.”

Jamie gave him a jaundiced look.

“Is the British navy not anchored in New York?”

Mr. Smith coughed.

“I b’lieve they were, last I heard. ’Course, they might have moved.”

“I was more in mind of a small port,” Jamie said. “Verra small.”

“Where the arrival of a royal naval cutter will make the maximum impression on the citizenry?” I inquired. I sympathized with his strong desire to set foot on land as soon as possible, but the question was—what then?

The enormity of our position was only now beginning to dawn on me. We had gone in the space of an hour from passengers on the way to Scotland to fugitives, on the way to God knew where.

Jamie closed his eyes and drew a long, deep breath. There was a heavy swell, and he was looking green again, I saw. And, with a pang of uneasiness, realized that I had lost my acupuncture needles, left behind in my hasty exodus from the Teal.

“What about Rhode Island, or New Haven, Connecticut?” I asked. “New Haven is where the Teal was going, anyway—and I think we’re much less likely to run into Loyalists or British troops in either of those ports.”

Jamie nodded, eyes still closed, grimacing at the movement.

“Aye, maybe.”

“Not Rhode Island,” Smith objected. “The British sailed into Newport in December, and the American navy—what there is of it—is blockaded inside Providence. They might not fire on us, if we come a-sailing into Newport with the British colors flying”—he gestured at the mast, where the Union Jack still fluttered—“but the reception once ashore might be warmer than we might find comfortable.”

Jamie had cracked one eye open and was regarding Smith consideringly.

“I take it ye’ve no Loyalist leanings yourself, Mr. Smith? For if ye had, nothing simpler than to tell me to land at Newport; I’d not have known any better.”

“No, sir.” Smith tugged at one of his earrings. “Mind, I’m not a Separatist, neither. But I have got a marked disinclination to be sunk again. Reckon I’ve just about used up my luck in that direction.”

Jamie nodded, looking ill.

“New Haven, then,” he said, and I felt a small thump of uneasy excitement. Might I meet with Hannah Arnold, after all? Or—and there was an uneasier notion still—Colonel Arnold himself? I supposed he must visit his family once in a while.

A certain amount of technical discussion, involving a lot of shouting to and fro between deck and rigging, ensued, regarding navigation: Jamie knew how to use both a sextant and an astrolabe—the former was actually available—but had no idea how to apply the results to the sailing of a ship. The impressed hands from the Teal were more or less agreeable to sailing the ship wherever we cared to take her, as their only immediate alternative was being arrested, tried, and executed for involuntary piracy, but while all were good able seamen, none of them possessed anything in the way of navigational skills.

This left us with the alternative strategies of interviewing the captive seamen in the hold, discovering whether any of them could sail the ship, and if so, offering such inducements in the way of violence or gold as might compel him to do so, or sailing within sight of land and hugging the coast, which was slower, much more dangerous in terms of encountering either sandbanks or British men of war, and uncertain, insofar as none of the Teal hands presently with us had ever seen the port of New Haven before.

Having nothing useful to contribute to this discussion, I went to stand by the rail, watching the sun come down the sky and wondering how likely we were to run aground in the dark, without the sun to steer by?

The thought was cold, but the wind was colder. I had been wearing only a light jacket when I made my abrupt exit from the Teal, and without my woolen overskirt, the sea wind was cutting through my clothes like a knife. That unfortunate imagery reminded me of the dead gunner, and, steeling myself, I glanced over my shoulder toward the dark bloodstain on deck.

As I did so, my eye caught the flicker of a movement from the helm, and I opened my mouth to call out. I hadn’t managed a sound, but Jamie happened to be looking in my direction and whatever was showing on my face was enough. He turned and threw himself without hesitation at Guinea Dick, who had produced a knife from somewhere about his person and was preparing to plunge it into Ian’s negligently turned back.

Ian whirled round at the noise, saw what was up, and, thrusting the pistol into Mr. Smith’s surprised hands, flung himself on the thrashing ball of humanity rolling round under the swinging helm. Fallen off her steerage, the ship slowed, her sails slackening, and she began to roll alarmingly.

I took two steps across the slanting deck and plucked the pistol neatly out of Mr. Smith’s hand. He looked at me, blinking in bewilderment.

“It’s not that I don’t trust you,” I said apologetically. “It’s just that I can’t take the chance. All things considered.” Calmly—all things considered—I checked the pistol’s priming—it was primed and cocked; a wonder it hadn’t gone off by itself, with all this rough handling—and aimed it at the center of the melee, waiting to see who might emerge from it.

Mr. Smith looked back and forth, from me to the fight, and then backed slowly away, hands delicately raised.

“I’ll… just… be up top,” he said. “If wanted.”

The outcome had been a foregone conclusion, but Mr. Dick had acquitted himself nobly as a British seaman. Ian rose slowly, swearing and pressing his forearm against his shirt, where a jagged wound left red blotches.

“The treacherous bugger bit me!” he said, furious. “Goddamned cannibal heathen!” He kicked his erstwhile foe, who grunted at the impact but remained inert, and then seized the swinging helm with an angry oath. He moved this slowly to and fro, seeking direction, and the ship steadied, her head turning into the wind as her sails filled again.

Jamie rolled off the supine body of Mr. Dick and sat on the deck beside him, head hanging, panting for breath. I lowered the gun and uncocked it.

“All right?” I asked him, for form’s sake. I felt very calm, in a remote, strange sort of way.

“Tryin’ to recall how many lives I’ve got left,” he said, between gasps.

“Four, I think. Or five. Surely you don’t consider this a near-miss, do you?” I glanced at Mr. Dick, whose face was considerably the worse for wear. Jamie himself had a large red patch down the side of his face that would undoubtedly be black and blue within hours, and was holding his middle, but seemed otherwise undamaged.

“Does nearly dyin’ of seasickness count?”

“No.” With a wary eye on the fallen helmsman, I squatted beside Jamie and peered at him. The red light of the sinking sun bathed the deck, making it impossible to judge his color, even had the color of his skin made this easy. Jamie held out a hand, and I gave him the pistol, which he tucked into his belt. Where, I saw, he had restored his dirk and its scabbard.

“Did you not have time to draw that?” I asked, nodding at it.

“Didna want to kill him. He’s no dead, is he?” With a noticeable effort, he rolled onto hands and knees and breathed for a moment before thrusting himself to his feet.

“No. He’ll come round in a minute or two.” I looked toward Ian, whose face was averted but whose body language was eloquent. His stiff shoulders, suffused back of neck, and bulging forearms conveyed fury and shame, which were understandable, but there was a droop to his spine that spoke of desolation. I wondered at that last, until a thought occurred to me, and that odd sense of calm vanished abruptly in a burst of horror as I realized what must have made him drop his guard.

“Rollo!” I whispered, clutching Jamie’s arm. He looked up, startled, saw Ian, and exchanged appalled glances with me.

“Oh, God,” he said softly.

The acupuncture needles were not the only things of value left behind aboard the Teal.

Rollo had been Ian’s closest companion for years. The immense byproduct of a casual encounter between an Irish wolfhound and a wolf, he terrified the hands on the Teal to such an extent that Ian had shut him in the cabin; otherwise, chances were that he would have taken the throat out of Captain Stebbings when the sailors seized Ian. What would he do when he realized that Ian was gone? And what would Captain Stebbings, his men, or the crew of the Teal do to him in response?

“Jesus. They’ll shoot the dog and drop him overboard,” Jamie said, voicing my thought, and crossed himself.

I thought of the hammerhead again, and a violent shudder ran through me. Jamie squeezed my hand tightly.

“Oh, God,” he said again, very quietly. He stood thinking for a moment, then shook himself, rather like Rollo shaking water from his fur, and let go my hand.

“I’ll have to speak to the crew, and we must feed them—and the sailors in the hold. Will ye go below, Sassenach, and see what ye can do wi’ the galley? I’ll just… have a word with Ian first.” I saw his throat move as he glanced at Ian, standing stiff as a wooden Indian at the helm, the dying light harsh on his tearless face.

I nodded, and made my way unsteadily to the black, gaping hole of the companionway, and the descent into darkness.

THE GALLEY WAS NO more than a four-by-four space belowdecks at the end of the mess, with a sort of low brick altar containing the fire, several cupboards on the bulkhead, and a hanging rack of coppers, pot-lifters, rags, and other bits of kitchen impedimenta. No problem in spotting it; there was still a sullen red glow from the galley fire, where—thank God!—a few embers still lived.

There was a sandbox, a coal box, and a basket of kindling, tidied under the tiny countertop, and I set at once to coaxing the fire back into life. A cauldron hung over the fire; some of the contents had slopped over the side as a result of the ship’s rolling, partially extinguishing the fire and leaving gummy streaks down the side of the cauldron. Luck again, I thought. Had the slop not put the fire mostly out, the contents of the pot would long since have boiled dry and burned, leaving me with the job of starting some kind of supper from scratch.

Perhaps literally from scratch. There were several stacked cages of chickens near the galley; they’d been dozing in the warm darkness but roused at my movement, fluttering, muttering, and jerking their silly heads to and fro in agitated inquiry, beady eyes blinking redly at me through the wooden lattice.

I wondered whether there might be other livestock aboard, but if there was, it wasn’t living in the galley, thank goodness. I stirred the pot, which seemed to contain a glutinous sort of stew, and then began to look for bread. There would be some sort of farinaceous substance, I knew; sailors lived on either hardtack—the very aptly named unleavened ship’s biscuit—or soft tack, this being any kind of leavened bread, though the term “soft” was often relative. Still, they would have bread. Where … ?

I found it at last: hard round brown loaves in a netting bag hung from a hook in a dark corner. To keep it from rats, I supposed, and glanced narrowly around the floor, just in case. There should be flour, as well, I thought—oh, of course. It would be in the hold, along with the other ship’s stores. And the disgruntled remnants of the original crew. Well, we’d worry about them later. There was enough here to feed everyone aboard supper. I’d worry about breakfast later, too.

The exertion of building up the fire and searching the galley and mess warmed me and distracted me from my bruises. The sense of chilled disbelief that had attended me ever since I went over the Teal’s rail began to dissipate.

This wasn’t entirely a good thing. As I began to emerge from my state of stunned shock, I also began to apprehend the true dimensions of the current situation. We were no longer headed for Scotland and the dangers of the Atlantic, but were under way to an unknown destination in an unfamiliar craft with an inexperienced, panic-stricken crew. And we had, in fact, just committed piracy on the high seas, as well as whatever crimes were involved in resisting impressment and assaulting His Majesty’s navy. And murder. I swallowed, my throat still tender, and my skin prickled despite the warmth of the fire.

The jar of the knife hitting bone still reverberated in the bones of my own hand and forearm. How could I have killed him? I knew I hadn’t penetrated his chest cavity, couldn’t possibly have struck the large vessels of the neck…. Shock, of course… but could shock alone… ?

I couldn’t think about the dead gunner just now, and pushed the thought of him firmly away. Later, I told myself. I would come to terms with it—it had been self-defense, after all—and I would pray for his soul, but later. Not now.

Not that the other things presenting themselves to me as I worked were much more appealing. Ian and Rollo—no, I couldn’t think about that, either.

I scraped the bottom of the pot determinedly with a big wooden spoon. The stew was a little scorched at the bottom, but still edible. There were bones in it, and it was thick and gummy, with lumps. Gagging slightly, I filled a smaller pot from a water butt and hung it to boil.

Navigation. I settled on that as a topic for worry, on grounds that while it was deeply concerning, it lacked the emotional aspects of some of the other things on my mental agenda. How full was the moon? I tried to recall what it had looked like the night before, from the deck of the Teal. I hadn’t really noticed, so it wasn’t near the full; the full moon rising out of the sea is breathtaking, with that shining path across the water that makes you feel how simple it would be to step over the rail and walk straight on, into that peaceful radiance.

No, no peaceful radiance last night. I’d gone up to the ship’s head, though, quite late, instead of using a chamber pot, because I’d wanted air. It had been dark on deck, and I’d paused for a moment by the rail, because there was phosphorescence in the long, rolling waves, a beautiful eerie glimmer of green light under the water, and the wake of the ship plowed a glowing furrow through the sea.

Dark moon, then, I decided, or a sliver, which would amount to the same thing. We couldn’t come close into shore by night, then. I didn’t know how far north we were—maybe John Smith did?—but was aware that the coastline of the Chesapeake involved all kinds of channels, sandbars, tide flats, and ship traffic. Wait, though, Smith had said we’d passed Norfolk…

“Well, bloody hell!” I said exasperated. “Where is Norfolk?” I knew where it was in relation to Highway I-64, but had no notion whatever what the blasted place looked like from the ocean.

And if we were obliged to stand far out from land during the night, what was to keep us from drifting very far out to sea?

“Well, on the good side, we needn’t trouble about running out of gas,” I said encouragingly to myself. Food and water… well, not yet, at least.

I seemed to be running out of good impersonal worrying material. What about Jamie’s seasickness? Or any other medical catastrophe that might occur aboard? Yes, that was a good one. I had no herbs, no needles, no sutures, no bandages, no instruments—I was for the moment completely without any practical medicine at all, save boiling water and what skill might be contained in my two hands.

“I suppose I could reduce a dislocation or put my thumb on a spurting artery,” I said aloud, “but that’s about it.”

“Uhh …” said a deeply uncertain voice behind me, and I spun round, inadvertently spattering stew from my ladle.

“Oh. Mr. Smith.”

“Didn’t mean to take you unawares, ma’am.” He sidled into the light like a wary spider, keeping a cautious distance from me. “ ’Specially not as I saw your nephew hand you back that knife of yours.” He smiled a little, to indicate that this was a joke, but he was plainly uneasy. “You… um… were right handy with it, I must say.”

“Yes,” I said flatly, picking up a rag to mop the splatters. “I’ve had practice.”

This led to a marked silence. After a moment or two, he coughed.

“Mr. Fraser sent me to ask—in a gingerly sort of way—whether there might be anything to eat soon?”

I gave a grudging snort of laughter at that.

“Was the ‘gingerly’ his idea or yours?”

“His,” he replied promptly.

“You can tell him the food is ready, whenever anyone likes to come and eat it. Oh—Mr. Smith?”

He turned back at once, earrings swinging.

“I only wondered—what do the men … well, they must be very upset, of course, but what do the hands from the Teal feel about… er… recent developments? If you happen to know, that is,” I added.

“I know. Mr. Fraser asked me that, not ten minutes ago,” he said, looking mildly amused. “We been a-talking, up in the tops, as you may imagine, ma’am.”

“Oh, I do.”

“Well, we’re much relieved not to be pressed, of course. Was that to happen, likely none of us would see home nor family again for years. To say nothing of being forced maybe to fight our own countrymen.” He scratched at his chin; like all the men, he was becoming bristly and piratical-looking. “On t’other hand, though … well, you must allow of our situation at the moment being not all our friends might wish. Perilous, I mean to say, and us now minus our pay and our clothes, to boot.”

“Yes, I can see that. From your point of view, what might be the most desirable outcome of our situation?”

“Make land as near to New Haven as we can get, but not in the harbor. Run her aground on a gravel bar and set her afire,” he replied promptly. “Take her boat ashore, then run like the dickens.”

“Would you burn the ship with the sailors in the hold?” I asked, as a matter of curiosity. To my relief, he appeared shocked at the suggestion.

“Oh, no, ma’am! Might be as Mr. Fraser would want to turn them over to the Continentals to use for exchange, maybe, but we wouldn’t mind was they to be set free, either.”

“That’s very magnanimous of you,” I assured him gravely. “And I’m sure Mr. Fraser is very grateful for your recommendations. Do you, er, know where the Continental army is just now?”

“Somewhere in New Jersey is what I heard,” he replied, with a brief smile. “I don’t suppose they’d be that hard to find, though, if you wanted ’em.”

Aside from the royal navy, the last thing I personally wanted to see was the Continental army, even at a distance. New Jersey seemed safely remote, though.

I sent him to rummage the crew’s quarters for utensils—each man would have his own mess kid and spoon—and set about the tricky task of lighting the two lamps that hung over the mess table, in hopes that we might see what we were eating.

Having got a closer look at the stew, I changed my mind about the desirability of more illumination, but considering how much trouble it had been to light the lamps, wasn’t disposed to blow them out, either.

All in all, the meal wasn’t bad. Though it likely wouldn’t have mattered if I’d fed them raw grits and fish heads; the men were famished. They devoured the food like a horde of cheerful locusts, their spirits remarkably high, considering our situation. Not for the first time, I marveled at the ability of men to function capably in the midst of uncertainty and danger.

Part of it, of course, was Jamie. One couldn’t overlook the irony of someone who hated the sea and ships as he did suddenly becoming the de facto captain of a naval cutter, but while he might loathe ships, he did in fact know more or less how one was run—and he had the knack of calm in the face of chaos, as well as a natural sense of command.

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you … I thought, watching him talk calmly and sensibly to the men.

Pure adrenaline had kept me going until now, but, now out of immediate danger, it was fading fast. Between fatigue, worry, and a bruised throat, I was able to eat only a bite or two of the stew. My other bruises had begun to throb, and my knee still felt tender. I was taking a morbid inventory of physical damage when I saw Jamie’s eyes fixed on me.

“Ye need food, Sassenach,” he said mildly. “Eat.” I opened my mouth to say that I wasn’t hungry, but thought better of it. The last thing he needed was to worry about me.

“Aye, aye, Captain,” I said, and resignedly picked up my spoon.

A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE CHAMBERS OF THE HEART

I SHOULD BE GOING to sleep. God knew I needed sleep. And there would be precious little of it until we reached New Haven. If we ever do, the back of my mind commented skeptically, but I ignored this remark as unhelpful to the current situation.

I longed to plunge into sleep, as much to escape the fears and uncertainties of my mind as to restore my much abused flesh. I was so tired, though, that mind and body had begun to separate.

It was a familiar phenomenon. Doctors, soldiers, and mothers encounter it routinely; I had, any number of times. Unable to respond to an immediate emergency while clouded by fatigue, the mind simply withdraws a little, separating itself fastidiously from the body’s overwhelming self-centered needs. From this clinical distance, it can direct things, bypassing emotions, pain, and tiredness, making necessary decisions, cold-bloodedly overruling the mindless body’s needs for food, water, sleep, love, grief, pushing it past its fail-safe points.

Why emotions? I wondered dimly. Surely emotion was a function of the mind. And yet it seemed so deeply rooted in the flesh that this abdication of the mind always suppressed emotion, too.

The body resents this abdication, I think. Ignored and abused, it will not easily let the mind return. Often, the separation persists until one is finally allowed to sleep. With the body absorbed in its quiet intensities of regeneration, the mind settles cautiously back into the turbulent flesh, feeling its delicate way through the twisting passages of dreams, making peace. And you wake once more whole.

But not yet. I had the feeling that something remained to be done but no idea what. I had fed the men, sent food to the prisoners, checked the wounded… reloaded all the pistols … cleaned the stewpot… My slowing mind went blank.

I set my hands on the table, fingertips feeling out the grain of the wood as though the tiny ridges, worn smooth by years of service, might be the map that would enable me to find my way to sleep.

I could see myself in the eye of the mind, sitting there. Slender, nearly scrawny; the edge of my radius showed sharp against the skin of my forearm. I’d got thinner than I realized, over the last few weeks of traveling. Round-shouldered with fatigue. Hair a bushy, tangled mass of writhing strands, streaked with silver and white, a dozen shades of dark and light. It reminded me of something Jamie had told me, some expression the Cherokee had… combing snakes from the hair, that was it. To relieve the mind of worry, anger, fear, possession by demons—that was to comb the snakes from your hair. Very apt.

I did not, of course, possess a comb at the moment. I’d had one in my pocket, but had lost it in the struggle.

My mind felt like a balloon, tugging stubbornly at its tether. I wouldn’t let it go, though; I was suddenly and irrationally afraid that it might not come back at all.

Instead, I focused my attention fiercely on small physical details: the weight of the chicken stew and bread in my belly; the smell of the oil in the lamps, hot and fishy. The thump of feet on the deck above, and the song of the wind. The hiss of water down the sides of the ship.

The feel of a blade in flesh. Not the power of purpose, the guided destruction of surgery, damage done in order to heal. A panicked stab, the jump and stutter of a blade striking bone unexpected, the wild careen of an uncontrolled knife. And the wide dark stain on the deck, fresh-wet and smelling of iron.

“I didn’t mean it,” I whispered aloud. “Oh, God. I didn’t mean it.”

Quite without warning, I began to cry. No sobbing, no throat-gripping spasms. Water simply welled in my eyes and flowed down my cheeks, slow as cold honey. A quiet acknowledgment of despair as things spiraled slowly out of control.

“What is it, lass?” Jamie’s voice came softly from the door.

“I’m so tired,” I said thickly. “So tired.”

The bench creaked under his weight as he sat beside me, and a filthy handkerchief dabbed gently at my cheeks. He put an arm round me and whispered to me in Gaelic, the soothing endearments one makes to a startled animal. I turned my cheek into his shirt and closed my eyes. The tears were still running down my face, but I was beginning to feel better; still weary unto death, but not utterly destroyed.

“I wish I hadn’t killed that man,” I whispered. His fingers had been smoothing the hair behind my ear; they paused for a moment, then resumed.

“Ye didna kill anyone,” he said, sounding surprised. “Was that what’s been troubling ye, Sassenach?”

“Among other things, yes.” I sat up, wiping my nose on my sleeve, and stared at him. “I didn’t kill the gunner? Are you sure?”

His mouth drew up in what might have been a smile, if it were a shade less grim.

“I’m sure. I killed him, a nighean.”

“You—oh.” I sniffed, and looked at him closely. “You aren’t saying that to make me feel better.”

“I am not.” The smile faded. “I wish I hadna killed him, either. No much choice about it, though.” He reached out and pushed a lock of hair behind my ear with a forefinger. “Dinna fash yourself about it, Sassenach. I can stand it.”

I was crying again—but this time with feeling. I wept with pain and with sorrow, certainly with fear. But the pain and sorrow were for Jamie and the man he had no choice but to kill, and that made all the difference.

After a bit, the storm subsided, leaving me limp but whole. The buzzing sense of detachment had gone. Jamie had turned round on the bench, his back against the table as he held me on his lap, and we sat in peaceful silence for a bit, watching the glow of the fading coals in the galley fire and the wisps of steam rising from the cauldron of hot water. I should put something on to cook through the night, I thought drowsily. I glanced at the cages, where the chickens had settled themselves to sleep, with no more than an occasional brief cluck of startlement as one roused from whatever chickens dream about.

No, I couldn’t bring myself to kill a hen tonight. The men would have to do with whatever came to hand in the morning.

Jamie had also noticed the chickens, though to different effect.

“D’ye recall Mrs. Bug’s chickens?” he said, with a rueful humor. “Wee Jem and Roger Mac?”

“Oh, God. Poor Mrs. Bug.”

Jem, aged five or so, had been entrusted with the daily chore of counting the hens to be sure they had all returned to their coop at night. After which, of course, the door was fastened securely, to keep out foxes, badgers, or other chicken-loving predators. Only Jem had forgotten. Just once, but once was enough. A fox had got into the hen coop, and the carnage had been terrible.

It’s all rot to say that man is the only creature who kills for pleasure. Possibly they learned it from men, but all the dog family do it, too—foxes, wolves, and theoretically domesticated dogs, as well. The walls of the hen coop had been plastered with blood and feathers.

“Oh, my bairnies!” Mrs. Baird kept saying, tears rolling down her cheeks like beads. “Oh, my puir wee bairnies!”

Jem, called into the kitchen, couldn’t look.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, eyes on the floor. “I’m really sorry.”

“Well, and so ye should be,” Roger had said to him. “But sorry’s no going to help much, is it?”

Jemmy shook his head, mute, and tears welled in his eyes.

Roger cleared his throat, with a noise of gruff menace.

“Well, here it is, then. If ye’re old enough to be trusted with a job, ye’re old enough to take the consequences of breaking that trust. D’ye understand me?”

It was rather obvious that he didn’t, but he bobbed his head earnestly, sniffling.

Roger took in a deep breath through his nose.

“I mean,” he said, “I’m going to whip you.”

Jem’s small, round face went quite blank. He blinked and looked at his mother, openmouthed.

Brianna made a small movement toward him, but Jamie’s hand closed on her arm, stopping her.

Without looking at Bree, Roger put a hand on Jem’s shoulder and turned him firmly toward the door.

“Right, mate. Out.” He pointed toward the door. “Up to the stable and wait for me.”

Jemmy gulped audibly. He’d gone a sickly gray when Mrs. Bug brought in the first feathery corpse, and subsequent events had not improved his color.

I thought he might throw up, but he didn’t. He’d stopped crying and didn’t start again, but seemed to shrink into himself, shoulders hunching.

“Go,” said Roger, and he went.

As Jemmy trudged out, head hanging, he looked so exactly like a prisoner headed for execution that I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. I caught Brianna’s eye and saw that she was struggling with a similar feeling; she looked distressed, but her mouth twitched at the corner, and she looked hastily away.

Roger heaved an explosive sigh and made to follow, squaring his shoulders.

“Christ,” he muttered.

Jamie had been standing silent in the corner, watching the exchange, though not without sympathy. He moved just slightly, and Roger glanced at him. He coughed.

“Mmphm. I ken it’s the first time—but I think ye’d best make it hard,” he said softly. “The poor wee lad feels terrible.”

Brianna cut her eyes at him, surprised, but Roger nodded, the grim line of his mouth relaxing a little. He followed Jem out, unbuckling his belt as he left.

The three of us stood awkwardly round the kitchen, not quite sure what to do next. Brianna drew herself up with a sigh rather like Roger’s, shook herself like a dog, and reached for one of the dead chickens.

“Can we eat them?”

I prodded one of the hens experimentally; the flesh moved under the skin, limp and wobbly, but the skin hadn’t yet begun to separate. I picked the rooster up and sniffed; there was a sharp tang of dried blood and the musty scent of dribbled feces, but no sweet smell of rot.

“I think so, if they’re thoroughly cooked. The feathers won’t be much good, but we can stew some, and boil the rest for broth and fricassee.”

Jamie went to fetch onions, garlic, and carrots from the root cellar, while Mrs. Bug retired to lie down and Brianna and I began the messy job of plucking and gutting the victims. We didn’t say much, beyond brief murmured queries and answers about the job at hand. When Jamie came back, though, Bree looked up at him as he set the basket of vegetables on the table beside her.

“It will help?” she asked seriously. “Really?”

He’d nodded. “Ye feel badly when ye’ve done something wrong, and want to put it right, aye? But there’s no means to put something like that right again.” He gestured toward the pile of dead chickens. Flies were beginning to gather, crawling over the soft feathers.

“The best ye can do is feel ye’ve paid for it.”

A faint shriek reached us through the window. Brianna had started instinctively at the sound, but then shook her head slightly and reached for a chicken, waving away the flies.

“I remember,” I now said softly. “So does Jemmy, I’m sure.”

Jamie made a small sound of amusement, then lapsed into silence. I could feel his heart beating against my back, slow and steady.

WE KEPT WATCH AT two-hour intervals all night, making sure that either Jamie, Ian, or myself was awake. John Smith seemed solid—but there was always the possibility that someone from the Teal might take it into his head to liberate the sailors in the hold, thinking that might save them from being hanged as pirates later.

I managed the midnight watch well enough, but rousing at dawn was a struggle. I fought my way up out of a deep well lined with soft black wool, an aching fatigue clinging to my bruised and creaking limbs.

Jamie had promptly fallen into the blanket-lined hammock, directly I was out of it, and despite the urgent reflexive desire to tip him out and climb back in myself, I smiled a little. Either he had complete trust in my ability to keep watch, or he was about to die from fatigue and seasickness. Or both, I reflected, picking up the sea officer’s cloak he’d just discarded. That was one thing gained from the present situation: I’d left the horrid dead leper’s cloak aboard the Teal. This one was a vast improvement, being made of new dark-blue thick wool, lined with scarlet silk, and still holding a good deal of Jamie’s body heat.

I pulled it close around me, stroked his head to see if he would smile in his sleep—he did, just a twitch of the mouth—and made my way to the galley, yawning.

Another small benefit: a canister of good Darjeeling tea in the cupboard. I’d built up the fire under the cauldron of water when I came to bed; it was hot clear through now, and I dipped out a cup, using what was obviously the captain’s private china, painted with violets.

I carried this above, and after an official stroll round the decks, eyeing the two hands on duty—Mr. Smith had the helm—I stood by the rail to drink my fragrant booty, watching the dawn come up out of the sea.

If one were in the mood to count blessings—and, oddly enough, I seemed to be—here was another one. I had seen dawnings in warm seas that came like the bloom of some tremendous flower, a great, slow unfurling of heat and light. This was a northern sunrise, like the slow opening of a bivalve’s shell—cold and delicate, the sky shimmering nacre over a soft gray sea. There was something intimate about it, I thought, as though it presaged a day of secrets.

Just as I was getting well stuck into the poetic thoughts, they were interrupted by a shout of “Sail, ho!” from directly above me. Captain Stebbings’s violet-painted china cup shattered on the deck, and I whirled to see the tip of a white triangle on the horizon behind us, growing larger by the second.

THE NEXT FEW MOMENTS were filled with low comedy, as I rushed into the captain’s cabin so flustered and out of breath that I was unable to do more than gasp, “Ho!… s’l… Ho!” like a demented Santa Claus. Jamie, who could spring to instant wakefulness out of a deep sleep, did so. He also attempted to spring out of bed, forgetting in the stress of the moment that he was in a hammock. By the time he picked himself up, swearing, from the floor, feet were thundering on the deck as the rest of the Teal’s hands sprang more adroitly from their own hammocks and ran to see what was up.

“Is it the Teal?” I asked John Smith, straining my eyes to see. “Can you tell?”

“Yes,” he said absently, squinting at the sail. “Or no, rather. I can tell, and she isn’t. She’s got three masts.”

“I’ll take your word for it.” At this distance, the approaching ship looked like a wavering cloud scudding toward us over the water; I couldn’t make out her hull at all yet.

“We don’t need to run from her, do we?” I asked Jamie, who had rooted out a spyglass from Stebbings’s desk and was examining our pursuer with a deep frown. He lowered the glass at this, shaking his head.

“It doesna matter whether we need to or not; we’d no stand a chance.” He passed the glass to Smith, who clapped it to his eye, muttering, “Colors… she’s got no colors flying—”

Jamie’s head jerked sharply up and around at that, and I realized abruptly that the Pitt was still flying the Union Jack.

“That’s good, don’t you think?” I asked. “They won’t trouble a naval ship, surely.”

Jamie and John Smith both looked exceedingly dubious at this piece of logic.

“If they come within hailing distance, they’ll likely notice something’s fishy and it ain’t a whale,” Smith said. He glanced sideways at Jamie. “Still… would you maybe think of puttin’ on the captain’s coat? It might help—at a distance.”

“If they get close enough for it to matter, it willna matter anyway,” Jamie said, looking grim.

Still, he disappeared, pausing briefly to retch over the rail, and returned moments later looking splendid—if you stood well back and squinted—in Captain Stebbings’s uniform. As Stebbings was perhaps a foot shorter than Jamie and a good deal larger round the middle, the coat strained across the shoulders and flapped around the waist, both sleeves and breeches showed a much greater expanse of shirtsleeve and stocking than was usual, and the breeches had been cinched up in folds with Jamie’s sword belt in order not to fall off. He was now sporting the captain’s sword, I saw, and a pair of loaded pistols, as well as his own dirk.

Ian’s brows went up at sight of his uncle thus attired, but Jamie glared at him, and Ian said nothing, though his expression lightened for the first time since we had met the Pitt.

“Not so bad,” Mr. Smith said, encouraging. “Might’s well try to brass it out, eh? Nothing to be lost, after all.”

“Mmphm.”

“ The boy stood on the burning deck, whence all but he had fled,” I said, causing Jamie to switch the glare to me.

Having seen Guinea Dick, I wasn’t worried about Ian’s passing muster as a hand in the royal navy, tattoos and all. The rest of the Teal’s hands were fairly unexceptionable. We might just get away with it.

The oncoming ship was close enough now for me to see her figurehead, a black-haired female who seemed to be clutching a—

“Is that really a snake she’s holding?” I asked dubiously. Ian leaned forward, squinting over my shoulder.

“It’s got fangs.”

“So’s the ship, lad.” John Smith nodded at the vessel, and at this point I saw that indeed it did: the long snouts of two small brass guns protruded from the bow, and as the wind drove her toward us at a slight angle, I could also see that she had gunports. They might or might not be real; merchantmen sometimes painted their sides with false gunports, to discourage interference.

The bow chasers were real, though. One of them fired, a puff of white smoke and a small ball that splashed into the water near us.

“Is that courteous?” Jamie asked dubiously. “Does he mean to signal us?”

Evidently not; both bow chasers spoke together, and a ball tore through one of the sails overhead, leaving a large hole with singed edges. We gaped at it.

“What does he think he’s about, firing on a King’s ship?” Smith demanded indignantly.

“He thinks he’s a bloody privateer, and he means to take us, is what,” Jamie said, recovering from his shock and hastily disrobing. “Strike the colors, for God’s sake!”

Smith glanced uneasily between Jamie and the oncoming ship. Men were visible at the railings. Armed men.

“They have cannon and muskets, Mr. Smith,” Jamie said, throwing his coat overboard with a heave that sent it spiraling out onto the waves. “I’m no going to try to fight them for His Majesty’s ship. Run down that flag!”

Mr. Smith bolted, and began rooting among the myriad lines for the one connected to the Union Jack. Another boom came from the bow chasers, though this time a lucky roll of the sea carried us into a trough and both balls passed over us.

The colors came rattling down, to land in an ignominious heap on the deck. I had a moment’s scandalized, reflexive impulse to rush over and pick them up, but stopped myself.

“Now what?” I asked, an uneasy eye on the ship. It was near enough that I could make out the shapes of the gunners, who were definitely reloading the brass bow chasers and re-aiming them. And the men at the railings behind them were indeed bristling with armament; I thought I made out swords and cutlasses, as well as muskets and pistols.

The gunners had paused; someone was pointing over the railing, turning to call to someone behind him. Shading my eyes with my hand, I saw the captain’s coat, afloat on the rising swell. That appeared to have baffled the privateer; I saw a man hop up onto the bow and stare toward us.

What now? I wondered. Privateers could be anything from professional captains sailing under a letter of marque from one government or another to out-and-out pirates. If the vessel on our tail was the former, chances were that we would fare all right as passengers. If the latter, they could easily cut our throats and throw us into the sea.

The man in the bow shouted something to his men and hopped down. The ship had hauled her wind for a moment; now the bow turned and the sails filled with an audible thump of wind.

“She’s going to ram us,” Smith said, his tone one of blank disbelief.

I was sure he was right. The figurehead was close enough that I could see the snake grasped in the woman’s hand, pressed against her bare breast. Such is the nature of shock that I was conscious of my mind idly considering whether the ship was more likely named Cleopatra or Asp, when it passed us in a foaming rush and the air shattered in a crash of searing metal.

The world dissolved and I was lying flat, my face pressed into ground that smelled of butchery, deafened and straining for my life to hear the scream of the next mortar round, the one that would strike us dead center.

Something heavy had fallen on me, and I struggled mindlessly to get out from under it, to get to my feet and run, run anywhere, anywhere away… away…

I gradually realized from the feel of my throat that I was making whimpering noises and that the surface under my flattened cheek was salt-sticky board, not blood-soaked mud. The weight on my back moved suddenly of its own volition, as Jamie rolled off, rising to his knees.

“Jesus Christ!” he shouted in fury. “What’s wrong wi’ you!?”

The only answer to this was a single boom, this coming evidently from a gun at the stern of the other ship, which had passed us.

I stood up, trembling, but so far past simple fright that I noticed with a purely detached sort of interest that there was a leg lying on the deck a few feet away. It was barefooted, clad in the torn-off leg of a pair of canvas breeches. There was a good deal of blood spattered here and there.

“Holy God, holy GOD,” someone kept saying. I glanced incuriously to the side and saw Mr. Smith, staring upward with a look of horror.

I looked, too. The top of the single mast was gone, and the remains of sails and rigging sagged in a tattered, smoking mass over half the deck. Evidently the privateer’s gunports were not just for show.

Dazed as I was, I hadn’t even begun to ask myself why they’d done this. Jamie wasn’t wasting any time asking questions, either. He seized Mr. Smith by the arm.

“Bloody hell! The wicked nàmhaid are comin’ back!”

They were. The other ship had been moving too fast, I belatedly realized. She’d shot past as she unleashed her broadside, but likely only one of the heavy cannonballs had actually hit us, taking out the mast and the unfortunate Teal who’d been in the rigging.

The rest of the Teals were now on deck, shouting questions. The only answer was dealt by the privateer, who was now describing a wide circle, only too clearly meaning to come back and finish what she’d started.

I saw Ian glance sharply at the Pitt’s cannon—but that was plainly futile. Even if the Teal’s men included some with gunnery experience, there was no possibility of them being able to man the guns on the spur of the moment.

The privateer had completed her circle. She was coming back. All over the Pitt’s deck, men were shouting, waving their arms, crashing into one another as they stumbled toward the rail.

“We surrender, you filthy buggers!” one of them screamed. “Are you deaf?!”

Evidently so; a stray waft of wind brought me the sulfurous smell of slow match, and I could see muskets being brought to bear on us. A few of the men near me lost their heads and rushed belowdecks. I found myself thinking that perhaps that was not such a bad idea.

Jamie had been waving and shouting beside me. Suddenly he was gone, though, and I turned to see him running across the deck. He whipped his shirt off over his head and leapt up onto our bow chaser, a gleaming brass gun called a long nine.

He waved the shirt in a huge, fluttering white arc, his free hand clamped on Ian’s shoulder for balance. That caused confusion for a moment; the crackle of firing stopped, though the sloop continued her deadly circle. Jamie waved the shirt again, to and fro. Surely they must see him!

The wind was toward us; I could hear the rumble of the guns running out again, and the blood froze in my chest.

“They’re going to sink us!” Mr. Smith shrieked, and this was echoed in cries of terror from some of the other men.

The smell of black powder came to us on the wind, sharp and acrid. There were shouts from the men in the rigging, half of them now desperately waving their shirts, as well. I saw Jamie pause for an instant, swallow, then bend down and say something to Ian. He squeezed Ian’s shoulder hard, then lowered himself on hands and knees to the gun.

Ian shot past me, nearly knocking me over in his haste.

“Where are you going?” I cried.

“To let the prisoners out! They’ll drown if we sink!” he called over his shoulder, disappearing into the companionway.

I turned back to the oncoming ship, to find that Jamie had not come down off the gun, as I’d thought. Instead, he had scrambled round so his back was to the oncoming sloop.

Braced against the wind, arms spread for balance, and knees gripping the brass of the gun for all he was worth, he stretched to his full height, arms out, displaying his bare back—and the web of scars on it, these gone red with the blanching of his skin in the cold wind.

The oncoming ship had slowed, maneuvering to slide alongside us and blast us out of the water with a final broadside. I could see the heads of men poking up over her rail, leaning out from her rigging, all craning in curiosity. But not firing.

I suddenly felt my heart beating with huge, painful thumps, as though it had actually stopped for a minute and now, reminded of its duty, was trying to make up for lost time.

The side of the sloop loomed above us, and the deck fell into deep, cold shadow. So close, I could hear the talk of the gun crews, puzzled, questioning; hear the deep clink and rattle of shot in its racks, the creak of the gun carriages. I couldn’t look up, didn’t dare to move.

“Who are you?” said a nasal, very American voice from above. It sounded deeply suspicious and very annoyed.

“If ye mean the ship, she’s called the Pitt.” Jamie had got down from the gun and stood beside me, half naked and so pebbled with gooseflesh that the hairs stood out from his body like copper wires. He was shaking, though whether from terror, rage, or simply from cold, I didn’t know. His voice didn’t shake, though; it was filled with fury.

“If ye mean me, I am Colonel James Fraser, of the North Carolina militia.”

A momentary silence, as the master of the privateer digested that.

“Where’s Captain Stebbings?” the voice asked. The suspicion in it was undiminished, but the annoyance had waned a bit.

“It’s a bloody long story,” Jamie said, sounding cross. “But he’s no aboard. If ye want to come over and look for him, do so. D’ye mind if I put my shirt back on?”

A pause, a murmur, and the clicks of hammers being eased. At this point, I unfroze enough to look up. The rail was a-bristle with the barrels of muskets and pistols, but most of these had been withdrawn and were now pointing harmlessly upward, while their owners pressed forward to gawk over the rail.

“Just a minute. Turn about,” the voice said.

Jamie drew a deep breath in through his nose, but did so. He glanced at me, briefly, then stood with his head up, jaw clenched, and eyes fixed on the mast, around which the prisoners from the hold were now assembled, under Ian’s eye. They looked completely baffled, gaping up at the privateer, then looking wildly round the deck before spotting Jamie, half naked and glaring like a basilisk. Had I not begun to worry that I was having a heart attack, I would have found it funny.

“Deserter from the British army, were you?” said the voice from the sloop, sounding interested. Jamie turned round, preserving the glare.

“I am not,” he said shortly. “I am a free man—and always have been.”

“Have you, then?” The voice was beginning to sound amused. “All right. Put your shirt on, and come aboard.”

I could barely breathe and was bathed in cold sweat, but my heart began to beat more reasonably.

Jamie, now clothed, took my arm.

“My wife and nephew are coming with me,” he called, and without waiting for assent from the sloop, seized me by the waist and lifted me to stand on the Pitt’s rail, from where I could grab the rope ladder that the sloop’s crew had thrown down. He was taking no chances on being separated from either me or Ian again.

The ship was rolling in the swell, and I had to cling tightly to the ladder with my eyes closed for a moment, as dizziness swept over me. I felt nauseated as well as dizzy, but surely that was only a reaction to shock. With my eyes closed, my stomach settled a little, and I was able to set my foot on the next rung.

“Sail, ho!”

Tilting my head far back, I could just see the waving arm of the man above. I turned to look, the ladder twisting under me, and saw the sail approaching. On the deck above, the nasal voice was shouting orders, and bare feet drummed on the wood as the crew ran for their stations.

Jamie was on the rail of the Pitt, gripping me by the waist to save me falling.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” he said, in tones of utter astonishment, and I looked over my shoulder to see him turned to watch the oncoming ship. “It’s the bloody Teal.”

A TALL, VERY THIN man with gray hair, a prominent Adam’s apple, and piercing ice-blue eyes met us at the top of the ladder.

“Captain Asa Hickman,” he barked at me, and then instantly switched his attention to Jamie. “What’s that ship? And where’s Stebbings?”

Ian scrambled over the rail behind me, looking anxiously back over his shoulder.

“I’d pull that ladder up if I were you,” he said briefly to one of the sailors.

I glanced down at the deck of the Pitt, where a milling confusion of men was swarming toward the rail, pushing and shoving. There was a good deal of arm-waving and shouting, the naval seamen and the pressed men trying to put their cases, but Captain Hickman wasn’t in the mood.

“Pull it up,” he said to the sailor, and, “Come with me,” to Jamie. He stalked off along the deck, not waiting for an answer and not turning to see whether he was followed. Jamie gave the sailors surrounding us a narrow look but apparently decided they were safe enough, and, with a terse “Look after your auntie” to Ian, went off after Hickman.

Ian was not paying attention to anything save the oncoming Teal.

“Jesus,” he whispered, eyes fixed on the sail. “D’ye think he’s all right?”

“Rollo? I certainly hope so.” My face was cold; colder than just from the ocean spray; my lips had gone numb. And there were small flashing lights at the edges of my sight. “Ian,” I said, as calmly as possible. “I think I’m going to faint.”

The pressure in my chest seemed to rise, choking me. I forced a cough and felt a momentary easing. Dear God, was I having a heart attack? Pain in left arm? No. Pain in jaw? Yes, but I was clenching my teeth, no wonder…. I didn’t feel myself fall, but felt the pressure of hands as someone caught and lowered me to the deck. My eyes were open, I thought, but I couldn’t see anything. Dimly, it occurred to me that I might be dying, but I rejected that notion out of hand. No, I bloody wasn’t. I couldn’t. But there was an odd sort of gray swirling mist approaching me.

“Ian,” I said—or thought I said. I felt very calm. “Ian, just in case—tell Jamie that I love him.” Everything did not go black, rather to my surprise, but the mist reached me, and I felt gently enveloped in a peaceful gray cloud. All the pressure, the choking, the pain had eased. I could have floated, happily mindless, in the gray mist, save that I could not be sure I’d really spoken, and the need to convey the message niggled like a cocklebur in the sole of a foot.

“Tell Jamie,” I kept saying to a misty Ian. “Tell Jamie that I love him.”

“Open your eyes and tell me yourself, Sassenach,” said a deep, urgent voice somewhere close.

I tried opening my eyes and found that I could. Apparently I had not died after all. I essayed a cautious breath and found that my chest moved easily. My hair was damp, and I was lying on something hard, covered by a blanket. Jamie’s face swam above me, then steadied as I blinked.

“Tell me,” he repeated, smiling a little, though anxiety creased the skin beside his eyes.

“Tell you… oh! I love you. Where… ?” Memory of recent events flooded in upon me, and I sat up abruptly. “The Teal? What—”

“I havena got the slightest idea. When did ye last have anything to eat, Sassenach?”

“I don’t remember. Last night. What do you mean, you haven’t the slightest idea? Is it still there?”

“Oh, aye,” he said, with a certain grimness. “It is. It fired two shots at us a few minutes gone—though I suppose ye couldna hear them.”

“It fired shots at—” I rubbed a hand over my face, pleased to find that I could now feel my lips, and that normal warmth had returned to my skin. “Do I look gray and sweaty?” I asked Jamie. “Are my lips blue?”

He looked startled at that, but bent to peer closely at my mouth.

“No,” he said positively, straightening up after a thorough inspection. Then he bent and quickly kissed them, putting a seal on my state of pinkness. “I love ye, too,” he whispered. “I’m glad ye’re no dead. Yet,” he added in a normal tone of voice, straightening up as an unmistakable cannon shot came from somewhere at a distance.

“I assume Captain Stebbings has taken over the Teal?” I asked. “Captain Roberts wouldn’t be going around taking potshots at strange ships, I don’t think. But why is Stebbings firing at us, I wonder? Why isn’t he trying to board the Pitt and take her back? It’s his for the taking now.”

My symptoms had all but disappeared by now, and I felt quite clearheaded. Sitting up, I discovered that I had been laid out on a pair of large, flat-topped chests in what appeared to be a small hold; there was a latticed hatch cover overhead, through which I caught the fluttering shadows of moving sails, and the walls were stacked with a miscellaneous assortment of barrels, bundles, and boxes. The air was thick with the smells of tar, copper, cloth, gunpowder, and… coffee? I sniffed more deeply, feeling stronger by the moment. Yes, coffee!

The sound of another muffled cannon-shot came through the walls, muffled by distance, and a small visceral quiver ran through me. The notion of being trapped in the hold of a ship that might at any moment be sunk was enough to overcome even the smell of coffee.

Jamie had turned in response to the shot, too, half rising. Before I could stand and suggest that we go above, and quickly, there was a shift in the light, and a round, bristly head poked through the hatchway.

“Is the lady summat recovered?” a young boy asked politely. “Cap’n says if she’s dead, you’re no longer needed here, and he desires you to come above and speak to him prompt, sir.”

“And if I’m not dead?” I inquired, trying to straighten out my petticoats, which were wet round the hems, damp through, and hopelessly rumpled. Drat. Now I had left my gold-weighted skirt and pocket aboard the Pitt. At this rate, I’d be lucky to arrive on dry land in my chemise and stays.

The boy—at second glance, he was likely twelve or so, though he looked much younger—smiled at this.

“In that case, he offered to come and drop you overboard himself, ma’am, in hopes of concentrating your husband’s mind. Cap’n Hickman’s a bit hasty in his speech,” he added, with an apologetic grimace. “He doesn’t mean much by it. Usually.”

“I’ll come with you.” I stood up without losing my balance, but did accept Jamie’s arm. We made our way through the ship, led by our new acquaintance, who helpfully informed me that his name was Abram Zenn (“My pa being a reading man, and much taken by Mr. Johnson’s Dictionary, he was tickled by the thought of me being A through Zed, you see”), that he was the ship’s boy (the ship’s name was in fact Asp, which pleased me), and that the reason for Captain Hickman’s present agitation was a longstanding grievance against the navy’s Captain Stebbings: “which there’s been more than one run-in betwixt the two, and Cap’n Hickman’s sworn that there won’t be but one more.”

“I gather Captain Stebbings is of like mind?” Jamie asked dryly, to which Abram nodded vigorous assent.

“Fellow in a tavern in Roanoke told me Cap’n Stebbings was drinking there and said to the assembled as how he meant to hang Cap’n Hickman from his own yardarm, and leave him for the gulls to peck his eyes. They would, too,” he added darkly, with a glance at the seabirds wheeling over the ocean nearby. “They’re wicked buggers, gulls.”

Further interesting tidbits were curtailed by our arrival in Captain Hickman’s inner sanctum, a cramped stern cabin, as crammed with cargo as the hold had been. Ian was there, doing his impression of a captured Mohawk about to be burned at the stake, from which I deduced that he hadn’t taken to Captain Hickman. The feeling seemed to be mutual, judging from the hectic patches of color burning in the latter’s rawboned cheeks.

“Ah,” Hickman said shortly, seeing us. “Glad to see you’ve not departed this life yet, ma’am. Be a sad loss to your husband, such a devoted woman.” There was a sarcastic intonation to this last that made me wonder uncomfortably just how many times I’d told Ian to relay my love to Jamie and just how many people had heard me doing it, but Jamie simply ignored the comment, showing me to a seat on the captain’s unmade bed before turning to deal with the man himself.

“I’m told that the Teal is firing at us,” he observed mildly. “Does this occasion ye no concern, sir?”

“Not yet it doesn’t.” Hickman spared a negligent glance at his stern windows, half of them covered with deadlights, presumably because of broken glass; a good many of the panes were shattered. “He’s just firing in hopes of a lucky shot. We’ve got the weather gauge on him, and will likely keep it for the next couple of hours.”

“I see,” said Jamie, with a convincing attitude of knowing what this meant.

“Captain Hickman is debating in his mind whether to engage the Teal in action, Uncle,” Ian put in tactfully, “or whether to run. Having the weather gauge is a matter of maneuverability, and thus gives him somewhat more latitude in the matter than the Teal has presently, I think.”

“Heard the one about He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day?” Hickman said, giving Ian a glare. “If I can sink him, I will. If I can shoot him on his own quarterdeck and take the ship, I’ll like that better, but I’ll settle for sending him to the bottom if I have to. But I won’t let him sink me, not today.”

“Why not today?” I asked. “Rather than any other day, I mean?”

Hickman looked surprised; he had obviously assumed I was purely ornamental.

“Because I have an important cargo to deliver, ma’am. One that I daren’t risk. Not unless I could get my hands on that rat Stebbings without taking any great chances,” he added broodingly.

“I gather that your assumption that Captain Stebbings was aboard accounts for your most determined attempt to sink the Pitt?” Jamie asked. The ceiling of the cabin was so low that he, Ian, and Hickman were all obliged to converse in a crouching position, like a convention of chimpanzees. There was really nowhere to sit other than the bed, and kneeling on the floor would of course lack the requisite dignity for a meeting of gentlemen.

“It was, sir, and I’m obliged to you for stopping me in time. Perhaps we may share a jar, when there’s more leisure, and you can tell me what happened to your back.”

“Perhaps not,” Jamie said politely. “I gather further that we are under sail. Where is the Pitt presently?”

“Adrift, about two miles off the larboard quarter. If I can deal with Stebbings,” and Hickman’s eyes fairly glowed red at the prospect, “I’ll come back and take her, too.”

“If there’s anyone left alive on board to sail her,” Ian said. “There was a fair-sized riot on her deck, when last I saw it. What might predispose ye to take on the Teal, sir?” he asked, raising his voice. “My uncle and I can give ye information regarding her guns and crew—and even if Stebbings has taken the ship, I doubt but he’ll have a job to fight her. He’s got no more than ten men of his own, and Captain Roberts and his crew will want nay part of an engagement, I’m sure.”

Jamie gave Ian a narrow look.

“Ye ken they’ve likely killed him already.”

Ian didn’t resemble Jamie at all, but the look of implacable stubbornness on his face was one I knew intimately.

“Aye, maybe. Would ye leave me behind, if ye only thought I might be dead?”

I could see Jamie open his mouth to say, “He’s a dog.” But he didn’t. He closed his eyes and sighed, obviously contemplating the prospect of instigating a sea battle—and incidentally risking all of our lives six ways from Sunday, to say nothing of the lives of the men aboard the Teal—for the sake of an aging dog, who might be already dead, if not devoured by a shark. Then he opened them and nodded.

“Aye, all right.” He straightened, as much as was possible in the cramped cabin, and turned to Hickman. “My nephew’s particular friend is aboard the Teal and likely in danger. I ken that’s no concern of yours, but it explains our own interest. As for yours… in addition to Captain Stebbings, there is a cargo aboard the Teal in which ye may have an interest, as well—six cases of rifles.”

Ian and I both gasped. Hickman straightened up abruptly, cracking his head on a timber.

“Ow! Holy Moses. You’re sure of that?”

“I am. And I imagine the Continental army might make use of them?”

I thought that was treading on dangerous ground; after all, the fact that Hickman had a strong animus toward Captain Stebbings didn’t necessarily mean he was an American patriot. From the little I’d seen of him, Captain Stebbings looked entirely capable of inspiring purely personal animus, quite separate from any political considerations.

But Hickman made no denial; in fact, he’d barely noticed Jamie’s remark, inflamed by mention of the rifles. Was it true? I wondered. But Jamie had spoken with complete certainty. I cast my mind back over the contents of the Teal’s hold, looking for anything…

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I said. “The boxes bound for New Haven?” I barely kept myself from blurting out Hannah Arnold’s name, realizing just in time that if Hickman was indeed a patriot—for it did occur to me that he might merely be a businessman, as willing to sell to either side—he might well recognize the name and realize that these rifles were almost certainly already intended to reach the Continentals via Colonel Arnold.

Jamie nodded, watching Hickman, who was gazing at a small barometer on the wall as though it were a crystal ball. Whatever it told him seemed to be favorable, for Hickman nodded once, then dashed out of the cabin as though his breeches were on fire.

“Where’s he gone?” Ian demanded, staring after him.

“To check the wind, I imagine,” I said, proud of knowing something. “To make certain he still has the weather gauge.”

Jamie was rifling Hickman’s desk, and emerged at this point with a rather wizened apple, which he tossed into my lap. “Eat that, Sassenach. What the devil is a weather gauge?”

“Ah. Well, there you have me,” I admitted. “But it has to do with wind, and it seems to be important.” I sniffed the apple; it had plainly seen better days, but still held a faint, sweet smell that suddenly raised the ghost of my vanished appetite. I took a cautious bite and felt saliva flood my mouth. I ate it in two more bites, ravenous.

Captain Hickman’s high nasal voice came piercingly from the deck. I couldn’t hear what he said, but the response was immediate; feet thumped to and fro on deck, and the ship shifted suddenly, turning as her sails were adjusted. The chime and grunt of shot being lifted and the rumble of gun carriages echoed through the ship. Apparently, the weather gauge was still ours.

I could see a fierce excitement light Ian’s face and rejoiced to see it, but couldn’t help voicing a qualm or two.

“You haven’t any hesitation about this?” I said to Jamie. “I mean—after all, he is a dog.”

He gave me an eye and a moody shrug.

“Aye, well. I’ve known battles fought for worse reasons. And since this time yesterday, I’ve committed piracy, mutiny, and murder. I may as well add treason and make a day of it.”

“Besides, Auntie,” Ian said reprovingly, “he’s a good dog.”

WEATHER GAUGE OR NO, it took an endless time of cautious maneuvering before the ships drew within what seemed a dangerous distance of each other. The sun was no more than a handsbreadth above the horizon by now, the sails were beginning to glow a baleful red, and my chastely pristine dawn looked like ending in a wallowing sea of blood.

The Teal was cruising gently, no more than half her canvas set, less than half a mile away. Captain Hickman stood on the Asp’s deck, hands clenched on the rail as though it were Stebbings’s throat, wearing the look of a greyhound just before the rabbit is released.

“Time you went below, ma’am,” Hickman said, not looking at me. “Matters will be hotting up directly here.” His hands flexed once in anticipation.

I didn’t argue. The tension on deck was so thick I could smell it, testosterone spiced with brimstone and black powder. Men being the remarkable creatures that they are, everyone seemed cheerful.

I paused to kiss Jamie—a gesture he returned with a gusto that left my lower lip throbbing slightly—resolutely ignoring the possibility that the next time I saw him, it might be in separate pieces. I’d faced that possibility a number of times before, and while it didn’t get less daunting with practice, I had got better at ignoring it.

Or at least I thought I had. Sitting in the main hold in near-total darkness, smelling the low-tide reek of the bilges and listening to what I was sure were rats rustling in the chains, I had a harder time ignoring the sounds from above: the rumbling of gun carriages. The Asp had only four guns to a side, but they were twelve-pounders: heavy armament for a coastal schooner. The Teal, equipped as an oceangoing merchantman who might have to fight off all manner of menace, fought eight to a side, sixteen-pounders, with two carronades on the upper deck, plus two bow chasers and a stern gun.

“She’d run from a man-o’-war,” Abram explained to me, he having asked me to describe the Teal’s armament. “And she wouldn’t be likely to try to seize or sink another vessel, so she wouldn’t ship tremendous hardware, even was she built for it, and I doubt she is. Now, I doubt as well that Captain Stebbings can man even a whole side to good effect, though, so we mustn’t be downhearted.” He spoke with great confidence, which I found amusing and also oddly reassuring. He seemed to realize this, for he leaned forward and patted my hand gently.

“Now, you needn’t fret, ma’am,” he said. “Mr. Fraser said to me I must be sure to let no harm come to you, and I shall not—be sure of that.”

“Thank you,” I said gravely. Not wanting either to laugh or to cry, I cleared my throat instead and asked, “Do you know what caused the trouble between Captain Hickman and Captain Stebbings?”

“Oh, yes, ma’am,” he replied promptly. “Captain Stebbings has been a plague on the district for some years, stopping ships what he hasn’t any right to search, taking off legal goods what he says are contraband—and we take leave to doubt that any of it ever sees the inside of a Customs warehouse!” he added, obviously quoting something he’d heard more than once. “But it was what happened with the Annabelle, really.”

The Annabelle was a large ketch, owned by Captain Hickman’s brother. The Pitt had stopped her and attempted to press men from her crew. Theo Hickman had protested, resistance had broken out, and Stebbings had ordered his men to fire into the Annabelle, killing three crewmen—Theo Hickman among them.

There had been considerable public outcry over this, and an effort was made to bring Captain Stebbings to justice for his deeds. The captain had insisted that no local court had the right to try him for anything, though; if anyone wished to bring an action against him, it must be done in an English court. And the local justices had agreed with this.

“Was this before war was declared last year?” I asked curiously. “For if after—”

“Well before,” young Zenn admitted. “Still,” he added with righteous indignation, “they are cowardly dogs and ought be tarred and feathered, the lot of them, and Stebbings, too!”

“No doubt,” I said. “Do you think—”

But I had no opportunity to explore his opinions further, for at this point the ship gave a violent lurch, throwing us both onto the damp floorboards, and the sound of a violent and prolonged explosion shattered the air around us.

I couldn’t at first tell which ship had fired—but an instant later, the Asp’s guns spoke overhead, and I knew the first broadside had been from the Teal.

The Asp’s reply was ragged, the guns along her starboard side going off at more or less random intervals overhead, punctuated by the flat bangs of small-arms fire.

I resisted Abram’s gallant attempts to throw his meager body protectively on top of mine and, rolling over, got up onto my hands and knees, listening intently. There was a lot of shouting, none of it comprehensible, though the shooting had stopped. We appeared not to be leaking water, so far as I could tell, so presumably we had not been struck below the waterline.

“They can’t have given up, surely?” Abram said, scrambling to his feet. He sounded disappointed.

“I doubt it.” I got to my own feet, bracing a hand against a large barrel. The main hold was quite as crowded as the forward one, though with bulkier items; there was barely room for Abram and me to worm our way between the netted bulk of crates and tiers of casks—some of which smelled strongly of beer. The ship was heeling to one side now. We must be coming about—probably to try again. The wheels of the gun carriages ground on the deck above; yes, they were reloading. Had anyone yet been hurt? I wondered. And what the devil was I going to do about it if they had?

The sound of a single cannon-shot came from overhead.

“The dog must be fleeing,” Abram whispered. “We’re chasing him down.”

There was a long period of relative silence, during which I thought the ship was tacking but couldn’t really tell. Maybe Hickman was pursuing the Teal.

Sudden yelling from overhead, with a sound of surprised alarm, and the ship heaved violently, flinging us to the floor once again. This time I landed on top. I delicately removed my knee from Abram’s stomach and helped him to sit up, gasping like a landed fish.

“What—” he wheezed, but got no further. There was a hideous jolt that knocked us both flat again, followed at once by a grinding, rending noise of squealing timbers. It sounded as though the ship was coming apart around us, and I had no doubt that it was.

Shrieking like banshees and the thunder of feet on deck.

“We’re being boarded!” I could hear Abram swallow, and my hand went to the slit in my petticoat, touching my knife for courage. If—

“No,” I whispered, straining my eyes up into darkness as though that would help me hear better. “No. We’re boarding them.” For the pounding feet above had vanished.

THE YELLING HADN’T; EVEN muffled by distance, I could hear the note of insanity in it, the clear joy of the berserker. I thought I could make out Jamie’s Highland screech, but that was likely imagination; they all sounded equally demented.

“Our Father, who art in heaven … Our Father, who art in heaven …” Abram was whispering to himself in the dark, but had stuck on the first line.

I clenched my fists and closed my eyes in reflex, screwing up my face as though by sheer force of will I could help.

Neither of us could.

It was an age of muffled noises, occasional shots, thuds and bangs, grunting and shouting. And then silence.

I could just see Abram’s head turn toward me, questioning. I squeezed his hand.

And then a ship’s gun went off with a crash that echoed across the deck above, and a shock wave thrummed through the air of the hold, hard enough that my ears popped. Another followed, I felt rather than heard a thunk, and then the floor heaved and tilted, and the ship’s timbers reverberated with an odd, deep bwong. I shook my head hard, swallowing, trying to force air through my Eustachian tubes. They popped again, finally, and I heard feet on the side of the ship. More than one pair. Moving slowly.

I leapt to my feet, grabbed Abram, and hauled him bodily up, propelling him toward the ladder. I could hear water. Not racing along the ship’s sides; a gushing noise, as of water gurgling into the hold.

The hatchway had been closed overhead but not battened down, and I knocked it loose with a desperate bang of both hands, nearly losing my balance and plunging into darkness but luckily sustained by Abram Zenn, who planted a small but solid shoulder under my buttocks by way of support.

“Thank you, Mr. Zenn,” I said, and, reaching behind me, pulled him up the ladder into the light.

There was blood on the deck; that was the first thing I saw. Wounded men, too—but not Jamie. He was the second thing I saw, leaning heavily over the remains of a shattered rail with several other men. I hurried to see what they were looking at, and saw the Teal a few hundred yards away.

Her sails were fluttering wildly, and her masts seemed oddly tilted. Then I realized that the ship herself was tilted, the bow raised half out of the water.

“Rot me,” said Abram, in tones of amazement. “She’s run onto rocks.”

“So have we, son, but not so bad,” said Hickman, glancing aside at the cabin boy’s voice. “Is there water in the hold, Abram?”

“There is,” I replied before Abram, lost in contemplation of the wounded Teal, could gather his wits to answer. “Have you any medical instruments aboard, Captain Hickman?”

“Have I what?” he blinked at me, distracted. “This is no time for—why?”

“I’m a surgeon, sir,” I said, “and you need me.”

WITHIN A QUARTER HOUR, I found myself back in the small forward cargo hold where I had roused from my fainting spell a few hours earlier, this being now designated as the sick bay.

The Asp did not travel with a surgeon, but had a small store of medicinals: a half-full bottle of laudanum, a fleam and bleeding bowl, a large pair of tweezers, a jar of dead and desiccated leeches, two rusty amputation saws, a broken tenaculum, a bag of lint for packing wounds, and a huge jar of camphorated grease.

I was strongly tempted to drink the laudanum myself, but duty called. I tied back my hair and began poking about among the cargo, in search of anything useful. Mr. Smith and Ian had rowed across to the Teal in hopes of retrieving my own kit, but given the amount of damage I could see in the area where our cabin had been, I didn’t have much hope. A lucky shot from the Asp had holed the Teal below the waterline; had she not run aground, she would likely have sunk sooner or later.

I’d done a rapid triage on deck; one man killed outright, several minor injuries, three serious but not instantly life-threatening. There were likely more on the Teal; from what the men said, the ships had exchanged broadsides at a distance of no more than a few yards. A quick and bloody little action.

A few minutes after the conclusion, the Pitt had limped into sight, her contentiously mixed crew having evidently come to a sufficient accommodation as to allow her to sail, and she was now occupied in ferrying the wounded. I heard the faint shout of her bosun’s hail over the whine of the wind above.

“Incoming,” I murmured, and, picking up the smaller of the amputation saws, prepared for my own quick and bloody action.

“YOU HAVE GUNS,” I pointed out to Abram Zenn, who was rigging a couple of hanging lanterns for me, the sun having now almost set. “Presumably this means that Captain Hickman was prepared to use them. Didn’t he think there might be a possibility of casualties?”

Abram shrugged apologetically.

“It’s our first voyage as a letter of marque, ma’am. We’ll do better next time, I’m sure.”

“Your first? What sort of—how long has Captain Hickman been sailing?” I demanded. I was ruthlessly rummaging the cargo by now, and was pleased to find a chest that held lengths of printed calico.

Abram frowned at the wick he was trimming, thinking.

“Well,” he said slowly, “he had a fishing boat for some time, out of Marblehead. Him—he, I mean—and his brother owned it together. But after his brother ran afoul of Captain Stebbings, he went to work for Emmanuel Bailey, as first mate on one of his—Mr. Bailey’s, I mean—ships. Mr. Bailey’s a Jew,” he explained, seeing my raised eyebrow. “Owns a bank in Philadelphia and three ships as sail regularly to the West Indies. He owns this ship, too, and it’s him who got the letter of marque from the Congress for Captain Hickman, when the war was announced.”

“I see,” I said, more than slightly taken aback. “But this is Captain Hickman’s first cruise as captain of a sloop?”

“Yes, ma’am. But privateers don’t usually have a supercargo, do you see,” he said earnestly. “It would be the supercargo’s job to provision the ship and see to such things as the medical supplies.”

“And you know this because—how long have you been sailing?” I asked curiously, liberating a bottle of what looked like very expensive brandy, to use as antiseptic.

“Oh, since I was eight years old, ma’am,” he said. He stood a-tiptoe to hang the lantern, which cast a warm, reassuring glow over my impromptu operating theater. “I’ve six elder brothers, and the oldest runs the farm, with his sons. The others… well, one’s a shipwright in Newport News, and he got to talking with a captain one day and mentioned me, and next thing I know, I’m one of the cabin boys on the Antioch, her being an Indiaman. I went back with the captain to London, and we sailed to Calcutta the very day after.” He came down onto his heels and smiled at me. “I’ve been a-sea ever since, ma’am. I find it suits me.”

“That’s very good,” I said. “Your parents—are they still alive?”

“Oh, no, ma’am. My mother died birthing me, and my pa when I was seven.” He seemed untroubled by this. But after all, I reflected, ripping calico into bandage lengths, that was half his lifetime ago.

“Well, I hope the sea will continue to suit you,” I said. “Do you have any doubts, though—after today?”

He thought about that, his earnest young face furrowed in the lantern shadows.

“No,” he said slowly, and looked up at me, his eyes serious—and not nearly so young as they had been a few hours ago. “I knew when I signed on with Captain Hickman that there might be fighting.” His lips tightened, perhaps to keep them from quivering. “I don’t mind killing a man, if I have to.”

“Not now… you don’t,” said one of the wounded men, very softly. He was lying in the shadows, stretched across two crates of English china, breathing slowly.

“No, not now, you don’t,” I agreed dryly. “You might want to speak to my nephew or my husband about it, though, when things have settled a bit.”

I thought that would be the end of it, but Abram followed me as I laid out my rudimentary tools and set about such sterilization as could be managed, splashing out brandy with abandon, ’til the hold smelled like a distillery—this to the scandalization of the wounded men, who thought it waste to use good drink so. The galley fire had been put out during the battle, though; it would be some time before I had hot water.

“Are you a patriot, ma’am? If you don’t mind me asking,” he added, blushing with awkwardness.

The question took me back a bit. The straightforward answer would be “Yes, of course.” Jamie was, after all, a rebel, so declared by his own hand. And while he had made the original declaration out of simple necessity, I thought necessity had now become conviction. But me? Certainly I had been, once.

“Yes,” I said—I couldn’t very well say anything else. “Plainly you are, Abram. Why?”

“Why?” He seemed staggered that I would ask, and stood blinking at me over the top of the lantern he held.

“Tell me later,” I suggested, taking the lantern. I’d done what I could on deck; the wounded who needed further attention were being brought down. It was no time for political discussion. Or so I thought.

Abram bravely settled down to help me and did fairly well, though he had to stop now and then to vomit into a bucket. After the second occurrence of this, he took to asking questions of the wounded—those in any condition to answer. I didn’t know whether this was simple curiosity or an attempt to distract himself from what I was doing.

“What do you think of the Revolution, sir?” he earnestly asked one grizzled seaman from the Pitt with a crushed foot. The man gave him a distinctly jaundiced look but replied, probably in order to distract himself.

“Bloody waste of time,” he said gruffly, digging his fingers into the edge of the chest he sat on. “Better to be fighting the frogs than Englishmen. What’s to be gained by it? Dear Lord,” he said under his breath, going pale.

“Give him something to bite on, Abram, will you?” I said, busy picking shattered bits of bone out of the wreckage and wondering whether he might do better with a swift amputation. Perhaps less risk of infection, and he would always walk with a painful limp in any case, but still, I hated to …

“No, that’s all right, mum,” he said, sucking in a breath. “What do you think of it, then, youngster?”

“I think it is right and necessary, sir,” Abram replied stoutly. “The King is a tyrant, and tyranny must be resisted by all proper men.”

“What?” said the seaman, shocked. “The King, a tyrant? Who says such a naughty thing?”

“Why… Mr. Jefferson. And—and all of us! We all think so,” Abram said, taken aback at such vehement disagreement.

“Well, then, you’re all a pack of bleedin’ fools—saving your presence, mum,” he added, with a nod to me. He got a look at his foot and swayed a bit, closing his eyes, but asked, “You don’t think such a silly thing, do you, mum? You ought to talk sense into your boy here.”

“Talk sense?” cried Abram, roused. “You think it sense that we may not speak or write as we wish?”

The seaman opened one eye.

“Of course that’s sense,” he said, with an evident attempt to be reasonable. “You get silly buggers—your pardon, mum—a-saying all kinds of things regardless, stirrin’ folk up to no good end, and what’s it lead to? Riot, that’s what, and what you may call disorderliness, with folk having their houses burnt and being knocked down in the street. Ever hear of the Cutter riots, boy?”

Abram rather obviously had not, but countered with a vigorous denunciation of the Intolerable Acts, which caused Mr. Ormiston—we had got onto personal terms by now—to scoff loudly and recount the privations Londoners endured by comparison with the luxury enjoyed by the ungrateful colonists.

“Ungrateful!” Abram said, his face congested. “And what should we be grateful for, then? For having soldiers foisted upon us?”

“Oh, foisted, is it?” cried Mr. Ormiston in righteous indignation. “Such a word! And if it means what I think it does, young man, you should get down on your knees and thank God for such foistingness! Who do you think saved you all from being scalped by red Indians or overrun by the French? And who do you think paid for it all, eh?”

This shrewd riposte drew cheers—and not a few jeers—from the waiting men, who had all been drawn into the discussion by now.

“That is absolute … desolute … stultiloquy,” began Abram, puffing up his insignificant chest like a scrawny pigeon, but he was interrupted by the entrance of Mr. Smith, a canvas bag in hand and an apologetic look on his face.

“I’m afraid your cabin was all ahoo, ma’am,” he said. “But I picked up what bits was scattered on the floor, in case they—”

“Jonah Marsden!” Mr. Ormiston, on the verge of standing up, plumped back onto the chest, openmouthed. “Bless me if it isn’t!”

“Who?” I asked, startled.

“Jonah—well, ’tisn’t his real name, what was it… oh, Bill, I think it was, but we took to calling him Jonah, owing to him being sunk so many times.”

“Now, Joe.” Mr. Smith—or Mr. Marsden—was backing toward the door, smiling nervously. “That was all a long time ago, and—”

“Not so long as all that.” Mr. Ormiston got ponderously to his feet, balancing with one hand on a stack of herring barrels so as not to put weight on his bandaged foot. “Not so long as would make the navy forget you, you filthy deserter!”

Mr. Smith disappeared abruptly up the ladder, pushing past two seamen attempting to come down these, handling a third like a side of beef between them. Muttering curses, they dropped him on the deck in front of me with a thud and stood back, gasping. It was Captain Stebbings.

“ ’e’s not dead,” one of them informed me helpfully.

“Oh, good,” I said. My tone of voice might have left something to be desired, for the captain opened one eye and glared at me.

“You’re leaving me… to be butchered… by this bitch?” he said hoarsely, between labored gasps. “I’d ra-rather die honhonorablblbl…” The sentiment gurgled off into a bubbling noise that made me rip open his smoke-stained, blood-soaked second-best coat and shirt. Sure enough, there was a neat round hole in his right breast and the nasty wet slurp of a sucking chest wound coming from it.

I said a very bad word, and the two men who had brought him to me shuffled and muttered. I said it again, louder, and, seizing Stebbings’s hand, slapped it over the hole.

“Hold that there, if you want a chance at an honorable death,” I said to him. “You!” I shouted at one of the men trying to edge away. “Bring me some oil from the galley. Now! And you—” My voice caught the other, who jerked guiltily to a halt. “Sailcloth and tar. Fast as you can!”

“Don’t talk,” I advised Stebbings, who seemed inclined to make remarks. “You have a collapsed lung, and either I get it reinflated or you die like a dog, right here.”

“Hg,” he said, which I took for assent. His hand was a nice meaty one, and doing a reasonably good job of sealing the hole for the moment. The trouble was that he undoubtedly had not only a hole in his chest but a hole in the lung, too. I had to provide a seal for the external hole so air couldn’t get into the chest and keep the lung compressed, but had also to make sure there was a way for air from the pleural space around the lung to make an exit. As it was, every time he exhaled, air from the injured lung went straight into that space, making the problem worse.

He might also be drowning in his own blood, but there wasn’t a hell of a lot I could do about that, so I wouldn’t worry about it.

“On the good side,” I told him, “it was a bullet, and not shrapnel or a splinter. One thing about red-hot iron: it sterilizes the wound. Lift your hand for a moment, please. Breathe out.” I grabbed his hand myself and lifted it for the count of two while he exhaled, then slapped it back over the wound. It made a squelching sound, owing to the blood. It was a lot of blood for a hole like that, but he wasn’t coughing or spitting blood…. Where—oh.

“Is this blood yours or someone else’s?” I demanded, pointing at it.

His eyes were half shut, but at this he turned his head and bared his bad teeth at me in a wolf’s grin.

“Your… husband’s,” he said in a hoarse whisper.

“Wanker,” I said crossly, lifting his hand again. “Breathe out.” The men had seen me dealing with Stebbings; there were other casualties from the Teal coming or being carried along, but most of them seemed ambulatory. I gave cursory directions to the able-bodied with them, regarding the application of pressure to wounds or the placement of broken limbs so as to avoid further injury.

It seemed an age before the oil and cloth arrived, and I had sufficient time to wonder where Jamie and Ian were, but the first-aid supplies came at last. I ripped off a patch of sailcloth with my knife, tore a longish strip of calico to use as field dressing, then pushed Stebbings’s hand away, wiped off the blood with a fold of my petticoat, sloshed lamp oil over his chest and the sailcloth patch, then pressed the cloth down to form a rudimentary seal, putting his hand back over it in such a way that one end of the patch remained free, while I wound the improvised field dressing round his torso.

“All right,” I said. “I’ll need to stick the patch down with tar for a better seal, but it will take a little time to warm that. You can go and be doing that now,” I advised the sailor who had brought the oil, who was once again trying to execute a quiet sneak. I scooted round to view the casualties squatting or sprawling on the deck. “Right. Who’s dying?”

For a wonder, only two of the men brought in from the Teal were dead, one with hideous head wounds from flying splinters and grapeshot, the other exsanguinated as a result of losing half his left leg, probably to a cannonball.

Might have saved that one, I thought, but the moment’s regret was subsumed in the needs of the next moment.

Not all that bad, I thought, working my way quickly down the line on my knees, doing a hasty triage and issuing instructions to my unwilling assistants. Splinter wounds, two grazed by musket balls, one with half an ear torn off, one with an embedded ball in the thigh, but nowhere near the femoral artery, thank God…

Bangings and shufflings were coming from the lower hold, where repairs were being effected. As I worked, I pieced together the actions of the battle from the remarks passed by the wounded men awaiting my attention.

Following a ragged exchange of broadsides, which had brought down the Teal’s cracked mainmast and holed the Asp above the waterline, the Teal—opinions differed on whether Captain Roberts had done it a-purpose or not—had veered sharply toward the Asp, scraping the side of the ship and bringing the two vessels railing to railing.

It seemed inconceivable that Stebbings had intended to board the Asp, with so few dependable men as he had; if it had been deliberate, he might have meant to ram us. I glanced down, but the captain’s eyes were closed, and he was a nasty color. I lifted his hand and heard a small hiss of air, then placed it back on his chest and went on with my work. Plainly he was in no shape to set the record straight regarding his intentions.

Whatever they had been, Captain Hickman had forestalled them, leaping over the Teal’s rail with a shriek, followed by a swarm of Asps. They had cut their way across the deck without much resistance, though the men from the Pitt had gathered together around Stebbings near the helm and fought ferociously. It was clear that the Asps must win the day, though—and then the Teal had struck heavily aground, throwing everyone flat on deck.

Convinced that the ship was about to sink, everyone who could move did, boarders and defenders together going back over the rail onto the Asp—which sheered abruptly away, with some benighted defender who remained on the Teal sending a last shot or two after her, only to scrape her own bottom on a gravel bar.

“Not to worry, ma’am,” one of the men assured me. “She’ll swim directly the tide comes in.”

The noises from below began to diminish, and I looked over my shoulder every few moments, in hopes of seeing Jamie or Ian.

I was examining one poor fellow who’d taken a splinter in one eyeball, when his other eye suddenly widened in horror, and I turned to find Rollo panting and dripping by my side, enormous teeth exposed in a grin that put Stebbings’s feeble attempt to shame.

“Dog!” I cried, delighted. I couldn’t hug him—well, I wouldn’t, really—but looked quickly round for Ian, who was limping in my direction, sopping wet, too, but with a matching grin.

“We fell into the water,” he said hoarsely, squatting on the deck beside me. A small puddle formed under him.

“So I see. Breathe deeply for me,” I said to the man with the splinter in his eye. “One … yes, that’s right… two … yes…” As he exhaled, I took hold of the splinter and pulled, hard. It slid free, followed by a gush of vitreous humor and blood that made me grit my teeth and made Ian retch. Not a lot of blood, though. If it hasn’t gone through the orbit, I might be able to stave off infection by removing the eyeball and packing the socket. That’ll have to wait, though. I slashed a ribbon of cloth from the man’s shirttail, folded it hastily into a wad, soaked it in brandy, pressed it to the ruined eye, and made him hold it firmly in place. He did, though he groaned and swayed alarmingly, and I feared he might fall over.

“Where’s your uncle?” I asked Ian, with a gnawing sense that I didn’t want to hear the answer.

“Right there,” Ian said, nodding to one side. I swung round, one hand still bracing the shoulder of the one-eyed man, to see Jamie coming down the ladder, in heated argument with Captain Hickman, who was following him. Jamie’s shirt was soaked with blood, and he was holding a wad of something likewise blood-soaked against his shoulder with one hand. Possibly Stebbings hadn’t been merely trying to aggravate me. Jamie wasn’t falling down, though, and while he was white, he was also furious. I was reasonably sure he wouldn’t die while angry and seized another strip of sailcloth to stabilize a compound fracture of the arm.

“Dog!” said Hickman, coming to a stop beside the supine Stebbings. He didn’t say it with the same intonation I had used, though, and Stebbings opened one eye.

“Dog, yourself,” he said thickly.

“Dog, dog, dog! Fucking dog!” Hickman added for good measure, and aimed a kick at Stebbings’s side. I grabbed for his foot and managed to shove him off balance, so that he lurched sideways. Jamie caught him, grunting with pain, but Hickman struggled upright, pushing Jamie away.

“Ye canna murder the man in cold blood!”

“Can, too,” Hickman replied promptly. “Watch me!” He drew an enormous horse pistol out of a ratty leather holster and cocked it. Jamie took it by the barrel and plucked it neatly out of his hand, leaving him flexing his fingers and looking surprised.

“Surely, sir,” Jamie said, striving for reasonableness, “ye canna mean to kill a wounded enemy—one in uniform, taken under his own flag, and a man who has surrendered himself to ye. That couldna be condoned by any honorable man.”

Hickman drew himself up, going puce.

“Are you impugning my honor, sir?”

I saw the muscles in Jamie’s neck and shoulders tense, but before he could speak, Ian stepped up beside him, shoulder to shoulder.

“Aye, he is. So am I.”

Rollo, his fur still sticking up in wet spikes, growled and rolled back his black lips, showing most of his teeth in token of his support of this opinion.

Hickman glanced from Ian’s scowling, tattooed visage, to Rollo’s impressive carnassials, and back to Jamie, who had uncocked the pistol and put it in his own belt. He breathed heavily.

“On your head be it, then,” he said abruptly, and turned away.

Captain Stebbings was breathing heavily, too, a wet, nasty sound. He was white to the lips, and the lips themselves were blue. Still, he was conscious. His eyes had been fixed on Hickman throughout the conversation and followed him now as he left the cabin. When the door had closed behind Hickman, Stebbings relaxed a little, shifting his gaze to Jamie.

“Might’ve… saved yourself… the trouble,” he wheezed. “But you have… my thanks. For what…” He gave a strangled cough, pressed a hand hard against his chest, and shook his head, grimacing. “… what they’re worth,” he managed.

He closed his eyes, breathing slowly and painfully—but still, breathing. I rose stiffly to my feet and at last had a moment to look at my husband.

“No but a wee cut,” he assured me, in answer to my look of suspicious inquiry. “I’ll do for now.”

“Is all of that blood yours?” He glanced down at the shirt pasted to his ribs and lifted the non-wounded shoulder dismissively.

“I’ve enough left to be going on with.” He smiled at me, then glanced around the deck. “I see ye’ve got matters well in hand here. I’ll have Smith bring ye a bit of food, aye? It’s going to rain soon.”

It was; the smell of the oncoming storm swept through the hold, fresh and tingling with ozone, lifting the hair off my damp neck.

“Possibly not Smith,” I said. “And where are you going?” I asked, seeing him turn away.

“I need to speak wi’ Captain Hickman and Captain Roberts,” he said, with a certain grimness. He glanced upward, and the matted hair behind his ears stirred in the breeze. “I dinna think we’re going to Scotland in the Teal, but damned if I ken where we are going.”

THE SHIP EVENTUALLY grew quiet—or as quiet as a large object composed of creaking boards, flapping canvas, and that eerie hum made by taut rigging can get. The tide had come in, and the ship did swim; we were moving north again, under light sail.

I had seen off the last of the casualties; only Captain Stebbings remained, laid on a crude pallet behind a chest of smuggled tea. He was still breathing, and not in terrible discomfort, I thought, but his condition was much too precarious for me to let him out of my sight.

By some miracle, the bullet seemed to have seared its way into his lung, rather than simply severing blood vessels in its wake. That didn’t mean he wasn’t bleeding into his lung, but if so, it was a slow seep; I would long since have known about it, otherwise. He must have been shot at close range, I thought sleepily. The ball had still been red-hot when it struck him.

I had sent Abram to bed. I should lie down myself, for tiredness dragged at my shoulders and had settled in aching lumps at the base of my spine. Not yet, though.

Jamie had not yet come back. I knew he would come to find me when he’d finished his summit meeting with Hickman and Roberts. And there were a few preparations still to be made, just in case.

In the course of Jamie’s earlier rummaging through Hickman’s desk in search of food, I’d noticed a bundle of fresh goose quills. I’d sent Abram to beg a couple of these and to bring me the largest sailmaker’s needle to be found—and a couple of wing bones discarded from the chicken stew aboard the Pitt.

I chopped off the ends of a slender bone, looked to be sure the marrow had all been leached out by cooking, then shaped one end into a careful point, using the ship’s carpenter’s small sharpening stone for the purpose. The quill was easier; the tip had already been cut to a point for writing; all I had to do was to cut off the barbs, then submerge quill, bone, and needle in a shallow dish of brandy. That would do, then.

The smell of the brandy rose sweet and heavy in the air, competing with the tar, turpentine, tobacco, and the salt-soaked old timbers of the ship. It did at least partially obliterate the scents of blood and fecal matter left by my patients.

I’d discovered a case of bottled Meursault wine in the cargo, and now thoughtfully extracted a bottle, adding it to the half bottle of brandy and a stack of clean calico bandages and dressings. Sitting down on a keg of tar, I leaned back against a big hogshead of tobacco, yawning and wondering idly why it was called that. It did not appear to be shaped like a hog’s head, certainly not like the head of any hog I knew.

I dismissed that thought and closed my eyes. I could feel my pulse throbbing in fingertips and eyelids. I didn’t sleep, but I slowly descended into a sort of half consciousness, dimly aware of the sough of water past the ship’s sides, the louder sigh of Stebbings’s breath, the unhurried bellows of my own lungs, and the slow, placid thumping of my heart.

It seemed years since the terrors and uproar of the afternoon, and from the distance imposed by fatigue and intensity, my worry that I might have been having a heart attack seemed ridiculous. Was it, though? It wasn’t impossible. Surely it had been nothing more than panic and hyperventilation—ridiculous in themselves, but not threatening. Still…

I put two fingers on my chest and waited for the pulsing in my fingertips to equalize with the pulsing of my heart. Slowly, almost dreaming, I began to pass through my body, from crown to toes, feeling my way through the long quiet passages of veins, the deep violet color of the sky just before night. Nearby I saw the brightness of arteries, wide and fierce with crimson life. Entered into the chambers of my heart and felt enclosed, the thick walls moving in a solid, comforting, unending, uninterrupted rhythm. No, no damage, not to the heart nor to its valves.

I felt my digestive tract, tightly knotted up under my diaphragm for hours, relax and settle with a grateful gurgle, and a sense of well-being flowed down like warm honey through limbs and spine.

“I dinna ken what ye’re doing, Sassenach,” a soft voice said nearby. “But ye look well content.”

I opened my eyes and sat up. Jamie came down the ladder, moving carefully, and sat down.

He was very pale, and his shoulders were slumped with exhaustion. He smiled faintly at me, though, and his eyes were clear. My heart, solid and reliable as I just proved it to be, warmed and softened as though it had been made of butter.

“How do you—” I began, but he raised a hand, stopping me.

“I’ll do,” he said, with a glance at the pallet where the recumbent Stebbings lay, breathing shallowly and audibly. “Is he asleep?”

“I hope so. And you should be,” I observed. “Let me tend you so you can lie down.”

“It’s no verra bad,” he said, gingerly picking at the wad of crusty fabric tucked inside his shirt. “But it could use a stitch or two, I suppose.”

“I suppose so, too,” I said, eyeing the brown stains down the right side of his shirt. Given his customary inclination to understatement, he likely had a gaping slash down his breast. At least it would be easy to get at, unlike the awkward wound suffered by one of the Pitt’s sailors, who had somehow been struck just behind the scrotum by a pellet of grapeshot. I thought it must have struck something else first and bounced upward, for it luckily hadn’t penetrated deeply, but was flattened as a sixpence when I got it out. I’d given it to him as a souvenir.

Abram had brought a can of fresh hot water just before he left. I put a finger into it and was pleased to find it still warm.

“Right,” I said, with a nod at the bottles on the chest. “Do you want brandy, or wine, before we start?”

The corner of his mouth twitched, and he reached for the wine bottle.

“Let me keep the illusion of civilization for a wee bit longer.”

“Oh, I think that’s reasonably civilized stuff,” I said. “I haven’t a cork screw, though.”

He read the label, and his eyebrows rose.

“No matter. Is there something to pour it into?”

“Just here.” I pulled a small, elegant wooden box out of a nest of straw inside a packing case and opened it triumphantly to display a Chinese porcelain tea set, gilt-edged and decorated with tiny red and blue turtles, all looking inscrutably Asiatic, swimming through a forest of gold chrysanthemums.

Jamie laughed—no more than a breath, but definitely laughter—and, scoring the neck of the bottle with the point of his dirk, knocked it neatly off against the rim of a tobacco hogshead. He poured the wine carefully into the two cups I’d set out, nodding at the vivid turtles.

“The wee blue one there reminds me of Mr. Willoughby, aye?”

I laughed myself, then glanced guiltily at Stebbings’s feet—all that was showing of him at the moment. I’d taken his boots off, and the loose toes of his grimy stockings drooped comically over his feet. The feet didn’t twitch, though, and the slow, labored breathing went on as before.

“I haven’t thought of Mr. Willoughby in years,” I observed, lifting my cup in toast. “Here’s to absent friends.”

Jamie replied briefly in Chinese and touched the rim of his own cup to mine with a faint tink!

“You remember how to speak Chinese?” I asked, intrigued, but he shook his head.

“No much. I havena had occasion to speak it since I last saw him.” He breathed in the bouquet of the wine, closing his eyes. “That seems a verra long time ago.”

“Long ago and far away.” The wine smelled warmly of almonds and apples, and was dry but full-bodied, clinging richly to the palate. Jamaica, to be exact, and more than ten years ago. “Time flies when you’re having fun. Do you think he’s still alive—Mr. Willoughby?”

He considered that, sipping.

“Aye, I do. A man who escaped from a Chinese emperor and sailed halfway round the world to keep his balls is one wi’ a good deal of determination.”

He seemed disinclined to reminisce further about auld acquaintance, though, and I let him drink in silence, feeling the night settle comfortably around us with the gentle rise and fall of the ship. After his second cup of wine, I peeled his crusty shirt off and gingerly lifted the blood-caked wad of handkerchief that he’d used to stanch the wound.

Rather to my surprise, he was right: the wound was small, and wouldn’t need more than two or three stitches to put right. A blade had gone in deep, just under his collarbone, and ripped a triangular flap of flesh coming out.

“Is this all your blood?” I asked, puzzled, lifting the discarded shirt.

“Nay, I’ve got a bit left,” he said, eyes creasing at me over the teacup. “Not much, mind.”

“You know quite well what I mean,” I said severely.

“Aye, it’s mine.” He drained his cup and reached for the bottle.

“But from such a small… oh, dear God.” I felt slightly faint. I could see the tender blue line of his subclavian vein, passing just under the collarbone and running directly above the clotted gape of the wound.

“Aye, I was surprised,” he said casually, cradling the delicate china in both big hands. “When he jerked the blade out, the blood sprayed out like a fountain and soaked us both. I’ve never seen it do like that before.”

“You have probably not had anyone nick your subclavian artery before,” I said, with what attempt at calm I could muster. I cast a sideways glance at the wound. It had clotted; the edges of the flap had turned blue and the sliced flesh beneath was nearly black with dried blood. No oozing, let alone an arterial spray. The blade had thrust up from below, missing the vein and just piercing the artery behind it.

I took a long, deep breath, trying with no success whatever not to imagine what would have happened had the blade gone the barest fraction of an inch deeper, or what might have happened, had Jamie not had a handkerchief and the knowledge and opportunity to use pressure on the wound.

Belatedly, I realized what he’d said: “The blood sprayed out like a fountain and soaked us both.” And when I’d asked Stebbings whether it was his own blood soaking his shirt, he’d leered and said, “Your husband’s.” I’d thought he was only being unpleasant, but—

“Was it Captain Stebbings who stabbed you?”

“Mmphm.” He made a brief affirmative noise as he shifted his weight, leaning back to let me get at the wound. He drained the cup again and set it down, looking resigned. “I was surprised he managed it. I thought I’d dropped him, but he hit the floor and came up wi’ a knife in his hand, the wee bugger.”

“You shot him?”

He blinked at my tone of voice.

“Aye, of course.”

I couldn’t think of any bad words sufficient as to encompass the situation and, muttering “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” under my breath, set about swabbing and suturing.

“Now, listen to me,” I said, in my best military surgeon’s voice. “So far as I can tell, it was a very small nick, and you managed to stop the bleeding long enough for a clot to form. But that clot is all that is keeping you from bleeding to death. Do you understand me?” This was not completely true—or it wouldn’t be, once I’d stitched the supporting flesh back into place—but this was no time to give him a loophole.

He looked at me for a long moment, quite expressionless.

“I do.”

“That means,” I emphasized, stabbing the needle into his flesh with sufficient force that he yelped, “you must not use your right arm for at least the next forty-eight hours. You must not haul on ropes, you must not climb rigging, you must not punch people, you must not so much as scratch your arse with your right hand, do you hear me?”

“I expect the whole ship hears ye,” he muttered, but glanced down his cheek, trying to see his collarbone. “I generally scratch my arse wi’ my left hand, anyway.”

Captain Stebbings had definitely heard us; a low chuckle came from behind the tea chest, followed by a rumbling cough and a faint wheeze of amusement.

“And,” I continued, drawing the thread through the skin, “you may not get angry.”

His breath drew in with a hiss.

“Why not?”

“Because it will make your heart beat harder, thus raising your blood pressure, which will—”

“Blow me up like a bottle of beer that’s been corked too long?”

“Much the same. Now—”

Whatever I had been going to say vanished from my mind in the next instant as Stebbings’s breathing suddenly changed. I dropped the needle and, turning, seized the dish. I shoved the tea chest aside, putting the dish on it, and fell to my knees next to Stebbings’s body.

His lips and eyelids were blue, and the rest of his face was the color of putty. He was making a horrid gasping noise, his mouth gaping wide, gulping air that wasn’t helping.

There were luckily well-known bad words for this situation, and I used a few of them, swiftly turning back the blanket and digging my fingers into his pudgy side in search of ribs. He squirmed and emitted a high, ludicrous heeheehee, which made Jamie—the needle still swinging by its thread from his collarbone—give a nervous laugh in response.

“This is no time to be ticklish,” I said crossly. “Jamie—take one of those quills and slide the needle inside.” While he did this, I rapidly swabbed Stebbings’s skin with a brandy-soaked wad of cloth, then took the quill-and-needle in one hand, the brandy bottle in the other, and drove the quill point-first into the second intercostal space, like hammering in a nail. I felt the subterranean pop as it went through the cartilage into the pleural space.

He made a high eeeeeee sound at that, but it wasn’t laughter. I’d cut the quill a little shorter than the needle, but the needle had sunk in when I’d hit it. I had a moment of panic, trying to get hold of the needle with my fingernails to pull it out, but finally managed. Stale-smelling blood and fluid sprayed out through the hollow quill, but only for a moment, then diminished to a faint hiss of air.

“Breathe slowly,” I said more quietly. “Both of you.”

I was watching the quill anxiously, looking for any further drainage of blood—plainly, if he was bleeding heavily into the lung, there was almost nothing I could do—but I was seeing only the light seepage from the puncture wound, a red smear on the outside of the quill.

“Sit down,” I said to Jamie, who did, ending cross-legged on the floor beside me.

Stebbings was looking better; the lung had at least partially inflated, and he was white now, his lips pale, but pale pink. The hissing from the hollow quill died to a sigh, and I put my finger over the open end of it.

“Ideally,” I said in a conversational tone, “I’d be able to run a length of tubing from your chest into a jar of water. That way the air around your lung could escape, but air couldn’t get back in. As I haven’t got anything tubelike that’s longer than a few inches, that’s not going to work.” I rose up on my knees, motioning to Jamie.

“Come here and put your finger over the end of this quill. If he starts suffocating again, take it off for a moment, until the air stops hissing out.”

He couldn’t conveniently reach Stebbings with his left hand; with a sidelong glance at me, he reached slowly out with his right and stoppered the quill with his thumb.

I got to my feet, groaning, and went to rummage the cargo again. It might have to be tar. I’d tacked the oiled patch to his chest on three sides with warm tar, and there was plenty left. Not ideal; I likely couldn’t get it out again in a hurry. Would a small plug of wet fabric be better?

In one of Hannah Arnold’s chests, though, I found treasure: a small collection of dried herbs in jars—including one of powdered gum arabic. The herbs were interesting and useful in themselves, being plainly imported: cinchona bark—I must try to send that back to North Carolina for Lizzie, if we ever got off this horrible tub—mandrake, and ginger, things that never grew in the Colonies. Having them to hand made me feel suddenly rich. Stebbings groaned behind me, and I heard the scuff of fabric and a soft hiss as Jamie took his thumb away for a moment.

Not even the riches of the fabled East would do Stebbings much good. I opened the jar of gum arabic and, scooping out a bit into the palm of my hand, dribbled water into it and set about fashioning the resultant gooey ball into a roughly cylindrical plug, which I wrapped in a scrap of yellow calico printed with honeybees, finishing it off with a neat twist at the top. This accomplished to my satisfaction, I came back and, without comment, pulled the hollow quill—already showing signs of cracking from the working of Stebbings’s rib muscles—out of its hole and wriggled the sturdier—and larger—hollow chicken bone into its place.

He didn’t laugh this time, either. I plugged the end of the bone neatly and, kneeling in front of Jamie, resumed my stitching on his collarbone.

I felt perfectly clearheaded—but in that oddly surreal way that is an indication of total exhaustion. I’d done what had to be done, but I knew I couldn’t stay upright much longer.

“What does Captain Hickman have to say?” I asked, much more by way of distracting both of us than because I really wanted to know.

“A great number of things, as ye might imagine.” He took a deep breath and fixed his eyes on a huge turtle shell that had been wedged in among the boxes. “Discarding the purely personal opinions and a certain amount of excessive language, though… we’re bound up the Hudson. For Fort Ticonderoga.”

“We… what?” I frowned at the needle pushed halfway through the skin. “Why?”

His hands were braced on the deck, fingers pressing into the boards so hard the nails were white.

“That’s where he was bound when the complications occurred, and that’s where he means to go. He’s a gentleman of verra fixed views, I find.”

A loud snort came from behind the tea chest.

“I did notice something of the sort.” I tied the last suture and clipped the thread neatly with my knife. “Did you say something, Captain Stebbings?”

The snort was repeated, more loudly, but without emendation.

“Can’t he be convinced to put us ashore?”

Jamie’s fingers hovered over the fresh stitching, obviously wanting to rub the stinging site, but I pushed them away.

“Aye, well… there are further complications, Sassenach.”

“Do tell,” I murmured, standing up and stretching. “Oh, God, my back. What sort of complications? Do you want some tea?”

“Only if there’s a good deal of whisky in it.” He leaned his head back against the bulkhead, closing his eyes. There was a hint of color in his cheeks, though his forehead shone with sweat.

“Brandy do you?” I needed tea—minus alcohol—badly myself, and headed for the ladder, not waiting for his nod. I saw him reach for the wine bottle as I set foot on the lowest rung.

There was a brisk wind blowing up above; it swirled the long cloak out around me as I emerged from the depths, and whooshed up my petticoats in a most revivifying fashion. It revivified Mr. Smith—or, rather, Mr. Marsden—too, who blinked and looked hastily away.

“Evening, ma’am,” he said politely, when I’d got my assorted garments back under control. “The colonel doing well, I hope?”

“Yes, he’s—” I broke off and gave him a sharp look. “The colonel?” I had a slight sinking sensation.

“Yes’m. He’s a militia colonel, isn’t he?”

“He was,” I said with emphasis.

Smith’s face broke into a smile.

“No was about it, ma’am,” he said. “He’s done us the honor to take command of a company—Fraser’s Irregulars, we’re to be called.”

“How apt,” I said. “What the devil—how did this happen?”

He tugged nervously at one of his earrings, seeing that I perhaps wasn’t as pleased by the news as might be hoped.

“Ah. Well, to tell the truth, ma’am, I’m afraid it was my fault.” He ducked his head, abashed. “One of the hands aboard the Pitt recognized me, and when he told the captain who I was…”

The revelation of Mr. Marsden’s real name—in combination with his adornments—had caused considerable uproar among the motley crew presently on board the Asp. Sufficiently so that he had been in some danger of being thrown overboard or set adrift in a boat. After a certain amount of acrimonious discussion, Jamie had suggested that perhaps Mr. Marsden could be persuaded to change his profession and become a soldier—for a number of the hands aboard the Asp had already proposed to leave her and join the Continental forces at Ticonderoga, portaging the goods and weapons across to Lake Champlain and then remaining as militia volunteers.

This found general approbation—though a few disgruntled persons were still heard to mutter that a Jonah was a Jonah, didn’t matter if he was a sailor or not. “That being why I thought I best make myself scarce below, if you see what I mean, ma’am,” Mr. Marsden concluded.

It also solved the problem of what to do with the imprisoned hands from the Pitt and the displaced seamen from the Teal; those who preferred joining the American militia would be allowed to do so, while those British seamen who preferred the prospect of life as prisoners of war could be accommodated in this desire at Fort Ticonderoga. About half the men from the Teal had expressed a decided preference for employment on land, after their recent seagoing adventures, and they also would join the Irregulars.

“I see,” I said, rubbing two fingers between my brows. “Well, if you’ll excuse me, Mr…. Marsden, I must be going and making a cup of tea. With a lot of brandy in it.”

THE TEA HEARTENED ME, sufficiently to send Abram—found drowsing by the galley fire in spite of having been ordered to bed—to take some to Jamie and Captain Stebbings while I made the rounds of my other patients. They were mostly as comfortable as might be expected—that is, not very, but stoic about it, and in no need of exigent medical intervention.

The temporary strength lent me by tea and brandy had mostly ebbed by the time I made my way back down the ladder into the hold, though, and my foot slipped off the final rung, causing me to drop heavily onto the deck, with a thump that elicited a startled cry from Stebbings, followed by a groan. Waving away Jamie’s raised brow, I hurried over to check the patient.

He was very hot to the touch, his full face flushed, and a nearly full cup of tea lay discarded near him.

“I tried to make him drink, but he said he couldna swallow more than a mouthful.” Jamie had followed me, and spoke softly behind me.

I bent and placed my ear near Stebbings’s chest, auscultating as best I could through the layer of blubber covering it. The chicken-bone tube, momentarily unplugged, gave only a modest hiss of air and no more than a trace of blood.

“So far as I can tell, the lung’s expanded at least partially,” I said, addressing Stebbings for form’s sake, though he merely stared at me, glassy-eyed. “And I think the bullet must have cauterized a good deal of the damage; otherwise, I think we’d be seeing much more alarming symptoms.” Otherwise, he’d be dead by now, but I thought it more tactful not to say so. He might easily be dead soon, in any case, from fever, but I didn’t say that, either.

I persuaded him to drink some water and sponged his head and torso with more of it. The hatch cover had been left off, and it was reasonably cool in the hold, though the air didn’t move much down below. Still, I saw no benefit in taking him into the wind on deck, and the less he was moved, the better.

“Is that… my… cloak?” he asked suddenly, opening one eye.

“Er… probably,” I replied, disconcerted. “Do you want it back?”

He made a brief grimace and shook his head, then lay back, eyes closed, breathing shallowly.

Jamie was propped against the tea chest, head back, eyes closed, and breathing heavily. Feeling me sit down beside him, though, he raised his head and opened his eyes.

“Ye look as though ye’re about to fall over, Sassenach,” he said softly. “Lie down, aye? I’ll mind the captain.”

I saw his point. In fact, I saw two of them—and him. I blinked and shook my head, momentarily reuniting the two Jamies, but there was no denying that he was right. I’d lost touch with my body again, but my mind, instead of sticking to the job, had simply wandered off somewhere in a daze. I rubbed my hands hard over my face, but it didn’t help appreciably.

“I’ll have to sleep,” I explained to the men, all four of them now watching me with the perfect wide-eyed attention of barn owls. “If you feel the pressure building up again—and I think it will,” I said to Stebbings, “pull the plug out of the tube until it eases, then put it back. If either of you think you’re dying, wake me up.”

With no further ado, and feeling as though I were watching myself doing it, I eased down onto the planking, put my head on a fold of Stebbings’s cloak, and fell asleep.

I WOKE AN UNACCOUNTABLE time later and lay for some minutes lacking coherent thought, my mind rising and falling with the movement of the deck beneath me. At some point, I began to distinguish the murmur of men’s voices from the shush and bang of seagoing noises.

I had fallen so deeply into oblivion that the events prior to my falling asleep took a moment to recall, but the voices brought them back. Wounds, the reek of brandy, the rip of sailcloth tearing, rough in my hands, and the smell of the dye in the bright, wet calico. Jamie’s bloody shirt. The sucking sound of the hole in Stebbings’s chest. The memory of that would have brought me upright at once, but I had stiffened from lying on the boards. A sharp twinge of agony lanced from my right knee to my groin, and the muscles of my back and arms hurt amazingly. Before I could stretch them enough to struggle to my feet, I heard the captain’s voice.

“Call Hickman.” Stebbings’s voice was hoarse and low, but definite. “I’d rather be shot than do this anymore.”

I didn’t think he was joking. Neither did Jamie.

“I dinna blame ye,” he said. His voice was soft but serious, as definite as Stebbings’s.

My eyes were beginning to focus again, as the paralyzing ache in my muscles eased a little. From where I lay, I could see Stebbings from the knees down and most of Jamie, sitting beside him, head bowed on his own knees, tall form slumped against the tea chest.

There was a pause, and then Stebbings said, “You don’t, eh? Good. Go get Hickman.”

“Why?” Jamie asked, after what seemed an equal pause for thought—or perhaps only to gather strength to answer. He didn’t lift his head; he sounded almost drugged with fatigue. “Nay need to rouse the man from his bed, is there? If ye want to die, just pull that thing out of your chest.”

Stebbings made some sort of noise. It might have started as a laugh, a groan, or an angry retort, but ended in a hiss of air between clenched teeth. My body tensed. Had he actually tried to pull it out?

No. I heard the heavy movement of his body, saw his feet curl briefly as he sought a more comfortable position, and heard Jamie’s grunt as he leaned over to help.

“Someone… might as well get… satisfaction from me … dying,” he wheezed.

“I put yon hole in ye,” Jamie pointed out. He straightened up and stretched with painful care. “It wouldna please me overmuch to watch ye die from it.” I thought he must be well past the point of exhaustion, and plainly he was as stiff as I was. I must get up, make him go lie down. But he was still talking to Stebbings, sounding unconcerned, like a man discussing an abstruse point of natural philosophy.

“As for satisfying Captain Hickman—d’ye feel some sense of obligation toward him?”

“I don’t.” That one came out short and sharp, though succeeded by a deep gasp for air.

“It’s a clean death,” Stebbings managed after a few more breaths. “Quick.”

“Aye, that’s what I thought,” Jamie said, sounding drowsy. “When it was me.”

Stebbings gave a grunt that might have been interrogative. Jamie sighed. After a moment, I heard the rustle of cloth and saw him move his left leg, groaning as he did so, and turn back the cloth of his kilt.

“See that?” His finger ran slowly up the length of his thigh, from just above the knee, almost to the groin.

Stebbings gave a slightly more interested grunt, this one definitely questioning. The drooping toes of his socks moved as his feet twitched.

“Bayonet,” Jamie said, casually flipping his kilt back over the twisting, runneled scar. “I lay for two days after, wi’ the fever eating me alive. My leg swelled, and it stank. And when the English officer came to blow our brains out, I was pleased enough.”

A brief silence.

“Culloden?” Stebbings asked. His voice was still hoarse, and I could hear the fever in it, but there was interest there now, too. “Heard… about it.”

Jamie said nothing in response but yawned suddenly, not bothering to smother it, and rubbed his hands slowly over his face. I could hear the soft rasp of beard stubble.

Silence, but the quality of it had changed. I could feel Stebbings’s anger, his pain and fright—but there was a faint sense of amusement in his labored breath.

“Going to … make me… ask?”

Jamie shook his head.

“Too long a story, and one I dinna care to tell. Leave it that I wanted him to shoot me, verra badly, and the bastard wouldna do it.”

The air in the little hold was stale but uneasy, filled with the shifting scents of blood and luxury, of industry and illness. I breathed in, gently, deep, and could smell the tang of the men’s bodies, a sharp copper savage smell, bitter with effort and exhaustion. Women never smelled like that, I thought, even in extremity.

“Revenge, then, is it?” Stebbings asked after a bit. His restless feet had stilled. His dirty stockings drooped and his voice was tired.

Jamie’s shoulders moved, slowly, as he sighed, and his own voice was nearly as tired as Stebbings’s.

“No,” he said, very softly. “Call it payment of a debt.”

A debt? I thought. To whom? To the Lord Melton who had declined to kill him, out of honor, who had instead sent him home from Culloden, hidden in a wagon filled with hay? To his sister, who had refused to let him die, who had dragged him back to life by sheer strength of will? Or to those who had died when he had not?

I had stretched myself enough now to be able to rise, but didn’t, yet. There was no urgency. The men were silent, their breathing part of the breathing of the ship, the sigh of the sea outside.

It came to me, quiet but sure, that I knew. I had glimpsed the abyss often, over someone’s shoulder as they stood on the edge, looking down. But I had looked once, too. I knew the vastness and the lure of it, the offer of surcease.

I knew they were standing now, side by side and each alone, looking down.

PART FOUR

Conjunction

A FLURRY OF SUSPICION

Lord John Grey to Mr. Arthur Norrington

4 February 1777

(Cipher 158)

My dear Norrington,

Pursuant to our conversation, I have made certain discoveries which I think it prudent to confide.I paid a visit to France at the end of the year and, while there, visited the Baron Amandine. I stayed with the baron for several days, in fact, and had conversation of him on a number of occasions. I have reason to believe that Beauchamp is indeed concerned in the matter we discussed and has formed an attachment to Beaumarchais, who is thus likely similarly involved. I think Amandine is not himself concerned but that Beauchamp may use him as a front of some kind.I requested an audience with Beaumarchais, but was denied. As he would normally have received me, I think I have poked a stick into some nest. It would be useful to watch that quarter.Be also alert to any mention in the French correspondence of a company called Rodrigue Hortalez et Cie (I beg you will speak with the person handling the Spanish correspondence, as well). I cannot discover anything amiss, but neither can I discover anything solid regarding them, such as the names of the directors, and that in itself strikes me as suspicious.If your duty allow, I should be pleased to hear of anything you learn concerning these matters.Your servant, sir,

Lord John Grey

Postscriptum: If you can tell me, who is presently in charge of the American Department, with regard to correspondence?

Lord John Grey to Harold, Duke of Pardloe

4 February 1777

(family cipher)

Hal—

I saw Amandine. Wainwright does live at the manor house—a place called Trois Flèches—and does maintain an unwholesome relationship with the baron. I met the baron’s sister, Wainwright’s wife. She certainly knows of the link between her brother and her husband, but does not admit it openly. Beyond that, she appears to know nothing whatever. I have seldom met a more stupid woman. She is openly lewd in manner and a very bad cardplayer. So is the baron, by which token I am convinced that he does know something of Wainwright’s political machinations; he behaved shiftily when I steered the conversation in that direction, and I am sure he is not schooled in the art of misdirection. He is not stupid, though. Even if he were, he will certainly have told Wainwright of my visit. I have alerted Norrington to watch for any activity on that front.Knowing what I do of Wainwright’s abilities and connexions (or rather, the lack of them), I cannot quite fathom his involvement. Granted, if the French government does have such schemes in mind as he indicated, they would hardly make open communication regarding them, and sending someone like Wainwright to speak to someone like me might be considered sufficiently sub rosa. Certainly such an approach has the benefit of being deniable. And yet something seems wrong in this, in a way I cannot yet define.I will be with you soon, and hope by then to be in possession of some definite information regarding one Captain Ezekiel Richardson, likewise one Captain Denys Randall-Isaacs. Should you be able to investigate either of these names through your own connexions, you would greatly obligeYour most affectionate brother,

JohnPostscriptum: I trust your health is mending.

Harold, Duke of Pardloe, to Lord John Grey

6 March 1777

Bath

(family cipher)

I’m not dead. Wish I were. Bath is vile. I am daily wrapped in canvas and carried off like a parcel to be sunk in boiling water that smells of rotten eggs, then hauled out and forced to drink it, but Minnie saysshe will divorce me by petition in the House of Lords on the grounds of insanity caused by immoral acts if I don’t submit. I doubt this, but here I am.Denys Randall-Isaacs is the son of a Englishwoman named Mary Hawkins and a British army officer: one Jonathan Wolverton Randall, captain of dragoons, deceased, killed at Culloden. The mother is still alive and married to a Jew named Robert Isaacs, a merchant in Bristol. He’s still alive, too, and has a half interest in a warehouse in Brest. Denys is one of your damned politicals, got ties to Germain, but I can’t find out more than that without being too overt for your tastes. Can’t find out anything in bloody Bath.Don’t know much about Richardson, but will find out directly. Sent letters to some people in America. Yes, I am discreet, thank you, and so are they.John Burgoyne is here, taking the cure. Very cock-a-hoop, as Germain has approved his scheme to invade from Canada. I have mentioned William to him, as his French and German are good and Burgoyne is to have a number of Brunswickers. Still, tell Willie to be careful; Burgoyne seems to think he is to be commander-in-chief of the army in America—a notion that I daresay will come as rather a surprise both to Guy Carleton and Dick Howe.Trois Flèches. Three arrows. Who is the third?

London

March 26, 1777

The Society for the Appreciation of the

English Beefsteak, a Gentleman’s Club

Who is the third?” Grey repeated in astonishment, staring at the note he had just opened.

“The third what?” Harry Quarry handed his sopping cloak to the steward and sank heavily into the chair beside Grey’s, sighing with relief as he held his hands out to the fire. “God’s teeth, I’m frozen solid. You’re going to Southampton in this?” He flung one big cold-blanched hand at the window, which framed a dismal prospect of icy sleet, driven almost horizontal by the wind.

“Not ’til tomorrow. It may have cleared by then.”

Harry gave the window a look of deep suspicion and shook his head. “Not a chance. Steward!”

Mr. Bodley was already tottering toward them under the weight of a tea tray laden with seedcake, sponge cake, strawberry jam, marmalade, hot buttered crumpets in a basket wrapped in white linen, scones, clotted cream, almond biscuits, sardines on toast, a pot of beans baked with bacon and onion, a plate of sliced ham with gherkins, a bottle of brandy with two glasses, and—perhaps as an afterthought—a steaming teapot with two china cups and saucers alongside.

“Ah!” said Harry, looking happier. “I see you expected me.”

Grey smiled. If not on campaign or called away by duty, Harry Quarry invariably entered the Beefsteak at four-thirty on a Wednesday.

“I thought you’d need sustenance, with Hal on the sick list.” Harry was one of the two regimental colonels—as distinct from Hal, who was Colonel of the Regiment, it being his own regiment. Not all colonels took an active hand in the operations of their regiments, but Hal did.

“Malingering bugger,” Harry said, reaching for the brandy. “How is he?”

“Quite his usual self, to judge from his correspondence.” Grey handed Quarry the unfolded letter, which the latter read with a burgeoning grin.

“Aye, Minnie will have him sorted like a hand of whist.” He put down the letter, nodding at it as he raised his glass. “Who’s Richardson and why do you want to know about him?”

“Ezekiel Richardson, Captain. Lancers, but detached for intelligence work.”

“Oh, intelligence laddie, eh? One of your Black Chamber lot?” Quarry wrinkled his nose, though it was not clear whether this was a response to the notion of intelligence laddies or the presence of a dish of grated horseradish accompanying the sardines.

“No, I don’t know the man well personally,” Grey admitted, and felt the same pang of deep unease that had been afflicting him with increased frequency ever since his receipt of William’s letter from Quebec a week before. “I had been introduced to him by Sir George, who knew his father, but we didn’t talk much on that occasion. I had heard a few things to his credit—in a quiet sort of way—”

“That being, I suppose, the only way one wants to hear anything about a man in that line of business. Huuuuuh!” Harry drew a tremendous gasp of air through his open mouth and up into his sinuses, by the sound of it, then coughed once or twice, eyes watering, and shook his head in admiration. “Fresh horseradish,” he croaked, taking another large spoonful. “Very … huuuuuuh … fresh.”

“Quite. Anyway, I met him again in North Carolina, we talked a bit more, and he asked my permission to approach William with a proposition regarding intelligencing.”

Quarry stopped, a slice of sardine-laden toast halfway to his mouth.

“You don’t mean to say you’ve let him lure Willie off into the weeds?”

“That was certainly not my intent,” Grey said, nettled. “I had some reason to feel that the suggestion would be good for Willie; for one thing, it would get him out of North Carolina and end with him attached to Howe’s staff.”

Quarry nodded, masticating with care, and swallowed thickly.

“Aye, right. But now you have doubts?”

“I do. The more so because I can find very few people who actually know Richardson well. Everyone who recommended him to me in the first place did so by reason of someone else’s recommendation, it seems. Except for Sir George Stanley, who is presently in Spain with my mother, and old Nigel Bruce, who’s rather inconveniently died in the meantime.”

“Thoughtless.”

“Yes. I imagine I could root out more information, had I time, but I haven’t. Dottie and I sail day after tomorrow. Weather permitting,” he added, with a glance at the window.

“Ah, this would be where I come in,” Harry observed, without animus. “What shall I do with any information I find? Tell Hal, or send it to you?”

“Tell Hal,” Grey said with a sigh. “God knows what the post may be like in America, even with the Congress sitting in Philadelphia. If anything seems urgent, Hal can expedite matters here far more easily than I can there.”

Quarry nodded and refilled Grey’s glass. “You’re not eating,” he observed.

“I lunched late.” Quite late. In fact, he hadn’t had luncheon yet. He took a scone and spread it desultorily with jam.

“And Denys Wossname?” Quarry asked, flicking the letter with a pickle fork. “Shall I inquire about him, too?”

“By all means. Though I may make better progress with him on the American end of the matter. That’s at least where he was last seen.” He took a bite of scone, observing that it had achieved that delicate balance between crumbliness and half-set mortar that is the ideal of every scone, and felt some stirrings of appetite return. He wondered whether he should put Harry onto the worthy Jew with the warehouse in Brest, but decided not. The question of French connections was more than delicate, and while Harry was thorough, he was not subtle.

“Right, then.” Harry selected a slice of sponge cake, topped it with two almond biscuits and a dollop of clotted cream, and inserted the whole into his mouth. Where did he put it? Grey wondered. Harry was thickset and burly, but never stout. No doubt he sweated it off during energetic exercise in brothels, that being his favorite sport despite advancing age.

How old was Harry? he wondered suddenly. A few years older than Grey, a few years younger than Hal. He’d never thought about it, no more than he had with reference to Hal. The two of them had always seemed immortal; he had never once contemplated a future lacking either one of them. But the skull beneath Harry’s wig was nearly hairless now—he had, in his usual way, removed it to scratch his head at some point and set it casually back without regard to straightness—and the joints of his fingers were swollen, though he handled his teacup with his usual delicacy.

Grey felt of a sudden his own mortality, in the stiffening of a thumb, the twinge of a knee. Most of all, in the fear that he might not be there to protect William, while he was still needed.

“Eh?” said Harry, raising a brow at whatever showed on Grey’s face. “What?”

Grey smiled and shook his head, taking up his brandy glass once more.

“Timor mortis conturbat me,” he said.

“Ah,” said Quarry thoughtfully, and raised his own. “I’ll drink to that.”

THE PLOT THICKENS

28 February, A.D. 1777

London

Major General John Burgoyne,to Sir George Germain… I do not conceive any expedition from the sea can be so formidable to the enemy, or so effectual to close the war, as an invasion from Canada by Ticonderoga.April 4, 1777

on board HMS Tartar

HE’D TOLD DOTTIE that the Tartar was only a twenty-eight-gun frigate and that she must therefore be modest in her packing. Even so, he was surprised to see the single trunk—granted, a large one—two portmanteaux, and a bag of needlework that comprised her entire luggage.

“What, not a single flowered mantua?” he teased. “William won’t know you.”

“Bosh,” she replied with her father’s talent for succinct clarity. But she smiled a little—she was very pale, and he hoped it wasn’t incipient seasickness—and he squeezed her hand and went on holding it all the time until the last dark sliver of England sank into the sea.

He was still amazed that she’d managed it. Hal must be more frail than he’d let on, to be bamboozled into allowing his daughter to take ship for America, even under Grey’s protection and for the laudable purpose of nursing her wounded brother. Minnie, of course, would not be parted from Hal for a moment, though naturally worried sick for her son. But that she had uttered no word of protest at this adventure …

“Your mother’s in on it, is she?” he asked casually, provoking a startled look through a veil of windblown hair.

“On what?” Dottie pawed at the blond spiderweb of her hair, escaped en masse from the inconsequent snood in which she’d bound it and dancing over her head like flames. “Oh, help!”

He captured her hair, smoothing it tight to her head with both hands, then gathering it at her neck, where he plaited it expertly, to the admiration of a passing seaman, clubbed it, and tied it up with the velvet ribbon that was all that remained from the wreck of her snood.

“On what, forsooth,” he told the back of her head, as he finished the job. “On whatever the dreadful enterprise is on which you’ve embarked.”

She turned round and faced him, her stare direct.

“If you want to describe rescuing Henry as a dreadful enterprise, I agree entirely,” she said with dignity. “But my mother would naturally do anything she could to get him back. So would you, presumably, or you wouldn’t be here.” And without waiting for a reply, she turned smartly on her heel and made for the companionway, leaving him speechless.

One of the first ships of the spring had brought a letter with further word of Henry. He was still alive, thank God, but had been badly wounded: shot in the abdomen, and very ill in consequence through the brutal winter. He had survived, though, and been moved to Philadelphia with a number of other British prisoners. The letter had been written by a fellow officer there, another prisoner, but Henry had managed to scribble a few words of love to his family at the bottom and sign his name; the memory of that straggling scrawl ate at John’s heart.

He was encouraged somewhat by the fact that it was Philadelphia, though. He had met a prominent Philadelphian while he was in France and had formed an immediate liking for him that he thought was returned; there might be something of use in the acquaintance. He grinned involuntarily, recalling the instant of his meeting with the American gentleman.

He hadn’t paused long in Paris, only long enough to make inquiries after Percival Beauchamp, who was not there. Retired to his home in the country for the winter, he was told. The Beauchamp family’s main estate, a place called Trois Flèches, near Compiègne. And so he had bought a furlined hat and a pair of seaboots, wrapped himself in his warmest cloak, hired a horse, and set grimly off into the teeth of a howling gale.

Arriving mud-caked and frozen, he had been greeted with suspicion, but the quality of his accoutrements and his title had gained him entrance, and he had been shown to a well-appointed parlor—with, thank God, an excellent fire—to await the baron’s pleasure.

He’d formed an expectation of the Baron Amandine on the basis of Percy’s remarks, though he thought Percy had likely been practicing upon him. He also knew how futile it was to theorize in advance of observation, but it was inhuman not to imagine.

In terms of imagining, he’d done a good job of not thinking of Percy during the last… was it eighteen years, nineteen? But once it became obvious that thinking of him was now a professional as well as a personal necessity, he was both surprised and disconcerted to find just how much he remembered. He knew what Percy liked and therefore had evolved a mental picture of Amandine in accordance.

The reality was different. The baron was an older man, perhaps a few years Grey’s senior, short and rather plump, with an open, pleasant face. Well dressed, but without ostentation. He greeted Grey with great courtesy. But then he took Grey’s hand, and a small electric shock ran through the Englishman. The baron’s expression was civil, no more—but the eyes held a look of interest and avidity, and despite the baron’s unprepossessing appearance, Grey’s flesh answered the look.

Of course. Percy had told Amandine about him.

Surprised and wary, he gave the brief explanation he had prepared, only to be informed that, hélas, Monsieur Beauchamp was not at home but had gone with Monsieur Beaumarchais to hunt wolves in Alsace. Well, there was one supposition confirmed, Grey thought. But surely his lordship would condescend to accept the hospitality of Trois Flèches, for the night at least?

He accepted this invitation with many expressions of unworthy thanks, and having doffed his outer clothes and replaced his seaboots with Dottie’s garish carpet slippers—which made Amandine blink, though he at once praised them exceedingly—he was propelled down a long corridor lined with portraits.

“We will take some refreshment in the library,” Amandine was saying. “Plainly, you are perishing of cold and inanition. But if you do not mind, allow me to introduce you en route to my other guest; we will invite him to join us.”

Grey had murmured acquiescence, distracted by the light pressure of Amandine’s hand, which rested on his back—slightly lower than was usual.

“He is an American,” the baron was saying, as they reached a door toward the end of the corridor, and his voice conveyed considerable in the way of amusement in that word. He had a most unusual voice—soft, warm, and somehow smoky, like oolong tea with a lot of sugar.

“He enjoys to spend some time each day i