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     Dragonfly in Amber

       part  #2 of  Outlander Series  by  Diana Gabaldon / Fantasy / History & Fiction




For my husband,



Doug Watkins—

In thanks for the Raw Material





“THE PAGES PRACTICALLY TURN THEMSELVES…Gabaldon is a born storyteller…She writes a prose that is brisk, lucid, good-humored and often felicitous. Gabaldon is obviously just over the threshold of a long and prolific career.”

—Arizona Republic

Praise for

DRAGONFLY IN AMBER

and Diana Gabaldon

“I LOVED EVERY PAGE…DIANA GABALDON WEAVES A POWERFUL TALE LAYERED IN HISTORY AND MYTH.”

—Nora Roberts

“MARVELOUS…IT IS A LARGE CANVAS THAT GABALDON PAINTS, FILLED WITH STRONG PASSIONS AND DERRING-DO.”

—San Francisco Chronicle

“COMPULSIVELY READABLE…INTRIGUING…Gabaldon offers a fresh and offbeat historical view.”

—Publishers Weekly

“ENGAGING TIME TRAVEL…AN APPEALING MODERN HEROINE AND A MAGNETIC ROMANTIC HERO…a most entertaining mix of history and fantasy whose author, like its heroine, exhibits a winning combination of vivid imagination and good common sense.”

—Kirkus Reviews

“BRILLIANT, ASTONISHING…A RIVETING HISTORICAL NOVEL THAT RIVALS THE BEST.”

—Rave Reviews





Acknowledgments


The author’s thanks and best wishes to:

the three Jackies (Jackie Cantor, Jackie LeDonne, and my mother), guardian angels of my books; the four Johns (John Myers, John E. Simpson, Jr., John Woram, and John Stith) for Constant Readership, Scottish miscellanea, and general enthusiasm; Janet McConnaughey, Margaret J. Campbell, Todd Heimarck, Deb and Dennis Parisek, Holly Heinel, and all the other LitForumites who do not begin with the letter J—especially Robert Riffle, for plantago, French epithets, ebony keyboards, and his ever-discerning eye; Paul Solyn, for belated nasturtiums, waltzes, copperplate handwriting, and botanical advice; Margaret Ball, for references, useful suggestions, and great conversation; Fay Zachary, for lunch; Dr. Gary Hoff, for medical advice and consultation (he had nothing to do with the descriptions of how to disembowel someone); the poet Barry Fogden, for translations from the English; Labhriunn MacIan, for Gaelic imprecations and the generous use of his most poetic name; Kathy Allen-Webber, for general assistance with the French (if anything is still in the wrong tense, it’s my fault); Vonda N. McIntyre, for sharing tricks of the trade; Michael Lee West, for wonderful comments on the text, and the sort of phone conversations that make my family yell, “Get off the phone! We’re starving!”; Michael Lee’s mother, for reading the manuscript, looking up periodically to ask her critically acclaimed daughter, “Why don’t you write something like this?”; and Elizabeth Buchan, for queries, suggestions, and advice—the effort involved was nearly as enormous as the help provided.





PROLOGUE


I woke three times in the dark predawn. First in sorrow, then in joy, and at the last, in solitude. The tears of a bone-deep loss woke me slowly, bathing my face like the comforting touch of a damp cloth in soothing hands. I turned my face to the wet pillow and sailed a salty river into the caverns of grief remembered, into the subterranean depths of sleep.

I came awake then in fierce joy, body arched bowlike in the throes of physical joining, the touch of him fresh on my skin, dying along the paths of my nerves as the ripples of consummation spread from my center. I repelled consciousness, turning again, seeking the sharp, warm smell of a man’s satisfied desire, in the reassuring arms of my lover, sleep.

The third time I woke alone, beyond the touch of love or grief. The sight of the stones was fresh in my mind. A small circle, standing stones on the crest of a steep green hill. The name of the hill is Craigh na Dun; the fairies’ hill. Some say the hill is enchanted, others say it is cursed. Both are right. But no one knows the function or the purpose of the stones.

Except me.





PART ONE





Through a

Looking Glass,

Darkly



* * *



Inverness, 1968





1

MUSTERING THE ROLL

Roger Wakefield stood in the center of the room, feeling surrounded. He thought the feeling largely justified, insofar as he was surrounded: by tables covered with bric-a-brac and mementos, by heavy Victorian-style furniture, replete with antimacassars, plush and afghans, by tiny braided rugs that lay on the polished wood, craftily awaiting an opportunity to skid beneath an unsuspecting foot. Surrounded by twelve rooms of furniture and clothing and papers. And the books—my God, the books!

The study where he stood was lined on three sides by bookshelves, every one crammed past bursting point. Paperback mystery novels lay in bright, tatty piles in front of calf-bound tomes, jammed cheek by jowl with book-club selections, ancient volumes pilfered from extinct libraries, and thousands upon thousands of pamphlets, leaflets, and hand-sewn manuscripts.

A similar situation prevailed in the rest of the house. Books and papers cluttered every horizontal surface, and every closet groaned and squeaked at the seams. His late adoptive father had lived a long, full life, a good ten years past his biblically allotted threescore and ten. And in eighty-odd years, the Reverend Mr. Reginald Wakefield had never thrown anything away.

Roger repressed the urge to run out of the front door, leap into his Morris Minor, and head back to Oxford, abandoning the manse and its contents to the mercy of weather and vandals. Be calm, he told himself, inhaling deeply. You can deal with this. The books are the easy part; nothing more than a matter of sorting through them and then calling someone to come and haul them away. Granted, they’ll need a lorry the size of a railcar, but it can be done. Clothes—no problem. Oxfam gets the lot.

He didn’t know what Oxfam was going to do with a lot of vested black serge suits, circa 1948, but perhaps the deserving poor weren’t all that picky. He began to breathe a little easier. He had taken a month’s leave from the History department at Oxford in order to clear up the Reverend’s affairs. Perhaps that would be enough, after all. In his more depressed moments, it had seemed as though the task might take years.

He moved toward one of the tables and picked up a small china dish. It was filled with small metal rectangles; lead “gaberlunzies,” badges issued to eighteenth-century beggars by parishes as a sort of license. A collection of stoneware bottles stood by the lamp, a ramshorn snuff mull, banded in silver, next to them. Give them to a museum? he thought dubiously. The house was filled with Jacobite artifacts; the Reverend had been an amateur historian, the eighteenth century his favorite hunting ground.

His fingers reached involuntarily to caress the surface of the snuff mull, tracing the black lines of the inscriptions—the names and dates of the Deacons and Treasurers of the Incorporation of Tailors of the Canongate, from Edinburgh, 1726. Perhaps he should keep a few of the Reverend’s choicer acquisitions…but then he drew back, shaking his head decidedly. “Nothing doing, cock,” he said aloud, “this way lies madness.” Or at least the incipient life of a pack rat. Get started saving things, and he’d end up keeping the lot, living in this monstrosity of a house, surrounded by generations of rubbish. “Talking to yourself, too,” he muttered.

The thought of generations of rubbish reminded him of the garage, and he sagged a bit at the knees. The Reverend, who was in fact Roger’s great-uncle, had adopted him at the age of five when his parents had been killed in World War II; his mother in the Blitz, his father out over the dark waters of the Channel. With his usual preservative instincts, the Reverend had kept all of Roger’s parents’ effects, sealed in crates and cartons in the back of the garage. Roger knew for a fact that no one had opened one of those crates in the past twenty years.

Roger uttered an Old Testament groan at the thought of pawing through his parents’ memorabilia. “Oh, God,” he said aloud. “Anything but that!”

The remark had not been intended precisely as prayer, but the doorbell pealed as though in answer, making Roger bite his tongue in startlement.

The door of the manse had a tendency to stick in damp weather, which meant that it was stuck most of the time. Roger freed it with a rending screech, to find a woman on the doorstep.

“Can I help you?”

She was middle height and very pretty. He had an overall impression of fine bones and white linen, topped with a wealth of curly brown hair in a sort of half-tamed chignon. And in the middle of it all, the most extraordinary pair of light eyes, just the color of well-aged sherry.

The eyes swept up from his size-eleven plimsolls to the face a foot above her. The sidelong smile grew wider. “I hate to start right off with a cliché,” she said, “but my, how you have grown, young Roger!”

Roger felt himself flushing. The woman laughed and extended a hand. “You are Roger, aren’t you? My name’s Claire Randall; I was an old friend of the Reverend’s. But I haven’t seen you since you were five years old.”

“Er, you said you were a friend of my father’s? Then, you know already.…”

The smile vanished, replaced by a look of regret.

“Yes, I was awfully sorry to hear about it. Heart, was it?”

“Um, yes. Very sudden. I’ve only just come up from Oxford to start dealing with…everything.” He waved vaguely, encompassing the Reverend’s death, the house behind him, and all its contents.

“From what I recall of your father’s library, that little chore ought to last you ’til next Christmas,” Claire observed.

“In that case, maybe we shouldn’t be disturbing you,” said a soft American voice.

“Oh, I forgot,” said Claire, half-turning to the girl who had stood out of sight in the corner of the porch. “Roger Wakefield—my daughter, Brianna.”

Brianna Randall stepped forward, a shy smile on her face. Roger stared for a moment, then remembered his manners. He stepped back and swung the door open wide, momentarily wondering just when he had last changed his shirt.

“Not at all, not at all!” he said heartily. “I was just wanting a break. Won’t you come in?”

He waved the two women down the hall toward the Reverend’s study, noting that as well as being moderately attractive, the daughter was one of the tallest girls he’d ever seen close-to. She had to be easily six feet, he thought, seeing her head even with the top of the hall stand as she passed. He unconsciously straightened himself as he followed, drawing up to his full six feet three. At the last moment, he ducked, to avoid banging his head on the study lintel as he followed the women into the room.



* * *



“I’d meant to come before,” said Claire, settling herself deeper in the huge wing chair. The fourth wall of the Reverend’s study was equipped with floor-to-ceiling windows, and the sunlight winked off the pearl clip in her light-brown hair. The curls were beginning to escape from their confinement, and she tucked one absently behind an ear as she talked.

“I’d arranged to come last year, in fact, and then there was an emergency at the hospital in Boston—I’m a doctor,” she explained, mouth curling a little at the look of surprise Roger hadn’t quite managed to conceal. “But I’m sorry that we didn’t; I would have liked so much to see your father again.”

Roger rather wondered why they had come now, knowing the Reverend was dead, but it seemed impolite to ask. Instead, he asked, “Enjoying a bit of sightseeing, are you?”

“Yes, we drove up from London,” Claire answered. She smiled at her daughter. “I wanted Bree to see the country; you wouldn’t think it to hear her talk, but she’s as English as I am, though she’s never lived here.”

“Really?” Roger glanced at Brianna. She didn’t really look English, he thought; aside from the height, she had thick red hair, worn loose over her shoulders, and strong, sharp-angled bones in her face, with the nose long and straight—maybe a touch too long.

“I was born in America,” Brianna explained, “but both Mother and Daddy are—were—English.”

“Were?”

“My husband died two years ago,” Claire explained. “You knew him, I think—Frank Randall.”

“Frank Randall! Of course!” Roger smacked himself on the forehead, and felt his cheeks grow hot at Brianna’s giggle. “You’re going to think me a complete fool, but I’ve only just realized who you are.”

The name explained a lot; Frank Randall had been an eminent historian, and a good friend of the Reverend’s; they had exchanged bits of Jacobite arcana for years, though it was at least ten years since Frank Randall had last visited the manse.

“So—you’ll be visiting the historical sites near Inverness?” Roger hazarded. “Have you been to Culloden yet?”

“Not yet,” Brianna answered. “We thought we’d go later this week.” Her answering smile was polite, but nothing more.

“We’re booked for a trip down Loch Ness this afternoon,” Claire explained. “And perhaps we’ll drive down to Fort William tomorrow, or just poke about in Inverness; the place has grown a lot since I was last here.”

“When was that?” Roger wondered whether he ought to volunteer his services as tour guide. He really shouldn’t take the time, but the Randalls had been good friends of the Reverend’s. Besides, a car trip to Fort William in company with two attractive women seemed a much more appealing prospect than cleaning out the garage, which was next on his list.

“Oh, more than twenty years ago. It’s been a long time.” There was an odd note in Claire’s voice that made Roger glance at her, but she met his eyes with a smile.

“Well,” he ventured, “if there’s anything I can do for you, while you’re in the Highlands…”

Claire was still smiling, but something in her face changed. He could almost think she had been waiting for an opening. She glanced at Brianna, then back to Roger.

“Since you mention it,” she said, her smile broadening.

“Oh, Mother!” Brianna said, sitting up in her chair. “You don’t want to bother Mr. Wakefield! Look at all he’s got to do!” She waved a hand at the crowded study, with its overflowing cartons and endless stacks of books.

“Oh, no bother at all!” Roger protested. “Er…what is it?”

Claire shot her daughter a quelling look. “I wasn’t planning to knock him on the head and drag him off,” she said tartly. “But he might well know someone who could help. It’s a small historical project,” she explained to Roger. “I need someone who’s fairly well versed in the eighteenth-century Jacobites—Bonnie Prince Charlie and all that lot.”

Roger leaned forward, interested. “Jacobites?” he said. “That period’s not one of my specialties, but I do know a bit—hard not to, living so close to Culloden. That’s where the final battle was, you know,” he explained to Brianna. “Where the Bonnie Prince’s lot ran up against the Duke of Cumberland and got slaughtered for their pains.”

“Right,” said Claire. “And that, in fact, has to do with what I want to find out.” She reached into her handbag and drew out a folded paper.

Roger opened it and scanned the contents quickly. It was a list of names—maybe thirty, all men. At the top of the sheet was a heading: “JACOBITE RISING, 1745—CULLODEN”

“Oh, the ’45?” Roger said. “These men fought at Culloden, did they?”

“They did,” Claire replied. “What I want to find out is—how many of the men on this list survived that battle?”

Roger rubbed his chin as he perused the list. “That’s a simple question,” he said, “but the answer might be hard to find. So many of the Highland clansmen who followed Prince Charles were killed on Culloden Field that they weren’t buried individually. They were put into mass graves, with no more than a single stone bearing the clan name as a marker.”

“I know,” Claire said. “Brianna hasn’t been there, but I have—a long time ago.” He thought he saw a fleeting shadow in her eyes, though it was quickly hidden as she reached into her handbag. No wonder if there was, he thought. Culloden Field was an affecting place; it brought tears to his own eyes, to look out over that expanse of moorland and remember the gallantry and courage of the Scottish Highlanders who lay slaughtered beneath the grass.

She unfolded several more typed sheets and handed them to him. A long white finger ran down the margin of one sheet. Beautiful hands, Roger noted; delicately molded, carefully kept, with a single ring on each hand. The silver one on her right hand was especially striking; a wide Jacobean band in the Highland interlace pattern, embellished with thistle blossoms.

“These are the names of the wives, so far as I know them. I thought that might help, since if the husbands were killed at Culloden, you’d likely find these women remarrying or emigrating afterward. Those records would surely be in the parish register? They’re all from the same parish; the church was in Broch Mordha—it’s a good bit south of here.”

“That’s a very helpful idea,” Roger said, mildly surprised. “It’s the sort of thing an historian would think of.”

“I’m hardly an historian,” Claire Randall said dryly. “On the other hand, when you live with one, you do pick up the occasional odd thought.”

“Of course.” A thought struck Roger, and he rose from his chair. “I’m being a terrible host; please, let me get you a drink, and then you can tell me a bit more about this. Perhaps I could help you with it myself.”

Despite the disorder, he knew where the decanters were kept, and quickly had his guests supplied with whisky. He’d put quite a lot of soda in Brianna’s, but noticed that she sipped at it as though her glass contained ant spray, rather than the best Glenfiddich single malt. Claire, who took her whisky neat by request, seemed to enjoy it much more.

“Well.” Roger resumed his seat and picked up the paper again. “It’s an interesting problem, in terms of historical research. You said these men came from the same parish? I suppose they came from a single clan or sept—I see a number of them were named Fraser.”

Claire nodded, hands folded in her lap. “They came from the same estate; a small Highland farm called Broch Tuarach—it was known locally as Lallybroch. They were part of clan Fraser, though they never gave a formal allegiance to Lord Lovat as chief. These men joined the Rising early; they fought in the Battle of Prestonpans—while Lovat’s men didn’t come until just before Culloden.”

“Really? That’s interesting.” Under normal eighteenth-century conditions, such small tenant-farmers would have died where they lived, and be filed tidily away in the village churchyard, neatly docketed in the parish register. However, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s attempt to regain the throne of Scotland in 1745 had disrupted the normal course of things in no uncertain terms.

In the famine after the disaster of Culloden, many Highlanders had emigrated to the New World; others had drifted from the glens and moors toward the cities, in search of food and employment. A few stayed on, stubbornly clinging to their land and traditions.

“It would make a fascinating article,” Roger said, thinking aloud. “Follow the fate of a number of individuals, see what happened to them all. Less interesting if they all were killed at Culloden, but chances were that a few made it out.” He would be inclined to take on the project as a welcome break even were it not Claire Randall who asked.

“Yes, I think I can help you with this,” he said, and was gratified at the warm smile she bestowed on him.

“Would you really? That’s wonderful!” she said.

“My pleasure,” Roger said. He folded the paper and laid it on the table. “I’ll start in on it directly. But tell me, how did you enjoy your drive up from London?”

The conversation became general as the Randalls regaled him with tales of their transatlantic journey, and the drive from London. Roger’s attention drifted slightly, as he began to plan the research for this project. He felt mildly guilty about taking it on; he really shouldn’t take the time. On the other hand, it was an interesting question. And it was possible that he could combine the project with some of the necessary clearing-up of the Reverend’s material; he knew for a fact that there were forty-eight cartons in the garage, all labeled JACOBITES, MISCELLANEOUS. The thought of it was enough to make him feel faint.

With a wrench, he tore his mind away from the garage, to find that the conversation had made an abrupt change of subject.

“Druids?” Roger felt dazed. He peered suspiciously into his glass, checking to see that he really had added soda.

“You hadn’t heard about them?” Claire looked slightly disappointed. “Your father—the Reverend—he knew about them, though only unofficially. Perhaps he didn’t think it worth telling you; he thought it something of a joke.”

Roger scratched his head, ruffling the thick black hair. “No, I really don’t recall. But you’re right, he may not have thought it anything serious.”

“Well, I don’t know that it is.” She crossed her legs at the knee. A streak of sunlight gleamed down the shin of her stockings, emphasizing the delicacy of the long bone beneath.

“When I was here last with Frank—God, that was twenty-three years ago!—the Reverend told him that there was a local group of—well, modern Druids, I suppose you’d call them. I’ve no idea how authentic they might be; most likely not very.” Brianna was leaning forward now, interested, the glass of whisky forgotten between her hands.

“The Reverend couldn’t take official notice of them—paganism and all that, you know—but his housekeeper, Mrs. Graham, was involved with the group, so he got wind of their doings from time to time, and he tipped Frank that there would be a ceremony of some kind on the dawn of Beltane—May Day, that is.”

Roger nodded, trying to adjust to the idea of elderly Mrs. Graham, that extremely proper person, engaging in pagan rites and dancing round stone circles in the dawn. All he could remember of Druid ceremonies himself was that some of them involved burning sacrificial victims in wicker cages, which seemed still more unlikely behavior for a Scottish Presbyterian lady of advanced years.

“There’s a circle of standing stones on top of a hill, fairly nearby. So we went up there before dawn to, well, to spy on them,” she continued, shrugging apologetically. “You know what scholars are like; no conscience at all when it comes to their own field, let alone a sense of social delicacy.” Roger winced slightly at this, but nodded in wry agreement.

“And there they were,” she said. “Mrs. Graham included, all wearing bedsheets, chanting things and dancing in the midst of the stone circle. Frank was fascinated,” she added, with a smile. “And it was impressive, even to me.”

She paused for a moment, eyeing Roger rather speculatively.

“I’d heard that Mrs. Graham had passed away a few years ago. But I wonder…do you know if she had any family? I believe membership in such groups is often hereditary; maybe there’s a daughter or granddaughter who could tell me a bit.”

“Well,” Roger said slowly. “There is a granddaughter—Fiona’s her name, Fiona Graham. In fact, she came to help out here at the manse after her grandmother died; the Reverend was really too elderly to be left all on his own.”

If anything could displace his vision of Mrs. Graham dancing in a bedsheet, it was the thought of nineteen-year-old Fiona as a guardian of ancient mystic knowledge, but Roger rallied gamely and went on.

“She isn’t here just now, I’m afraid. I could ask her for you, though.”

Claire waved a slender hand in dismissal. “Don’t trouble yourself. Another time will do. We’ve taken up too much of your time already.”

To Roger’s dismay, she set down her empty glass on the small table between the chairs and Brianna added her own full one with what looked like alacrity. He noticed that Brianna Randall bit her nails. This small evidence of imperfection gave him the nerve to take the next step. She intrigued him, and he didn’t want her to go, with no assurance that he would see her again.

“Speaking of stone circles,” he said quickly. “I believe I know the one you mentioned. It’s quite scenic, and not too far from town.” He smiled directly at Brianna Randall, registering automatically the fact that she had three small freckles high on one cheekbone. “I thought perhaps I’d start on this project with a trip down to Broch Tuarach. It’s in the same direction as the stone circle, so maybe…aaagh!”

With a sudden jerk of her bulky handbag, Claire Randall had bumped both whisky glasses off the table, showering Roger’s lap and thighs with single malt whisky and quite a lot of soda.

“I’m terribly sorry,” she apologized, obviously flustered. She bent and began picking up pieces of shattered crystal, despite Roger’s half-coherent attempts to stop her.

Brianna, coming to assist with a handful of linen napkins seized from the sideboard, was saying “Really, Mother, how they ever let you do surgery, I don’t know. You’re just not safe with anything smaller than a bread-box. Look, you’ve got his shoes soaked with whisky!” She knelt on the floor, and began busily mopping up spilled Scotch and fragments of crystal. “And his pants, too.”

Whipping a fresh napkin from the stack over her arm, she industriously polished Roger’s toes, her red mane floating deliriously around his knees. Her head was rising, as she peered at his thighs, dabbing energetically at damp spots on the corduroy. Roger closed his eyes and thought frantically of terrible car crashes on the motorway and tax forms for the Inland Revenue and the Blob from Outer Space—anything that might stop him disgracing himself utterly as Brianna Randall’s warm breath misted softly through the wet fabric of his trousers.

“Er, maybe you’d like to do the rest yourself?” The voice came from somewhere around the level of his nose, and he opened his eyes to find a pair of deep blue eyes facing him above a wide grin. He rather weakly took the napkin she was offering him, breathing as though he had just been chased by a train.

Lowering his head to scrub at his trousers, he caught sight of Claire Randall watching him with an expression of mingled sympathy and amusement. There was nothing else visible in her expression; nothing of that flash he thought he’d seen in her eyes just before the catastrophe. Flustered as he was, it was probably his imagination, he thought. For why on earth should she have done it on purpose?

“Since when are you interested in Druids, Mama?” Brianna seemed disposed to find something hilarious in the idea; I had noticed her biting the insides of her cheeks while I was chatting with Roger Wakefield, and the grin she had been hiding then was now plastered across her face. “You going to get your own bedsheet and join up?”

“Bound to be more entertaining than hospital staff meetings every Thursday,” I said. “Bit drafty, though.” She hooted with laughter, startling two chickadees off the walk in front of us.

“No,” I said, switching to seriousness. “It isn’t the Druid ladies I’m after, so much. There’s someone I used to know in Scotland that I wanted to find, if I can. I haven’t an address for her—I haven’t been in touch with her for more than twenty years—but she had an interest in odd things like that: witchcraft, old beliefs, folklore. All that sort of thing. She once lived near here; I thought if she was still here, she might be involved with a group like that.”

“What’s her name?”

I shook my head, grabbing at the loosened clip as it slid from my curls. It slipped through my fingers and bounced into the deep grass along the walk.

“Damn!” I said, stooping for it. My fingers were unsteady as I groped through the dense stalks, and I had trouble picking up the clip, slippery with moisture from the wet grass. The thought of Geillis Duncan tended to unnerve me, even now.

“I don’t know,” I said, brushing the curls back off my flushed face. “I mean—it’s been such a long time, I’m sure she’d have a different name by now. She was widowed; she might have married again, or be using her maiden name.”

“Oh.” Brianna lost interest in the topic, and walked along in silence for a little. Suddenly she said, “What did you think of Roger Wakefield, Mama?”

I glanced at her; her cheeks were pink, but it might be from the spring wind.

“He seems a very nice young man,” I said carefully. “He’s certainly intelligent; he’s one of the youngest professors at Oxford.” The intelligence I had known about; I wondered whether he had any imagination. So often scholarly types didn’t. But imagination would be helpful.

“He’s got the grooviest eyes,” Brianna said, dreamily ignoring the question of his brain. “Aren’t they the greenest you’ve ever seen?”

“Yes, they’re very striking,” I agreed. “They’ve always been like that; I remember noticing them when I first met him as a child.”

Brianna looked down at me, frowning.

“Yes, Mother, really! Did you have to say ‘My, how you’ve grown?’ when he answered the door? How embarrassing!”

I laughed.

“Well, when you’ve last seen someone hovering round your navel, and suddenly you find yourself looking up his nose,” I defended myself, “you can’t help remarking the difference.”

“Mother!” But she fizzed with laughter.

“He has a very nice bottom, too,” I remarked, just to keep her going. “I noticed when he bent over to get the whisky.”

“Mo-THERRR! They’ll hear you!”

We were nearly at the bus stop. There were two or three women and an elderly gentleman in tweeds standing by the sign; they turned to stare at us as we came up.

“Is this the place for the Loch-side Tours bus?” I asked, scanning the bewildering array of notices and advertisements posted on the signboard.

“Och, aye,” one of the ladies said kindly. “The bus will be comin’ along in ten minutes or so.” She scanned Brianna, so clearly American in blue jeans and white windbreaker. The final patriotic note was added by the flushed face, red with suppressed laughter. “You’ll be going to see Loch Ness? Your first time, is it?”

I smiled at her. “I sailed down the loch with my husband twenty-odd years ago, but this is my daughter’s first trip to Scotland.”

“Oh, is it?” This attracted the attention of the other ladies and they crowded around, suddenly friendly, offering advice and asking questions until the big yellow bus came chugging round the corner.

Brianna paused before climbing the steps, admiring the picturesque drawing of green serpentine loops, undulating through a blue-paint lake, edged with black pines.

“This will be fun,” she said, laughing. “Think we’ll see the monster?”

“You never know,” I said.

Roger spent the rest of the day in a state of abstraction, wandering absently from one task to another. The books to be packed for donation to the Society for the Preservation of Antiquities lay spilling out of their carton, the Reverend’s ancient flatbed lorry sat in the drive with its bonnet up, halfway through a motor check, and a cup of tea sat half-drunk and milk-scummed at his elbow as he gazed blankly out at the falling rain of early evening.

What he should do, he knew, was get at the job of dismantling the heart of the Reverend’s study. Not the books; massive as that job was, it was only a matter of deciding which to keep himself, and which should be dispatched to the SPA or the Reverend’s old college library. No, sooner or later he would have to tackle the enormous desk, which had papers filling each huge drawer to the brim and protruding from its dozens of pigeonholes. And he’d have to take down and dispose of all of the miscellany decorating the cork wall that filled one side of the room; a task to daunt the stoutest heart.

Aside from a general disinclination to start the tedious job, Roger was hampered by something else. He didn’t want to be doing these things, necessary as they were; he wanted to be working on Claire Randall’s project, tracking down the clansmen of Culloden.

It was an interesting enough project in its way, though probably a minor research job. But that wasn’t it. No, he thought, if he were being honest with himself, he wanted to tackle Claire Randall’s project because he wanted to go round to Mrs. Thomas’s guesthouse and lay his results at the feet of Brianna Randall, as knights were supposed to have done with the heads of dragons. Even if he didn’t get results on that scale, he urgently wanted some excuse to see her and talk with her again.

It was a Bronzino painting she reminded him of, he decided. She and her mother both gave that odd impression of having been outlined somehow, drawn with such vivid strokes and delicate detail that they stood out from their background as though they’d been engraved on it. But Brianna had that brilliant coloring, and that air of absolute physical presence that made Bronzino’s sitters seem to follow you with their eyes, to be about to speak from their frames. He’d never seen a Bronzino painting making faces at a glass of whisky, but if there had been one, he was sure it would have looked precisely like Brianna Randall.

“Well, bloody hell,” he said aloud. “It won’t take a lot of time just to look over the records at Culloden House tomorrow, will it? You,” he said, addressing the desk and its multiple burdens, “can wait for a day. So can you,” he said to the wall, and defiantly plucked a mystery novel from the shelf. He glanced around belligerently, as though daring any of the furnishings to object, but there was no sound but the whirring of the electric fire. He switched it off and, book under his arm, left the study, flicking off the light.

A minute later, he came back, crossing the room in the dark, and retrieved the list of names from the table.

“Well, bloody hell anyway!” he said, and tucked it into the pocket of his shirt. “Don’t want to forget the damn thing in the morning.” He patted the pocket, feeling the soft crackle of the paper just over his heart, and went up to bed.

We had come back from Loch Ness blown with wind and chilled with rain, to the warm comfort of a hot supper and an open fire in the parlor. Brianna had begun to yawn over the scrambled eggs, and soon excused herself to go and take a hot bath. I stayed downstairs for a bit, chatting with Mrs. Thomas, the landlady, and it was nearly ten o’clock before I made my way up to my own bath and nightgown.

Brianna was an early riser and an early sleeper; her soft breathing greeted me as I pushed open the bedroom door. An early sleeper, she was also a sound one; I moved carefully around the room, hanging up my clothes and tidying things away, but there was little danger of waking her. The house grew quiet as I went about my work, so that the rustle of my own movements seemed loud in my ears.

I had brought several of Frank’s books with me, intending to donate them to the Inverness Library. They were laid neatly in the bottom of my suitcase, forming a foundation for the more squashable items above. I took them out one by one, laying them on the bed. Five hardbound volumes, glossy in bright dust covers. Nice, substantial things; five or six hundred pages each, not counting index and illustrations.

My late husband’s Collected Works, in the Fully Annotated editions. Inches of admiring reviews covered the jacket flaps, comments from every recognized expert in the historical field. Not bad for a Life’s Work, I thought. An accomplishment to be proud of. Compact, weighty, authoritative.

I stacked the books neatly on the table next to my bag, so as not to forget them in the morning. The titles on the spines were different, of course, but I stacked them so that the uniform “Frank W. Randall” ’s at the ends lined up, one above the other. They glowed jewel-bright in the small pool of light from the bedside lamp.

The bed-and-breakfast was quiet; it was early in the year for guests, and those there were had long since gone to sleep. In the other twin bed, Brianna made a small whuffling noise and rolled over in her sleep, leaving long strands of red hair draped across her dreaming face. One long, bare foot protruded from the bedclothes, and I pulled the blanket gently over it.

The impulse to touch a sleeping child never fades, no matter that the child is a good deal larger than her mother, and a woman—if a young one—in her own right. I smoothed the hair back from her face and stroked the crown of her head. She smiled in her sleep, a brief reflex of contentment, gone as soon as it appeared. My own smile lingered as I watched her, and whispered to her sleep-deaf ears, as I had so many times before, “God, you are so like him.”

I swallowed the faint thickening in my throat—it was nearly habit, by now—and took my dressing gown from the chair back. It was bloody cold at night in the Scottish Highlands in April, but I wasn’t yet ready to seek the warm sanctuary of my own twin bed.

I had asked the landlady to leave the fire burning in the sitting room, assuring her that I would bank it before retiring. I closed the door softly, still seeing the sprawl of long limbs, the splash and tumble of red silk across the quilted blue spread.

“Not bad for a Life’s Work, either,” I whispered to the dark hallway. “Maybe not so compact, but damned authoritative.”

The small parlor was dark and cozy, the fire burnt down to a steady glow of flame along the backbone of the main log. I pulled a small armchair up before the fire and propped my feet on the fender. I could hear all the small usual sounds of modern life around me; the faint whirr of the refrigerator in the basement below, the hum and whoosh of the central heating that made the fire a comfort rather than a necessity; the passing rush of an occasional car outside.

But under everything was the deep silence of a Highland night. I sat very still, reaching for it. It had been twenty years since I last felt it, but the soothing power of the dark was still there, cradled between the mountains.

I reached into the pocket of my dressing gown and pulled out the folded paper—a copy of the list I had given Roger Wakefield. It was too dark to read by firelight, but I didn’t need to see the names. I unfolded the paper on my silk-clad knee and sat blindly staring at the lines of illegible type. I ran my finger slowly across each line, murmuring each man’s name to myself like a prayer. They belonged to the cold spring night, more than I did. But I kept looking into the flames, letting the dark outside come to fill the empty places inside me.

And speaking their names as though to summon them, I began the first steps back, crossing the empty dark to where they waited.





2

THE PLOT THICKENS

Roger left Culloden House next morning with twelve pages of notes and a growing feeling of bafflement. What had at first seemed a fairly straightforward job of historical research was turning up some odd twists, and no mistake.

He had found only three of the names from Claire Randall’s list among the rolls of the dead of Culloden. This in itself was nothing remarkable. Charles Stuart’s army had rarely had a coherent roll of enlistment, as some clan chieftains had joined the Bonnie Prince apparently on whim, and many had left for even less reason, before the names of their men could be inscribed on any official document. The Highland army’s record-keeping, haphazard at best, had disintegrated almost completely toward the end; there was little point in keeping a payroll, after all, if you had nothing with which to pay the men on it.

He carefully folded his lanky frame and inserted himself into his ancient Morris, automatically ducking to avoid bumping his head. Taking the folder from under his arm, he opened it and frowned at the pages he had copied. What was odd about it was that nearly all of the men on Claire’s list had been shown on another army list.

Within the ranks of a given clan regiment, men might have deserted as the dimensions of the coming disaster became clearer; that would have been nothing unusual. No, what made the whole thing so incomprehensible was that the names on Claire’s list had shown up—entire and complete—as part of the Master of Lovat’s regiment, sent late in the campaign to fulfill a promise of support made to the Stuarts by Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat.

Yet Claire had definitely said—and a glance at her original sheets confirmed it—that these men had all come from a small estate called Broch Tuarach, well to the south and west of the Fraser lands—on the border of the MacKenzie clan lands, in fact. More than that, she had said these men had been with the Highland army since the Battle of Prestonpans, which had occurred near the beginning of the campaign.

Roger shook his head. This made no kind of sense. Granted, Claire might have mistaken the timing—she had said herself that she was no historian. But not the location, surely? And how could men from the estate of Broch Tuarach, who had given no oath of allegiance to the chief of clan Fraser, have been at the disposal of Simon Fraser? True, Lord Lovat had been known as “the Old Fox,” and for good reason, but Roger doubted that even that redoubtable old Earl had had sufficient wiliness to pull off something like this.

Frowning to himself, Roger started the car and pulled out of the parking lot. The archives at Culloden House were depressingly incomplete; mostly a lot of picturesque letters from Lord George Murray, beefing about supply problems, and things that looked good in the museum displays for the tourists. He needed a lot more than that.

“Hold on, cock,” he reminded himself, squinting in the rearview mirror at the turn. “You’re meant to be finding out what happened to the ones that didn’t cark it at Culloden. What does it matter how they got there, so long as they left the battle in one piece?”

But he couldn’t leave it alone. It was such an odd circumstance. Names got muddled with enormous frequency, especially in the Highlands, where half the population at any given moment seemed to be named “Alexander.” Consequently, men had customarily been known by their place-names, as well as their clan or surnames. Sometimes instead of the surnames. “Lochiel,” one of the most prominent Jacobite chieftains, was in fact Donald Cameron, of Lochiel, which distinguished him nicely from the hundreds of other Camerons named Donald.

And all the Highland men who hadn’t been named Donald or Alec had been named John. Of the three names that he’d found on the death rolls that matched Claire’s list, one was Donald Murray, one was Alexander MacKenzie Fraser, and one was John Graham Fraser. All without place-names attached; just the plain name, and the regiment to which they’d belonged. The Master of Lovat’s regiment, the Fraser regiment.

But without the place-name, he couldn’t be sure that they were the same men as the names on Claire’s list. There were at least six John Frasers on the death roll, and even that was incomplete; the English had given little attention to completeness or accuracy—most of the records had been compiled after the fact, by clan chieftains counting noses and determining who hadn’t come home. Frequently the chieftains themselves hadn’t come home, which complicated matters.

He rubbed his hand hard through his hair with frustration, as though scalp massage might stimulate his brain. And if the three names weren’t the same men, the mystery only deepened. A good half of Charles Stuart’s army had been slaughtered at Culloden. And Lovat’s men had been in the thick of it, right in the center of the battle. It was inconceivable that a group of thirty men had survived in that position without one fatality. The Master of Lovat’s men had come late to the Rising; while desertion had been rife in other regiments, who had served long enough to have some idea what they were in for, the Frasers had been remarkably loyal—and suffered in consequence.

A loud horn-blast from behind startled him out of his concentration, and he pulled to the side to let a large, annoyed lorry rumble past. Thinking and driving were not compatible activities, he decided. End up smashed against a stone wall, if he kept this up.

He sat still for a moment, pondering. His natural impulse was to go to Mrs. Thomas’s bed-and-breakfast, and tell Claire what he had found to date. The fact that this might involve basking for a few moments in the presence of Brianna Randall enhanced the appeal of this idea.

On the other hand, all his historian’s instincts cried out for more data. And he wasn’t at all sure that Claire was the person to provide it. He couldn’t imagine why she should commission him to do this project, and at the same time, interfere with its completion by giving him inaccurate information. It wasn’t sensible, and Claire Randall struck him as an eminently sensible person.

Still, there was that business with the whisky. His cheeks grew hot in memory. He was positive she’d done it on purpose—and as she didn’t really seem the sort for practical jokes, he was compelled to assume she’d done it to stop him inviting Brianna to Broch Tuarach. Did she want to keep him away from the place, or only to stop him taking Brianna there? The more he thought about the incident, the more convinced he became that Claire Randall was keeping something from her daughter, but what it was, he couldn’t imagine. Still less could he think what connection it had with him, or the project he had undertaken.

He’d give it up, were it not for two things. Brianna, and simple curiosity. He wanted to know what was going on, and he bloody well intended to find out.

He rapped his fist softly against the wheel, thinking, ignoring the rush of passing traffic. At last, decision made, he started the engine again and pulled into the road. At the next roundabout, he went three-quarters round the circle and headed for the town center of Inverness, and the railroad station.

The Flying Scotsman could have him in Edinburgh in three hours. The curator in charge of the Stuart Papers had been a close friend of the Reverend. And he had one clue to start with, puzzling as it was. The roll that had listed the names in the Master of Lovat’s regiment had shown those thirty men as being under the command of a Captain James Fraser—of Broch Tuarach. This man was the only apparent link between Broch Tuarach and the Frasers of Lovat. He wondered why James Fraser had not appeared on Claire’s list.



* * *



The sun was out; a rare event for mid-April, and Roger made the most of it by cranking down the tiny window on the driver’s side, to let the bright wind blow past his ear.

He had had to stay overnight in Edinburgh, and coming back late the next day, had been so tired from the long train ride that he had done little more than eat the hot supper Fiona insisted on fixing him before he fell into bed. But today he had risen full of renewed energy and determination, and motored down to the small village of Broch Mordha, near the site of the estate called Broch Tuarach. If her mother didn’t want Brianna Randall going to Broch Tuarach, there was nothing stopping him from having a look at the place.

He had actually found Broch Tuarach itself, or at least he assumed so; there was an enormous pile of fallen stone, surrounding the collapsed remnant of one of the ancient circular brochs, or towers, used in the distant past both for living and for defense. He had sufficient Gaelic to know that the name meant “north-facing tower,” and had wondered briefly just how a circular tower could have come by such a name.

There was a manor house and its outbuildings nearby, also in ruins, though a good deal more of it was left. An estate agent’s sign, weathered almost to illegibility, stood tacked to a stake in the dooryard. Roger stood on the slope above the house, looking around. At a glance, he could see nothing that would explain Claire’s wanting to keep her daughter from coming here.

He parked the Morris in the dooryard, and climbed out. It was a beautiful site, but very remote; it had taken him nearly forty-five minutes of careful maneuvering to get his Morris down the rutted country lane from the main highway without fracturing his oil pan.

He didn’t go into the house; it was plainly abandoned, and possibly dangerous—there would be nothing there. The name FRASER was carved into the lintel, though, and the same name adorned most of the small tombstones in what must have been the family graveyard—those that were legible. Not a great help, that, he reflected. None of these stones bore the names of men on his list. He’d have to go on along the road; according to the AA map, the village of Broch Mhorda was three miles farther on.

As he’d feared, the small village church had fallen into disuse and been knocked down years ago. Persistent knockings on doors elicited blank stares, dour looks, and finally a doubtful speculation from an aged farmer that the old parish records might have gone to the museum in Fort William, or maybe up to Inverness; there was a minister up that way who collected such rubbish.

Tired and dusty, but not yet discouraged, Roger trudged back to his car, sheltering in the lane by the village pub. This was the sort of setback that so often attended historical field research, and he was used to it. A quick pint—well, two, maybe, it was an unusually warm day—and then on to Fort William.

Serve him right, he reflected wryly, if the records he was looking for turned out to be in the Reverend’s archives all along. That’s what he got for neglecting his work to go on wild-goose chases to impress a girl. His trip to Edinburgh had done little more than serve to eliminate the three names he’d found at Culloden House; all three men proved to have come from different regiments, not the Broch Tuarach group.

The Stuart Papers took up three entire rooms, as well as untold packing cases in the basement of the museum, so he could hardly claim to have made an exhaustive study. Still, he had found a duplicate of the payroll he’d seen at Culloden House, listing the joining of the men as part of a regiment under the overall command of the Master of Lovat—the Old Fox’s son, that would have been, Young Simon. Cagy old bastard split his vote, Roger thought; sent the heir to fight for the Stuarts, and stayed home himself, claiming to have been a loyal subject of King Geordie all along. Much good it did him.

That document had listed Simon Fraser the Younger as commander, and made no mention of James Fraser. A James Fraser was mentioned in a number of army dispatches, memoranda, and other documents, though. If it was the same man, he’d been fairly active in the campaign. Still, with only the name “James Fraser,” it was impossible to tell if it was the Broch Tuarach one; James was as common a Highland name as Duncan or Robert. In only one spot was a James Fraser listed with additional middle names that might help in identification, but that document made no mention of his men.

He shrugged, irritably waving off a sudden cloud of voracious midges. To go through those records in coherent fashion would take several years. Unable to shake the attentions of the midges, he ducked into the dark, brewery atmosphere of the pub, leaving them to mill outside in a frenzied cloud of inquiry.

Sipping the cool, bitter ale, he mentally reviewed the steps taken so far, and the options open to him. He had time to go to Fort William today, though it would mean getting back to Inverness late. And if the Fort William museum turned up nothing, then a good rummage through the Reverend’s archives was the logical, if ironic, next step.

And after that? He drained the last drops of bitter, and signaled the landlord for another glass. Well, if it came down to it, a tramp round every kirkyard and burying ground in the general vicinity of Broch Tuarach was likely the best he could do in the short term. He doubted that the Randalls would stay in Inverness for the next two or three years, patiently awaiting results.

He felt in his pocket for the notebook that is the historian’s constant companion. Before he left Broch Mhorda, he should at least have a look at what was left of the old kirkyard. You never knew what might turn up, and it would at least save him coming back.



* * *



The next afternoon, the Randalls came to take tea at Roger’s invitation, and to hear his progress report.

“I’ve found several of the names on your list,” he told Claire, leading the way into the study. “It’s very odd; I haven’t yet found any who died for sure at Culloden. I thought I had three, but they turned out to be different men with the same names.” He glanced at Dr. Randall; she was standing quite still, one hand clasping the back of a wing chair, as though she’d forgotten where she was.

“Er, won’t you sit down?” Roger invited, and with a small, startled jerk, she nodded and sat abruptly on the edge of the seat. Roger eyed her curiously, but went on, pulling out his folder of research notes and handing it to her.

“As I say, it’s odd. I haven’t tracked down all the names; I think I’ll need to go nose about among the parish registers and graveyards near Broch Tuarach. I found most of these records among my father’s papers. But you’d think I’d have turned up one or two battle-deaths at least, given that they were all at Culloden. Especially if, as you say, they were with one of the Fraser regiments; those were nearly all in the center of the battle, where the fighting was thickest.”

“I know.” There was something in her voice that made him look at her, puzzled, but her face was invisible as she bent over the desk. Most of the records were copies, made in Roger’s own hand, as the exotic technology of photocopying had not yet penetrated to the government archive that guarded the Stuart Papers, but there were a few original sheets, unearthed from the late Reverend Wakefield’s hoard of eighteenth-century documents. She turned over the records with a gentle finger, careful not to touch the fragile paper more than necessary.

“You’re right; that is odd.” Now he recognized the emotion in her voice—it was excitement, but mingled with satisfaction and relief. She had been in some way expecting this—or hoping for it.

“Tell me…” She hesitated. “The names you’ve found. What happened to them, if they didn’t die at Culloden?”

He was faintly surprised that it should seem to matter so much to her, but obligingly pulled out the folder that held his research notes and opened it. “Two of them were on a ship’s roll; they emigrated to America soon after Culloden. Four died of natural causes about a year later—not surprising, there was a terrible famine after Culloden, and a lot of people died in the Highlands. And this one I found in a parish register—but not the parish he came from. I’m fairly sure it’s one of your men, though.”

It was only as the tension went out of her shoulders that he noticed it had been there.

“Do you want me to look for the rest, still?” he asked, hoping that the answer would be “yes.” He was watching Brianna over her mother’s shoulder. She was standing by the cork wall, half-turned as though uninterested in her mother’s project, but he could see a small vertical crease between her brows.

Perhaps she sensed the same thing he did, the odd air of suppressed excitement that surrounded Claire like an electric field. He had been aware of it from the moment she walked into the room, and his revelations had only increased it. He imagined that if he touched her, a great spark of static electricity would leap between them.

A knock on the study door interrupted his thoughts. The door opened and Fiona Graham came in, pushing a tea cart, fully equipped with teapot, cups, doilies, three kinds of sandwiches, cream-cakes, sponge cake, jam tarts, and scones with clotted cream.

“Yum!” said Brianna at the sight. “Is that all for us, or are you expecting ten other people?”

Claire Randall looked over the tea preparations, smiling. The electric field was still there, but damped down by major effort. Roger could see one of her hands, clenched so hard in the folds of her skirt that the edge of her ring cut into the flesh.

“That tea is so high, we won’t need to eat for weeks,” she said. “It looks wonderful!”

Fiona beamed. She was short, plump and pretty as a small brown hen. Roger sighed internally. While he was pleased to be able to offer his guests hospitality, he was well aware that the lavish nature of the refreshments was intended for his appreciation, not theirs. Fiona, aged nineteen, had one burning ambition in life. To be a wife. Preferably of a professional man. She had taken one look at Roger when he arrived a week earlier to tidy up the Reverend’s affairs, and decided that an assistant professor of history was the best prospect Inverness offered.

Since then, he had been stuffed like a Christmas goose, had his shoes polished, his slippers and toothbrush laid out, his bed turned down, his coat brushed, the evening paper bought for him and laid alongside his plate, his neck rubbed when he had been working over his desk for long hours, and constant inquiries made concerning his bodily comfort, state of mind, and general health. He had never before been exposed to such a barrage of domesticity.

In short, Fiona was driving him mad. His current state of unshaven dishabille was more a reaction to her relentless pursuit than it was a descent into that natural squalor enjoyed by men temporarily freed from the demands of job and society.

The thought of being united in bonds of holy wedlock with Fiona Graham was one that froze him to the marrow. She would drive him insane within a year, with her constant pestering. Aside from that, though, there was Brianna Randall, now gazing contemplatively at the tea cart, as though wondering where to start.

He had been keeping his attention firmly fixed on Claire Randall and her project this afternoon, avoiding looking at her daughter. Claire Randall was lovely, with the sort of fine bones and translucent skin that would make her look much the same at sixty as she had at twenty. But looking at Brianna Randall made him feel slightly breathless.

She carried herself like a queen, not slumping as tall girls so often do. Noting her mother’s straight back and graceful posture, he could see where that particular attribute had come from. But not the remarkable height, the cascade of waist-length red hair, sparked with gold and copper, streaked with amber and cinnamon, curling casually around face and shoulders like a mantle. The eyes, so dark a blue as almost to be black in some lights. Nor that wide, generous mouth, with a full lower lip that invited nibbling kisses and biting passion. Those things must have come from her father.

Roger was on the whole rather glad that her father was not present, since he would certainly have taken paternal umbrage at the sorts of thoughts Roger was thinking; thoughts he was desperately afraid showed on his face.

“Tea, eh?” he said heartily. “Splendid. Wonderful. Looks delicious, Fiona. Er, thanks, Fiona. I, um, don’t think we need anything else.”

Ignoring the broad hint to depart, Fiona nodded graciously at the compliments from the guests, laid out the doilies and cups with deft economy of motion, poured the tea, passed round the first plate of cake, and seemed prepared to stay indefinitely, presiding as lady of the house.

“Have some cream on your scones, Rog—I mean, Mr. Wakefield,” she suggested, ladling it on without waiting for his reply. “You’re much too thin; you want feeding up.” She glanced conspiratorially at Brianna Randall, saying, “You know what men are; never eat properly without a woman to look after them.”

“How lucky that he’s got you to take care of him,” Brianna answered politely.

Roger took a deep breath, and flexed his fingers several times, until the urge to strangle Fiona had passed.

“Fiona,” he said. “Would you, um, could you possibly do me a small favor?”

She lit up like a small jack-o’-lantern, mouth stretched in an eager grin at the thought of doing something for him. “Of course, Rog—Mr. Wakefield! Anything at all!”

Roger felt vaguely ashamed of himself, but after all, he argued, it was for her good as much as his. If she didn’t leave, he was shortly going to cease being responsible and commit some act they would both regret.

“Oh, thanks, Fiona. It’s nothing much; only that I’d ordered some…some”—he thought frantically, trying to remember the name of one of the village merchants—“some tobacco, from Mr. Buchan in the High Street. I wonder if you’d be willing to go and fetch it for me; I could just do with a good pipe after such a wonderful tea.”

Fiona was already untying her apron—the frilly, lace-trimmed one, Roger noted grimly. He closed his eyes briefly in relief as the study door shut behind her, dismissing for the moment the fact that he didn’t smoke. With a sigh of relief, he turned to conversation with his guests.

“You were asking whether I wanted you to look for the rest of the names on my list,” Claire said, almost at once. Roger had the odd impression that she shared his relief at Fiona’s departure. “Yes, I do—if it wouldn’t be too much trouble?”

“No, no! Not at all,” Roger said, with only slight mendacity. “Glad to do it.”

Roger’s hand hovered uncertainly amid the largesse of the tea cart, then snaked down to grasp the crystal decanter of twelve-year-old Muir Breame whisky. After the skirmish with Fiona, he felt he owed it to himself.

“Will you have a bit of this?” he asked his guests politely. Catching the look of distaste on Brianna’s face, he quickly added, “Or maybe some tea?”

“Tea,” Brianna said with relief.

“You don’t know what you’re missing,” Claire told her daughter, inhaling the whisky fumes with rapture.

“Oh yes I do,” Brianna replied. “That’s why I’m missing it.” She shrugged and quirked an eyebrow at Roger.

“You have to be twenty-one before you can drink legally in Massachusetts,” Claire explained to Roger. “Bree has another eight months to go, so she really isn’t used to whisky.”

“You act as though not liking whisky was a crime,” Brianna protested, smiling at Roger above her teacup.

He raised his own brows in response. “My dear woman,” he said severely. “This is Scotland. Of course not liking whisky is a crime!”

“Oh, aye?” said Brianna sweetly, in a perfect imitation of his own slight Scots burr. “Well, we’ll hope it’s no a capital offense like murrderrr, shall we?”

Taken by surprise, he swallowed a laugh with his whisky and choked. Coughing and pounding himself on the chest, he glanced at Claire to share the joke. A forced smile hung on her lips, but her face had gone quite pale. Then she blinked, the smile came back more naturally, and the moment passed.

Roger was surprised at how easily conversation flowed among them—both about trivialities, and about Claire’s project. Brianna clearly had been interested in her father’s work, and knew a great deal more about the Jacobites than did her mother.

“It’s amazing they ever made it as far as Culloden,” she said. “Did you know the Highlanders won the battle of Prestonpans with barely two thousand men? Against an English army of eight thousand? Incredible!”

“Well, and the Battle of Falkirk was nearly that way as well,” Roger chimed in. “Outnumbered, outarmed, marching on foot…they should never have been able to do what they did…but they did!”

“Um-hm,” said Claire, taking a deep gulp of her whisky. “They did!”

“I was thinking,” Roger said to Brianna, with an assumed air of casualness. “Perhaps you’d like to come with me to some of the places—the battle sites and other places? They’re interesting, and I’m sure you’d be a tremendous help with the research.”

Brianna laughed and smoothed back her hair, which had a tendency to drop into her tea. “I don’t know about the help, but I’d love to come.”

“Terrific!” Surprised and elated with her agreement, he fumbled for the decanter and nearly dropped it. Claire fielded it neatly, and filled his glass with precision.

“The least I can do, after spilling it the last time,” she said, smiling in answer to his thanks.

Seeing her now, poised and relaxed, Roger was inclined to doubt his earlier suspicions. Maybe it had been an accident after all? That lovely cool face told him nothing.

A half-hour later, the tea table lay in shambles, the decanter stood empty, and the three of them sat in a shared stupor of content. Brianna shifted once or twice, glanced at Roger, and finally asked if she might use his “rest room.”

“Oh, the W.C.? Of course.” He heaved himself to his feet, ponderous with Dundee cake and almond sponge. If he didn’t get away from Fiona soon, he’d weigh three hundred pounds before he got back to Oxford.

“It’s one of the old-fashioned kind,” he explained, pointing down the hall in the direction of the bathroom. “With a tank on the ceiling and a pull-chain.”

“I saw some of those in the British Museum,” Brianna said, nodding. “Only they weren’t in with the exhibits, they were in the ladies’ room.” She hesitated, then asked, “You haven’t got the same sort of toilet paper they have in the British Museum, do you? Because if you do, I’ve got some Kleenex in my purse.”

Roger closed one eye and looked at her with the other. “Either that’s a very odd non sequitur,” he said, “or I’ve drunk a good deal more than I thought.” In fact, he and Claire had accounted very satisfactorily for the Muir Breame, though Brianna had confined herself to tea.

Claire laughed, overhearing the exchange, and got up to hand Brianna several folded facial tissues from her own bag. “It won’t be waxed paper stamped with ‘Property of H.M. Government,’ like the Museum’s, but it likely won’t be much better,” she told her daughter. “British toilet paper is commonly rather a stiff article.”

“Thanks.” Brianna took the tissues and turned to the door, but then turned back. “Why on earth would people deliberately make toilet paper that feels like tinfoil?” she demanded.

“Hearts of oak are our men,” Roger intoned, “stainless steel are their bums. It builds the national character.”

“In the case of Scots, I expect it’s hereditary nerve-deadening,” Claire added. “The sort of men who could ride horse-back wearing a kilt have bottoms like saddle leather.”

Brianna fizzed with laughter. “I’d hate to see what they used for toilet paper then,” she said.

“Actually, it wasn’t bad,” Claire said, surprisingly. “Mullein leaves are really very nice; quite as good as two-ply bathroom tissue. And in the winter or indoors, it was usually a bit of damp rag; not very sanitary, but comfortable enough.”

Roger and Brianna both gawked at her for a moment.

“Er…read it in a book,” she said, and blushed amazingly.

As Brianna, still giggling, made her way off in search of the facilities, Claire remained standing by the door.

“It was awfully nice of you to entertain us so grandly,” she said, smiling at Roger. The momentary discomposure had vanished, replaced by her usual poise. “And remarkably kind of you to have found out about those names for me.”

“My pleasure entirely,” Roger assured her. “It’s made a nice change from cobwebs and mothballs. I’ll let you know as soon as I’ve found out anything else about your Jacobites.”

“Thank you.” Claire hesitated, glanced over her shoulder, and lowered her voice. “Actually, since Bree’s gone for the moment…there’s something I wanted to ask you, in private.”

Roger cleared his throat and straightened the tie he had donned in honor of the occasion.

“Ask away,” he said, feeling cheerfully expansive with the success of the tea party. “I’m completely at your service.”

“You were asking Bree if she’d go with you to do field research. I wanted to ask you…there’s a place I’d rather you didn’t take her, if you don’t mind.”

Alarm bells went off at once in Roger’s head. Was he going to find out what the secret was about Broch Tuarach?

“The circle of standing stones—they call it Craigh na Dun.” Claire’s face was earnest as she leaned slightly closer. “There’s an important reason, or I wouldn’t ask. I want to take Brianna to the circle myself, but I’m afraid I can’t tell you why, just now. I will, in time, but not quite yet. Will you promise me?”

Thoughts were chasing themselves through Roger’s mind. So it hadn’t been Broch Tuarach she wanted to keep the girl away from, after all! One mystery was explained, only to deepen another.

“If you like,” he said at last. “Of course.”

“Thank you.” She touched his arm once, lightly, and turned to go. Seeing her silhouetted against the light, he was suddenly reminded of something. Perhaps it wasn’t the moment to ask, but it couldn’t do any harm.

“Oh, Dr. Randall—Claire?”

Claire turned back to face him. With the distractions of Brianna removed, he could see that Claire Randall was a very beautiful woman in her own right. Her face was flushed from the whisky, and her eyes were the most unusual light golden-brown color, he thought—like amber in crystal.

“In all the records that I found dealing with these men,” Roger said, choosing his words carefully, “there was a mention of a Captain James Fraser, who seems to have been their leader. But he wasn’t on your list. I only wondered; did you know about him?”

She stood stock-still for a moment, reminding him of the way she had behaved upon her arrival that afternoon. But after a moment, she shook herself slightly, and answered with apparent equanimity.

“Yes, I knew about him.” She spoke calmly, but all the color had left her face, and Roger could see a small pulse beating rapidly at the base of her throat.

“I didn’t put him on the list because I already knew what happened to him. Jamie Fraser died at Culloden.”

“Are you sure?”

As though anxious to leave, Claire scooped up her handbag, and glanced down the hall toward the bathroom, where the rattling of the ancient knob indicated Brianna’s attempts to get out.

“Yes,” she said, not looking back. “I’m quite sure. Oh, Mr. Wakefield…Roger, I mean.” She swung back now, fixing those oddly colored eyes on him. In this light, they looked almost yellow, he thought; the eyes of a big cat, a leopard’s eyes.

“Please,” she said, “don’t mention Jamie Fraser to my daughter.”



* * *



It was late, and he should have been abed long since, but Roger found himself unable to sleep. Whether from the aggravations of Fiona, the puzzling contradictions of Claire Randall, or from exaltation over the prospect of doing field research with Brianna Randall, he was wide-awake, and likely to remain so. Rather than toss, turn, or count sheep, he resolved to put his wakefulness to good use. A rummage through the Reverend’s papers would probably put him to sleep in no time.

Fiona’s light down the hall was still on, but he tiptoed down the stair, not to disturb her. Then, snapping on the study light, he stood for a moment, contemplating the magnitude of the task before him.

The wall exemplified the Reverend Wakefield’s mind. Completely covering one side of the study, it was an expanse of corkboard measuring nearly twenty feet by twelve. Virtually none of the original cork was visible under the layers upon layers of papers, notes, photographs, mimeographed sheets, bills, receipts, bird feathers, torn-off corners of envelopes containing interesting postage stamps, address labels, key rings, postcards, rubber bands, and other impedimenta, all tacked up or attached by bits of string.

The trivia lay twelve layers deep in spots, yet the Reverend had always been able to set his hand unerringly on the bit he wanted. Roger thought that the wall must have been organized according to some underlying principle so subtle that not even American NASA scientists could discern it.

Roger viewed the wall dubiously. There was no logical point at which to start. He reached tentatively for a mimeographed list of General Assembly meeting dates sent out by the bishop’s office, but was distracted by the sight underneath of a crayoned dragon, complete with artistic puffs of smoke from the flaring nostrils, and green flames shooting from the gaping mouth.

ROGER was written in large, straggling capitals at the bottom of the sheet. He vaguely remembered explaining that the dragon breathed green fire because it ate nothing but spinach. He let the General Assembly list fall back into place, and turned away from the wall. He could tackle that lot later.

The desk, an enormous oak rolltop with at least forty stuffed-to-bursting pigeonholes, seemed like pie by comparison. With a sigh, Roger pulled up the battered office chair and sat down to make sense of all the documents the Reverend thought worth keeping.

One stack of bills yet to be paid. Another of official-looking documents: automobile titles, surveyor’s reports, building-inspection certificates. Another for historical notes and records. Another for family keepsakes. Another—by far the largest—for rubbish.

Deep in his task, he didn’t hear the door open behind him, or the approaching footsteps. Suddenly a large teapot appeared on the desk next to him.

“Eh?” He straightened up, blinking.

“Thought you might do with some tea, Mr. Wake—I mean, Roger.” Fiona set down a small tray containing a cup and saucer and a plate of biscuits.

“Oh, thanks.” He was in fact hungry, and gave Fiona a friendly smile that sent the blood rushing into her round, fair cheeks. Seemingly encouraged by this, she didn’t go away, but perched on the corner of the desk, watching him raptly as he went about his job between bites of chocolate biscuit.

Feeling obscurely that he ought to acknowledge her presence in some way, Roger held up a half-eaten biscuit and mumbled, “Good.”

“Are they? I made them, ye know.” Fiona’s flush grew deeper. An attractive little girl, Fiona. Small, rounded, with dark curly hair and wide brown eyes. He found himself wondering suddenly whether Brianna Randall could cook, and shook his head to clear the image.

Apparently taking this as a gesture of disbelief, Fiona leaned closer. “No, really,” she insisted. “A recipe of my gran’s, it is. She always said they were a favorite of the Reverend’s.” The wide brown eyes grew a trifle misty. “She left me all her cookbooks and things. Me being the only granddaughter, ye see.”

“I was sorry about your grandmother,” Roger said sincerely. “Quick, was it?”

Fiona nodded mournfully. “Oh, aye. Right as rain all day, then she said after supper as she felt a bit tired, and went up to her bed.” The girl lifted her shoulders and let them fall. “She went to sleep, and never woke up.”

“A good way to go,” Roger said. “I’m glad of it.” Mrs. Graham had been a fixture in the manse since before Roger himself had come, a frightened, newly orphaned five-year-old. Middle-aged even then, and widowed with grown children, still she had provided an abundant supply of firm, no-nonsense maternal affection during school holidays when Roger came home to the manse. She and the Reverend made an odd pair, and yet between them they had made the old house definitely a home.

Moved by his memories, Roger reached out and squeezed Fiona’s hand. She squeezed back, brown eyes suddenly melting. The small rosebud mouth parted slightly, and she leaned toward Roger, her breath warm on his ear.

“Uh, thank you,” Roger blurted. He pulled his hand out of her grasp as though scorched. “Thanks very much. For the…the…er, tea and things. Good. It was good. Very good. Thanks.” He turned and reached hastily for another stack of papers to cover his confusion, snatching a rolled bundle of newspaper clippings from a pigeonhole chosen at random.

He unrolled the yellowed clippings and spread them on the desk, holding them down between his palms. Frowning in apparent deep concentration, he bent his head lower over the smudged text. After a moment Fiona rose with a deep sigh, and her footsteps receded toward the door. Roger didn’t look up.

Letting out a deep sigh of his own, he closed his eyes briefly and offered a quick prayer of thanks for the narrow escape. Yes, Fiona was attractive. Yes, she was undoubtedly a fine cook. She was also nosy, interfering, irritating, and firmly bent on marriage. Lay one hand on that rosy flesh again, and they’d be calling the banns by next month. But if there was any bann-calling to be done, the name linked with Roger Wakefield in the parish register was going to be Brianna Randall’s, if Roger had anything to say about it.

Wondering just how much he would have to say about it, Roger opened his eyes and then blinked. For there in front of him was the name he had been envisioning on a wedding license—Randall.

Not, of course, Brianna Randall. Claire Randall. The headline read RETURNED FROM THE DEAD. Beneath was a picture of Claire Randall, twenty years younger, but looking little different than she did now, bar the expression on her face. She had been photographed sitting bolt upright in a hospital bed, hair tousled and flying like banners, delicate mouth set like a steel trap, and those extraordinary eyes glaring straight into the camera.

With a sense of shock, Roger thumbed rapidly through the bundle of clippings, then returned to read them more carefully. Though the papers had made as much sensation as possible of the story, the facts were sparse.

Claire Randall, wife of the noted historian Dr. Franklin W. Randall, had disappeared during a Scottish holiday in Inverness, late in the spring of 1946. A car she had been driving had been found, but the woman herself was gone without trace. All searches having proved futile, the police and bereaved husband had at length concluded that Claire Randall must have been murdered, perhaps by a roving tramp, and her body concealed somewhere in the rocky crags of the area.

And in 1948, nearly three years later, Claire Randall had returned. She had been found, disheveled and dressed in rags, wandering near the spot at which she had disappeared. While appearing to be in good physical health, though slightly malnourished, Mrs. Randall was disoriented and incoherent.

Raising his eyebrows slightly at the thought of Claire Randall ever being incoherent, Roger thumbed through the rest of the clippings. They contained little more than the information that Mrs. Randall was being treated for exposure and shock at a local hospital. There were photographs of the presumably overjoyed husband, Frank Randall. He looked stunned rather than overjoyed, Roger thought critically, not that one could blame him.

He examined the pictures curiously. Frank Randall had been a slender, handsome, aristocratic-looking man. Dark, with a rakish grace that showed in the angle of his body as he stood poised in the door of the hospital, surprised by the photographer on his way to visit his newly restored wife.

He traced the line of the long, narrow jaw, and the curve of the head, and realized that he was searching for traces of Brianna in her father. Intrigued by the thought, he rose and fetched one of Frank Randall’s books from the shelves. Turning to the back jacket, he found a better picture. The jacket photograph showed Frank Randall in color, in full-face view. No, the hair was definitely dark brown, not red. That blazing glory must have come from a grandparent, along with the deep blue eyes, slanted as a cat’s. Beautiful they were, but nothing like her mother’s. And not like her father’s either. Try as he might, he could see nothing of the flaming goddess in the face of the famous historian.

With a sigh, he closed the book and gathered up the clippings. He really must stop this mooning about and get on with the job, or he’d be sitting here for the next twelvemonth.

He was about to put the clippings into the keepsake pile, when one, headlined KIDNAPPED BY THE FAIRIES?, caught his eye. Or rather, not the clipping, but the date that appeared just above the headline. May 6, 1948.

He set the clipping down gently, as though it were a bomb that might go off in his hand. He closed his eyes and tried to summon up that first conversation with the Randalls. “You have to be twenty-one to drink in Massachusetts,” Claire had said. “Brianna still has eight months to go.” Twenty, then. Brianna Randall was twenty.

Unable to count backward fast enough, he rose and scrabbled through the perpetual calendar that the vicar had kept, in a clear space to itself on his cluttered wall. He found the date and stood with his finger pressed to the paper, blood draining from his face.

Claire Randall had returned from her mysterious disappearance disheveled, malnourished, incoherent—and pregnant.



* * *



In the fullness of time, Roger slept at last, but in consequence of his wakefulness, woke late and heavy-eyed, with an incipient headache, which neither a cold shower nor Fiona’s chirpiness over breakfast did much to dispel.

The feeling was so oppressive that he abandoned his work and left the house for a walk. Striding through a light rain, he found the fresh air improved his headache, but unfortunately cleared his mind enough to start thinking again about the implications of last night’s discovery.

Brianna didn’t know. That was clear enough, from the way she spoke about her late father—or about the man she thought was her father, Frank Randall. And presumably Claire didn’t mean her to know, or she would have told the girl herself. Unless this Scottish trip were meant to be a prelude to such a confession? The real father must have been a Scot; after all, Claire had disappeared—and reappeared—in Scotland. Was he still here?

That was a staggering thought. Had Claire brought her daughter to Scotland in order to introduce her to her real father? Roger shook his head doubtfully. Bloody risky, a thing like that. Bound to be confusing to Brianna, and painful as hell to Claire herself. Scare the shoes and socks off the father, too. And the girl plainly was devoted to Frank Randall. What was she going to feel like, realizing that the man she’d loved and idolized all her life in fact had no blood ties to her at all?

Roger felt bad for all concerned, including himself. He hadn’t asked to have any part of this, and wished himself in the same state of blissful ignorance as yesterday. He liked Claire Randall, liked her very much, and he found the thought of her committing adultery distasteful. At the same time, he jeered at himself for his old-fashioned sentimentality. Who knew what her life with Frank Randall had been like? Perhaps she’d had good reason for going off with another man. But then why had she come back?

Sweating and moody, Roger wandered back to the house. He shed his jacket in the hallway and went up to have a bath. Sometimes bathing helped to soothe him, and he felt much in need of soothing.

He ran a hand along the row of hangers in his closet, groping for the fuzzy shoulder of his worn white toweling robe. Then, pausing for a moment, he reached instead far to the back of the closet, sweeping the hangers along the rod until he could grasp the one he wanted.

He viewed the shabby old dressing gown with affection. The yellow silk of the background had faded to ochre, but the multicolored peacocks were bold as ever, spreading their tails with lordly insouciance, regarding the viewer with eyes like black beads. He brought the soft fabric to his nose and inhaled deeply, closing his eyes. The faint whiff of Borkum Riff and spilled whisky brought back the Reverend Wakefield as not even his father’s wall of trivia could do.

Many were the times he had smelled just that comforting aroma, with its upper note of Old Spice cologne, his face pressed against the smooth slickness of this silk, the Reverend’s chubby arms wrapped protectively around him, promising him refuge. He had given the old man’s other clothes to Oxfam, but somehow he couldn’t bear to part with this.

On impulse, he slipped the robe over his bare shoulders, mildly surprised at the light warmth of it, like the caress of fingers across his skin. He shifted his shoulders pleasurably under the silk, then wrapped it closely about his body, tying the belt in a careless knot.

Keeping a wary eye out in case of raids by Fiona, he made his way along the upper hall to the bathroom. The hot-water geyser stood against the head of the bath like the guardian of a sacred spring, squat and eternal. Another of his youthful memories was the weekly terror of trying to light the geyser with a flint striker in order to heat the water for his bath, the gas escaping past his head with a menacing hiss as his hands, sweaty with the fear of explosion and imminent death, slipped ineffectively on the metal of the striker.

Long since rendered automatic by an operation on its mysterious innards, the geyser now gurgled quietly to itself, the gas ring at its base rumbling and whooshing with unseen flame beneath the metal shield. Roger twisted the cracked “Hot” tap as far as it would go, added a half-turn of the “Cold,” then stood to study himself in the mirror while waiting for his bath to fill.

Nothing much wrong with him, he reflected, sucking in his stomach and pulling himself upright before the full-length reflection on the back of the door. Firm. Trim. Long-legged, but not spindle-shanked. Possibly a bit scrawny through the shoulders? He frowned critically, twisting his lean body back and forth.

He ran a hand through his thick black hair, until it stood on end like a shaving brush, trying to envision himself with a beard and long hair, like some of his students. Would he look dashing, or merely moth-eaten? Possibly an earring, while he was about it. He might look piratical then, like Edward Teach or Henry Morgan. He drew his brows together and bared his teeth.

“Grrrrr,” he said to his reflection.

“Mr. Wakefield?” said the reflection.

Roger leaped back, startled, and stubbed his toe painfully against the protruding claw-foot of the ancient bath.

“Ow!”

“Are you all right, Mr. Wakefield?” the mirror said. The porcelain doorknob rattled.

“Of course I am!” he snapped testily, glaring at the door. “Go away, Fiona, I’m bathing!”

There was a giggle from the other side of the door.

“Ooh, twice in one day. Aren’t we the dandy, though? Do you want some of the bay-rum soap? It’s in the cupboard there, if you do.”

“No, I don’t,” he snarled. The water level had risen midway in the tub, and he cut off the taps. The sudden silence was soothing, and he drew a deep breath of steam into his lungs. Wincing slightly at the heat, he stepped into the water and lowered himself gingerly, feeling a light sweat break out on his face as the heat rushed up his body.

“Mr. Wakefield?” The voice was back, chirping on the other side of the door like a hectoring robin.

“Go away, Fiona,” he gritted, easing himself back in the tub. The steaming water rose around him, comforting as a lover’s arms. “I have everything I want.”

“No, you haven’t,” said the voice.

“Yes, I have.” His eye swept the impressive lineup of bottles, jars, and implements arrayed on the shelf above the tub. “Shampoo, three kinds. Hair conditioner. Shaving cream. Razor. Body soap. Facial soap. After-shave. Cologne. Deodorant stick. I don’t lack a thing, Fiona.”

“What about towels?” said the voice, sweetly.

After a wild glance about the completely towel-less confines of the bathroom, Roger closed his eyes, clenched his teeth and counted slowly to ten. This proving insufficient, he made it twenty. Then, feeling himself able to answer without foaming at the mouth, he said calmly.

“All right, Fiona. Set them outside the door, please. And then, please…please, Fiona.…go.”

A rustle outside was succeeded by the sound of reluctantly receding footsteps, and Roger, with a sigh of relief, gave himself up to the joys of privacy. Peace. Quiet. No Fiona.

Now, able to think more objectively about his upsetting discovery, he found himself more than curious about Brianna’s mysterious real father. Judging from the daughter, the man must have had a rare degree of physical attractiveness; would that alone have been sufficient to lure a woman like Claire Randall?

He had wondered already whether Brianna’s father might have been a Scot. Did he live—or had he lived—in Inverness? He supposed such proximity might account for Claire’s nervousness, and the air she had of keeping secrets. But did it account for the puzzling requests she had made of him? She didn’t want him to take Brianna to Craigh na Dun, nor to mention the captain of the Broch Tuarach men to her daughter. Why on earth not?

A sudden thought made him sit upright in the tub, water sloshing heedlessly against the cast-iron sides. What if it were not the eighteenth-century Jacobite soldier she was concerned about, but only his name? What if the man who had fathered her daughter in 1947 was also named James Fraser? It was a common enough name in the Highlands.

Yes, he thought, that might very well explain it. As for Claire’s desire to show her daughter the stone circle herself, perhaps that was also connected with the mystery of her father; maybe that’s where she’d met the man, or perhaps that’s where Brianna had been conceived. Roger was well aware that the stone circle was commonly used as a trysting spot; he’d taken girls there himself in high school, relying on the circle’s air of pagan mystery to loosen their reserve. It always worked.

He had a sudden startling vision of Claire Randall’s fine white limbs, locked in wild abandon with the naked, straining body of a red-haired man, the two bodies slick with rain and stained with crushed grass, twisting in ecstasy among the standing stones. The vision was so shocking in its specificity that it left him trembling, sweat running down his chest to vanish into the steaming water of the bath.

Christ! How was he going to meet Claire Randall’s eyes, next time they met? What was he going to say to Brianna, for that matter? “Read any good books lately?” “Seen any good flicks?” “D’you know you’re illegitimate?”

He shook his head, trying to clear it. The truth was that he didn’t know what to do next. It was a messy situation. He wanted no part in it, and yet he did. He liked Claire Randall; he liked Brianna Randall, too—much more than liked her, truth be told. He wanted to protect her, and save her whatever pain he could. And yet there seemed no way to do that. All he could do was keep his mouth shut until Claire Randall did whatever it was she planned to do. And then be there to pick up the pieces.





3

MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS

I wondered just how many tiny tea shops there were in Inverness. The High Street is lined on both sides with small cafes and tourist shops, as far as the eye can see. Once Queen Victoria had made the Highlands safe for travelers by giving her Royal approval of the place, tourists had flocked north in ever-increasing numbers. The Scots, unaccustomed to receiving anything from the South but armed invasions and political interference, had risen to the challenge magnificently.

You couldn’t walk more than a few feet on the main street of any Highland town without encountering a shop selling shortbread, Edinburgh rock, handkerchiefs embroidered with thistles, toy bagpipes, clan badges of cast aluminum, letter-openers shaped like claymores, coin purses shaped like sporrans (some with an anatomically correct “Scotchman” attached underneath), and an eye-jangling assortment of spurious clan tartans, adorning every conceivable object made of fabric, from caps, neckties, and serviettes down to a particularly horrid yellow “Buchanan” sett used to make men’s nylon Y-front underpants.

Looking over an assortment of tea towels stenciled with a wildly inaccurate depiction of the Loch Ness monster singing “Auld Lang Syne,” I thought Victoria had a lot to answer for.

Brianna was wandering slowly down the narrow aisle of the shop, head tilted back as she stared in amazement at the assortment of merchandise hanging from the rafters.

“Do you think those are real?” she said, pointing upward at a set of mounted stag’s antlers, poking their tines inquisitively through an absolute forest of bagpipe drones.

“The antlers? Oh, yes. I don’t imagine plastics technology’s got quite that good, yet,” I replied. “Besides, look at the price. Anything over one hundred pounds is very likely real.”

Brianna’s eyes widened, and she lowered her head.

“Jeez. I think I’ll get Jane a skirt-length of tartan instead.”

“Good-quality wool tartan won’t cost a lot less,” I said dryly, “but it will be a lot easier to get home on the plane. Let’s go across to the Kiltmaker store, then; they’ll have the best quality.”

It had begun to rain—of course—and we tucked our paper-wrapped parcels underneath the raincoats I had prudently insisted we wear. Brianna snorted with sudden amusement.

“You get so used to calling these things ‘macs,’ you forget what they’re really called. I’m not surprised it was a Scot that invented them,” she added, looking up at the water sheeting down from the edge of the canopy overhead. “Does it rain all the time here?”

“Pretty much,” I said, peering up and down through the downpour for oncoming traffic. “Though I’ve always supposed Mr. Macintosh was rather a lily-livered sort; most Scots I’ve known were relatively impervious to rain.” I bit my lip suddenly, but Brianna hadn’t noticed the slip, minor as it was; she was eyeing the ankle-deep freshet running down the gutter.

“Tell you what, Mama, maybe we’d better go up to the crossing. We aren’t going to make it jaywalking here.”

Nodding assent, I followed her up the street, heart pounding with adrenaline under the clammy cover of my mac. When are you going to get it over with? my mind demanded. You can’t keep watching your words and swallowing half the things you start to say. Why not just tell her?

Not yet, I thought to myself. I’m not a coward—or if I am, it doesn’t matter. But it isn’t quite time yet. I wanted her to see Scotland first. Not this lot—as we passed a shop offering a display of tartan baby booties—but the countryside. And Culloden. Most of all, I want to be able to tell her the end of the story. And for that, I need Roger Wakefield.

As though my thought had summoned it into being, the bright orange top of a battered Morris caught my eye in the parking lot to the left, glowing like a traffic beacon in the foggy wet.

Brianna had seen it too—there couldn’t be many cars in Inverness of that specific color and disreputability—and pointed at it, saying, “Look, Mama, isn’t that Roger Wakefield’s car?”

“Yes, I think so,” I said. There was a cafe on the right, from which the scent of fresh scones, stale toast, and coffee drifted to mingle with the fresh, rainy air. I grabbed Brianna’s arm and pulled her into the cafe.

“I think I’m hungry after all,” I explained. “Let’s have some cocoa and biscuits.”

Still child enough to be tempted by chocolate, and young enough to be willing to eat at any time, Bree offered no argument, but sat down at once and picked up the tea-stained sheet of green paper that served as the daily menu.

I didn’t particularly want cocoa, but I did want a moment or two to think. There was a large sign on the concrete wall of the parking lot across the street, reading PARKING FOR SCOTRAIL ONLY, followed by various lowercase threats as to what would happen to the vehicles of people who parked there without being train riders. Unless Roger knew something about the forces of law and order in Inverness that I didn’t know, chances were that he had taken a train. Granted that he could have gone anywhere, either Edinburgh or London seemed most likely. He was taking this research project seriously, dear lad.

We had come up on the train from Edinburgh ourselves. I tried to remember what the schedule was like, with no particular success.

“I wonder if Roger will be back on the evening train?” Bree said, echoing my thoughts with an uncanniness that made me choke on my cocoa. The fact that she wondered about Roger’s reappearance made me wonder just how much notice she had taken of young Mr. Wakefield.

A fair amount, apparently.

“I was thinking,” she said casually, “maybe we should get something for Roger Wakefield while we’re out—like a thank-you for that project he’s doing for you?”

“Good idea,” I said, amused. “What do you think he’d like?”

She frowned into her cocoa as though looking for inspiration. “I don’t know. Something nice; it looks like that project could be a lot of work.” She glanced up at me suddenly, brows raised.

“Why did you ask him?” she said. “If you wanted to trace people from the eighteenth century, there’re companies that do that. Genealogies and like that, I mean. Daddy always used Scot-Search, if he had to figure out a genealogy and didn’t have time to do it himself.”

“Yes, I know,” I said, and took a deep breath. We were on shaky ground here. “This project—it was something special to…to your father. He would have wanted Roger Wakefield to do it.”

“Oh.” She was silent for a while, watching the rain spatter and pearl on the cafe window.

“Do you miss Daddy?” she asked suddenly, nose buried in her cup, lashes lowered to avoid looking at me.

“Yes,” I said. I ran a forefinger up the edge of my own untouched cup, wiping off a drip of spilled cocoa. “We didn’t always get on, you know that, but…yes. We respected each other; that counts for a lot. And we liked each other, in spite of everything. Yes, I do miss him.”

She nodded, wordless, and put her hand over mine with a little squeeze. I curled my fingers around hers, long and warm, and we sat linked for a little while, sipping cocoa in silence.

“You know,” I said at last, pushing back my chair with a squeak of metal on linoleum, “I’d forgotten something. I need to post a letter to the hospital. I’d meant to do it on the way into town, but I forgot. If I hurry, I think I can just catch the outgoing post. Why don’t you go to the Kiltmaker’s—it’s just down the street, on the other side—and I’ll join you there after I’ve been to the post office?”

Bree looked surprised, but nodded readily enough.

“Oh. Okay. Isn’t the post office a long way, though? You’ll get soaked.”

“That’s all right. I’ll take a cab.” I left a pound note on the table to pay for the meal, and shrugged back into my raincoat.

In most cities, the usual response of taxicabs to rain is to disappear, as though they were soluble. In Inverness, though, such behavior would render the species rapidly extinct. I’d walked less than a block before finding two squatty black cabs lurking outside a hotel, and I slid into the warm, tobacco-scented interior with a cozy feeling of familiarity. Besides the greater leg room and comfort, British cabs smelled different than American ones; one of those tiny things I had never realized I’d missed during the last twenty years.

“Number sixty-four? Tha’s the auld manse, aye?” In spite of the efficiency of the cab’s heater, the driver was muffled to the ears in a scarf and thick jacket, with a flat cap guarding the top of his head from errant drafts. Modern Scots had gone a bit soft, I reflected; a long way from the days when sturdy Highlanders had slept in the heather in nothing but shirt and plaid. On the other hand, I wasn’t all that eager to go sleep in the heather in a wet plaid, either. I nodded to the driver, and we set off in a splash.

I felt a bit subversive, sneaking round to interview Roger’s housekeeper while he was out, and fooling Bree into the bargain. On the other hand, it would be difficult to explain to either of them just what I was doing. I hadn’t yet determined exactly how or when I would tell them what I had to say, but I knew it wasn’t time yet.

My fingers probed the inner pocket of my mac, reassured by the scrunch of the envelope from Scot-Search. While I hadn’t paid a great deal of attention to Frank’s work, I did know about the firm, which maintained a staff of half a dozen professional researchers specializing in Scottish genealogy; not the sort of place that gave you a family tree showing your relationship to Robert the Bruce and had done with it.

They’d done their usual thorough, discreet job on Roger Wakefield. I knew who his parents and grandparents had been, back some seven or eight generations. What I didn’t know was what he might be made of. Time would tell me that.

I paid off the cab and splashed up the flooded path to the steps of the old minister’s house. It was dry on the porch, and I had a chance to shake off the worst of the wet before the door was opened to my ring.

Fiona beamed in welcome; she had the sort of round, cheerful face whose natural expression was a smile. She was attired in jeans and a frilly apron, and the scent of lemon polish and fresh baking wafted from its folds like incense.

“Why, Mrs. Randall!” she exclaimed. “Can I be helpin’ ye at all, then?”

“I think perhaps you might, Fiona,” I said. “I wanted to talk to you about your grandmother.”



* * *



“Are you sure you’re all right, Mama? I could call Roger and ask him to go tomorrow, if you’d like me to stay with you.” Brianna hovered in the doorway of the guesthouse bedroom, an anxious frown creasing her brow. She was dressed for walking, in boots, jeans, and sweater, but she’d added the brilliant orange and blue silk scarf Frank had brought her from Paris, just before his death two years before.

“Just the color of your eyes, little beauty,” he’d said, smiling as he draped the scarf around her shoulders, “—orange.” It was a joke between them now, the “little beauty,” as Bree had topped Frank’s modest five feet ten since she was fifteen. It was what he’d called her since babyhood, though, and the tenderness of the old name lingered as he reached up to touch the tip of her nose.

The scarf—the blue part—was in fact the color of her eyes; of Scottish lochs and summer skies, and the misty blue of distant mountains. I knew she treasured it, and revised my assessment of her interest in Roger Wakefield upward by several notches.

“No, I’ll be fine,” I assured her. I gestured toward the bedside table, adorned with a small teapot, carefully keeping warm under a knitted cozy, and a silver-plated toast rack, just as carefully keeping the toast nice and cold. “Mrs. Thomas brought me tea and toast; perhaps I’ll be able to nibble a little later on.” I hoped she couldn’t hear the rumbling of my empty stomach under the bedclothes, registering appalled disbelief at this prospect.

“Well, all right.” She turned reluctantly to the door. “We’ll come right back after Culloden, though.”

“Don’t hurry on my account,” I called after her.

I waited until I heard the sound of the door closing below, and was sure she was on her way. Only then did I reach into the drawer of the bedtable for the large Hershey bar with almonds that I had hidden there the night before.

Cordial relations with my stomach reestablished, I lay back against the pillow, idly watching the gray haze thicken in the sky outside. The tip of a budding lime branch flicked intermittently against the window; the wind was rising. It was warm enough in the bedroom, with the central-heating vent roaring away at the foot of the bed, but I shivered nonetheless. It would be cold on Culloden Field.

Not, perhaps, as cold as it had been in the April of 1746, when Bonnie Prince Charlie led his men onto that field, to stand in the face of freezing sleet and the roar of English cannon fire. Accounts of the day reported that it was bitterly cold, and the Highland wounded had lain heaped with the dead, soaked in blood and rain, awaiting the mercies of their English victors. The Duke of Cumberland, in command of the English army, had given no quarter to the fallen.

The dead were heaped up like cordwood and burned to prevent the spread of disease, and history said that many of the wounded had gone to a similar fate, without the grace of a final bullet. All of them lay now beyond the reach of war or weather, under the greensward of Culloden Field.

I had seen the place once, nearly thirty years before, when Frank had taken me there on our honeymoon. Now Frank was dead, too, and I had brought my daughter back to Scotland. I wanted Brianna to see Culloden, but no power on earth would make me set foot again on that deadly moor.

I supposed I had better stay in bed, to maintain credence in the sudden indisposition that had prevented me accompanying Brianna and Roger on their expedition; Mrs. Thomas might blab if I got up and put in an order for lunch. I peeked into the drawer; three more candy bars and a mystery novel. With luck, those would get me through the day.

The novel was good enough, but the rush of the rising wind outside was hypnotic, and the embrace of the warm bed welcoming. I dropped peacefully into sleep, to dream of kilted Highland men, and the sound of soft-spoken Scots, burring round a fire like the sound of bees in the heather.





4

CULLODEN

What a mean little piggy face!” Brianna stooped to peer fascinated at the red-coated mannequin that stood menacingly to one side of the foyer in the Culloden Visitors Centre. He stood a few inches over five feet, powdered wig thrust belligerently forward over a low brow and pendulous, pink-tinged cheeks.

“Well, he was a fat little fellow,” Roger agreed, amused. “Hell of a general, though, at least as compared to his elegant cousin over there.” He waved a hand at the taller figure of Charles Edward Stuart on the other side of the foyer, gazing nobly off into the distance under his blue velvet bonnet with its white cockade, loftily ignoring the Duke of Cumberland.

“They called him ‘Butcher Billy.’ ” Roger gestured at the Duke, stolid in white knee breeches and gold-braided coat. “For excellent reason. Aside from what they did here”—he waved toward the expanse of the spring-green moor outside, dulled by the lowering sky—“Cumberland’s men were responsible for the worst reign of English terror ever seen in the Highlands. They chased the survivors of the battle back into the hills, burning and looting as they went. Women and children were turned out to starve, and the men shot down where they stood—with no effort to find out whether they’d ever fought for Charlie. One of the Duke’s contemporaries said of him, ‘He created a desert and called it peace’—and I’m afraid the Duke of Cumberland is still rather noticeably unpopular hereabouts.”

This was true; the curator of the visitors’ museum, a friend of Roger’s, had told him that while the figure of the Bonnie Prince was treated with reverent respect, the buttons off the Duke’s jacket were subject to constant disappearance, while the figure itself had been the butt of more than one rude joke.

“He said one morning he came in early and turned on the light, to find a genuine Highland dirk sticking in His Grace’s belly,” Roger said, nodding at the podgy little figure. “Said it gave him a right turn.”

“I’d think so,” Brianna murmured, looking at the Duke with raised brows. “People still take it that seriously?”

“Oh, aye. Scots have long memories, and they’re not the most forgiving of people.”

“Really?” She looked at him curiously. “Are you Scottish, Roger? Wakefield doesn’t sound like a Scottish name, but there’s something about the way you talk about the Duke of Cumberland…” There was the hint of a smile around her mouth, and he wasn’t sure whether he was being teased, but he answered her seriously enough.

“Oh, aye.” He smiled as he said it. “I’m Scots. Wakefield’s not my own name, see; the Reverend gave it me when he adopted me. He was my mother’s uncle—when my parents were killed in the War, he took me to live with him. But my own name is MacKenzie. As for the Duke of Cumberland”—he nodded at the plate-glass window, through which the monuments of Culloden Field were plainly visible. “There’s a clan stone out there, with the name of MacKenzie carved on it, and a good many of my relatives under it.”

He reached out and flicked a gold epaulet, leaving it swinging. “I don’t feel quite so personal about it as some, but I haven’t forgotten, either.” He held out a hand to her. “Shall we go outside?”

It was cold outside, with a gusty wind that lashed two pennons, flying atop the poles set at either side of the moor. One yellow, one red, they marked the positions where the two commanders had stood behind their troops, awaiting the outcome of the battle.

“Well back out of the way, I see,” Brianna observed dryly. “No chance of getting in the way of a stray bullet.”

Roger noticed her shivering, and drew her hand further through his arm, bringing her close. He thought he might burst from the sudden swell of happiness touching her gave him, but tried to disguise it with a retreat into historical monologue. “Well, that was how generals led, back then—from the rear. Especially Charlie; he ran off so fast at the end of the battle that he left behind his sterling silver picnic set.”

“A picnic set? He brought a picnic to the battle?”

“Oh, aye.” Roger found that he quite liked being Scottish for Brianna. He usually took pains to keep his accent modulated under the all-purpose Oxbridge speech that served him at the university, but now he was letting it have free rein for the sake of the smile that crossed her face when she heard it.

“D’ye know why they called him ‘Prince Charlie’?” Roger asked. “English people always think it was a nickname, showing how much his men loved him.”

“It wasn’t?”

Roger shook his head. “No, indeed. His men called him Prince Tcharlach”—he spelled it carefully—“which is the Gaelic for Charles. Tcharlach mac Seamus, ‘Charles, son of James.’ Very formal and respectful indeed. It’s only that Tcharlach in Gaelic sounds the hell of a lot like ‘Charlie’ in English.”

Brianna grinned. “So he never was ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’?”

“Not then.” Roger shrugged. “Now he is, of course. One of those little historical mistakes that get passed on for fact. There are a lot of them.”

“And you a historian!” Brianna said, teasing.

Roger smiled wryly. “That’s how I know.”

They wandered slowly down the graveled paths that led through the battlefield, Roger pointing out the positions of the different regiments that had fought there, explaining the order of battle, recounting small anecdotes of the commanders.

As they walked, the wind died down, and the silence of the field began to assert itself. Gradually their conversation died away as well, until they were talking only now and then, in low voices, almost whispers. The sky was gray with cloud from horizon to horizon, and everything beneath its bowl seemed muted, with only the whisper of the moor plants speaking in the voices of the men who fed them.

“This is the place they call the Well of Death.” Roger stooped by the small spring. Barely a foot square, it was a tiny pool of dark water, welling under a ridge of stone. “One of the Highland chieftains died here; his followers washed the blood from his face with the water from this spring. And over there are the graves of the clans.”

The clan stones were large boulders of gray granite, rounded by weather and blotched with lichens. They sat on patches of smooth grass, widely scattered near the edge of the moor. Each one bore a single name, the carving so faded by weather as to be nearly illegible in some cases. MacGillivray. MacDonald. Fraser. Grant. Chisholm. MacKenzie.

“Look,” Brianna said, almost in a whisper. She pointed at one of the stones. A small heap of greenish-gray twigs lay there; a few early spring flowers mingled, wilted, with the twigs.

“Heather,” Roger said. “It’s more common in the summer, when the heather is blooming—then you’ll see heaps like that in front of every clan stone. Purple, and here and there a branch of the white heather—the white is for luck, and for kingship; it was Charlie’s emblem, that and the white rose.”

“Who leaves them?” Brianna squatted on her heels next to the path, touching the twigs with a gentle finger.

“Visitors.” Roger squatted next to her. He traced the faded letters on the stone—FRASER. “People descended from the families of the men who were killed here. Or just those who like to remember them.”

She looked sidelong at him, hair drifting around her face. “Have you ever done it?”

He looked down, smiling at his hands as they hung between his knees.

“Yes. I suppose it’s very sentimental, but I do.”

Brianna turned to the thicket of moor plants that edged the path on the other side.

“Show me which is heather,” she said.

On the way home, the melancholy of Culloden lifted, but the feeling of shared sentiment lingered, and they talked and laughed together like old friends.

“It’s too bad Mother couldn’t come with us,” Brianna remarked as they turned into the road where the Randalls’ bed-and-breakfast was.

Much as he liked Claire Randall, Roger didn’t agree at all that it was too bad she hadn’t come. Three, he thought, would have been a crowd, and no mistake. But he grunted noncommitally, and a moment later asked, “How is your mother? I hope she’s not terribly ill.”

“Oh, no, it’s just an upset stomach—at least that’s what she says.” Brianna frowned to herself for a moment, then turned to Roger, laying a hand lightly on his leg. He felt the muscles quiver from knee to groin, and had a hard time keeping his mind on what she was saying. She was still talking about her mother.

“…think she’s all right?” she finished. She shook her head, and copper glinted from the waves of her hair, even in the dull light of the car. “I don’t know; she seems awfully preoccupied. Not ill, exactly—more as though she’s kind of worried about something.”

Roger felt a sudden heaviness in the pit of his stomach.

“Mphm,” he said. “Maybe just being away from her work. I’m sure it will be all right.” Brianna smiled gratefully at him as they pulled up in front of Mrs. Thomas’s small stone house.

“It was great, Roger,” she said, touching him lightly on the shoulder. “But there wasn’t much here to help with Mama’s project. Can’t I help you with some of the grubby stuff?”

Roger’s spirits lightened considerably, and he smiled up at her. “I think that might be arranged. Want to come tomorrow and have a go at the garage with me? If it’s filth you want, you can’t get much grubbier than that.”

“Great.” She smiled, leaning on the car to look back in at him. “Maybe Mother will want to come along and help.”

He could feel his face stiffen, but kept gallantly smiling.

“Right,” he said. “Great. I hope so.”



* * *



In the event, it was Brianna alone who came to the manse the next day.

“Mama’s at the public library,” she explained. “Looking up old phone directories. She’s trying to find someone she used to know.”

Roger’s heart skipped a beat at that. He had checked the Reverend’s phonebook the night before. There were three local listings under the name “James Fraser,” and two more with different first names, but the middle initial “J.”

“Well, I hope she finds him,” he said, still trying for casualness. “You’re really sure you want to help? It’s boring, filthy work.” Roger looked at Brianna dubiously, but she nodded, not at all discomposed at the prospect.

“I know. I used to help my father sometimes, dredging through old records and finding footnotes. Besides, it’s Mama’s project; the least I can do is help you with it.”

“All right.” Roger glanced down at his white shirt. “Let me change, and we’ll go have a look.”

The garage door creaked, groaned, then surrendered to the inevitable and surged suddenly upward, amid the twanging of springs and clouds of dust.

Brianna waved her hands back and forth in front of her face, coughing. “Gack!” she said. “How long since anyone’s been in this place?”

“Eons, I expect.” Roger replied absently. He shone his torch around the inside of the garage, briefly lighting stacks of cardboard cartons and wooden crates, old steamer trunks smeared with peeling labels, and amorphous tarpaulin-draped shapes. Here and there, the upturned legs of furniture poked through the gloom like the skeletons of small dinosaurs, protruding from their native rock formations.

There was a sort of fissure in the junk; Roger edged into this and promptly disappeared into a tunnel bounded by dust and shadows, his progress marked by the pale spot of his torch as it shone intermittently on the ceiling. At last, with a cry of triumph, he seized the dangling tail of a string hanging from above, and the garage was suddenly illuminated in the glare of an oversized bulb.

“This way,” Roger said, reappearing abruptly and taking Brianna by the hand. “There’s sort of a clear space in back.”

An ancient table stood against the back wall. Perhaps originally the centerpiece of the Reverend Wakefield’s dining room, it had evidently gone through several successive incarnations as kitchen block, toolbench, sawhorse, and painting table, before coming to rest in this dusty sanctuary. A heavily cobwebbed window overlooked it, through which a dim light shone on the nicked, paint-splattered surface.

“We can work here,” Roger said, yanking a stool out of the mess and dusting it perfunctorily with a large handkerchief. “Have a seat, and I’ll see if I can pry the window open; otherwise, we’ll suffocate.”

Brianna nodded, but instead of sitting down, began to poke curiously through the nearer piles of junk, as Roger heaved at the warped window frame. He could hear her behind him, reading the labels on some of the boxes. “Here’s 1930–33,” she said, “And here’s 1942–46. What are these?”

“Journals,” said Roger, grunting as he braced his elbows on the grimy sill. “My father—the Reverend, I mean—he always kept a journal. Wrote it up every night after supper.”

“Looks like he found plenty to write about.” Brianna hoisted down several of the boxes, and stacked them to the side, in order to inspect the next layer. “Here’s a bunch of boxes with names on them—‘Kerse,’ ‘Livingston,’ ‘Balnain.’ Parishioners?”

“No. Villages.” Roger paused in his labors for a moment, panting. He wiped his brow, leaving a streak of dirt down the sleeve of his shirt. Luckily both of them were dressed in old clothes, suitable for rootling in filth. “Those will be notes on the history of various Highland villages. Some of those boxes ended up as books, in fact; you’ll see them in some of the local tourist shops through the Highlands.”

He turned to a pegboard from which hung a selection of dilapidated tools, and selected a large screwdriver to aid his assault on the window.

“Look for the ones that say ‘Parish Registers,’ he advised. “Or for village names in the area of Broch Tuarach.”

“I don’t know any of the villages in the area,” Brianna pointed out.

“Oh, aye, I was forgetting.” Roger inserted the point of the screwdriver between the edges of the window frame, grimly chiseling through layers of ancient paint. “Look for the names Broch Mordha…um, Mariannan, and…oh, St. Kilda. There’s others, but those are ones I know had fair-sized churches that have been closed or knocked down.”

“Okay.” Pushing aside a hanging flap of tarpaulin, Brianna suddenly leaped backward with a sharp cry.

“What? What is it?” Roger whirled from the window, screwdriver at the ready.

“I don’t know. Something skittered away when I touched that tarp.” Brianna pointed, and Roger lowered his weapon, relieved.

“Oh, that all? Mouse, most like. Maybe a rat.”

“A rat! You have rats in here?” Brianna’s agitation was noticeable.

“Well, I hope not, because if so, they’ll have been chewing up the records we’re looking for,” Roger replied. He handed her the torch. “Here, shine this in any dark places; at least you won’t be taken by surprise.”

“Thanks a lot.” Brianna accepted the torch, but still eyed the stacks of cartons with some reluctance.

“Well, go on then,” Roger said. “Or did you want me to do you a rat satire on the spot?”

Brianna’s face split in a wide grin. “A rat satire? What’s that?”

Roger delayed his answer, long enough for another try at the window. He pushed until he could feel his biceps straining against the fabric of his shirt, but at last, with a rending screech, the window gave way, and a reviving draft of cool air whooshed in through the six-inch gap he’d created.

“God, that’s better.” He fanned himself exaggeratedly, grinning at Brianna. “Now, shall we get on with it?”

She handed him the torch, and stepped back. “How about you find the boxes, and I’ll sort through them? And what’s a rat satire?”

“Coward,” he said, bending to rummage beneath the tarpaulin. “A rat satire is an old Scottish custom; if you had rats or mice in your house or your barn, you could make them go away by composing a poem—or you could sing it—telling the rats how poor the eating was where they were, and how good it was elsewhere. You told them where to go, and how to get there, and presumably, if the satire was good enough—they’d go.”

He pulled out a carton labeled JACOBITES, MISCELLANEOUS, and carried it to the table, singing,

“Ye rats, ye are too many,

If ye would dine in plenty,

Ye mun go, ye mun go.”

Lowering the box with a thump, he bowed in response to Brianna’s giggling and turned back to the stacks, continuing in stentorian voice.

“Go to Campbell’s garden,

Where nae cat stands warden,

And the kale, it grows green.

Go and fill your bellies,

Dinna stay and gnaw my wellies—

Go, ye rats, go!”

Brianna snorted appreciatively. “Did you just make that up?”

“Of course.” Roger deposited another box on the table with a flourish. “A good rat satire must always be original.” He cast a glance at the serried ranks of cartons. “After that performance, there shouldn’t be a rat within miles of this place.”

“Good.” Brianna pulled a jackknife from her pocket and slit the tape that sealed the topmost carton. “You should come do one at the bed-and-breakfast place; Mama says she’s sure there’s mice in the bathroom. Something chewed on her soap case.”

“God knows what it would take to dislodge a mouse capable of eating bars of soap; far beyond my feeble powers, I expect.” He rolled a tattered round hassock out from behind a teetering stack of obsolete encyclopedias, and plumped down next to Brianna. “Here, you take the parish registers, they’re a bit easier to read.”

They worked through the morning in amiable companionship, turning up occasional interesting passages, the odd silverfish, and recurrent clouds of dust, but little of value to the project at hand.

“We’d better stop for lunch soon,” Roger said at last. He felt a strong reluctance to go back into the house, where he would once more be at Fiona’s mercy, but Brianna’s stomach had begun to growl almost as loudly as his own.

“Okay. We can do some more after we eat, if you’re not worn out.” Brianna stood and stretched herself, her curled fists almost reaching the rafters of the old garage. She wiped her hands on the legs of her jeans, and ducked between the stacks of boxes.

“Hey!” She stopped short, near the door. Roger, following her, was brought up sharp, his nose almost touching, the back of her head.

“What is it?” he asked. “Not another rat?” He noted with approval that the sun lit her thick single braid with glints of copper and gold. With a small golden nimbus of dust surrounding her, and the light of noon silhouetting her long-nosed profile, he thought she looked quite medieval; Our Lady of the Archives.

“No. Look at this, Roger!” She pointed at a cardboard carton near the middle of a stack. On the side, in the Reverend’s strong black hand, was a label with the single word “Randall.”

Roger felt a stab of mingled excitement and apprehension. Brianna’s excitement was unalloyed.

“Maybe that’s got the stuff we’re looking for!” she exclaimed. “Mama said it was something my father was interested in; maybe he’d already asked the Reverend about it.”

“Could be.” Roger forced down the sudden feeling of dread that had struck him at sight of the name. He knelt to extract the box from its resting place. “Let’s take it in the house; we can look in it after lunch.”



* * *



The box, once opened in the Reverend’s study, held an odd assortment of things. There were old photostats of pages from several parish registers, two or three army muster lists, a number of letters and scattered papers, a small, thin notebook, bound in gray cardboard covers, a packet of elderly photographs, curling at the edges, and a stiff folder, with the name “Randall” printed on the cover.

Brianna picked up the folder and opened it. “Why, it’s daddy’s family tree!” she exclaimed. “Look.” She passed the folder to Roger. Inside were two sheets of thick parchment, with lines of descent neatly ruled across and down. The beginning date was 1633; the final entry, at the foot of the second page, showed

Frank Wolverton Randall m. Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, 1937

“Done before you were born,” Roger murmured.

Brianna peered over his shoulder as his finger passed slowly down the lines of the genealogical table. “I’ve seen it before; daddy had a copy in his study. He used to show it to me all the time. His had me at the bottom, though; this must be an early copy.”

“Maybe the Reverend did some of the research for him.” Roger handed Brianna back the folder, and picked up one of the papers from the stack on the desk.

“Now here’s an heirloom for you,” he said. He traced the coat of arms embossed at the head of the sheet. “A letter of commission in the army, signed by His Royal Majesty, King George II.”

“George the Second? Jeez, that’s even before the American Revolution.”

“Considerably before. It’s dated 1735. In the name of Jonathan Wolverton Randall. Know that name?”

“Yeah.” Brianna nodded, stray wisps of hair falling in her face. She wiped them back carelessly and took the letter. “daddy used to talk about him every now and then; one of the few ancestors he knew much about. He was a captain in the army that fought Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden.” She looked up at Roger, blinking. “I think maybe he was killed in that battle, in fact. He wouldn’t have been buried there, would he?”

Roger shook his head. “I shouldn’t think so. It was the English who cleared up after the battle. They shipped most of their own dead back home for burial—the officers, anyway.”

He was prevented from further observation by the sudden appearance in the doorway of Fiona, bearing a feather duster like a battle standard.

“Mr. Wakefield,” she called. “There’s the man come to take awa’ the Reverend’s truck, but he canna get it started. He says will ye be givin’ him a hand, like?”

Roger started guiltily. He had taken the battery to a garage for testing, and it was still sitting in the backseat of his own Morris. No wonder the Reverend’s truck wasn’t starting.

“I’ll have to go sort this out,” he told Brianna. “I’m afraid it might take a while.”

“That’s okay.” She smiled at him, blue eyes narrowing to triangles. “I should go too. Mama will be back by now; we thought we might go out to the Clava Cairns, if there was time. Thanks for the lunch.”

“My pleasure—and Fiona’s.” Roger felt a stab of regret at being unable to offer to go with her, but duty called. He glanced at the papers spread out on the desk, then scooped them up and deposited them back in the box.

“Here,” he said. “This is all your family records. You take it. Maybe your mother would be interested.”

“Really? Well, thanks, Roger. Are you sure?”

“Absolutely,” he said, carefully laying the folder with the genealogical chart on top. “Oh, wait. Maybe not all of it.” The corner of the gray notebook stuck out from under the letter of commission; he pulled it free, and tidied the disturbed papers back into the box. “This looks like one of the Reverend’s journals. Can’t think what it’s doing in there, but I suppose I’d better put it with the others; the historical society says they want the whole lot.”

“Oh, sure.” Brianna had risen to go, clutching the box to her chest, but hesitated, looking at him. “Do you—would you like me to come back?”

Roger smiled at her. There were cobwebs in her hair, and a long streak of dirt down the bridge of her nose.

“Nothing I’d like better,” he said. “See you tomorrow, eh?”



* * *



The thought of the Reverend’s journal stayed with Roger, all during the tedious business of getting the ancient truck started, and the subsequent visit of the furniture appraiser who came to sort the valuable antiques from the rubbish, and set a value on the Reverend’s furnishings for auction.

This disposition of the Reverend’s effects gave Roger a sense of restless melancholy. It was, after all, a dismantling of his own youth, as much as the clearing away of useless bric-a-brac. By the time he sat down in the study after dinner, he could not have said whether it was curiosity about the Randalls that compelled him to pick up the journal, or simply the urge somehow to regain a tenuous connection with the man who had been his father for so many years.

The journals were kept meticulously, the even lines of ink recording all major events of the parish and the community of which the Reverend Mr. Wakefield had been a part for so many years. The feel of the plain gray notebook and the sight of its pages conjured up for Roger an immediate vision of the Reverend, bald head gleaming in the glow of his desk lamp as he industriously inscribed the day’s happenings.

“It’s a discipline,” he had explained once to Roger. “There’s a great benefit to doing regularly something that orders the mind, you know. Catholic monks have services at set times every day, priests have their breviaries. I’m afraid I haven’t the knack of such immediate devotion, but writing out the happenings of the day helps to clear my mind; then I can say my evening prayers with a calm heart.”

A calm heart. Roger wished he could manage that himself, but calmness hadn’t visited him since he’d found those clippings in the Reverend’s desk.

He opened the book at random, and slowly turned the pages, looking for a mention of the name “Randall.” The dates on the notebook’s cover were January–June, 1948. While what he had told Brianna about the historical society was true, that had not been his chief motive in keeping the book. In May of 1948, Claire Randall had returned from her mysterious disappearance. The Reverend had known the Randalls well; such an event was sure to have found mention in his journal.

Sure enough, the entry for May 7:

“Visit w. Frank Randall this evening; this business about his wife. So distressing! Saw her yesterday—so frail, but those eyes staring—made me uneasy to sit w. her, poor woman, though she talked sensibly.

Enough to unhinge anyone, what she’s been through—whatever it was. Terrible gossip about it all—so careless of Dr. Bartholomew to let on that she’s pregnant. So hard for Frank—and for her, of course! My heart goes out to them both.

Mrs. Graham ill this week—she could have chosen a better time; jumble sale next week, and the porch full of old clothes…”

Roger flipped rapidly through the pages, looking for the next mention of the Randalls, and found it, later the same week.

“May 10—Frank Randall to dinner. Doing my best to associate publicly both w. him and his wife; I sit with her for an hour most days, in hopes of quelling some of the gossip. It’s almost pitying now; word’s gone round that she’s demented. Knowing Claire Randall, I’m not sure that she would not be more offended at being thought insane than at being considered immoral—must be one or the other though?

Tried repeatedly to talk to her about her experiences, but she says nothing of that. Talks all right about anything else, but always a sense that she’s thinking of something else.

Must make a note to preach this Sunday on the evils of gossip—though I’m afraid calling attention to the case with a sermon will only make it worse.”

“May 12—…Can’t get free of the notion that Claire Randall is not deranged. Have heard the gossip, of course, but see nothing in her behaviour that seems unstable in the slightest.

Do think she carries some terrible secret; one she’s determined to keep. Spoke—cautiously—to Frank of this; he’s reticent, but I’m convinced she has said something to him. Have tried to make it clear I wish to help, in any way I can.”

“May 14—A visit from Frank Randall. Very puzzling. He has asked my help, but I can’t see why he asked what he has. Seems very important to him, though; he keeps himself under close rein, but wound tight as a watch. I fear the release—if it comes.

Claire well enough to travel—he means to take her back to London this week. Assured him I would communicate any results to him by letter at his University address; no hint to his wife.

Have several items of interest on Jonathan Randall, though I can’t imagine the significance of Frank’s ancestor to this sorry business. Of James Fraser, as I told Frank—no inkling; a complete mystery.”

A complete mystery. In more ways than one, Roger thought. What had Frank Randall asked the Reverend to do? To find out what he could about Jonathan Randall and about James Fraser, apparently. So Claire had told her husband about James Fraser—told him something, at least, if not everything.

But what conceivable connection could there be between an English army captain who had died at Culloden in 1746, and the man whose name seemed inextricably bound up with the mystery of Claire’s disappearance in 1945—and the further mystery of Brianna’s parentage?

The rest of the journal was filled with the usual miscellany of parish happenings; the chronic drunkenness of Derick Gowan, culminating in that parishioner’s removal from the River Ness as a water-logged corpse in late May; the hasty wedding of Maggie Brown and William Dundee, a month before the christening of their daughter, June; Mrs. Graham’s appendectomy, and the Reverend’s attempts to cope with the resultant influx of covered dishes from the generous ladies of the parish—Herbert, the Reverend’s current dog, seemed to have been the beneficiary of most of them.

Reading through the pages, Roger found himself smiling, hearing the Reverend’s lively interest in his flock come to life once more in the old minister’s words. Browsing and skimming, he nearly missed it—the last entry concerning Frank Randall’s request.

“June 18—Had a brief note from Frank Randall, advising me that his wife’s health is somewhat precarious; the pregnancy is dangerous and he asks my prayers.

Replied with assurances of prayers and good wishes for both him and his wife. Enclosed also the information I had so far found for him; can’t say what use it will be to him, but that must be his own judgement. Told him of the surprising discovery of Jonathan Randall’s grave at St. Kilda; asked if he wishes me to photograph the stone.”

And that was all. There was no further mention of the Randalls, or of James Fraser. Roger laid the book down and massaged his temples; reading the slanting lines of handwriting had given him a mild headache.

Aside from confirming his suspicions that a man named James Fraser was mixed up in all this, the matter remained as impenetrable as ever. What in the name of God did Jonathan Randall have to do with it, and why on earth was the man buried at St. Kilda? The letter of commission had given Jonathan Randall’s place of birth as an estate in Sussex; how did he end up in a remote Scottish kirkyard? True, it wasn’t all that far from Culloden—but why hadn’t he been shipped back to Sussex?

“Will ye be needin’ anything else tonight, Mr. Wakefield?” Fiona’s voice roused him from his fruitless meditations. He sat up, blinking, to see her holding a broom and a polishing cloth.

“What? Er, no. No, thanks, Fiona. But what are you doing with all that clobber? Not still cleaning at this time of night?”

“Well, it’s the church ladies,” Fiona explained. “You remember, ye told them they could hold their regular monthly meeting here tomorrow? I thought I’d best tidy up a bit.”

The church ladies? Roger quailed at the thought of forty housewives, oozing sympathy, descending on the manse in an avalanche of tweeds, twin-sets, and cultured pearls.

“Will ye be takin’ tea with the ladies?” Fiona was asking. “The Reverend always did.”

The thought of entertaining Brianna Randall and the church ladies simultaneously was more than Roger could contemplate with equanimity.

“Er, no,” he said abruptly. “I’ve…I’ve an engagement tomorrow.”

His hand fell on the telephone, half-buried in the debris of the Reverend’s desk. “If you’ll excuse me, Fiona, I’ve got to make a call.”



* * *



Brianna wandered back into the bedroom, smiling to herself. I looked up from my book and arched a brow in inquiry.

“Phone call from Roger?” I said.

“How’d you know?” She looked startled for a moment, then grinned, shucking off her robe. “Oh, because he’s the only guy I know in Inverness?”

“I didn’t think any of your boyfriends would be calling long-distance from Boston,” I said. I peered at the clock on the table. “Not at this hour, anyway; they’ll all be at football practice.”

Brianna ignored this, and shoved her feet under the covers. “Roger’s invited us to go up to a place called St. Kilda tomorrow. He says it’s an interesting old church.”

“I’ve heard of it,” I said, yawning. “All right, why not? I’ll take my plant press; maybe I can find some crown vetch—I promised some to Dr. Abernathy for his research. But if we’re going to spend the day tramping round reading old gravestones, I’m turning in now. Digging up the past is strenuous work.”

There was a brief flicker in Brianna’s face, and I thought she was about to say something. But she merely nodded, and reached to turn out the light, the secretive smile still lurking in the corners of her mouth.

I lay looking up into the darkness, hearing her small tossings and turnings fade into the regular cadences of her sleeping breath. St. Kilda, eh? I had never been there, but I knew of the place; it was an old church, as Brianna had said, long deserted and out of the way for tourists—only the occasional researcher ever went there. Perhaps this was the opportunity I had been waiting for, then?

I would have Roger and Brianna together there, and alone, with little fear of interruption. And perhaps it was a suitable place to tell them—there among the long-dead parishioners of St. Kilda. Roger had not yet verified the whereabouts of the rest of the Lallybroch men, but it seemed fairly sure that they had at least left Culloden Field alive, and that was really all I needed to know, now. I could tell Bree the end of it, then.

My mouth grew dry at the thought of the coming interview. Where was I to find the words for this? I tried to visualize how it might go; what I might say, and how they might react, but imagination failed me. More than ever, I regretted my promise to Frank that had kept me from writing to the Reverend Wakefield. If I had, Roger at least might already know. Or perhaps not; the Reverend might not have believed me.

I turned restlessly, seeking inspiration, but weariness crept over me. And at last I gave up and turned onto my back, closing my eyes on the dark above me. As though my thinking of him had summoned the Reverend’s spirit, a biblical quotation drifted into my fading consciousness: Sufficient unto the day, the Reverend’s voice seemed to murmur to me, sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. And then I slept.



* * *



I woke up in the shadowed dark, hands clenched in the bedclothes, heart beating with a force that shook me like the skin of a kettledrum. “Jesus!” I said.

The silk of my nightgown was hot and clinging; looking down, I could dimly see my nipples thrusting through it, hard as marbles. The quivering spasms were still rippling through wrists and thighs, like the aftershocks of an earthquake. I hoped I hadn’t cried out. Probably not; I could hear Brianna’s breathing, untroubled and regular across the room.

I fell back on the pillow, shaking with weakness, the sudden flush washing my temples with damp.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I muttered, breathing deeply as my heart slowly returned to normal.

One of the effects of a disturbed sleep cycle is that one stops dreaming coherently. Through the long years of early motherhood, and then of internship, residency, and nights on-call, I had got used to falling at once into oblivion when I lay down, with such dreams as occurred nothing more than fragments and flashes, restless flickers in the dark as synapses fired at random, recharging themselves for the work of the day that would come too soon.

In more recent years, with the resumption of something resembling a normal schedule, I had begun to dream again. The usual kinds of dreams, whether nightmare or good dream—long sequences of images, wanderings in the wood of the mind. And I was familiar with this kind of dream, too; it was common to what might politely be called periods of deprivation.

Usually, though, such dreams came floating, soft as the touch of satin sheets, and if they woke me, I fell at once back into sleep, glowing dimly with a memory that would not last ’til morning.

This was different. Not that I remembered much about it, but I had a vague impression of hands that gripped me, rough and urgent, not wooing but compelling. And a voice, nearly shouting, that echoed in the chambers of my inner ear, along with the sound of my fading heartbeat.

I put my hand on my chest over the leaping pulse, feeling the soft fullness of my breast beneath the silk. Brianna’s breath caught in a soft snore, then resumed its even cadence. I remembered listening for that sound when she was small; the slow, stertorous rhythm of reassurance, sounding through the darkened nursery, even as a heartbeat.

My own heartbeat was slowing under my hand, under the deep rose silk, the color of a baby’s sleep-flushed cheek. When you hold a child to your breast to nurse, the curve of the little head echoes exactly the curve of the breast it suckles, as though this new person truly mirrors the flesh from which it sprang.

Babies are soft. Anyone looking at them can see the tender, fragile skin and know it for the rose-leaf softness that invites a finger’s touch. But when you live with them and love them, you feel the softness going inward, the round-checked flesh wobbly as custard, the boneless splay of the tiny hands. Their joints are melted rubber, and even when you kiss them hard, in the passion of loving their existence, your lips sink down and seem never to find bone. Holding them against you, they melt and mold, as though they might at any moment flow back into your body.

But from the very start, there is that small streak of steel within each child. That thing that says “I am,” and forms the core of personality.

In the second year, the bone hardens and the child stands upright, skull wide and solid, a helmet protecting the softness within. And “I am” grows, too. Looking at them, you can almost see it, sturdy as heartwood, glowing through the translucent flesh.

The bones of the face emerge at six, and the soul within is fixed at seven. The process of encapsulation goes on, to reach its peak in the glossy shell of adolescence, when all softness then is hidden under the nacreous layers of the multiple new personalities that teenagers try on to guard themselves.

In the next years, the hardening spreads from the center, as one finds and fixes the facets of the soul, until “I am” is set, delicate and detailed as an insect in amber.

I had thought I was well beyond that stage, had lost all trace of softness and was well set on my way to a middle age of stainless steel. But now I thought that Frank’s death had cracked me in some way. And the cracks were widening, so that I could no longer patch them with denial. I had brought my daughter back to Scotland, she with those bones strong as the ribs of Highland mountains, in the hope that her shell was strong enough to hold her together, while the center of her “I am” might still be reachable.

But my own core held no longer in the isolation of “I am,” and I had no protection to shield me from the softness from within. I no longer knew what I was or what she would be; only what I must do.

For I had come back, and I dreamed once more, in the cool air of the Highlands. And the voice of my dream still echoed through ears and heart, repeated with the sound of Brianna’s sleeping breath.

“You are mine,” it had said. “Mine! And I will not let you go.”





5

BELOVED WIFE

The kirkyard of St. Kilda lay quiet in the sun. Not entirely flat, it occupied a plateau carved from the side of the hill by some geological freak. The land sloped and curved, so that the gravestones lay hidden in small hollows or jutted suddenly from the crest of a rise. The shifting of the earth had moved many, tilting them drunkenly or toppling them altogether, to lie flattened and broken in the long grass.

“It’s a bit untidy,” Roger said, apologetically. They paused in the kirkyard gate, looking over the small collection of ancient stones, overgrown and shadowed by the row of giant yews, planted long ago as a windbreak against the storms that rolled in from the northern sea. Clouds massed there now, far out over the distant firth, but the sun shone on the hilltop, and the air was still and warm.

“My father used to get together a gang of men from the church once or twice a year, and bring them up to keep the place in order, but I’m afraid it’s rather gone to seed lately.” He swung the lych-gate experimentally, noting the cracked hinge and the latch-fitting, dangling by one nail.

“It’s a lovely, quiet place.” Brianna edged carefully past the splintery gate. “Really old, isn’t it?”

“Aye, it is. dad thought the kirk itself was built on the site of an early church or an even older temple of some kind; that’s why it’s up here in such an inconvenient spot. One of his friends from Oxford was always threatening to come up and excavate the place to see what was under it, but of course he couldn’t get clearance from the Church authorities, even though the place has been deconsecrated for years.”

“It’s kind of a climb.” The flush of exertion was beginning to fade from Brianna’s face as she fanned her cheeks with a guidebook. “Beautiful, though.” She eyed the facade of the kirk with appreciation. Built into a natural opening in the crag, the stones and timbers of the kirk had been fitted by hand, the chinks caulked with peat and mud, so that it seemed to have grown there, a natural part of the cliff face. Ancient carvings decorated door sill and window frame, some showing the symbols of Christianity, some obviously much older.

“Is Jonathan Randall’s stone over there?” She waved toward the kirkyard, visible beyond the gate. “Mother will be so surprised!”

“Aye, I expect so. Haven’t seen it myself.” He hoped the surprise would be a pleasant one; when he had mentioned the stone cautiously to Brianna over the phone the night before, she had been enthusiastic.

“I know about Jonathan Randall,” she was telling Roger. “Daddy always admired him; said he was one of the few interesting people in the family tree. I guess he was a good soldier; Daddy had lots of commendations and things he’d gotten.”

“Really?” Roger looked back, in search of Claire. “Does your mother need help with that plant press?”

Brianna shook her head. “Nah. She just found a plant by the path she couldn’t resist. She’ll be up in a minute.”

It was a silent place. Even the birds were quiet as midday approached, and the dark evergreens that edged the plateau were still, with no breeze to stir their branches. Without the raw scars of recent graves or the flags of plastic flowers as testimony to still-fresh grief, the kirkyard breathed only the peace of the long-dead. Removed from strife and trouble, only the fact of their life remained to give the comfort of a human presence on the lonely heights of an empty land.

The progress of the three visitors was slow; they wandered their way casually through the old kirkyard, Roger and Brianna pausing to read aloud quaint inscriptions from the weathered stones, Claire, on her own, stooping now and then to clip a vine or uproot a small flowering plant.

Roger bent over one stone, and grinning, beckoned Brianna to read the inscription.

“ ‘Approach and read, not with your hats on,’ ” she read. “ ‘For here lies Bailie William Watson/Who was famous for his thinking/And moderation in his drinking.’ ” Brianna rose from examining the stone, her face flushed with laughter. “No dates—I wonder when William Watson lived.”

“Eighteenth century, most likely,” Roger said. “The seventeenth-century stones are mostly too weathered to read, and no one’s been buried here in two hundred years; the church was deconsecrated in 1800.”

A moment later, Brianna let out a muffled whoop. “Here it is!” She stood up and waved to Claire, who was standing on the far side of the kirkyard, peering inquisitively at a length of greenery she held in one hand. “Mama! Come look at this!”

Claire waved back, and made her way to where they stood beside the flat, square stone, stepping carefully across the crowded graves.

“What is it?” she asked. “Find an interesting grave?”

“I think so. Recognize this name?” Roger stepped back, so she could have a clear view.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” Mildly startled, Roger glanced at Claire, and was alarmed to see how pale she was. She stared down at the weathered stone, and the muscles of her throat moved in a convulsive swallow. The plant she had pulled was crushed in her hand, unregarded.

“Dr. Randall—Claire—are you all right?”

The amber eyes were blank, and she appeared not to hear him for a moment. Then she blinked, and looked up. She was still pale, but seemed better now; back in control.

“I’m fine,” she said, voice flat. She stooped, and ran her fingers over the letters of the stone as though reading them in Braille.

“Jonathan Wolverton Randall,” she said softly, “1705–1746. I told you, didn’t I? You bastard, I told you!” Her voice, so flat an instant before, was suddenly vibrant, filled with a restrained fury.

“Mama! Are you all right?” Brianna, obviously upset, pulled at her mother’s arm.

Roger thought it was as though a shade had dropped behind Claire’s eyes; the feeling that had shone there was suddenly hidden, as she snapped back to a realization of the two people staring at her, aghast. She smiled, a brief, mechanical grimace, and nodded.

“Yes. Yes, of course. I’m fine.” Her hand opened, and the stalk of limp greenery dropped to the ground.

“I thought you’d be surprised.” Brianna was looking worriedly at her mother. “Isn’t this Daddy’s ancestor? The soldier who died at Culloden?”

Claire glanced down at the gravestone near her feet.

“Yes, it is,” she said. “And he is dead, isn’t he?”

Roger and Brianna exchanged looks. Feeling responsible, Roger touched Claire on the shoulder.

“It’s rather a hot day,” he said, trying for a note of casual matter-of-factness. “Perhaps we should go into the church for a little shade. There are some very interesting carvings on the font; well worth seeing.”

Claire smiled at him. A real smile this time, a little tired, but eminently sane.

“You go,” she said, including Brianna with a tilt of her head. “I need a little air. I’ll stay out here for a bit.”

“I’ll stay with you.” Brianna was hovering, clearly unwilling to leave her mother on her own, but Claire had recovered both her equanimity and her air of command.

“Nonsense,” she said briskly. “I’m perfectly all right. I’ll go sit in the shade of the trees over there. You go along. I’d rather be by myself for a bit,” she added firmly, seeing Roger opening his mouth to protest.

With no further ado, she turned and walked off, toward the line of dark yew trees that edged the kirkyard to the west. Brianna hesitated, looking after her, but Roger took the girl by the elbow, and drew her toward the church.

“Best leave her alone,” he murmured. “After all, your mother’s a doctor, isn’t she? She’ll know if it’s all right.”

“Yeah…I suppose so.” With a final troubled glance after Claire’s retreating figure, Brianna allowed him to lead her away.



* * *



The kirk was no more than an empty wood-floored room, with the abandoned font left in place only because it could not be removed. The shallow basin had been scooped out of the stone ledge that ran along one side of the room. Above the basin, the carved visage of St. Kilda gazed emptily toward the ceiling, eyes piously upturned.

“It was probably one of the pagan gods to start with,” Roger said, tracing the line of the carving with a finger. “You can see where they added the veil and wimple to the original figure—not to mention the eyes.”

“Like poached eggs,” Brianna agreed, rolling her own up in imitation. “What’s this carving over here? It looks a lot like the patterns on those Pictish stones outside Clava.”

They strolled casually around the walls of the kirk, breathing the dusty air, examining the ancient carvings in the stone walls, and reading the small wooden plaques affixed by long-vanished parishioners in memory of ancestors gone still longer. They spoke quietly, both keeping an ear out for any sounds from the kirkyard, but all was quiet, and slowly they began to relax again.

Roger followed Brianna toward the front of the room, watching the curling tendrils that escaped from her braid to coil damply on her neck.

All that remained now at the front of the kirk was a plain wooden ledge above the hole where the altarstone had been removed. Still, Roger felt something of a quiver up his spine as he stood beside Brianna, facing the vanished altar.

The sheer intensity of his feelings seemed to echo in the empty place. He hoped she couldn’t hear them. They had known each other barely a week, after all, and had had scarcely any private conversation. She would be taken aback, surely, or frightened, if she knew what he felt. Or worse yet, she would laugh.

Yet, when he stole a glance at her, her face was calm and serious. It was also looking back at him, with an expression in the dark blue of her eyes that turned him toward her and made him reach for her without conscious thought.

The kiss was brief and gentle, scarcely more than the formality that concludes a wedding, yet as striking in its impact as though they had this minute plighted a troth.

Roger’s hands fell away, but the warmth of her lingered, in hands and lips and body, so that he felt as though he held her still. They stood a moment, bodies grazing, breathing each other’s air, and then she stepped back. He could still feel the touch of her on the palms of his hands. He curled his fingers into fists, seeking to hold the feeling.

The still air of the church shivered suddenly into bits, the echoes of a scream scattering the dust motes. Without conscious thought, Roger was outside, running, stumbling and scrambling over the tumbled stones, heading for the dark line of the yews. He pushed his way between the overgrown branches, not bothering to hold back the scaly twigs for Brianna, hot on his heels.

Pale in the shadows, he saw Claire Randall’s face. Completely drained of color, she looked like a wraith against the dark branches of the yew. She stood for a moment, swaying, then sank to her knees in the grass, as though her legs would no longer support her.

“Mother!” Brianna dropped to her knees beside the crouching figure, chafing one of the limp hands. “Mama, what is it? Are you faint? You should put your head between your knees. Here, why don’t you lie down?”

Claire resisted the helpful proddings of her offspring, and the drooping head came upright on its slender neck once more.

“I don’t want to lie down,” she gasped. “I want.…oh, God. Oh, dear holy God.” Kneeling among the unmowed grass she stretched out a trembling hand to the surface of the stone. It was carved of granite, a simple slab.

“Dr. Randall! Er, Claire?” Roger dropped to one knee on her other side, putting a hand under her other arm to support her. He was truly alarmed at her appearance. A fine sweat had broken out on her temples and she looked as though she might keel over at any moment. “Claire,” he said again, urgently, trying to rouse her from the staring trance she had fallen into. “What is it? Is it a name you know?” Even as he spoke, his own words were ringing in his ears. No one’s been buried here since the eighteenth century, he’d told Brianna. No one’s been buried here in two hundred years.

Claire’s fingers brushed his own away, and touched the stone, caressing, as though touching flesh, gently tracing the letters, the grooves worn shallow, but still clear.

“ ‘JAMES ALEXANDER MALCOLM MACKENZIE FRASER,’ ” she read aloud. “Yes, I know him.” Her hand dropped lower, brushing back the grass that grew thickly about the stone, obscuring the line of smaller letters at its base.

“ ‘Beloved husband of Claire,’ ” she read.

“Yes, I knew him,” she said again, so softly Roger could scarcely hear her. “I’m Claire. He was my husband.” She looked up then, into the face of her daughter, white and shocked above her. “And your father,” she said.

Roger and Brianna stared down at her, and the kirkyard was silent, save for the rustle of the yews above.



* * *



“No!” I said, quite crossly. “For the fifth time—no! I don’t want a drink of water. I have not got a touch of the sun. I am not faint. I am not ill. And I haven’t lost my mind, either, though I imagine that’s what you’re thinking.”

Roger and Brianna exchanged glances that made it clear that that was precisely what they were thinking. They had, between them, got me out of the kirkyard and into the car. I had refused to be taken to hospital, so we had gone back to the manse. Roger had administered medicinal whisky for shock, but his eyes darted toward the telephone now as though wondering whether to dial for additional help—like a straitjacket, I supposed.

“Mama.” Brianna spoke soothingly, reaching out to try to smooth the hair back from my face. “You’re upset.”

“Of course I’m upset!” I snapped. I took a long, quivering breath and clamped my lips tight together, until I could trust myself to speak calmly.

“I am certainly upset,” I began, “but I’m not mad.” I stopped, struggling for control. This wasn’t the way I’d intended to do it. I didn’t know quite what I had intended, but not this, blurting out the truth without preparation or time to organize my own thoughts. Seeing that bloody grave had disrupted any plan I might have formed.

“Damn you, Jamie Fraser!” I said, furious. “What are you doing there anyway; it’s miles from Culloden!”

Brianna’s eyes were halfway out on stalks, and Roger’s hand was hovering near the telephone. I stopped abruptly and tried to get a grip on myself.

Be calm, Beauchamp, I instructed myself. Breathe deeply. Once…twice…once more. Better. Now. It’s very simple; all you have to do is tell them the truth. That’s what you came to Scotland for, isn’t it?

I opened my mouth, but no sound came out. I closed my mouth, and my eyes as well, hoping that my nerve would return, if I couldn’t see the two ashen faces in front of me. Just…let…me…tell…the…truth, I prayed, with no idea who I was talking to. Jamie, I thought.

I’d told the truth once before. It hadn’t gone well.

I pressed my eyelids shut more tightly. Once more I could smell the carbolic surroundings of a hospital, and feel the unfamiliar starched pillowcase beneath my cheek. From the corridor outside came Frank’s voice, choked with baffled rage.

“What do you mean, don’t press her? Don’t press her? My wife’s been gone for nearly three years, and come back filthy, abused, and pregnant, for God’s sake, and I’m not to ask questions?”

And the doctor’s voice, murmuring soothingly. I caught the words “delusion,” and “traumatic state,” and “leave it for later, old man—just for a bit” as Frank’s voice, still arguing and interrupting, was gently but firmly eased down the hall. That so-familiar voice, which raised anew the storm of grief and rage and terror inside me.

I had curled my body into a defensive ball, pillow clutched to my chest, and bitten it, as hard as I could, until I felt the cotton casing give way and the silky grit of feathers grinding between my teeth.

I was grinding them now, to the detriment of a new filling. I stopped, and opened my eyes.

“Look,” I said, as reasonably as I could. “I’m sorry, I know how it sounds. But it’s true, and nothing I can do about it.”

This speech did nothing to reassure Brianna, who edged closer to Roger. Roger himself had lost that green-about-the-gills look, though, and was exhibiting signs of cautious interest. Could it be possible that he really did have enough imagination to be able to grasp the truth?

I took hope from his expression, and unclenched my fists.

“It’s the bloody stones,” I said. “You know, the standing stone circle, on the fairies’ hill, to the west?”

“Craigh na Dun,” Roger murmured. “That one?”

“Right.” I exhaled consciously. “You may know the legends about fairy hills—do you? About people who get trapped in rocky hills and wake up two hundred years later?”

Brianna was looking more alarmed by the moment.

“Mother, I really think you ought to go up and lie down,” she said. She half-rose from her seat. “I could go get Fiona…”

Roger put a hand on her arm to stop her.

“No, wait,” he said. He looked at me, with the sort of suppressed curiosity a scientist shows when putting a new slide under the microscope. “Go ahead,” he said to me.

“Thanks,” I said dryly. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to start driveling about fairies; I just thought you’d like to know there’s some basis to the legends. I haven’t any idea what it actually is up there, or how it works, but the fact is…” I took a deep breath, “Well, the fact is, that I walked through a bloody cleft stone in that circle in 1945, and I ended up on the hillside below in 1743.”

I’d said exactly that to Frank. He’d glared at me for a moment, picked up a vase of flowers from my bedside table, and smashed it on the floor.

Roger looked like a scientist whose new microbe has come through a winner. I wondered why, but was too engrossed in the struggle to find words that sounded halfway sane.



* * *



“The first person I ran into was an English dragoon in full fig,” I said. “Which rather gave me a hint that something was wrong.”

A sudden smile lighted Roger’s face, though Brianna went on looking horrified. “I should think it might,” he said.

“The difficulty was that I couldn’t get back, you see.” I thought I’d better address my remarks to Roger, who at least seemed disposed to listen, whether he believed me or not.

“The thing is, ladies then didn’t go about the place unescorted, and if they did, they didn’t do it wearing print dresses and oxford loafers,” I explained. “Everyone I met, starting with that dragoon captain, knew there was something wrong about me—but they didn’t know what. How could they? I couldn’t explain then any better than I can now—and lunatic asylums back then were much less pleasant places than they are now. No basket weaving,” I added, with an effort at a joke. It wasn’t noticeably successful; Brianna grimaced and looked more worried than ever.

“That dragoon,” I said, and a brief shudder went over me at the memory of Jonathan Wolverton Randall, Captain of His Majesty’s Eighth Dragoons. “I thought I was hallucinating at first, because the man looked so very like Frank; at first glance, I thought it was he.” I glanced at the table where a copy of one of Frank’s books lay, with its back-cover photograph of a dark and handsome lean-faced man.

“That’s quite a coincidence,” Roger said. His eyes were alert, fixed on mine.

“Well, it was and it wasn’t,” I told him, wrenching my eyes with an effort from the stack of books. “You know he was Frank’s ancestor. All the men in that family have a strong family resemblance—physically, at least,” I added, thinking of the rather striking nonphysical differences.

“What—what was he like?” Brianna seemed to be coming out of her stupor, at least slightly.

“He was a bloody filthy pervert,” I said. Two pairs of eyes snapped open wide and turned to each other with an identical look of consternation.

“You needn’t look like that,” I said. “They had perversion in the eighteenth century; it isn’t anything new, you know. Only it was worse then, maybe, since no one really cared, so long as things were kept quiet and decent on the surface. And Black Jack Randall was a soldier; he captained a garrison in the Highlands, charged with keeping the clans under control—he had considerable scope for his activities, all officially sanctioned.” I took a restorative gulp from the whisky glass I still held.

“He liked to hurt people,” I said. “He liked it a lot.”

“Did he…hurt you?” Roger put the question with some delicacy, after a rather noticeable pause. Bree seemed to be drawing into herself, the skin tightening across her cheekbones.

“Not directly. Or not much, at least.” I shook my head. I could feel a cold spot in the pit of my stomach, which the whisky was doing little to thaw. Jack Randall had hit me there, once. I felt it in memory, like the ache of a long-healed wound.

“He had fairly eclectic tastes. But it was Jamie that he.…wanted.” Under no circumstances would I have used the word “loved.” My throat felt thick, and I swallowed the last drops of whisky. Roger held up the decanter, one brow raised questioningly, and I nodded and held out my glass.

“Jamie. That’s Jamie Fraser? And he was…”

“He was my husband,” I said.

Brianna shook her head like a horse driving off flies.

“But you had a husband,” she said. “You couldn’t…even if…I mean…you couldn’t.”

“I had to,” I said flatly. “I didn’t do it on purpose, after all.”

“Mother, you can’t get married accidentally!” Brianna was losing her kindly-nurse-with-mental-patient attitude. I thought this was probably a good thing, even if the alternative was anger.

“Well, it wasn’t precisely an accident,” I said. “It was the best alternative to being handed over to Jack Randall, though. Jamie married me to protect me—and bloody generous of him, too,” I finished, glaring at Bree over my glass. “He didn’t have to do it, but he did.”

I fought back the memory of our wedding night. He was a virgin; his hands had trembled when he touched me. I had been afraid too—with better reason. And then in the dawn he had held me, naked back against bare chest, his thighs warm and strong behind my own, murmuring into the clouds of my hair, “Dinna be afraid. There’s the two of us now.”

“See,” I turned to Roger again, “I couldn’t get back. I was running away from Captain Randall when the Scots found me. A party of cattle-raiders. Jamie was with them, they were his mother’s people, the MacKenzies of Leoch. They didn’t know what to make of me, but they took me with them as a captive. And I couldn’t get away again.”

I remembered my abortive efforts to escape from Castle Leoch. And then the day when I had told Jamie the truth, and he—not believing, any more than Frank had, but at least willing to act as though he did—had taken me back to the hill and the stones.

“He thought I was a witch, perhaps,” I said, eyes closed, smiling just a bit at the thought. “Now they think you’re mad; then they thought you were a witch. Cultural mores,” I explained, opening my eyes. “Psychology is just what they call it these days instead of magic. Not the hell of a lot of difference.” Roger nodded, seeming a little stunned.

“They tried me for witchcraft,” I said. “In the village of Cranesmuir, just below the castle. Jamie saved me, though, and then I told him. And he took me to the hill, and told me to go back. Back to Frank.” I paused and drew a deep breath, remembering that October afternoon, where control of my destiny, taken from me for so long, had been suddenly thrust back into my hands, and the choice not given, but demanded of me.

“Go back!” he had said. “There’s nothing here for ye! Nothing save danger.”

“Is there really nothing here for me?” I had asked. Too honorable to speak, he had answered nonetheless, and I had made my choice.

“It was too late,” I said, staring down at my hands, lying open on my knees. The day was darkening to rain, but my two wedding rings still gleamed in the fading light, gold and silver. I hadn’t taken Frank’s gold band from my left hand when I married Jamie, but had worn Jamie’s silver ring on the fourth finger of my right hand, for every day of the twenty-odd years since he put it there.

“I loved Frank,” I said quietly, not looking at Bree. “I loved him a lot. But by that time, Jamie was my heart and the breath of my body. I couldn’t leave him. I couldn’t,” I said, raising my head suddenly to Bree in appeal. She stared back at me, stone-faced.

I looked down at my hands again, and went on.

“He took me to his own home—Lallybroch, it was called. A beautiful place.” I shut my eyes again, to get away from the look on Brianna’s face, and deliberately summoned the image of the estate of Broch Tuarach—Lallybroch, to the people who lived there. A beautiful Highland farm, with woods and streams; even a bit of fertile ground—rare for the Highlands. A lovely, peaceful place, sealed within high hills above a mountain pass that kept it remote from the recurrent strife that troubled the Highlands. But even Lallybroch had proved only a temporary sanctuary.

“Jamie was an outlaw,” I said, seeing behind my closed eyelids the scars of flogging that the English had left on his back. A network of thin white lines that webbed the broad shoulders like a branded grid. “There was a price on his head. One of his own tenants betrayed him to the English. They captured him, and took him to Wentworth Prison—to hang him.”

Roger gave a long, low whistle.

“Hell of a place,” he remarked. “Have you seen it? The walls must be ten feet thick!”

I opened my eyes. “They are,” I said wryly. “I’ve been inside them. But even the thickest walls have doors.” I felt a small flicker of the blaze of desperate courage that had taken me inside Wentworth Prison, in pursuit of my heart. If I could do that for you, I told Jamie silently, I can do this as well. But help me, you bloody big Scot—help me!

“I got him out,” I said, taking a deep breath. “What was left of him. Jack Randall commanded the garrison at Wentworth.” Now I didn’t want to remember the images that my words brought back, but they wouldn’t stop. Jamie, naked and bloody, on the floor of Eldridge Manor, where we had found sanctuary.

“I wilna let them take me back again, Sassenach,” he’d said to me, teeth clenched against the pain as I’d set the crushed bones of his hand and cleansed his wounds. “Sassenach.” He had called me that from the first; the Gaelic word for an outlander, a stranger. An Englishman. First in jest, and then in affection.

And I hadn’t let them find him; with the help of his kinsman, a little Fraser clansman called Murtagh, I’d gotten him across the Channel to France, and to refuge in the Abbey of Ste. Anne de Beaupré, where one of his Fraser uncles was abbot. But once there in safety, I had found that saving his life was not the end of the task set me.

What Jack Randall had done to him had sunk into his soul as surely as the flails of the lash had sunk in his back, and had left scars every bit as permanent. I was not sure, even now, what I had done, when I had summoned his demons and fought them single-handed, in the dark of his mind; there is very little difference between medicine and magic, when it comes to some kinds of healing.

I could still feel the cold, hard stone that bruised me, and the strength of the fury that I had drawn from him, the hands that closed round my neck and the burning creature who had hunted me through the dark.

“But I did heal him,” I said softly. “He came back to me.”

Brianna was shaking her head slowly back and forth, bewildered, but with a stubborn set to her head that I knew very well indeed. “Grahams are stupid, Campbells are deceitful, MacKenzies are charming but sly, and Frasers are stubborn,” Jamie had told me once, giving me his view of the general characteristics of the clans. He hadn’t been far wrong, either; Frasers were extremely stubborn, not least him. Nor Bree.

“I don’t believe it,” she said flatly. She sat up straighter, eyeing me closely. “I think maybe you’ve been thinking too much about those men at Culloden,” she said. “After all, you’ve been under a strain lately, and maybe Daddy’s death…”

“Frank wasn’t your father,” I said bluntly.

“He was!” She flashed back with it immediately, so fast that it startled both of us.

Frank had, in time, bowed to the doctors’ insistence that any attempt to “force me to accept reality,” as one of them put it, might be harmful to my pregnancy. There had been a lot of murmuring in corridors—and shouting, now and then—but he had given up asking me for the truth. And I, in frail health and sick at heart, had given up telling it to him.

I wasn’t going to give up, this time.

“I promised Frank,” I said. “Twenty years ago, when you were born. I tried to leave him, and he wouldn’t let me go. He loved you.” I felt my voice soften as I looked at Brianna. “He couldn’t believe the truth, but he knew—of course—that he wasn’t your father. He asked me not to tell you—to let him be your only father—as long as he lived. After that, he said, it was up to me.” I swallowed, licking dry lips.

“I owed him that,” I said. “Because he loved you. But now Frank’s dead—and you have a right to know who you are.”

“If you doubt it,” I said, “go to the National Portrait Gallery. They’ve a picture there of Ellen MacKenzie; Jamie’s mother. She’s wearing these.” I touched the pearl necklace at my throat. A string of baroque freshwater pearls from Scottish rivers, strung with roundels of pierced gold. “Jamie gave them to me on our wedding day.”

I looked at Brianna, sitting tall and stiff, the bones of her face stark in protest. “Take along a hand mirror,” I said. “Take a good look at the portrait and then in the mirror. It’s not an exact likeness, but you’re very like your grandmother.”

Roger stared at Brianna as though he’d never seen her before. He glanced back and forth between us, then, as though making up his mind, suddenly squared his shoulders and rose from the sofa where he had been sitting beside her.

“I’ve something I think you should see,” he said firmly. He crossed quickly to the Reverend’s old rolltop desk and pulled a rubber-banded bundle of yellowed newspaper clippings from one of the pigeonholes.

“When you’ve read them, look at the dates,” he told Brianna, handing them to her. Then, still standing, he turned to me and looked me over, with the long, dispassionate gaze that I recognized as a that of a scholar, schooled in objectivity. He didn’t yet believe, but he had the imagination to doubt.

“Seventeen forty-three,” he said, as though to himself. He shook his head, marveling. “And I thought it was a man you’d met here, in 1945. God, I would never have thought—well, Christ, who would?”

I was surprised. “You knew? About Brianna’s father?”

He nodded at the clippings in Brianna’s hands. She hadn’t yet looked at them, but was staring at Roger, half-bewildered, half-angry. I could see the storm gathering in her eyes, and so, I thought, could Roger. He looked hastily away from her, turning back to me in question.

“Then those men whose names you gave me, the ones who fought at Culloden—you knew them?”

I relaxed, ever so slightly. “Yes, I knew them.” There was a grumble of thunder to the east, and the rain broke in a spatter against the long windows that lined the study from floor to ceiling on one side. Brianna’s head was bent over the clippings, the wings of her hair hiding everything but the tip of her nose, which was bright red. Jamie always went red when he was furious or upset. I was all too familiar with the sight of a Fraser on the verge of explosion.

“And you were in France,” Roger murmured as though to himself, still studying me closely. The shock in his face was fading into surmise, and a kind of excitement. “I don’t suppose you knew…”

“Yes, I did,” I told him. “That’s why we went to Paris. I’d told Jamie about Culloden—the ’45, and what would happen. We went to Paris to try to stop Charles Stuart.”





PART TWO





The Pretenders



* * *



Le Havre, France

February 1744





6

MAKING WAVES

Bread,” I muttered feebly, keeping my eyes tightly closed. There was no response from the large, warm object next to me, other than the faint sigh of his breathing.

“Bread!” I said, a little louder. There was a sudden startled heave of the bedclothes, and I grasped the edge of the mattress and tightened all my muscles, hoping to stabilize the pitch and yaw of my internal organs.

Fumbling noises came from the far side of the bed, followed by the sliding of a drawer, a muffled exclamation in Gaelic, the soft thud of a bare foot stamping planks, and then the sinking of the mattress under the weight of a heavy body.

“Here, Sassenach,” said an anxious voice, and I felt the touch of a dry bread crust against my lower lip. Groping blindly without opening my eyes, I grasped it and began to chew gingerly, forcing each choking bite down a parched throat. I knew better than to ask for water.

The dessicated wads of bread crumbs gradually made their way down my throat and took up residence in my stomach, where they lay like small heaps of ballast. The nauseating roll of my inner waves slowly calmed, and at last my innards lay at anchor. I opened my eyes, to see the anxious face of Jamie Fraser hovering a few inches above me.

“Ak!” I said, startled.

“All right, then?” he asked. When I nodded and feebly began to sit up, he put an arm around my back to help me. Sitting down beside me on the rough inn bed, he pulled me gently against him and stroked my sleep-tousled hair.

“Poor love,” he said. “Would a bit of wine help? There’s a flask of hock in my saddlebag.”

“No. No, thank you.” I shuddered briefly at the thought of drinking hock—I seemed to smell the dark, fruity fumes, just at the mention of it—and pushed myself upright.

“I’ll be fine in a moment,” I said, with forced cheerfulness. “Don’t worry, it’s quite normal for pregnant women to feel sick in the morning.”

With a dubious look at me, Jamie rose and went to retrieve his clothes from the stool near the window. France in February is cold as hell frozen over, and the bubbled-glass panes of the window were coated thick with frost.

He was naked, and a ripple of gooseflesh brushed his shoulders and raised the red-gold hairs on his arms and legs. Accustomed to cold, though, he neither shivered nor hurried as he pulled on stockings and shirt. Pausing in his dressing, he came back to the bed and hugged me briefly.

“Go back to bed,” he suggested. “I’ll send up the chambermaid to light the fire. Perhaps ye can rest a bit, now you’ve eaten. You won’t be sick now?” I wasn’t entirely sure, but nodded reassuringly.

“I don’t think so.” I cast an eye back at the bed; the quilts, like most coverings supplied by public inns, were none too clean. Still, the silver in Jamie’s purse had procured us the best room in the inn, and the narrow bed was stuffed with goose feathers rather than with chaff or wool.

“Um, perhaps I will just lie down a moment,” I murmured, pulling my feet off the freezing floor and thrusting them under the quilts, in search of the last remnants of warmth. My stomach seemed to have settled sufficiently to risk a sip of water, and I poured a cupful from the cracked bedroom ewer.

“What were you stamping on?” I asked, sipping carefully. “There aren’t spiders up here, are there?”

Fastening his kilt about his waist, Jamie shook his head.

“Och, no,” he said. Hands busy, he tilted his head toward the table. “Just a rat. After the bread, I expect.”

Glancing down, I saw the limp gray form on the floor, a small pearl of blood glistening on the snout. I made it out of bed just in time.

“It’s all right,” I said faintly, a bit later. “There isn’t anything left to throw up.”

“Rinse your mouth, Sassenach, but don’t swallow, for God’s sake.” Jamie held the cup for me, wiped my mouth with a cloth as though I were a small and messy child, then lifted me and laid me carefully back in the bed. He frowned worriedly down at me.

“Perhaps I’d better stay here,” he said. “I could send word.”

“No, no, I’m all right,” I said. And I was. Fight as I would to keep from vomiting in the mornings, I could hold nothing down for long. Yet once the bout was over, I felt entirely restored. Aside from a sour taste in my mouth, and a slight soreness in the abdominal muscles, I felt quite my normal self. I threw back the covers and stood up, to demonstrate.

“See? I’ll be fine. And you have to go; it wouldn’t do to keep your cousin waiting, after all.”

I was beginning to feel cheerful again, despite the chilly air rushing under the door and beneath the folds of my nightgown. Jamie was still hesitating, reluctant to leave me, and I went to him and hugged him tightly, both in reassurance and because he was delightfully warm.

“Brrr,” I said. “How on earth can you be warm as toast, dressed in nothing but a kilt?”

“I’ve a shirt on as well,” he protested, smiling down at me.

We clung together for a bit, enjoying each other’s warmth in the quiet cold of the early French morning. In the corridor, the clash and shuffle of the chambermaid with her scuttle of kindling grew nearer.

Jamie shifted a bit, pressing against me. Because of the difficulties of traveling in the winter, we had been nearly a week on the road from Ste. Anne to Le Havre. And between the late arrivals at dismal inns, wet, filthy, and shivering with fatigue and cold, and the increasingly unsettled wakenings as my morning sickness got worse, we had scarcely touched each other since our last night at the Abbey.

“Come to bed with me?” I invited, softly.

He hesitated. The strength of his desire was obvious through the fabric of his kilt, and his hands were warm on the cool flesh of my own, but he didn’t move to take me in his arms.

“Well…” he said doubtfully.

“You want to, don’t you?” I said, sliding a chilly hand under his kilt to make sure.

“Oh! er…aye. Aye, I do.” The evidence at hand bore out this statement. He groaned faintly as I cupped my hand between his legs. “Oh, Lord. Don’t do that, Sassenach; I canna keep my hands from ye.”

He did hug me then, wrapping long arms about me and pulling my face into the snowy tucks of his shirt, smelling faintly of the laundry starch Brother Alfonse used at the Abbey.

“Why should you?” I said, muffled in his linen. “You’ve a bit of time to spare, surely? It’s only a short ride to the docks.”

“It isna that,” he said, smoothing my riotous hair.

“Oh, I’m too fat?” In fact, my stomach was still nearly flat, and I was thinner than usual because of the sickness. “Or is it…?”

“No,” he said, smiling. “Ye talk too much.” He bent and kissed me, then scooped me up and sat down on the bed, holding me on his lap. I lay down and pulled him determinedly down on top of me.

“Claire, no!” he protested as I started unbuckling his kilt.

I stared at him. “Whyever not?”

“Well,” he said awkwardly, blushing a bit. “The child…I mean, I dinna want to hurt it.”

I laughed.

“Jamie, you can’t hurt it. It’s no bigger than the tip of my finger yet.” I held up a finger in illustration, then used it to trace the full, curving line of his lower lip. He seized my hand and bent to kiss me abruptly, as though to erase the tickle of my touch.

“You’re sure?” he asked. “I mean…I keep thinking he wouldna like being jounced about…”

“He’ll never notice,” I assured him, hands once more busy with the buckle of his kilt.

“Well…if you’re sure of it.”

There was a peremptory rap at the door, and with impeccable Gallic timing, the chambermaid pushed her way in backward, carelessly gouging the door with a billet of wood as she turned. From the scarred surfaces of door and jamb, it appeared that this was her usual method of operations.

“Bonjour, Monsieur, Madame,” she muttered, with a curt nod toward the bed as she shuffled toward the hearth. All right for some people, said her attitude, louder than words. Used by this time to the matter-of-factness with which servants treated the sight of inn patrons in any form of dishabille, I merely murmured “Bonjour, Mademoiselle,” in return and let it go at that. I also let go of Jamie’s kilt, and slid under the covers, pulling the quilt up to hide my scarlet cheeks.

Possessed of somewhat greater sang-froid, Jamie placed one of the bolsters strategically across his lap, parked his elbows on it, rested his chin on upturned palms, and made pleasant conversation with the maid, praising the cuisine of the house.

“And from where do you procure the wine, Mademoiselle?” he asked politely.

“From here, from there.” She shrugged, stuffing kindling rapidly under the sticks with a practiced hand. “Wherever it’s cheapest.” The woman’s plump face creased slightly as she gave Jamie a sidelong look from the hearth.

“I gathered as much,” he said, grinning at her, and she gave a brief snort of amusement.

“I’ll wager I can match the price you’re getting, and double the quality,” he offered. “Tell your mistress.”

One eyebrow rose skeptically. “And what’s your own price, Monsieur?”

He made an altogether Gallic gesture of self-abnegation. “Nothing, Mademoiselle. I go to call upon a kinsman who sells wine. Perhaps I can bring him some new business to ensure my welcome, no?”

She nodded, seeing the wisdom of this, and grunted as she rose from her knees.

“Well enough, Monsieur. I’ll speak to the patronne.”

The door thumped to behind the maid, aided by a skillful swing of her hip in passing. Putting the bolster aside, Jamie stood up and began to rebuckle his kilt.

“Where do you think you’re going?” I protested.

He glanced down at me, and a reluctant smile curved the wide mouth.

“Oh. Well…you’re sure you’re up to it, Sassenach?”

“I am if you are,” I said, unable to resist.

He eyed me austerely.

“Just for that, I should go at once,” he said. “Still, I’ve heard that ye ought to humor expectant mothers.” He let the kilt fall to the floor and sat down beside me in his shirt, the bed creaking beneath his weight.

His breath rose in a faint cloud as he turned back the quilt and spread the front of the nightdress to expose my breasts. Bending his head, he kissed each one, touching the nipple delicately with his tongue, so it rose as though by magic, a swelling dark pink against the white skin of my breast.

“God, they’re so lovely,” he murmured, repeating the process on the other side. He cupped both breasts, admiring them.

“They’re heavier,” he said, “just a bit. And the nipples are darker, too.” One forefinger traced the springing curve of a single fine hair that rose near the dark areola, silver in the frosted light of the morning.

Lifting the quilt, he rolled next to me and I turned into his arms, clasping the solid curves of his back, letting my hands cup the firm rounds of his buttocks. His bare flesh was chilled by the morning air, but the goose bumps smoothed away under the warmth of my touch.

I tried to bring him to me at once, but he resisted me gently, forcing me down onto the pillow as he nibbled the edges of neck and ear. One hand slid up my thigh, the thin material of the nightgown gliding in waves before it.

His head dipped lower, and his hands gently spread my thighs apart. I shivered momentarily as the cold air hit the bare skin of my legs, then relaxed completely into the warm demand of his mouth.

His hair was loose, not yet laced back for the day, and the soft red tickle of it brushed my thighs. The solid weight of his body rested comfortably between my legs, broad hands cupped on the roundness of my hips.

“Mmmm?” came a interrogative sound from below.

I arched my hips slightly in response, and a brief chuckle grazed my skin with warmth.

The hands slid beneath my hips and raised me, and I relaxed into deliquescence as the tiny shudder grew and spread, rising in seconds to a fulfillment that left me limp and gasping, Jamie’s head resting on my thigh. He waited a moment for me to recover, caressing the slope of my leg, before returning to his self-appointed task.

I smoothed the tumbled hair back, caressing those ears, so incongruously small and neat for such a large, blunt man. The upper curve glowed with a faint, translucent pink, and I ran my thumb along the edge of the curve.

“They’re pointed at the tips,” I said. “Just a bit. Like a faun’s.”

“Oh, aye?” he said, interrupting his labors for a moment. “Like a small deer, ye mean, or the things ye see in classical paintings wi’ goat’s legs, chasing naked women?”

I lifted my head and peered down across the roil of bedclothes, nightgown, and naked flesh, to the deep blue cat-eyes, gleaming above damp curls of brown hair.

“If the shoe fits,” I said, “wear it.” And let my head fall back on the pillow as the resultant muffled laugh vibrated against my all too sensitive flesh.

“Oh,” I said, straining upward. “Oh, my. Jamie, come here.”

“Not yet,” he said, doing something with the tip of his tongue that made me squirm uncontrollably.

“Now,” I said.

He didn’t bother to reply, and I had no more breath to speak with.

“Oh,” I said, a bit later. “That’s…”

“Mmmm?”

“Good,” I murmured. “Come here.”

“No, I’ll do,” he said, face invisible behind the tangle of roan and cinnamon. “Would ye like it if I…”

“Jamie,” I said. “I want you. Come here.”

Sighing in resignation, he rose to his knees and let me pull him upward, settling at last with his weight balanced on his elbows, but comfortingly solid on top of me, belly to belly and lips to lips. He opened his mouth to protest further, but I promptly kissed him, and he slid between my thighs before he could stop himself. He moaned slightly in involuntary pleasure as he entered me, muscles tensing as he gripped my shoulders.

He was gentle and slow, pausing now and then to kiss me deeply, moving again only at my silent urging. I ran my hands softly down the slope of his back, careful not to press on the healing ridges of the fresh scars. The long muscles of his thigh trembled briefly against my own, but he held back, unwilling to move as quickly as he needed to.

I moved my hips against him, to bring him deeper.

He closed his eyes, and his brow furrowed slightly in concentration. His mouth was open, and his breath came hard.

“I can’t…” he said. “Oh, God, I canna help it.” His buttocks clenched suddenly, taut beneath my hands.

I sighed with deep satisfaction, and pulled him hard against me.

“You’re all right?” he asked, a few moments later.

“I won’t break, you know,” I said, smiling into his eyes.

He laughed huskily. “Maybe not, Sassenach, but I may.” He gathered me close against him, his cheek pressed against my hair. I flipped the quilt up and tucked it around his shoulders, sealing us in a pocket of warmth. The heat of the fire had not yet reached the bed, but the ice on the window was thawing, the crusted edge of the rime melted into glowing diamonds.

We lay quiet for a time, listening to the occasional crack of the burning applewood in the hearth and the faint sounds of the inn as the guests stirred to life. There were callings to and fro from the balconies across the courtyard, the swish and clop of hooves on the slushy stones outside, and the odd squeal now and then from below, from the piglets the landlady was raising in the kitchen behind the stove.

“Très français, n’est-ce pas?” I said, smiling at the sounds of an altercation drifting up through the floorboards, an amiable settling of accounts between the innkeeper’s wife and the local vintner.

“Diseased son of a pox-ridden whore,” the female voice remarked. “The brandy from last week tasted like horse-piss.”

I didn’t need to see the reply to imagine the one-shouldered shrug that went with it.

“How would you know, Madame? After the sixth glass, it all tastes the same, is it not so?”

The bed shook slightly as Jamie laughed with me. He lifted his head from the pillow and sniffed appreciatively at the scent of frying ham that filtered through the drafty chinks of the floorboards.

“Aye, it’s France,” he agreed. “Food, and drink—and love.” He patted my bare hip before tugging the wrinkled gown down over it.

“Jamie,” I said softly, “are you happy about it? About the baby?” Outlawed in Scotland, barred from his own home, and with only vague prospects in France, he could pardonably have been less than enthused about acquiring an additional obligation.

He was silent for a moment, only hugging me harder, then sighed briefly before answering.

“Aye, Sassenach.” His hand strayed downward, gently rubbing my belly. “I’m happy. And proud as a stallion. But I am most awfully afraid, too.”

“About the birth? I’ll be all right.” I could hardly blame him for apprehension; his own mother had died in childbirth, and birth and its complications were the leading cause of death for women in these times. Still, I knew a thing or two myself, and I had no intention whatever of exposing myself to what passed for medical care here.

“Aye, that—and everything,” he said softly. “I want to protect ye, Sassenach—spread myself over ye like a cloak and shield you and the child wi’ my body.” His voice was soft and husky, with a slight catch in it. “I would do anything for ye…and yet…there’s nothing I can do. It doesna matter how strong I am, or how willing; I canna go with you where ye must go…nor even help ye at all. And to think of the things that might happen, and me helpless to stop them…aye, I’m afraid, Sassenach.

“And yet”—he turned me toward him, hand closing gently over one breast—“yet when I think of you wi’ my child at your breast…then I feel as though I’ve gone hollow as a soap bubble, and perhaps I shall burst with joy.”

He pressed me tight against his chest, and I hugged him with all my might.

“Oh, Claire, ye do break my heart wi’ loving you.”



* * *



I slept for some time, and woke slowly, hearing the clang of a church bell ringing in the nearby square. Fresh from the Abbey of Ste. Anne, where all the day’s activities took place to the rhythm of bells, I automatically glanced at the window, to gauge the intensity of the light and guess the time of day. Bright, clear light, and a window free of ice. The bells rang for the Angelus then, and it was noon.

I stretched, enjoying the blissful knowledge that I needn’t get up at once. Early pregnancy made me tired, and the strain of travel had added to my fatigue, making the long rest doubly welcome.

It had rained and snowed unceasingly on the journey as the winter storms battered the French coast. Still, it could have been worse. We had originally intended to go to Rome, not Le Havre. That would have been three or four weeks’ travel, in this weather.

Faced with the prospect of earning a living abroad, Jamie had obtained a recommendation as a translator to James Francis Edward Stuart, exiled King of Scotland—or merely the Chevalier St. George, Pretender to the Throne, depending on your loyalties—and we had determined to join the Pretender’s court near Rome.

It had been a near thing, at that; we had been on the point of leaving for Italy, when Jamie’s uncle Alexander, Abbot of Ste. Anne’s, had summoned us to his study.

“I have heard from His Majesty,” he announced without preamble.

“Which one?” Jamie asked. The slight family resemblance between the two men was exaggerated by their posture—both sat bolt upright in their chairs, shoulders squared. On the abbot’s part, the posture was due to natural asceticism; on Jamie’s, to reluctance to let the newly healed scars on his back contact the wood of the chair.

“His Majesty King James,” his uncle replied, frowning slightly at me. I was careful to keep my face blank; my presence in Abbot Alexander’s study was a mark of trust, and I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize it. He had known me a bare six weeks, since the day after Christmas, when I had appeared at his gate with Jamie, who was near death from torture and imprisonment. Subsequent acquaintance had presumably given the abbot some confidence in me. On the other hand, I was still English. And the English King’s name was George, not James.

“Aye? Is he not in need of a translator, then?” Jamie was still thin, but he had been working outdoors with the Brothers who minded the stables and fields of the Abbey, and his face was regaining tinges of its normal healthy color.

“He is in need of a loyal servant—and a friend.” Abbot Alexander tapped his fingers on a folded letter that lay on his desk, the crested seal broken. He pursed his lips, glancing from me to his nephew and back.

“What I tell you now must not be repeated,” he said sternly. “It will be common knowledge soon, but for now—” I had tried to look trustworthy and close-mouthed; Jamie merely nodded, with a touch of impatience.

“His Highness, Prince Charles Edward, has left Rome, and will arrive in France within the week,” the Abbot said, leaning slightly forward as though to emphasize the importance of what he was saying.

And it was important. James Stuart had mounted an abortive attempt to regain his throne in 1715—an ill-considered military operation that had failed almost immediately for lack of support. Since then—according to Alexander—the exiled James of Scotland had worked tirelessly, writing ceaselessly to his fellow monarchs, and particularly to his cousin, Louis of France, reiterating the legitimacy of his claim to the throne of Scotland and England, and the position of his son, Prince Charles, as heir to that throne.

“His royal cousin Louis has been distressingly deaf to these entirely proper claims,” the Abbot had said, frowning at the letter as though it were Louis. “If he’s now come to a realization of his responsibilities in the matter, it’s cause for great rejoicing among those who hold dear the sacred right of kingship.”

Among the Jacobites, that was, James’s supporters. Of whom Abbot Alexander of the Abbey of Ste. Anne—born Alexander Fraser of Scotland—was one. Jamie had told me that Alexander was one of the exiled King’s most frequent correspondents, in touch with all that touched the Stuart cause.

“He’s well placed for it,” Jamie had explained to me, discussing the endeavor on which we were about to embark. “The papal messenger system crosses Italy, France, and Spain faster than almost any other. And the papal messengers canna be interfered with by government customs officers, so the letters they carry are less likely to be intercepted.”

James of Scotland, exiled in Rome, was supported in large part by the Pope, in whose interest it very much was to have a Catholic monarchy restored to England and Scotland. Therefore, the largest part of James’s private mail was carried by papal messenger—and passed through the hands of loyal supporters within the Church hierarchy, like Abbot Alexander of Ste. Anne de Beaupré, who could be depended on to communicate with the King’s supporters in Scotland, with less risk than sending letters openly from Rome to Edinburgh and the Highlands.

I watched Alexander with interest, as he expounded the importance of Prince Charles’s visit to France. A stocky man of about my own height, he was dark, and considerably shorter than his nephew, but shared with him the faintly slanted eyes, the sharp intelligence, and the talent for discerning hidden motive that seemed to characterize the Frasers I had met.

“So,” he finished, stroking his full, dark-brown beard, “I cannot say whether His Highness is in France at Louis’s invitation, or has come uninvited, on behalf of his father.”

“It makes a wee bit of difference,” Jamie remarked, raising one eyebrow skeptically.

His uncle nodded, and a wry smile showed briefly in the thicket of his beard.

“True, lad,” he said, letting a faint hint of his native Scots emerge from his usual formal English. “Very true. And that’s where you and your wife may be of service, if ye will.”

The proposal was simple; His Majesty King James would provide travel expenses and a small stipend, if the nephew of his most loyal and most esteemed friend Alexander would agree to travel to Paris, there to assist his son, His Highness Prince Charles Edward, in whatever ways the latter might require.

I was stunned. We had meant originally to go to Rome because that seemed the best place to embark on our quest: the prevention of the second Jacobite Rising—the ’45. From my own knowledge of history, I knew that the Rising, financed from France and carried out by Charles Edward Stuart, would go much farther than had his father’s attempt in 1715—but not nearly far enough. If matters progressed as I thought they would, then the troops under Bonnie Prince Charlie would meet with disastrous defeat at Culloden in 1746, and the people of the Highlands would suffer the repercussions of defeat for two centuries thereafter.

Now, in 1744, apparently Charles himself was just beginning his search for support in France. Where better to try to stop a rebellion, than at the side of its leader?

I glanced at Jamie, who was looking over his uncle’s shoulder at a small shrine set into the wall. His eyes rested on the gilded figure of Ste. Anne herself and the small sheaf of hothouse flowers laid at her feet, while his thoughts worked behind an expressionless face. At last he blinked once, and smiled at his uncle.

“Whatever assistance His Highness might require? Aye,” he said quietly, “I think I can do that. We’ll go.”

And we had. Instead of proceeding directly to Paris, though, we had come down the coast from Ste. Anne to Le Havre, to meet first with Jamie’s cousin, Jared Fraser.

A prosperous Scottish émigré, Jared was an importer of wines and spirits, with a small warehouse and large town house in Paris, and a very large warehouse indeed here in Le Havre, where he had asked Jamie to meet him, when Jamie had written to say we were en route to Paris.

Sufficiently rested by now, I was beginning to feel hungry. There was food on the table; Jamie must have told the chambermaid to bring it while I slept.

I had no dressing gown, but my heavy velvet traveling cloak was handy; I sat up and pulled the warm weight of it over my shoulders before rising to relieve myself, add another stick of wood to the fire, and sit down to my late breakfast.

I chewed hard rolls and baked ham contentedly, washing them down with the jug of milk provided. I hoped Jamie was being adequately fed as well; he insisted that Jared was a good friend, but I had my doubts about the hospitality of some of Jamie’s relatives, having met a few of them by now. True, Abbot Alexander had welcomed us—insofar as a man in the abbot’s position could be said to welcome having an outlaw nephew with a suspect wife descend upon him unexpectedly. But our sojourn with Jamie’s mother’s people, the MacKenzies of Leoch, had come within inches of killing me the autumn before, when I had been arrested and tried as a witch.

“Granted,” I’d said, “this Jared’s a Fraser, and they seem a trifle safer than your MacKenzie relatives. But have you actually met him before?”

“I lived with him for a time when I was eighteen,” he told me, dribbling candle-wax onto his reply and pressing his father’s wedding ring on the resultant greenish-gray puddle. A small cabochon ruby, its mount was engraved with the Fraser clan motto, je suis prest: “I am ready.”

“He had me to stay with him when I came to Paris to finish my schooling, and learn a bit of the world. He was verra kind to me; a good friend of my father’s. And there’s no one knows more about Parisian society than the man who sells it drink,” he added, cracking the ring loose from the hardened wax. “I want to talk to Jared before I walk into Louis’s court by the side of Charles Stuart; I should like to feel that I have some chance of getting out again,” he finished wryly.

“Why? Do you think there’ll be trouble?” I asked. “Whatever assistance His Highness might require” seemed to offer quite a bit of latitude.

He smiled at my worried look.

“No, I dinna expect any difficulty. But what is it the Bible says, Sassenach? ‘Put not your trust in princes’?” He rose and kissed me quickly on the brow, tucking the ring back in his sporran. “Who am I to ignore the word of God, eh?”



* * *



I spent the afternoon in reading one of the herbals that my friend Brother Ambrose had pressed upon me as a parting gift, then in necessary repairs with needle and thread. Neither of us owned many clothes, and while there were advantages in traveling light, it meant that holey socks and undone hems demanded immediate attention. My needlecase was nearly as precious to me as the small chest in which I carried herbs and medicines.

The needle dipped in and out of the fabric, winking in the light from the window. I wondered how Jamie’s visit with Jared was going. I wondered still more what Prince Charles would be like. He would be the first historically famous person I had met, and while I knew better than to believe all the legends that had (not had, would, I reminded myself) sprung up around him, the reality of the man was a mystery. The Rising of the ’45 would depend almost entirely on the personality of this one young man—its failure or success. Whether it took place at all might depend upon the efforts of another young man—Jamie Fraser. And me.

I was still absorbed in my mending and my thoughts, when heavy footsteps in the corridor aroused me to the realization that it was late in the day; the drip of water from the eaves had slowed as the temperature dropped, and the flames of the sinking sun glowed in the ice spears hanging from the roof. The door opened, and Jamie came in.

He smiled vaguely in my direction, then stopped dead by the table, face absorbed as though he were trying to remember something. He took his cloak off, folded it, and hung it neatly over the foot of the bed, straightened, marched over to the other stool, sat down on it with great precision, and closed his eyes.

I sat still, my mending forgotten in my lap, watching this performance with considerable interest. After a moment, he opened his eyes and smiled at me, but didn’t say anything. He leaned forward, studying my face with great attention, as though he hadn’t seen me in weeks. At last, an expression of profound revelation passed over his face, and he relaxed, shoulders slumping as he rested his elbows on his knees.

“Whisky,” he said, with immense satisfaction.

“I see,” I said cautiously. “A lot of it?”

He shook his head slowly from side to side, as though it were very heavy. I could almost hear the contents sloshing.

“Not me,” he said, very distinctly. “You.”

“Me?” I said indignantly.

“Your eyes,” he said. He smiled beatifically. His own eyes were soft and dreamy, cloudy as a trout pool in the rain.

“My eyes? What have my eyes got to do with…”

“They’re the color of verra fine whisky, wi’ the sun shining through them from behind. I thought this morning they looked like sherry, but I was wrong. Not sherry. Not brandy. It’s whisky. That’s what it is.” He looked so gratified as he said this that I couldn’t help laughing.

“Jamie, you’re terribly drunk. What have you been doing?”

His expression altered to a slight frown.

“I’m not drunk.”

“Oh, no?” I laid the mending aside and came over to lay a hand on his forehead. It was cool and damp, though his face was flushed. He at once put his arms about my waist and pulled me close, nuzzling affectionately at my bosom. The smell of mingled spirits rose from him like a fog, so thick as almost to be visible.

“Come here to me, Sassenach,” he murmured. “My whisky-eyed lass, my love. Let me take ye to bed.”

I thought it a debatable point as to who was likely to be taking whom to bed, but didn’t argue. It didn’t matter why he thought he was going to bed, after all, provided he got there. I bent and got a shoulder under his armpit to help him up, but he leaned away, rising slowly and majestically under his own power.

“I dinna need help,” he said, reaching for the cord at the neck of his shirt. “I told ye, I’m not drunk.”

“You’re right,” I said. “ ‘Drunk’ isn’t anywhere near sufficient to describe your current state. Jamie, you’re completely pissed.”

His eyes traveled down the front of his kilt, across the floor, and up the front of my gown.

“No, I’m not,” he said, with great dignity. “I did that outside.” He took a step toward me, glowing with ardor. “Come here to me, Sassenach; I’m ready.”

I thought “ready” was a bit of an overstatement in one regard; he’d gotten his buttons half undone, and his shirt hung askew on his shoulders, but that was as far as he was likely to make it unaided.

In other respects, though…the broad expanse of his chest was exposed, showing the small hollow in the center where I was accustomed to rest my chin, and the small curly hairs sprang up joyous around his nipples. He saw me looking at him, and reached for one of my hands, clasping it to his breast. He was startlingly warm, and I moved instinctively toward him. The other arm swept round me and he bent to kiss me. He made such a thorough job of it that I felt mildly intoxicated, merely from sharing his breath.

“All right,” I said, laughing. “If you’re ready, so am I. Let me undress you first, though—I’ve had enough mending today.”

He stood still as I stripped him, scarcely moving. He didn’t move, either, as I attended to my own clothes and turned down the bed.

I climbed in and turned to look at him, ruddy and magnificent in the sunset glow. He was finely made as a Greek statue, long-nosed and high-cheeked as a profile on a Roman coin. The wide, soft mouth was set in a dreamy smile, and the slanted eyes looked far away. He was perfectly immobile.

I viewed him with some concern.

“Jamie,” I said, “how, exactly, do you decide whether you’re drunk?”

Aroused by my voice, he swayed alarmingly to one side, but caught himself on the edge of the mantelpiece. His eyes drifted around the room, then fixed on my face. For an instant, they blazed clear and pellucid with intelligence.

“Och, easy, Sassenach. If ye can stand up, you’re not drunk.” He let go of the mantelpiece, took a step toward me, and crumpled slowly onto the hearth, eyes blank, and a wide, sweet smile on his dreaming face.

“Oh,” I said.



* * *



The yodeling of roosters outside and the clashing of pots below woke me just after dawn the next morning. The figure next to me jerked, waking abruptly, then froze as the sudden movement jarred his head.

I raised up on one elbow to examine the remains. Not too bad, I thought critically. His eyes were screwed tightly shut against stray beams of sunlight, and his hair stuck out in all directions like a hedgehog’s spines, but his skin was pale and clear, and the hands clutching the coverlet were steady.

I pried up one eyelid, peered within, and said playfully, “Anybody home?”

The twin to the eye I was looking at opened slowly, to add its baleful glare to the first. I dropped my hand and smiled charmingly at him.

“Good morning.”

“That, Sassenach, is entirely a matter of opinion,” he said, and closed both eyes again.

“Have you got any idea how much you weigh?” I asked conversationally.

“No.”

The abruptness of the reply suggested that he not only didn’t know, he didn’t care, but I persisted in my efforts.

“Something around fifteen stone, I make it. About as much as a good-sized boar. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any beaters to hang you upside down from a spear and carry you home to the smoking shed.”

One eye opened again, and looked consideringly at me, then at the hearthstone on the far side of the room. One corner of his mouth lifted in a reluctant smile.

“How did you get me in bed?”

“I didn’t. I couldn’t budge you, so I just laid a quilt over you and left you on the hearth. You came to life and crawled in under your own power, somewhere in the middle of the night.”

He seemed surprised, and opened the other eye again.

“I did?”

I nodded and tried to smooth down the hair that spiked out over his left ear.

“Oh, yes. Very single-minded, you were.”

“Single-minded?” He frowned, thinking, and stretched, thrusting his arms up over his head. Then he looked startled.

“No. I couldn’t have.”

“Yes, you could. Twice.”

He squinted down his chest, as though looking for confirmation of this improbable statement, then looked back at me.

“Really? Well, that’s hardly fair; I dinna remember a thing about it.” He hesitated for a moment, looking shy. “Was it all right, then? I didna do anything foolish?”

I flopped down next to him and snuggled my head into the curve of his shoulder.

“No, I wouldn’t call it foolish. You weren’t very conversational, though.”

“Thank the Lord for small blessings,” he said, and a small chuckle rumbled through his chest.

“Mm. You’d forgotten how to say anything except ‘I love you,’ but you said that a lot.”

The chuckle came back, louder this time. “Oh, aye? Well, could have been worse, I suppose.”

He drew in his breath, then paused. He turned his head and sniffed suspiciously at the soft tuft of cinnamon under his raised arm.

“Christ!” he said. He tried to push me away. “Ye dinna want to put your head near my oxter, Sassenach. I smell like a boar that’s been dead a week.”

“And pickled in brandy after,” I agreed, snuggling closer. “How on earth did you get so—ahem—stinking drunk, anyway?”

“Jared’s hospitality.” He settled himself in the pillows with a deep sigh, arm round my shoulder.

“He took me down to show me his warehouse at the docks. And the storeroom there where he keeps the rare vintages and the Portuguese brandy and the Jamaican rum.” He grimaced slightly, recalling. “The wine wasna so bad, for that you just taste, and spit it on the floor when you’ve done wi’ a mouthful. But neither of us could see wasting the brandy that way. Besides, Jared said ye need to let it trickle down the back of your throat, to appreciate it fully.”

“How much of it did you appreciate?” I asked curiously.

“I lost count in the middle of the second bottle.” Just then, a church bell started to ring nearby; the summons to early Mass. Jamie sat bolt upright, staring at the windowpane, bright with sun.

“Christ, Sassenach! What time is it?”

“About six, I suppose,” I said, puzzled. “Why?”

He relaxed slightly, though he stayed sitting up.

“Oh, that’s all right, then. I was afraid it was the Angelus bell. I’d lost all track of time.”

“I’d say so. Does it matter?”

In a burst of energy, he threw back the quilts and stood up. He staggered a moment, but kept his balance, though both hands went to his head, to make sure it was still attached.

“Aye,” he said, gasping a bit. “We’ve an appointment this morning down at the docks, at Jared’s warehouse. The two of us.”

“Really?” I clambered out of bed myself, and groped for the chamber pot under the bed. “If he’s planning to finish the job, I shouldn’t think he’d want witnesses.”

Jamie’s head popped through the neck of his shirt, eyebrows raised.

“Finish the job?”

“Well, most of your other relatives seem to want to kill you or me; why not Jared? He’s made a good start at poisoning you, seems to me.”

“Verra funny, Sassenach,” he said dryly. “Have ye something decent to wear?”

I had been wearing a serviceable gray serge gown on our travels, acquired through the good offices of the almoner at the Abbey of Ste. Anne, but I did also have the gown in which I had escaped from Scotland, a gift from Lady Annabelle MacRannoch. A pretty leaf-green velvet, it made me look rather pale, but was stylish enough.

“I think so, if there aren’t too many saltwater stains on it.”

I knelt by the small traveling chest, unfolding the green velvet. Kneeling next to me, Jamie flipped back the lid of my medicine box, studying the layers of bottles and boxes and bits of gauze-wrapped herbs.

“Have ye got anything in here for a verra vicious headache, Sassenach?”

I peered over his shoulder, then reached in and touched one bottle.

“Horehound might help, though it’s not the best. And willow-bark tea with sow fennel works fairly well, but it takes some time to brew. Tell you what—why don’t I make you up a recipe for hobnailed liver? Wonderful hangover cure.”

He bent a suspicious blue eye on me.

“That sounds nasty.”

“It is,” I said cheerfully. “But you’ll feel lots better after you throw up.”

“Mphm.” He stood up and nudged the chamber pot toward me with one toe.

“Vomiting in the morning is your job, Sassenach,” he said. “Get it over with and get dressed. I’ll stand the headache.”



* * *



Jared Munro Fraser was a small, spare, black-eyed man, who bore more than a passing resemblance to his distant cousin Murtagh, the Fraser clansman who had accompanied us to Le Havre. When I first saw Jared, standing majestically in the gaping doors of his warehouse, so that streams of longshoremen carrying casks were forced to go around him, the resemblance was strong enough that I blinked and rubbed my eyes. Murtagh, so far as I knew, was still at the inn, attending a lame horse.

Jared had the same lank, dark hair and piercing eyes; the same sinewy, monkey-like frame. But there all resemblance stopped, and as we drew closer, Jamie gallantly clearing a path for me through the mob with elbows and shoulders, I could see the differences as well. Jared’s face was oblong, rather than hatchet-shaped, with a cheerful snub nose that effectively ruined the dignified air conferred at a distance by his excellent tailoring and upright carriage.

A successful merchant rather than a cattle-raider, he also knew how to smile—unlike Murtagh, whose natural expression was one of unrelieved dourness—and a broad grin of welcome broke out on his face as we were jostled and shoved up the ramp into his presence.

“My dear!” he exclaimed, clutching me by the arm and yanking me deftly out of the way of two burly stevedores rolling a gigantic cask through the huge door. “So pleased to see you at last!” The cask bumped noisily on the boards of the ramp, and I could hear the rolling slosh of its contents as it passed me.

“You can treat rum like that,” Jared observed, watching the ungainly progress of the enormous barrel through the obstructions of the warehouse, “but not port. I always fetch that up myself, along with the bottled wines. In fact, I was just setting off to see to a new shipment of Belle Rouge port. Would you perhaps be interested in accompanying me?”

I glanced at Jamie, who nodded, and we set off at once in Jared’s wake, sidestepping the rumbling traffic of casks and hogsheads, carts and barrows, and men and boys of all descriptions carrying bolts of fabric, boxes of grain and foodstuffs, rolls of hammered copper, sacks of flour, and anything else that could be transported by ship.

Le Havre was an important center of shipping traffic, and the docks were the heart of the city. A long, solid wharf ran nearly a quarter-mile round the edge of the harbor, with smaller docks protruding from it, along which were anchored three-masted barks and brigantines, dories and small galleys; a full range of the ships that provisioned France.

Jamie kept a firm hold on my elbow, the better to yank me out of the way of oncoming handcarts, rolling casks, and careless merchants and seamen, who were inclined not to look where they were going but rather to depend on sheer momentum to see them through the scrum of the docks.

As we made our way down the quay, Jared shouted genteelly into my ear on the other side, pointing out objects of interest as we passed, and explaining the history and ownership of the various ships in a staccato, disjointed manner. The Arianna, which we were on our way to see, was in fact one of Jared’s own ships. Ships, I gathered, might belong to a single owner, more often to a company of merchants who owned them collectively, or, occasionally, to a captain who contracted his vessel, crew, and services for a voyage. Seeing the number of company-owned vessels, compared to the relatively few owned by individuals, I began to form a very respectful idea of Jared’s worth.

The Arianna was in the middle of the anchored row, near a large warehouse with the name FRASER painted on it in sloping, whitewashed letters. Seeing the name gave me an odd little thrill, a sudden feeling of alliance and belonging, with the realization that I shared that name, and with it, an acknowledged kinship with those who bore it.

The Arianna was a three-masted ship, perhaps sixty feet long, with a wide bow. There were two cannon on the side of the ship that faced the dock; in case of robbery on the high seas, I supposed. Men were swarming all over the deck with what I assumed was some purpose, though it looked like nothing so much as an ant’s nest under attack.

All sails were reefed and tied, but the rising tide shifted the vessel slightly, swinging the bowsprit toward us. It was decorated with a rather grim-visaged figurehead; with her formidable bare bosom and tangled curls all spangled with salt, the lady looked as though she didn’t enjoy sea air all that much.

“Sweet little beauty, is she not?” Jared asked, waving a hand expansively. I assumed he meant the ship, not the figurehead.

“Verra nice,” said Jamie politely. I caught his uneasy glance at the boat’s waterline, where the small waves lapped dark gray against the hull. I could see that he was hoping we would not be obliged to go on board. A gallant warrior, brilliant, bold, and courageous in battle, Jamie Fraser was also a landlubber.

Definitely not one of the hardy, seafaring Scots who hunted whales from Tarwathie or voyaged the world in search of wealth, he suffered from a seasickness so acute that our journey across the Channel in December had nearly killed him, weakened as he then was by the effects of torture and imprisonment. And while yesterday’s drinking orgy with Jared wasn’t in the same league, it wasn’t likely to have made him any more seaworthy.

I could see dark memories crossing his face as he listened to his cousin extolling the sturdiness and speed of the Arianna, and drew near enough to whisper to him.

“Surely not while it’s at anchor?”

“I don’t know, Sassenach,” he replied, with a look at the ship in which loathing and resignation were nicely mingled. “But I suppose we’ll find out.” Jared was already halfway up the gangplank, greeting the captain with loud cries of welcome. “If I turn green, can ye pretend to faint or something? It will make a poor impression if I vomit on Jared’s shoes.”

I patted his arm reassuringly. “Don’t worry. I have faith in you.”

“It isna me,” he said, with a last, lingering glance at terra firma, “it’s my stomach.”

The ship stayed comfortingly level under our shoes, however, and both Jamie and his stomach acquitted themselves nobly—assisted, perhaps, by the brandy poured out for us by the captain.

“A nice make,” Jamie said, passing the glass briefly under his nose and closing his eyes in approval of the rich, aromatic fumes. “Portuguese, isn’t it?”

Jared laughed delightedly and nudged the captain.

“You see, Portis? I told you he had a natural palate! He’s only tasted it once before!”

I bit the inside of my cheek and avoided Jamie’s eye. The captain, a large, scruffy-looking specimen, looked bored, but grimaced politely in Jamie’s direction, exhibiting three gold teeth. A man who liked to keep his wealth portable.

“Ung,” he said. “This the lad’s going to keep your bilges dry, is it?”

Jared looked suddenly embarrassed, a slight flush rising under the leathery skin of his face. I noticed with fascination that one ear was pierced for an earring, and wondered just what sort of background had led to his present success.

“Aye, well,” he said, betraying for the first time a hint of Scots accent, “that’s to be seen yet. But I think—” He glanced through the port at the activity taking place on the dock, then back at the captain’s glass, drained in three gulps while the rest of us were sipping. “Um, I say, Portis, would you allow me to use your cabin for a moment? I should like to confer with my nephew and his wife—and I see that the aft hold seems to be having a bit of trouble with the cargo nets, from the sound of it.” This craftily added observation was enough to send Captain Portis out of the cabin like a charging boar, hoarse voice uplifted in a Spanish-French patois that I luckily didn’t understand.

Jared stepped delicately to the door and closed it firmly after the captain’s bulky form, cutting down the noise level substantially. He returned to the tiny captain’s table and ceremoniously refilled all our glasses before speaking. Then he looked from Jamie to me and smiled once more, in charming deprecation.

“It’s a bit more precipitous than I’d meant to make such a request,” he said. “But I see the good captain has rather given away my hand. The truth of the matter is”—he raised his glass so the watery reflections from the port shivered through the brandy, striking patches of wavering light from the brass fittings of the cabin—“I need a man.” He tipped the cup in Jamie’s direction, then brought it to his lips and drank.

“A good man,” he amplified, lowering the glass. “You see, my dear,” bowing to me, “I have the opportunity of making an exceptional investment in a new winery in the Moselle region. But the evaluation of it is not one I should feel comfortable in entrusting to a subordinate; I should need to see the facilities myself, and advise in their development. The undertaking would require several months.”

He gazed thoughtfully into his glass, gently swirling the fragrant brown liquid so its perfume filled the tiny cabin. I had drunk no more than a few sips from my own glass, but began to feel slightly giddy, more from a rising excitement than from drink.

“It’s too good a chance to be missed,” Jared said. “And there’s the chance of making several good contracts with the wineries along the Rhône; the products there are excellent, but relatively rare in Paris. God, they’d sell among the nobility like snow in summer!” His shrewd black eyes gleamed momentarily with visions of avarice, then sparkled with humor as he looked at me.

“But—” he said.

“But,” I finished for him, “you can’t leave your business here without a guiding hand.”

“Intelligence as well as beauty and charm. I congratulate you, Cousin.” He tilted a well-groomed head toward Jamie, one eyebrow cocked in humorous approval.

“I confess that I was at something of a loss to see how I was to proceed,” he said, setting the glass down on the small table with the air of a man putting aside social frivolity for the sake of serious business. “But when you wrote from Ste. Anne, saying you intended to visit Paris…” He hesitated a moment, then smiled at Jamie, with an odd little flutter of the hands.

“Knowing that you, my lad”—he nodded to Jamie—“have a head for figures, I was strongly inclined to consider your arrival an answer to prayer. Still, I thought that perhaps we should meet and become reacquainted before I took the step of making you a definite proposal.”

You mean you thought you’d better see how presentable I was, I thought cynically, but smiled at him nonetheless. I caught Jamie’s eye, and one of his brows twitched upward. This was our week for proposals, evidently. For a dispossessed outlaw and a suspected English spy, our services seemed to be rather in demand.

Jared’s proposal was more than generous; in return for Jamie’s running the French end of the business during the next six months, Jared would not only pay him a salary but would leave his Paris town house, complete with staff, at our disposal.

“Not at all, not at all,” he said, when Jamie tried to protest this provision. He pressed a finger on the end of his nose, grinning charmingly at me. “A pretty woman to host dinner parties is a great asset in the wine business, Cousin. You have no idea how much wine you can sell, if you let the customers taste it first.” He shook his head decidedly. “No, it will be a great service to me, if your wife would allow herself to be troubled by entertaining.”

The thought of hosting supper parties for Parisian society was in fact a trifle daunting. Jamie looked at me, eyebrows raised in question, but I swallowed hard and smiled, nodding. It was a good offer; if he felt competent to take over the running of an importing business, the least I could do was order dinner and brush up my sprightly conversational French.

“Not at all,” I murmured, but Jared had taken my agreement for granted, and was going on, intent black eyes fixed on Jamie.

“And then, I thought perhaps you’d be needing an establishment of sorts—for the benefit of the other interests which bring you to Paris.”

Jamie smiled noncommittally, at which Jared uttered a short laugh and picked up his brandy glass. We had each been provided a glass of water as well, for cleansing the palate between sips, and he pulled one of these close with the other hand.

“Well, a toast!” he exclaimed. “To our association, Cousin—and to His Majesty!” He lifted the brandy glass in salute, then passed it ostentatiously over the glass of water and brought it to his lips.

I watched this odd behavior in surprise, but it apparently meant something to Jamie, for he smiled at Jared, picked up his own glass and passed it over the water.

“To His Majesty,” he repeated. Then, seeing me staring at him in bewilderment, he smiled and explained, “To His Majesty—over the water, Sassenach.”

“Oh?” I said, then, realization dawning, “oh!” The king over the water—King James. Which did a bit to explain this sudden urge on the part of everyone to see Jamie and myself established in Paris, which would otherwise have seemed an improbable coincidence.

If Jared were also a Jacobite, then his correspondence with Abbot Alexander was very likely more than coincidental; chances were that Jamie’s letter announcing our arrival had come together with one from Alexander, explaining the commission from King James. And if our presence in Paris fitted in with Jared’s own plans—then so much the better. With a sudden appreciation for the complexities of the Jacobite network, I raised my own glass, and drank to His Majesty across the water—and our new partnership with Jared.

Jared and Jamie then settled down to a discussion of the business, and were soon head to head, bent over inky sheets of paper, evidently manifests and bills of lading. The tiny cabin reeked of tobacco, brandy fumes, and unwashed sailor, and I began to feel a trifle queasy again. Seeing that I wouldn’t be needed for a while, I stood up quietly and found my way out on deck.

I was careful to avoid the altercation still going on around the rear cargo hatch, and picked my way through coils of rope, objects which I assumed to be belaying pins, and tumbled piles of sail fabric, to a quiet spot in the bow. From here, I had an unobstructed view over the harbor.

I sat on a chest against the taffrail, enjoying the salty breeze and the tarry, fishy smells of ships and harbor. It was still cold, but with my cloak pulled tight around me, I was warm enough. The ship rocked slowly, rising on the incoming tide; I could see the beards of algae on nearby dock pilings lifting and swirling, obscuring the shiny black patches of mussels between them.

The thought of mussels reminded me of the steamed mussels with butter I had had for dinner the night before, and I was suddenly starving. The absurd contrasts of pregnancy seemed to keep me always conscious of my digestion; if I wasn’t vomiting, I was ravenously hungry. The thought of food led me to the thought of menus, which led back to a contemplation of the entertaining Jared had mentioned. Dinner parties, hm? It seemed an odd way to begin the job of saving Scotland, but then, I couldn’t really think of anything better.

At least if I had Charles Stuart across a dinner table from me, I could keep an eye on him, I thought, smiling to myself at the joke. If he showed signs of hopping a ship for Scotland, maybe I could slip something into his soup.

Perhaps that wasn’t so funny, after all. The thought reminded me of Geillis Duncan, and my smile faded. Wife of the procurator fiscal in Cranesmuir, she had murdered her husband by dropping powdered cyanide into his food at a banquet. Accused as a witch soon afterward, she had been arrested while I was with her, and I had been taken to trial myself; a trial from which Jamie had rescued me. The memories of several days spent in the cold dark of the thieves’ hole at Cranesmuir were all too fresh, and the wind seemed suddenly very cold.

I shivered, but not altogether from chill. I could not think of Geillis Duncan without that cold finger down my spine. Not so much because of what she had done, but because of who she had been. A Jacobite, too; one whose support of the Stuart cause had been more than slightly tinged with madness. Worse than that, she was what I was—a traveler through the standing stones.

I didn’t know whether she had come to the past as I had, by accident, or whether her journey had been deliberate. Neither did I know precisely where she had come from. But my last vision of her, screaming defiance at the judges who would condemn her to burn, was of a tall, fair woman, arms stretched high, showing on one arm the telltale round of a vaccination scar. I felt automatically for the small patch of roughened skin on my own upper arm, beneath the comforting folds of my cloak, and shuddered when I found it.

I was distracted from these unhappy memories by a growing commotion on the next quay. A large knot of men had gathered by a ship’s gangway, and there was considerable shouting and pushing going on. Not a fight; I peered over at the altercation, shading my eyes with my hand, but could see no blows exchanged. Instead, an effort seemed to be under way to clear a pathway through the milling crowd to the doors of a large warehouse on the upper end of the quay. The crowd was stubbornly resisting all such efforts, surging back like the tide after each push.

Jamie suddenly appeared behind me, closely followed by Jared, who squinted at the mob scene below. Absorbed by the shouting, I hadn’t heard them come up.

“What is it?” I stood and leaned back into Jamie, bracing myself against the increasing sway of the ship underfoot. I was aware at close quarters of his scent; he had bathed at the inn and he smelled clean and warm, with a faint hint of sun and dust. A sharpening of the sense of smell was another effect of pregnancy, apparently; I could smell him even among the myriad stenches and scents of the seaport, much as you can hear a low-pitched voice close by in a noisy crowd.

“I don’t know. Some trouble with the other ship, looks like.” He reached down and put a hand on my elbow, to steady me. Jared turned and barked an order in gutteral French to one of the sailors nearby. The man promptly hopped over the rail and slid down one of the ropes to the quay, tarred pigtail dangling toward the water. We watched from the deck as he joined the crowd, prodded another seaman in the ribs, and received an answer, complete with expressive gesticulations.

Jared was frowning, as the pigtailed man scrambled back up the crowded gangplank. The sailor said something to him in that same thick-sounding French, too fast for me to follow it. After a few more words’ conversation, Jared swung abruptly around and came to stand next to me, lean hands gripping the rail.

“He says there’s sickness aboard the Patagonia.”

“What sort of sickness?” I hadn’t thought of bringing my medicine box with me, so there was little I could do in any case, but I was curious. Jared looked worried and unhappy.

“They’re afraid it might be smallpox, but they don’t know. The port’s inspector and the harbor master have been called.”

“Would you like me to have a look?” I offered. “I might at least be able to tell you whether it’s a contagious disease or not.”

Jared’s sketchy eyebrows disappeared under the lank black fringe of his hair. Jamie looked mildly embarrassed.

“My wife’s well known as a healer, Cousin,” he explained, but then turned and shook his head at me.

“No, Sassenach. It wouldna be safe.”

I could see the Patagonia’s gangway easily; now the gathered crowd moved suddenly back, jostling and stepping on each other’s toes. Two seamen stepped down from the deck, a length of canvas slung between them as a stretcher. The white sail-fabric sagged heavily under the weight of the man they carried, and a bare, sun-darkened arm lolled from the makeshift hammock.

The seamen wore strips of cloth tied round their noses and mouths, and kept their faces turned away from the stretcher, jerking their heads as they growled at each other, maneuvering their burden over the splintered planks. The pair passed under the fascinated noses of the crowd and disappeared into a nearby warehouse.

Making a quick decision, I turned and headed for the rear gangplank of the Arianna.

“Don’t worry,” I called to Jamie over one shoulder, “if it is smallpox, I can’t get that.” One of the seamen, hearing me, paused and gaped, but I just smiled at him and brushed past.

The crowd was still now, no longer surging to and fro, and it was not so difficult to make my way between the muttering clusters of seamen, many of whom frowned or looked startled as I ducked past them. The warehouse was disused; no bales or casks filled the echoing shadows of the huge room, but the scents of sawn lumber, smoked meat, and fish lingered, easily distinguishable from the host of other smells.

The sick man had been hastily dumped near the door, on a pile of discarded straw packing. His attendants pushed past me as I entered, eager to get away.

I approached him cautiously, stopping a few feet away. He was flushed with fever, his skin a queer dark red, scabbed thick with white pustules. He moaned and tossed his head restlessly from side to side, cracked mouth working as though in search of water.

“Get me some water,” I said to one of the sailors standing nearby. The man, a short, muscular fellow with his beard tarred into ornamental spikes, merely stared as though he had found himself suddenly addressed by a fish.

Turning my back on him impatiently, I sank to my knees by the sick man and opened his filthy shirt. He stank abominably; probably none too clean to start with, he had been left to lie in his own filth, his fellows afraid to touch him. His arms were relatively clear, but the pustules clustered thickly down his chest and stomach, and his skin was burning to the touch.

Jamie had come in while I made my examination, accompanied by Jared. With them was a small, pear-shaped man in a gold-swagged official’s coat and two other men, one a nobleman or a rich bourgeois by his dress; the other a tall, lean individual, clearly a seafarer from his complexion. Probably the captain of the plague ship, if that’s what it was.

And that’s what it appeared to be. I had seen smallpox many times before, in the uncivilized parts of the world to which my uncle Lamb, an eminent archaeologist, had taken me during my early years. This fellow wasn’t pissing blood, as sometimes happened when the disease attacked the kidneys, but otherwise he had every classic symptom.

“I’m afraid it is smallpox,” I said.

The Patagonia’s captain gave a sudden howl of anguish, and stepped toward me, face contorted, raising his hand as though to strike me.

“No!” he shouted. “Fool of a woman! Salope! Femme sans cervelle! Do you want to ruin me?”

The last word was cut off in a gurgle as Jamie’s hand closed on his throat. The other hand twisted hard in the man’s shirtfront, lifting him onto his toes.

“I should prefer you to address my wife with respect, Monsieur,” Jamie said, rather mildly. The captain, face turning purple, managed a short, jerky nod, and Jamie dropped him. He took a step back, wheezing, and sidled behind his companion as though for refuge, rubbing his throat.

The tubby little official was bending cautiously over the sick man, holding a large silver pomander on a chain close to his nose as he did so. Outside, the level of noise dropped suddenly as the crowd pulled back from the warehouse doors to admit another canvas stretcher.

The man before us sat up suddenly, startling the little official so that he nearly fell over. The man stared wildly around the warehouse, then his eyes rolled back in his head, and he fell back onto the straw as though he’d been poleaxed. He hadn’t, but the end result was much the same.

“He’s dead,” I said, unnecessarily.

The official, recovering his dignity along with his pomander, stepped in once more, looked closely at the body, straightened up and announced, “Smallpox. The lady is correct. I’m sorry, Monsieur le Comte, but you know the law as well as anyone.”

The man he addressed sighed impatiently. He glanced at me, frowning, then jerked his head at the official.

“I’m sure this can be arranged, Monsieur Pamplemousse. Please, a moment’s private conversation…” He motioned toward the deserted foreman’s hut that stood some distance away, a small derelict structure inside the larger building. A nobleman by dress as well as by title, Monsieur le Comte was a slender, elegant sort, with heavy brows and thin lips. His entire attitude proclaimed that he was used to getting his way.

But the little official was backing away, hands held out before him as though in self-defense.

“Non, Monsieur le Comte,” he said, “Je le regrette, mais c’est impossible.…It cannot be done. Too many people know about it already. The news will be all over the docks by now.” He glanced helplessly at Jamie and Jared, then waved vaguely at the warehouse door, where the featureless heads of spectators showed in silhouette, the late afternoon sun rimming them with gold halos.

“No,” he said again, his pudgy features hardening with resolve. “You will excuse me, Monsieur—and Madame,” he added belatedly, as though noticing me for the first time. “I must go and institute proceedings for the destruction of the ship.”

The captain uttered another choked howl at this, and clutched at his sleeve, but he pulled away, and hurried out of the building.

The atmosphere following his departure was a trifle strained, what with Monsieur le Comte and his captain both glaring at me, Jamie glowering menacingly at them, and the dead man staring sightlessly up at the ceiling forty feet above.

The Comte took a step toward me, eyes glittering. “Have you any notion what you have done?” he snarled. “Be warned, Madame; you will pay for this day’s work!”

Jamie moved suddenly in the Comte’s direction, but Jared was even faster, tugging at Jamie’s sleeve, pushing me gently in the direction of the door, and murmuring something unintelligible to the stricken captain, who merely shook his head dumbly in response.

“Poor bugger,” Jared said outside, shaking his head. “Phew!” It was chilly on the quay, with a cold gray wind that rocked the ships at anchor, but Jared mopped his face and neck with a large, incongruous red sailcloth handkerchief pulled from the pocket of his coat. “Come on, laddie, let’s find a tavern. I’m needing a drink.”

Safely ensconced in the upper room of one of the quayside taverns, with a pitcher of wine on the table, Jared collapsed into a chair, fanning himself, and exhaled noisily.

“God, what luck!” He poured a large dollop of wine into his cup, tossed it off, and poured another. Seeing me staring at him, he grinned and pushed the pitcher in my direction.

“Well, there’s wine, lassie,” he explained, “and then there’s stuff you drink to wash the dust away. Toss it back quick, before you have time to taste it, and it does the job handily.” Taking his own advice, he drained the cup and reached for the pitcher again. I began to see exactly what had happened to Jamie the day before.

“Good luck or bad?” I asked Jared curiously. I would have assumed the answer to be “bad,” but the little merchant’s air of jovial exhilaration seemed much too pronounced to be due to the red wine, which strongly resembled battery acid. I set down my own cup, hoping the enamel on my molars was intact.

“Bad for St. Germain, good for me,” he said succinctly. He rose from his chair and peered out the window.

“Good,” he said, sitting down again with a satisfied air. “They’ll have the wine off and into the warehouse by sunset. Safe and sound.”

Jamie leaned back in his chair, surveying his cousin with one eyebrow raised, a smile on his lips.

“Do we take it that Monsieur le Comte St. Germain’s ship also carried spirits, Cousin?”

An ear-to-ear grin in reply displayed two gold teeth in the lower jaw, which made Jared look still more piratical.

“The best aged port from Pinhão,” he said happily. “Cost him a fortune. Half the vintage from the Noval vineyards, and no more available for a year.”

“And I suppose the other half of the Noval port is what’s being unloaded into your warehouse?” I began to understand his delight.

“Right, my lassie, right as rain!” Jared chortled, almost hugging himself at the thought. “D’ye know what that will sell for in Paris?” he demanded, rocking forward and banging his cup down on the table. “A limited supply, and me with the monopoly? God, my profit’s made for the year!”

I rose and looked out the window myself. The Arianna rode at anchor, already noticeably higher in the water, as the huge cargo nets swung down from the boom mounted on the rear deck, to be carefully unloaded, bottle by bottle, into handcarts for the trip to the warehouse.

“Not to impair the general rejoicing,” I said, a little diffidently, “but did you say that your port came from the same place as St. Germain’s shipment?”

“Aye, I did.” Jared came to stand next to me, squinting down at the procession of loaders below. “Noval makes the best port in the whole of Spain and Portugal; I’d have liked to take the whole bottling, but hadn’t the capital. What of it?”

“Only that if the ships are coming from the same port, there’s a chance that some of your seamen might have smallpox too,” I said.

The thought blanched the wine flush from Jared’s lean cheeks, and he reached for a restorative gulp.

“God, what a thought!” he said, gasping as he set the cup down. “But I think it’s all right,” he said, reassuring himself. “The port’s half unloaded already. But I’d best speak to the captain, anyway,” he added, frowning. “I’ll have him pay the men off as soon as the loading’s finished—and if anyone looks ill, they can have their wages and leave at once.” He turned decisively and shot out of the room, pausing at the door just long enough to call over his shoulder, “Order some supper!” before disappearing down the stair with a clatter like a small herd of elephants.

I turned to Jamie, who was staring bemusedly into his undrunk cup of wine.

“He shouldn’t do that!” I exclaimed. “If he has got smallpox on board, he could spread it all over the city by sending men off with it.”

Jamie nodded slowly.

“Then I suppose we’ll hope he hasna got it,” he observed mildly.

I turned uncertainly toward the door. “But…shouldn’t we do something? I could at least go have a look at his men. And tell them what to do with the bodies of the men from the other ship…”

“Sassenach.” The deep voice was still mild, but held an unmistakable note of warning.

“What?” I turned back to find him leaning forward, regarding me levelly over the rim of his cup. He looked at me thoughtfully for a minute before speaking.

“D’ye think what we’ve set ourselves to do is important, Sassenach?”

My hand dropped from the door handle.

“Stopping the Stuarts from starting a rising in Scotland? Yes, of course I do. Why do you ask?”

He nodded, patient as an instructor with a slow pupil.

“Aye, well. If ye do, then you’ll come here, sit yourself down, and drink wine wi’ me until Jared comes back. And if ye don’t…” He paused and blew out a long breath that stirred the ruddy wave of hair above his forehead.

“If ye don’t, then you’ll go down to a quay full of seamen and merchants who think women near ships are the height of ill luck, who are already spreading gossip that you’ve put a curse on St. Germain’s ship, and you’ll tell them what they must do. With luck, they’ll be too afraid of ye to rape you before they cut your throat and toss you in the harbor, and me after you. If St. Germain himself doesna strangle you first. Did ye no see the look on his face?”

I came back to the table and sat down, a little abruptly. My knees were a trifle wobbly.

“I saw it,” I said. “But could he…he wouldn’t…”

Jamie raised his brows and pushed a cup of wine across the table to me.

“He could, and he would if he thought it could be managed inconspicuously. For the Lord’s sake, Sassenach, you’ve cost the man close on a year’s income! And he doesna look the sort to take such a loss philosophically. Had ye not told the harbor master it was smallpox, out loud in front of witnesses, a few discreet bribes would have taken care of the matter. As it is, why do ye think Jared brought us up here so fast? For the quality of the drink?”

My lips felt stiff, as though I’d actually drunk a good bit of the vitriol from the pitcher.

“You mean…we’re in danger?”

He sat back, nodding.

“Now you’ve got it,” he said kindly. “I dinna suppose Jared wanted to alarm you. I expect he’s gone to arrange a guard of some kind for us, as well as to see to his crew. He’ll likely be safe enough—everyone knows him, and his crew and loaders are right outside.”

I rubbed my hands over the gooseflesh that rippled up my forearms. There was a cheerful fire in the hearth, and the room was warm and smoky, but I felt cold.

“How do you know so much about what the Comte St. Germain might do?” I didn’t doubt Jamie at all—I remembered all too well the malevolent black glare the Comte had shot at me in the warehouse—but I did wonder how he knew the man.

Jamie took a small sip of the wine, made a face and put it down.

“For the one thing, he’s some reputation for ruthlessness—and other things. I heard a bit about him when I lived in Paris before, though I had the luck never to run afoul of the man then. For another, Jared spent some time yesterday warning me about him; he’s Jared’s chief business rival in Paris.”

I rested my elbows on the battered table, and parked my chin on my folded hands.

“I’ve made rather a mess of things, haven’t I?” I said ruefully. “Got you off on a fine footing in business.”

He smiled, then got up and came behind me, bending to put his arms around me. I was still rather unnerved from his sudden revelations, but felt much better to feel the strength and the bulk of him behind me. He kissed me lightly on top of the head.

“Dinna worry, Sassenach,” he said. “I can take care of myself. And I can take care of you, too—and you’ll let me.” There was a smile in his voice, but a question as well, and I nodded, letting my head fall back against his chest.

“I’ll let you,” I said. “The citizens of Le Havre will just have to take their chances with the pox.”



* * *



It was nearly an hour before Jared came back, ears reddened with cold, but throat unslit, and apparently none the worse for wear. I was happy to see him.

“It’s all right,” he announced, beaming. “Nothing but scurvy and the usual fluxes and chills aboard. No pox.” He looked around the room, rubbing his hands together. “Where’s supper?”

His cheeks were wind-reddened and he looked cheerful and capable. Apparently dealing with business rivals who settled contentions by assassination was all in a day’s work to this merchant. And why not? I thought cynically. He was a bloody Scot, after all.

As if to confirm this view, Jared ordered the meal, acquired an excellent wine to go with it by the simple expedient of sending to his own warehouse for it, and sat down to a genial postprandial discussion with Jamie on ways and means of dealing with French merchants.

“Bandits,” he said. “Every man jack o’ them would stab ye in the back as soon as look at ye. Filthy thieves. Don’t trust them an inch. Half on deposit, half on delivery, and never let a nobleman pay on credit.”

Despite Jared’s assurances that he had left two men below on watch, I was still a bit nervous, and after supper, I placed myself near the window, where I could see the comings and goings along the pier. Not that my watching out was likely to do a lot of good, I thought; every second man on the dock looked like an assassin to me.

The clouds were closing in over the harbor; it was going to snow again tonight. The reefed sails fluttered wildly in the rising wind, rattling against the spars with a noise that nearly overwhelmed the shouts of the loaders. The harbor glowed with a moment of dull green light as the setting sun was driven into the water by the pressing clouds.

As it grew darker, the bustle to and fro died down, the loaders with their handcarts disappearing up the streets into the town, and the sailors disappearing into the lighted doors of establishments like the one in which I sat. Still, the place was far from deserted; in particular, there was a small crowd still gathered near the ill-fated Patagonia. Men in some sort of uniform formed a cordon at the foot of the gangplank; no doubt to prevent anyone going aboard or bringing the cargo off. Jared had explained that the healthy members of the crew would be allowed to come ashore, but not permitted to bring anything off the ship save the clothes that they wore.

“Better than they’d do under the Dutch,” he said, scratching the rough black stubble that was beginning to emerge along his jaw. “If a ship’s coming in from a port known to have plague of some kind, the damned Hollanders make the sailors swim ashore naked.”

“What do they do for clothes once they get ashore?” I asked curiously.

“I don’t know,” said Jared absently, “but since they’ll find a brothel within moments of stepping on land, I don’t suppose they’d need any—begging your pardon, m’dear,” he added hastily, suddenly remembering that he was talking to a lady.

Covering his momentary confusion with heartiness, he rose and came to peer out of the window beside me.

“Ah,” he said. “They’re getting ready to fire the ship. Given what she’s carrying, they’d best tow it a good way out into the harbor first.”

Towropes had been attached to the doomed Patagonia, and a number of small boats manned by oarsmen were standing ready, waiting for a signal. This was given by the harbor master, whose gold braid was barely visible as a gleam in the dying light of the day. He shouted, waving both hands slowly back and forth above his head like a semaphore.

His shout was echoed by the captains of the rowboats and galleys, and the towropes slowly lifted from the water as they tautened, water sluicing down the heavy hemp spirals with a splash audible in the sudden silence that struck the docks. The shouts from the towboats were the only sound as the dark hulk of the condemned ship creaked, quivered, and turned into the wind, shrouds groaning as she set out on her last brief voyage.

They left her in the middle of the harbor, a safe distance away from the other ships. Her decks had been soaked with oil, and as the towropes were cast off and the galleys pulled away, the small round figure of the harbor master rose from the seat of the dinghy that had rowed him out. He bent down, head close to one of the seated figures, then rose with the bright sudden flame of a torch in one hand.

The rower behind him leaned away as he drew back his arm and threw the torch. A heavy club wrapped with oil-soaked rags, it turned end over end, the fire shrinking to a blue glow, and landed out of sight behind the railing. The harbor master didn’t wait to see the effects of his action; he sat down at once, gesturing madly to the rower, who heaved on the oars, and the small boat shot away across the dark water.

For long moments, nothing happened, but the crowd on the dock stood still, murmuring quietly. I could see the pale reflection of Jamie’s face, floating above my own in the dark glass of the window. The glass was cold, and misted over quickly with our breath; I rubbed it clear with the edge of my cloak.

“There,” Jamie said softly. The flame ran suddenly behind the railing, a small blue glowing line. Then a flicker, and the forward shrouds sprang out, orange-red lines against the sky. A silent leap, and the tongues of fire danced along the oil-drenched rails, and one furled sail sparked and burst into flame.

In less than a minute, the shrouds of the mizzen had caught, and the mainsail unfurled, its moorings burnt through, a falling sheet of flame. The fire spread too rapidly then to watch its progress; everything seemed alight at once.

“Now,” Jared said suddenly. “Come downstairs. The hold will catch in a minute, and that will be the best time to make away. No one will notice us.”

He was right; as we crept cautiously out of the tavern door, two men materialized beside Jared—his own seamen, armed with pistols and marlinspikes—but no one else noticed our appearance. Everyone was turned toward the harbor, where the superstructure of the Patagonia was visible now as a black skeleton inside a body of rippling flame. There was a series of pops, so close together they sounded like machine-gun fire, and then an almighty explosion that rose from the center of the ship in a fountain of sparks and burning timbers.

“Let’s go.” Jamie’s hand was firm on my arm, and I made no protest. Following Jared, guarded by the sailors, we stole away from the quay, surreptitious as though we had started the fire.





7

ROYAL AUDIENCE

Jared’s house in Paris stood in the Rue Tremoulins. It was a wealthy district, with stone-faced houses of three, four, and five stories crowded cheek by jowl together. Here and there a very large house stood alone in its own park, but for the most part, a reasonably athletic burglar could have leaped from rooftop to rooftop with no difficulty.

“Mmphm” was Murtagh’s solitary observation, upon beholding Jared’s house. “I’ll find my own lodging.”

“And it makes ye nervous to have a decent roof above your head, man, ye can sleep in the stables,” Jamie suggested. He grinned down at his small, dour godfather. “We’ll ha’ the footman bring ye out your parritch on a silver tray.”

Inside, the house was furnished with comfortable elegance, though as I was later to realize, it was Spartan by comparison with most of the houses of the nobility and the wealthy bourgeois. I supposed that this was at least in part because the house had no lady; Jared had never married, though he showed no signs of feeling the lack of a wife.

“Well, he has a mistress, of course,” Jamie had explained when I speculated about his cousin’s private life.

“Oh, of course,” I murmured.

“But she’s married. Jared told me once that a man of business should never form entanglements with unmarried ladies—he said they demand too much in terms of expense and time. And if ye marry them, they’ll run through your money and you’ll end up a pauper.”

“Fine opinion he’s got of wives,” I said. “What does he think of your marrying, in spite of all this helpful advice?”

Jamie laughed. “Well, I havena got any money to start with, so I can hardly be worse off. He thinks you’re verra decorative; he says I must buy ye a new gown, though.”

I spread the skirt of the apple-green velvet, more than a little the worse for wear.

“I suppose so,” I agreed. “Or I’ll go round wrapped in a bedsheet after a while; this is already tight in the waist.”

“Elsewhere, too,” he said, grinning as he looked me over. “Got your appetite back, have ye, Sassenach?”

“Oaf,” I said coldly. “You know perfectly well that Annabelle MacRannoch is the general size and shape of a shovel handle, whereas I am not.”

“You are not,” he agreed, eyeing me with appreciation. “Thank God.” He patted me familiarly on the bottom.

“I’m to join Jared at the warehouse this morning to go over the ledgers, then we’re going to call on some of his clients, to introduce me. Will ye be all right by yourself?”

“Yes, of course,” I said. “I’ll explore the house a bit, and get acquainted with the servants.” I had met the servants en masse when we had arrived late in the previous afternoon, but since we had dined simply in our room, I had seen no one since but the footman who brought the food, and the maid who had come in early in the morning to put back the curtains, lay and light the fire, and carry away the chamber pot. I quailed a bit at the thought of suddenly being in charge of a “staff,” but reassured myself by thinking that it couldn’t be much different from directing orderlies and junior nurses, and I’d done that before, as a senior nurse at a French field station in 1943.

After Jamie’s departure, I took my time in making what toilette could be made with a comb and water, which were the only grooming implements available. If Jared was serious about my holding dinner parties, I could see that a new gown was going to be merely the start of it.

I did have, in the side pocket of my medicine chest, the frayed willow twigs with which I cleaned my teeth, and I got one of these and set to work, thinking over the amazing fortune which had brought us here.

Essentially barred from Scotland, we would have had to find a place to make our future, either in Europe or by emigrating to America. And given what I now knew about Jamie’s attitude toward ships, I wasn’t at all surprised that he should have looked to France from the start.

The Frasers had strong ties with France; many of them, like Abbot Alexander and Jared Fraser, had made lives here, seldom if ever returning to their native Scotland. And there were many Jacobites as well, Jamie had told me, those who had followed their king into exile, and now lived as best they could in France or Italy while awaiting his restoration.

“There’s always talk of it,” he had said. “In the houses, mostly, not the taverns. And that’s why nothing’s come of it. When it gets to the taverns, you’ll know it’s serious.”

“Tell me,” I said, watching him brush the dust from his coat, “are all Scots born knowing about politics, or is it just you?”

He laughed, but quickly sobered as he opened the huge armoire and hung up the coat. It looked worn and rather pathetic, hanging by itself in the enormous, cedar-scented space.

“Well, I’ll tell ye, Sassenach, I’d as soon not know. But born as I was, between the MacKenzies and the Frasers, I’d little choice in the matter. And ye don’t spend a year in French society and two years in an army without learning how to listen to what’s being said, and what’s being meant, and how to tell the difference between the two. Given these times, though, it isna just me; there’s neither laird nor cottar in the Highlands who can stand aside from what’s to come.”

“What’s to come.” What was to come? I wondered. What would come, if we were not successful in our efforts here, was an armed rebellion, an attempt at restoration of the Stuart monarchy, led by the son of the exiled king, Prince Charles Edward (Casimir Maria Sylvester) Stuart.

“Bonnie Prince Charlie,” I said softly to myself, looking over my reflection in the large pier glass. He was here, now, in the same city, perhaps not too far away. What would he be like? I could think of him only in terms of his usual historical portrait, which showed a handsome, slightly effeminate youth of sixteen or so, with soft pink lips and powdered hair, in the fashion of the times. Or the imagined paintings, showing a more robust version of the same thing, brandishing a broadsword as he stepped out of a boat onto the shore of Scotland.

A Scotland he would ruin and lay waste in the effort to reclaim it for his father and himself. Doomed to failure, he would attract enough support to cleave the country, and lead his followers through civil war to a bloody end on the field of Culloden. Then he would flee back to safety in France, but the retribution of his enemies would be exacted upon those he left behind.

It was to prevent such a disaster that we had come. It seemed incredible, thinking about it in the peace and luxury of Jared’s house. How did one stop a rebellion? Well, if risings were fomented in taverns, perhaps they could be stopped over dinner tables. I shrugged at myself in the mirror, blew an errant curl out of one eye, and went down to cozen the cook.



* * *



The staff, at first inclined to view me with frightened suspicion, soon realized that I had no intention of interfering with their work, and relaxed into a mood of wary obligingness. I had thought at first, in my blur of fatigue, that there were at least a dozen servants lined up in the hallway for my inspection. In fact, there were sixteen of them, counting the groom, the stable-lad and the knife-boy, whom I hadn’t noticed in the general scrum. I was still more impressed at Jared’s success in business, until I realized just how little the servants were paid: a new pair of shoes and two livres per year for the footmen, a trifle less for the housemaids and kitchenmaids, a little more for such exalted personages as Madame Vionnet, the cook, and the butler, Magnus.

While I explored the mechanics of the household and stored up what information I could glean at home from the gossip of the parlormaids, Jamie was out with Jared every day, calling upon customers, meeting people, preparing himself to “assist His Highness” by making those social connections that might prove of value to an exiled prince. It was among the dinner guests that we might find allies—or enemies.

“St. Germain?” I said, suddenly catching a familiar name in the midst of Marguerite’s chatter as she polished the parquet floor. “The Comte St. Germain?”

“Oui, Madame.” She was a small, fat girl, with an oddly flattened face and popeyes that made her look like a turbot, but she was friendly and eager to please. Now she pursed her mouth up into a tiny circle, portending the imparting of some really scandalous tidbit. I looked as encouraging as possible.

“The Comte, Madame, has a very bad reputation,” she said portentously.

Since this was true—according to Marguerite—of virtually everyone who came to dinner, I arched my brows and waited for further details.

“He has sold his soul to the Devil, you know,” she confided, lowering her voice and glancing around as though that gentleman might be lurking behind the chimney breast. “He celebrates the Black Mass, at which the blood and flesh of innocent children are shared amongst the wicked!”

A fine specimen you picked to make an enemy of, I thought to myself.

“Oh, everyone knows, Madame,” Marguerite assured me. “But it does not matter; the women are mad for him, anyway; wherever he goes, they throw themselves at his head. But then, he is rich.” Plainly this last qualification was at least sufficient to balance, if not to outweigh, the blood-drinking and flesh-eating.

“How interesting,” I said. “But I thought that Monsieur le Comte was a competitor of Monsieur Jared; doesn’t he also import wines? Why does Monsieur Jared invite him here, then?”

Marguerite looked up from her floor-polishing and laughed.

“Why, Madame! It is so that Monsieur Jared can serve the best Beaune at dinner, tell Monsieur le Comte that he has just acquired ten cases, and at the conclusion of the meal, generously offer him a bottle to take home!”

“I see,” I said, grinning. “And is Monsieur Jared similarly invited to dine with Monsieur le Comte?”

She nodded, white kerchief bobbing over her oil-bottle and rag. “Oh, yes, Madame. But not as often!”

The Comte St. Germain was fortunately not invited for this evening. We dined simply en famille, so that Jared could rehearse Jamie in the few details left to be arranged before his departure. Of these, the most important was the King’s lever at Versailles.

Being invited to attend the King’s lever was a considerable mark of favor, Jared explained over dinner.

“Not to you, lad,” he said kindly, waving a fork at Jamie. “To me. The King wants to make sure I’m coming back from Germany—or Duverney, the Minister of Finance, does, at least. The latest wave of taxes hit the merchants hard, and a good many of the foreigners left—with the ill effects on the Royal Treasury you can imagine.” He grimaced at the thought of taxes, scowling at the baby eel on his fork.

“I mean to be gone by Monday-week. I’m waiting only for word that the Wilhelmina’s come in safe to Calais; then I’m off.” Jared took another bite of eel and nodded at Jamie, talking around the mouthful of food. “I’m leaving the business in good hands, lad; I’ve no worry on that score. We might talk a bit before I go about other matters, though. I’ve arranged with the Earl Marischal that we’ll go with him to Montmartre two days hence, for you to pay your respects to His Highness, Prince Charles Edward.”

I felt a sudden thump of excitement in the pit of my stomach, and exchanged a quick glance with Jamie. He nodded at Jared, as though this were nothing startling, but his eyes sparkled with anticipation as he looked at me. So this was the start of it.

“His Highness lives a very retired life in Paris,” Jared was saying as he chased the last eels, slick with butter, around the edge of the plate. “It wouldn’t be appropriate for him to appear in society, until and unless the King receives him officially. So His Highness seldom leaves his house, and sees few people, save those supporters of his father who come to pay their respects.”

“That isn’t what I’ve heard,” I interjected.

“What?” Two pairs of startled eyes turned in my direction, and Jared laid down his fork, abandoning the final eel to its fate.

Jamie arched an eyebrow at me. “What have ye heard, Sassenach, and from whom?”

“From the servants,” I said, concentrating on my own eels. Seeing Jared’s frown, it occurred to me for the first time that it might not be considered quite the thing for the lady of the house to be gossiping with parlormaids. Well, the hell with it, I thought rebelliously. There wasn’t much else for me to do.

“The parlormaid says that His Highness Prince Charles has been paying calls on the Princesse Louise de La Tour de Rohan,” I said, plucking a single eel off the fork and chewing slowly. They were delicious, but felt rather disconcerting if swallowed whole, as though the creature were still alive. I swallowed carefully. So far, so good.

“In the absence of the lady’s husband,” I added delicately.

Jamie looked amused, Jared horrified.

“The Princesse de Rohan?” Jared said. “Marie-Louise-Henriette-Jeanne de La Tour d’Auvergne? Her husband’s family are very close to the King.” He rubbed his fingers across his lips, leaving a buttery shine around his mouth. “That could be very dangerous,” he muttered, as though to himself. “I wonder if the wee fool…but no. Surely he’s more sense than that. It must be only inexperience; he’s not been so much in society, and things are different in Rome. Still…” He left off muttering and turned to Jamie with decision.

“That will be your first task, lad, in the service of His Majesty. You’re much of an age with His Highness, but you have the experience and the judgment of your time in Paris—and my training, I flatter myself.” He smiled briefly at Jamie. “You can befriend his Highness; smooth his path as much as may be with those men that will be of use to him; you’ve met most of them by now. And explain to His Highness—as tactfully as ye can—that gallantry in the wrong direction may do considerable damage to the aims of his father.”

Jamie nodded absently, plainly thinking of something else.

“How does our parlormaid come to know about His Highness’s vists, Sassenach?” he asked. “She doesna leave the house more than once a week, to go to Mass, does she?”

I shook my head, and swallowed the next mouthful in order to reply.

“So far as I’ve worked it out, our kitchenmaid heard it from the knife-boy, who heard it from the stable-lad, who got it from the groom next door. I don’t know how many people there are in between, but the Rohan house is three doors down the street. I’d imagine the Princesse knows all about us, too,” I added cheerfully. “At least she does, if she talks to her kitchenmaid.”

“Ladies do not gossip with their kitchenmaids,” Jared said coldly. He narrowed his eyes at Jamie in a silent adjuration to keep his wife in better order.

I could see the corner of Jamie’s mouth twitching, but he merely sipped his Montrachet and changed the subject to a discussion of Jared’s latest venture; a shipment of rum, on its way from Jamaica.

When Jared rang the bell for the dishes to be cleared and the brandy brought out, I excused myself. One of Jared’s idiosyncrasies was the enjoyment of long black cheroots with his brandy, and I had the distinct feeling that, carefully chewed or not, the eels I had eaten wouldn’t benefit from being smoked.

I lay on my bed and tried, with limited success, not to think about eels. I closed my eyes and tried to think of Jamaica—pleasant white beaches under tropical sun. But thoughts of Jamaica led to thoughts of the Wilhelmina and thought of ships made me think of the sea, which led directly back to images of giant eels, coiling and writhing through the heaving green waves. I greeted the distraction of Jamie’s appearance with relief, sitting up as he came in.

“Phew!” He leaned against the closed door, fanning himself with the loose end of his jabot. “I feel like a smoked sausage. I’m fond of Jared, but I shall be verra pleased when he’s taken his damned cheroots to Germany.”

“Well, don’t come near me, if you smell like a cheroot,” I said. “The eels don’t like smoke.”

“I dinna blame them a bit.” He took off his coat and unbuttoned his shirt. “I think it’s a plan, ye ken,” he confided, tossing his head toward the door as he took his shirt off. “Like the bees.”

“Bees?”

“How ye move a hive of bees,” he explained, opening the window and hanging his shirt outside from the crank of the casement. “You get a pipe full of the strongest tobacco ye can find, stick it into the hive and blow smoke up into the combs. The bees all fall down stunned, and you can take them where ye like. I think that’s what Jared does to his customers; he smokes them into insensibility, and they’ve signed orders for three times more wine than they meant to before they recover their senses.”

I giggled and he grinned, putting a finger to his lips as the sound of Jared’s light footsteps came down the corridor, passing our door on his way to his own room.

Danger of discovery past, he came and stretched out beside me, wearing only his kilt and stockings.

“Not too bad?” he asked. “I can sleep in the dressing room, if it is. Or put my head out of the window for airing.”

I sniffed his hair, where the scent of tobacco lingered among the ruddy waves. The candlelight shot the red with strands of gold, and I ruffled my fingers through it, enjoying the thick softness of it, and the hard, solid feel of the bone beneath.

“No, it’s not too bad. You’re not worried about Jared leaving so soon, then?”

He kissed my forehead and lay down, head on the bolster. He smiled up at me, shaking his head.

“No. I’ve met all the chief customers and the captains, I know all the warehousemen and the officials, I’ve the price lists and the inventories committed to memory. What’s left to learn about the business I must just learn by trying; Jared canna teach me more.”

“And Prince Charles?”

He half-closed his eyes and gave a small grunt of resignation. “Aye, well. For that, I must trust to the mercy of God, not Jared. And I daresay it will be easier if Jared isn’t here to see what I’m doing.”

I lay down beside him, and he turned toward me, sliding an arm around my waist so that we lay close together.

“What shall we do?” I asked. “Have you any idea, Jamie?”

His breath was warm on my face, scented with brandy, and I tilted my head up to kiss him. His soft, wide mouth opened on mine, and he lingered in the kiss for a moment before answering.

“Oh, I’ve ideas,” he said, drawing back with a sigh. “God knows what they’ll amount to, but I’ve ideas.”

“Tell me.”

“Mmphm.” He settled himself more comfortably, turning on his back and cradling me in one arm, head on his shoulder.

“Well,” he began, “as I see it, it’s a matter of money, Sassenach.”

“Money? I should have thought it was a matter of politics. Don’t the French want James restored because it will cause the English trouble? From the little I recall, Louis wanted—will want”—I corrected myself—“Charles Stuart to distract King George from what Louis is up to in Brussels.”

“I daresay he does,” he said, “but restoring kings takes money. And Louis hasna got so much himself that he can be using it on the one hand to fight wars in Brussels, and on the other to finance invasions of England. You heard what Jared said about the Royal Treasury and the taxes?”

“Yes, but…”

“No, it isna Louis that will make it happen,” he said, instructing me. “Though he’s something to say about it, of course. No, there are other sources of money that James and Charles will be trying as well, and those are the French banking families, the Vatican, and the Spanish Court.”

“James covering the Vatican and the Spanish, and Charles the French bankers, you think?” I asked, interested.

He nodded, staring up at the carved panels of the ceiling. The walnut panels were a soft, light brown in the flickering candle-glow, darker rosettes and ribbons twining from each corner.

“Aye, I do. Uncle Alex showed me correspondence from His Majesty King James, and I should say the Spanish are his best opportunity, judging from that. The Pope’s compelled to support him, ye ken, as a Catholic monarch; Pope Clement supported James for a good many years, and now Clement’s dead, Benedict continues it, but not at such a high level. But both Philip of Spain and Louis are James’s cousins; it’s the obligation of Bourbon blood he calls on there.” He smiled wryly at me, sidelong. “And from the things I’ve seen, I can tell ye that Royal blood runs damn thin when it comes to money, Sassenach.”

Lifting one foot at a time, he stripped off his stockings one handed and tossed them onto the bedroom stool.

“James got some money from Spain thirty years ago,” he observed. “A small fleet of ships, and some men as well. That was the Rising in 1715. But he had ill luck, and James’s forces were defeated at Sheriffsmuir—before James himself even arrived. So I’d say the Spanish are maybe none too eager to finance a second try at the Stuart restoration—not without a verra good idea that it might succeed.”

“So Charles has come to France to work on Louis and the bankers,” I mused. “And according to what I know of history, he’ll succeed. Which leaves us where?”

Jamie’s arm left my shoulders as he stretched, the shift of his weight tilting the mattress under me.

“It leaves me selling wine to bankers, Sassenach,” he said, yawning. “And you talking to parlormaids. And if we blow enough smoke, perhaps we’ll stun the bees.”



* * *



Just before Jared’s departure, he took Jamie to the small house in Montmartre where His Highness, Prince Charles Edward Louis Philip Casimir, etc. Stuart was residing, biding his time while waiting to see what Louis would or would not do for an impecunious cousin with aspirations to a throne.

I had seen them off, both dressed in their best, and spent the time while they were gone picturing the encounter in my mind, wondering how it had gone.

“How did it go?” I asked Jamie, the moment I got him alone upon his return. “What was he like?”

He scratched his head, thinking.

“Well,” he said at last, “he had a toothache.”

“What?”

“He said so. And it looked verra painful; he kept his face screwed up to one side with his jaw puffed a bit. I canna say whether he’s stiff in his manner usually, or if it was only that it hurt him to talk, but he didna say much.”

After the formal introductions, in fact, the older men, Jared, the Earl Marischal, and a rather seedy-looking specimen referred to casually as “Balhaldy,” had gravitated together and begun talking Scottish politics, leaving Jamie and His Highness more or less to themselves.

“We had a cup of brandywine each,” Jamie obediently reported, under my goading. “And I asked him how he found Paris, and he said he was finding it rather tiresomely confining, as he couldna get any hunting. And so then we talked of hunting. He prefers hunting wi’ dogs to hunting with beaters, and I said I did, too. Then he told me how many pheasants he’d shot on one hunting trip in Italy. He talked about Italy until he said the cold air coming in through the window was hurting his tooth—it’s no a verra well-built house; just a small villa. Then he drank some more brandywine for his tooth, and I told him about stag-hunting in the Highlands, and he said he’d like to try that sometime, and was I a good shot with a bow? And I said I was, and he said he hoped he would have the opportunity to invite me to hunt with him in Scotland. And then Jared said he needed to stop at the warehouse on the way back, so His Highness gave me his hand and I kissed it and we left.”

“Hmm,” I said. While reason asserted that naturally the famous—or about-to-be-famous, or possibly-famous, at any rate—were bound to be much like everyone else in their daily behavior, I had to admit that I found this report of the Bonnie Prince a bit of a letdown. Still, Jamie had been invited back. The important thing, as he pointed out, was to become acquainted with His Highness, in order to keep an eye on his plans as any developed. I wondered whether the King of France would be a trifle more impressive in person.



* * *



We were not long in finding out. A week later, Jamie rose in the cold, black dark and dressed himself for the long ride to Versailles, to attend the King’s lever. Louis awoke punctually at six o’clock every morning. At this hour, the favored few chosen to attend the King’s toilette should be assembled in the antechamber, ready to join the procession of nobles and attendants who were necessary to assist the monarch in greeting the new day.

Wakened in the small hours by Magnus the butler, Jamie stumbled sleepily out of bed and made ready, yawning and muttering. At this hour, my insides were tranquil, and I luxuriated in that delightful feeling that comes when we observe someone having to do something unpleasant that we are not required to do ourselves.

“Watch carefully,” I said, my voice husky with sleep. “So you can tell me everything.”

With a sleepy grunt of assent, he leaned over to kiss me, then shuffled off, candle in hand, to see to the saddling of his horse. The last I heard before sinking back under the surface of sleep was Jamie’s voice downstairs, suddenly clear and alert in the crisp night air, exchanging farewells with the groom in the street outside.

Given the distance to Versailles, and the chance—of which Jared had warned—of being invited to lunch, I wasn’t surprised when he didn’t return before noon, but I couldn’t help being curious, and waited in increasing impatience until his arrival—finally—near teatime.

“And how was the King’s lever?” I asked, coming to help Jamie remove his coat. Wearing the tight pigskin gloves de rigueur at Court, he couldn’t manage the crested silver buttons on the slippery velvet.

“Oh, that feels better,” he said, flexing his broad shoulders in relief as the buttons sprang free. The coat was much too tight in the shoulders; peeling him out of it was like shelling an egg.

“Interesting, Sassenach,” he said, in answer to my question, “at least for the first hour or so.”

As the procession of nobles came into the Royal Bedchamber, each bearing his ceremonial implement—towel, razor, alecup, royal seal, etc.—the gentlemen of the bedchamber drew back the heavy curtains that kept out the dawn, unveiled the draperies of the great bed of state, and exposed the face of le roi Louis to the interested eye of the rising sun.

Assisted to a sitting position on the edge of his bed, the King had sat yawning and scratching his stubbled chin while his attendants pulled a silk robe, heavy with embroidery of silver and gold, over the royal shoulders, and knelt to strip off the heavy felt stockings in which the King slept, to be replaced with hose of lighter silk, and soft slippers lined with rabbit fur.

One by one, the nobles of the court came to kneel at the feet of their sovereign, to greet him respectfully and ask how His Majesty had passed the night?

“Not verra well, I should say,” Jamie broke off to observe here. “He looked like he’d slept little more than an hour or two, and bad dreams with it.”

Despite bloodshot eyes and drooping jowls, His Majesty had nodded graciously to his courtiers, then risen slowly to his feet and bowed to those favored guests hovering in the back of the chamber. A dispirited wave of the hand summoned a gentleman of the bedchamber, who led His Majesty to the waiting chair, where he sat with closed eyes, enjoying the ministrations of his attendants, while the visitors were led forward one at a time by the Duc d’Orléans, to kneel before the King and offer a few words of greeting. Formal petitions would be offered a little later, when there was a chance of Louis being awake enough to hear them.

“I wasna there for petitioning, but only as a mark of favor,” Jamie explained, “so I just knelt and said, ‘Good morning, Your Majesty,’ while the Duc told the King who I was.”

“Did the King say anything to you?” I asked.

Jamie grinned, hands linked behind his head as he stretched. “Oh, aye. He opened one eye and looked at me as though he didna believe it.”

One eye still open, Louis had surveyed his visitor with a sort of dim interest, then remarked, “Big, aren’t you?”

“I said, ‘Yes, Your Majesty,’ ” Jamie said. “Then he said, ‘Can you dance?’ and I said I could. Then he shut his eye again, and the Duc motioned me back.”

Introductions complete, the gentlemen of the bedchamber, ceremoniously assisted by the chief nobles, had then proceeded to make the King’s toilette. As they did so, the various petitioners came forward at the beckoning of the Duc d’Orléans, to murmur into the King’s ear as he twisted his head to accommodate the razor, or bent his neck to have his wig adjusted.

“Oh? And were you honored by being allowed to blow His Majesty’s nose for him?” I asked.

Jamie grinned, stretching his linked hands until the knuckles cracked.

“No, thank God. I skulked about against the wardrobe, trying to look like part of the furniture, wi’ the bitty wee comtes and ducs all glancing at me out of the sides of their eyes as though Scottishness were catching.”

“Well, at least you were tall enough to see everything?”

“Oh, aye. That I did, even when he eased himself on his chaise percée.”

“He really did that? In front of everyone?” I was fascinated. I’d read about it, of course, but found it difficult to believe.

“Oh, aye, and everyone behaving just as they did when he washed his face and blew his nose. The Duc de Neve had the unspeakable honor,” he added ironically, “of wiping His Majesty’s arse for him. I didna notice what they did wi’ the towel; took it out and had it gilded, no doubt.

“A verra wearisome business it was, too,” he added, bending over and setting his hands on the floor to stretch the muscles of his legs. “Took forever; the man’s tight as an owl.”

“Tight as an owl?” I asked, amused at the simile. “Constipated, do you mean?”

“Aye, costive. And no wonder, the things they eat at Court,” he added censoriously, stretching backward. “Terrible diet, all cream and butter. He should eat parritch every morning for breakfast—that’d take care of it. Verra good for the bowels, ye ken.”

If Scotsmen were stubborn about anything—and, in fact, they tended to be stubborn about quite a number of things, truth be known—it was the virtues of oatmeal parritch for breakfast. Through eons of living in a land so poor there was little to eat but oats, they had as usual converted necessity into a virtue, and insisted that they liked the stuff.

Jamie had by now thrown himself on the floor and was doing the Royal Air Force exercises I had recommended to strengthen the muscles of his back.

Returning to his earlier remark, I said, “Why did you say ‘tight as an owl’? I’ve heard that before, to mean drunk, but not costive. Are owls constipated, then?”

Completing his course, he flipped over and lay on the rug, panting.

“Oh, aye.” He blew out a long sigh, and caught his breath. He sat up and pushed the hair out of his eyes. “Or not really, but that’s the story ye hear. Folk will tell ye that owls havena got an arsehole, so they canna pass the things they eat—like mice, aye? So the bones and the hairs and such are all made up into a ball, and the owl vomits them out, not bein’ able to get rid of them out the other end.”

“Really?”

“Oh, aye, that’s true enough, they do. That’s how ye find an owl-tree; look underneath for the pellets on the ground. Make a terrible mess, owls do,” he added, pulling his collar away from his neck to let air in.

“But they have got arseholes,” he informed me. “I knocked one out of a tree once wi’ a slingshot and looked.”

“A lad with an inquiring mind, eh?” I said, laughing.

“To be sure, Sassenach.” He grinned. “And they do pass things that way, too. I spent a whole day sitting under an owl-tree with Ian, once, just to make sure.”

“Christ, you must have been curious,” I remarked.

“Well, I wanted to know. Ian didna want to sit still so long, and I had to pound on him a bit to make him stop fidgeting.” Jamie laughed, remembering. “So he sat still wi’ me until it happened, and then he snatched up a handful of owl pellets, jammed them down the neck of my shirt, and was off like a shot. God, he could run like the wind.” A tinge of sadness crossed his face, his memory of the fleet-footed friend of his youth clashing with more recent memories of his brother-in-law, hobbling stiffly, if good-naturedly, on the wooden leg a round of grapeshot taken in a foreign battle had left him with.

“That sounds an awful way to live,” I remarked, wanting to distract him. “Not watching owls, I don’t mean—the King. No privacy, ever, not even in the loo.”

“I wouldna care for it myself,” Jamie agreed. “But then he’s the King.”

“Mmm. And I suppose all the power and luxury and so forth makes up for a lot.”

He shrugged. “Well, if it does or no, it’s the bargain God’s made for him, and he’s little choice but to make the best of it.” He picked up his plaid and drew the tail of it through his belt and up to his shoulder.

“Here, let me.” I took the silver ring-brooch from him and fastened the flaming fabric at the crest of his shoulder. He arranged the drape, smoothing the vivid wool between his fingers.

“I’ve a bargain like that myself, Sassenach,” he said quietly, looking down at me. He smiled briefly. “Though thank God it doesna mean inviting Ian to wipe my arse for me. But I was born laird. I’m the steward of that land and the people on it, and I must make the best of my own bargain wi’ them.”

He reached out and touched my hair lightly.

“That’s why I was glad when ye said we’d come, to try and see what we might do. For there’s a part of me would like no better than to take you and the bairn and go far away, to spend the rest of my life working the fields and the beasts, to come in in the evenings and lie beside ye, quiet through the night.”

The deep blue eyes were hooded in thought, as his hand returned to the folds of his plaid, stroking the bright checks of the Fraser tartan, with the faint white stripe that distinguished Lallybroch from the other septs and families.

“But if I did,” he went on, as though speaking more to himself than to me, “there’s a part of my soul would feel forsworn, and I think—I think I would always hear the voices of the people that are mine, calling out behind me.”

I laid a hand on his shoulder, and he looked up, a faint lopsided smile on the wide mouth.

“I think you would, too,” I said. “Jamie…whatever happens, whatever we’re able to do…” I stopped, looking for words. As so often before, the sheer enormity of the task we had taken on staggered me and left me speechless. Who were we, to alter the course of history, to change the course of events not for ourselves, but for princes and peasants, for the entire country of Scotland?

Jamie laid his hand over mine and squeezed it reassuringly.

“No one can ask more of us than our best, Sassenach. Nay, if there’s blood shed, it wilna lie on our hands at least, and pray God it may not come to that.”

I thought of the lonely gray clanstones on Culloden Moor, and the Highland men who might lie under them, if we were unsuccessful.

“Pray God,” I echoed.





8

UNLAID GHOSTS AND CROCODILES

Between Royal audiences and the daily demands of Jared’s business, Jamie seemed to be finding life full. He disappeared with Murtagh soon after breakfast each morning, to check new deliveries to the warehouse, make inventories, visit the docks on the Seine, and conduct tours of what sounded from his description to be extremely unsavory taverns.

“Well, at least you’ve got Murtagh with you,” I remarked, taking comfort from the fact, “and the two of you can’t get in too much trouble in broad daylight.” The wiry little clansman was unimpressive to look at, his attire varying from that of the ne’er-do-wells on the docks only by the fact that the lower half was tartan plaid, but I had ridden through half of Scotland with Murtagh to rescue Jamie from Wentworth Prison, and there was no one in the world whom I would sooner have trusted with his welfare.

After luncheon, Jamie would make his rounds of calls—social and business, and an increasing number of both—and then retire into his study for an hour or two with the ledgers and account books before dinner. He was busy.

I was not. A few days of polite skirmishing with Madame Vionnet, the head-cook, had left it clear who was in charge of the household, and it wasn’t me. Madame came to my sitting room each morning, to consult me on the menu for the day, and to present me with the list of expenditures deemed necessary for the provisioning of the kitchen-fruit, vegetables, butter, and milk from a farm just outside the city, delivered fresh each morning, fish caught from the Seine and sold from a barrow in the street, along with fresh mussels that poked their sealed black curves from heaps of wilting waterweed. I looked over the lists for form’s sake, approved everything, praised the dinner of the night before, and that was that. Aside from the occasional call to open the linen cupboard, the wine cellar, the root cellar, or the pantry with a key from my bunch, my time was then my own, until the hour came to dress for dinner.

The social life of Jared’s establishment continued much as it had when he was in residence. I was still cautious about entertaining on a large scale, but we held small dinners every night, to which came nobles, chevaliers, and ladies, poor Jacobites in exile, wealthy merchants and their wives.

However, I found that eating and drinking and preparing to eat and drink was not really sufficient occupation. I fidgeted to the point that Jamie at last suggested I come and copy ledger entries for him.

“Better do that than be gnawin’ yourself,” he said, looking critically at my bitten nails. “Beside, ye write a fairer hand than the warehouse clerks.”

So it was that I was in the study, crouched industriously over the enormous ledger books, when Mr. Silas Hawkins came late one afternoon, with an order for two tuns of Flemish brandy. Mr. Hawkins was stout and prosperous; an émigré like Jared, he was an Englishman who specialized in the export of French brandies to his homeland.

I supposed that a merchant who looked like a teetotaler would find it rather difficult to sell people wines and spirits in quantity. Mr. Hawkins was fortunate in this regard, in that he had the permanently flushed cheeks and jolly smile of a reveler, though Jamie had told me that the man never tasted his own wares, and in fact seldom drank anything beyond rough ale, though his appetite for food was a legend in the taverns he visited. An expression of alert calculation lurked at the back of his bright brown eyes, behind the smooth bonhomie that oiled his transactions.

“My best suppliers, I do declare,” he declared, signing a large order with a flourish. “Always dependable, always of the first quality. I shall miss your cousin sorely in his absence,” he said, bowing to Jamie, “but he’s done well in his choice of a substitute. Trust a Scotsman to keep the business in the family.”

The small, bright eyes lingered on Jamie’s kilt, the Fraser red of it bright against the dark wood paneling of the drawing room.

“Just over from Scotland recently?” Mr. Hawkins asked casually, feeling inside his coat.

“Nay, I’ve been in France for a time.” Jamie smiled, turning the question away. He took the quill pen from Mr. Hawkins, but finding it too blunted for his taste, tossed it aside, pulling a fresh one from the bouquet of goose feathers that sprouted from a small glass jug on the sideboard.

“Ah. I see from your dress that you are a Highland Scot; I had thought perhaps you would be able to advise me as to the current sentiments prevailing in that part of the country. One hears such rumors, you know.” Mr. Hawkins subsided into a chair at the wave of Jamie’s hand, his round, rosy face apparently intent on the fat leather purse he had drawn from his pocket.

“As for rumors—well, that’s the normal state of affairs in Scotland, no?” Jamie said, studiously sharpening the fresh quill. “But sentiments? Nay, if ye mean politics, I’m afraid I’ve little attention for such things myself.” The small penknife made a sharp snicking sound as the horny slivers shaved off the thick stem of the quill.

Mr. Hawkins brought out several silver pieces from his purse, stacking them neatly in a tidy column between the two men.

“ ’Strewth?” he said, almost absently. “If so, you’re the first Highlander I’ve met who hadn’t.”

Jamie finished his sharpening and held the point of the quill up, squinting to judge its angle.

“Mm?” he said vaguely. “Aye, well, I’ve other matters that concern me; the running of a business such as this is time-consuming, as you’ll know yourself, I imagine.”

“So it is.” Mr. Hawkins counted over the coins in his column once more and removed one, replacing it with two smaller ones. “I’ve heard that Charles Stuart has recently arrived in Paris,” he said. His round tippler’s face showed no more than mild interest, but the eyes were alert in their pockets of fat.

“Oh, aye,” Jamie muttered, his tone of voice leaving it open whether this was acknowledgment of fact, or merely an expression of polite indifference. He had the order before him, and was signing each page with excessive care, crafting the letters rather than scribbling them, as was his usual habit. A left-handed man forced as a boy to write right-handed, he always found letters difficult, but he seldom made such a fuss of it.

“You do not share your cousin’s sympathies in that direction, then?” Hawkins sat back a little, watching the crown of Jamie’s bent head, which was naturally rather noncommital.

“Is that any concern of yours, sir?” Jamie raised his head, and fixed Mr. Hawkins with a mild blue stare. The plump merchant returned the look for a moment, then waved a podgy hand in airy dismissal.

“Not at all,” he said smoothly. “Still, I am familiar with your cousin’s Jacobite leanings—he makes no secret of them. I wondered only whether all Scots were of one mind on this matter of the Stuart pretensions to the throne.”

“If you’ve had much to do wi’ Highland Scots,” Jamie said dryly, handing across a copy of the order, “then ye’ll know that it’s rare to find two of them in agreement on anything much beyond the color of the sky—and even that is open to question from time to time.”

Mr. Hawkins laughed, his comfortable paunch shaking under his waistcoat, and tucked the folded paper away in his coat. Seeing that Jamie was not eager to have this line of inquiry pursued, I stepped in at this point with a hospitable offer of Madeira and biscuits.

Mr. Hawkins looked tempted for a moment, but then shook his head regretfully, pushing back his chair to rise.

“No, no, I thank you, milady, but no. The Arabella docks this Thursday, and I must be at Calais to meet her. And the devil of a lot there is to do before I set foot in the carriage to leave.” He grimaced at a large sheaf of orders and receipts he had pulled from his pocket, added Jamie’s receipt to the heap, and stuffed them back into a large leather traveling wallet.

“Still,” he said, brightening, “I can do a bit of business on the way; I shall call in at the inns and public houses between here and Calais.”

“If ye call in at all the taverns ’twixt here and the coast, you’ll no reach Calais ’til next month,” observed Jamie. He fished his own purse from his sporran and scooped the small column of silver into it.

“Too true, milord,” Mr. Hawkins said, frowning ruefully. “I suppose I must give one or two the miss, and catch them up on my way back.”

“Surely you could send someone to Calais in your place, if your time is so valuable?” I suggested.

He rolled his eyes expressively, pursing his jolly little mouth into something as close to mournfulness as could be managed within the limitations of its shape.

“Would that I could, milady. But the shipment the Arabella carries is, alas, nothing I can consign to the good offices of a functionary. My niece Mary is aboard,” he confided, “bound even as we speak for the French coast. She is but fifteen, and has never been away from her home before. I am afraid I could scarce leave her to find her way to Paris alone.”

“I shouldn’t think so,” I agreed politely. The name seemed familiar, but I couldn’t think why. Mary Hawkins. Undistinguished enough; I couldn’t connect it with anything in particular. I was still musing over it when Jamie rose to see Mr. Hawkins to the door.

“I trust your niece’s journey will be pleasant,” he said politely. “Does she come for schooling, then? Or to visit relatives?”

“For marriage,” said her uncle with satisfaction. “My brother has been fortunate in securing a most advantageous match for her, with a member of the French nobility.” He seemed to expand with pride at this, the plain gold buttons straining the fabric of his waistcoat. “My elder brother is a baronet, you know.”

“She’s fifteen?” I said, uneasily. I knew that early marriages were not uncommon, but fifteen? Still, I had been married at nineteen—and again at twenty-seven. I knew the hell of a lot more at twenty-seven.

“Er, has your niece been acquainted with her fiancé for very long?” I asked cautiously.

“Never met him. In fact”—Mr. Hawkins leaned close, laying a finger next to his lips and lowering his voice—“she doesn’t yet know about the marriage. The negotiations are not quite complete, you see.”

I was appalled at this, and opened my mouth to say something, but Jamie clutched my elbow tightly in warning.

“Well, if the gentleman is of the nobility, perhaps we shall see your niece at Court, then,” he suggested, shoving me firmly toward the door like the blade of a bulldozer. Mr. Hawkins, moving perforce to avoid my stepping on him, backed away, still talking.

“Indeed you may, milord Broch Tuarach. Indeed, I should deem it a great honor for yourself and your lady to meet my niece. I am sure she would derive great comfort from the society of a countrywoman,” he added with a smarmy smile at me. “Not that I would presume upon what is merely a business acquaintance, to be sure.”

The hell you wouldn’t presume, I thought indignantly. You’d do anything you could to squeeze your family into the French nobility, including marrying your niece to…to…

“Er, who is your niece’s fiancé?” I asked bluntly.

Mr. Hawkins’s face grew cunning, and he leaned close enough to whisper hoarsely into my ear.

“I really should not say until the contracts have been signed, but seeing as it is your ladyship.…I can tell you that it is a member of the House of Gascogne. And a very high-ranking member indeed!”

“Indeed,” I said.

Mr. Hawkins went off rubbing his hands together in a perfect frenzy of anticipation, and I turned at once to Jamie.

“Gascogne! He must mean…but he can’t, can he? That revolting old beast with the snuff stains on his chin who came to dinner last week?”

“The Vicomte Marigny?” Jamie said, smiling at my description. “I suppose so; he’s a widower, and the only single male of that house, so far as I know. I dinna think it’s snuff, though; it’s only the way his beard grows. A bit moth-eaten,” he admitted, “but it’s bound to be a hellish shave, wi’ all those warts.”

“He can’t marry a fifteen-year-old girl to…to…that! And without even asking her!”

“Oh, I expect he can,” Jamie said, with infuriating calmness. “In any case, Sassenach, it isna your affair.” He took me firmly by both arms and gave me a little shake.

“D’ye hear me? I know it’s strange to ye, but that’s how matters are. After all”—the long mouth curled up at one corner—“you, were made to wed against your will. Reconciled yourself to it yet, have ye?”

“Sometimes I wonder!” I yanked, trying to pull my arms free, but he merely gathered me in, laughing, and kissed me. After a moment, I gave up fighting. I relaxed into his embrace, admitting surrender, if only temporarily. I would meet with Mary Hawkins, I thought, and we’d see just what she thought about this proposed marriage. If she didn’t want to see her name on a marriage contract, linked with the Vicomte Marigny, then…Suddenly I stiffened, pushing away from Jamie’s embrace.

“What is it?” he looked alarmed. “Are ye ill, lass? You’ve gone all white!”

And little wonder if I had. For I had suddenly remembered where I had seen the name of Mary Hawkins. Jamie was wrong. This was my affair. For I had seen the name, written in a copperplate hand at the top of a genealogy chart, the ink old and faded by time to a sepia brown. Mary Hawkins was not meant to be the wife of the decrepit Vicomte Marigny. She was to marry Jonathan Randall, in the year of our Lord 1745.



* * *



“Well, she can’t, can she?” Jamie said. “Jack Randall is dead.” He finished pouring the glass of brandy, and held it out to me. His hand was steady on the crystal stem, but the line of his mouth was set and his voice clipped the word “dead,” giving it a vicious finality.

“Put your feet up, Sassenach,” he said. “You’re still pale.” At his motion, I obediently pulled up my feet and stretched out on the sofa. Jamie sat down near my head, and absently rested a hand on my shoulder. His fingers felt warm and strong, gently massaging the small hollow of the joint.

“Marcus MacRannoch told me he’d seen Randall trampled to death by cattle in the dungeons of Wentworth Prison,” he said again, as though seeking to reassure himself by repetition. “A ‘rag doll, rolled in blood.’ That’s what Sir Marcus said. He was verra sure about it.”

“Yes.” I sipped my brandy, feeling the warmth come back into my cheeks. “He told me that, too. No, you’re right, Captain Randall is dead. It just gave me a turn, suddenly remembering about Mary Hawkins. Because of Frank.” I glanced down at my left hand, resting on my stomach. There was a small fire burning on the hearth, and the light of it caught the smooth gold band of my first wedding ring. Jamie’s ring, of Scottish silver, circled the fourth finger of my other hand.

“Ah.” Jamie’s touch on my shoulder stilled. His head was bent, but he glanced up to meet my gaze. We had not spoken of Frank since I had rescued Jamie from Wentworth, nor had Jonathan Randall’s death been mentioned between us. At the time it had seemed of little importance, except insofar as it meant that no more danger menaced us from that direction. And since then, I had been reluctant to bring back any memory of Wentworth to Jamie.

“You know he is dead, do ye not, mo duinne?” Jamie spoke softly, his fingers resting on my wrist, and I knew he spoke of Frank, not Jonathan.

“Maybe not,” I said, my eyes still fixed on the ring. I raised my hand, so the metal gleamed in the fading afternoon light. “If he’s dead, Jamie—if he won’t exist, because Jonathan is dead—then why do I still have the ring he gave me?”

He stared at the ring, and I saw a small muscle twitch near his mouth. His face was pale, too, I saw. I didn’t know whether it would do him harm to think of Jonathan Randall now, but there seemed little choice.

“You’re sure that Randall had no children before he died?” he asked. “That would be an answer.”

“It would,” I said, “but no, I’m sure not. Frank”—my voice trembled a bit on the name, and Jamie’s grip on my wrist tightened—“Frank made quite a bit of the tragic circumstances of Jonathan Randall’s death. He said that he—Jack Randall—had died at Culloden Field, in the last battle of the Rising, and his son—that would be Frank’s five-times great-grandfather—was born a few months after his father’s death. His widow married again, a few years later. Even if there were an illegitimate child, it wouldn’t be in Frank’s line of descent.”

Jamie’s forehead was creased, and a thin vertical line ran between his brows. “Could it be a mistake, then—that the child was not Randall’s at all? Frank may come only of Mary Hawkins’s line—for we know she still lives.”

I shook my head helplessly.

“I don’t see how. If you’d known Frank—but no, I suppose I’ve never told you. When I first met Jonathan Randall, I thought for the first moment that he was Frank—they weren’t the same, of course, but the resemblance was…startling. No, Jack Randall was Frank’s ancestor, all right.”

“I see.” Jamie’s fingers had grown damp; he took them away and wiped them absently on his kilt.

“Then…perhaps the ring means nothing, mo duinne,” he suggested gently.

“Perhaps not.” I touched the metal, warm as my own flesh, then dropped my hand helplessly. “Oh, Jamie, I don’t know! I don’t know anything!”

He rubbed his knuckles tiredly on the crease between his eyes. “Neither do I, Sassenach.” He dropped his hand and tried to smile at me.

“There’s the one thing,” he said. “You said that Frank told you Jonathan Randall would die at Culloden?”

“Yes. In fact, I told Jack Randall that myself, to scare him—at Wentworth, when he put me out in the snow, before…before going back to you.” His eyes and mouth clamped shut in sudden spasm, and I swung my feet down, alarmed.

“Jamie! Are you all right?” I tried to put a hand on his head, but he pulled away from my touch, rising and going to the window.

“No. Yes. It’s all right, Sassenach. I’ve been writing letters all the morning, and my head’s fit to burst. Dinna worry yourself.” He waved me away, pressing his forehead against the cold pane of the window, eyes tight closed. He went on speaking, as though to distract himself from the pain.

“Then, if you—and Frank—knew that Jack Randall would die at Culloden, but we know that he shall not…then it can be done, Claire.”

“What can be done?” I hovered anxiously, wanting to help, but not knowing what to do. Clearly he didn’t want to be touched.

“What you know will happen can be changed.” He raised his head from the window and smiled tiredly at me. His face was still white, but the traces of that momentary spasm were gone. “Jack Randall died before he ought, and Mary Hawkins will wed another man. Even if that means that your Frank wilna be born—or perhaps will be born some other way,” he added, to be comforting, “then it also means that we have a chance of succeeding in what we’ve set ourselves to do. Perhaps Jack Randall didna die at Culloden Field, because the battle there will never happen.”

I could see him make the effort to stir himself, to come to me and put his arms around me. I held him about the waist, lightly, not moving. He bent his head, resting his forehead on my hair.

“I know it must grieve ye, mo duinne. But may it not ease ye, to know that good may come of it?”

“Yes,” I whispered at last, into the folds of his shirt. I disengaged myself gently from his arms and laid my hand along his cheek. The line between his eyes was deeper, and his eyes slightly unfocused, but he smiled at me.

“Jamie,” I said, “go and lie down. I’ll send a note to the d’Arbanvilles, to say we can’t come tonight.”

“Och, no,” he protested. “I’ll be fine. I know this kind of headache, Sassenach; it’s only from the writing, and an hour’s sleep will cure it. I’ll go up now.” He turned toward the door, then hesitated and turned back, half-smiling.

“And if I should call out in my sleep, Sassenach, just lay your hand upon me, and say to me, ‘Jack Randall’s dead.’ And it will aye be well wi’ me.”



* * *



Both food and company at the d’Arbanvilles were good. We came home late, and I fell into a sound sleep the instant my head hit the pillow. I slept dreamlessly, but waked suddenly in the middle of the night, knowing something was wrong.

The night was cold, and the down quilt had slithered off onto the floor, as was its sneaky habit, leaving only the thin woolen blanket over me. I rolled over, half-asleep, reaching for Jamie’s warmth. He was gone.

I sat up in bed, looking for him, and saw him almost at once, sitting on the window seat, head in his hands.

“Jamie! What is it? Have you got headache again?” I groped for the candle, meaning to find my medicine box, but something in the way he sat made me abandon the search and go to him at once.

He was breathing hard, as though he had been running, and cold as it was, his body was drenched with sweat. I touched his shoulder and found it hard and cold as a metal statue.

He jerked back at my touch and sprang to his feet, eyes wide and black in the night-filled room.

“I didn’t mean to startle you,” I said. “Are you all right?”

I wondered briefly if he were sleepwalking, for his expression didn’t change; he looked straight through me, and whatever he saw, he didn’t like it.

“Jamie!” I said sharply. “Jamie, wake up!”

He blinked then, and saw me, though his expression stayed fixed in the desperate lines of a hunted beast.

“I’m all right,” he said. “I’m awake.” He spoke as though wanting to convince himself of the fact.

“What is it? Did you have a nightmare?”

“A dream. Aye. It was a dream.”

I stepped forward and put a hand on his arm.

“Tell me. It will go away if you tell me about it.”

He grasped me hard by the forearms, as much to keep me from touching him as for support. The moon was full, and I could see that every muscle of his body was tensed, hard and motionless as stone, but pulsing with furious energy, ready to explode into action.

“No,” he said, still sounding dazed.

“Yes,” I said. “Jamie, talk to me. Tell me. Tell me what you see.”

“I canna…see anything. Nothing. I can’t see.”

I pulled, turning him from the shadows of the room to face the bright moonlight from the window. The light seemed to help, for his breathing slowed, and in halting, painful bits, the words came out.

It was the stones of Wentworth Prison that he dreamed of. And as he spoke, the shape of Jonathan Randall walked the room. And lay naked in my bed, atop the woolen blanket.

There had been the sound of hoarse breathing close behind him, and the feel of sweat-drenched skin, sliding against his own. He gritted his teeth in an agony of frustration. The man behind him sensed the small movement and laughed.

“Oh, we’ve some time yet before they hang you, my boy,” he whispered. “Plenty of time to enjoy it.” Randall moved suddenly, hard and abrupt, and he made a small involuntary sound.

Randall’s hand stroked back the hair from his brow and smoothed it around his ear. The hot breath was close to his ear and he turned his head to escape, but it followed him, breathing words.

“Have you ever seen a man hanged, Fraser?” The words went on, not waiting for him to reply, and a long, slim hand came around his waist, gently stroking the slope of his belly, teasing its way lower with each word.

“Yes, of course you have; you were in France, you’ll have seen deserters hanged now and then. A hanged man looses his bowels, doesn’t he? As the rope tightens fast round his neck.” The hand was gripping him, lightly, firmly, rubbing and stroking. He clenched his good hand tight around the edge of the bed and turned his face hard into the scratchy blanket, but the words pursued him.

“That will happen to you, Fraser. Just a few more hours, and you’ll feel the noose.” The voice laughed, pleased with itself. “You’ll go to your death with your arse burning from my pleasure, and when you lose your bowels, it will be my spunk running down your legs and dripping on the ground below the gallows.”

He made no sound. He could smell himself, crusted with filth from his imprisonment, acrid with the sweat of fear and anger. And the man behind him, the rank stench of the animal breaking through the delicate scent of the lavender toilet water.

“The blanket,” he said. His eyes were closed, face strained in the moonlight. “It was rough under my face, and all I could see were the stones of the wall before me. There was nothing there to fix my mind to…nothing I could see. So I kept my eyes closed and thought of the blanket under my cheek. It was all I could feel besides the pain…and him. I…held to it.”

“Jamie. Let me hold you.” I spoke quietly, trying to calm the frenzy I could feel running through his blood. His grip on my arms was tight enough to numb them. But he wouldn’t let me move closer; he held me away as surely as he clung to me.

Suddenly he freed me, jerking away and turning toward the moon-filled window. He stood tense and quivering as a bowstring just fired, but his voice was calm.

“No. I willna use ye that way, lassie. Ye shallna be part of it.”

I took a step toward him, but he stopped me with a quick motion. He turned his face back to the window, calm now, and blank as the glass he looked through.

“Get ye to bed, lassie. Leave me to myself a bit; I’ll be well enough presently. There’s naught to worry ye now.”

He stretched his arms out, grasping the window frame, blotting out the light with his body. His shoulders swelled with effort, and I could tell that he was pushing against the wood with all his might.

“It was only a dream. Jack Randall is dead.”



* * *



I had at length fallen asleep, with Jamie still poised at the window, staring out into the face of the moon. When I woke at dawn, though, he was asleep, curled in the window seat, wrapped in his plaid, with my cloak dragged over his legs for warmth.

He woke to my stirring, and seemed his normal, irritatingly cheerful morning self. But I was not likely to forget the happenings of the night, and went to my medicine box after breakfast.

To my annoyance, I lacked several of the herbs I needed for the sleeping tonic I had in mind. But then I remembered the man Marguerite had told me about. Raymond the herb-seller, in the Rue de Varennes. A wizard, she had said. A place worth seeing. Well, then. Jamie would be at the warehouse all the morning. I had a coach and a footman at my disposal; I would go and see it.

A clean wooden counter ran the length of the shop on both sides, with shelves twice the height of a man extending from floor to ceiling behind it. Some of the shelves were enclosed with folding glass doors, protecting the rarer and more expensive substances, I supposed. Fat gilded cupids sprawled abandonedly above the cupboards, tooting horns, waving their draperies, and generally looking as though they had been imbibing some of the more alcoholic wares of the shop.

“Monsieur Raymond?” I inquired politely of the young woman behind the counter.

“Maître Raymond,” she corrected. She wiped a red nose inelegantly on her sleeve and gestured toward the end of the shop, where sinister clouds of a brownish smoke floated out over the transom of a half-door.

Wizard or not, Raymond had the right setting for it. Smoke drifted up from a black slate hearth to coil beneath the low black beams of the roof. Above the fire, a stone table pierced with holes held glass alembics, copper “pelicans”—metal cans with long noses from which sinister substances dripped into cups—and what appeared to be a small but serviceable still. I sniffed cautiously. Among the other strong odors in the shop, a heady alcoholic note was clearly distinguishable from the direction of the fire. A neat lineup of clean bottles along the sideboard reinforced my original suspicions. Whatever his trade in charms and potions, Master Raymond plainly did a roaring business in high-quality cherry brandy.

The distiller himself was crouched over the fire, poking errant bits of charcoal back into the grate. Hearing me come in, he straightened up and turned to greet me with a pleasant smile.

“How do you do?” I said politely to the top of his head. So strong was the impression that I had stepped into an enchanter’s den that I would not have been surprised to hear a croak in reply.

For Master Raymond resembled nothing so, much as a large, genial frog. A touch over four feet tall, barrel-chested and bandy-legged, he had the thick, clammy skin of a swamp dweller, and slightly bulbous, friendly black eyes. Aside from the minor fact that he wasn’t green, all he lacked was warts.

“Madonna!” he said, beaming expansively. “What may I have the pleasure of doing for you?” He lacked teeth altogether, enhancing the froggy impression still more, and I stared at him in fascination.

“Madonna?” he said, peering up at me questioningly.

Snapped abruptly to a realization of how rudely I had been staring, I blushed and said without thinking, “I was just wondering whether you’d ever been kissed by a beautiful young girl.”

I went still redder as he shouted with laughter. With a broad grin, he said “Many times, madonna. But alas, it does not help. As you see. Ribbit.”

We dissolved in helpless laughter, attracting the notice of the shopgirl, who peered over the half-door in alarm. Master Raymond waved her away, then hobbled to the window, coughing and clutching his sides, to open the leaded panes and allow some of the smoke to escape.

“Oh, that’s better!” he said, inhaling deeply as the cold spring air rushed in. He turned to me, smoothing back the long silver hair that brushed his shoulders. “Now, madonna. Since we are friends, perhaps you will wait a moment while I attend to something?”

Still blushing, I agreed at once, and he turned to his firing shelf, still hiccupping with laughter as he refilled the canister of the still. Taking the opportunity to restore my poise, I strolled about the workroom, looking at the amazing array of clutter.

A fairly good-sized crocodile, presumably stuffed, hung from the ceiling. I gazed up at the yellow belly-scutes, hard and shiny as pressed wax.

“Real, is it?” I asked, taking a seat at the scarred oak table.

Master Raymond glanced upward, smiling.

“My crocodile? Oh, to be sure, madonna. Gives the customers confidence.” He jerked his head toward the shelf that ran along the wall just above eye height. It was lined with white fired-porcelain jars, each ornamented with gilded curlicues, painted flowers and beasts, and a label, written in elaborate black script. Three of the jars closest to me were labeled in Latin, which I translated with some difficulty—crocodile’s blood, and the liver and bile of the same beast, presumably the one swinging sinisterly overhead in the draft from the main shop.

I picked up one of the jars, removed the stopper and sniffed delicately.

“Mustard,” I said, wrinkling my nose, “and thyme. In walnut oil, I think, but what did you use to make it nasty?” I tilted the jar, critically examining the sludgy black liquid within.

“Ah, so your nose is not purely decorative, madonna!” A wide grin split the toadlike face, revealing hard blue gums.

“The black stuff is the rotted pulp of a gourd,” he confided, leaning closer and lowering his voice. “As for the smell…well, that actually is blood.”

“Not from a crocodile,” I said, glancing upward.

“Such cynicism in one so young,” Raymond mourned. “The ladies and gentlemen of the Court are fortunately more trusting in nature, not that trust is the emotion that springs immediately to mind when one thinks of an aristocrat. No, in fact it is pig’s blood, madonna. Pigs being so much more available than crocodiles.”

“Mm, yes,” I agreed. “That one must have cost you a pretty penny.”

“Fortunately, I inherited it, along with much of my present stock, from the previous owner.” I thought I saw a faint flicker of unease in the depths of the soft black eyes, but I had become oversensitive to nuances of expression of late, from watching the faces at parties for tiny clues that might be useful to Jamie in his manipulations.

The stocky little proprietor leaned still closer, laying a hand confidentially on mine.

“A professional, are you?” he said. “I must say, you don’t look it.”

My first impulse was to jerk my hand away, but his touch was oddly comfortable; quite impersonal, but unexpectedly warm and soothing. I glanced at the frost riming the edge of the leaded-glass panes, and thought that that was it; his ungloved hands were warm, a highly unusual condition for anyone’s hands at this time of year.

“That depends entirely upon what you mean by the term ‘professional,’ ” I said primly. “I’m a healer.”

“Ah, a healer?” He tilted back in his chair, looking me over with interest. “Yes, I thought so. Anything else, though? No fortune-telling, no love philtres?”

I felt a twinge of conscience, recalling my days on the road with Murtagh, when we had sought Jamie through the Highlands of Scotland, telling fortunes and singing for our suppers like a couple of Gypsies.

“Nothing like that,” I said, blushing only slightly.

“Not a professional liar, at any rate,” he said, eyeing me in amusement. “Rather a pity. Still, how may I have the pleasure of serving you, madonna?”

I explained my needs, and he nodded sagely as he listened, the thick gray hair swinging forward over his shoulders. He wore no wig within the sanctum of his shop, nor did he powder his hair. It was brushed back from a high, wide forehead, and fell straight as a stick to his shoulders, where it ended abruptly, as though cut with a blunt pair of scissors.

He was easy to talk to, and very knowledgeable indeed about the uses of herbs and botanicals. He took down small jars of this and that, shaking bits out and crushing the leaves in his palm for me to smell or taste.

Our conversation was interrupted by the sound of raised voices in the shop. A nattily-dressed footman was leaning across the counter, saying something to the shopgirl. Or rather, trying to say something. His feeble attempts were being thrown back in his teeth by a gale of withering Provençale from the other side of the counter. It was too idiomatic for me to follow entirely, but I caught the general drift of her remarks. Something involving cabbages and sausages, none of it complimentary.

I was musing on the odd tendency of the French to bring food into virtually any kind of discussion, when the shop door banged suddenly open. Reinforcements swept in behind the footman, in the guise of a rouged and flounced Personage of some sort.

“Ah,” murmured Raymond, peering interestedly beneath my arm at the drama unfolding in his shop. “La Vicomtesse de Rambeau.”

“You know her?” The shopgirl evidently did, for she abandoned her attack on the footman and shrank back against the cabinet of purges.

“Yes, madonna,” said Raymond, nodding. “She’s rather expensive.”

I saw what he meant, as the lady in question picked up the evident source of altercation, a small jar containing a pickled plant of some kind, took aim, and flung it with considerable force and accuracy into the glass front of the cabinet.

The crash silenced the commotion at once. The Vicomtesse pointed one long, bony finger at the girl.

“You,” she said, in a voice like metal shavings, “fetch me the black potion. At once.”

The girl opened her mouth as though to protest, then, seeing the Vicomtesse reaching for another missile, shut it and fled for the back room.

Anticipating her entrance, Raymond reached resignedly above his head and thrust a bottle into her hand as she came through the door.

“Give it to her,” he said, shrugging. “Before she breaks something else.”

As the shopgirl timidly returned to deliver the bottle, he turned to me, pulling a wry face.

“Poison for a rival,” he said. “Or at least she thinks so.”

“Oh?” I said. “And what is it really? Bitter cascara?”

He looked at me in pleased surprise.

“You’re very good at this,” he said. “A natural talent, or were you taught? Well, no matter.” He waved a broad palm, dismissing the matter. “Yes, that’s right, cascara. The rival will fall sick tomorrow, suffer visibly in order to satisfy the Vicomtesse’s desire for revenge and convince her that her purchase was a good one, and then she will recover, with no permanent harm done, and the Vicomtesse will attribute the recovery to the intervention of the priest or a counterspell done by a sorcerer employed by the victim.”

“Mm,” I said. “And the damage to your shop?” The late-afternoon sun glinted on the shards of glass on the counter, and on the single silver écu that the Vicomtesse had flung down in payment.

Raymond tilted a palm from side to side, in the immemorial custom of a man indicating equivocation.

“It evens out,” he said calmly. “When she comes in next month for an abortifacient, I shall charge her enough not only to repair the damage but to build three new cases. And she’ll pay without argument.” He smiled briefly, but without the humor he had previously shown. “It’s all in the timing, you know.”

I was conscious of the black eyes flickering knowledgeably over my figure. I didn’t show at all yet, but I was quite sure he knew.

“And does the medicine you’ll give the Vicomtesse next month work?” I asked.

“It’s all in the timing,” he replied again, tilting his head quizzically to one side. “Early enough, and all is well. But it is dangerous to wait too long.”

The note of warning in his voice was clear, and I smiled at him.

“Not for me,” I said. “For reference only.”

He relaxed again.

“Ah. I didn’t think so.”

A rumble from the street below proclaimed the passing of the Vicomtesse’s blue-and-silver carriage. The footman waved and shouted from behind as pedestrians were forced to scramble for the shelter of doors and alleyways to avoid being crushed.

“A la lanterne,” I murmured under my breath. It was rare that my unusual perspective on current affairs afforded me much satisfaction, but this was certainly one occasion when it did.

“Ask not for whom the tumbril calls,” I remarked, turning to Raymond. “It calls for thee.”

He looked mildly bewildered.

“Oh? Well, in any case, you were saying that black betony is what you use for purging? I would use the white, myself.”

“Really? Why is that?”

And with no further reference to the recent Vicomtesse, we sat down to complete our business.





9

THE SPLENDORS OF VERSAILLES

I closed the door of the drawing room quietly behind me and stood still a moment, gathering courage. I essayed a restorative deep breath, but the tightness of the whalebone corseting made it come out as a strangled gasp.

Jamie, immersed in a handful of shipping orders, glanced up at the sound and froze, eyes wide. His mouth opened, but he made no sound.

“How do you like it?” Handling the train a bit gingerly, I stepped down into the room, swaying gently as the seamstress had instructed, to show off the filmy gussets of silk plissé let into the overskirt.

Jamie shut his mouth and blinked several times.

“It’s…ah…red, isn’t it?” he observed.

“Rather.” Sang-du-Christ, to be exact. Christ’s blood, the most fashionable color of the season, or so I had been given to understand.

“Not every woman could wear it, Madame,” the seamstress had declared, speech unhampered by a mouthful of pins. “But you, with that skin! Mother of God, you’ll have men crawling under your skirt all night!”

“If one tries, I’ll stamp on his fingers,” I said. That, after all, was not at all the intended effect. But I did mean to be visible. Jamie had urged me to have something made that would make me stand out in the crowd. Early-morning fog notwithstanding, the King had evidently remembered him from his appearance at the lever, and we had been invited to a ball at Versailles.

“I’ll need to get the ears of the men with the money,” Jamie had said, making plans with me earlier. “And as I’ve neither great position nor power myself, it will have to be managed by making them seek my company.” He heaved a sigh, looking at me, decidedly unglamorous in my woolen bedgown.

“And I’m afraid in Paris that means we’ll have to go out a bit in society; appear at Court, if it can be managed. They’ll know I’m a Scot; it will be natural for folk to ask me about Prince Charles, and whether Scotland is eagerly awaiting the return of the Stuarts. Then I can assure them discreetly that most Scots would pay a good price not to have the Stuarts back again—though it goes against the grain a bit to say so.”

“Yes, you’d better be discreet,” I agreed. “Or the Bonnie Prince may set the dogs on you next time you go to visit.” In accordance with his plan to keep abreast of Charles’s activities, Jamie had been paying weekly duty calls on the small house at Montmartre.

Jamie smiled briefly. “Aye. Well, so far as His Highness, and the Jacobite supporters are concerned, I’m a loyal upholder of the Stuart cause. And so long as Charles Stuart is not received at Court and I am, the chances of his finding out what I’m saying there are not great. The Jacobites in Paris keep to themselves, as a rule. For the one thing, they haven’t the money to appear in fashionable circles. But we have, thanks to Jared.”

Jared had concurred—for entirely different reasons—in Jamie’s proposal that we widen the scope of Jared’s usual business entertaining, so that the French nobility and the heads of the wealthy banking families might beat a path to our door, there to be seduced and cozened with Rhenish wine, good talk, fine entertainment, and large quantities of the good Scotch whisky that Murtagh had spent the last two weeks shepherding across the Channel and overland to our cellars.

“It’s entertainment of one kind or another that draws them, ye ken,” Jamie had said, sketching out plans on the back of a broadsheet poem describing the scurrilous affair between the Comte de Sévigny and the wife of the Minister of Agriculture. “All the nobility care about is appearances. So to start with, we must offer them something interesting to look at.”

Judging from the stunned look on his face now, I had made a good beginning. I sashayed a bit, making the huge overskirt swing like a bell.

“Not bad, is it?” I asked. “Very visible, at any rate.”

He found his voice at last.

“Visible?” he croaked. “Visible? God, I can see every inch of ye, down to the third rib!”

I peered downward.

“No, you can’t. That isn’t me under the lace, it’s a fining of white charmeuse.”

“Aye well, it looks like you!” He came closer, bending to inspect the bodice of the dress. He peered into my cleavage.

“Christ, I can see down to your navel! Surely ye dinna mean to go out in public like that!”

I bristled a bit at this. I had been feeling a trifle nervous myself over the general revealingness of the dress, the fashionable sketches the seamstress had shown me notwithstanding. But Jamie’s reaction was making me feel defensive, and thus rebellious.

“You told me to be visible,” I reminded him. “And this is absolutely nothing, compared to the latest Court fashions. Believe me, I shall be modesty personified, in comparison with Madame de Pérignon and the Duchesse de Rouen.” I put my hands on my hips and surveyed him coldly. “Or do you want me to appear at Court in my green velvet?”

Jamie averted his eyes from my décolletage and tightened his lips.

“Mphm,” he said, looking as Scotch as possible.

Trying to be conciliatory, I came closer and laid a hand on his arm.

“Come now,” I said. “You’ve been at Court before; surely you know what ladies dress like. You know this isn’t terribly extreme by those standards.”

He glanced down at me and smiled, a trifle shamefaced.

“Aye,” he said. “Aye, that’s true. It’s only…well, you’re my wife, Sassenach. I dinna want other men to look at you the way I’ve looked at those ladies.”

I laughed and put my hands behind his neck, pulling him down to kiss me. He held me around the waist, his thumbs unconsciously stroking the softness of the red silk where it sheathed my torso. His touch traveled upward, sliding across the slipperiness of the fabric to the nape of my neck. His other hand grasped the soft roundness of my breast, swelling up above the tethering grip of the corsets, voluptuously free under a single layer of sheer silk. He let go at last and straightened up, shaking his head doubtfully.

“I suppose ye’ll have to wear it, Sassenach, but for Christ’s sake be careful.”

“Careful? Of what?”

His mouth twisted in a rueful smile.

“Lord, woman, have ye no notion what ye look like in that gown? It makes me want to commit rape on the spot. And these damned frog-eaters havena got my restraint.” He frowned slightly. “You couldna…cover it up at bit at the top?” He waved a large hand vaguely in the direction of his own lace jabot, secured with a ruby stickpin. “A…ruffle or something? A handkerchief?”

“Men,” I told him, “have no notion of fashion. But not to worry. The seamstress says that’s what the fan is for.” I flipped the matching lace-trimmed fan open with a gesture that had taken fifteen minutes’ practice to perfect, and fluttered it enticingly over my bosom.

Jamie blinked meditatively at this performance, then turned to take my cloak from the wardrobe.

“Do me the one favor, Sassenach,” he said, draping the heavy velvet over my shoulders. “Take a larger fan.”



* * *



In terms of attracting notice, the dress was an unqualified success. In terms of the effects on Jamie’s blood pressure, it was somewhat more equivocal.

He hovered protectively at my elbow, glaring ferociously at any male who glanced in my direction, until Annalise de Marillac, spotting us from across the room, came floating in our direction, her delicate features wreathed in a welcoming smile. I felt the smile freezing on my own face. Annalise de Marillac was an “acquaintance”—he said—of Jamie’s, from his former residence in Paris. She was also beautiful, charming, and exquisitely tiny.

“Mon petit sauvage!” she greeted Jamie. “I have someone you must meet. Several someones, in fact.” She tilted a head like a china doll in the direction of a group of men, gathered around a chess table in the corner, arguing heatedly about something. I recognized the Duc d’Orléans, and Gérard Gobelin, a prominent banker. An influential group, then.

“Come and play chess for them,” Annalise urged, placing a mothlike hand on Jamie’s arm. “It will be a good place for His Majesty to meet you, later.”

The King was expected to appear after the supper he was attending, sometime in the next hour or two. In the meantime, the guests wandered to and fro, conversing, admiring the paintings on the walls, flirting behind fans, consuming confits, tartlets, and wine, and disappearing at more or less discreet intervals into the odd little curtained alcoves. These were cleverly fitted into the paneling of the rooms, so that you scarcely noticed them, unless you got close enough to hear the sounds inside.

Jamie hesitated, and Annalise pulled a bit harder.

“Come along,” she urged. “Have no fear for your lady”—she cast an appreciative glance at my gown—“she won’t be alone long.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Jamie muttered under his breath. “All right, then, in a moment.” He disengaged himself momentarily from Annalise’s grasp and bent to whisper in my ear.

“If I find ye in one of those alcoves, Sassenach, the man you’re with is dead. And as for you…” His hands twitched unconsciously in the direction of his swordbelt.

“Oh no you don’t,” I said. “You swore on your dirk you’d never beat me again. What price the Holy Iron, eh?”

A reluctant grin tugged at his mouth.

“No, I wilna beat ye, much as I’d like to.”

“Good. What do you mean to do, then?” I asked, teasing.

“I’ll think of something,” he replied, with a certain grimness. “I dinna ken what, but ye wilna like it.”

And with a final glare round and a proprietary squeeze of my shoulder, he allowed Annalise to lead him away, like a small but enthusiastic tug towing a reluctant barge.

Annalise was right. No longer deterred by Jamie’s glowering presence, the gentlemen of the Court descended upon me like a flock of parrots on a ripe passion fruit.

My hand was kissed repeatedly and held lingeringly, dozens of flowery compliments were paid me, and cups of spiced wine were brought me in endless procession. After half an hour of this, my feet began to hurt. So did my face, from smiling. And my hand, from fan-wielding.

I had to admit some gratitude to Jamie for his intransigence in the matter of the fan. Bowing to his sensibilities, I had brought the largest I possessed, a foot-long whopper painted with what purported to be Scottish stags leaping through the heather. Jamie had been critical of the artistry, but approving of the size. Graciously fanning away the attentions of an ardent young man in purple, I then spread the thing inconspicuously beneath my chin to deflect crumbs while I nibbled at a piece of toast with salmon on it.

And not only toast crumbs. While Jamie, from his vantage point a foot above me, had claimed to be able to see my navel, my umbilicus was by and large safe from scrutiny by the French courtiers, most of whom were shorter than I was. On the other hand…

I had often enjoyed snuggling into Jamie’s chest, my nose fitting comfortably into the small hollow in the center. A few of the shorter and bolder souls among my admirers seemed bent on enjoying a similar experience, and I was kept busy, flapping my fan hard enough to blow their curls back from their faces, or if that didn’t suffice to discourage them, snapping the fan shut and rapping them smartly on the head with it.

It came as a considerable relief to hear the footman at the door suddenly draw himself up and intone, “Sa Majesté, Le Roi Louis!”

While the King might rise at dawn, apparently he blossomed at night. Not much taller than my own five feet six, Louis entered with the carriage of a much taller man, glancing left and right, nodding in gracious acknowledgment of his bowing subjects.

Now this, I thought, looking him over, was a good deal more in line with my ideas of what a king ought to look like. Not particularly handsome, he acted as though he were; an impression enhanced not only by the richness of his clothes, but by the attitude of those around him. He wore the latest backswept wig, and his coat was cut velvet, embroidered all over with hundreds of frivolous silk butterflies. It was cut away at the middle to display a waistcoat of voluptuous cream-colored silk with diamond buttons, matching the wide, butterfly-shaped buckles on his shoes.

The dark, hooded eyes swept restlessly over the crowd, and the haughty Bourbon nose lifted as though smelling out any item of interest.

Dressed in kilt and plaid, but with a coat and waistcoat of stiffened yellow silk, and with his flaming hair loose to his shoulders, a single small braid down one side in ancient Scots fashion, Jamie definitely qualified. At least I thought it was Jamie who had attracted the King’s attention, as Le Roi Louis purposefully changed direction and swerved toward us, parting the crowd before him like the waves of the Red Sea. Madame Nesle de La Tourelle, whom I recognized from a previous party, followed close behind him like a dinghy in his wake.

I had forgotten the red dress; His Majesty halted directly in front of me and bowed extravagantly, hand over his waist.

“Chère Madame!” he said. “We are enchanted!”

I heard a deep intake of breath from Jamie, and then he stepped forward and bowed to the King.

“May I present my wife, Your Majesty—my lady Broch Tuarach.” He rose and stepped back. Attracted by a quick flutter of Jamie’s fingers, I stared at him for a moment of incomprehension, before suddenly realizing that he was signaling me to curtsy.

I dipped automatically, struggling to keep my eyes on the floor and wondering where I would look when I bobbed up again. Madame Nesle de la Tourelle was standing just behind Louis, watching the introduction with a slightly bored look on her face. Gossip said that “Nesle” was Louis’s current favorite. She was, in current vogue, wearing a gown cut below both breasts, with a bit of supercedent gauze which was clearly meant for the sake of fashion, as it couldn’t possibly function for either warmth or concealment.

It was neither the gown nor the prospect it revealed that had rattled me, though. The breasts of “Nesle,” while reasonably adequate in size, pleasant in proportion, and tipped with large brownish areolae, were further adorned with a pair of nipple jewels that caused their settings to recede into insignificance. A pair of diamond-encrusted swans with ruby eyes stretched their necks toward each other, swinging precariously in their gold-hooped perches. The workmanship was superb and the materials stunning, but it was the fact that each gold hoop passed through her nipple that made me feel rather faint. The nipples themselves were rather seriously inverted, but this fact was disguised by the large pearl that covered each one, dangling on a thin gold chain that looped from side to side of the main hoop.

I rose, red-faced and coughing, and managed to excuse myself, hacking politely into a handkerchief as I backed away. I felt a presence in my rear and stopped just in time to avoid backing into Jamie, who was watching the King’s mistress with no pretense whatever of tactful obliviousness.

“She told Marie d’Arbanville that Master Raymond did the piercing for her,” I remarked under my breath. His fascinated gaze didn’t waver.

“Shall I make an appointment?” I asked. “I imagine he’d do it for me if I gave him the recipe for caraway tonic.”

Jamie glanced down at me at last. Taking my elbow, he steered me toward a refreshment alcove.

“If you so much as speak to Master Raymond again,” he said, out of the corner of his mouth, “I’ll pierce them for ye myself—wi’ my teeth.”

The King had by now wandered off toward the Salon of Apollo, the space left by his passage quickly filled by others coming from the supper room. Seeing Jamie distracted into conversation with a Monsieur Genet, head of a wealthy shipping family, I looked surreptitiously about for a place in which to remove my shoes for a moment.

One of the alcoves was at hand and, from the sounds of it, unoccupied. I sent a lingering admirer off to fetch some more wine, then, with a quick glance round, slid into the alcove.

It was furnished rather suggestively with a couch, a small table, and a pair of chairs—more suitable for laying aside garments than for sitting upon, I thought critically. I sat down nonetheless, pried my shoes off, and with a sigh of relief, propped my feet up on the other chair.

A faint jingling of curtain rings behind me announced the fact that my departure had not been unnoticed after all.

“Madame! At last we are alone!”

“Yes, more’s the pity,” I said, sighing. It was one of the countless Comtes, I thought. Or no, this one was a Vicomte; someone had introduced him to me earlier as the Vicomte de Rambeau. One of the short ones. I seemed to recall his beady little eyes gleaming up at me in appreciation from below the edge of my fan.

Wasting no time, he slid adroitly onto the other chair, lifting my feet into his lap. He clasped my silk-stockinged toes fervently against his crotch.

“Ah, ma petite! Such delicacy! Your beauty distracts me!”

I thought it must, if he was under the delusion that my feet were particularly delicate. Raising one to his lips, he nibbled at my toes.

“C’est un cochon qui vit dans la ville, c’est un cochon qui vit…”

I jerked my foot from his grasp and stood up hastily, rather impeded by my voluminous petticoats.

“Speaking of cochons who live in the city,” I said, rather nervously, “I don’t think my husband would be at all pleased to find you here.”

“Your husband? Pah!” He dismissed Jamie with an airy wave of the hand. “He will be occupied for some time, I am sure. And while the cat’s away.…come to me, ma petite souris; let me hear you squeak a bit.”

Presumably intending to fortify himself for the fray, the Vicomte produced an enameled snuffbox from his pocket, deftly sprinkled a line of dark grains along the back of his hand, and wiped it delicately against his nostrils.

He took a deep breath, eyes glistening in anticipation, then jerked his head as the curtain was suddenly thrust aside with a jangling of brass rings. His aim distracted by the intrusion, the Vicomte sneezed directly into my bosom with considerable vigor.

I shrieked.

“You disgusting man!” I said, and walloped him across the face with my closed fan.

The Vicomte staggered back, eyes watering. He tripped over my size-nine shoes, which lay on the floor, and fell headfirst into the arms of Jamie, who was standing in the doorway.



* * *



“Well, you did attract a certain amount of notice,” I said at last.

“Bah,” he said. “The salaud’s lucky I didna tear off his head and make him swallow it.”

“Well, that would have provided an interesting spectacle,” I agreed dryly. “Sousing him in the fountain was nearly as good, though.”

He looked up, his frown replaced with a reluctant grin.

“Aye, well. I didna drown the man, after all.”

“I trust the Vicomte appreciates your restraint.”

He snorted again. He was standing in the center of a sitting room, part of a small appartement in the palace, to which the King, once he had stopped laughing, had assigned us, insisting that we should not undertake the return journey to Paris tonight.

“After all, mon chevalier,” he had said, eyeing Jamie’s large, dripping form on the terrace, “we should dislike exceedingly for you to take a chill. I feel sure that the Court would be deprived of a great deal of entertainment in such a case, and Madame would never forgive me. Would you, sweetheart?” He reached out and pinched Madame de La Tourelle playfully on one nipple.

His mistress looked mildly annoyed, but smiled obediently. I noticed, though, that once the King’s attention had been distracted, it was Jamie on whom her gaze lingered. Well, he was impressive, I had to admit, standing dripping in the torchlight with his clothes plastered to his body. That didn’t mean I liked her doing it.

He peeled his wet shirt off and dropped it in a sodden heap. He looked even better without it.

“As for you,” he said, eyeing me in a sinister manner, “did I not tell ye to stay away from those alcoves?”

“Yes. But aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” I asked politely.

“What?” He stared at me as though I had lost my mind on the spot.

“Never mind; it’s a bit out of your frame of reference. I only meant, did you meet anyone useful before you came to defend your marital rights?”

He rubbed his hair vigorously with a towel plucked from the washstand. “Oh, aye. I played a game of chess with Monsieur Duverney. Beat him, too, and made him angry.”

“Oh, that sounds promising. And who’s Monsieur Duverney?”

He tossed me the towel, grinning. “The French Minister of Finance, Sassenach.”

“Oh. And you’re pleased because you made him angry?”

“He was angry at himself for losing, Sassenach,” Jamie explained. “Now he won’t rest until he’s beaten me. He’s coming round to the house on Sunday to play again.”

“Oh, well done!” I said. “And in the process, you can assure him that the Stuarts’ prospects are exceedingly dim, and convince him that Louis doesn’t want to assist them financially, blood kin or not.”

He nodded, combing back his wet hair with both hands. The fire had not yet been lit, and he shivered slightly.

“Where did you learn to play chess?” I asked curiously. “I didn’t know you knew how.”

“Colum MacKenzie taught me,” he said. “When I was sixteen, and spent a year at Castle Leoch. I had tutors for French and German and mathematics and such, but I’d go up to Colum’s room for an hour every evening to play chess. Not that it usually took him an hour to beat me,” he added ruefully.

“No wonder you’re good,” I said. Jamie’s uncle Colum, the victim of a deforming disease that had deprived him of most of his mobility, made up for it with a mind that would have put Machiavelli to shame.

Jamie stood up and unbuckled his swordbelt, narrowing his eyes at me. “Dinna think I don’t know what you’re up to, Sassenach. Changing the subject and flattering me like a courtesan. Did I not tell ye about those alcoves?”

“You said you didn’t mean to beat me,” I reminded him, sitting a bit farther back in my chair, just to be on the safe side.

He snorted again, tossing the swordbelt onto the chest of drawers and dropping his kilt next to the sodden shirt.

“Do I look the sort of man would beat a woman who’s with child?” he demanded.

I eyed him doubtfully. Stark naked, with his hair in damp red snarls and the white scars still visible on his body, he looked as though he had just leaped off a Viking ship, rape and pillage on his mind.

“Actually, you look capable of just about anything,” I told him. “As for the alcoves, yes, you told me. I suppose I should have gone outside to take my shoes off, but how was I to know that idiot would follow me in and begin nibbling on my toes? And if you don’t mean to beat me, just what did you have in mind?” I took a firm grip on the arms of my chair.

He lay down on the bed and grinned at me.

“Take off that whore’s dress, Sassenach, and come to bed.”

“Why?”

“Well, I canna wallop you, or drench ye in the fountain.” He shrugged. “I meant to give ye a terrible scolding, but I dinna think I can keep my eyes open long enough.” He gave a terrific yawn, then blinked and grinned at me again. “Remind me to do it in the morning, eh?”



* * *



“Better, is it?” Jamie’s dark-blue eyes were clouded with worry. “Is it right for ye to be sick so much, Sassenach?”

I pushed the hair back from my sweaty temples and dabbed a damp towel over my face.

“I don’t know whether it’s right,” I said weakly, “but at least I believe it’s normal. Some women are sick all through.” Not a pleasant thought at the moment.

Jamie glanced, not at the gaily painted clock on the table, but as usual, out the window at the sun.

“Do ye feel well enough to go down to breakfast, Sassenach, or ought I to tell the chambermaid to bring up something on a tray?”

“No. I’m quite all right now.” And I was. In the odd way of morning sickness, once the inexorable nausea had had its way with me, I felt perfectly fine within a moment or two. “Let me just rinse my mouth.”

As I bent over the basin, sluicing cool water over my face, there was a rap at the door of the appartement. Likely the servant who had been dispatched to the house in Paris to bring us fresh clothes, I thought.

To my surprise, though, it was a courtier, with a written invitation to lunch.

“His Majesty is dining today with an English nobleman,” the courtier explained, “newly arrived in Paris. His Majesty has summoned several of the prominent English merchants from the Cité to lunch, for the purpose of providing His Grace the Duke with the company of some of his countrymen. And someone pointed out to His Majesty that Madame your wife is an English lady, too, and thus should be invited to attend.”

“All right,” Jamie said, after a quick glance at me. “You may tell His Majesty that we will be honored to remain.”

Soon thereafter, Murtagh had arrived, dour as ever, bearing a large bundle of fresh clothes, and my medicine box, which I had asked for. Jamie took him into the sitting room to give him instructions for the day, while I hastily struggled into my fresh gown, for the first time rather regretting my refusal to employ a lady’s maid. Always unruly, the state of my hair had not been improved by sleeping in close embrace with a large, damp Scot; wild tangles shot off in several directions, resisting all attempts to tame them with brush and comb.

At length I emerged, pink and cross with effort, but with my hair in some semblance of order. Jamie looked at me and murmured something about hedgehogs under his breath, but caught a searing glance in return and had the good sense to shut up.

A stroll among the parterres and fountains of the palace gardens did a good bit to restore my equanimity. Most of the trees were still leafless, but the day was unexpectedly warm for late March, and the smell of the swelling buds on the twigs was green and pungent. You could almost feel the sap rising in the towering chestnuts and poplars that edged the paths and sheltered the hundreds of white marble statues.

I paused beside a statue of a half-draped man with grapes in his hair and a flute at his lips. A large, silky goat nibbled hungrily at more grapes that were cascading from the marble folds of the draperies.

“Who’s this?” I asked, “Pan?”

Jamie shook his head, smiling. He was dressed in his old kilt and a worn, if comfortable coat, but he looked much better to me than did the luxuriously clad courtiers who passed us in chattering groups.

“No, I think there is a statue of Pan about, but it isna that one. That’s one of the Four Humors of Man.”

“Well, he looks fairly humorous,” I said, glancing up at the goat’s smiling friend.

Jamie laughed.

“And you a physician, Sassenach! Not that sort of humor. Do ye not know the four humors that make up the human body? That one’s Blood”—he motioned at the flute-player, then pointed down the path—“and there’s Melancholy.” This was a tall man in a sort of toga, holding an open book.

Jamie pointed across the path. “And over there is Choler”—a nude and muscular young man, who certainly was scowling ferociously, without regard to the marble lion that was about to bite him smartly in the leg—“and that’s Phlegm.”

“Is it, by Jove?” Phlegm, a bearded gent with a folded hat, had both arms crossed on his chest, and a tortoise at his feet.

“Hum,” I remarked.

“Do physicians not learn about humors in your time?” Jamie asked curiously.

“No,” I said. “We have germs, instead.”

“Really? Germs,” he said to himself, trying the word over, rolling it on his tongue with a Scottish burr, which made it sound sinister in the extreme. “Gerrrms. And what do germs look like?”

I glanced up at a representation of “America,” a nubile young maiden in a feathered skirt and headdress, with a crocodile at her feet.

“Well, they wouldn’t make nearly such picturesque statues,” I said.

The crocodile at America’s feet reminded me of Master Raymond’s shop.

“Did you mean it about not wanting me to go to Master Raymond’s?” I asked. “Or do you just not want me to pierce my nipples?”

“I most definitely dinna want ye to pierce your nipples,” he said firmly, taking me by the elbow and hurrying me onward, lest I derive any untoward inspiration from America’s bare breasts. “But no, I dinna want ye to go to Master Raymond’s, either. There are rumors about the man.”

“There are rumors about everyone in Paris,” I observed, “and I’d be willing to bet that Master Raymond knows all of them.”

Jamie nodded, hair glinting in the pale spring sunshine.

“Oh, aye, I expect so. But I think I can learn what’s needful in the taverns and drawing rooms. Master Raymond’s said to be at the center of a particular circle, but it isna Jacobite sympathizers.”

“Really? Who, then?”

“Cabalists and occultists. Witches, maybe.”

“Jamie, you aren’t seriously worried about witches and demons, are you?”

We had arrived at the part of the gardens known as the “Green Carpet.” This early in the spring, the green of the huge lawn was only a faint tinge, but people were lounging on it, taking advantage of the rare balmy day.

“Not witches, no,” he said at last, finding a place near a hedge of forsythia and sitting down on the grass. “The Comte St. Germain, possibly.”

I remembered the look in the Comte St. Germain’s dark eyes at Le Havre, and shivered, in spite of the sunshine and the woolen shawl I wore.

“You think he’s associated with Master Raymond?”

Jamie shrugged. “I don’t know. But it was you told me the rumors about St. Germain, no? And if Master Raymond is part of that circle—then I think you should keep the hell away from him, Sassenach.” He gave me a wry half-smile. “After all, I’d as soon not have to save ye from burning again.”

The shadows under the trees reminded me of the cold gloom of the thieves’ hole in Cranesmuir, and I shivered and moved closer to Jamie, farther into the sunlight.

“I’d as soon you didn’t, either.”

The pigeons were courting on the grass below a flowering forsythia bush. The ladies and gentlemen of the Court were performing similar activities on the paths that led through the sculpture gardens. The major difference was that the pigeons were quieter about it.

A vision in watered aqua silk hove abaft our resting place, in loud raptures over the divinity of the play the night before. The three ladies with him, while not so spectacular, echoed his opinions faithfully.

“Superb! Quite superb, the voice of La Couelle!”

“Oh, superb! Yes, wonderful!”

“Delightful, delightful! Superb is the only word for it!”

“Oh, yes, superb!”

The voices—all four of them—were shrill as nails being pulled from wood. By contrast, the gentleman pigeon doing his turn a few feet from my nose had a low and mellifluous coo, rising from a deep, amatory rumble to a breathy whistle as he puffed his breast and bowed repeatedly, laying his heart at the feet of his ladylove, who looked rather unimpressed so far.

I looked beyond the pigeon toward the aqua-satined courtier, who had hastened back to snatch up a lace-trimmed handkerchief, coyly dropped as bait by one of his erstwhile companions.

“The ladies call that one ‘L’Andouille,’ ” I remarked. “I wonder why?”

Jamie grunted sleepily, and opened one eye to look after the departing courtier.

“Mm? Oh, ‘The Sausage.’ It means he canna keep his roger in his breeches. You know the sort…ladies, footmen, courtesans, pageboys. Lapdogs, too, if rumor is right,” he added, squinting in the direction of the vanished aqua silk, where a lady of the court was now approaching, a fluffy white bundle clasped protectively to her ample bosom. “Reckless, that. I wouldna risk mine anywhere near one o’ those wee yapping hairballs.”

“Your roger?” I said, amused. “I used to hear it called peter, now and again. And the Yanks, for some peculiar reason, used to call theirs a dick. I once called a patient who was teasing me a ‘Clever Dick,’ and he nearly burst his stitches laughing.”

Jamie laughed himself, stretching luxuriously in the warming spring sun. He blinked once or twice and rolled over, grinning at me upside down.

“You have much the same effect on me, Sassenach,” he said. I stroked back the hair from his forehead, kissing him between the eyes.

“Why do men call it names?” I asked. “John Thomas, I mean. Or Roger, for that matter. Women don’t do that.”

“They don’t?” Jamie asked, interested.

“No, of course not. I’d as soon call my nose Jane.”

His chest moved up and down as he laughed. I rolled on top of him, enjoying the solid feel of him beneath me. I pressed my hips downward, but the layers of intervening petticoats rendered it more of a gesture than anything else.

“Well,” Jamie said logically, “yours doesna go up and down by itself, after all, nor go carryin’ on regardless of your own wishes in the matter. So far as I know, anyway,” he added, cocking one eyebrow questioningly.

“No, it doesn’t, thank God. I wonder if Frenchmen call theirs ‘Pierre,’ ” I said, glancing at a passing dandy in green velvet-faced moiré.

Jamie burst into a laugh that startled the pigeons out of the forsythia bush. They flapped off in a ruffle of indignation, scattering wisps of gray down in their wake. The fluffy white lapdog, hitherto content to loll in its mistress’s arms like a bundle of rags, awoke at once to an awareness of its responsibilities. It popped out of its warm nest like a Ping-Pong ball and galloped off in enthusiastic pursuit of the pigeons, barking dementedly, its mistress in similar cry behind it.

“I dinna ken, Sassenach,” he said, recovering enough to wipe the tears from his eyes. “The only Frenchman I ever heard call it a name called his ‘Georges.’ ”

“Georges!” I said, loudly enough to attract the attention of a small knot of passing courtiers. One, a short but vivacious specimen in dramatic black slashed with white satin, stopped alongside and bowed deeply, sweeping the ground at my feet with his hat. One eye was still swelled shut, and a livid welt showed across the bridge of his nose, but his style was unimpaired.

“A votre service, Madame,” he said.



* * *



I might have managed if it weren’t for the bloody nightingales. The dining salon was hot and crowded with courtiers and onlookers, one of the stays in my dress frame had come loose and was stabbing me viciously beneath the left kidney each time I drew breath, and I was suffering from that most ubiquitous plague of pregnancy, the urge to urinate every few minutes. Still, I might have managed. It was, after all, a serious breach of manners to leave the table before the King, even though luncheon was a casual affair, in comparison with the formal dinners customary at Versailles—or so I was given to understand. “Casual,” however, is a relative term.

True, there were only three varieties of spiced pickle, not eight. And one soup, clear, not thick. The venison was merely roasted, not presented en brochette, and the fish, while tastily poached in wine, was served fileted, not whole and riding on a sea of aspic filled with shrimp.

As though frustrated by so much rustic simplicity, though, one of the chefs had provided a charming hors d’oeuvre—a nest, cunningly built from strips of pastry, ornamented with real sprigs of flowering apple, on the edge of which perched two nightingales, skinned and roasted, stuffed with apple and cinnamon, then redressed in their feathers. And in the nest was the entire family of baby birds, tiny stubs of outstretched wings brown and crispy, tender bare skins glazed with honey, blackened mouths agape to show the merest hint of the almond-paste stuffing within.

After a triumphal tour of the table to show it off—to the accompaniment of murmurs of admiration all round—the dainty dish was set before the King, who turned from his conversation with Madame de La Tourelle long enough to pluck one of the nestlings from its place and pop it into his mouth.

Crunch, crunch, crunch went Louis’s teeth. Mesmerized, I watched the muscles of his throat ripple, and felt the rubble of small bones slide down my own gullet. Brown fingers reached casually for another baby.

At this point, I concluded that there were probably worse things than insulting His Majesty by leaving the table, and bolted.

Rising from my knees amid the shrubbery a few minutes later, I heard a sound behind me. Expecting to meet the eye of a justifiably irate gardener, I turned guiltily to meet the eye of an irate husband.

“Damn it, Claire, d’ye have to do this all the time?” he demanded.

“In a word—yes,” I said, sinking exhaustedly onto the rim of an ornamental fountain. My hands were damp, and I smoothed them over my skirt. “Did you think I did it for fun?” I felt light-headed, and closed my eyes, trying to regain my internal balance before I fell into the fountain.

Suddenly there was a hand at the small of my back, and I half-leaned, half-fell into his arms as he sat beside me and gathered me in.

“Oh, God. I’m sorry, mo duinne. Are ye all right, Claire?”

I pushed away enough to look up at him and smile.

“I’m all right. Just a bit light-headed, is all.” I reached up and tried to smooth away the deep line of concern on his forehead. He smiled back, but the line stayed, a thin vertical crease between the thick sandy curves of his eye-brows. He swished a hand in the fountain and smoothed it over my cheeks. I must have looked rather pale.

“I’m sorry,” I added. “Really, Jamie, I couldn’t help it.”

His damp hand squeezed the back of my neck reassuringly, strong and steady. A fine spray of droplets from the mouth of a bug-eyed dolphin misted my hair.

“Och, dinna mind me, Sassenach. I didna mean to snap at ye. It’s only…” He made a helpless gesture with one hand. “…only that I feel such a thick-heided clot. I see ye in a misery, and I know I’ve done it to ye, and there isna the slightest thing I can do to aid you. So I blame ye for it instead, and act cross and growl at you…why do ye no just tell me to go to the devil, Sassenach?” he burst out.

I laughed until my sides hurt under the tight corseting, holding on to his arm.

“Go to hell, Jamie,” I said at last, wiping my eyes. “Go directly to hell. Do not pass Go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. There. Do you feel better now?”

“Aye, I do,” he said, his expression lightening. “When ye start to talk daft, I know you’re all right. Do you feel better, Sassenach?”

“Yes,” I said, sitting up and beginning to take notice of my surroundings. The grounds of Versailles were open to the public, and small groups of merchants and laborers mingled oddly with the brightly colored nobles, all enjoying the good weather.

Suddenly the nearby door onto the terrace burst open, spilling the King’s guests out into the garden in a tide of chatter. The exodus from luncheon had been augmented by a new deputation, apparently just decanted from the two large coaches I could see driving past the edge of the garden toward distant stables.

It was a large group of people, men and women, soberly clad by comparison with the bright colors of the courtiers around them. It was the sound of them, though, rather than the appearance, that had caught my attention. French, spoken by a number of people at a distance, strongly resembles the quacking conversation of ducks and geese, with its nasal elements. English, on the other hand, has a slower pace, and much less rise and fall in its intonations. Spoken at a distance where individual voices are impossible to distinguish, it has the gruff, friendly monotony of a sheepdog’s barking. And the general effect of the mass exodus presently coming in our direction was of a gaggle of geese being driven to market by a pack of dogs.

The English party had arrived, somewhat belatedly. No doubt they were being tactfully shooed into the garden while the kitchen staff hastily prepared another dinner and reset the massive table for them.

I scanned the group curiously. The Duke of Sandringham I knew, of course, having met him once before in Scotland at Castle Leoch. His barrelchested figure was easy to pick out, walking side by side with Louis, modish wig tilted in polite attention.

Most of the other people were strangers, though I thought the stylish lady of middle age just coming through the doors must be the Duchess of Claymore, whom I had heard was expected. The Queen, normally left behind at some country house to amuse herself as best she could, had been trotted out for the occasion. She was talking to the visitor, her sweet, anxious face flushed with the unaccustomed excitement of the occasion.

The young girl just behind the Duchess caught my eye. Quite plainly dressed, she had the sort of beauty that would make her stand out in any crowd. She was small, fine-boned but nicely rounded in figure, with dark, shiny, unpowdered hair and the most extraordinary white skin, flushed across the cheeks with a clear deep pink that made her look exactly like a flower petal.

Her coloring reminded me of a dress I’d once had in my own time, a light cotton frock decorated with red poppies. The thought for some reason struck me with a sudden unexpected wave of homesickness, and I gripped the edge of the marble bench, eyelids prickling with longing. It must be hearing plain bluff English spoken, I thought, after so many months among the lilt of Scotland and the quacking of France. The visitors sounded like home.

Then I saw him. I could feel all of the blood draining from my head as my eye traced disbelievingly over the elegant curve of the skull, dark-haired and bold amid the powdered wigs around it. Alarms rang in my head like air-raid sirens, as I fought to accept and repel the impressions that assaulted me. My subconscious saw the line of the nose, thought “Frank,” and turned my body to fly toward him in welcome. “Not-Frank,” came the slightly higher, rational center of my brain, freezing me in my tracks as I saw the familiar curve of a half-smiling mouth, repeating, “You know it’s not Frank” as the muscles of my calves knotted. And then the lurch into panic and the clenching of hands and stomach, as the slower processes of logical thought came doggedly on the trail of instinct and knowledge, seeing the high brow and the arrogant tilt of the head, assuring me of the unthinkable. It could not be Frank. And if it were not, then it could only be…

“Jack Randall.” It wasn’t my voice that spoke, but Jamie’s, sounding oddly calm and detached. Attention attracted by my peculiar behavior, he had looked where I was looking, and had seen what I had seen.

He didn’t move. So far as I could tell through the increasing haze of panic, he didn’t breathe. I was dimly aware of a nearby servant peering curiously upward at the towering form of the frozen Scottish warrior next to me, silent as a statue of Mars. But all my concern was for Jamie.

He was entirely still. Still as a lion is still, part of the grass of the plain, its stare hot and unblinking as the sun that burns the veldt. And I saw something move in the depths of his eyes. The telltale twitch of the stalking cat, the tiny jerk of the tuft at the end of the tail, precursor to carnage.

To draw arms in the presence of the King was death. Murtagh was on the far side of the garden, much too far away to help. Two more paces would bring Randall within hearing distance. Within sword’s reach. I laid a hand on his arm. It was rigid as the steel of the swordhilt under his hand. The blood roared in my ears.

“Jamie,” I said. “Jamie!” And fainted.





10

A LADY, WITH BROWN HAIR CURLING LUXURIANTLY

I swam up out of a flickering yellow haze composed of sunlight, dust, and fragmented memories, feeling completely disoriented.

Frank was leaning over me, face creased in concern. He was holding my hand, except that he wasn’t. The hand I held was much larger than Frank’s, and my fingers brushed the wiriness of coarse hairs on the wrist. Frank’s hands were smooth as a girl’s.

“Are you all right?” The voice was Frank’s, low and cultured.

“Claire!” That voice, deeper and rougher, wasn’t Frank’s at all. Neither was it cultured. It was full of fright and anguish.

“Jamie.” I found the name at last to match the mental image for which I had been seeking. “Jamie! Don’t…” I sat bolt upright, staring wildly from one face to the other. I was surrounded by a circle of curious faces, courtiers two and three deep around me, with a small clear space left for His Majesty, who was leaning over, peering down at me with an expression of sympathetic interest.

Two men knelt in the dust beside me. Jamie on the right, eyes wide and face pale as the hawthorn blossoms above him. And on my left…

“Are you all right, Madame?” The light hazel eyes held only respectful concern, the fine dark brows arched over them in inquiry. It wasn’t Frank, of course. Neither was it Jonathan Randall. This man was younger than the Captain by a good ten years, perhaps close to my own age, his face pale and unlined by exposure to weather. His lips had the same chiseled lines, but lacked the marks of ruthlessness that bracketed the Captain’s mouth.

“You.…” I croaked, leaning away from him. “You’re…”

“Alexander Randall, Esquire, Madame,” he answered quickly, making an abortive gesture toward his head, as though to doff a hat he wasn’t wearing. “I don’t believe we have met?” he said, with a hint of doubt.

“I, er, that is, no, we haven’t,” I said, sagging back against Jamie’s arm. The arm was steady as an iron railing, but the hand holding mine was trembling, and I pulled our clasped hands into the fold of my skirt to hide it.

“Rather an informal introduction, Mrs., er, no…it’s Lady Broch Tuarach, is it not?” The high, piping voice pulled my attention back above me, to the flushed, cherubic countenance of the Duke of Sandringham peering interestedly over the shoulders of the Comte de Sévigny and the Duc d’Orléans. He pushed his ungainly body through the narrow opening afforded, and extended a hand to help me to my feet. Still holding my sweaty palm in his own, he bowed in the direction of Alexander Randall, Esquire, who was frowning in a puzzled sort of way.

“Mr. Randall is in my employ as secretary, Lady Broch Tuarach. Holy Orders is a noble calling, but unfortunately nobility of purpose does not pay the cobbler’s bill, does it, Alex?” The young man flushed slightly at this barb, but he inclined his head civilly toward me, acknowledging his employer’s introduction. Only then did I notice the sober dark suit and high white stock that marked him as a junior cleric of some sort.

“His Grace is correct, my lady. And that being so, I must hold his offer of employment in the deepest gratitude.” A faint tightening of the lips at this speech seemed to indicate that the gratitude felt might not perhaps go so deep as all that, pleasant words notwithstanding. I glanced at the Duke, to find his small blue eyes creased against the sun, his expression blandly impenetrable.

This little tableau was broken by a clap of the King’s hands summoning two footmen, who, at Louis’s direction, grasped me by both arms and lifted me forcibly into a sedan chair, despite my protests.

“Certainly not, Madame,” he said, graciously dismissing both protests and thanks. “Go home and rest; we do not wish you to be indisposed for the ball tomorrow, non?” His large brown eyes twinkled at me as he raised my hand to his lips. Not taking his eyes from my face, he bowed formally toward Jamie, who had gathered his wits sufficiently to be making a gracious speech of thanks, and said, “I shall perhaps accept your thanks, my lord, in the form of your permission to request a dance from your lovely wife.”

Jamie’s lips tightened at this, but he bowed in return and said, “My wife shares my honor at your attention, Your Majesty.” He glanced in my direction. “If she is well enough to attend the ball tomorrow evening, I am sure she will look forward to dancing with Your Majesty.” He turned without waiting for formal dismissal, and jerked his head toward the chair-bearers.

“Home,” he said.



* * *



Home at last after a hot, jolting ride through streets that smelled of flowers and open sewers, I shed my heavy dress and its uncomfortable frame in favor of a silk dressing gown.

I found Jamie sitting by the empty hearth, eyes closed, hands on his knees as though thinking. He was pale as his linen shirt, glimmering in the shadow of the mantelpiece like a ghost.

“Holy Mother,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Dear God and saints, so close. I came within a hairsbreadth of murdering that man. Do ye realize, Claire, if ye hadna fainted…Jesus, I meant to kill him, with every last morsel of will I had.” He broke off, shuddering again with reaction.

“Here, you’d better put your feet up,” I urged, tugging at a heavy carved footstool.

“No, I’m all right now,” he said, waving it away. “He’s…Jack Randall’s brother, then?”

“I should think it likely in the extreme,” I said dryly. “He could scarcely be anyone else, after all.”

“Mm. Did ye know he worked for Sandringham?”

I shook my head. “I didn’t—don’t—know anything about him other than his name and the fact that he’s a curate. F-Frank wasn’t particularly interested in him, as he wasn’t a direct ancestor of his.” The slight quaver of my voice as I spoke Frank’s name gave me away.

Jamie put down the flask and came toward me. Stooping purposefully, he picked me up and cradled me against his chest. The smell of the gardens of Versailles rose sharp and fresh from the folds of his shirt. He kissed the top of my head and turned toward the bed.

“Come lay your head, Claire,” he said quietly. “It’s been a long day for us both.”



* * *



I had been afraid that the encounter with Alexander Randall would set Jamie dreaming again. It did not happen often, but now and again, I would feel him wake beside me, body tensed in sudden battle. He would lurch out of bed then, and spend the night by the window as though it offered escape, refusing any form of solace or interference. And by the morning, Jack Randall and the other demons of the dark hours had been forced back into their box, battened down and held fast by the steel bands of Jamie’s will, and all was well again.

But Jamie fell asleep quickly, and the stresses of the day had already fled from his face, leaving it peaceful and smooth by the time I put out the candle.

It was bliss to lie unmoving, with the warmth growing about my cold limbs, the myriad small aches of back and neck and knees fading into the softness of oncoming sleep. But my mind, released from watchfulness, replayed a thousand times that scene outside the palace—a quick glimpse of a dark head and a high brow, close-set ears and a fine-edged jaw—that first harsh flash of mistaken recognition, which struck my heart with a blow of joy and anguish. Frank, I had thought. Frank. And it was Frank’s face I saw as I sank into sleep.

The lecture room was one of those at London University; ancient timbered ceiling and modern floors, lino scuffed by restless feet. The seats were the old smooth benches; new desks were saved for the science lectures. History could make do with sixty-year-old scarred wood; after all, the subject was fixed and would not change—why should its accommodation?

“Objects of vertu,” Frank’s voice said, “and objects of use.” His long fingers touched the rim of a silver candlestick, and the sun from the window sparked from the metal, as though his touch were electric.

The objects, all borrowed from the collections of the British Museum, were lined up along the edge of the table, close enough for the students in the front row to see the tiny cracks in the yellowed ivory of the French counterbox, and the stains of tobacco smoked long ago that browned the edges of the white clay pipe. An English gold-mounted scent bottle, a gilt-bronze inkstand with gadrooned lid, a cracked horn spoon, and a small marble clock topped with two swans drinking.

And behind the row of objects, a row of painted miniatures, laid flat on the table, features obscured by the light reflecting off their surfaces.

Frank’s dark head bent over the objects, absorbed. The afternoon sun picked up a stray reddish gleam in his hair. He lifted the clay pipe, cupped onehanded like an eggshell.

“For some periods of history,” he said, “we have history itself; the written testimony of the people who lived then. For others, we have only the objects of the period, to show us how men lived.”

He put the pipe to his mouth and pursed his lips around the stem, puffing out his cheeks, brows raised comically. There was a muffled giggle from the audience, and he smiled and laid the pipe down.

“The art, and the objects of vertu”—he waved a hand over the glittering array—“these are what we most often see, the decorations of a society. And why not?” He picked an intelligent-looking brown-haired boy to address. An accomplished lecturer’s trick; pick one member of the audience to talk to as though you were alone with him. A moment later, shift to another. And everyone in the room will feel the focus of your remarks.

“These are pretty things, after all.” A finger’s touch set the swans on the clock revolving, curved necks stately in twofold procession. “Worth preserving. But who’d bother keeping an old, patched tea cozy, or a worn-out automobile-tire?” A pretty blonde in glasses this time, who smiled and tittered briefly in response.

“But it’s the useful objects, the things that aren’t noted in documents, which are used and broken and discarded without a second thought, that tell you how the common man lived. The numbers of these pipes, for example, tell us something about the frequency and types of tobacco use among the classes of society, from high”—a finger tap on the lid of the enameled snuffbox—“to low.” The finger moved to stroke the long, straight pipestem with affectionate familiarity.

Now a middle-aged woman, scribbling frantically to catch every word, hardly aware of the singular regard upon her. The lines creased beside smiling hazel eyes.

“You needn’t take down everything, Miss Smith,” he chided. “It’s an hour’s lecture, after all—your pencil will never last.”

The woman blushed and dropped her pencil, but smiled shyly in answer to the friendly grin on Frank’s lean, dark face. He had them now, everyone warmed by the glow of good humor, attention attracted by the small flashes of gilt and glitter. Now they would follow him without flagging or complaint, along the path of logic and into the thickets of discussion. A certain tenseness left his neck as he felt the students’ attention settle and fix on him.

“The best witness to history is the man—or woman”—a nod to the pretty blonde—“who’s lived it, right?” He smiled and picked up the cracked horn spoon. “Well, perhaps. After all, it’s human nature to put the best face on things when you know someone will read what you’ve written. People tend to concentrate on the things they think important, and often enough, they tidy it up a bit for public consumption. It’s rare to find a Pepys who records with equal interest the details of a Royal procession, and the number of times each night that he’s obliged to use his chamber pot.”

The laugh this time was general, and he relaxed, leaning casually back against the table, gesturing with the spoon.

“Similarly, the lovely objects, the artful artifacts, are the ones most often preserved. But the chamber pots and the spoons and the cheap clay pipes can tell us as much or more about the people who used them.

“And what about those people? We think of historical persons as something different than ourselves, sometimes halfway mythological. But someone played games with this”—the slender index finger stroked the counter-box—“a lady used this”—nudged the scent bottle—“dabbing scent behind her ears, on her wrists…where else do you ladies dab scent?” Lifting his head suddenly, he smiled at the plump blond girl in the front row, who blushed, giggled, and touched herself demurely just above the V of her blouse.

“Ah, yes. Just there. Well, so did the lady who owned this.”

Still smiling at the girl, he unstoppered the scent bottle and passed it gently under his nose.

“What is it, Professor? Arpège?” Not so shy, this student; dark-haired, like Frank, with gray eyes that held more than a hint of flirtation.

He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, nostrils flaring over the mouth of the bottle.

“No. It’s L’Heure Bleu. My favorite.”

He turned back to the table, hair falling over his brow in concentration as his hand hovered over the row of miniatures.

“And then there’s a special class of objects—portraits. A bit of art, and at the same time, as much as we can see of the people themselves. But how real are they to us?”

He lifted a tiny oval and turned it to face the class, reading from the small gummed label affixed to its back.

“A Lady, by Nathaniel Plimer, signed with initials and dated 1786, with curled brown hair piled high, wearing a pink dress and a ruffle-collared chemise, cloud and sky background.” He held up a square beside it.

“A Gentleman, by Horace Hone, signed with monogram and dated 1780, with powdered hair en queue, wearing a brown coat, blue waistcoat, lawn jabot, and an Order, possibly the Most Honorable Order of the Bath.”

The miniature showed a round-faced man, mouth rosily pursed in the formal pose of eighteenth-century portraits.

“The artists we know,” he said, laying the portrait down. “They signed their work, or they left clues to their identity in the techniques and the subjects they used. But the people they painted? We see them, and yet we know nothing of them. The strange hairstyles, the odd clothes—they don’t seem people that you’d know, do they? And the way so many artists painted them, the faces are all alike; pudding-faced and pale, most of them, and not a lot more you can say about them. Here and there, one stands out.…” Hand hovering over the row, he selected another oval.

“A Gentleman…”

He held up the miniature, and Jamie’s blue eyes blazed out under the fiery thatch of his hair, combed for once, braided and ribboned into an unaccustomed formal order. The knife-edged nose was bold above the lace of his stock, and the long mouth seemed about to speak, half-curled at one corner.

“But they were real people,” Frank’s voice insisted. “They did much the same things you do—give or take a few small details like going to the pictures or driving down the motorway”—there were appreciative titters amongst the class—“but they cared about their children, they loved their husbands or wives…well, sometimes they did…” More laughter.

“A Lady,” he said softly, cradling the last of the portraits in his palm, shielding it for the moment. “With brown hair curling luxuriantly to her shoulders, and a necklace of pearls. Undated. The artist unknown.”

It was a mirror, not a miniature. My cheeks were flushed, and my lips trembled as Frank’s finger gently traced the edge of my jaw, the graceful line of my neck. The tears welled in my eyes and spilled down my cheeks as I heard his voice, still lecturing, as he laid down the miniature, and I stared upward at the timbered ceiling.

“Undated. Unknown. But once…once, she was real.”

I was having trouble breathing, and thought at first that I was being smothered by the glass over the miniature. But the material pressing on my nose was soft and damp, and I twisted my head away and came awake, feeling the linen pillow wet with tears beneath my cheek. Jamie’s hand was large and warm on my shoulder, gently shaking me.

“Hush, lassie. Hush! You’re but dreaming—I’m here.”

I turned my face into the warmth of his naked shoulder, feeling the tears slick between cheek and skin. I clung tightly to his solidness, and the small night sounds of the Paris house came slowly to my ears, bringing me back to the life that was mine.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I was dreaming about…about…”

He patted my back, and reached under the pillow for a handkerchief.

“I know. Ye were calling his name.” He sounded resigned.

I laid my head back on his shoulder. He smelled warm and rumpled, his own sleepy scent blending with the smell of the down-filled quilt and the clean linen sheets.

“I’m sorry,” I said again.

He snorted briefly, not quite a laugh.

“Well, I’ll no say I’m not wicked jealous of the man,” he said ruefully, “because I am. But I can hardly grudge him your dreams. Or your tears.” His finger gently traced the wet track down one cheek, then blotted it with the handkerchief.

“You don’t?”

His smile in the dimness was lopsided.

“No. Ye loved him. I canna hold it against either of you that ye mourn him. And it gives me some comfort to know…” He hesitated, and I reached up to smooth the rumpled hair off his face.

“To know what?”

“That should the need come, you might mourn for me that way,” he said softly.

I pressed my face fiercely into his chest, so my words were muffled.

“I won’t mourn you, because I won’t have to. I won’t lose you, I won’t!” A thought struck me, and I looked up at him, the faint roughness of his beard stubble a shadow on his face.

“You aren’t afraid I would go back, are you? You don’t think that because I…think of Frank.…”

“No.” His voice was quick and soft, a response fast as the possessive tightening of his arms around me.

“No,” he said again, more softly. “We are bound, you and I, and nothing on this earth shall part me from you.” One large hand rose to stroke my hair. “D’ye mind the blood vow that I swore ye when we wed?”

“Yes, I think so. ‘Blood of my blood, bone of my bone…’ ”

“I give ye my body, that we may be one,” he finished. “Aye, and I have kept that vow, Sassenach, and so have you.” He turned me slightly, and one hand cupped itself gently over the tiny swell of my stomach.

“Blood of my blood,” he whispered, “and bone of my bone. You carry me within ye, Claire, and ye canna leave me now, no matter what happens. You are mine, always, if ye will it or no, if ye want me or nay. Mine, and I wilna let ye go.”

I put a hand over his, pressing it against me.

“No,” I said softly, “nor can you leave me.”

“No,” he said, half-smiling. “For I have kept the last of the vow as well.” He clasped both hands about me, and bowed his head on my shoulder, so I could feel the warm breath of the words upon my ear, whispered to the dark.

“For I give ye my spirit, ’til our life shall be done.”





11

USEFUL OCCUPATIONS

Who is that peculiar little man?” I asked Jamie curiously. The man in question was making his way slowly through the groups of guests gathered in the main salon of the de Rohans’ house. He would pause a moment, scanning the group with a critical eye, then either shrug a bony shoulder and pass on, or suddenly step in close to a man or woman, hold something to their face and issue some sort of command. Whatever he was doing, his actions appeared to be the occasion of considerable hilarity.

Before Jamie could answer, the man, a small, wizened specimen in gray serge, spotted us, and his face lit up. He swooped down on Jamie like a tiny bird of prey suddenly descending upon a large and startled rabbit.

“Sing,” he commanded.

“Eh?” Jamie blinked down at the little figure in astonishment.

“I said ‘Sing,’ ” answered the man, patiently. He prodded Jamie admiringly in the chest. “With a resonating cavity like that, you should have a wonderful volume.”

“Oh, he has volume,” I said, amused. “You can hear him across three squares of the city when he’s roused.”

Jamie shot me a dirty look. The little man was circling him, measuring the breadth of his back and tapping on him like a woodpecker sampling a prime tree.

“I can’t sing,” he protested.

“Nonsense, nonsense. Of course you can. A nice, deep baritone, too,” the little man murmured approvingly. “Excellent. Just what we need. Here, a bit of help for you. Try to match this tone.”

Deftly whipping a small tuning fork from his pocket, he struck it smartly against a pillar and held it next to Jamie’s left ear.

Jamie rolled his eyes heavenward, but shrugged and obligingly sang a note. The little man jerked back as though he’d been shot.

“No,” he said disbelievingly.

“I’m afraid so,” I said sympathetically. “He’s right, you know. He really can’t sing.”

The little man squinted accusingly at Jamie, then struck his fork once more and held it out invitingly.

“Once more,” he coaxed. “Just listen to it, and let the same sound come out.”

Patient as ever, Jamie listened carefully to the “A” of the fork, and sang again, producing a sound wedged somewhere in the crack between E-flat and D-sharp.

“Not possible,” said the little man, looking thoroughly disillusioned. “No one could be that dissonant even on purpose.”

“I can,” said Jamie cheerfully, and bowed politely to the little man. We had by now begun to collect a small crowd of interested onlookers. Louise de Rohan was a great hostess, and her salons attracted the cream of Parisian society.

“Yes, he can,” I assured our visitor. “He’s tone-deaf, you see.”

“Yes, I do see,” the little man said, looking thoroughly depressed. Then he began to eye me speculatively.

“Not me!” I said, laughing.

“You surely aren’t tone-deaf as well, Madame?” Eyes glittering like a snake slithering toward a paralyzed bird, the little man began to move toward me, tuning fork twitching like the flicking tongue of a viper.

“Wait a minute,” I said, holding out a repressive hand. “Just who are you?”

“This is Herr Johannes Gerstmann, Sassenach.” Looking amused, Jamie bowed again to the little man. “The King’s singing-master. May I present you to my wife, Lady Broch Tuarach, Herr Gerstmann?” Trust Jamie to know every last member of the Court, no matter how insignificant.

Johannes Gerstmann. Well, that accounted for the faint accent I had detected under the formality of Court French. German, I wondered, or Austrian?

“I am assembling a small impromptu chorus,” the little singing-master explained. “The voices need not be trained, but they must be strong and true.” He cast a glance of disillusionment at Jamie, who merely grinned in response. He took the tuning fork from Herr Gerstmann and held it inquiringly in my direction.

“Oh, all right,” I said, and sang.

Whatever he heard appeared to encourage Herr Gerstmann, for he put away the tuning fork and peered at me interestedly. His wig was a trifle too big, and tended to slide forward when he nodded. He did so now, then pushed the wig carelessly back, and said “Excellent tone, Madame! Really very nice, very nice indeed. Are you acquainted perhaps with Le Papillon?” He hummed a few bars.

“Well, I’ve heard it at least,” I replied cautiously. “Um, the melody, I mean; I don’t know the words.”

“Ah! No difficulty, Madame. The chorus is simplicity; like this…”

My arm trapped in the singing-master’s grip, I found myself being ineluctably drawn away toward the sound of harpsichord music in a distant room, Herr Gerstmann humming in my ear like a demented bumblebee.

I cast a helpless glance back at Jamie, who merely grinned and raised his cup of sorbet in a farewell salute before turning to take up a conversation with Monsieur Duverney the younger, the son of the Minister of Finance.

The Rohans’ house—if you could use a mere word like “house” in description of such a place—was alight with lanterns strung through the back garden and edging the terrace. As Herr Gerstmann towed me through the corridors, I could see servants hurrying in and out of the supper rooms, laying linen and silver for the dining that would take place later. Most “salons” were small, intimate affairs, but the Princesse Louise de La Tour de Rohan was an expansive personality.

I had met the Princesse a week before, at another evening party, and had found her something of a surprise. Plump and rather plain, she had a round face with a small round chin, pale lashless blue eyes, and a star-shaped false beauty mark that did very little to fulfill its function in life. So this was the lady who enticed Prince Charles into ignoring the dictates of propriety? I thought, curtsying in the receiving line.

Still, she had an air of lively animation about her that was quite attractive, and a lovely soft pink mouth. Her mouth was the most animated part of her, in fact.

“But I am charmed!” she had exclaimed, grabbing my hand as I was presented to her. “How wonderful to meet you at last! My husband and my father have both sung the praises of milord Broch Tuarach unendingly, but of his delightful wife they have said nothing. I am enchanted beyond measure by your coming, my dear, sweet lady—must I really say Broch Tuarach, or won’t it do if I only say Lady Tuarach? I’m not sure I could remember all of it, but one word, surely, even if such a strange-sounding word—is it Scottish? How enchanting!”

In fact, Broch Tuarach meant “the north-facing tower,” but if she wanted to call me “Lady North-facing,” it was all right with me. In the event, she quickly gave up trying to remember “Tuarach,” and had since called me only “ma chère Claire.”

Louise herself was with the group of singers in the music room, fluttering plumply from one to another, talking and laughing. When she saw me, she dashed across the room as fast as her draperies would allow, her plain face alight with animation.

“Ma chère Claire!” she exclaimed, ruthlessly commandeering me from Herr Gerstmann. “You are just in time! Come, you must talk to this silly English child for me.”

The “silly English child” was in fact very young; a girl of not more than fifteen, with dark, shiny ringlets, and cheeks flushed so hotly with embarrassment that she reminded me of a brilliant poppy. In fact, it was the cheeks that recalled her to me; the girl I had glimpsed in the garden at Versailles, just before the unsettling appearance of Alexander Randall.

“Madame Fraser is English, too,” Louise was explaining to the girl. “She will soon make you feel at home. She’s shy,” Louise explained, turning to me without pausing to draw breath. “Talk to her; persuade her to sing with us. She has a delightful voice, I am assured. There, mes enfants, enjoy yourselves!” And with a pat of benediction, she was off to the other side of the room, exclaiming, cajoling, marveling at a new arrival’s gown, pausing to fondle the overweight youth who sat at the harpsichord, twisting ringlets of his hair around her finger as she chattered to the Duc di Castellotti.

“Makes you rather tired just to watch her, doesn’t it?” I said in English, smiling at the girl. A tiny smile appeared on her own lips and she bobbed her head briefly, but didn’t speak. I thought this must all be rather overwhelming; Louise’s parties tended to make my own head spin, and the little poppy girl could scarcely be out of the schoolroom.

“I’m Claire Fraser,” I said, “but Louise didn’t remember to tell me your name.” I paused invitingly, but she didn’t reply. Her face got redder and redder, lips pressed tight together, and her fists clenched at her sides. I was a trifle alarmed at her appearance, but she finally summoned the will to speak. She took a deep breath, and raised her chin like one about to mount the scaffold.

“M-m-my-name is…M-M-M,” she began, and at once I understood her silence and her painful shyness. She closed her eyes, biting her lip savagely, then opened her eyes and gamely had another try. “M-M-Mary Hawkins,” she managed at last. “I d-d-don’t sing,” she added defiantly.

If I had found her interesting before, I was fascinated now. So this was Silas Hawkins’s niece, the baronet’s daughter, the intended fiancée of the Vicomte Marigny! It seemed a considerable weight of male expectation for such a young girl to bear. I glanced around to see whether the Vicomte was in evidence, and was relieved to find that he wasn’t.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said, stepping in front of her, to shield her from the waves of people now filling the music room. “You needn’t talk if you don’t want to. Though perhaps you should try to sing,” I said, struck by a thought. “I knew a physician once who specialized in the treatment of stammering; he said that people who stammer don’t do it when they sing.”

Mary Hawkins’s eyes grew wide with astonishment at this. I looked around and saw a nearby alcove, curtained to hide a cozy bench.

“Here,” I said, taking her by the hand. “You can sit in here, so you don’t have to talk to people. If you want to sing, you can come out when we start; if not, just stay in here ’til the party’s over.” She stared at me for a minute, then gave me a sudden blinding smile of gratitude, and ducked into the alcove.

I loitered outside, to prevent any nosy servants from disturbing her hiding place, chatting with passersby.

“How lovely you look tonight, ma chère!” It was Madame de Ramage, one of the Queen’s ladies. An older, dignified woman, she had come to supper in the Rue Tremoulins once or twice. She embraced me warmly, then looked around to be sure that we were unobserved.

“I had hoped to see you here, my dear,” she said, leaning a bit closer and lowering her voice. “I wished to advise you to take care concerning the Comte St. Germain.”

Half-turning in the direction of her gaze, I saw the lean-faced man from the docks of Le Havre, entering the music room with a younger, elegantly dressed woman on his arm. He hadn’t seen me, apparently, and I hastily turned back to Madame de Remage.

“What…has he…I mean…” I could feel myself flushing still more deeply, rattled by the appearance of the saturnine Comte.

“Well, yes, he has been heard to speak of you,” Madame de Ramage said, kindly helping me out of my confusion. “I gather that there was some small difficulty in Le Havre?”

“Something of the kind,” I said. “All I did was to recognize a case of smallpox, but it resulted in the destruction of his ship, and…he wasn’t pleased about it,” I concluded weakly.

“Ah, so that was it.” Madame de Ramage looked pleased. I imagined having the inside story, so to speak, would give her an advantage in the trade of gossip and information that was the commerce of Parisian social life.

“He has been going about telling people that he believes you to be a witch,” she said, smiling and waving at a friend across the room. “A fine story! Oh, no one believes it,” she assured me. “Everyone knows that if anyone is mixed up in such matters, it is Monsieur le Comte himself.”

“Really?” I wanted to ask just what she meant by this, but just then Herr Gerstmann bustled up, clapping his hands as though shooing a flock of hens.

“Come, come, mesdames!” he said. “We are all complete; the singing commences!”

As the chorale hastily assembled near the harpsichord, I looked back toward the alcove where I had left Mary Hawkins. I thought I saw the curtain twitch, but wasn’t sure. And as the music began, and the joined voices rose, I thought I heard a clear, high soprano from the direction of the alcove—but again, I wasn’t sure.



* * *



“Verra nice, Sassenach,” Jamie said when I rejoined him, flushed and breathless, after the singing. He grinned down at me and patted my shoulder.

“How would you know?” I said, accepting a glass of wine-punch from a passing servant. “You can’t tell one song from another.”

“Well, ye were loud, anyway,” he said, unperturbed. “I could hear every word.” I felt him stiffen slightly beside me, and turned to see what—or whom—he was looking at.

The woman who had just entered was tiny, scarcely as high as Jamie’s lowest rib, with hands and feet like a doll’s, and brows delicate as Chinese tracery, over eyes the deep black of sloes. She advanced with a step that mocked its own lightness, so she looked as though she were dancing just above the ground.

“There’s Annalise de Marillac,” I said, admiring her. “Doesn’t she look lovely?”

“Oh, aye.” Something in his voice made me glance sharply upward. A faint pink tinged the tips of his ears.

“And here I thought you spent your years in France fighting, not making romantic conquests,” I said tartly.

To my surprise, he laughed at this. Catching the sound, the woman turned toward us. A brilliant smile lit her face as she saw Jamie looming among the crowd. She turned as though to come in our direction, but was distracted by a gentleman, wigged and resplendent in lavender satin, who laid an importuning hand on her fragile arm. She flicked her fan charmingly at Jamie in a gesture of regretful coquetry before devoting her attention to her new companion.

“What’s so funny?” I asked, seeing him still grinning broadly after the lady’s gently oscillating lace skirts.

He snapped suddenly back to an awareness of my presence, and smiled down at me.

“Oh, nothing, Sassenach. Only what ye said about fighting. I fought my first duel—well, the only one, in fact—over Annalise de Marillac. When I was eighteen.”

His tone was mildly dreamy, watching the sleek, dark head bob away through the crowd, surrounded wherever it went by white clusters of wigs and powdered hair, with here and there a fashionably pink-tinged peruke for variety.

“A duel? With whom?” I asked, glancing around warily for any male attachments to the China doll who might feel inclined to follow up an old quarrel.

“Och, he isna here,” Jamie said, catching and correctly interpreting my glance. “He’s dead.”

“You killed him?” Agitated, I spoke rather louder than intended. As a few nearby heads turned curiously in our direction, Jamie took me by the elbow and steered me hastily toward the nearest French doors.

“Mind your voice, Sassenach,” he said, mildly enough. “No, I didna kill him. Wanted to,” he added ruefully, “but didn’t. He died two years ago, of the morbid sore throat. Jared told me.”

He guided me down one of the garden paths, lit by lantern-bearing servants, who stood like bollards at five-yard intervals from the terrace to the fountain at the bottom of the path. In the midst of a big reflecting pool, four dolphins sprayed sheets of water over an annoyed-looking Triton in the center, who brandished a trident rather ineffectually at them.

“Well, don’t keep me in suspense,” I urged as we passed out of hearing of the groups on the terrace. “What happened?”

“All right, then,” he said, resigned. “Well, ye will have observed that Annalise is rather pretty?”

“Oh, really? Well, perhaps, now that you mention it, I can see something of the kind,” I answered sweetly, provoking a sudden sharp look, followed by a lopsided smile.

“Aye. Well, I wasna the only young gallant in Paris to be of the same opinion, nor the only one to lose his head over her, either. Went about in a daze, tripping over my feet. Waited in the street, in hopes of seeing her come out of her house to the carriage. Forgot to eat, even; Jared said my coat hung on me like a scarecrow’s, and the state of my hair didna much help the resemblance.” His hand went absently to his head, patting the immaculate queue that lay clubbed tight against his neck, bound with blue ribbon.

“Forgot to eat? Christ, you did have it bad,” I remarked.

He chuckled. “Oh, aye. And still worse when she began to flirt wi’ Charles Gauloise. Mind ye,” he added fairly, “she flirted with everyone—that was all right—but she chose him for her supper partner ower-often for my taste, and danced with him too much at the parties, and…well, the long and the short of it, Sassenach, is that I caught him kissing her in the moonlight on her father’s terrace one night, and challenged him.”

By this time, we had reached the fountain in our promenade. Jamie drew to a stop and we sat on the rim of the fountain, upwind of the spray from the puff-lipped dolphins. Jamie drew a hand through the dark water and lifted it dripping, abstractedly watching the silver drops run down his fingers.

“Dueling was illegal in Paris then—as it is now. But there were places; there always are. It was his to choose, and he picked a spot in the Bois de Boulogne. Close by the road of the Seven Saints, but hidden by a screen of oaks. The choice of weapon was his, too. I expected pistols, but he chose swords.”

“Why would he do that? You must have had a six-inch reach on him—or more.” I was no expert, but was perforce learning a small bit about the strategy and tactics of swordfighting; Jamie and Murtagh took each other on every two or three days to keep in practice, clashing and parrying and lunging up and down the garden, to the untrammeled delight of the servants, male and female alike, who all surged out onto the balconies to watch.

“Why did he choose smallswords? Because he was bloody good with one. Also, I suspected he thought I might kill him accidentally with a pistol, while he knew I’d be satisfied only to draw blood with a blade. I didna mean to kill him, ye ken,” he explained. “Only to humiliate him. And he knew it. No fool, was our Charles,” he said, ruefully shaking his head.

The mist from the fountain was making ringlets escape from my coiffure, to curl around my face. I brushed back a wisp of hair, asking, “And did you humiliate him?”

“Well, I wounded him, at least.” I was surprised to hear a small note of satisfaction in his voice, and raised an eyebrow at him. “He’d learnt his craft from LeJeune, one of the best swordmasters in France.” Jamie explained. “Like fighting a damn flea, it was, and I fought him right-handed, too.” He pushed a hand through his hair once more, as though checking the binding.

“My hair came loose, midway through,” he said. “The thong holding it broke, and the wind was blowing it into my eyes, so all I could see was the wee white shape of Charles in his shirt, darting to and fro like a minnow. And that’s how I got him, finally—the way ye spear a fish with a dirk.” He snorted through his nose.

“He let out a skelloch as though I’d run him through, though I knew I’d but pinked him in one arm. I got the hair out of my face at last and looked beyond him to see Annalise standing there at the edge of the clearing, wi’ her eyes wide and dark as yon pool.” He gestured out over the silver-black surface beside us.

“So I sheathed my blade and smoothed back my hair, and stood there—half-expectin’ her to come and throw herself into my arms, I suppose.”

“Um,” I said, delicately. “I gather she didn’t?”

“Well, I didna ken anything about women then, did I?” he demanded. “No, she came and threw herself on him, of course.” He made a Scottish noise deep in his throat, one of self-derision and humorous disgust. “Married him a month later, I heard.”

“Aye, well.” He shrugged suddenly, with a rueful smile. “So my heart was broken. Went home to Scotland and moped about for weeks, until my father lost patience wi’ me.” He laughed. “I even thought of turning monk over it. Said to my father over supper one night as I thought perhaps in the spring I’d go across to the Abbey and become a novice.”

I laughed at the thought. “Well, you’d have no difficulty with the vow of poverty; chastity and obedience might come a bit harder. What did your father say?”

He grinned, teeth white in a dark face. “He was eating brose. He laid down the spoon and looked at me for a moment. Then he sighed and shook his head, and said, ‘It’s been a long day, Jamie.’ Then he picked up the spoon again and went back to his supper, and I never said another word about it.”

He looked up the slope to the terrace, where those not dancing strolled to and fro, cooling off between dances, sipping wine and flirting behind fans. He sighed nostalgically.

“Aye, a verra pretty lass, Annalise de Marillac. Graceful as the wind, and so small that ye wanted to tuck her inside your shirt and carry her like a kitten.”

I was silent, listening to the faint music from the open doors above, as I contemplated the gleaming satin slipper that encased my size-nine foot.

After a moment, Jamie became aware of my silence.

“What is it, Sassenach?” he asked, laying a hand on my arm.

“Oh, nothing,” I said with a sigh. “Only thinking that I rather doubt anyone will ever describe me as ‘graceful as the wind.’ ”

“Ah.” His head was half-turned, the long, straight nose and firm chin lighted from behind by the glow of the nearest lantern. I could see the half-smile on his lips as he turned back toward me.

“Well, I’ll tell ye, Sassenach, ‘graceful’ is possibly not the first word that springs to mind at thought of you.” He slipped an arm behind me, one hand large and warm around my silk-clad shoulder.

“But I talk to you as I talk to my own soul,” he said, turning me to face him. He reached up and cupped my cheek, fingers light on my temple.

“And, Sassenach,” he whispered, “your face is my heart.”

It was the shifting of the wind, several minutes later, that parted us at last with a fine spray from the fountain. We broke apart and rose hastily, laughing at the sudden chill of the water. Jamie inclined his head inquiringly toward the terrace, and I took his arm, nodding.

“So,” I observed, as we made our way slowly up the wide steps to the ballroom, “you’ve learnt a bit more about women now, I see.”

He laughed, low and deep, tightening his grasp on my waist.

“The most important thing I’ve learned about women, Sassenach, is which one to choose.” He stepped away, bowing to me, and gesturing through the open doors to the brilliant scene inside. “May I have this dance, milady?”



* * *



I spent the next afternoon at the d’Arbanvilles’, where I met the King’s singing-master once again. This time, we found time for a conversation, which I recounted to Jamie after supper.

“You what?” Jamie squinted at me, as though he suspected me of pulling some practical joke.

“I said, Herr Gerstmann suggested that I might be interested in meeting a friend of his. Mother Hildegarde is in charge of L’Hôpital des Anges—you know, the charity hospital down near the cathedral.”

“I know where it is.” His voice was marked by a general lack of enthusiasm.

“He had a sore throat, and that led to me telling him what to take for it, and a bit about medicines in general, and how I was interested in diseases and, well, you know how one thing leads to another.”

“With you, it customarily does,” he agreed, sounding distinctly cynical. I ignored his tone and went on.

“So, I’m going to go to the hospital tomorrow.” I stretched on tiptoe to reach down my medicine box from its shelf. “Maybe I won’t take it along with me the first time,” I said, scanning the contents meditatively. “It might seem too pushing. Do you think?”

“Pushing?” He sounded stunned. “Are ye meaning to visit the place, or move into it?”

“Er, well,” I said. I took a deep breath. “I, er, thought perhaps I could work there regularly. Herr Gerstmann says that all the physicians and healers who go there donate their time. Most of them don’t turn up every day, but I have plenty of time, and I could—”

“Plenty of time?”

“Stop repeating everything I say,” I said. “Yes, plenty of time. I know it’s important to go to salons and supper parties and all that, but it doesn’t take all day—at least it needn’t. I could—”

“Sassenach, you’re with child! Ye dinna mean to go out to nurse beggars and criminals?” He sounded rather helpless now, as though wondering how to deal with someone who had suddenly gone mad in front of him.

“I hadn’t forgotten,” I assured him. I pressed my hands against my belly, squinting down.

“It isn’t really noticeable yet; with a loose gown I can get away with it for a time. And there’s nothing wrong with me except the morning sickness; no reason why I shouldn’t work for some months yet.”

“No reason, except I wilna have ye doing it!” Expecting no company this evening, he had taken off his stock and opened his collar when he came home. I could see the tide of dusky red advancing up his throat.

“Jamie,” I said, striving for reasonableness. “You know what I am.”

“You’re my wife!”

“Well, that, too.” I flicked the idea aside with my fingers. “I’m a nurse, Jamie. A healer. You have reason to know it.”

He flushed hotly. “Aye, I do. And because ye’ve mended me when I’m wounded, I should think it right for ye to tend beggars and prostitutes? Sassenach, do ye no ken the sort of people that L’Hôpital des Anges takes in?” He looked pleadingly at me, as though expecting me to return to my senses any minute.

“What difference does that make?”

He looked wildly around the room, imploring witness from the portrait over the mantelpiece as to my unreasonableness.

“You could catch a filthy disease, for God’s sake! D’ye have no regard for your child, even if ye have none for me?”

Reasonableness was seeming a less desirable goal by the moment.

“Of course I have! What kind of careless, irresponsible person do you think I am?”

“The kind who would abandon her husband to go and play with scum in the gutter!” he snapped. “Since you ask.” He ran a big hand through his hair, making it stick up at the crown.

“Abandon you? Since when is it abandoning you to suggest really doing something, instead of rotting away in the d’Arbanvilles’ salon, watching Louise de Rohan stuff herself with pastry, and listening to bad poetry and worse music? I want to be useful!”

“Taking care of your own household isna useful? Being married to me isna useful?” The lacing round his hair broke under the stress, and the thick locks fluffed out like a flaming halo. He glared down his nose at me like an avenging angel.

“Sauce for the gander,” I retorted coldly. “Is being married to me sufficient occupation for you? I don’t notice you hanging round the house all day, adoring me. And as for the household, bosh.”

“Bosh? What’s bosh?” he demanded.

“Stuff and nonsense. Rot. Horsefeathers. In other words, don’t be ridiculous. Madame Vionnet does everything, and does it several dozen times better than I could.”

This was so patently true that it stopped him for a moment. He glared down at me, jaw working.

“Oh, aye? And if I forbid ye to go?”

This stopped me for a moment. I drew myself up and looked him up and down. His eyes were the color of rain-dark slate, the wide, generous mouth clamped in a straight line. Shoulders broad and back erect, arms folded across his chest like a cast-iron statue, “forbidding” was precisely the word that best described him.

“Do you forbid me?” The tension crackled between us. I wanted to blink, but wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of breaking off my own steely gaze. What would I do if he forbade me to go? Alternatives raced through my mind, everything from planting the ivory letter-opener between his ribs to burning down the house with him in it. The only idea I rejected absolutely was that of giving in.

He paused, and drew a deep breath before speaking. His hands were curled into fists at his sides, and he uncurled them with conscious effort.

“No,” he said. “No, I dinna forbid ye.” His voice shook slightly with the effort to control it. “But if I asked you?”

I looked down then, and stared at his reflection in the polished tabletop. At first, the idea of visiting L’Hôpital des Anges had seemed merely an interesting idea, an attractive alternative to the endless gossip and petty intrigues of Parisian society. But now…I could feel the muscles of my arms swell as I clenched my own fists. I didn’t just want to work again; I needed to.

“I don’t know,” I said at last.

He took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.

“Will ye think about it, Claire?” I could feel his eyes on me. After what seemed a long time, I nodded.

“I’ll think about it.”

“Good.” His tension broken, he turned restlessly away. He wandered round the drawing room, picking up small objects and putting them down at random, finally coming to roost by the bookshelf, where he leaned, staring unseeingly at the leather-bound titles. I came tentatively up beside him, and laid a hand on his arm.

“Jamie, I didn’t mean to upset you.”

He glanced down at me and gave me a sidelong smile.

“Aye, well. I didna mean to fight wi’ you, either, Sassenach. I’m short-tempered and over-touchy, I expect.” He patted my hand in apology, then moved aside, to stand looking down at his desk.

“You’ve been working hard,” I said soothingly, following him.

“It’s not that.” He shook his head, and reached out to flip open the pages of the huge ledger that lay in the center of the desk.

“The wine business; that’s all right. It’s a great deal of work, aye, but I dinna mind it. It’s the other.” He gestured at a small stack of letters, held down by an alabaster paperweight. One of Jared’s, it was carved in the shape of a white rose—the Stuarts’ emblem. The letters it secured were from Abbot Alexander, from the Earl of Mar, from other prominent Jacobites. All filled with veiled inquiry, misty promises, contradictory expectations.

“I feel as though I’m fighting feathers!” Jamie said, violently. “A real fight, something I could get my hands on, that I could do. But this…” He snatched up the handful of letters from the desk, and tossed them into the air. The room was drafty, and the papers zigzagged wildly, sliding under furniture and fluttering on the carpet.

“There’s nothing to get hold of,” he said helplessly. “I can talk to a thousand people, write a hundred letters, drink wi’ Charles ’til I’m blind, and never know if I’m getting on or not.”

I let the scattered letters lie; one of the maids could retrieve them later.

“Jamie,” I said softly. “We can’t do anything but try.”

He smiled faintly, hands braced on the desk. “Aye. I’m glad you said ‘we,’ Sassenach. I do feel verra much alone with it all sometimes.”

I put my arms around his waist and laid my face against his back.

“You know I wouldn’t leave you alone with it,” I said. “I got you into it in the first place, after all.”

I could feel the small vibration of a laugh under my cheek.

“Aye, you did. I wilna hold it against ye, Sassenach.” He turned, leaned down, and kissed me lightly on the forehead. “You look tired, mo duinne. Go up to bed, now. I’ve a bit more work to do, but I’ll join ye soon.”

“All right.” I was tired tonight, though the chronic sleepiness of early pregnancy was giving way to new energy; I was beginning to feel alert in the daytime, brimming with the urge to be active.

I paused at the door on my way out. He was still standing by the desk, staring down into the pages of the open ledger.

“Jamie?” I said.

“Aye?”

“The hospital—I said I’d think about it. You think, too, hm?”

He turned his head, one brow sharply arched. Then he smiled, and nodded briefly.

“I’ll come to ye soon, Sassenach,” he said.



* * *



It was still sleeting, and tiny particles of frozen rain rattled against the windows and hissed into the fire when the night wind turned to drive them down the flue. The wind was high, and it moaned and grumbled among the chimneys, making the bedroom seem all the cozier by contrast. The bed itself was an oasis of warmth and comfort, equipped with goose-down quilts, huge fluffy pillows, and Jamie, faithfully putting out British Thermal Units like an electric storage heater.

His large hand stroked lightly across my stomach, warm through the thin silk of my nightdress.

“No, there. You have to press a little harder.” I took his hand and pressed the fingers downward, just above my pubic bone, where the uterus had begun to make itself obvious, a round, hard swelling a little larger than a grapefruit.

“Aye, I feel it,” he murmured. “He’s really there.” A tiny smile of awed delight tugged at the corner of his mouth, and he looked up at me, eyes sparkling. “Can ye feel him move, yet?”

I shook my head. “Not yet. Another month or so, I think, from what your sister Jenny said.”

“Mmm,” he said, kissing the tiny bulge. “What d’ye think of ‘Dalhousie,’ Sassenach?”

“What do I think of ‘Dalhousie’ as what?” I inquired.

“Well, as a name,” he said. He patted my stomach. “He’ll need a name.”

“True,” I said. “Though what makes you think it’s a boy? It might just as easily be a girl.”

“Oh? Oh, aye, that’s true,” he admitted, as though the possibility had just occurred to him. “Still, why not start with the boys’ names? We could name him for your uncle who raised you.”

“Umm.” I frowned at my midsection. Dearly as I had loved my uncle Lamb, I didn’t know that I wanted to inflict either “Lambert” or “Quentin” on a helpless infant. “No, I don’t think so. On the other hand, I don’t think I’d want to name him for one of your uncles, either.”

Jamie stroked my stomach absently, thinking.

“What was your father’s name, Sassenach?” he asked.

I had to think for a moment to remember.

“Henry,” I said. “Henry Montmorency Beauchamp. Jamie, I am not having a child named ‘Montmorency Fraser,’ no matter what. I’m not so keen on ‘Henry,’ either, though it’s better than Lambert. How about William?” I suggested. “For your brother?” His older brother, William, had died in late childhood, but had lived long enough for Jamie to remember him with great affection.

His brow was furrowed in thought. “Hmm,” he said. “Aye, maybe. Or we could call him…”

“James,” said a hollow, sepulchral voice from the flue.

“What?” I said, sitting straight up in bed.

“James,” said the fireplace, impatiently. “James, James!”

“Sweet bleeding Jesus,” said Jamie, staring at the leaping flames on the hearth. I could feel the hair standing up on his forearm, stiff as wire. He sat frozen for a moment; then, a thought occurring to him, he jumped to his feet and went to the dormer window, not bothering to put anything on over his shirt.

He flung up the sash, admitting a blast of frigid air, and thrust his head out into the night. I heard a muffled shout, and then a scrabbling sound across the slates of the roof. Jamie leaned far out, rising on his toes to reach, then backed slowly into the room, rain-dampened and grunting with effort. He dragged with him, arms clasped about his neck, the form of a handsome boy in dark clothing, thoroughly soaked, with a bloodstained cloth wrapped around one hand.

The visitor caught his foot on the sill and landed clumsily, sprawling on the floor. He scrambled up at once, though, and bowed to me, snatching off his slouch hat.

“Madame,” he said, in thickly accented French. “I must beg your pardon, I arrive so without ceremony. I intrude, but it is of necessity that I call upon my friend James at such an unsocial hour.”

He was a sturdy, good-looking lad, with thick, light-brown hair curling loose upon his shoulders, and a fair face, cheeks flushed red with cold and exertion. His nose was running slightly, and he wiped it with the back of his wrapped hand, wincing slightly as he did so.

Jamie, both eyebrows raised, bowed politely to the visitor.

“My house is at your service, Your Highness,” he said, with a glance that took in the general disorder of the visitor’s attire. His stock was undone and hung loosely around his neck, half his buttons were done up awry, and the flies of his breeches flopped partially open. I saw Jamie frown slightly at this, and he moved unobtrusively in front of the boy, to screen me from the indelicate sight.

“If I may present my wife, Your Highness?” he said. “Claire, my lady Broch Tuarach. Claire, this is His Highness, Prince Charles, son of King James of Scotland.”

“Um, yes,” I said. “I’d rather gathered that. Er, good evening, Your Highness.” I nodded graciously, pulling the bedclothes up around me. I supposed that under the circumstances, I could dispense with the usual curtsy.

The Prince had taken advantage of Jamie’s long-winded introduction to fumble his trousers into better order, and now nodded back at me, full of Royal dignity.

“It is my pleasure, Madame,” he said, and bowed once more, making a much more elegant production of it. He straightened and stood turning his hat in his hands, obviously trying to think what to say next. Jamie, standing bare-legged in his shirt alongside, glanced from me to Charles, seemingly at an equal loss for words.

“Er…” I said, to break the silence. “Have you had an accident, Your Highness?” I nodded at the handkerchief wrapped around his hand, and he glanced down as though noticing it for the first time.

“Yes,” he said, “ah…no. I mean…it is nothing, my lady.” He flushed redder, staring at his hand. His manner was odd; something between embarrassment and anger. I could see the stain on the cloth spreading, though, and put my feet out of bed, groping for my dressing gown.

“You’d better let me have a look at it,” I said.

The injury, exposed with some reluctance by the Prince, was not serious, but it was unusual.

“That looks like an animal bite,” I said incredulously, dabbing at the small semicircle of puncture wounds in the webbing between thumb and forefinger. Prince Charles winced as I squeezed the flesh around it, meaning to cleanse the wound by bleeding before binding it.

“Yes,” he said. “A monkey bite. Disgusting, flea-ridden beast!” he burst out. “I told her she must dispose of it. Undoubtedly the animal is diseased!”

I had found my medicine box, and now applied a thin layer of gentian ointment. “I don’t think you need worry,” I said, intent on my work. “So long as it isn’t rabid, that is.”

“Rabid?” The Prince went quite pale. “Do you think it could be?” Plainly he had no idea what “rabid” might mean, but wanted no part of it.

“Anything’s possible,” I said cheerfully. Surprised by his sudden appearance, it was just beginning to dawn on me that it would save everyone a great deal of trouble in the long run, if this young man would succumb gracefully to some quick and deadly disease. Still, I couldn’t quite find it in my heart to wish him gangrene or rabies, and I tied up his hand neatly in a fresh linen bandage.

He smiled, bowed again, and thanked me very prettily in a mixture of French and Italian. Still apologizing effusively for his untimely visit, he was towed away by Jamie, now respectably kilted, for a drink downstairs.

Feeling the chill of the room seep through gown and robe, I crawled back into bed and drew the quilts up under my chin. So this was Prince Charles! Bonnie enough, to be sure; at least to look at. He seemed very young—much younger than Jamie, though I knew Jamie was only a year or two older. His Highness did have considerable charm of manner, though, and quite a bit of self-important dignity, despite his disordered dress. Was that really enough to take him to Scotland, at the head of an army of restoration? As I drifted off, I wondered exactly what the heir to the throne of Scotland had been doing, wandering over the Paris rooftops in the middle of the night, with a monkey bite on one hand.

The question was still on my mind when Jamie woke me sometime later by sliding into bed and planting his large, ice-cold feet directly behind my knees.

“Don’t scream like that,” he said, “you’ll wake the servants.”

“What in hell was Charles Stuart doing running about the rooftops with monkeys?” I demanded, taking evasive action. “Take those bloody ice cubes off me.”

“Visiting his mistress,” said Jamie succinctly. “All right, then; stop kicking me.” He removed the feet and embraced me, shivering, as I turned to him.

“He has a mistress? Who?” Stimulated by whiffs of cold and scandal, I was quickly waking up.

It’s Louise de La Tour,” Jamie explained reluctantly, in response to my prodding. His nose looked longer and sharper than usual, with the thick brows drawn together above it. Having a mistress was bad enough, in his Scottish Catholic view, but it was well known that royalty had certain privileges in this regard. The Princesse Louise de La Tour was married, however. And royalty or not, taking a married woman as one’s mistress was positively immoral, his cousin Jared’s example notwithstanding.

“Ha,” I said with satisfaction. “I knew it!”

“He says he’s in love with her,” he reported tersely, yanking the quilts up over his shoulders. “He insists she loves him too; says she’s been faithful only to him for the last three months. Tcha!”

“Well, it’s been known to happen,” I said, amused. “So he was visiting her? How did he get out on the roof, though? Did he tell you that?”

“Oh, aye. He told me.”

Charles, fortified against the night with several glasses of Jared’s best aged port, had been quite forthcoming. The strength of true love had been tried severely this evening, according to Charles, by his inamorata’s devotion to her pet, a rather ill-tempered monkey that reciprocated His Highness’s dislike and had more concrete means of demonstrating its opinions. Snapping his fingers under the monkey’s nose in derision, His Highness had suffered first a sharp bite in the hand, and then the sharper bite of his mistress’s tongue, exercised in bitter reproach. The couple had quarreled hotly, to the point that Louise, Princesse de Rohan, had ordered Charles from her presence. He had expressed himself only too willing to go—never, he emphasized dramatically, to return.

The Prince’s departure, however, had been considerably hampered by the discovery that the Princesse’s husband had returned early from his evening of gaming, and was comfortably ensconced in the anteroom with a bottle of brandy.

“So,” said Jamie, smiling despite himself at the thought, “he wouldna stay with the lassie, but he couldna go out of the door—so he threw up the sash and jumped out on the roof. He got down almost to the street, he said, along the drainage pipes; but then the City guard came along, and he had to scramble back up to stay out of their sight. He had a rare time of it, he said, dodging about the chimneys and slipping on the wet slates, until it occurred to him that our house was only three houses down the row, and the rooftops close enough to hop them like lily pads.”

“Mm,” I said, feeling warmth reestablish itself around my toes. “Did you send him home in the coach?”

“No, he took one of the horses from the stable.”

“If he’s been drinking Jared’s port, I hope they both make it to Montmartre,” I remarked. “It’s a good long way.”

“Well, it will be a cold, wet journey, no doubt,” said Jamie, with the smugness of a man virtuously tucked up in a warm bed with his lawfully wedded wife. He blew out the candle and pulled me close against his chest, spoon-fashion.

“Serve him right,” he murmured. “A man ought to be married.”



* * *



The servants were up before dawn, polishing and cleaning in preparation for entertaining Monsieur Duverney at a small, private supper in the evening.

“I don’t know why they bother,” I told Jamie, lying in bed with my eyes closed, listening to the bustle downstairs. “All they need do is dust off the chess set and put out a bottle of brandy; he won’t notice anything else.”

He laughed and bent to kiss me goodbye. “That’s all right; I’ll need a good supper if I’m to go on beating him.” He patted my shoulder in farewell. “I’m going to the warehouse, Sassenach; I’ll be home in time to dress, though.”

In search of something to do that would take me out of the servants’ way, I finally decided to have a footman escort me down to the Rohans’. Perhaps Louise could use a bit of solace, I thought, after her quarrel of the night before. Vulgar curiosity, I told myself primly, had nothing whatsoever to do with it.



* * *



When I returned in the late afternoon, I found Jamie slouched in a chair near the bedroom window with his feet propped on the table, collar undone and hair rumpled as he pored over a sheaf of scribbled papers. He looked up at the sound of the door closing, and the absorbed expression melted into a broad grin.

“Sassenach! There you are!” He swung his long legs down and came across to embrace me. He buried his face in my hair, nuzzling, then drew back and sneezed. He sneezed again, and let go of me to grope in his sleeve for the handkerchief he carried there, military style.

“What do ye smell like, Sassenach?” he demanded, pressing the linen square to his nose just in time to muffle the results of another explosive sneeze.

I reached into the bosom of my dress and plucked the small sachet from between my breasts.

“Jasmine, roses, hyacinth, and lily of the valley.…ragweed, too, apparently,” I added as he snorted and wheezed into the capacious depths of the handkerchief. “Are you all right?” I looked around for some means of disposal, and settled for dropping the sachet into a stationery box on my desk at the far side of the room.

“Aye, I’ll do. It’s the hya…hya…hyaCHOO!”

“Goodness!” I hastily flung the window open, and motioned to him. He obligingly stuck his head and shoulders out into the wet drizzle of the morning, breathing in gusts of fresh, hyacinth-free air.

“Och, that’s better,” he said with relief, pulling in his head a few minutes later. His eyes widened. “What are ye doing now, Sassenach?”

“Washing,” I explained, struggling with the back laces of my gown. “Or getting ready to, at least. I’m covered with oil of hyacinth,” I explained, as he blinked. “If I don’t wash it off, you’re liable to explode.”

He dabbed meditatively at his nose and nodded.

“You’ve a point there, Sassenach. Shall I have the footman fetch up some hot water?”

“No, don’t bother. A quick rinse should take most of it off,” I assured him, unbuttoning and unlacing as quickly as possible. I raised my arms, reaching behind my head to gather my hair into a bun. Suddenly Jamie leaned forward and grasped my wrist, pulling my arm into the air.

“What are you doing?” I said, startled.

“What have you done, Sassenach?” he demanded. He was staring under my arm.

“Shaved,” I said proudly. “Or rather, waxed. Louise had her servante aux petits soins—you know, her personal groomer?—there this morning, and she did me, too.”

“Waxed?” Jamie looked rather wildly at the candlestick by the ewer, then back at me. “You put wax in your oxters?”

“Not that kind of wax,” I assured him. “Scented beeswax. The grooming lady heated it, then spread the warm wax on. Once it’s cooled, you just jerk it off,” I winced momentarily in recollection, “and Bob’s your uncle.”

“My uncle Bob wouldna countenance any such goings-on,” said Jamie severely. “What in hell would ye do that for?” He peered closely at the site, still holding my wrist up. “Didn’t it hur…hurt…choof!” He dropped my hand and backed up rapidly.

“Didn’t it hurt?” he asked, handkerchief to nose once more.

“Well, a bit,” I admitted. “Worth it, though, don’t you think?” I asked, raising both arms like a ballerina and turning slightly to and fro. “First time I’ve felt entirely clean in months.”

“Worth it?” he said, sounding a little dazed. “What’s it to do wi’ clean, that you’ve pulled all of the hairs out from under your arms?”

A little belatedly, I realized that none of the Scottish women I had encountered employed any form of depilation. Furthermore, Jamie had almost certainly never been in sufficiently close contact with an upper-class Parisienne to know that many of them did. “Well,” I said, suddenly realizing the difficulty an anthropologist faces in trying to interpret the more singular customs of a primitive tribe. “It smells much less,” I offered.

“And what’s wrong wi’ the way ye smell?” he said heatedly. “At least ye smelt like a woman, not a damn flower garden. What d’ye think I am, a man or a bumblebee? Would ye wash yourself, Sassenach, so I can get within less than ten feet of ye?”

I picked up a cloth and began sponging my torso. Madame Laserre, Louise’s groomer, had applied scented oil all over my body; I rather hoped it would come off easily. It was disconcerting to have him hovering just outside sniffing range, glaring at me like a wolf circling its prey.

I turned my back to dip the cloth into the bowl, and said offhandedly over my shoulder, “Er, I did my legs, too.”

I stole a quick glance over my shoulder. The original shock was fading into a look of total bewilderment.

“Your legs dinna smell like anything,” he said. “Unless you’ve been walkin’ knee-deep in the cow-byre.”

I turned around and pulled my skirt up to my knees, pointing one toe forward to display the delicate curves of calf and shin.

“But they look so much nicer,” I pointed out. “All nice and smooth; not like Harry the hairy ape.”

He glanced down at his own fuzzy knees, offended.

“An ape, am I?”

“Not you, me!” I said, getting exasperated.

“My legs are any amount hairier than yours ever were!”

“Well, they’re supposed to be; you’re a man!”

He drew in breath as though about to reply, then let it out again, shaking his head and muttering something to himself in Gaelic. He flung himself back into the chair and sat back, watching me through narrowed eyes, every now and then muttering to himself again. I decided not to ask for a translation.

After most of my bath had been accomplished in what might best be described as a charged atmosphere, I decided to attempt conciliation.

“It might have been worse, you know,” I said, sponging the inside of one thigh. “Louise had all her body hair removed.”

That startled him back into English, at least temporarily.

“What, she’s taken the hairs off her honeypot?” he said, horrified into uncharacteristic vulgarity.

“Mm-hm,” I replied, pleased that this vision had at least distracted him from my own distressingly hairless condition. “Every hair. Madame Laserre plucked out the stray ones.”

“Mary, Michael, and Bride!” He closed his eyes tightly, either in avoidance, or the better to contemplate the prospect I had described.

Evidently the latter, for he opened his eyes again and glared at me, demanding, “She’s goin’ about now bare as a wee lassie?”

“She says,” I replied delicately, “that men find it erotic.”

His eyebrows nearly met his hairline, a neat trick for someone with such a classically high brow.

“I do wish you would stop that muttering,” I remarked, hanging the cloth over a chairback to dry. “I can’t understand a word you say.”

“On the whole, Sassenach,” he replied, “that’s as well.”





12

L’HôPITAL DES ANGES

All right,” Jamie said resignedly over breakfast. He pointed a spoon at me in warning. “Go ahead, then. But you’ll take Murtagh as escort, besides the footman; it’s a poor neighborhood near the cathedral.”

“Escort?” I sat up straight, pushing back the bowl of parritch which I had been eyeing with something less than enthusiasm. “Jamie! Do you mean you don’t mind if I visit. L’Hôpital des Anges?”

“I don’t know if I mean that, exactly,” he said, spooning in his own parritch in a businesslike way. “But I expect I’ll mind a lot more if ye don’t. And if ye work at the Hôpital, at least it will keep ye from spending all your time with Louise de Rohan. I suppose there are worse things than associating wi’ beggars and criminals,” he said darkly. “At least I don’t expect you’ll come home from a hospital wi’ your privates plucked bare.”

“I’ll try not,” I assured him.



* * *



I had seen a number of good hospital matrons in my time, and a few of the really excellent ones, who had exalted a job into a vocation. With Mother Hildegarde, the process had been reversed, with impressive results.

Hildegarde de Gascogne was the most suitable person I could imagine to be in charge of a place like L’Hôpital des Anges. Nearly six feet tall, her gaunt, rawboned frame swathed in yards of black wool, she loomed over her nursing sisters like a broomstick scarecrow guarding a field of pumpkins. Porters, patients, sisters, orderlies, novices, visitors, apothecaries, all were swept up by the force of her presence, to be tidied away into neat heaps, wherever Mother Hildegarde might decree.

With that height, plus a face of an ugliness so transcendant as to be grotesquely beautiful, it was obvious why she had embraced a religious life—Christ was the only man from whom she might expect embrace in return.

Her voice was deep and resonant; with its nasal Gascony accent, it bonged through the corridors of the hospital like the echo of the church bells next door. I could hear her sometime before I saw her, the powerful voice increasing in volume as she came down the hall toward the office where six ladies of the Court and I huddled behind Herr Gerstmann, like island dwellers awaiting the arrival of a hurricane behind a flimsy barricade.

She filled the narrow doorway with a swoosh of batwings, and descended upon Herr Gerstmann with a cry of rapture, kissing him soundly on both cheeks.

“Mon cher ami! How unexpected a pleasure—and so much the more sweet for its unexpectedness. What brings you to me?”

Straightening, she turned a wide smile on the rest of us. The smile remained wide as Herr Gerstmann explained our mission, though a less experienced fortune-teller than I could have seen the tightening cheek muscles that turned it from a social grace to a rictus of necessity.

“We are most appreciative of your thoughts and your generosity, mesdames.” The deep, bell-like voice went on with a gracious speech of gratitude. Meanwhile, I could see the small, intelligent eyes, set deep beneath bony brow ridges, darting back and forth, deciding how best to dispose of this nuisance in short order, while still extracting such money as these pious ladies might be induced to part with for the good of their souls.

Having come to a decision, she clapped her hands sharply. A short nun, on the general order of Cock-Robin, popped up in the doorway like a jack-in-the-box.

“Sister Angelique, be so kind as to take these ladies to the dispensary,” she ordered. “Give them some suitable garments and then show them the wards. They may assist with the distribution of food to the patients—if they are so inclined.” A slight twitch of the wide, thin mouth made it evident that Mother Hildegarde did not expect the ladies’ pious inclination to survive the tour of the wards.

Mother Hildegarde was a shrewd judge of human nature. Three of the ladies made it through the first ward, with its cases of scrofula, scabies, eczema, defluxions, and stinking pyemia, before deciding that their charitable inclinations could be entirely satisfied by a donation to L’Hôpital, and fleeing back to the dispensary to shed the rough hopsacking gowns with which we had been furnished.

In the center of the next ward, a tall, gangly man in a dark frock coat was carrying out what appeared to be the skillful amputation of a leg; particularly skillful in that the patient was not sedated in any visible way, and was being restrained at the moment by the efforts of two husky orderlies and a solidly built nun who was sitting upon the patient’s chest, her flowing draperies fortunately obscuring the man’s face.

One of the ladies behind me made a small gagging sound; when I looked round, all I saw was the rather wide rear aspect of two of the would-be Samaritans, jammed hip to hip in the narrow doorway leading toward the dispensary and freedom. With a last desperate tug and the rending of silk, they burst through and fled precipitately down the dark hallway, nearly knocking over an orderly coming on the trot with a tray piled high with linens and surgical instruments.

I glanced to the side, and was amused to find Mary Hawkins still there. Somewhat whiter than the surgical linens—which were quite a disgraceful shade of gray, truth be told—and a bit green about the gills, but still there.

“Vite! Dépêchez-vous!” the surgeon uttered a peremptory shout, aimed presumably at the shaken orderly, who hastily reassembled his tray and came on the gallop to the spot where the tall, dark man was poised, bone saw in hand, ready to sever an exposed thigh bone. The orderly bent to tie a second tourniquet above the site of operation, the saw descended with an indescribable grating sound, and I took pity on Mary Hawkins, turning her in the other direction. Her arm trembled under my hand, and the peony lips were blanched and pinched as a frostbitten flower.

“Would you like to leave?” I asked politely. “I’m sure Mother Hildegarde could summon a carriage for you.” I glanced over one shoulder to the vacant darkness of the hallway. “I’m afraid the Comtesse and Madame Lambert have left already.”

Mary gulped audibly, but tightened an already firm jaw in determination.

“N-no,” she said. “If you stay, I’ll stay.”

I definitely intended staying; curiosity and the urge to worm my way into the operations of L’Hôpital des Anges were much too strong to weigh against any pity I might feel for Mary’s sensibilities.

Sister Angelique had gone some distance before noticing that we had stopped. Returning, she stood patiently waiting, a small smile on her plump face, as though expecting that we, too, would turn and run. I bent over a pallet at the edge of the floor. A very thin woman lay listlessly under a single blanket, her eyes drifting dully over us without interest. It wasn’t the woman who had attracted my attention, so much as the oddly shaped glass vessel standing on the floor alongside her pallet.

The vessel was brimming with a yellow fluid—urine, undoubtedly. I was mildly surprised; without chemical tests, or even litmus paper, what conceivable use could a urine sample be? Thinking over the various things one tested urine for, though, I had an idea.

I picked up the vessel carefully, ignoring Sister Angelique’s exclamation of alarmed protest. I sniffed carefully. Sure enough; half-obscured by sour ammoniac fumes, the fluid smelled sickly sweet—rather like soured honey. I hesitated, but there was only one way to make sure. With a moue of distaste, I gingerly dipped the tip of one finger into the liquid and touched it delicately to my tongue.

Mary, watching bug-eyed at my side, choked slightly, but Sister Angelique was watching with sudden interest. I placed a hand on the woman’s forehead; it was cool—no fever to account for the wasting.

“Are you thirsty, Madame?” I asked the patient. I knew the answer before she spoke, seeing the empty carafe near her head.

“Always, Madame,” she replied. “And always hungry, as well. Yet no flesh gathers on my bones, no matter how much I eat.” She raised a stick-thin arm, displaying a bony wrist, then let it fall as though the effort had exhausted her.

I patted the skinny hand gently, and murmured something in farewell, my exhilaration at having made a correct diagnosis substantially quenched by the knowledge that there was no possible cure for diabetes mellitus in this day; the woman before me was doomed.

In subdued spirits, I rose to follow Sister Angelique, who slowed her bustling steps to walk next to me.

“Could you tell from what she suffers, Madame?” the nun asked curiously. “Only from the urine?”

“Not only from that,” I answered. “But yes, I know. She has—” Drat. What would they have called it now? “She has…um, sugar sickness. She gets no nourishment from the food she eats, and has a tremendous thirst. Consequently, she produces large quantities of urine.”

Sister Angelique was nodding, a look of intense curiosity stamped on her pudgy features.

“And can you tell whether she will recover, Madame?”

“No, she won’t,” I said bluntly. “She’s far gone already; she may not last out the month.”

“Ah.” The fair brows lifted, and the look of curiosity was replaced by one of respect. “That’s what Monsieur Parnelle said.”

“And who’s he, when he’s at home?” I asked flippantly.

The plump nun frowned in bewilderment. “Well, at his own establishment, I believe he is a maker of trusses, and a jeweler. When he comes here, though, he acts usually as a urinoscopist.”

I felt my own brows rising. “A urinoscopist?” I said unbelievingly. “There actually are such things?”

“Oui, Madame. And he said just what you said, about the poor thin lady. I have never seen a woman who knew about the science of urinoscopy,” Sister Angelique said, staring at me in frank fascination.

“Well, there are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Sister,” I said graciously. She nodded seriously, making me feel rather ashamed of my facetiousness.

“That is true, Madame. Will you have a look at the gentleman in the end bed? He has a complaint of the liver, we believe.”

We continued, from one bed to another, making the complete circuit of the enormous hall. We saw examples of diseases I had seen only in textbooks, and every kind of traumatic injury, from head wounds inflicted in drunken brawls to a carter whose chest had been crushed by a rolling wine barrel.

I paused by some beds, asking questions of those patients who seemed able to answer. I could hear Mary breathing through her mouth behind my shoulder, but didn’t check to see whether she was in fact holding her nose.

At the conclusion of the tour, Sister Angelique turned to me with an ironic smile.

“Well, Madame? Do you still desire to serve the Lord by helping his unfortunates?”

I was already rolling up the sleeves of my gown.

“Bring me a basin of hot water, Sister,” I said, “and some soap.”



* * *



“How was it, Sassenach?” Jamie asked.

“Horrible!” I answered, beaming broadly.

He raised one eyebrow, smiling down at me as I lay sprawled on the chaise.

“Oh, enjoyed yourself, did ye?”

“Oh, Jamie, it was so nice to be useful again! I mopped floors and I fed people gruel, and when Sister Angelique wasn’t looking, I managed to change a couple of filthy dressings and lance an abscess.”

“Oh, good,” he said. “Did ye remember to eat, in the midst of all this frivolity?”

“Er, no, as a matter of fact, I didn’t,” I said guiltily. “On the other hand, I forgot to be sick, too.” As though reminded of delinquency, the walls of my stomach took a sudden lurch inward. I pressed a fist under my breastbone. “Perhaps I should have a bite.”

“Perhaps ye should,” he agreed, a little grimly, reaching for the bell.

He watched as I obediently downed meat pie and cheese, describing L’Hôpital des Anges and its inmates in enthusiastic detail between bites as I ate.

“It’s very crowded in some of the wards—two or three to a bed, which is awful, but—don’t you want some of this?” I broke off to ask. “It’s very good.”

He eyed the piece of pastry I was holding out to him.

“If ye think ye can keep from telling me about gangrenous toenails long enough for a bite to make it from my gullet to my stomach, then yes.”

Belatedly, I noticed the slight pallor on his cheeks, and the faint pinching of his nostrils. I poured a cup of wine and handed it to him before picking up my own plate again.

“And how was your day, my dear?” I asked demurely.



* * *



L’Hôpital des Anges became a refuge for me. The blunt and unsophisticated directness of nuns and patients was a wonderful refreshment from the continual chattering intrigues of the Court ladies and gentlemen. I was also positive that without the relief of allowing my facial muscles to relax into their normal expressions at the Hôpital, my face would quickly have frozen into an expression of permanent simpering vapidity.

Seeing that I appeared to know what I was doing, and required nothing of them beyond a few bandages and linens, the nuns quickly accepted my presence. And after an initial shock at my accent and title, so did the patients. Social prejudice is a strong force, but no match for simple competence when skill is in urgent demand and short supply.

Mother Hildegarde, busy as she was, took somewhat more time to make her own assessment of me. She never spoke to me at first, beyond a simple “Bonjour, Madame,” in passing, but I often felt the weight of those small, shrewd eyes boring into my back as I stooped over the bed of an elderly man with shingles, or smeared aloe ointment on the blisters of a child burned in one of the frequent house fires that beset the poorer quarters of the city.

She never gave the appearance of hurrying, but covered an immense amount of ground during the day, pacing the flat gray stones of the Hôpital wards with a stride that covered a yard at a time, her small white dog Bouton hurrying at her heels to keep up.

A far cry from the fluffy lapdogs so popular with the ladies of the Court, he looked vaguely like a cross between a poodle and a dachshund, with a rough, kinky coat whose fringes fluttered along the edges of a wide belly and stumpy, bowed legs. His feet, splay-toed and black-nailed, clicked frantically over the stones of the floor as he trotted after Mother Hildegarde, pointed muzzle almost touching the sweeping black folds of her habit.

“Is that a dog?” I had asked one of the orderlies in amazement, when I first beheld Bouton, passing through the Hôpital at the heels of his mistress.

He paused in his floor-sweeping to look after the curly, plumed tail, disappearing into the next ward.

“Well,” he said doubtfully, “Mother Hildegarde says he’s a dog. I wouldn’t like to be the one to say he isn’t.”

As I became more friendly with the nuns, orderlies, and visiting physicians of the Hôpital, I heard various other opinions of Bouton, ranging from the tolerant to the superstitious. No one knew quite where Mother Hildegarde had got him, nor why. He had been a member of the Hôpital staff for several years, with a rank—in Mother Hildegarde’s opinion, which was the only one that counted—well above that of the nursing sisters, and equal to that of most of the visiting physicians and apothecaries.

Some of the latter regarded him with suspicious aversion, others with jocular affability. One chirurgeon referred to him routinely—out of Mother’s hearing—as “that revolting rat,” another as “the smelly rabbit,” and one small, tubby truss-maker greeted him quite openly as “Monsieur le Dishcloth.” The nuns considered him something between a mascot and a totem, while the junior priest from the cathedral next door, who had been bitten in the leg when he came to administer the sacraments to the patients, confided to me his own opinion that Bouton was one of the lesser demons, disguised as a dog for his own fell purposes.

In spite of the unflattering tone of the priest’s remarks, I thought that he had perhaps come the closest to the truth. For after several weeks of observing the pair, I had come to the conclusion that Bouton was in fact Mother Hildegarde’s familiar.

She spoke to him often, not in the tone one generally uses for dogs, but as one discussing important matters with an equal. As she paused beside this bed or that, often Bouton would spring onto the mattress, nuzzling and sniffing at the startled patient. He would sit down, often on the patient’s legs, bark once, and glance up inquiringly at Mother, wagging his silky plumed tail as though asking her opinion of his diagnosis—which she always gave.

Though I was rather curious about this behavior, I had had no opportunity of closely observing the odd pair at work until one dark, rainy morning in March. I was standing by the bed of a middle-aged carter, making casual conversation with him while I tried to figure out what in bloody hell was wrong with the man.

It was a case that had come in the week before. He had had his lower leg caught in the wheel of a cart when he carelessly dismounted before the vehicle had stopped moving. It was a compound fracture, but a fairly uncomplicated one. I had reset the bone, and the wound seemed to be healing nicely. The tissue was a healthy pink, with good granulation, no bad smell, no telltale red streaks, no extreme tenderness, nothing at all to explain why the man still smoldered with fever and produced the dark, odorous urine of a lingering infection.

“Bonjour, Madame.” The deep, rich voice spoke above me, and I glanced up at the towering form of Mother Hildegarde. There was a whish past my elbow, and Bouton landed on the mattress with a thump that made the patient groan slightly.

“What do you think?” said Mother Hildegarde. I wasn’t at all sure whether she was addressing me or Bouton, but took the benefit of the doubt and explained my observations.

“So, there must be a secondary source of infection,” I concluded, “but I can’t find it. I’m wondering now whether perhaps he has an internal infection that’s not related to the leg wound. A mild appendicitis, or a bladder infection, perhaps, though I don’t find any abdominal tenderness, either.”

Mother Hildegarde nodded. “A possibility, certainly. Bouton!” The dog cocked his head toward his mistress, who jerked an oblong chin in the direction of the patient. “A la bouche, Bouton,” she ordered. With a mincing step, the dog pushed the round black nose that presumably gave him his name into the carter’s face. The man’s eyes, heavy-lidded with fever, sprang open at this intrusion, but a glance at the imposing presence of Mother Hildegarde stopped whatever complaint he might have been forming.

“Open your mouth,” Mother Hildegarde instructed, and such was her force of character that he did so, even though his lips twitched at the nearness of Bouton’s. Dog-kissing plainly wasn’t on his agenda of desirable activities.

“No,” said Mother Hildegarde thoughtfully, watching Bouton. “That isn’t it. Have a look elsewhere, Bouton, but carefully. The man has a broken leg, remember.”

As though he had in fact understood every word, the dog began to sniff curiously at the patient, nosing into his armpits, putting stubby feet on his chest in order to investigate, nudging gently along the crease of the groin. When it came to the injured leg, he stepped carefully over the limb before putting his nose to the surface of the bandages round it.

He returned to the groin area—well, what else, I thought impatiently, he’s a dog, after all—nudged at the top of the thigh, then sat down and barked once, wagging triumphantly.

“There it is,” said Mother Hildegarde, pointing to a small brown scab just below the inguinal crease.

“But that’s almost healed,” I protested. “It isn’t infected.”

“No?” The tall nun placed a hand on the man’s thigh and pressed hard. Her muscular fingers dented the pale, clammy flesh, and the carter screamed like a banshee.

“Ah,” she said in satisfaction, observing the deep prints left by her touch. “A pocket of putrefaction.”

It was; the scab had loosened at one edge, and a thick ooze of yellow pus showed under it. A little probing, with Mother Hildegarde holding the man by leg and shoulder, revealed the problem. A long sliver of wood, flying free of the splintered cartwheel, had driven upward, deep into the thigh. Disregarded because of the apparently insignificant entrance wound, it had gone unnoticed by the patient himself, to whom the whole leg was one giant pain. While the tiny entrance wound had healed cleanly, the deeper wound had festered and formed a pocket of pus around the intrusion, buried in the muscle tissue where no surface symptoms were visible—to human senses, at least.

A little scalpel work to enlarge the entrance wound, a quick grip with a pair of long-nosed forceps, a smooth, forceful pull—and I held up a three-inch sliver of wood, coated with blood and slime.

“Not bad, Bouton,” I said, with a nod of acknowledgment. A long pink tongue lolled happily, and the black nostrils sniffed in my direction.

“Yes, she’s a good one,” said Mother Hildegarde, and this time there was no doubt which of us she was speaking to, Bouton being male. Bouton leaned forward and sniffed politely at my hand, then licked my knuckles once in reciprocal acknowledgment of a fellow professional. I repressed the urge to wipe my hand on my gown.

“Amazing,” I said, meaning it.

“Yes,” said Mother Hildegarde, casually, but with an unmistakable note of pride. “He’s very good at locating tumors beneath the skin, as well. And while I cannot always tell what he finds in the odors of breath and urine, he has a certain tone of bark that indicates unmistakably the presence of a derangement of the stomach.”

Under the circumstances, I saw no reason to doubt it. I bowed to Bouton, and picked up a vial of powdered St.-John’s-wort to dress the infection.

“Pleased to have your assistance, Bouton. You can work with me anytime.”

“Very sensible of you,” said Mother Hildegarde, with a flash of strong teeth. “Many of the physicians and chirurgiens who work here are less inclined to take advantage of his skills.”

“Er, well.…” I didn’t want to disparage anyone’s reputation, but my glance across the hall at Monsieur Voleru must have been transparent.

Mother Hildegarde laughed. “Well, we take what God sends us, though occasionally I wonder whether He sends them to us only in order to keep them out of greater trouble elsewhere. Still, the bulk of our physicians are better than nothing—even if only marginally so. You”—and the teeth flashed once more, reminding me of a genial draft horse—“are a great deal better than nothing, Madame.”

“Thanks.”

“I have wondered, though,” Mother Hildegarde went on, watching as I applied the medicated dressing, “why you see only the patients with wounds and broken bones? You avoid those with spots and coughs and fevers, yet it is more common for les maîtresses to deal with such things. I don’t think I have ever seen a female chirurgien before.” Les maîtresses were the unlicensed healers, mostly from the provinces, who dealt in herbals, poultices, and charms. Les maîtresses sage-femme were the midwives, the top of the heap so far as popular healers were concerned. Many were accorded more respect than the licensed practitioners, and were much preferred by the lower-class patients, as they were likely to be both more capable and much less expensive.

I wasn’t surprised that she had observed my proclivities; I had gathered long since that very little about her Hôpital escaped Mother Hildegarde’s notice.

“It isn’t lack of interest,” I assured her. “It’s only that I’m with child, so I can’t expose myself to anything contagious, for the child’s sake. Broken bones aren’t catching.”

“Sometimes I wonder,” said Mother Hildegarde, with a glance at an incoming stretcher. “We’re having a plague of them this week. No, don’t go.” She motioned me back. “Sister Cecile will see to it. She’ll call you if there’s need.”

The nun’s small gray eyes regarded me with curiosity, mingled with appraisal.

“So, you are not only a milady, you are with child, but your husband does not object to your coming here? He must be a most unusual man.”

“Well, he’s Scottish,” I said, by way of explanation, not wishing to go into the subject of my husband’s objections.

“Oh, Scottish.” Mother Hildegarde nodded understandingly. “Just so.”

The bed trembled against my thigh as Bouton leaped off and trotted toward the door.

“He smells a stranger,” Mother Hildegarde remarked. “Bouton assists the doorkeeper as well as the physicians—with no more gratitude for his efforts, I fear.”

The sounds of peremptory barks and a high voice raised in terror came through the double doors of the entryway.

“Oh, it’s Father Balmain again! Curse the man, can’t he learn to stand still and let Bouton smell him?” Mother Hildegarde turned in haste to the succor of her companion, turning back at the last moment to smile engagingly at me. “Perhaps I will send him to assist you with your tasks, Madame, while I soothe Father Balmain. While no doubt a most holy man, he lacks true appreciation for the work of an artist.”

She strode toward the doors with her long, unhurried stride, and with a last word for the carter, I turned to Sister Cecile and the latest stretcher case.



* * *



Jamie was lying on the carpet in the sitting room when I came back to the house, with a small boy sitting cross-legged on the floor beside him. Jamie was holding a bilboquet in one hand, and had the other poised over one eye.

“Of course I can,” he was saying. “Anyday and twice on Sundays. Watch.”

Placing the hand over his eye, he fixed the other piercingly on the bilboquet and gave the ivory cup a toss. The tethered ball leaped from its socket into an arc, and dropped as though guided by radar, landing back in its cup with a snug little plop.

“See?” he said, removing the hand from his eye. He sat up and handed the cup to the boy. “Here, you try it.” He grinned at me, and slid a hand under the hem of my skirt, clasping my green silk ankle in greeting.

“Having fun?” I inquired.

“Not yet,” he replied, giving the ankle a squeeze. “I was waiting for you, Sassenach.” The long, warm fingers curled around my ankle slid higher, playfully stroking the curve of my calf, as a pair of limpid blue eyes gazed up at me, all innocence. His face had a streak of dried mud down one side, and there were dirty blotches on his shirt and kilt.

“Is that so?” I said, trying to pull my leg free of his grasp inconspicuously. “I should have thought your little playmate would have been all the company you needed.”

The boy, understanding none of the English in which these exchanges were conducted, ignored them, intent on trying to work the bilboquet with one eye closed. The first two attempts having failed, he opened the second eye and glared at the toy, as though daring it not to work. The second eye closed again, but not all the way; a small slit remained, gleaming alertly below the thick fringe of dark lashes.

Jamie clicked his tongue disapprovingly, and the eye hastily snapped tight shut.

“Nah, then, Fergus, we’ll have nay cheatin’, if ye please,” he said. “Fair’s fair.” The boy obviously caught the meaning, if not the words; he grinned sheepishly, displaying a pair of large, white, gleamingly perfect front teeth, square as a squirrel’s.

Jamie’s hand exerted an invisible pull, obliging me to move closer to him to avoid being toppled off my moroccan heels.

“Ah,” he said. “Well, Fergus here is a man of many talents, and a boon companion for the idle hours when a man’s wife has deserted him and left him to seek his own pursuits amidst the wickedness of the city”—the long fingers curled delicately into the hollow behind my knee, tickling suggestively—“but he isna qualified as a partner for the pastime I had in mind.”

“Fergus?” I said, eyeing the boy, and trying to ignore the goings-on below. The lad was possibly nine or ten, but small for his age, and fine-boned as a ferret. Clad in clean, worn clothes several sizes too big for him, he was also as French as they come, with the pale, sallow skin and big, dark eyes of a Parisian street child.

“Well, his name is really Claudel, but we decided that didna sound verra manly, so he’s to be called Fergus instead. A suitable warrior’s name, that.” Catching the sound of his name—or names—the boy glanced up and grinned shyly at me.

“This is Madame,” Jamie explained to the boy, gesturing to me with his free hand. “You may call her milady. I dinna think he could manage ‘Broch Tuarach,’ ” he added to me, “or even Fraser, for that matter.”

“ ‘Milady’ will be fine,” I said, smiling. I wriggled my leg harder, trying to shake off the leechlike grip. “Er, why, if I may ask?”

“Why what? Oh, why Fergus, ye mean?”

“That’s what I mean, all right.” I wasn’t sure just how far his arm would reach, but the hand was creeping slowly up the back of my thigh. “Jamie, take your hand away this minute!”

The fingers darted to one side, and deftly pulled loose the ribbon garter that held up my stocking. The stocking slithered down my leg to puddle round my ankle.

“You beast!” I kicked at him, but he dodged aside, laughing.

“Oh, beast, is it? What kind?”

“A cur!” I snapped, trying to bend over to pull up my stocking without falling off my heels. The child Fergus, after a brief, incurious glance at us, had resumed his trials with the bilboquet.

“As for the lad,” he continued blithely, “Fergus is now in my employ.”

“To do what?” I asked. “We already have a boy who cleans the knives and boots, and a stable-lad.”

Jamie nodded. “Aye, that’s true. We havena got a pickpocket, though. Or rather, we hadn’t; we have, now.”

I drew in my breath and blew it out again slowly.

“I see. I suppose it would be dense of me to ask exactly why we need to add a pickpocket to the household?”

“To steal letters, Sassenach,” Jamie said calmly.

“Oh,” I said, light beginning to dawn.

“I canna get anything sensible out of His Highness; when he’s with me, he wilna do anything but moan about Louise de La Tour, or grind his teeth and curse because they’ve been quarreling again. In either case, all he wants to do is to get drunk as quickly as possible. Mar is losing all patience with him, for he’s haughty and sullen by turns. And I canna get anything out of Sheridan.”

The Earl of Mar was the most respected of the exiled Scottish Jacobites in Paris. A man whose long and illustrious prime was only now beginning to edge into elderliness, he had been the primary supporter of King James at the abortive Rising in 1715, and had followed his king into exile after the defeat at Sheriffsmuir. I had met the Earl and liked him; an elderly, courtly man with a personality as straight as his backbone. He was now doing his best—with little reward, it seemed—for his lord’s son. I had met Thomas Sheridan, too; the Prince’s tutor—an elderly man who handled His Highness’s correspondence, translating impatience and illiteracy into courtly French and English.

I sat down and pulled my stocking back up. Fergus, apparently hardened to the sight of female limbs, ignored me altogether, concentrating grimly on the bilboquet.

“Letters, Sassenach,” he said. “I need the letters. Letters from Rome, sealed with the Stuart crest. Letters from France, letters from England, letters from Spain. We can get them either from the Prince’s house—Fergus can go with me, as a page—or possibly from the papal messenger who brings them; that would be a bit better, as we’d have the information in advance.”

“So, we’ve made the bargain,” Jamie said, nodding at his new servant. “Fergus will do his best to get what I need, and I will provide him with clothes and lodging and thirty écus a year. If he’s caught while doing my service, I’ll do my best to buy him off. If it canna be done, and he loses a hand or an ear, then I maintain him for the rest of his life, as he wilna be able to pursue his profession. And if he’s hanged, then I guarantee to have Masses said for his soul for the space of a year. I think that’s fair, no?”

I felt a cold hand pass down my spine.

“Jesus Christ, Jamie” was all I could find to say.

He shook his head, and reached out a hand for the bilboquet. “Not our Lord, Sassenach. Pray to St. Dismas. The patron saint of thieves and traitors.”

Jamie reached over and took the bilboquet from the boy. He flicked his wrist sharply and the ivory ball rose in a perfect parabola, to descend into its cup with an inevitable plop.

“I see,” I said. I eyed the new employee with interest as he took the toy Jamie offered him and started in on it once more, dark eyes gleaming with concentration. “Where did you get him?” I asked curiously.

“I found him in a brothel.”

“Oh, of course,” I said. “To be sure.” I eyed the dirt and smears on his clothes. “Which you were visiting for some really excellent reason, I expect?”

“Oh, aye,” he said. He sat back, arms wrapped about his knees, grinning as he watched me make repairs to my garter. “I thought you’d prefer me to be found in such an establishment, to the alternative of bein’ found in a dark alleyway, wi’ my head bashed in.”

I saw the boy Fergus’s eyes focus at a spot somewhat past the bilboquet, where a tray of iced cakes stood on a table near the wall. A small, pointed pink tongue darted out across his lower lip.

“I think your protégé is hungry,” I said. “Why don’t you feed him, and then you can tell me just what in bloody hell happened this afternoon.”

“Well, I was on my way to the docks,” he began, obediently rising to his feet, “and just past the Rue Eglantine, I began to have a queer feeling up the back of my neck.”

Jamie Fraser had spent two years in the army of France, fought and stolen with a gang of Scottish “broken men,” and been hunted as an outlaw through the moors and mountains of his native land. All of which had left him with an extreme sensitivity to the sensation of being followed.

He couldn’t have said whether it was the sound of a footfall, too close behind, or the sight of a shadow that shouldn’t be there, or something less tangible—the scent of evil on the air, perhaps—but he had learned that the prickle of warning among the short hairs of his neck was something to be ignored at his peril.

Promptly obeying the dictates of his cervical vertebrae, he turned left instead of right at the next corner, ducked around a whelk-seller’s stall, cut between a barrow filled with steamed puddings and another of fresh vegetable marrows, and into a small charcuterie.

Pressed against the wall near the doorway, he peered out through a screen of hanging duck carcasses. Two men entered the street no more than a second later, walking close together, glancing quickly from side to side.

Every workingman in Paris carried the marks of his trade upon his person, and it didn’t take much of a nose to detect the whiff of sea-salt on these two. If the small gold hoop in the shorter man’s ear had not been a dead giveaway, the deep reddish-brown of their faces would have made it clear they were deep-water sailors.

Accustomed to the cramped quarters of shipboard and quay taverns, seamen seldom walked in a straight line. These two slid through the crowded alley like eels through rocks, eyes flicking past beggars, servingmaids, housewives, merchants; sea wolves assessing potential prey.

“I let them get well past the shop,” Jamie explained, “and I was just about to step out and go back the other way, when I saw another of them at the mouth of the alley.”

This man wore the same uniform as the other two; sidelocks heavily coated with grease, a fish knife at his side and a marlinspike the length of a man’s forearm thrust through his belt. Short and thickset, the man stood still at the end of the alley, holding his ground against the buffeting waves of commerce that ebbed and flowed through the narrow passage. Clearly he had been left on guard, while his fellows quested ahead.

“So I was left wondering what best to do,” Jamie said, rubbing his nose. “I was safe enough where I was, but there was no back way from the shop, and the moment I stepped from the doorway, I’d be seen.” He glanced down reflectively, smoothing the crimson fabric of his kilt across his thigh. An enormous red barbarian was going to be conspicuous, no matter how thick the crowd.

“So what did you do?” I asked. Fergus, ignoring the conversation, was stuffing his pockets methodically with cakes, pausing for a hasty bite every so often in the process. Jamie caught my glance at the boy and shrugged.

“He’ll not have been in the habit of eating regularly,” he said. “Let him be.”

“All right,” I said. “But go on—what did you do?”

“Bought a sausage,” he said promptly.

A Dunedin, to be exact. Made of spiced duck, ham and venison, boiled, stuffed and sun-dried, a Dunedin sausage measured eighteen inches from end to end and was as hard as seasoned oakwood.

“I couldna step out wi’ my sword drawn,” Jamie explained, “but I didna like the idea of stepping past the fellow in the alleyway wi’ no one at my back, and empty hands.”

Bearing the Dunedin at port arms, and keeping a weather eye on the passing crowd, Jamie had stepped boldly down the alley, toward the watcher at its mouth.

The man had met his gaze quite calmly, showing no sign of any malign intent. Jamie might have thought his original premonition mistaken, had he not seen the watcher’s eyes flick briefly to something over Jamie’s shoulder. Obeying the instincts that had kept him alive thus far, he had dived forward, knocking the watcher down and sliding on his face across the filthy cobbles of the street.

The crowd scattered before him with shrieks of alarm, and he rolled to his feet to see the flung knife that had missed him, quivering in the boards of a ribbon stall.

“If I’d had a bit of doubt it was me they wanted, I didna fret about it longer,” he said dryly.

He had kept hold of the sausage, and now found use for it, swinging it smartly across the face of one attacker.

“I broke his nose, I think,” he said meditatively. “Anyway, he reeled back, and I shoved past and took off running, down the Rue Pelletier.”

The inhabitants of the street scattered before him like geese, startled by the sight of a hurtling Scotsman, kilts flying around his churning knees. He didn’t stop to look behind; by the shouts of indignant passersby, he could tell that the assailants were still in pursuit.

This part of the city was seldom patrolled by the King’s Guard, and the crowd itself offered little protection other than a simple obstruction that might slow his pursuers. No one was likely to interfere in a matter of violence on a foreigner’s behalf.

“There are no alleys off the Rue Pelletier. I needed at least to get to a place where I could draw my sword and have a wall at my back,” Jamie explained. “So I pushed at the doors as I passed, ’til I hit one that opened.”

Dashing into a gloomy hallway, past a startled porter, and through a hanging drape, he had shot into the center of a large, well-lighted room, and come to a screeching halt in the middle of one Madame Elise’s salon, the scent of perfume heavy in his nostrils.

“I see,” I said, biting my lip. “I, um, trust you didn’t draw your sword in there?”

Jamie narrowed his eyes at me, but didn’t deign to reply directly.

“I’ll leave it to you, Sassenach,” he said dryly, “to imagine what it feels like to arrive unexpectedly in the midst of a brothel, in possession of a verra large sausage.”

My imagination proved fully equal to this task, and I burst out laughing.

“God, I wish I could have seen you!” I said.

“Thank God ye didn’t!” he said fervently. A furious blush glowed on his cheekbones.

Ignoring remarks from the fascinated inmates, Jamie had made his way awkwardly through what he described, shuddering, as “tangles o’ bare limbs,” until he had spotted Fergus against one wall, regarding the intruder with a round-eyed astonishment.

Seizing upon this unexpected manifestation of maleness, Jamie had gripped the lad by the shoulder, and fervently implored him to show the way to the nearest exit, without loss of a moment.

“I could hear a hurly-burly breakin’ out in the hallway,” he explained, “and I kent they were in after me. I didna want to be having to fight for my life wi’ a lot of naked women getting in the way.”

“I can see that the prospect might be daunting,” I agreed, rubbing my upper lip. “But obviously he got you out.”

“Aye. He didna hesitate a moment, the dear lad. ‘This way, Monsieur!’ he says, and it was up the stair, and through a room, and out a window onto the roof, and awa’ wi’ us both.” Jamie cast a fond glance at his new employee.

“You know,” I observed, “there are some wives who wouldn’t believe one word of a story like that.”

Jamie’s eyes opened wide in astonishment.

“They wouldna? Whyever not?”

“Possibly,” I said dryly, “because they aren’t married to you. I’m pleased that you escaped with your virtue intact, but for the moment, I’m rather more interested in the chaps who chased you in there.”

“I didna have a great deal of leisure to think about it at the time,” Jamie replied. “And now that I have, I still couldna say who they were, or why they were hunting me.”

“Robbery, do you think?” The cash receipts of the wine business were conveyed between the Fraser warehouse, the Rue Tremoulins, and Jared’s bank by strongbox, under heavy guard. Still, Jamie was very visible among the crowds near the river docks, and was undoubtedly known to be a wealthy foreign merchant—wealthy by contrast with most of the denizens of that neighborhood, at any rate.

He shook his head, flicking crumbs of dried mud off his shirtfront.

“It might be, I suppose. But they didna try to accost me; it was straightout murder they meant.”

His tone was quite matter-of-fact, but it gave me rather a wobbly feeling in the knees, and I sank down onto a settee. I licked my lips, gone suddenly dry.

“Who—who do you think…?”

He shrugged, frowning as he scooped up a dab of icing from the plate and licked it off his finger.

“The only man I could think of who’s threatened me is the Comte St. Germain. But I canna think what he’d gain from having me killed.”

“He’s Jared’s business rival, you said.”

“Oh, aye. But the Comte’s no interest in German wines, and I canna see him going to the trouble of killing me, only to ruin Jared’s new enterprise by bringing him back to Paris. That seems a trifle extreme,” he said dryly, “even for a man wi’ the Comte’s temper.”

“Well, do you think…” The idea made me mildly ill, and I swallowed twice before going on. “Do you think it might have been…revenge? For the Patagonia being burned?”

Jamie shook his head, baffled.

“I suppose it could be, but it seems a long time to wait. And why me, come to that?” he added. “It’s you annoyed him, Sassenach. Why not kill you, if that’s what he meant?”

The sick feeling got slightly worse.

“Do you have to be so bloody logical?” I said.

He saw the look on my face, and smiled suddenly, putting an arm around me for comfort.

“Nay, mo duinne. The Comte’s a quick temper, but I canna see him going to the trouble and expense of killing either of us, only for revenge. If it might get him his ship back, then yes,” he added, “but as it is, I expect he’d only think the price of three hired assassins throwing good money after bad.”

He patted my shoulder and stood up.

“Nay, I expect it was only a try at robbery, after all. Dinna trouble yourself about it. I’ll take Murtagh with me to the docks from now on, to be safe.”

He stretched himself, and brushed the last of the crumbling dirt from his kilt. “Am I decent to go in to supper?” he asked, looking critically down his chest. “It must be nearly ready by now.”

“What’s ready?”

He opened the door, and a rich, spicy scent wafted up at once from the dining room below.

“Why, the sausage, of course,” he said, with a grin over one shoulder. “Ye dinna think I’d let it go to waste?”





13

DECEPTIONS

Barberry leaves, three handfuls in a decoction, steeped overnight, poured over half a handful of black hellebore.” I laid the list of…ingredients down on the inlaid table as though it were slightly slimy to the touch. “I got it from Madame Rouleaux. She’s the best of the angel-makers, but even she says it’s dangerous. Louise, are you sure you want to do this?”

Her round pink face was blotched, and the plump lower lip had a tendency to quiver.

“What choice do I have?” She picked up the recipe for the abortifacient and gazed at it in repulsed fascination.

“Black hellebore,” she said, and shuddered. “The very name of it sounds evil!”

“Well, it’s bloody nasty stuff,” I said bluntly. “It will make you feel as though your insides are coming out. But the baby may come, too. It doesn’t always work.” I remembered Master Raymond’s warning—It is dangerous to wait too long—and wondered how far gone she might be. Surely no more than six weeks or so; she had told me the instant she suspected.

She glanced at me, startled, with red-rimmed eyes.

“You have used it yourself?”

“God, no!” I startled myself with the vehemence of my exclamation, and took a deep breath.

“No. I’ve seen women who have, though—at L’Hôpital des Anges.” The abortionists—the angel-makers—practiced largely in the privacy of homes, their own or their clients’. Their successes were not the ones that came to the hospital. I laid a hand unobtrusively over my own abdomen, as though for protection of its helpless occupant. Louise caught the gesture and hurled herself into the sofa, burying her head in her hands.

“Oh, I wish I were dead!” she moaned. “Why, why couldn’t I be as fortunate as you—to be bearing the child of a husband I loved?” She clutched her own plump stomach with both hands, staring down at it as though expecting the child to peek out between her fingers.

There were any number of answers to that particular question, but I didn’t think she really wanted to hear any of them. I took a deep breath and sat down beside her, patting a heaving damask shoulder.

“Louise,” I said. “Do you want the child?”

She lifted her head and stared at me in astonishment.

“But of course I want it!” she exclaimed. “It’s his—it’s Charles’s! It’s…” Her face crumpled, and she bowed her head once more over her hands, clasped so tightly over her belly. “It’s mine,” she whispered. After a long moment, she raised her streaming face, and with a pathetic attempt to pull herself together, wiped her nose on a trailing sleeve.

“But it’s no good,” she said. “If I don’t…” She glanced at the recipe on the table and swallowed heavily. “Then Jules will divorce me—he’ll cast me out. There would be the most terrible scandal. I might be excommunicated! Not even Father could protect me.”

“Yes,” I said. “But…” I hesitated, then cast caution to the winds. “Is there any chance Jules might be convinced the child is his?” I asked bluntly.

She looked blank for a moment, and I wanted to shake her.

“I don’t see how, unless—oh!” Light dawned, and she looked at me, horrified.

“Sleep with Jules, you mean? But Charles would be furious!”

“Charles,” I said through my teeth, “is not pregnant!”

“Well, but he’s…that is…I couldn’t!” The look of horror was fading, though, being slowly replaced with the growing realization of possibility.

I didn’t want to push her; still, I saw no good reason for her to risk her life for the sake of Charles Stuart’s pride, either.

“Do you suppose Charles would want you to endanger yourself?” I said. “For that matter—does he know about the child?”

She nodded, mouth slightly open as she thought about it, hands still clenched together over her stomach.

“Yes. That’s what we quarreled about last time.” She sniffed. “He was angry; he said it was all my fault, that I should have waited until he had reclaimed his father’s throne. Then he would be king someday, and he could come and take me away from Jules, and have the Pope annul my marriage, and his sons could be heirs to England and Scotlan.…” She gave way once more, sniveling and wailing incoherently into a fold of her skirt.

I rolled my eyes in exasperation.

“Oh, do be quiet, Louise!” I snapped. It shocked her enough to make her stop weeping, at least momentarily, and I took advantage of the hiatus to press my point.

“Look,” I said, as persuasively as possible, “you don’t suppose Charles would want you to sacrifice his son, do you? Legitimate or not?” Actually, I rather thought Charles would be in favor of any step that removed inconvenience from his own path, regardless of the effects on Louise or his putative offspring. On the other hand, the Prince did have a marked streak of romanticism; perhaps he could be induced to view this as the sort of temporary adversity common to exiled monarchs. Obviously, I was going to need Jamie’s help. I grimaced at the thought of what he was likely to say about it.

“Well.…” Louise was wavering, wanting desperately to be convinced. I had a momentary pang of pity for Jules, Prince de Rohan, but the vision of a young servant-girl, dying in protracted, blood-smeared agony on a pallet spread in the stone hallway of L’Hôpital des Anges was brutally clear in my mind.

It was nearly sunset when I left the de Rohans’, footsteps dragging. Louise, palpitating with nervousness, was upstairs in her boudoir, her maid putting up her hair and arraying her in her most daring gown before she went down to a private supper with her husband. I felt completely drained, and hoped that Jamie hadn’t brought anyone home for supper; I could use a spot of privacy, too.

He hadn’t; when I entered the study, he was seated at the desk, poring over three or four sheets of close-written paper.

“Do you think ‘the fur merchant’ is more likely to be Louis of France, or his minister Duverney?” he asked, without looking up.

“Fine, thank you, darling, and how are you?” I said.

“All right,” he said absently. The cowlicks on the top of his head were sticking up straight; he massaged his scalp vigorously as I watched, scowling down his long nose at the paper.

“I’m sure ‘the tailor from Vendôme’ must be Monsieur Geyer,” he said, running a finger along the lines of the letter, “and ‘our mutual friend’—that could be either the Earl of Mar, or possibly the papal envoy. I think the Earl, from the rest of it, but the—”

“What on earth is that?” I peered over his shoulder, and gasped when I saw the signature at the foot of the letter. James Stuart, by the grace of God King of England and Scotland.

“Bloody Christ! It worked, then!” Swinging around, I spotted Fergus, crouched on a stool in front of the fire, industriously stuffing pastries into his face. “Good lad,” I said, smiling at him. He grinned back at me, cheeks puffed like a chipmunk’s with chestnut tart.

“We got it from the papal messenger,” Jamie explained, coming to the surface long enough to realize I was there. “Fergus took it from the bag while he was eating supper in a tavern. He’ll spend the night there, so we’ll have to put this back before morning. No difficulties there, Fergus?”

The boy swallowed and shook his head. “No, milord. He sleeps alone—not trusting his bedmates not to steal the contents of his bag.” He grinned derisively at this. “The second window on the left, above the stables.” He waved an airy hand, the deft, grubby fingers reaching for another pie. “It is nothing, milord.”

I had a sudden vision of that fine-boned hand held squirming on a block, with an executioner’s blade raised above the broomstick wrist. I gulped, forcing down the sudden lurch of my stomach. Fergus wore a small greenish copper medal on a string about his neck; the image of St. Dismas, I hoped.

“Well,” I said, taking a deep breath to steady myself, “what’s all this about fur merchants?”



* * *



There was no time then for leisurely inspection. In the end, I made a quick fair copy of the letter, and the original was carefully refolded and its original seal replaced with the aid of a knife blade heated in a candle flame.

Watching this operation critically, Fergus shook his head at Jamie. “You have the touch, milord. It is a pity that the one hand is crippled.”

Jamie glanced dispassionately at his right hand. It really wasn’t too bad; a couple of fingers set slightly askew, a thick scar down the length of the middle finger. The only major damage had been to the fourth finger, which stuck out stiffly, its second joint so badly crushed that the healing had fused two fingerbones together. The hand had been broken in Wentworth Prison, less than four months ago, by Jack Randall.

“Never mind,” he said, smiling. He flexed the hand and flicked the fingers playfully at Fergus. “My great paws are too big to make a living picking pockets, anyway.” He had regained an astounding degree of movement, I thought. He still carried the soft ball of rags I had made for him, squeezing it unobtrusively hundreds of times a day as he went about his business. And if the knitting bones hurt him, he never complained.

“Off with ye, then,” he told Fergus. “Come and find me when you’re safe back, so I’ll know ye havena been taken up by the police or the landlord of the tavern.”

Fergus wrinkled his nose scornfully at such an idea, but nodded, tucking the letter carefully inside his smock before disappearing down the back stair toward the night that was both natural element and protection for him.

Jamie looked after him for a long minute, then turned to me. He truly looked at me for the first time, and his brows flew up.

“Christ, Sassenach!” he said. “You’re pale as my sark! Are ye all right?”

“Just hungry,” I said.

He rang at once for supper, and we ate it before the fire, while I told him about Louise. Rather to my surprise, while he knit his brows over the situation and muttered uncomplimentary things under his breath in Gaelic about both Louise and Charles Stuart, he agreed with my solution to the problem.

“I thought you’d be upset,” I said, scooping up a mouthful of succulent cassoulet with a bit of bread. The warm, bacon-spiced beans soothed me, filling me with a sense of peaceful well-being. It was cold and dark outside, and loud with the rushing of the wind, but it was warm and quiet here by the fire together.

“Oh, about Louise de La Tour foisting a bastard on her husband?” Jamie frowned at his own dish, running a finger around the edge to pick up the last of the juice.

“Well, I’m no verra much in favor of it, I’ll tell ye, Sassenach. It’s a filthy trick to play on a man, but what’s the poor bloody woman to do otherwise?” He shook his head, then glanced at the desk across the room and smiled wryly.

“Besides, it doesna become me to be takin’ a high moral stand about other people’s behavior. Stealing letters and spying and trying generally to subvert a man my family holds as King? I shouldna like to have someone judging me on the grounds of the things I’m doing, Sassenach.”

“You have a damn good reason for what you’re doing!” I objected.

He shrugged. The firelight flickering on his face hollowed his cheeks and threw shadows into the orbits of his eyes. It made him look older than he was; I tended to forget that he was not quite twenty-four.

“Aye, well. And Louise de La Tour has a reason, too,” he said. “She wants to save one life, I want ten thousand. Does that excuse my risking wee Fergus—and Jared’s business—and you?” He turned his head and smiled at me, the light gleaming from the long, straight bridge of his nose, glowing like sapphire in the one eye turned toward the fire.

“Nay, I think I wilna lose my sleep over the need for opening another man’s letters,” he said. “It may come to much worse than that before we’ve done, Claire, and I canna say ahead of time what my conscience will stand; it’s best not to test it too soon.”

There was nothing to be said to that; it was all true. I reached out and laid my hand against his cheek. He laid his own hand over mine, cradling it for a moment, then turned his head and gently kissed my palm.

“Well,” he said, drawing a deep breath and returning to business. “Now that we’ve eaten, shall we have a look at this letter?”

The letter was coded; that much was obvious. To foil possible interceptors, Jamie explained.

“Who would want to intercept His Highness’s mail?” I asked. “Besides us, I mean.”

Jamie snorted with amusement at my naiveté.

“Almost anyone, Sassenach. Louis’s spies, Duverney’s spies, Philip of Spain’s spies. The Jacobite lords and the ones who think they might turn Jacobite if the wind sets right. Dealers in information, who dinna care a fart in a breeze who lives or dies by it. The Pope himself; the Holy See’s been supporting the Stuarts in exile for fifty years—I imagine he keeps an eye on what they’re doing.” He tapped a finger on the copy I’d made of James’s letter to his son.

“The seal on this letter had been removed maybe three times before I took it off myself,” he said.

“I see,” I said. “No wonder James codes his letters. Do you think you can make out what he says?”

Jamie picked up the sheets, frowning.

“I don’t know; some, yes. Some other things, I’ve no idea. I think perhaps I can work it out, though, if I can see some other letters King James has sent. I’ll see what Fergus can do for me there.” He folded the copy and put it carefully away in a drawer, which he locked.

“Ye canna trust anyone, Sassenach,” he explained, seeing my eyes widen. “We might easily have spies among the servants.” He dropped the small key in the pocket of his coat, and held out his arm to me.

I took the candle in one hand and his arm in the other, and we turned toward the stairs. The rest of the house was dark, the servants—all but Fergus—virtuously asleep. I felt a trifle creepy, with the realization that one or more of the silent sleepers below or above might not be what they seemed.

“Doesn’t it make you feel a bit nervous?” I asked as we went up the stairs. “Never being able to trust anyone?”

He laughed softly. “Well, I wouldna say anyone, Sassenach. There’s you—and Murtagh, and my sister Jenny and her husband Ian. I’d trust the four of you wi’ my life—I have, for that matter, more than once.”

I shivered as he pulled back the drapes of the big bed. The fire had been banked for the night, and the room was growing cold.

“Four people you can trust doesn’t seem like all that many,” I said, unlacing my gown.

He pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it on the chair. The scars on his back shone silver in the faint light from the night sky outside.

“Aye, well,” he said matter-of-factly. “It’s four more than Charles Stuart has.”



* * *



There was a bird singing outside, though it was long before first light. A mockingbird, practicing his trills and runs over and over, perched on a rain gutter somewhere in the dark nearby.

Moving sleepily, Jamie rubbed his cheek against the smooth skin of my freshly waxed underarm, then turned his head and planted a soft kiss in the warm hollow that sent a small, delicious shudder down my side.

“Mm,” he murmured, running a light hand over my ribs. “I like it when ye come out all gooseflesh like that, Sassenach.”

“Like this?” I answered, running the nails of my right hand gently over the skin of his back, which obligingly rippled into goose bumps under the teasing of the touch.

“Ah.”

“Ah, yourself, then,” I answered softly, doing it some more.

“Mmmm.” With a luxurious groan, he rolled to the side, wrapping his arms around me as I followed, enjoying the sudden contact of every inch of our naked skins, all down the front from head to toe. He was warm as a smothered fire, the heat of him safely banked for the night, to kindle again to a blaze in the black cold of dawn.

His lips fastened gently on one nipple, and I groaned myself, arching slightly to encourage him to take it deeper into the warmth of his mouth. My breasts were growing fuller, and more sensitive by the day; my nipples ached and tingled sometimes under the tight binding of my gowns, wanting to be suckled.

“Will ye let me do this later?” he murmured, with a soft bite. “When the child’s come, and your breasts fill wi’ milk? Will ye feed me, too, then, next to your heart?”

I clasped his head and cradled it, fingers deep in the baby-soft hair that grew thick at the base of his skull.

“Always,” I whispered.





14

MEDITATIONS ON THE FLESH

Fergus was more than adept at his profession, and nearly every day brought in a new selection of His Highness’s correspondence; sometimes I was hard pressed to copy everything before Fergus’s next expedition, when he would replace the items abstracted, before stealing the new letters.

Some of these were further coded communications from King James in Rome; Jamie put aside the copies of these, to puzzle over at leisure. The bulk of His Highness’s correspondence was innocuous—notes from friends in Italy, an increasing number of bills from local merchants—Charles had a taste for gaudy clothing and fine boots, as well as for brandywine—and the occasional note from Louise de La Tour de Rohan. These were fairly easy to pick out; aside from the tiny, mannered handwriting she employed, that made her letters look as though a small bird had been making tracks on them, she invariably saturated the paper with her trademark hyacinth scent. Jamie resolutely refused to read these.

“I willna be reading the man’s love letters,” he said firmly. “Even a plotter must scruple at something.” He sneezed, and dropped the latest missive back into Fergus’s pocket. “Besides,” he added more practically, “Louise tells ye everything, anyway.”

This was true; Louise had become a close friend, and spent nearly as much time in my drawing room as she did in her own, wringing her hands over Charles, then forgetting him in the fascination of discussing the marvels of pregnancy—she never had morning sickness, curse her! Scatterbrained as she was, I liked her very much; still, it was a great relief to escape from her company to L’Hôpital des Anges every afternoon.

While Louise was unlikely ever to set foot within L’Hôpital des Anges, I was not without company when I went there. Undaunted by her first exposure to the Hôpital, Mary Hawkins summoned up the courage to accompany me again. And yet again. While she couldn’t quite bring herself to look directly at a wound yet, she was useful at spooning gruel into people and sweeping floors. Apparently she considered these activities a welcome change from either the gatherings of the Court or the life at her uncle’s house.

While she was frequently shocked at some of the behavior she saw at Court—not that she saw much, but she was easily shocked—she didn’t betray any particular distaste or horror at the sight of the Vicomte Marigny, which led me to conclude that her wretched family had not yet completed the negotiations for her marriage—and therefore hadn’t told her about it.

This conclusion was borne out one day in late April, when, en route to L’Hôpital des Anges, she blushingly confided to me that she was in love.

“Oh, he’s so handsome!” she enthused, her stammer entirely forgotten. “And so…well, so spiritual, as well.”

“Spiritual?” I said. “Mm, yes, very nice.” Privately I thought that that particular quality was not one which would have topped my own list of desirable attributes in a lover, but then tastes differed.

“And who is the favored gentleman, then?” I teased gently. “Anyone I know?”

The rosy blush deepened. “No, I shouldn’t think so.” She looked up then, eyes sparkling. “But—oh, I shouldn’t tell you this, but I can’t help myself. He wrote to my father. He’s coming back to Paris next week!”

“Really?” This was interesting news. “I’d heard that the Comte de Palles is expected at Court next week,” I said. “Is your, um, intended, one of his party?”

Mary looked aghast at the suggestion.

“A Frenchman! Oh, no, Claire; really, how could I marry a Frenchman?”

“Is there something wrong with Frenchmen?” I asked, rather surprised at her vehemence. “You do speak French, after all.” Perhaps that was the trouble, though; while Mary did speak French very nicely, her shyness made her stammer even worse in that language than in English. I had come across a couple of kitchen-boys only the day before, entertaining each other with cruel imitations of “la petite Anglaise maladroite.”

“You don’t know about Frenchmen?” she whispered, eyes wide and horrified. “Oh, but of course, you wouldn’t. Your husband is so gentle and so kind.…he wouldn’t, I m-mean I know he d-doesn’t trouble you that way…” Her face was suffused with a rich peony that reached from chin to hairline, and the stammer was about to strangle her.

“Do you mean…” I began, trying to think of some tactful way of extricating her without entangling myself in speculations about the habits of Frenchmen. However, considering what Mr. Hawkins had told me about Mary’s father and his plans for her marriage, I rather thought perhaps I should try to disabuse her of the notions that she had clearly picked up from the gossip of salon and dressing room. I didn’t want her to die of fright if she did end up married to a Frenchman.

“What they d-do…in…in bed!” she whispered hoarsely.

“Well,” I said matter-of-factly, “there are only so many things you can do in bed with a man, after all. And since I see quite a large number of children about the city, I’d assume that even Frenchmen are fairly well versed in the orthodox methods.”

“Oh! Children…well, yes, of course,” she said vaguely, as though not seeing much connection. “B-b-but they said”—she cast her eyes down, embarrassed, and her voice sank even lower—“th-that he…a Frenchm-man’s thing, you know.…”

“Yes, I know,” I said, striving for patience. “So far as I know, they’re much like any other man’s. Englishmen and Scotsmen are quite similarly endowed.”

“Yes, but they, they…p-p-put it between a lady’s l-l-legs! I mean, right up inside her!” This bit of stop-press news finally out, she took a deep breath, which seemed to steady her, for the violent crimson of her face receded slightly. “An Englishman, or even a Scot…oh, I didn’t m-mean it that way…” Her hand flew to her mouth in embarrassment. “But a decent man like your husband; surely he would n-never dream of forcing a wife to endure s-something like that!”

I placed a hand on my slightly bloated stomach and regarded her thoughtfully. I began to see why spirituality ranked so highly in Mary Hawkins’s catalog of manly virtues.

“Mary,” I said, “I think we must have a small talk.”



* * *



I was still smiling privately to myself when I walked out into the Great Hall of the Hôpital, my own dress covered with the drab, sturdy fabric of a novice’s habit.

A good many of the chirurgiens, urinoscopists, bonesetters, physicians, and other healers were donating their time and services as a charity; others came to learn or refine their skills. The hapless patients of L’Hôpital des Anges were in no position to protest being the subjects of assorted medical experiments.

Aside from the nuns themselves, the medical staff changed almost daily, depending upon who found themselves without paying patients that day, or who had a new technique that needed trial. Still, most of the free-lance medicos came often enough that I learned to recognize the regulars in short order.

One of the most interesting was the tall, gaunt man whom I had seen amputating a leg on my first visit to the Hôpital. Upon inquiry, I determined that his name was Monsieur Forez. Primarily a bonesetter, occasionally he would attempt the trickier types of amputation, particularly when a whole limb, rather than a joint, was involved. The nuns and orderlies seemed a bit in awe of Monsieur Forez; they never chaffed him or exchanged rude jokes, as they did with most of the other volunteer medical help.

Monsieur Forez was at work today. I approached quietly, to see what he was doing. The patient, a young workman, lay white-faced and gasping on a pallet. He had fallen from the scaffolding on the cathedral—always under construction—and broken both an arm and a leg. I could see that the arm was no particular challenge to a professional bonesetter—only a simple fracture of the radius. The leg, though, was something else; an impressive double compound fracture, involving both the mid-femur and the tibia. Sharp bone fragments protruded through the skin of both thigh and shin, and the lacerated flesh was blue with traumatic bruising over most of the upper aspect of the leg.

I didn’t wish to distract the bonesetter’s attention to his case, but Monsieur Forez appeared sunk in thought, slowly circling the patient, sidling back and forth like a large carrion crow, cautious lest the victim not be really dead yet. He did look rather like a crow, I thought, with that prominent beak of a nose, and the smooth black hair that he wore unpowdered, slicked back to a wispy knot at the nape of his neck. His clothes, too, were black and somber, though of good quality—evidently he had a profitable practice outside the Hôpital.

At last deciding on his course of action, Monsieur Forez lifted his chin from his hand and glanced around for assistance. His eye lighted on me, and he beckoned me forward. I was dressed in a coarse linen novice’s gown, and lost in his concentration, he did not notice that I didn’t wear the wimple and veil of a nursing sister.

“Here, ma soeur,” he directed, taking hold of the patient’s ankle. “Grasp it tightly just behind the heel. Do not apply pressure until I tell you, but when I give the word, draw the foot directly toward you. Pull very slowly, but with force—it will take considerable strength, you understand.”

“I understand.” I grasped the foot as directed, while Monsieur Forez made his slow and gangling way toward the other end of the pallet, glancing contemplatively at the fractured leg.

“I have a stimulant here to assist,” he said, drawing a small vial out of his coat pocket and setting it beside the patient’s head. “It constricts the blood vessels of the surface skin, and drives the blood inward, where it may be of more use to our young friend.” So speaking, he grasped the patient by the hair and thrust the vial into the young man’s mouth, skillfully decanting the medicine down his throat without spilling a drop.

“Ah,” he said approvingly as the man gulped and breathed deeply. “That will help. Now, as to the pain—yes, it is better if we can numb the leg, so he will be less inclined to resist our efforts as we straighten it.”

He reached into his capacious pocket once more, this time coming out with a small brass pin, some three inches in length, with a wide, flat head. One bony, thick-jointed hand tenderly explored the inside of the patient’s thigh near the groin, following the thin blue line of a large vein beneath the skin. The groping fingers hesitated, paused, palpated in a small circle, then settled on a point. Digging a sharp forefinger into the skin as though to mark his place, Monsieur Forez brought the point of the brass pin to bear in the same place. Another quick reach into the pocket of marvels produced a small brass hammer, with which he drove the pin straight into the leg with one blow.

The leg twitched violently, then seemed to relax into limpness. The vaso-constrictor administered earlier did in fact seem to be working; the ooze of blood from the severed tissues was markedly less.

“That’s amazing!” I exclaimed. “What did you do?”

Monsieur Forez smiled shyly, a faint rosiness staining his blue-shadowed cheeks with pleasure at my admiration.

“Well, it does not always work quite so well,” he admitted modestly. “Luck was with me this time.” He pointed at the brass pin, explaining, “There is a large bundle of nerve endings there, Sister, what I have heard the anatomists call a plexus. If you are fortunate enough to pierce it directly, it numbs a great deal of the sensations in the lower extremity.” He straightened abruptly, realizing that he was wasting time in talk that might better be spent in action.

“Come, ma soeur,” he ordered. “Back to your post! The action of the stimulant is not long-lasting; we must work now, while the bleeding is suppressed.”

Almost limp, the leg straightened easily, the splintered ends of bone drawing back through the skin. Following Monsieur Forez’s orders, I now grasped the young man about the torso, while he maneuvered the foot and lower leg, so that we applied a constant traction while the final small adjustments were made.

“That will do, Sister. Now, if you will but hold the foot steady for a moment.” A shout summoned an orderly with a couple of stout sticks and some rags for binding, and in no time we had the limb neatly splinted and the open wounds firmly dressed with pressure bandages.

Monsieur Forez and I exchanged a broad smile of congratulation over the body of our patient.

“Lovely work, that,” I praised, shoving back a lock of hair that had come unbound during our exertions. I saw Monsieur Forez’s face change suddenly, as he realized that I wore no veil, and just then the loud bonging of the Vespers bell rang from the adjacent church. I glanced openmouthed at the tall window at the end of the ward, left unglassed to allow unwholesome vapors to pass out. Sure enough, the oblong of sky was the deep half-indigo of early evening.

“Excuse me,” I said, starting to wriggle out of the covering gown. “I must go at once; my husband will be worried about me coming home so late. I’m so glad to have had the chance of assisting you, Monsieur Forez.” The tall bonesetter watched this disrobing act in patent astonishment.

“But you…well, no, of course you are not a nun, I should have realized that before…but you…who are you?” he asked curiously.

“My name’s Fraser,” I told him briefly. “Look, I must go, or my husband…”

He drew himself up to his full gawky height, and bowed with deep seriousness.

“I should esteem it a privilege if you would allow me to see you home, Madame Fraser.”

“Oh…why, thank you,” I said, touched at his thoughtfulness. “I have an escort, though,” I said, looking vaguely around the hall for Fergus, who had taken over escort duty from Murtagh, when he was not needed to steal something. He was there, leaning against the doorjamb, twitching with impatience. I wondered how long he had been there—the sisters wouldn’t allow him into the main hall or the wards, always insisting that he wait for me by the door.

Monsieur Forez eyed my escort dubiously, then took me firmly by the elbow.

“I will see you to your door, Madame,” he declared. “This section of the city is much too dangerous in the evening hours for you to be abroad with no more than a child for protection.”

I could see Fergus swelling with indignation at being called a child, and hastened to protest that he was an excellent escort, always taking care to guide me by the safest streets. Monsieur Forez paid no attention to either of us, merely nodding in a stately manner to Sister Angelique as he steered me through the huge double doors of the Hôpital.

Fergus trotted at my heels, plucking at my sleeve. “Madame!” he said in a urgent whisper. “Madame! I promised the master that I would see you safely home each day, that I would not allow you to associate with undesirable—”

“Ah, here we are. Madame, you sit here; your boy may have the other seat.” Ignoring Fergus’s yapping, Monsieur Forez picked him up and tossed him casually into the waiting carriage.

The carriage was a small open one, but elegantly equipped, with deep blue velvet seats and a small canopy to protect the passengers from sudden inclemencies of weather or slops flung from above. There was no coat of arms or other decoration on the equipage’s door; Monsieur Forez was not of the nobility—must be a rich bourgeois, I thought.

We made polite conversation on the way home, discussing medical matters, while Fergus sulked in the corner, glowering under the ragged thatch of his hair. When we pulled up in the Rue Tremoulins, he leaped over the side without waiting for the coachman to open the door, and sprinted inside. I stared after him, wondering what ailed him, then turned to take my farewell of Monsieur Forez.

“Really, it is nothing,” he assured me graciously, in response to my profuse thanks. “Your residence lies along the path I take to my own house, in any case. And I could not have trusted the person of such a gracious lady to the Paris streets at this hour.” He handed me down from the carriage, and was opening his mouth to say more, when the gate slammed open behind us.

I turned in time to see Jamie’s expression change from mild annoyance to startled surprise.

“Oh!” he said. “Good evening, Monsieur.” He bowed to Monsieur Forez, who returned the salute with great solemnity.

“Your wife has allowed me the great pleasure of delivering her safely to your door, milord. As for her late arrival, I beg you will lay the blame for that on my own shoulders; she was most nobly assisting me in a small endeavor at L’Hôpital des Anges.”

“I expect she was,” said Jamie in a resigned tone. “After all,” he added in English, raising an eyebrow at me, “ye couldna expect a mere husband to hold the same sort of appeal as an inflamed bowel or a case of bilious spots, could ye?” The corner of his mouth twitched, though, and I knew he wasn’t really annoyed, only concerned that I hadn’t come home; I felt a twinge of regret at having worried him.

Bowing once more to Monsieur Forez, he grasped me by the upper arm and hustled me through the gate.

“Where’s Fergus?” I asked, as soon as the gate was closed behind us. Jamie snorted.

“In the kitchen, awaiting retribution, I expect.”

“Retribution? What do you mean by that?” I demanded. Unexpectedly, he laughed.

“Well,” he said, “I was sittin’ in the study, wondering where in bloody hell you’d got to, and on the verge of going down to the Hôpital myself, when the door flew open, and young Fergus shot in and threw himself on the floor at my feet, begging me to kill him on the spot.”

“Kill him? Whatever for?”

“Well, that’s what I asked him myself, Sassenach. I thought perhaps you and he had been waylaid by footpads along the way—there are dangerous gangs of ruffians about the streets, ye ken, and I thought losin’ you that way would be the only thing would make him behave so. But he said you were at the gate, so I came tearing along to see were ye all right, with Fergus at my heels, babbling about betraying my trust and being unworthy to call me master, and begging me to beat him to death. I found it a bit difficult to think, what wi’ all that going on, so I told him I’d attend to him later, and sent him to the kitchen.”

“Oh, bloody hell!” I said. “Does he really think he’s betrayed your trust, just because I’ve come home a bit late?”

Jamie glanced aside at me.

“Aye, he does. And so he did, for that matter, letting ye ride in company with a stranger. He swears that he would ha’ thrown himself in front of the horses before he would let ye enter the carriage, save that you,” he added pointedly, “seemed on good terms wi’ the man.”

“Well, of course I was on good terms with him,” I said indignantly. “I’d just been helping him set a leg.”

“Mphm.” This line of argument appeared to strike him as unconvincing.

“Oh, all right,” I agreed reluctantly. “Perhaps it was a bit unwise. But he really did seem entirely respectable, and I was in a hurry to get home—I knew you’d be worried.” Still, I was now wishing I had paid a little more attention to Fergus’s frantic mumblings and pluckings at my sleeve. At the time, I had been concerned only to reach home as soon as possible.

“You aren’t really going to beat him, are you?” I asked in some alarm. “It wasn’t his fault in the slightest—I insisted on going with Monsieur. Forez. I mean, if anyone deserves beating, it’s me.”

Turning in the direction of the kitchen, Jamie cocked a sardonic eyebrow at me.

“Aye, it is,” he agreed. “Having sworn to refrain from any such actions, though, I may have to settle for Fergus.”

“Jamie! You wouldn’t!” I stopped dead, yanking on his arm. “Jamie! Please!” Then I saw the smile hidden in the corner of his mouth, and sighed in relief.

“No,” he said, letting the smile become visible. “I dinna mean to kill him—or even beat him, for that matter. I may have to go clout him over the ear a time or two, though, if only to save his honor,” he added. “He thinks he’s committed a major crime by not following my orders to guard ye—I can hardly let it pass without some sign of official displeasure.”

He paused outside the baize door to the kitchens to fasten his cuffs and rewind the stock about his throat.

“Am I decent?” he inquired, smoothing back his thick, unruly hair. “Perhaps I should go and fetch my coat—I’m not sure what’s proper for administering rebukes.”

“You look fine,” I said, suppressing a smile. “Very severe.”

“Oh, that’s good,” he said, straightening his shoulders and compressing his lips. “I hope I don’t laugh, that wouldna do at all,” he muttered, pushing open the door to the kitchen stair.

The atmosphere in the kitchen was far from hilarious, though. At our entrance, the customary gabble ceased at once, and there was a hasty drawing up of the staff at one side of the room. Everyone stood stock-still for a moment, then there was a small stir between two kitchenmaids, and Fergus stepped out into the open space before us.

The boy’s face was white and tracked with tears, but he was not weeping now. With considerable dignity, he bowed, first to me and then Jamie, in turn.

“Madame, Monsieur, I am ashamed,” he said, low-voiced but distinct. “I am unworthy to be in your employment, but still I beg that you will not dismiss me.” His high-pitched voice quavered a little at the thought, and I bit my lip. Fergus glanced aside at the ranks of the servants, as though for moral support, and received a nod of encouragement from Fernand the coachman. Drawing a deep breath for courage, he straightened up and addressed Jamie directly.

“I am ready to suffer my punishment now, milord,” he said. As though this had been the signal, one of the footmen stepped out of the rigid crowd, led the boy to the scrubbed plank table, and passing on the other side, took hold of the lad’s hands, pulling him half across the surface of the table and holding him so extended.

“But…” Jamie began, taken aback by the speed of events. He got no further before Magnus, the elderly butler, stepped gravely up and presented him with the leather strop used for sharpening the kitchen knives, laid ceremonially atop the meat platter.

“Er,” Jamie said, looking helplessly at me.

“Um,” I said, and took one step back. Eyes narrowed, he grabbed my hand, squeezing it tightly.

“No, ye don’t, Sassenach,” he muttered in English. “If I have to do it, you have to watch it!”

Glancing desperately back and forth between his would-be victim and the proffered instrument of execution, he hesitated for a moment longer, then gave up.

“Oh, bloody fucking hell,” he muttered under his breath in English, grabbing the strop from Magnus. He flexed the broad strap dubiously between his hands; three inches wide and a quarter-inch thick, it was a formidable weapon. Clearly wishing himself anywhere else, he advanced upon the prone body of Fergus.

“All right, then,” he said, glaring ferociously round the room. “Ten strokes, and I don’t wish to hear a fuss about it.” Several of the female servants blanched visibly at this, and clung to each other for support, but there was dead silence in the big room as he raised the strap.

The resultant crack at impact made me jump, and there were small squeaks of alarm from the kitchenmaids, but no sound from Fergus. The small body quivered, and Jamie closed his eyes briefly, then set his lips and proceeded to inflict the remainder of the sentence, strokes evenly spaced. I felt sick, and surreptitiously wiped my damp palms on my skirt. At the same time, I felt an unhinged urge to laugh at the terrible farce of the situation.

Fergus endured everything in total silence, and when Jamie had finished and stepped back, pale and sweating, the small body lay so still that I was afraid for a moment that he had died—of shock, if not from the actual effects of the beating. But then a deep shudder seemed to run over the small frame, and the boy slid backward and raised himself stiffly off the table.

Jamie leaped forward to grasp him by an arm, anxiously smoothing back the sweat-drenched hair from his forehead.

“Are ye all right, man?” he asked. “God, Fergus, tell me you’re all right!”

The boy was white to the lips, and his eyes were the size of saucers, but he smiled at this evidence of goodwill on the part of his employer, buck teeth gleaming in the lamplight.

“Oh yes, milord,” he gasped. “Am I forgiven?”

“Jesus Christ,” Jamie muttered, and clasped the boy tightly against his chest. “Yes, of course ye are, fool.” He held the boy at arm’s length and shook him slightly. “I dinna want to do that ever again, d’ye hear me?”

Fergus nodded, eyes glowing, then broke away and fell to his knees before me.

“Do you forgive me also, Madame?” he asked, folding his hands formally in front of him, and looking trustfully up, like a chipmunk begging for nuts.

I thought I would expire on the spot of mortification, but mustered sufficient self-possession to reach down and raise the boy to his feet.

“There is nothing to forgive,” I told him firmly, my cheeks burning. “You’re a very courageous lad, Fergus. Why…er, why don’t you go and have some supper now?”

At this, the atmosphere of the kitchen relaxed, as though everyone had drawn a massive sigh of relief at once. The other servants pushed forward, babbling concern and congratulations, and Fergus was swept off to a hero’s reception, while Jamie and I beat a precipitous retreat back to our quarters abovestairs.

“Oh, God,” Jamie said, collapsing into his chair as though completely drained. “Sweet bleeding Jesus. Mary, Michael, and Bride. Lord, I need a drink. Don’t ring!” he exclaimed in alarm, though I hadn’t made a move toward the bell rope. “I couldna bear to face one of the servants just now.”

He got up and rummaged in the cupboard. “I think I’ve a bottle in here, though.”

He had indeed, a nice aged Scotch. Removing the cork unceremoniously with his teeth, he lowered the level of the spirit by an inch or so, then handed the bottle to me. I followed his example without hesitation.

“Jesus Christ,” I said, when I had recovered breath enough to speak.

“Yes,” he said, taking the bottle back and taking another gulp. Setting the bottle down, he clutched his head, running his fingers through his hair until it stood on end in wild disarray. He laughed weakly.

“I’ve never felt so foolish in my entire life. God, I felt a clot-heid!”

“So did I,” I said, taking my turn at the bottle. “Even more than you, I imagine. After all, it was all my fault. Jamie, I can’t tell you how sorry I am; I never imagined…”

“Ah, dinna worry yourself.” The tension of the last half-hour released, he squeezed my shoulder affectionately. “You couldna have any idea. Neither did I, for that matter,” he added reflectively. “I suppose he thought I’d dismiss him, and he’d be back in the streets…poor little bugger. No wonder he thought himself lucky to take a beating instead.”

I shuddered briefly, remembering the streets through which Monsieur Forez’s carriage had traveled. Beggars dressed in rags and sores clung stubbornly to their territories, sleeping on the ground even on the coldest nights, lest some rival steal a profitable corner from them. Children much smaller than Fergus darted through the market crowds like hungry mice, eyes always watching for the dropped crumb, the unguarded pocket. And for those too unhealthy to work, too unattractive to sell to the brothels, or simply too unlucky—it would be a short life indeed, and far from merry. Little wonder if the prospect of being thrust from the luxury of three meals a day and clean clothes back into that sordid stew had been sufficient to send Fergus into paroxysms of needless guilt.

“I suppose so,” I said. My manner of intake had declined from gulps to a more genteel sipping by this time. I sipped genteelly, then handed the bottle back, noting in a rather detached manner that it was more than half empty. “Still, I hope you didn’t hurt him.”

“Weel, nay doubt he’ll be a bit sore.” His Scots accent, usually faint, always grew more pronounced when he drank a lot. He shook his head, squinting through the bottle to judge the level of spirit remaining. “D’ye know, Sassenach, I never ’til tonight realized just how difficult it must ha’ been for my father to beat me? I always thought it was me had the hardest part of that particular transaction.” He tilted his head back and drank again, then set down the bottle and stared owl-eyed into the fire. “Being a father might be a bit more complicated than I’d thought. I’ll have to think about it.”

“Well, don’t think too hard,” I said. “You’ve had a lot to drink.”

“Och, don’t worry,” he said cheerfully. “There’s another bottle in the cupboard.”





15

IN WHICH MUSIC PLAYS A PART

We stayed up late with the second bottle, going over and over the latest of the abstracted letters from the Chevalier de St. George—otherwise known as His Majesty, James III—and the letters to Prince Charles from Jacobite supporters.

“Fergus got a large packet, bound for His Highness,” Jamie explained. “There was a lot of stuff in it, and we couldna copy it all quickly enough, so I kept some to go back the next time.”

“See,” he said, extracting one sheet from the pile and laying it on my knee, “the majority of the letters are in code, like this one—‘I hear that the prospects for grouse seem most favorable this year in the hills above Salerno; hunters in that region should find themselves successful.’ That’s easy; it’s a reference to Manzetti, the Italian banker; he’s from Salerno. I found that Charles had been dining with him, and managed to borrow fifteen thousand livres—apparently James’s advice was good. But here—” He shuffled through the stack, pulling out another sheet.

“Look at this,” Jamie said, handing me a sheet covered with his lopsided scrawls.

I squinted obediently at the paper, from which I could pick out single letters, connected with a network of arrows and question marks.

“What language is that?” I asked, peering at it. “Polish?” Charles Stuart’s mother, the late Clementina Sobieski, had been Polish, after all.

“No, it’s in English,” Jamie said, grinning. “You canna read it?”

“You can?”

“Oh, aye,” he said smugly. “It’s a cipher, Sassenach, and no a verra complicated one. See, all ye must do is break the letters up into groups of five, to start—only ye don’t count the letters Q or X. The X’s are meant as breaks between sentences, and the Q’s are only stuck in here and there to make it more confusing.”

“If you say so,” I said, looking from the extremely confusing-looking letter, which began “Mrti ocruti dlopro qahstmin…” to the sheet in Jamie’s hand, with a series of five-letter groups written on one line, single letters printed in carefully above them, one at a time.

“So, one letter is only substituted for another, but in the same order,” Jamie was explaining, “so if you have a fair amount of text to work from, and you can guess a word here or there, then all ye need do is to translate from one alphabet to the other—see?” He waved a long strip of paper under my nose, with two alphabets printed one above the other, slightly offset.

“Well, more or less,” I said. “I gather you do, though, which is what’s important. What does it say?”

The expression of lively interest with which Jamie greeted all manner of puzzles faded a bit, and he let the sheet of paper fall to his knee. He looked at me, lower lip caught between his teeth in introspection.

“Well,” he said, “that’s what’s odd. And yet I dinna see how I can be mistaken. The tone of James’s letters overall tend one way, and this ciphered one spells it out clearly.”

Blue eyes met mine under thick, ruddy brows.

“James wants Charles to find favor with Louis,” he said slowly, “but he isna looking for support for an invasion of Scotland. James has no interest in seeking restoration to the throne.”

“What?” I snatched the sheaf of letters from his hand, my eyes feverishly scanning the scribbled text.

Jamie was right; while the letters from supporters spoke hopefully of the impending restoration, James’s letters to his son mentioned no such thing, but were all concerned with Charles’s making a good impression upon Louis. Even the loan from Manzetti of Salerno had been sought to enable Charles to live with the appearance of a gentleman in Paris; not to support any military end.

“Well, I’m thinking James is a canny wee man,” Jamie had said, tapping one of the letters. “For see, Sassenach, he’s verra little money of his own; his wife had a great deal, but Uncle Alex told me that she left it all to the church when she died. The Pope has been maintaining James’s establishment—after all, he’s a Catholic monarch, and the Pope is bound to uphold his interests against those of the Elector of Hanover.”

He clasped his hands around one knee, gazing meditatively at the pile of papers now laid between us on the sofa.

“Philip of Spain and Louis—the Old King, I mean—gave him a small number of troops and a few ships, thirty years ago, with which to try to regain his throne. But it all went wrong; bad weather sank some of the ships, and the rest had no pilots and landed in the wrong place—everything went awry, and in the end, the French simply sailed off again, with James not even setting foot upon the soil of Scotland. So perhaps in the years since, he gave up any thought of getting back his throne. But still, he had two sons coming to manhood, and no way to see them properly settled in life.

“So I ask myself, Sassenach”—he rocked backward a bit—“what would I do, in such a situation? The answer being, that I might try and see if my good cousin Louis—who’s King of France, after all—might maybe see one son established in a good position; given a military appointment, maybe, and men to lead. A General of France is no bad position in life.”

“Mm.” I nodded, thinking. “Yes, but if I were a very smart man, I might not just come to Louis and beg, as a poor relation. I might send my son to Paris, and try to shame Louis into accepting him at Court. And meanwhile keep alive the illusion that I was actively seeking restoration.”

“For once James admits openly that the Stuarts will never rule Scotland again,” Jamie added softly, “then he has no more value to Louis.”

And without the possibility of an armed Jacobite invasion to occupy the English, Louis would have little reason to give his young cousin Charles anything beyond the pittance that decency and public opinion would force him to provide.

It wasn’t certain; the letters Jamie had been able to get, a few at a time, went back only as far as last January, when Charles had arrived in France. And, couched in code, cipher, and guarded language generally, the situation was far from clear. But taken all in all, the evidence did point in that direction.

And if Jamie’s guess as to the Chevalier’s motives was correct—then our task was accomplished already; had never in fact existed at all.



* * *



Thinking over the events of the night before, I was abstracted all the next day, through a visit to Marie d’Arbanville’s morning salon to hear a Hungarian poet, through a visit to a neighborhood herbalist’s to pick up some valerian and orris root, and through my rounds at L’Hôpital des Anges in the afternoon.

Finally, I abandoned my work, afraid that I might accidentally damage someone while wool-gathering. Neither Murtagh nor Fergus had yet arrived to escort me home, so I changed out of my covering gown and sat down in Mother Hildegarde’s vacant office to wait, just inside the vestibule of the Hôpital.

I had been there for perhaps half an hour, idly pleating the stuff of my gown between my fingers, when I heard the dog outside.

The porter was absent, as he often was. Gone to buy food, no doubt, or run an errand for one of the nuns. As usual in his absence, the guardianship of the Hôpital’s portals was given into the capable paws—and teeth—of Bouton.

The first warning yip was followed by a low, burring growl that warned the intruder to stay where he was, on pain of instant dismemberment. I rose and stuck my head out of the office door, to see whether Father Balmain might be braving the peril of the demon once more, in pursuit of his sacramental duties. But the figure outlined against the huge stained-glass window of the entry hall was not the spare form of the junior priest. It was a tall figure, whose silhouetted kilts swayed gracefully around his legs as he drew back from the small, toothed animal at his feet.

Jamie blinked, brought up short by the assault. Shading his eyes against the dazzle from the window, he peered down into the shadows.

“Oh, hallo there, wee dog,” he said politely, and took a step forward, knuckles stretched out. Bouton raised the growl a few decibels, and he took a step back.

“Oh, like that, is it?” Jamie said. He eyed the dog narrowly.

“Think it over, laddie,” he advised, squinting down his long, straight nose. “I’m a damn sight bigger than you. I wouldna undertake any rash ventures, if I were you.”

Bouton shifted his ground slightly, still making a noise like a distant Fokker.

“Faster, too,” said Jamie, making a feint to one side. Bouton’s teeth snapped together a few inches from Jamie’s calf, and he stepped back hastily. Leaning back against the wall, he folded his arms and nodded down at the dog.

“Well, you’ve a point there, I’ll admit. When it comes to teeth, ye’ve the edge on me, and no mistake.” Bouton cocked an ear suspiciously at this gracious speech, but went back to the low-pitched growl.

Jamie hooked one foot over the other, like one prepared to pass the time of day indefinitely. The multicolored light from the window washed his face with blue, making him look like one of the chilly marble statues in the cathedral next door.

“Surely you’ve better things to do than harry innocent visitors?” he asked, conversationally. “I’ve heard of you—you’re the famous fellow that sniffs out sickness, no? Weel, then, why are they wastin’ ye on silly things like door-guarding, when ye might be makin’ yourself useful smelling gouty toes and pustulant arseholes? Answer me that, if ye will!”

A sharp bark in response to his uncrossing his feet was the only answer.

There was a stir of robes behind me as Mother Hildegarde entered from the inner office.

“What is it?” she asked, seeing me peering round the corner. “Have we visitors?”

“Bouton seems to be having a difference of opinion with my husband,” I said.

“I don’t have to put up wi’ this, ye ken,” Jamie was threatening. One hand was stealing toward the brooch that held his plaid at the shoulder. “One quick spring wi’ my plaid, and I’ll have ye trussed like a—oh, bonjour, Madame!” he said, changing swiftly to French at sight of Mother Hildegarde.

“Bonjour, Monsieur Fraser.” She inclined her veil gracefully, more to hide the broad smile on her face than in greeting, I thought. “I see you have made the acquaintance of Bouton. Are you perhaps in search of your wife?”

This seeming to be my cue, I sidled out of the office behind her. My devoted spouse glanced from Bouton to the office door, plainly drawing conclusions.

“And just how long have ye been standin’ there, Sassenach?” he asked dryly.

“Long enough,” I said, with the smug self-assurance of one in Bouton’s good books. “What would you have done with him, once you’d got him wrapped up in your plaid?”

“Thrown him out the window and run like hell,” he answered, with a brief glance of awe at Mother Hildegarde’s imposing form. “Does she by chance speak English?”

“No, luckily for you,” I answered. I switched to French for the introductions. “Ma mère, je vous présente mon mari, le seigneur de Broch Tuarach.”

“Milord.” Mother Hildegarde had by now mastered her sense of humor, and greeted him with her usual expression of formidable geniality. “We shall miss your wife, but if you require her, of course—”

“I didn’t come for my wife,” Jamie interrupted. “I came to see you, ma mère.”



* * *



Seated in Mother Hildegarde’s office, Jamie laid the bundle of papers he carried on the shining wood of her desk. Bouton, keeping a wary eye on the intruder, lay down at his mistress’s feet. He laid his nose upon his feet, but kept his ears cocked, lip raised over one eyetooth in case he should be called upon to rend the visitor limb from limb.

Jamie narrowed his eyes at Bouton, pointedly pulling his feet away from the twitching black nose. “Herr Gerstmann recommended that I consult you, Mother, about these documents,” he said, unrolling the thick sheaf and flattening it beneath his palms.

Mother Hildegarde regarded Jamie for a moment, one heavy brow raised quizzically. Then she turned her attention to the sheaf of papers, with that administrator’s trick of seeming to focus entirely on the matter at hand, while still keeping her sensitive antennae tuned to catch the faintest vibration of emergency from the far-off reaches of the Hôpital.

“Yes?” she said. One blunt finger ran lightly over the lines of scribbled music, one by one, as though she heard the notes by touching them. A flick of the finger, and the sheet slid aside, half-exposing the next.

“What is it that you wish to know, Monsieur Fraser?” she asked.

“I don’t know, Mother.” Jamie was leaning forward, intent. He touched the black lines himself, dabbing gently at the smear where the writer’s hand had carelessly brushed the staves before the ink had dried.

“There is something odd about this music, Mother.”

The nun’s wide mouth moved slightly in what might have been a smile.

“Really, Monsieur Fraser? And yet I understand—you will not be offended, I trust—that to you, music is…a lock to which you have no key?”

Jamie laughed, and a sister passing in the hallways turned, startled by such a sound in the confines of the Hôpital. It was a noisy place, but laughter was unusual.

“That is a very tactful description of my disability, Mother. And altogether true. Were you to sing one of these pieces”—his finger, longer and more slender, but nearly the same size as Mother Hildegarde’s, tapped the parchment with a soft rustling noise—“I could not tell it from the Kyrie Eleison or from ‘La Dame fait bien’—except by the words,” he added, with a grin.

Now it was Mother Hildegarde’s turn to laugh.

“Indeed, Monsieur Fraser,” she said. “Well, at least you listen to the words!” She took the sheaf of papers into her hands, riffling the tops. I could see the faint swelling of her throat above the tight band of her wimple as she read, as though she was singing silently to herself, and one large foot twitched slightly, keeping time.

Jamie sat very still upon his stool, good hand folded over the crooked one on his knee, watching her. The slanted blue eyes were intent, and he paid no attention to the ongoing noise from the depths of the Hôpital behind him. Patients cried out, orderlies and nuns shouted back and forth, family members shrieked in sorrow or dismay, and the muted clang of metal instruments echoed off the ancient stones of the building, but neither Jamie nor Mother Hildegarde moved.

At last she lowered the pages, peering at him over the tops. Her eyes were sparkling, and she looked suddenly like a young girl.

“I think you are right!” she said. “I cannot take time to think it over carefully just now”—she glanced toward the doorway, momentarily darkened by the form of an orderly dashing past with a large sack of lint—“but there is something odd here.” She tapped the pages on the desk, straightening them into an orderly stack.

“How extraordinary,” she said.

“Be that as it may, Mother—can you, with your gift, discern what this particular pattern is? It would be difficult; I have reason to suppose that it is a cipher, and that the language of the message is English, though the text of the songs is in German.”

Mother Hildegarde uttered a small grunt of surprise.

“English? You are sure?”

Jamie shook his head. “Not sure, no, but I think so. For one reason, there is the country of origin; the songs were sent from England.”

“Well, Monsieur,” she said, arching one eyebrow. “Your wife speaks English, does she not? And I imagine that you would be willing to sacrifice her company to assist me in performing this endeavor for you?”

Jamie eyed her, the half-smile on his face the mirror image of hers. He glanced down at his feet, where Bouton’s whiskers quivered with the ghost of a growl.

“I’ll make ye a bargain, Mother,” he said. “If your wee dog doesna bite me in the arse on the way out, you can have my wife.”



* * *



And so, that evening, instead of returning home to Jared’s house in the Rue Tremoulins, I took supper with the sisters of the Couvent des Anges at their long refectory table, and then retired for the evening’s work to Mother Hildegarde’s private rooms.

There were three rooms in the Superior’s suite. The outer one was furnished as a sitting room, with a fair degree of richness. This, after all, was where she must often receive official visitors. The second room was something of a shock, simply because I wasn’t expecting it. At first, I had the impression that there was nothing in the small room but a large harpsichord, made of gleaming, polished walnut, and decorated with small, hand-painted flowers sprouting from a twisting vine that ran along the sounding board above glowing ebony keys.

On second look, I saw a few other bits of furniture in the room, including a set of bookshelves that ran the length of one wall, stuffed with works on musicology and hand-stitched manuscripts much like the one Mother Hildegarde now laid on the harpsichord’s rack.

She motioned me to a chair placed before a small secretary against one wall.

“You will find blank paper and ink there, milady. Now, let us see what this little piece of music may tell us.”

The music was written on heavy parchment, the lines of the staves cleanly ruled across the page. The notes themselves, the clef signs, rests, and accidentals, were all drawn with considerable care; this was plainly a final clean copy, not a draft or a hastily scribbled tune. Across the top of the page was the title “Lied des Landes.” A Song of the Country.

“The title, you see, suggests something simple, like a volkslied,” Mother Hildegarde said, pointing one long, bony forefinger at the page. “And yet the form of the composition is something quite different. Can you read music at sight?” The big right hand, large-knuckled and short-nailed, descended on the keys with an impossibly delicate touch.

Leaning over Mother Hildegarde’s black-clad shoulder, I sang the first three lines of the piece, making the best I could of the German pronunciation. Then she stopped playing, and twisted to look up at me.

“That is the basic melody. It then repeats itself in variations—but such variations! You know, I have seen some things reminiscent of this. By a little old German named Bach; he sends me things now and again—” She waved carelessly at the shelf of manuscripts. “He calls them ‘Inventions,’ and they’re really quite clever; playing off the variations in two or three melodic lines simultaneously. This”—she pursed her lips at the ‘Lied’ before us—“is like a clumsy imitation of one of his things. In fact, I would swear that.…” Muttering to herself, she pushed back the walnut bench and went to the shelf, running a finger rapidly down the rows of manuscripts.

She found what she was looking for, and returned to the bench with three bound pieces of music.

“Here are the Bach pieces. They’re fairly old, I haven’t looked at them in several years. Still, I’m almost sure…” She lapsed into silence, flipping quickly through the pages of the Bach scripts on her knee, one at a time, glancing back now and then at the “Lied” on the rack.

“Ha!” she let out a cry of triumph, and held out one of the Bach pieces to me. “See there?”

The paper was titled “Goldberg Variations,” in a crabbed, smeared hand. I touched the paper with some awe, swallowed hard, and looked back at the “Lied.” It took only a moment’s comparison to see what she meant.

“You’re right, it’s the same!” I said. “A note different here and there, but basically it’s exactly the same as the original theme of the Bach piece. How very peculiar!”

“Isn’t it?” she said, in tones of deep satisfaction. “Now, why is this anonymous composer stealing melodies and treating them in such an odd fashion?”

This was clearly a rhetorical question, and I didn’t bother with an answer, but asked one of my own.

“Is Bach’s music much in vogue these days, Mother?” I certainly hadn’t heard any at the musical salons I attended.

“No,” she said, shaking her head as she peered at the music. “Herr Bach is not well known in France; I believe he had some small popularity in Germany and in Austria fifteen or twenty years ago, but even there his music is not performed much publicly. I am afraid his music is not the sort to endure; clever, but no heart. Hmph. Now, see here?” The blunt forefinger tapped here, and here, and here, turning pages rapidly.

“He has repeated the same melody—almost—but changed the key each time. I think this is perhaps what attracted your husband’s notice; it is obvious even to someone who doesn’t read music, because of the changing signatures—the note tonique.”

It was; each key change was marked by a double vertical line followed by a new treble clef sign and the signature of sharps or flats.

“Five key changes in such a short piece,” she said, tapping the last one again for emphasis. “And changes that make no sense at all, in terms of music. Look, the basic line is precisely the same, yet we move from the key of two flats, which is B-flat major, to A-major, with three sharps. Stranger yet, now he goes to a signature of two sharps, and yet he uses the G-sharp accidental!”

“How very peculiar,” I said. Adding a G-sharp accidental to the section in D-major had the effect of making the musical line identical with the A-major section. In other words, there was no reason whatsoever to have changed the key signature.

“I don’t know German,” I said. “Can you read the words, Mother?”

She nodded, the folds of her black veil rustling with the movement, small eyes intent on the manuscript.

“What truly execrable lyrics!” she murmured to herself. “Not that one expects great poetry from Germans in general, but really…still—” She broke off with a shake of her veil. “We must assume that if your husband is correct in assuming this to be a cipher of some sort, that the message lies embedded in these words. They may therefore not be of great import in themselves.”

“What does it say?” I asked.

“ ‘My shepherdess frolics with her lambs among the verdant hills,’ ” she read. “Horrible grammar, though of course liberties are often taken in writing songs, if the lyricist insists upon the lines rhyming, which they nearly always do if it is a love song.”

“You know a lot about love songs?” I asked curiously. Full of surprises tonight, was Mother Hildegarde.

“Any piece of good music is in essence a love song,” she replied matter-of-factly. “But as for what you mean—yes, I have seen a great many. When I was a young girl”—she flashed her large white teeth in a smile, acknowledging the difficulty of imagining her as a child—“I was something of a prodigy, you understand. I could play from memory anything I heard, and I wrote my first composition at the age of seven.” She gestured at the harpsichord, the rich veneer shining with polish.

“My family has wealth; had I been a man, no doubt I would have been a musician.” She spoke simply, with no trace of regret.

“Surely you could still have composed music, if you’d married?” I asked curiously.

Mother Hildegarde spread her hands, grotesque in the lamplight. I had seen those hands wrench loose a dagger embedded in bone, guide a displaced joint back into alignment, cup the blood-smeared head of a child emerging from between its mother’s thighs. And I had seen those fingers linger on the ebony keys with the delicacy of moths’ feet.

“Well,” she said, after a moment’s contemplation, “it is the fault of St. Anselm.”

“It is?”

She grinned at my expression, her ugly face quite transformed from its stern public facade.

“Oh, yes. My godfather—the Old Sun King,” she added casually, “gave to me a book of the Lives of the Saints for my own Saint’s Day when I was eight. It was a beautiful book,” she said reminiscently, “with gilded pages and a jeweled cover; intended more as a work of art than a work of literature. Still, I read it. And while I enjoyed all of the stories—particularly those of the martyrs—still there was one phrase in the story of St. Anselm that seemed to strike a response in my soul.”

She closed her eyes and tilted back her head, recalling.

“St. Anselm was a man of great wisdom and great learning, a Doctor of the Church. But also a bishop, a man who cared for the people of his flock, and looked after their temporal needs as well as those of the spirit. The story detailed all of his works, and then concluded in these words—‘And so he died, at the conclusion of an eminently useful life, and thus obtained his crown in Paradise.’ ” She paused, flexing her hands lightly on her knees.

“There was something about that that appealed most strongly to me. ‘An eminently useful life.’ ” She smiled at me. “I could think of many worse epitaphs than that, milady.” She spread her hands suddenly and shrugged, an oddly graceful gesture.

“I wished to be useful,” she said. Then, dismissing idle conversation, she turned abruptly back to the music on the rack.

“So,” she said. “Plainly the change in the key signatures— the note tonique—that is the oddity. Where can we go with that?”

My mouth dropped open with a small exclamation. Speaking in French as we had been, I hadn’t noticed before. But observing Mother Hildegarde as she told her story, I had been thinking in English, and when I glanced back at the music it hit me.

“What is it?” the nun asked. “You have thought of something?”

“The key!” I said, half-laughing. “In French, a musical key is the note tonique, but the word for an object that unlocks…” I pointed to the large bunch of keys—normally carried on her girdle—that Mother Hildegarde had laid aside on the bookshelf when we came in. “That is a passe-partout, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” she said, watching me in puzzlement. She touched the skeleton key in turn. “Une passe-partout. That one,” she said, pointing to a key with barrel and wards, “is more likely called a clef.”

“A clef!” I exclaimed joyously. “Perfect!” I stabbed a finger at the sheet of music before us. “See, ma mère, in English, the words are the same. A ‘key’ gives the basis of a piece of music, and a ‘key’ unlocks. In French, the clef is a key, and in English, the ‘clef’ is also part of the musical signature. And the key of the music is also the key to the cipher. Jamie said he thought it was an English cipher! Made by an Englishman with a really diabolical sense of humor, too,” I added.

With that small insight, the cipher proved not too difficult to unravel. If the maker was English, the ciphered message likely was in English, too, which meant that the German words were provided only as a source of letters. And having seen Jamie’s earlier efforts with alphabets and shifting letters, it took only a few tries to determine the pattern of the cipher.

“Two flats means you must take every second letter, starting from the beginning of the section,” I said, frantically scribbling down the results. “And three sharps means to take every third letter, beginning at the end of the section. I suppose he used German both for concealment and because it’s so bloody wordy; it takes nearly twice as many words to say the same thing as it would in English.”

“You have got ink on your nose,” Mother Hildegarde observed. She peered over my shoulder. “Does it make sense?”

“Yes,” I said, my mouth gone suddenly dry. “Yes, it makes sense.”

Deciphered, the message was brief and simple. Also deeply disturbing.

“His Majesty’s loyal subjects of England await his lawful restoration. The sum of fifty thousand pounds is at your disposal. As an earnest of good faith, this will be paid only in person, upon His Highness’s arrival on the soil of England,” I read. “And there’s a letter left over, an ‘S.’ I don’t know if that’s a signature of sorts, or only something the maker needed to make the German word come out right.”

“Hmph.” Mother Hildegarde glanced curiously at the scribbled message, then at me. “You will know already, of course,” she said, with a nod, “but you may assure your husband that I will keep this in confidence.”

“He wouldn’t have asked your help if he didn’t trust you,” I protested.

The sketchy brows rose to the edge of her wimple, and she tapped the scribbled paper firmly.

“If this is the sort of endeavor in which your husband engages, he takes considerable risk in trusting anyone. Assure him that I am sensible of the honor,” she added dryly.

“I’ll do that,” I said, smiling.

“Why, chère Madame,” she said, catching sight of me, “you are looking quite pale! I myself often stay awake far into the night when I am working on a new piece, so I tend to pay little attention to the hour, but it must be late for you.” She glanced at the hour-candle burning on the little table near the door.

“Gracious! It is growing late. Shall I summon Sister Madeleine to take you to your chamber?” Jamie had agreed, reluctantly, with Mother Hildegarde’s suggestion that I spend the night at the Couvent des Anges, so that I need not return home through the dark streets late at night.

I shook my head. I was tired, and my back ached from sitting on the stool, but I didn’t want to go to bed. The implications of the musical message were too disturbing to permit me to sleep right away, in any case.

“Well, then, let us take a little refreshment, in celebration of your accomplishment.” Mother Hildegarde rose and went to the outer room, where I heard the ringing of a bell. Shortly one of the serving sisters came, bearing a tray of hot milk and small, iced cakes, and followed by Bouton. The serving sister placed a cake on a small china plate and set it on the floor before him as a matter of course, laying beside it a bowl of milk.

While I sipped my own hot milk, Mother Hildegarde set aside the source of our labors, laying it on the secretary, and instead placed a loose sheaf of music manuscript on the rack of the harpsichord.

“I shall play for you,” she announced. “It will help to compose your mind for sleep.”

The music was light and soothing, with a singing melody that wove back and forth from treble voice to bass in a pattern of pleasing complexity, but without the driving force of Bach.

“Is that yours?” I asked, choosing a pause as she lifted her hands at the conclusion of the piece.

She shook her head without turning around.

“No. A friend of mine, Jean Philippe Rameau. A good theorist, but he does not write with great passion.”

I must have dozed, the music lulling my senses, for I woke suddenly to the murmur of Sister Madeleine’s voice in my ear, and her warm, firm grip under my arm, lifting me to my feet and leading me away.

Looking back, I could see the broad span of Mother Hildegarde’s black-swathed back, and the flex of powerful shoulders beneath the drape of her veil as she played, oblivious now to the world beyond the sanctum of her chamber. On the boards near her feet lay Bouton, nose on his paws, small body laid straight as the needle of a compass.



* * *



“So,” Jamie said, “it’s gone a little further than talk—maybe.”

“Maybe?” I echoed. “An offer of fifty thousand pounds sounds fairly definite.” Fifty thousand pounds, by current standards, was the yearly income of a good-sized duchy.

He raised one eyebrow cynically at the musical manuscript I had brought back with me from the convent.

“Aye, well. An offer like that is fairly safe, it it’s contingent on either Charles or James setting foot in England. If Charles is in England, it means he’s gotten sufficient backing from other places to get him to Scotland, first. No,” he said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully, “what’s interesting about this offer is that it’s the first definite sign we’ve seen that the Stuarts—or one of them, at least—are actually making an effort at mounting a restoration attempt.”

“One of them?” I caught the emphasis. “You mean you think James isn’t in on this?” I looked at the coded message with even more interest.

“The message came to Charles,” Jamie reminded me, “and it came from England—not through Rome. Fergus got it from a regular messenger, in a packet marked with English seals; not from a papal messenger. And everything I’ve seen in James’s letters—” He shook his head, frowning. He hadn’t yet shaved, and the morning light caught random sparks of copper among the auburn stubble of his beard.

“The packet had been opened; Charles has seen this manuscript. There was no date on it, so I dinna ken how long ago it came to him. And of course, we don’t have the letters Charles has sent to his father. But there’s no reference in any of James’s letters to anyone who could possibly be the composer, let alone to any definite promises of support from England.”

I could see the direction in which he was heading.

“And Louise de La Tour was babbling about how Charles meant to have her marriage annulled and claim her as his wife, once he was king. So you think perhaps Charles wasn’t just talking through his hat to impress her?”

“Maybe not,” he said. He poured water from the bedroom ewer into the basin and laved his face with water, preparatory to shaving.

“So it’s possible that Charles is acting on his own?” I said, horrified and intrigued by the possibility. “That James has set him up for a masquerade of pretending to start a restoration attempt, in order to keep Louis impressed with the Stuarts’ potential value, but—”

“But Charles isn’t pretending?” Jamie interrupted. “Aye, that’s how it seems. Is there a towel there, Sassenach?” Eyes screwed shut and face dripping, he was patting about on the surface of the table. I moved the manuscript to safety and found the towel, draped over the foot of the bed.

He examined his razor critically, decided it would do, and leaned over my dressing table to look in the mirror as he applied shaving soap to his cheeks.

“Why is it barbaric of me to take the hair off my legs and armpits, and it isn’t barbaric for you to take it off your face?” I asked, watching him draw his upper lip down over his teeth as he scraped under his nose with tiny, delicate strokes.

“It is,” he replied, squinting at himself in the mirror. “But it itches like a fiend if I don’t.”

“Have you ever grown a beard?” I asked curiously.

“Not on purpose,” he replied, half-smiling as he scraped one cheek, “but I’ve had one now and then when I couldna help it—when I lived as an outlaw in Scotland. When it came to a choice between shaving in a cold burn with a dull razor every morning or itching, I chose to itch.”

I laughed, watching him draw the razor along the edge of his jawbone with one long sweep.

“I can’t imagine what you’d look like with a full beard. I’ve only seen you in the stubbly stage.”

He smiled on one side of his mouth, drawing the other up as he scraped under the high, broad cheekbone on that side.

“Next time we’re invited to Versailles, Sassenach, I’ll ask if we may visit the Royal zoo. Louis has a creature there that one of his sea-captains brought him from Borneo, called an orang-utan. Ever seen one?”

“Yes,” I said, “the zoo in London had a pair before the war.”

“Then you’ll know what I look like in a beard,” he said, smiling at me as he finished his shave with a careful negotiation of the curve of his chin. “Scraggly and moth-eaten. Rather like the Vicomte Marigny,” he added, “only red.”

As though the name had reminded him, he returned to the main topic of discussion, wiping the remains of soap off his face with the linen towel.

“So I suppose what we must do now, Sassenach,” he said, “is to keep a sharp eye out for Englishmen in Paris.” He picked up the manuscript off the bed and riffled the pages thoughtfully. “If anyone is actually willing to contemplate support on this scale, I think they might be sending an envoy to Charles. If I were risking fifty thousand pounds, I might like to see what I was getting for my money, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes, I would,” I answered. “And speaking of Englishmen—does His Highness patriotically buy his brandywine from you and Jared, or does he by chance patronize the services of Mr. Silas Hawkins?”

“Mr. Silas Hawkins, who is so eager to know what the political climate is like in the Scottish Highlands?” Jamie shook his head at me admiringly. “And here I thought I married you because ye had a fair face and a fine fat arse. To think you’ve a brain as well!” He neatly dodged the blow I aimed at his ear, and grinned at me.

“I don’t know, Sassenach, but I will before the day is out.”





16

THE NATURE OF SULFUR

Prince Charles did purchase his brandywine from Mr. Hawkins. Beyond that discovery, though, we made little progress over the course of the next four weeks. Things continued much as before. Louis of France continued to ignore Charles Stuart. Jamie continued to run the wine business and to visit Prince Charles. Fergus continued to steal letters. Louise, Princesse de Rohan, appeared in public on the arm of her husband, looking doleful, but blooming. I continued to throw up in the mornings, work at the Hôpital in the afternoons, and smile graciously over the supper table in the evenings.

Two things happened, though, that looked like being progress toward our goal. Charles, bored at confinement, began to invite Jamie to go to taverns with him in the evenings—often without the restraining and discretionary presence of his tutor, Mr. Sheridan, who professed himself much too old for such revels.

“God, the man drinks like a fish!” Jamie had exclaimed, returning from one of these jaunts reeking of cheap wine. He examined a large stain on the front of his shirt critically.

“I’ll have to order a new shirt,” he said.

“Worth it,” I said, “if he tells you anything while he’s drinking. What does he talk about?”

“Hunting and women,” Jamie said succinctly, and declined firmly to elaborate further. Either politics did not weigh as heavily on Charles’s mind as did Louise de La Tour, or else he was capable of discretion, even in the absence of his tutor Mr. Sheridan.

The second thing that happened was that Monsieur Duverney, the Minister of Finance, lost at chess to Jamie. Not once, but repeatedly. As Jamie had foreseen, the effect of losing was merely to make Monsieur Duverney more determined to win, and we were invited frequently to Versailles, where I circulated, collecting gossip and avoiding alcoves, and Jamie played chess, generally collecting an admiring crowd to watch, though I didn’t myself consider it much of a spectator sport.

Jamie and the Minister of Finance, a small, round man with stooped shoulders, were bent over the chessboard, both apparently so intent on the game as to be oblivious to their surroundings, despite the murmur of voices and the clink of glasses just beyond their shoulders.

“I have seldom seen anything so wearisome as chess,” murmured one of the ladies to another. “Amusement, they call it! I should be more amused watching my maid pick fleas off the black pageboys. At least they squeal and giggle a bit.”

“I shouldn’t mind making the red-haired lad squeal and giggle a bit,” said her companion, smiling charmingly at Jamie, who had lifted his head and was gazing absently past Monsieur Duverney. Her companion caught sight of me, and dug the lady, a luscious blonde, in the ribs.

I smiled pleasantly at her, rather nastily enjoying the deep flush that rose from her low neckline, leaving her complexion in rosy blotches. As for Jamie, she could have twined her plump fingers in his hair for all the notice he would have paid, so abstracted did he seem.

I wondered just what was occupying his concentration. Surely it wasn’t the game; Monsieur Duverney played a dogged game of cautious positioning, but used the same gambits repeatedly. The middle two fingers of Jamie’s right hand moved slightly against his thigh, a brief flutter of quickly masked impatience, and I knew that whatever he was thinking of, it wasn’t the game. It might take another half-hour, but he held Monsieur Duverney’s king in the palm of his hand.

The Duc de Neve was standing next to me. I saw his dark little eyes fix on Jamie’s fingers, then flick away. He paused meditatively for a moment, surveying the board, then glided away to increase his wager.

A footman paused by my shoulder and dipped obsequiously, offering me yet another glass of wine. I waved him away; I had had enough during the evening that my head was feeling light and my feet dangerously far away.

Turning to look for a place to sit down, I caught sight of the Comte St. Germain across the room. Perhaps he was what Jamie had been looking at. The Comte in turn was looking at me; staring at me, in fact, with a smile on his face. It wasn’t his normal expression, and it didn’t suit him. I didn’t care for it at all, in fact, but bowed as graciously as I could in his direction, and then pushed off into the throng of ladies, chatting of this and that, but trying wherever possible to lead the conversation in the direction of Scotland and its exiled king.

By and large, the prospects for a Stuart restoration did not seem to be preoccupying the aristocracy of France. When I mentioned Charles Stuart now and then, the usual response was a rolling of the eyes or a shrug of dismissal. Despite the good offices of the Earl of Mar and the other Paris Jacobites, Louis was stubbornly refusing to receive Charles at Court. And a penniless exile who was not in the King’s favor was not going to find himself invited out in society to make the acquaintance of wealthy bankers.

“The King is not particularly pleased that his cousin should have arrived in France without seeking his permission,” the Comtesse de Brabant told me when I had introduced the topic. “He has been heard to say that England can stay Protestant, so far as he himself is concerned,” she confided. “And if the English burn in hell with George of Hanover, so much the better.” She pursed her lips in sympathy; she was a kindly sort. “I am sorry,” she said. “I know that must be disappointing to you and your husband, but really…” She shrugged.

I thought we might be able to accommodate this sort of disappointment, and scouted eagerly for further bits of gossip along these lines, but met with little success this evening. Jacobites, I was given to understand, were a bore.

“Rook to queen’s pawn five,” Jamie mumbled later that evening as we prepared for bed. We were staying as guests in the palace once more. As the chess game had lasted well past midnight, and the Minister would not hear of our undertaking the journey back to Paris at such an hour, we had been accommodated in a small appartement—this one a notch or two above the first, I noted. It had a featherbed, and a window overlooking the south parterre.

“Rooks, eh?” I said, sliding into the bed and stretching out with a groan. “Are you going to dream about chess tonight?”

Jamie nodded, with a jaw-cracking yawn that made his eyes water.

“Aye, I’m sure I will. I hope it willna disturb ye, Sassenach, if I castle in my sleep.”

My feet curled in the sheer joy of being unfettered and relieved of my increasing weight, and my lower spine sent out sharp jolts of a mildly pleasant pain as it readjusted to lying down.

“You can stand on your head in your sleep if you want,” I said, yawning myself. “Nothing will bother me tonight.”

I have seldom been more wrong.

I was dreaming of the baby. Grown almost to the birthing, it kicked and heaved in my swollen belly. My hands went to the mound, massaging the stretched skin, trying to quiet the turmoil within. But the squirming went on, and in the unexcited fashion of dreams, I realized that it was not a baby, but a snake that writhed in my belly. I doubled, drawing up my knees as I wrestled the serpent, my hands groping and pummeling, searching for the head of the beast that darted and thrust under my skin. My skin was hot to the touch, and my intestines coiled, turning into snakes themselves, biting and thrashing as they twined together.

“Claire! Wake up, lass! What’s amiss?” The shaking and calling roused me at last to a fuzzy apprehension of my surroundings. I was in bed, and it was Jamie’s hand on my shoulder, and the linen sheets over me. But the snakes continued to writhe in my belly, and I moaned loudly, the sound alarming me almost as much as it did Jamie.

He flung back the sheets and rolled me onto my back, trying to push my knees down. I stayed stubbornly rolled into a ball, clutching my stomach, trying to contain the pangs of sharp agony that stabbed through me.

He yanked the quilt back over me and rushed out of the room, barely pausing to snatch his kilt from the stool.

I had little attention to spare for anything other than my inner turmoil. My ears were ringing, and a cold sweat soaked my face.

“Madame? Madame!”

I opened my eyes enough to see the maid assigned to our appartement, eyes frantic and hair awry, bending over the bed. Jamie, half-naked and still more frantic, was behind her. I shut my eyes, groaning, but not before I saw him grab the maid by the shoulder, hard enough to shake her curls loose from her nightcap.

“Is she losing the child? Is she?”

It seemed extremely likely. I twisted on the bed, grunting, and doubled tighter, as though to protect the burden of pain I contained.

There was an increasing babble of voices in the room, mostly female, and a number of hands poked and prodded at me. I heard a male voice speaking amid the babble; not Jamie, someone French. At the voice’s direction, a number of hands fastened themselves to my ankles and shoulders and stretched me flat upon the bed.

A hand reached under my nightdress and probed my belly. I opened my eyes, panting, and saw Monsieur Flèche, the Royal Physician, kneeling by the bed as he frowned in concentration. I should have felt flattered at this evidence of the King’s favor, but had little attention to spare for it. The character of the pain seemed to be changing; while it grew stronger in spasms, it was more or less constant, and yet it seemed to be almost moving, traveling from somewhere high up in my abdomen to a lower spot.

“Not a miscarriage,” Monsieur Flèche was assuring Jamie, who hovered anxiously over his shoulder. “There is no bleeding.” I saw one of the attending ladies staring in rapt horror at the scars on his back. She grasped a companion by the sleeve, calling her attention to them.

“Perhaps an inflammation of the gallbladder,” Monsieur Flèche was saying. “Or a sudden chill of the liver.”

“Idiot,” I said through clenched teeth.

Monsieur Flèche stared haughtily down his rather large nose at me, belatedly adding his gold-rimmed pince-nez to increase the effect. He laid a hand upon my clammy brow, incidentally covering my eyes so that I could no longer glare at him.

“Most likely the liver,” he was saying to Jamie. “Impaction of the gallbladder causes this accumulation of bilious humors in the blood, which cause pain—and temporary derangement,” he added authoritatively, pressing down harder as I thrashed to and fro. “She should be bled at once. Plato, the basin!”

I yanked one hand free and batted the restraining hand off my head.

“Get away from me, you bloody quack! Jamie! Don’t let them touch me with that!” Plato, Monsieur Flèche’s assistant, was advancing upon me with lancet and basin, while the ladies in the background gasped and fanned each other, lest they be overcome with excitement at this drama.

Jamie, white-faced, glanced helplessly between me and Monsieur Flèche. Coming to a sudden decision, he grabbed the hapless Plato and pulled him back from the bed, turned him and propelled him toward the door, lancet stabbing the air. The maids and ladies fell back shrieking before him.

“Monsieur! Monsieur le chevalier!” The physician was expostulating. He had clapped his wig professionally upon his head when called, but had not taken time to dress, and the sleeves of his bedgown flapped like wings as he followed Jamie across the room, waving his arms like a demented scarecrow.

The pain increased once more, a vise squeezing my insides, and I gasped and doubled up once more. As it eased a bit, I opened my eyes and saw one of the ladies, her eyes fixed alertly on my face. A look of dawning realization passed over her features, and still looking at me, she leaned over to whisper to one of her companions. There was too much noise in the room to hear, but I read her lips clearly.

“Poison,” she said.

The pain shifted abruptly lower with an ominous interior gurgle, and I realized finally what it was. Not a miscarriage. Not appendicitis, still less a chilled liver. Nor was it poison, precisely. It was bitter cascara.



* * *



“You,” I said, advancing menacingly on Master Raymond, crouched defensively behind his worktable, beneath the protective aegis of his stuffed crocodile. “You! You bloody frog-faced little worm!”

“Me, madonna? I have done you no harm, have I?”

“Aside from causing me to have violent diarrhea in the presence of thirty-odd people, making me think I was having a miscarriage, and scaring my husband out of his skin, no harm at all!”

“Oh, your husband was present?” Master Raymond looked uneasy.

“He was,” I assured him. It was in fact with considerable difficulty that I had succeeded in preventing Jamie from coming up to the apothecary’s shop and extracting, by force, such information as Master Raymond possessed. I had finally persuaded him to wait with the coach outside, while I talked to the amphibious proprietor.

“But you aren’t dead, madonna,” the little herbalist pointed out. He had no brows to speak of, but one side of his wide, heavy forehead crinkled upward. “You could have been, you know.”

In the stress of the evening and the physical shakiness that followed, I had rather overlooked this fact.

“So it wasn’t just a practical joke?” I said, a little weakly. “Someone really meant to poison me, and I’m not dead only because you have scruples?”

“Perhaps my scruples are not entirely responsible for your survival, madonna; it is possible that it was a joke—I imagine there are other purveyors from whom one might obtain bitter cascara. But I have sold that substance to two persons within the last month—and neither of them asked for it.”

“I see.” I drew a long breath, and wiped the perspiration from my brow with my glove. So we had two potential poisoners loose; just what I needed.

“Will you tell me who?” I asked bluntly. “They might buy from someone else, next time. Someone without your scruples.”

He nodded, his wide, froggy mouth twitching in thought.

“It is a possibility, madonna. As for the actual purchasers, I doubt that information would help you. They were servants; plainly acting on the orders of a master. One was maid to the Vicomtesse de Rambeau; the other a man I did not recognize.”

I drummed my fingers on the counter. The only person who had made threats against me was the Comte St. Germain. Could he have hired an anonymous servant to procure what he thought was poison, and then slipped it into my glass himself? Casting my mind back to the gathering at Versailles, I thought it certainly possible. The goblets of wine had been passed around on trays by servants; while the Comte had not come within arm’s length of me himself, it would have been no great problem to bribe a servant to give me a particular glass.

Raymond was eyeing me curiously. “I would ask you, madonna, have you done something to antagonize la Vicomtesse? She is a very jealous woman; this would not be the first time she has sought my aid in disposing of a rival, though fortunately her jealousies are short-lived. The Vicomte has a roving eye, you understand—there is always a new rival to displace her thoughts of the last one.”

I sat down, uninvited.

“Rambeau?” I said, trying to attach the name to a face. Then the mists of memory cleared, revealing a stylishly dressed body and a homely round face, both liberally splashed with snuff.

“Rambeau!” I exclaimed. “Well, yes, I’ve met the man, but all I did was to smack him across the face with my fan when he bit my toes.”

“In some moods, that would be sufficient provocation for la Vicomtesse,” Master Raymond observed. “And if so, then I believe you are likely safe from further attacks.”

“Thanks,” I said dryly. “And if it wasn’t the Vicomtesse?”

The little apothecary hesitated for a moment, his eyes narrowed against the glare of the morning sun that shone through the lozenged panes behind me. Then he made up his mind, and turned toward the stone table where his alembics simmered, jerking his head at me to follow.

“Come with me, madonna. I have something for you.”

To my surprise, he ducked beneath the table and disappeared. As he didn’t come back, I bent down and peered under the table myself. A bed of charcoal was glowing on the hearth, but there was space to either side of it. And in the wall beneath the table, concealed by the shadows, was the darker space of an opening.

With only a little hesitation, I kilted up my skirts and waddled under the table after him.

On the other side of the wall, there was room to stand up, though the room was quite small. The building’s outer structure gave no hint of it.

Two walls of the hidden room were taken up by a honeycomb of shelves, each cell dustless and immaculate, each displaying the skull of a beast. The impact of the wall was enough to make me take a step backward; all the empty eyes seemed trained on me, teeth bared in gleaming welcome.

I blinked several times before I was able to locate Raymond, crouched cautiously at the foot of this ossuary like the resident acolyte. He held his arms raised nervously before him, eying me rather as though he expected me either to scream or to throw myself upon him. But I had seen sights a good deal more grisly than a mere rank of polished bone, and walked forward calmly to examine them more closely.

He had everything, it seemed. Tiny skulls, of bat, mouse and shrew, the bones transparent, little teeth spiked in pinpoints of carnivorous ferocity. Horses, from the huge Percherons, with massive scimitar-shaped jaws looking eminently suitable for flattening platoons of Philistines, down to the skulls of donkeys, as stubbornly enduring in their miniature curves as those of the enormous draft horses.

They had a certain appeal, so still and so beautiful, as though each object held still the essence of its owner, as if the lines of bone held the ghost of the flesh and fur that once they had borne.

I reached out and touched one of the skulls, the bone not cold as I would have expected, but strangely inert, as though the vanished warmth, long gone, hovered not far off.

I had seen human remains treated with far less reverence; the skulls of early Christian martyrs jammed cheek by bony jowl together in heaps in the catacombs, thigh bones tossed in a pile like jackstraws underneath.

“A bear?” I said, speaking softly. A big skull, this one, the canine teeth curved for ripping, but the molars oddly flattened.

“Yes, madonna.” Seeing that I was not afraid, Raymond relaxed. His hand floated out, barely skimming the curves of the blunt, solid skull. “You see the teeth? An eater of fish, of meat”—a small finger traced the long, wicked curve of the canine, the flat serrations of molar—“but a grinder of berries, of grubs. They seldom starve, because they will eat anything.”

I turned slowly from side to side, admiring, touching one here and there.

“They’re lovely,” I said. We spoke in quiet tones, as though to speak loudly might rouse the silent sleepers.

“Yes.” Raymond’s fingers touched them as mine did, stroking the long frontal bones, tracing the delicate squamosal arch of the cheek. “They hold the character of the animal, you see. You can tell much about what was, only from what is left.”

He turned over one of the smaller skulls, pointing out the swelling bulges on the underside, like small, thin-walled balloons.

“Here—the canal of the ear enters into these, so that the sounds echo within the skull. Hence the sharp ears of the rat, madonna.”

“Tympanic bullae,” I said, nodding.

“Ah? I have but little Latin. My names for such things are…my own.”

“Those…” I gestured upward. “Those are special, aren’t they?”

“Ah. Yes, madonna. They are wolves. Very old wolves.” He lifted down one of the skulls, handling it with reverent care. The snout was long and canid, with heavy canines and broad carnassial teeth. The sagittal crest rose stark and commanding from the back of the skull, testimony to the heavy muscles of the brawny neck that had once supported it.

Not a soft dull white like the other skulls, these were stained and streaked with brown, and shone glossy with much polishing.

“Such beasts are no more, madonna.”

“No more? Extinct, you mean?” I touched it once more, fascinated. “Where on earth did you get them?”

“Not on the earth, madonna. Under it. They came from a peat bog, buried many feet down.”

Looking closely, I could see the differences between these skulls and the newer, whiter ones on the opposite wall. These animals had been larger than ordinary wolves, with jaws that might have cracked the leg bones of a running elk or torn the throat from a fallen deer.

I shuddered slightly at the touch, reminded of the wolf I had killed outside Wentworth Prison, and its pack-mates who had stalked me in the icy twilight, barely six months ago.

“You do not care for wolves, madonna?” Raymond asked. “Yet the bears and the foxes do not trouble you? They also are hunters, eaters of flesh.”

“Yes, but not mine,” I said wryly, handing him back the age-dark skull. “I feel a good deal more sympathy with our friend the elk.” I patted the high jutting nose with some affection.

“Sympathy?” The soft black eyes regarded me curiously. “It is an unusual emotion to feel for a bone, madonna.”

“Well…yes,” I said, slightly embarrassed, “but they don’t really seem like just bones, you know. I mean, you can tell something about them, and get a feeling for what the animal was like, looking at these. They aren’t just inanimate objects.”

Raymond’s toothless mouth stretched wide, as though I had inadvertently said something that pleased him, but he said nothing in reply.

“Why do you have all these?” I asked abruptly, suddenly realizing that racks of animal skulls were hardly the usual appurtenances of an apothecary’s shop. Stuffed crocodiles, possibly, but not all this lot.

He shrugged good-naturedly.

“Well, they are company, of a sort, while I pursue my work.” He gestured toward a cluttered workbench in one corner. “And while they may talk to me of many things, they are not so noisy as to attract the attention of the neighbors. Come here,” he said, changing subjects abruptly. “I have something for you.”

I followed him toward a tall cabinet at the end of the room, wondering.

He was not a naturalist, certainly not a scientist, as I understood the term. He kept no notes, made no drawings, no records that others might consult and learn from. And yet I had the odd conviction that he wanted very much to teach me the things that he knew—a sympathy for bones, perhaps?

The cabinet was painted with a number of odd signs, tailed and whorled, among what appeared to be pentagons and circles; Cabbalistic symbols. I recognized one or two, from some of Uncle Lamb’s historical references.

“Interested in the Cabbala, are you?” I asked, eyeing the symbols with some amusement. That would account for the hidden workroom. While there was a strong interest in occult matters among some of the French literati and the aristocracy, it was an interest kept highly clandestine, for fear of the Church’s cleansing wrath.

To my surprise, Raymond laughed. His blunt, short-nailed fingers pressed here and there on the front of the cabinet, touching the center of one symbol, the tail of another.

“Well, no, madonna. Most Cabbalists tend to be rather poor, so I do not seek their company often. But the symbols do keep curious people out of my cabinet. Which, if you think of it, is no small power for a bit of paint to exercise. So perhaps the Cabbalists are right, after all, when they say these signs hold power?”

He smiled mischievously at me, as the cabinet door swung open. I could see that it was in fact a double cabinet; if a nosy person ignored the warning of the symbols and merely opened the door, he or she would no doubt see only the harmless contents of an apothecary’s closet. But if the proper sequence of hidden catches was pressed, then the inner shelves swung out as well, revealing a deep cavity behind them.

He pulled out one of the small drawers that lined the cavity, and upended it into his hand. Stirring the contents, he plucked out a single large white crystalline stone and handed it to me.

“For you,” he said. “For protection.”

“What? Magic?” I asked cynically, tilting the crystal from side to side in my palm.

Raymond laughed. He held his hand over the desk and let a handful of small colored stones trickle through his fingers, to bounce on the stained felt blotting-pad.

“I suppose you can call it so, madonna. Certainly I can charge more for it when I do.” One fingertip nudged a pale greenish crystal free from the pile of colored stones.

“They have no more—and surely no less—magic than the skulls. Call them the bones of the earth. They hold the essence of the matrix in which they grew, and whatever powers that held, you may find here as well.” He flicked a small yellowish nodule in my direction.

“Sulfur. Grind it with a few other small things, touch it with a match, and it will explode. Gunpowder. Is that magic? Or is it only the nature of sulfur?”

“I suppose it depends who you’re talking to,” I observed, and his face split in a delighted grin.

“If you ever seek to leave your husband, madonna,” he said, chuckling, “be assured that you won’t starve. I said you were a professional, did I not?”

“My husband!” I exclaimed, paling. My mind suddenly made sense of the muffled noises coming from the distant shop. There was a loud thump, as of a large fist brought down with considerable force on a countertop, and the deep rumble of a voice inclined to brook no interference made itself heard amid the babble of other sounds.

“Bloody Christ! I forgot Jamie!”

“Your husband is here?” Raymond’s eyes went wider even than usual, and had he not already been so pale, I imagine he would have gone white, too.

“I left him outside,” I explained, stooping to cross back through the secret opening. “He must have got tired of waiting.”

“Wait, madonna!” Raymond’s hand gripped my elbow, stopping me. He put his other hand over mine, the one that held the white crystal.

“That crystal, madonna. I said it is for your protection.”

“Yes, yes,” I said impatiently, hearing my name being shouted outside with increasing volume. “What does it do, then?”

“It is sensitive to poison, madonna. It will change color, in the presence of several harmful compounds.”

That stopped me. I straightened up and stared at him.

“Poison?” I said, slowly. “Then…”

“Yes, madonna. You may be still in some danger.” Raymond’s froglike face was grim. “I cannot say for sure, or from which direction, for I do not know. If I find out, be assured I will tell you.” His eyes flicked uneasily toward the entrance through the hearth. A thunder of blows sounded on the outer wall. “Assure your husband as well, please, madonna.”

“Don’t worry,” I told him, ducking under the low lintel. “Jamie doesn’t bite—I don’t think.”

“I was not worried about his teeth, madonna” came from behind me as I walked duckfooted over the ashes of the hearth.

Jamie, in the act of raising his dagger-hilt to hammer again on the paneling, caught sight of me emerging from the fireplace and lowered it.

“Och, there ye are,” he observed mildly. He tilted his head to one side, watching me brush soot and ashes from the hem of my gown, then scowled at the sight of Raymond peeping cautiously out from under the drying table.

“Ah, and there’s our wee toadling, as well. Has he some explanation, Sassenach, or had I best pin him up wi’ the rest?” Not taking his eyes off Raymond, he nodded toward the wall of the outer workshop, where a number of dried toads and frogs were pinned to a long strip of hanging felt.

“No, no,” I said hastily as Raymond made to duck back into his sanctuary. “He’s told me everything. In fact, he’s been most helpful.”

With some reluctance, Jamie put up his dirk, and I reached down a hand to draw Raymond out of hiding. He flinched slightly at the sight of Jamie.

“This man is your husband, madonna?” he asked, in the tones of someone hoping the answer would be “no.”

“Yes, of course,” I answered. “My husband, James Fraser, my lord Broch Tuarach,” I said, waving at Jamie, though I could scarcely have been referring to anyone else. I waved in the other direction. “Master Raymond.”

“So I gathered,” said Jamie dryly. He bowed and extended a hand toward Raymond, whose head reached a few inches past Jamie’s waist. Raymond touched the outstretched hand briefly and yanked his own back, unable to repress a mild shiver. I stared at him in amazement.

Jamie merely raised one eyebrow, then leaned back and settled himself against the edge of the table. He crossed his arms across his chest.

“All right, then,” he said. “What about it?”

I made most of the explanations, Raymond contributing only monosyllables of confirmation from time to time. The little apothecary seemed deprived of all his normal sly wit, and huddled on a stool near the fire, shoulders hunched in wariness. Only when I had finished with an explanation of the white crystal—and the presumed need for it—did he stir and seem to take on a little life once more.

“It is true, milord,” he assured Jamie. “I do not know, in fact, whether it is your wife or yourself that may be in danger, or perhaps the two of you together. I have heard nothing specific; only the name ‘Fraser,’ spoken in a place where names are seldom named in blessing.”

Jamie glanced sharply at him. “Aye? And you frequent such places, do you, Master Raymond? Are the people you speak of associates of yours?”

Raymond smiled, a little wanly. “I should be inclined to describe them more as a business rivals, milord.”

Jamie grunted. “Mmmphm. Aye, well, and anyone who tries something may get a bit more of a blessing than he’s bargained for.” He touched the dirk at his belt, and straightened up.

“Still, I thank ye for the warning, Master Raymond.” He bowed to the apothecary, but didn’t offer his hand again. “As for the other”—he cocked an eyebrow at me—“if my wife is disposed to forgive your actions, then it isna my place to say more about it. Not,” he added, “that I wouldna advise ye to pop back in your wee hole, the next time the Vicomtesse comes into your shop. Come along then, Sassenach.”

As we rattled toward the Rue Tremoulins, Jamie was silent, staring out the window of the coach as the stiff fingers of his right hand tapped against his thigh.

“A place where names are seldom named in blessing,” he murmured as the coach turned into the Rue Gamboge. “What might that be, I wonder?”

I remembered the Cabbalistic signs on Raymond’s cabinet, and a small shiver raised the hairs on my forearms. I remembered Marguerite’s gossip about the Comte St. Germain, and Madame de Ramage’s warning. I told Jamie about them, and what Raymond had said.

“He may regard it as paint and window dressing,” I finished, “but plainly he knows people who don’t, or who is he looking to keep out of his cabinet?”

Jamie nodded. “Aye. I’ve heard a bit—only a bit—about such goings-on around the Court. I paid no attention at the time, thinking it only silliness, but now I’ll find out a bit more.” He laughed, suddenly, and drew me close to his side. “I’ll set Murtagh to follow the Comte St. Germain. That’ll give the Comte a real demon to play with.”





17

POSSESSION

Murtagh was duly set to watch the comings and goings of the Comte St. Germain, but beyond reporting that the Comte entertained a remarkable number of persons in his home—of both sexes and all classes—detected nothing particularly mysterious. The Comte did have one visitor of note, though—Charles Stuart, who came one afternoon, stayed for an hour, and left.

Charles had begun to require Jamie’s company more frequently on his expeditions through the taverns and low places of the city. I personally thought this had more to do with Jules de La Tour de Rohan’s party, held to celebrate the announcement of his wife’s pregnancy, than it did with any sinister influence of the Comte’s.

These expeditions sometimes lasted well into the night, and I became accustomed to going to bed without Jamie, waking when he crawled in beside me, his body chilled with walking through the evening fog, and the smell of tobacco smoke and liquor clinging to his hair and skin.

“He’s so distraught about that woman that I dinna think he even remembers he’s the heir to the thrones of Scotland and England,” Jamie said, returning from one of these expeditions.

“Goodness, he must be upset,” I said, sarcastically. “Let’s hope he stays that way.”

A week later, though, I woke to the cold gray light of dawn to find the bed beside me still vacant, the coverlet flat and undisturbed.

“Is milord Broch Tuarach in his study?” I leaned over the banister in my nightgown, startling Magnus, who was passing through the lower hall. Perhaps Jamie had chosen to sleep on the sofa in the study, so as not to disturb me.

“No, milady,” he answered, staring up at me. “I came to unbolt the front door, and found that it had never been bolted. Milord did not come home last night.”

I sat down heavily on the top step. I must have looked rather alarming, because the elderly butler nearly sprinted up the stairs to me.

“Madame,” he said, anxiously chafing one of my hands. “Madame, are you all right?”

“I’ve been better, but it isn’t important. Magnus, send one of the footmen to Prince Charles’s house in Montmartre at once. Have him see if my husband is there.”

“At once, milady. And I will send Marguerite up to attend you, as well.” He turned and hurried down the stairs, the soft felt slippers he wore for his morning duties making a soft, shushing noise on the polished wood.

“And Murtagh!” I called after Magnus’s departing back. “My husband’s kinsman. Bring him to me, please!” The first thought that had sprung into my mind was that Jamie had perhaps stayed the night at Charles’s villa; the second, that something had happened to him, whether by accident or by someone’s deliberate intent.

“Where is he?” Murtagh’s cracked voice spoke at the foot of the stair. He had obviously just awakened; his face was creased from whatever he had been lying on, and there were bits of straw in the folds of his ratty shirt.

“How should I know?” I snapped. Murtagh always looked as though he suspected everyone of something, and being rudely wakened had not improved his habitual scowl. The sight of him was nonetheless reassuring; if anything rough was in the offing, Murtagh looked the person to be dealing with it.

“He went out with Prince Charles last night, and didn’t come back. That’s all I know.” I pulled myself up by the banister railing and smoothed down the silk folds of my nightgown. The fires had been lit, but hadn’t had time to warm the house, and I was shivering.

Murtagh rubbed a hand over his face to assist thought.

“Mphm. Has someone gone to Montmartre?”

“Yes.”

“Then I’ll wait ’til they come back with word. If Jamie’s there, well and good. If he isn’t, mayhap they’ll know when he parted company with His Highness, and where.”

“And what if they’re both gone? What if the Prince didn’t come home either?” I asked. If there were Jacobites in Paris, there were also those who opposed the restoration of the Stuart line. And while assassinating Charles Stuart might not assure the failure of a potential Scottish Rising—he did, after all, have a younger brother, Henry—it might go some way toward damping James’s enthusiasm for such a venture—if he had any to start with, I thought distractedly.

I remembered vividly the story Jamie had told me, of the attempt on his life during which he had met Fergus. Street assassinations were far from uncommon, and there were gangs of ruffians who hunted the Paris streets after dark.

“You’d best go dress yourself, lassie,” Murtagh remarked. “I can see the gooseflesh from here.”

“Oh! Yes, I suppose so.” I glanced down at my arms; I had been hugging myself as suppositions raced through my mind, but to little effect; my teeth were beginning to chatter.

“Madame! You will give yourself a chill, surely!” Marguerite came stumping rapidly up the stairs, and I allowed her to shoo me into the bedroom, glancing back to see Murtagh below, carefully examining the point of his dirk before ramming it home in its sheath.

“You should be in bed, Madame!” Marguerite scolded. “It isn’t good for the child, for you to let yourself be chilled like that. I will fetch a warming pan at once; where is your nightrobe? Get into it at once, yes, that’s right…” I shrugged the heavy woolen nightrobe over the thin silk of my nightgown, but ignored Marguerite’s clucking to go to the window and open the shutters.

The street outside was beginning to glow as the rising sun struck the upper facades of the stone houses along the Rue Tremoulins. There was a good deal of activity on the street, early as it was; maids and footmen engaged in scrubbing steps or polishing brass gate-fittings, barrowmen selling fruit, vegetables, and fresh seafood, crying their wares along the street, and the cooks of the great houses popping up from their basement doors like so many jinni, summoned by the cries of the barrowmen. A delivery cart loaded with coal clopped slowly along the street, pulled by an elderly horse who looked as though he would much rather be in his stable. But no sign of Jamie.

I at last allowed an anxious Marguerite to persuade me into bed, for the sake of warmth, but couldn’t go back to sleep. Every sound from below brought me to the alert, hoping that each footstep on the pavement outside would be followed by Jamie’s voice in the hall below. The face of the Comte St. Germain kept coming between me and sleep. Alone among the French nobility, he had some connection with Charles Stuart. He had, in all likelihood, been behind the earlier attempt on Jamie’s life…and on mine. He was known to have unsavory associations. Was it possible that he had arranged to have both Charles and Jamie removed? Whether his purposes were political or personal made little difference, at this point.

When at last the sound of steps below did come, I was so occupied with visions of Jamie lying in a gutter with his throat cut, that I didn’t realize he was home until the bedroom door opened.

“Jamie!” I sat up in bed with a cry of joy.

He smiled at me, then yawned immensely, making no effort to cover his mouth. I could see a goodly distance down his throat, and observed with relief that it wasn’t cut. On the other hand, he looked distinctly the worse for wear. He lay down on the bed next to me and stretched, long and rackingly, then settled with a half-contented groan.

“What,” I demanded, “happened to you?”

He opened one red-rimmed eye.

“I need a bath,” he said, and closed it again.

I leaned toward him and sniffed delicately. The nose detected the usual smoky smell of closed rooms and damp wool, underlying a truly remarkable combination of alcoholic stenches—ale, wine, whisky, and brandy—which matched the variety of stains on his shirt. And forming a high note to the mixture, a horrible cheap cologne, of a particularly penetrating and noxious pungency.

“You do,” I agreed. I scrambled out of bed and leaning out into the corridor, shouted for Marguerite, sending her on arrival for a hip bath and sufficient water to fill it. As a parting gift from Brother Ambrose, I had several cakes of a fine-milled hard soap, made with attar of roses, and told her to fetch those, as well.

As the maid set about the tedious business of bringing up the huge copper bath-cans, I turned my attention to the hulk on the bed.

I stripped off his shoes and stockings, then loosening the buckle of his kilt, I flipped it open. His hands went reflexively to his crotch, but my eyes were focused elsewhere.

“What,” I said again, “happened to you?”

Several long scratches marked his thighs, angry red welts against the pale skin. And high on the inside of one leg was what could be nothing other than a bite; the toothmarks were plainly visible.

The maid, pouring hot water, cast an interested eye at the evidence and thought fit to put in her tuppence at this delicate moment.

“Un petit chien?” she asked. A little dog? Or something else. While I was far from fluent in the idiom of the times, I had learned that les petits chiens often walked the street on two legs with painted faces.

“Out,” I said briefly in French, with a Head Matron intonation. The maid picked up the cans and left the room, pouting slightly. I turned back to Jamie, who opened one eye, and after a glance at my face, closed it again.

“Well?” I asked.

Instead of answering, he shuddered. After a moment, he sat up and rubbed his hands over his face, the stubble making a rasping noise. He cocked one ruddy eyebrow interrogatively. “I wouldna suppose a gently reared young lady such as yourself would be familiar wi’ an alternate meaning for the term soixante-neuf?”

“I’ve heard the term,” I said, folding my arms across my chest and regarding him with a certain amount of suspicion. “And may I ask just where you encountered that particular interesting number?”

“It was suggested to me—with some force—as a desirable activity by a lady I happened to meet last night.”

“Was that by any chance the lady who bit you in the thigh?”

He glanced down and rubbed the mark meditatively.

“Mm, no. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t. That lady seemed preoccupied wi’ rather lower numbers. I think she meant to settle for the six, and the nine could go hang.”

“Jamie,” I said, tapping my foot in a marked manner, “where have you been all night?”

He scooped up a handful of water from the basin and splashed it over his face, letting the rivulets run down among the dark red hairs on his chest.

“Mm,” he said, blinking drops from his thick lashes, “well, let me see. First there was supper at a tavern. We met Glengarry and Millefleurs there.” Monsieur Millefleurs was a Parisian banker, while Glengarry was one of the younger Jacobites, chief of one sept of the MacDonell clan. A visitor in Paris, rather than a resident, he had been much in Charles’s company lately, by Jamie’s report. “And after supper, we went to the Duc di Castellotti’s, for cards.”

“And then?” I asked.

A tavern, apparently. And then another tavern. And then an establishment which appeared to share some of the characteristics of a tavern, but was embellished by the addition of several ladies of interesting appearance and even more interesting talents.

“Talents, eh?” I said, with a glance at the marks on his leg.

“God, they did it in public,” he said, with a reminiscent shudder. “Two of them, on the table. Right between the saddle of mutton and the boiled potatoes. With the quince jelly.”

“Mon dieu,” said the newly returned maid, setting down the fresh bathcan long enough to cross herself.

“You be quiet,” I said, scowling at her. I turned my attention back to my husband. “And then what?”

Then, apparently, the action had become somewhat more general, though still accomplished in fairly public fashion. With due regard to Marguerite’s sensibilities, Jamie waited until she had left for another round of water before elaborating further.

“…and then Castellotti took the fat one with red hair and the small blond one off to a corner, and—”

“And what were you doing all this time?” I broke in on the fascinating recitative.

“Watching,” he said, as though surprised. “It didna seem decent, but there wasna much choice about it, under the circumstances.”

I had been groping in his sporran as he talked, and now fished out not only a small purse, but a wide metal ring, embellished with a coat of arms. I tried it curiously on a finger; it was much larger than any normal ring, and hung like a quoit on a stick.

“Whoever does this belong to?” I asked, holding it out. “It looks like the Duc di Castellotti’s coat of arms, but whoever it belongs to must have fingers like sausages.” Castellotti was an etiolated Italian stringbean, with the pinched face of a man with chronic dyspepsia—no wonder, judging from Jamie’s story. Quince jelly, forsooth!

I glanced up to find Jamie blushing from navel to hairline.

“Er,” he said, taking an exaggerated interest in a mud stain on one knee, “it…doesna go on a man’s finger.”

“Then what…oh.” I looked at the circular object with renewed interest. “Goodness. I’ve heard of them before…”

“You have?” said Jamie, thoroughly scandalized.

“But I’ve never seen one. Does it fit you?” I reached out to try it. He clasped his hands reflexively over his private parts.

Marguerite, arriving with more water, assured him, “Ne vous en faîtes pas, Monsieur. J’en ai déjà vu un.” Don’t worry yourself, monsieur; I’ve already seen one.

Dividing a glare between me and the maid, he pulled a quilt across his lap.

“Bad enough to spend all night defending my virtue,” he remarked with some asperity, “without havin’ it subjected to comment in the morning.”

“Defending your virtue, hm?” I tossed the ring idly from hand to hand, catching it on opposing index fingers. “A gift, was it?” I asked, “or a loan?”

“A gift. Don’t do that, Sassenach,” he said, wincing. “It brings back memories.”

“Ah yes,” I said, eying him. “Now about those memories…”

“Not me!” he protested. “Surely ye dinna think I’d do such things? I’m a married man!”

“Monsieur Millefleurs isn’t married?”

“He’s not only married, he has two mistresses,” Jamie said. “But he’s French—that’s different.”

“The Duc di Castellotti isn’t French—he’s Italian.”

“But he’s a duke. That’s different, too.”

“Oh, it is, is it? I wonder if the Duchess thinks so.”

“Considering a few things the Duc claimed he learnt from the Duchess, I would imagine so. Isn’t that bath ready yet?”

Clutching the quilt about him, he lumbered from the bed to the steaming tub and stepped in. He dropped the quilt and lowered himself quickly, but not quite quickly enough.

“Enorme!” said the maid, crossing herself.

“C’est tout,” I said repressively. “Merci bien.” She dropped her eyes, blushed, and scuttled out.

As the door closed behind the maid, Jamie relaxed into the tub, high at the back to allow for lounging; the feeling of the times seemed to be that once having gone to the trouble of filling a bath, one might as well enjoy it. His stubbled face assumed an expression of bliss as he sank gradually lower into the steaming water, a flush of heat reddening his fair skin. His eyes were closed, and a faint mist of moisture gleamed across the high, broad cheekbones and shone in the hollows beneath his eyesockets.

“Soap?” he asked hopefully, opening his eyes.

“Yes, indeed.” I fetched a cake and handed it to him, then sat down on a stool alongside the bath. I watched for some time as he scrubbed industriously, fetching him a cloth and a pumice stone, with which he painstakingly rasped the soles of his feet and his elbows.

“Jamie,” I said at last.

“Aye?”

“I don’t mean to quarrel with your methods,” I said, “and we agreed that you might have to go to some lengths, but…did you really have to…”

“To what, Sassenach?” He had stopped washing and was watching me intently, head on one side.

“To…to…” To my annoyance, I was flushing as deeply as he was, but without the excuse of hot water.

A large hand rose dripping out of the water and rested on my arm. The wet heat burned through the thin fabric of my sleeve.

“Sassenach,” he said, “what do ye think I’ve been doing?”

“Er, well,” I said, trying and failing to keep my eyes away from the marks on his thigh. He laughed, though he didn’t sound truly amused.

“O ye of little faith!” he said sardonically.

I withdrew beyond his reach.

“Well,” I said, “when one’s husband comes home covered with bites and scratches and reeking with perfume, admits he’s spent the night in a bawdy house, and…”

“And tells ye flat-out he’s spent the night watching, not doing?”

“You didn’t get those marks on your leg from watching!” I snapped suddenly, then clamped my lips together. I felt like a jealous biddy, and I didn’t care for it. I had vowed to take it all calmly, like a woman of the world, telling myself that I had complete faith in Jamie and—just in case—that you can’t make omelets without breaking eggs. Even if something had happened…

I smoothed the wet spot on my sleeve, feeling the air chill through the cooling silk. I struggled to regain my former light tone.

“Or are those the scars of honorable combat, gained in defending your virtue?” Somehow the light tone didn’t quite come off. Listening to myself, I had to admit that the overall tone was really quite nasty. I was rapidly ceasing to care.

No slouch at reading tones of voice, Jamie narrowed his eyes at me and seemed about to reply. He drew in his breath, then apparently thought better of whatever he had been going to say and let it out again.

“Yes,” he said calmly. He fished about in the tub between his legs, coming up at length with the cake of soap, a roughly shaped ball of white slickness. He held it out on his palm.

“Will ye help me to wash my hair? His Highness vomited on me in the coach coming home, and I reek a bit, all things considered.”

I hesitated a moment, but accepted the olive branch, temporarily at least.

I could feel the solid curve of his skull under the thick, soapy hair, and the welt of the healed scar across the back of his head. I dug my thumbs firmly into his neck muscles, and he relaxed slightly under my hands.

The soap bubbles ran down across the wet, gleaming curves of his shoulders, and my hands followed them, spreading the slickness so that my fingers seemed to float on the surface of his skin.

He was big, I thought. Near him so much, I tended to forget his size, until I saw him suddenly from a distance, towering among smaller men, and I would be struck anew by his grace and the beauty of his body. But he sat now with his knees nearly underneath his chin, and his shoulders filled the tub from one side to the other. He leaned forward slightly to assist my ministrations, exposing the hideous scars on his back. The thick red welts of Jack Randall’s Christmas gift lay heavily over the thin white lines of the earlier floggings.

I touched the scars gently, my heart squeezed by the sight. I had seen those wounds when they were fresh, seen him driven to the edge of madness by torture and abuse. But I had healed him, and he had fought with all the power of a gallant heart to be whole once more, to come back to me. Moved by tenderness, I brushed the trailing ends of his hair aside, and bent to kiss the back of his neck.

I straightened abruptly. He felt my movement and turned his head slightly.

“What is it, Sassenach?” he asked, voice slow with drowsy contentment.

“Not a thing,” I said, staring at the dark-red blotches on the side of his neck. The nurses in the quarters at Pembroke used to conceal them with jaunty scarves tied about their necks the morning after their dates with soldiers from the nearby base. I always thought the scarves were really meant as a means of advertisement, rather than concealment.

“No, not a thing,” I said again, reaching for the ewer on the stand. Placed near the window, it was ice-cold to the touch. I stepped behind Jamie and upended it on his head.

I lifted the silk skirts of my nightdress to avoid the sudden wave that spilled over the side of the bath. He was sputtering from the cold, but too shocked yet to form any of the words I could see gathering force on his lips. I beat him to it.

“Just watched, did you?” I asked coldly. “I wouldn’t suppose you enjoyed it a bit, did you, poor thing?”

He thrust himself back in the tub with a violence that made the water slosh over the sides, splattering on the stone floor, and twisted around to look up at me.

“What d’ye want me to say?” he demanded. “Did I want to rut with them? Aye, I did! Enough to make my balls ache with not doing it. And enough to make me feel sick wi’ the thought of touching one of the sluts.”

He shoved the sopping mass of his hair out of his eyes, glaring at me.

“Is that what ye wanted to know? Are ye satisfied now?”

“Not really,” I said. My face was hot, and I pressed my cheek against the icy pane of the window, hands clenched on the sill.

“Who looks on a woman with lust in his heart hath committed adultery with her already. Is that how ye see it?”

“Is it how you see it?”

“No,” he said shortly. “I don’t. And what would ye do if I had lain wi’ a whore, Sassenach? Slap my face? Order me out of your chamber? Keep yourself from my bed?”

I turned and looked at him.

“I’d kill you,” I said through my teeth.

Both eyebrows shot up, and his mouth dropped slightly with incredulity.

“Kill me? God, if I found you wi’ another man, I’d kill him.” He paused, and one corner of his mouth quirked wryly.

“Mind ye,” he said, “I’d no be verra pleased wi’ you, either, but still, it’s him I’d kill.”

“Typical man,” I said. “Always missing the point.”

He snorted with a bitter humor.

“Am I, then? So you dinna believe me. Want me to prove it to ye, Sassenach, that I’ve lain wi’ no one in the last few hours?” He stood up, water cascading down the stretches of his long legs. The light from the window highlighted the reddish-gold hairs of his body and the steam rose off his flesh in wisps. He looked like a figure of freshly molten gold. I glanced briefly down.

“Ha,” I said, with the maximum of scorn it was possible to infuse into one syllable.

“Hot water,” he said briefly, stepping out of the tub. “Dinna worry yourself, it won’t take long.”

“That,” I said, with delicate precision, “is what you think.”

His face flushed still more deeply, and his hands curled involuntarily into fists.

“No reasoning wi’ you, is there?” he demanded. “God, I spend the night torn between disgust and agony, bein’ tormented by my companions for being unmanly, then come home to be tormented for being unchaste! Mallaichte bàs!”

Looking wildly about, he spotted his discarded clothing on the floor near the bed and lunged for it.

“Here, then!” he said, scrabbling for his belt. “Here! If lusting is adultery and you’ll kill me for adultery, then ye’d best do it, hadn’t ye!” He came up with his dirk, a ten-inch piece of dark steel, and thrust it at me, haft first. He squared his shoulders, presenting the broad expanse of his chest to me, and glared belligerently.

“Go ahead,” he insisted. “Ye dinna mean to be forsworn, I hope? Being so sensitive to your honor as a wife and all?”

It was a real temptation. My clenched hands quivered at my sides with the longing to take the dagger and plant it firmly between his ribs. Only the knowledge that, all his dramatizing aside, he certainly wouldn’t allow me to stab him, stopped me from trying. I felt sufficiently ridiculous, without humiliating myself further. I whirled away from him in a flurry of silk.

After a moment, I heard the clank of the dirk on the floorboards. I stood without moving, staring out of the window at the back courtyard below. I heard faint rustling sounds behind me, and glanced into the faint reflections of the window. My face showed in the windowpane as a smudged oval in a nimbus of sleep-snarled brown hair. Jamie’s naked figure moved dimly in the glass like someone seen underwater, searching for a towel.

“The towel is on the bottom shelf of the ewer-stand,” I said, turning around.

“Thank you.” He dropped the dirty shirt with which he had begun gingerly dabbing himself and reached for the towel, not looking at me.

He wiped his face, then seemed to make some decision. He lowered the towel and looked directly at me. I could see the emotions struggling for mastery on his face, and felt as though I were still looking into the mirror of the window. Sense triumphed in both of us at once.

“I’m sorry,” we said, in unison. And laughed.

The damp of his skin soaked through the thin silk, but I didn’t care.

Minutes later, he mumbled something into my hair.

“What?”

“Too close,” he repeated, moving back a bit. “It was too damn close, Sassenach, and it scared me.”

I glanced down at the dirk, lying forgotten on the floor.

“Scared? I’ve never seen anyone less scared in my life. You knew damned well I wouldn’t do it.”

“Oh, that.” He grinned. “No, I didna think you’d kill me, much as ye might like to.” He sobered quickly. “No, it was…well, those women. What I felt like with them. I didna want them, truly not…”

“Yes, I know,” I said, reaching for him, but he wasn’t stopping there. He held back from me, looking troubled.

“But the…the lusting, I suppose ye’d call it…that was…too close to what I feel sometimes for you, and it…well, it doesna seem right to me.”

He turned away, rubbing at his hair with the linen towel, so his voice came half-muffled.

“I always thought it would be a simple matter to lie wi’ a woman,” he said softly. “And yet…I want to fall on my face at your feet and worship you”—he dropped the towel and reached out, taking me by the shoulders—“and still I want to force ye to your knees before me, and hold ye there wi’ my hands tangled in your hair, and your mouth at my service…and I want both things at the same time, Sassenach.” He ran his hands up under my hair and gripped my face between them, hard.

“I dinna understand myself at all, Sassenach! Or maybe I do.” He released me and turned away. His face had long since dried, but he picked up the fallen towel and wiped the skin of his jaw with it, over and over. The stubble made a faint rasping sound against the fine linen. His voice was still quiet, barely audible from a few feet away.

“Such things—the knowledge of them, I mean—it came to me soon after…after Wentworth.” Wentworth. Where he had given his soul to save my life, and suffered the tortures of the damned in retrieving it.

“I thought at the first that Jack Randall had stolen a bit of my soul, and then I knew it was worse than that. All of it was my own, and had been all along; it was only he’d shown it to me, and made me know it for myself. That’s what he did that I canna forgive, and may his own soul rot for it!”

He lowered the towel and looked at me, face worn with the strains of the night, but eyes bright with urgency.

“Claire. To feel the small bones of your neck beneath my hands, and that fine, thin skin on your breasts and your arms…Lord, you are my wife, whom I cherish and I love wi’ all my life, and still I want to kiss ye hard enough to bruise your tender lips, and see the marks of my fingers on your skin.”

He dropped the towel. He raised his hands and held them trembling in the air before his face, then very slowly brought them down to rest on my head as though in benediction.

“I want to hold you like a kitten in my shirt, mo duinne, and still I want to spread your thighs and plow ye like a rutting bull.” His fingers tightened in my hair. “I dinna understand myself!”

I pulled my head back, freeing myself, and took a half-step backward. The blood seemed all to be on the surface of my skin, and a chill ran down my body at the brief separation.

“Do you think it’s different for me? Do you think I don’t feel the same?” I demanded. “That I don’t sometimes want to bite you hard enough to taste blood, or claw you ’til you cry out?”

I reached out slowly to touch him. The skin of his breast was damp and warm. Only the nail of my forefinger touched him, just below the nipple. Lightly, barely touching, I drew the nail upward, downward, circling round, watching the tiny nub rise hard amid the curling ruddy hairs.

The nail pressed slightly harder, sliding down, leaving a faint red streak on the fair skin of his chest. I was trembling all over by this time, but did not turn away.

“Sometimes I want to ride you like a wild horse, and bring you to the taming—did you know that? I can do it, you know I can. Drag you over the edge and drain you to a gasping husk. I can drive you to the edge of collapse and sometimes I delight in it, Jamie, I do! And yet so often I want”—my voice broke suddenly and I had to swallow hard before continuing—“I want…to hold your head against my breast and cradle you like a child and comfort you to sleep.”

My eyes were so full of tears that I couldn’t see his face clearly; couldn’t see if he wept as well. His arms went tight around me and the damp heat of him engulfed me like the breath of a monsoon.

“Claire, ye do kill me, knife or no,” he whispered, face buried in my hair. He bent and picked me up, carrying me to the bed. He sank to his knees, laying me amid the rumpled quilts.

“You’ll lie wi’ me now,” he said quietly. “And I shall use ye as I must. And if you’ll have your revenge for it, then take it and welcome, for my soul is yours, in all the black corners of it.”

The skin of his shoulders was warm with the heat of the bath, but he shivered as with cold as my hands traveled up to his neck, and I pulled him down to me.

And when I had at length taken my last revenge of him, I did cradle him, stroking back the roughened, half-dry locks.

“And sometimes,” I whispered to him, “I wish it could be you inside me. That I could take you into me and keep you safe always.”

His hand, large and warm, lifted slowly from the bed and cupped the small round swell of my belly, sheltering and caressing.

“You do, my own,” he said. “You do.”



* * *



I felt it for the first time while lying in bed the next morning, watching Jamie dress for the day. A tiny fluttering sensation, at once entirely familiar and completely new. Jamie had his back turned to me, as he wriggled into his knee-length shirt and stretched his arms, settling the folds of white linen across the breadth of his shoulders.

I lay quite still, waiting, hoping for it to come again. It did, this time as a series of infinitesimal quick movements, like the bursting of bubbles rising to the surface of a carbonated liquid.

I had a sudden memory of Coca-Cola; that odd, dark, fizzy American drink. I had tasted it once, while having supper with an American colonel, who served it as a delicacy—which it was, in wartime. It came in thick greenish bottles, smooth-ribbed and tapered, with a high-waisted nip to the glass, so that the bottle was roughly woman-shaped, with a rounded bulge just below the neck, swelling to a broader one farther down.

I remembered how the millions of tiny bubbles had rushed into the narrow neck when the bottle was opened, smaller and finer than the bubbles of champagne, bursting joyous in the air. I laid one hand very gently on my abdomen, just above the womb.

There it was. There was no sense of him, or her, as I had thought there might be—but there was certainly a sense of Someone. I wondered whether perhaps babies had no gender—physical characteristics aside—until birth, when the act of exposure to the outside world set them forever as one or the other.

“Jamie,” I said. He was tying back his hair, gathering it into a thick handful at the base of his neck and winding a leather lace about it. Head bent in the task, he looked up at me from under his brows and smiled.

“Awake, are ye? It’s early yet, mo duinne. Go back to sleep for a bit.”

I had been going to tell him, but something stopped me. He couldn’t feel it, of course, not yet. It wasn’t that I thought he wouldn’t care, but there was something about that first awareness that seemed suddenly private; the second shared secret between me and the child—the first being our knowledge of its existence, mine a conscious knowing, the embryo’s a simple being. The sharing of that knowledge linked us close as did the blood that passed through both of us.

“Do you want me to braid your hair for you?” I asked. When he went to the docks, sometimes he would ask me to plait his ruddy mane in a tight queue, proof against the tugging winds on deck and quay. He always teased that he would have it dipped in tar, as the sailors did, to solve the problem permanently.

He shook his head, and reached for his kilt.

“No, I’m going to call on His Highness Prince Charles today. And drafty as his house is, I think it wilna be blowing my hair in my eyes.” He smiled at me, coming to stand by the bed. He saw my hand lying on my stomach, and put his own lightly over it.

“Feeling all right, are ye, Sassenach? The sickness is better?”

“Much.” The morning sickness had in fact abated, though waves of nausea still assailed me at odd moments. I found I could not bear the smell of frying tripe with onions, and had had to ban this popular dish from the servants’ menu, since the smell crept from the basement kitchen like a ghost up the back stairs, to pop out at me unexpectedly when I opened the door of my sitting room.

“Good.” He raised my hand, and bent over to kiss my knuckles in farewell. “Go back to sleep, mo duinne,” he repeated.

He closed the door gently behind him, as though I were already sleeping, leaving me to the early morning silence of the chamber, with the small busy noises of the household safely barred by paneled oak.

Squares of pale sunlight from the casement window lay bright on the opposite wall. It would be a beautiful day, I could tell, the spring air ripening with warmth, and the plum blossoms bursting pink and white and bee-rich in the gardens of Versailles. The courtiers would be outside in the gardens today, rejoicing in the weather as much as the barrowmen who wheeled their wares through the streets.

So did I rejoice, alone and not alone, in my peaceful cocoon of warmth and quiet.

“Hello,” I said softly, one hand over the butterfly wings that beat inside me.





PART THREE





Malchance





18

RAPE IN PARIS

There was an explosion at the Royal Armory, near the beginning of May. I heard later that a careless porter had put down a torch in the wrong place, and a minute later, the largest assortment of gunpowder and firearms in Paris had gone up with a noise that startled the pigeons off Notre Dame.

At work in L’Hôpital des Anges, I didn’t hear the explosion itself, but I certainly noticed the echoes. Though the Hôpital was on the opposite side of the city from the Armory, there were sufficient victims of the explosion that a good many of them overflowed the other hospitals and were brought to us, mangled, burned, and moaning in the backs of wagons, or supported on pallets by friends who carried them through the streets.

It was full dark before the last of the victims had been attended to, and the last bandage-swathed body laid gently down among the grubby, anonymous ranks of the Hôpital’s patients.

I had dispatched Fergus home with word that I would be late, when I saw the magnitude of the task awaiting the sisters of des Anges. He had come back with Murtagh, and the two of them were lounging on the steps outside, waiting to escort us home.

Mary and I emerged wearily from the double doors, to find Murtagh demonstrating the art of knife-throwing to Fergus.

“Go on then,” he was saying, back turned to us. “Straight as ye can, on the count of three. One…two…three!” At “three,” Fergus bowled the large white onion he was holding, letting it bounce and hop over the uneven ground.

Murtagh stood relaxed, arm drawn back at a negligent cock, dirk held by the tip between his fingers. As the onion spun past, his wrist flicked once, quick and sharp. Nothing else moved, not so much as a stir of his kilts, but the onion leaped sideways, transfixed by the dirk, and fell mortally wounded, rolling feebly in the dirt at his feet.

“B-bravo, Mr. Murtagh!” Mary called, smiling. Startled, Murtagh turned, and I could see the flush rising on his lean cheeks in the light from the double doors behind us.

“Mmmphm,” he said.

“Sorry to take so long,” I said apologetically. “It took rather a time to get everyone squared away.”

“Och, aye,” the little clansman answered laconically. He turned to Fergus. “We’ll do best to find a coach, lad; it’s late for the ladies to be walking.”

“There aren’t any here,” Fergus said, shrugging. “I’ve been up and down the street for the last hour; every spare coach in the Cité has gone to the Armory. We might get something in the Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, though.” He pointed down the street, at a dark, narrow gap between buildings that betrayed the presence of a passageway through to the next street. “It’s quick through there.”

After a short, frowning pause for thought, Murtagh nodded agreement. “All right, lad. Let’s go, then.”

It was cold in the alleyway, and I could see my breath in small white puffs, despite the moonless night. No matter how dark it got in Paris, there was always light somewhere; the glow of lamps and candles seeped through shutters and chinks in the walls of wooden buildings, and light pooled around the stalls of the street vendors and scattered from the small horn and metal lanterns that swung from cart tails and coach trees.

The next street was one of merchants, and here and there the proprietors of the various businesses had hung lanterns of pierced metal above their doors and shopyard entrances. Not content to rely upon the police to protect their property, often several businessmen would join together and hire a watchman to guard their premises at night. When I saw one such figure in front of the sailmaker’s shop, sitting hunched in the shadows atop a pile of folded canvas, I nodded in response to his gruff “Bonsoir, Monsieur, mesdames.”

As we passed the sailmaker’s shop, though, I heard a sudden cry of alarm from the watchman.

“Monsieur! Madame!”

Murtagh swung round at once to meet the challenge, sword already hissing from its scabbard. Slower in my reflexes, I was only halfway turned as he stepped forward, and my eye caught the flicker of movement from the doorway behind him. The blow took Murtagh from behind before I could shout a warning, and he went sprawling facedown in the street, arms and legs gone loose and nerveless, sword and dirk flying from his hands to clatter on the stones.

I stooped quickly for the dirk as it slid past my foot, but a pair of hands seized my arms from behind.

“Take care of the man,” ordered a voice behind me. “Quickly!”

I wrenched at my captor’s grip; the hands dropped to my wrists and twisted them sharply, making me cry out. There was a billow of white, ghost-like in the dim street, and the “watchman” bent over Murtagh’s prone body, a length of white fabric trailing from his hands.

“Help!” I shrieked. “Leave him alone! Help! Brigands! Assassins! HELP!”

“Be still!” A quick clout over the ear made my head spin for a moment. When my eyes stopped watering, I could make out a long, white sausage-shape in the gutter; Murtagh, shrouded and neatly secured in a canvas sail-bag. The false watchman was crouched over him; he rose, grinning, and I could see that he was masked, a dark strip of fabric extending from forehead to upper lip.

A thin strip of light from the nearby chandler’s fell across his body as he rose. In spite of the cold evening, he was wearing no more than a shirt that glowed momentarily emerald green in the passing light. A pair of breeches, buckled at the knee, and what amazingly appeared to be silk hose and leather shoes, not the bare feet or sabots I had expected. Not ordinary bandits, then.

I caught a quick glimpse of Mary, at one side. One of the masked figures had her in a tight grip from behind, one arm clasped across her midriff, the other rummaging its way under her skirts like a burrowing animal.

The one in front of me put a hand ingratiatingly behind my head and pulled me close. The mask covered him from forehead to upper lip, leaving his mouth free for obvious reasons. His tongue thrust into my mouth, tasting strongly of drink and onions. I gagged, bit it, and spat as it was removed. He cuffed me heavily, knocking me to my knees in the gutter.

Mary’s silver-buckled shoes were kicking dangerously near my nose as the ruffian holding her unceremoniously yanked her skirt above her waist. There was a tearing of satin, and a loud screech from above as his fingers plunged between her struggling thighs.

“A virgin! I’ve got a virgin!” he crowed. One of the men bowed mockingly to Mary.

“Mademoiselle, my congratulations! Your husband will have cause to thank us on his wedding night, as he will encounter no awkward obstructions to hinder his pleasure. But we are selfless—we ask for no thanks for the performance of our duties. The doing of service is pleasure in itself.”

If I had needed anything beyond the silk hose to tell me that our assailants were not street ruffians, this speech—greeted with howls of laughter—would have done it. Fitting names to the masked faces was something else again.

The hands that grasped my arm to haul me to my feet were manicured, with a small beauty mark just above the fork of the thumb. I must remember that, I thought grimly. If they let us live afterward, it might be useful.

Someone else grabbed my arms from behind, yanking them back so strongly that I cried out. The posture thus induced made my breasts stand out in the low-cut bodice as though they were being offered on a platter.

The man who seemed in charge of operations wore a loose shirt of some pale color, decorated with darker spots—embroidery perhaps. It gave him an imprecise outline in the shadows, making it difficult to look at him closely. As he leaned forward and ran a finger appraisingly over the tops of my breasts, though, I could see the dark hair greased flat to his head and smell the heavy pomade. He had large ears, the better to hold up the strings of his mask.

“Do not worry yourselves, mesdames,” Spotted-shirt said. “We mean you no harm; we intend only to give you a little gentle exercise—your husbands or fiancés need never know—and then we shall release you.”

“Firstly, you may honor us with your sweet lips, mesdames,” he announced, stepping back and tugging at the lacings of his breeches.

“Not that one,” protested Green-shirt, pointing at me. “She bites.”

“Not if she wants to keep her teeth,” replied his companion. “On your knees, Madame, if you please.” He shoved down strongly on my shoulders, and I jerked back, stumbling. He grabbed me to keep me from getting away, and the full hood of my cloak fell back, freeing my hair. Pins loosened in the struggle, it fell over my shoulders, strands flying like banners in the night wind, blinding me as they whipped across my face.

I staggered backward, pulling away from my assailant, shaking my head to clear my eyes. The street was dark, but I could see a few things in the faint gleam of lanterns through the shuttered shop windows, or in the glow of starlight that struck through the shadows to the street.

Mary’s silver shoe buckles caught the light, kicking. She was on her back, struggling, with one of the men on top of her, swearing as he fought to get his breeches down and to control her at the same time. There was the sound of tearing cloth, and his buttocks gleamed white in a shaft of light from a court-yard gate.

Someone’s arms seized me round the waist and dragged me backward, raising my feet off the ground. I scraped my heel down the length of his shin, and he squealed in outrage.

“Hold her!” ordered Spotted-shirt, coming out of the shadows.

“You hold her!” My captor thrust me unceremoniously into the arms of his friend, and the light from the courtyard shone into my eyes, temporarily blinding me.

“Mother of God!” The hands clutching my arms slackened their grip, and I yanked loose, to see Spotted-shirt, mouth hanging open in horrified amazement below the mask. He backed away from me, crossing himself as he went.

“In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti,” he babbled, crossing and recrossing. “La Dame Blanche!”

“La Dame Blanche!” The man behind me echoed the cry, in tones of terror.

Spotted-shirt was still backing away, now making signs in the air which were considerably less Christian than the sign of the Cross, but which presumably had the same intent. Pointing index and little fingers at me in the ancient horned sign against evil, he was working his way steadily down a list of spiritual authorities, from the Trinity to powers on a considerably lower level, muttering the Latin names so fast that the syllables blurred together.

I stood in the street, shaken and dazed, until a terrible shriek from the ground near my feet recalled me to my senses. Too occupied with his own business to pay any attention to matters above him, the man on top of Mary made a gutteral sound of satisfaction and began to move his hips rhythmically, to the accompaniment of throat-tearing screams from Mary.

Acting purely from instinct, I took a step toward them, drew back my leg, and kicked him as hard as I could in the ribs. The breath exploded from his lungs in a startled “Oof!” and he rocked to one side.

One of his friends darted forward and seized him by the arm, shouting urgently, “Up! Up! It’s La Dame Blanche! Run!”

Still sunk in the frenzy of rape, the man stared stupidly and tried to turn back to Mary, who was frantically writhing and twisting, trying to free the folds of her skirts from the weight that held her trapped. Both Green-shirt and Spotted-shirt were now pulling on her assailant’s arms, and succeeded in getting him to his feet. His torn breeches drooped about his thighs, the blood-smeared rod of his erection trembling with mindless eagerness between the dangling shirttails.

The clatter of running feet approaching seemed finally to rouse him. His two helpers, hearing the sound, dropped his arms and fled precipitately, leaving him to his fate. With a muffled curse, he made his way down the nearest alley, hopping and hobbling as he tried to yank his breeches up around his waist.

“Au secours! Au secours! Gendarmes!” A breathless voice was shouting down the alleyway for help, as its owner fumbled his way in our direction, stumbling over rubbish in the dark. I hardly thought a footpad or other miscreant would be staggering down an alleyway shouting for the gendarmerie, though in my present state of shock, almost nothing would have surprised me.

I was surprised, though, when the black shape that flapped out of the alley proved to be Alexander Randall, swathed in black cape and slouch hat. He glanced wildly around the small cul-de-sac, from Murtagh, masquerading as a bag of rubbish, to me, standing frozen and gasping against a wall, to the huddled shape of Mary, nearly invisible among the other shadows. He stood helpless for a moment, then whirled and clambered up the iron gate from which our assailants had emerged. From the top of this, he could just reach the lantern suspended from the rafter above.

The light was a comfort; pitiful as was the sight it revealed, at least it banished the lurking shadows that threatened at any moment to turn into new dangers.

Mary was on her knees, curled into herself. Head buried in her arms, she was shaking, in total silence. One shoe lay on its side on the cobbles, silver buckle winking in the swaying light of the lantern.

Like a bird of ill omen, Alex swooped down beside her.

“Miss Hawkins! Mary! Miss Hawkins! Are you all right?”

“Of all the damn-fool questions,” I said with some asperity as she moaned and shrank away from him. “Naturally she isn’t all right. She’s just been raped.” With a considerable effort, I pried myself from the comforting wall at my back, and started toward them, noting with clinical detachment that my knees were wobbling.

They gave way altogether in the next moment as a huge, batlike shape swooped down a foot in front of me, landing on the cobbles with a substantial thud.

“Well, well, look who’s dropped in!” I said, and started to laugh in an unhinged sort of way. A large pair of hands grabbed me by the shoulders and administered a good shake.

“Be quiet, Sassenach,” said Jamie, blue eyes gleaming black and dangerous in the lanternlight. He straightened up, the folds of his blue velvet cloak falling back over his shoulders as he stretched his arms toward the roof from which he had jumped. He could just grasp the edge of it, standing on his toes.

“Well, come down, then!” he said impatiently, looking up. “Put your feet over the edge onto my shoulders, and ye can slide down my back.” With a grating of loose roof slates, a small black figure wriggled its way cautiously backward, then swarmed down the tall figure like a monkey on a stick.

“Good man, Fergus.” Jamie clapped the boy casually on the shoulder, and even in the dim light I could see the glow of pleasure that rose in his cheeks. Jamie surveyed the landscape with a tactician’s eye, and with a muttered word, sent the lad down the alley to keep watch for approaching gendarmes. The essentials taken care of, he squatted down before me once more.

“Are ye all right, Sassenach?” he inquired.

“Nice of you to ask,” I said politely. “Yes, thanks. She’s not so well, though.” I waved vaguely in Mary’s direction. She was still rolled into a ball, shuddering and quaking like a jelly, oozing away from Alex’s fumbling efforts to pat her.

Jamie spared no more than a glance at her. “So I see. Where in hell is Murtagh?”

“Over there,” I answered. “Help me up.”

I staggered over to the gutter, where the sack that held Murtagh was heaving to and fro like an agitated caterpillar, emitting a startling mixture of muffled profanities in three languages.

Jamie drew his dirk, and with what seemed to be a rather callous disregard for the contents, slit the sack from end to end. Murtagh popped out of the opening like a Jack out of its box. Half his spiky black hair was pasted to his head by whatever noisome liquid the bag had rested in. The rest stood on end, lending a fiercer cast to a face rendered already sufficiently warlike by a large purple knot on the forehead and a rapidly darkening eye.

“Who hit me?” he barked.

“Well, it wasn’t me,” answered Jamie, raising one eyebrow. “Come along, man, we havena got all night.”



* * *



“This is never going to work,” I muttered, stabbing pins decorated with brilliants at random through my hair. “She ought to have medical care, for one thing. She needs a doctor!”

“She has one,” Jamie pointed out, lifting his chin and peering down his nose into the mirror as he tied his stock. “You.” Stock tied, he grabbed a comb and pulled it hurriedly through the thick, ruddy waves of his hair.

“No time to braid it,” he muttered, holding a thick tail behind his head as he rummaged in a drawer. “Have ye a bit of ribbon, Sassenach?”

“Let me.” I moved swiftly behind him, folding under the ends of the hair and wrapping the club in a length of green ribbon. “Of all the bloody nights to have a dinner party on!”

And not just any dinner party, either. The Duke of Sandringham was to be guest of honor, with a small but select party to greet him. Monsieur Duverney was coming, with his eldest son, a prominent banker. Louise and Jules de La Tour were coming, and the d’Arbanvilles. Just to make things interesting, the Comte St. Germain had also been invited.

“St. Germain!” I had said in astonishment, when Jamie had told me the week before. “Whatever for?”

“I do business with the man,” Jamie had pointed out. “He’s been to dinner here before, with Jared. But what I want is to have the opportunity of watching him talk to you over dinner. From what I’ve seen of him in business, he’s not the man to hide his thoughts.” He picked up the white crystal that Master Raymond had given me and weighed it thoughtfully in his palm.

“It’s pretty enough,” he had said. “I’ll have it set in a gold mounting, so you can wear it about your neck. Toy with it at dinner until someone asks ye about it, Sassenach. Then tell them what it’s for, and make sure to watch St. Germain’s face when ye do. If it was him gave ye the poison at Versailles, I think we’ll see some sign of it.”

What I wanted at the moment was peace, quiet, and total privacy in which to shake like a rabbit. What I had was a dinner party with a duke who might be a Jacobite or an English agent, a Comte who might be a poisoner, and a rape victim hidden upstairs. My hands shook so that I couldn’t fasten the chain that held the mounted crystal; Jamie stepped behind me and snicked the catch with one flick of his thumb.

“Haven’t you got any nerves?” I demanded of him. He grimaced at me in the mirror and put his hands over his stomach.

“Aye, I have. But it takes me in the belly, not the hands. Have ye some of that stuff for cramp?”

“Over there.” I waved at the medicine box on the table, left open from my dosing of Mary. “The little green bottle. One spoonful.”

Ignoring the spoon, he tilted the bottle and took several healthy gulps. He lowered it and squinted at the liquid within.

“God, that’s foul stuff! Are ye nearly ready, Sassenach? The guests will be here any minute.”

Mary was concealed for the moment in a spare room on the second floor. I had checked her carefully for injuries, which seemed limited to bruises and shock, then dosed her quickly with as large a slug of poppy syrup as seemed feasible.

Alex Randall had resisted all Jamie’s attempts to send him home, and instead had been left to stand guard over Mary, with strict instructions to fetch me if she woke.

“How on earth did that idiot happen to be there?” I asked, scrabbling in the drawer for a box of powder.

“I asked him that,” Jamie replied. “Seems the poor fool’s in love with Mary Hawkins. He’s been following her to and fro about the town, drooping like a wilted flower because he knows she’s to wed Marigny.”

I dropped the box of powder.

“H-h-he’s in love with her?” I wheezed, waving away the cloud of floating particles.

“So he says, and I see nay reason to doubt it,” Jamie said, brushing powder briskly off the bosom of my dress. “He was a bit distraught when he told me.”

“I should imagine so.” To the conflicting welter of emotions that filled me, I now added pity for Alex Randall. Of course he wouldn’t have spoken to Mary, thinking the devotion of an impoverished secretary nothing compared to the wealth and position of a match with the House of Gascogne. And now what must he feel, seeing her subjected to brutal attack, virtually under his nose?

“Why in hell didn’t he speak up? She would have run off with him in a moment.” For the pale English curate, of course, must be the “spiritual” object of Mary’s speechless devotion.

“Randall’s a gentleman,” Jamie replied, handing me a feather and the pot of rouge.

“You mean he’s a silly ass,” I said uncharitably.

Jamie’s lip twitched. “Well, perhaps,” he agreed. “He’s also a poor one; he hasna the income to support a wife, should her family cast her off—which they certainly would, if she eloped with him. And his health is feeble; he’d find it hard to find another position, for the Duke would likely dismiss him without a character.”

“One of the servants is bound to find her,” I said, returning to an earlier worry in order to avoid thinking about this latest manifestation of tragedy.

“No, they won’t. They’ll all be busy serving. And by the morning, she may be recovered enough to go back to her uncle’s house. I sent round a note,” he added, “to tell them she was staying the night with a friend, as it was late. Didna want them searching for her.”

“Yes, but—”

“Sassenach.” His hands on my shoulders stopped me, and he peered over my shoulder to meet my eyes in the mirror. “We canna let her be seen by anyone, until she’s able to speak and to act as usual. Let it be known what’s happened to her, and her reputation will be ruined entirely.”

“Her reputation! It’s hardly her fault she was raped!” My voice shook slightly, and his grip on my shoulders tightened.

“It isna right, Sassenach, but it’s how it is. Let it be known that she’s a maid no more, and no man will take her—she’ll be disgraced, and live a spinster to the end of her days.” His hand squeezed my shoulder, left it, and returned to help guide a pin into the precariously anchored hair.

“It’s all we can do for her, Claire,” he said. “Keep her from harm, heal her as best we can—and find the filthy bastards who did it.” He turned away and groped in my casket for his stick pin. “Christ,” he added softly, speaking into the green velvet lining, “d’ye think I don’t know what it is to her? Or to him?”

I laid my hand on his groping fingers and squeezed. He squeezed back, then lifted my hand and kissed it briefly.

“Lord, Sassenach! Your fingers are cold as snow.” He turned me around to look earnestly into my face. “Are you all right, lass?”

Whatever he saw in my face made him mutter “Christ” again, sink to his knees, and pull me against his ruffled shirtfront. I gave up the pretense of courage, and clung to him, burying my face in the starchy warmth.

“Oh, God, Jamie. I was so scared. I am so scared. Oh, God, I wish you could make love to me now.”

His chest vibrated under my cheek with his laugh, but he hugged me closer.

“You think that would help?”

“Yes.”

In fact, I thought that I would not feel safe again, until I lay in the security of our bed, with the sheltering silence of the house all about us, feeling the strength and the heat of him around and within me, buttressing my courage with the joy of our joining, wiping out the horror of helplessness and near-rape with the sureness of mutual possession.

He held my face between his hands and kissed me, and for a moment, the fear of the future and the terror of the night fell away. Then he drew back and smiled. I could see his own worry etched in the lines of his face, but there was nothing in his eyes but the small reflection of my face.

“On account, then,” he said softly.



* * *



We had reached the second course without incident, and I was beginning to relax slightly, though my hand still had a tendency to tremble over the consommé.

“How perfectly fascinating!” I said, in response to a story of the younger Monsieur Duverney’s, to which I wasn’t listening, my ears being tuned for any suspicious noises abovestairs. “Do tell me more.”

I caught Magnus’s eye as he served the Comte St. Germain, seated across from me, and beamed congratulations at him as well as I could with a mouthful of fish. Too well trained to smile in public, he inclined his head a respectful quarter-inch and went on with the service. My hand went to the crystal at my neck, and I stroked it ostentatiously as the Comte, with no sign of perturbation on his saturnine features, dug into the trout with almonds.

Jamie and the elder Duverney were close in conversation at the other end of the table, food ignored as Jamie scribbled left-handed figures on a scrap of paper with a stub of chalk. Chess, or business? I wondered.

As guest of honor, the Duke sat at the center of the table. He had enjoyed the first courses with the gusto of a natural-born trencherman, and was now engaged in animated conversation with Madame d’Arbanville, on his right. As the Duke was the most obviously prominent Englishman in Paris at the time, Jamie had thought it worthwhile cultivating his acquaintance, in hopes of uncovering any rumors that might lead to the sender of the musical message to Charles Stuart. My attention, though, kept straying from the Duke to the gentleman seated across from him—Silas Hawkins.

I had thought I might just die on the spot and save trouble all round when the Duke had walked through the door, gesturing casually over his shoulder, and saying, “I say, Mrs. Fraser, you do know Hawkins here, don’t you?”

The Duke’s small, merry blue eyes had met mine with a look of guileless confidence that his whims would be accommodated, and I had had no choice but to smile and nod, and tell Magnus to be sure another place was set. Jamie, seeing Mr. Hawkins as he came through the door of the drawing room, had looked as though he were in need of another dose of stomach medicine, but had pulled himself together enough to extend a hand to Mr. Hawkins and start a conversation about the quality of the inns on the road to Calais.

I glanced at the carriage clock over the mantelpiece. How long before they would all be gone? I mentally tallied the courses already served, and those to come. Nearly to the sweet course. Then the salad and cheese. Brandy and coffee, port for the men, liqueurs for the ladies. An hour or two for stimulating conversation. Not too stimulating, please God, or they would linger ’til dawn.

Now they were talking of the menace of street gangs. I abandoned the fish and picked up a roll.

“And I have heard that some of these roving bands are composed not of rabble, as you would expect, but of some of the younger members of the nobility!” General d’Arbanville puffed out his lips at the monstrousness of the idea. “They do it for sport—sport! As though the robbery of decent men and the outraging of ladies were nothing more than a cockfight!”

“How extraordinary,” said the Duke, with the indifference of a man who never went anywhere without a substantial escort. The platter of savouries hovered near his chin, and he scooped half a dozen onto his plate.

Jamie glanced at me, and rose from the table.

“If you’ll excuse me, mesdames, messieurs,” he said with a bow, “I have something rather special in the way of port that I would like to have His Grace taste. I’ll fetch it from the cellar.”

“It must be the Belle Rouge,” said Jules de La Tour, licking his lips in anticipation. “You have a rare treat in store, Your Grace. I have never tasted such a wine anywhere else.”

“Ah? Well, you soon will, Monsieur le Prince,” the Comte St. Germain broke in. “Something even better.”

“Surely there is nothing better than Belle Rouge!” General d’Arbanville exclaimed.

“Yes, there is,” the Comte declared, looking smug. “I have found a new port, made and bottled on the island of Gostos, off the coast of Portugal. A color rich as rubies, and a flavor that makes Belle Rouge taste like colored water. I have a contract for delivery of the entire vintage in August.”

“Indeed, Monsieur le Comte?” Silas Hawkins raised thick, graying brows toward our end of the table. “Have you found a new partner for investment, then? I understood that your own resources were.…depleted, shall we say? following the sad destruction of the Patagonia.” He took a cheese savoury from the plate and popped it delicately into his mouth.

The Comte’s jaw muscles bulged, and a sudden chill descended on our end of the table. From Mr. Hawkins’s sidelong glance at me, and the tiny smile that lurked about his busily chewing mouth, it was clear that he knew all about my role in the destruction of the unfortunate Patagonia.

My hand went again to the crystal at my neck, but the Comte didn’t look at me. A hot flush had risen from his lacy stock, and he glared at Mr. Hawkins with open dislike. Jamie was right; not a man to hide his emotions.

“Fortunately, Monsieur,” he said, mastering his choler with an apparent effort, “I have found a partner who wishes to invest in this venture. A fellow countryman, in fact, of our gracious host.” He nodded sardonically toward the doorway, where Jamie had just appeared, followed by Magnus, who bore an enormous decanter of the Belle Rouge port.

Hawkins stopped chewing for a moment, his mouth unattractively open with interest. “A Scotsman? Who? I didn’t think there were any Scots in the wine business in Paris besides the house of Fraser.”

A definite gleam of amusement lit the Comte’s eyes as he glanced from Mr. Hawkins to Jamie. “I suppose it is debatable whether the investor in question could be considered Scottish at the moment; nonetheless, he is milord Broch Tuarach’s fellow countryman. Charles Stuart is his name.”

This bit of news had all the impact the Comte might have hoped for. Silas Hawkins sat bolt upright with an exclamation that made him choke on the remnants of his mouthful. Jamie, who had been about to speak, closed his mouth and sat down, regarding the Comte thoughtfully. Jules de La Tour began to spray exclamations and globules of spit, and both d’Arbanvilles made ejaculations of amazement. Even the Duke took his eyes off his plate and blinked at the Comte in interest.

“Really?” he said. “I understood the Stuarts were poor as church mice. You’re sure he’s not gulling you?”

“I have no wish to cast aspersions, or arouse suspicions,” chipped in Jules de La Tour, “but it is well known at Court that the Stuarts have no money. It is true that several of the Jacobite supporters have been seeking funds lately, but without luck, so far as I have heard.”

“That’s true,” interjected the younger Duverney, leaning forward with interest. “Charles Stuart himself has spoken privately with two bankers of my acquaintance, but no one is willing to advance him any substantial sum in his present circumstances.”

I shot a quick glance at Jamie, who answered with an almost imperceptible nod. This came under the heading of good news. But then what about the Comte’s story of an investment?

“It is true,” he said belligerently. “His Highness has secured a loan of fifteen thousand livres from an Italian bank, and has placed the entire sum at my disposal, to be used in commissioning a ship and purchasing the bottling of the Gostos vineyard. I have the signed letter right here.” He tapped the breast of his coat with satisfaction, then sat back and looked triumphantly around the table, stopping at Jamie.

“Well, milord,” he said, with a wave at the decanter that sat on the white cloth in front of Jamie, “are you going to allow us to taste this famous wine?”

“Yes, of course,” Jamie murmured. He reached mechanically for the first glass.

Louise, who had sat quietly eating through most of the dinner, noted Jamie’s discomfort. A kind friend, she turned to me in an obvious effort to change the course of the conversation to a neutral topic.

“That is a beautiful stone you wear about your neck, ma chère,” she said, gesturing at my crystal. “Where did you get it?”

“Oh, this?” I said. “Well, in fact—”

I was interrupted by a piercing scream. It stopped all conversation, and the brittle echoes of it chimed in the crystals of the chandelier overhead.

“Mon Dieu,” said the Comte St. Germain, into the silence. “What—”

The scream was repeated, and then repeated again. The noise spilled down the wide stairway and into the foyer.

The guests, rising from the dinner table like a covey of flushed quail, also spilled into the foyer, in time to see Mary Hawkins, clad in the shredded remnants of her shift, lurch into view at the top of the stair. There she stood, as though for maximum effect, mouth stretched wide, hands splayed across her bosom, where the ripped fabric all too clearly displayed the bruises left by grappling hands on her breasts and arms.

Her pupils shrunk to pinpoints in the light of the candelabra, her eyes seemed blank pools in which horror was reflected. She looked down, but plainly saw neither stairway nor crowd of gaping onlookers.

“No!” she shrieked. “No! Let me go! Please, I beg you! DON’T TOUCH ME!” Blinded by the drug as she was, apparently she sensed some movement behind her, for she turned and flailed wildly, hands clawing at the figure of Alex Randall, who was trying vainly to get hold of her, to calm her.

Unfortunately, from below, his attempts looked rather like those of a rejected seducer bent on further attack.

“Nom de Dieu,” burst out General d’Arbanville. “Racaille! Let her go at once!” The old soldier leaped for the stair with an agility belying his years, hand reaching instinctively for his sword—which, luckily, he had laid aside at the door.

I hastily thrust myself and my voluminous skirts in front of the Comte and the younger Duverney, who showed symptoms of following the General to the rescue, but I could do nothing about Mary’s uncle, Silas Hawkins. Eyes popping from his head, the wine merchant stood stunned for a moment, then lowered his head and charged like a bull, forcing his way through the onlookers.

I looked wildly about for Jamie, and found him on the edge of the crowd. I caught his eye and raised my brows in silent question; in any case, nothing I said could have been heard above the hubbub in the foyer, punctuated by Mary’s steam-whistle shrieks from above.

Jamie shrugged at me, then glanced around him. I saw his eyes light for a moment on a three-legged table near the wall, holding a tall vase of chrysanthemums. He glanced up, measuring the distance, closed his eyes briefly as though commending his soul to God, then moved with decision.

He sprang from the floor to the table, grasped the banister railing and vaulted over it, onto the stairway, a few feet in advance of the General. It was such an acrobatic feat that one or two ladies gasped, little cries of admiration intermingled with their exclamations of horror.

The exclamations grew louder as Jamie bounded up the remaining stairs, elbowed his way between Mary and Alex, and seizing the latter by the shoulder, took careful aim and hit him solidly on the point of the jaw.

Alex, who had been staring at his employer below in openmouthed amazement, folded gently at the knees and crumpled into a heap, eyes still wide, but gone suddenly blank and empty as Mary’s.





19

AN OATH IS SWORN

The clock on the mantelpiece had an annoyingly loud tick. It was the only sound in the house, other than the creakings of the boards, and the far-off thumps of servants working late in the kitchens below. I had had enough noise to last me some time, though, and wanted only silence to mend my frazzled nerves. I opened the clock’s case and removed the counterweight, and the tick ceased at once.

It had undeniably been the dinner party of the season. People not fortunate enough to have been present would be claiming for months that they had been, bolstering their case with bits of repeated gossip and distorted description.

I had finally got my hands on Mary long enough to force another strong dose of poppy juice down her throat. She collapsed in a pitiful heap of bloodstained clothes, leaving me free to turn my attention to the three-sided argument going on among Jamie, the General, and Mr. Hawkins. Alex had the good sense to stay unconscious, and I arranged his limp form neatly alongside Mary’s on the landing, like a couple of dead mackerel. They looked like Romeo and Juliet laid out in the public square as a reproach to their relatives, but the resemblance was lost on Mr. Hawkins.

“Ruined!” he kept shrieking. “You’ve ruined my niece! The Vicomte will never have her now! Filthy Scottish prick! You and your strumpet”—he swung on me—“whore! Procuress! Seducing innocent young girls into your vile clutches for the pleasure of bastardly scum! You—” Jamie, with a certain long-suffering grimness, put a hand on Mr. Hawkins’s shoulders, turned him about, and hit him, just under the fleshy jaw. Then he stood abstractedly rubbing his abused knuckles, watching as the stout wine merchant’s eyes rolled upward. Mr. Hawkins fell back against the paneling and slid gently down the wall into a sitting position.

Jamie turned a cold blue gaze on General d’Arbanville, who, observing the fate of the fallen, wisely put down the wine bottle he had been waving, and took a step back.

“Oh, go ahead,” urged a voice behind my shoulder. “Why stop now, Tuarach? Hit all three of them! Make a clean sweep of it!” The General and Jamie focused a glance of united dislike on the dapper form behind me.

“Go away, St. Germain,” Jamie said. “This is none of your affair.” He sounded weary, but raised his voice in order to be heard above the uproar below. The shoulder seams of his coat had been split, and folds of his linen shirt showed white through the rents.

St. Germain’s thin lips curved upward in a charming smile. Plainly the Comte was having the time of his life.

“Not my affair? How can such happenings not be the affair of every public-spirited man?” His amused gaze swept the landing, littered with bodies. “After all, if a guest of His Majesty has so perverted the meaning of hospitality as to maintain a brothel in his house, is that not the—no, you don’t!” he said, as Jamie took a step toward him. A blade gleamed suddenly in his hand, appearing as though by magic from the ruffled lace cascading over his wrist. I saw Jamie’s lip curl slightly, and he shifted his shoulders inside the ruins of his coat, settling himself for battle.

“Stop it at once!” said an imperious voice, and the two Duverneys, older and younger, pushed their way onto the already overcrowded landing. Duverney the younger turned and waved his arms commandingly at the herd of people on the stairs, who were sufficiently cowed by his scowl to move back a step.

“You,” said the elder Duverney, pointing at St. Germain. “If you have any feeling of public spirit, as you suggest, you will employ yourself usefully in removing some of those below.”

St. Germain locked eyes with the banker, but after a moment, the noble shrugged, and the dagger disappeared. St. Germain turned without comment and made his way downstairs, pushing those before him and loudly urging them to leave.

Despite his exhortations, and those of Gérard, the younger Duverney, behind him, the bulk of the dinner guests departed, brimming with scandal, only upon the arrival of the King’s Guard.

Mr. Hawkins, recovered by this time, at once lodged a charge of kidnapping and pandering against Jamie. For a moment, I really thought Jamie was going to hit him again; his muscles bunched under the azure velvet, but then relaxed as he thought better of it.

After a considerable amount of confused argument and explanation, Jamie agreed to go to the Guard’s headquarters in the Bastille, there—perhaps—to explain himself.

Alex Randall, white-faced, sweating, and clearly having no idea what was going on, was taken, too—the Duke had not waited to see the fate of his secretary, but had discreetly summoned his coach and left before the arrival of the Guard. Whatever his diplomatic mission, being involved in a scandal wouldn’t help it. Mary Hawkins, still insensible, was removed to her uncle’s house, wrapped in a blanket.

I had narrowly avoided being included in the roundup when Jamie flatly refused to allow it, insisting that I was in a delicate condition and could on no account be removed to a prison. At last, seeing that Jamie was more than willing to start hitting people again in order to prove his point, the Guard Captain relented, on condition that I agreed not to leave the city. While the thought of fleeing Paris had its attractions, I could hardly leave without Jamie, and gave my parole d’honneur with no reservations.

As the group milled confusedly about the foyer, lighting lanterns and gathering hats and cloaks, I saw Murtagh, bruised face set grimly, hovering on the outskirts of the mob. Plainly he intended to accompany Jamie, wherever he was going, and I felt a quick stab of relief. At least my husband wouldn’t be alone.

“Dinna worry yourself, Sassenach.” He hugged me briefly, whispering in my ear. “I’ll be back in no time. If anything goes wrong…” He hesitated, then said firmly, “It wilna be necessary, but if ye need a friend, go to Louise de La Tour.”

“I will.” I had no time for more than a glancing kiss, before the Guardsmen closed in about him.

The doors of the house swung open, and I saw Jamie glance behind him, catch sight of Murtagh, and open his mouth as though to say something. Murtagh, setting hands to his swordbelt, glared fiercely and pushed his way toward Jamie, nearly shoving the younger Duverney into the street. A short, silent battle of wills ensued, conducted entirely by means of ferocious glares, and then Jamie shrugged and tossed up his hands in resignation.

He stepped out into the street, ignoring the Guardsmen who pressed close on all sides, but stopped at sight of a small figure standing near the gate. He stooped and said something, then straightened, turned toward the house and gave me a smile, clearly visible in the lanternlight. Then, with a nod to the elder Monsieur Duverney, he stepped into the waiting coach and was borne away, Murtagh clinging to the rear of the carriage.

Fergus stood in the street, looking after the coach as long as it was in sight. Then, mounting the steps with a firm tread, he took me by the hand and led me inside.

“Come, milady,” he said. “Milord has said I am to care for you, ’til his return.”



* * *



Now Fergus slipped into the salon, the door closing silently behind him.

“I have made the rounds of the house, milady,” he whispered. “All buttoned up.” Despite the worry, I smiled at his tone, so obviously an imitation of Jamie’s. His idol had entrusted him with a responsibility, and he plainly took his duties seriously.

Having escorted me to the sitting room, he had gone to make the rounds of the house as Jamie did each night, checking the fastenings of the shutters, the bars on the outer doors—which I knew he could barely lift—and the banking of the fires. He had a smudge of soot from forehead to cheekbone on one side, but had rubbed his eye with a fist at one point, so his eye blinked out of a clear white ring, like a small raccoon.

“You should rest, milady,” he said. “Don’t worry, I’ll be here.”

I didn’t laugh, but smiled at him. “I couldn’t sleep, Fergus. I’ll just sit here for a bit. Perhaps you should go to bed, though; you’ve had an awfully long night of it.” I was reluctant to order him to bed, not wanting to impair his new dignity as temporary man of the house, but he was clearly exhausted. The small, bony shoulders drooped, and dark smudges showed beneath his eyes, darker even than the coating of soot.

He yawned unashamedly, but shook his head.

“No, milady. I will stay with you…if you do not mind?” he added hastily.

“I don’t mind.” In fact, he was too tired either to talk or to fidget in his usual manner, and his sleepy presence on the hassock was comforting, like that of a cat or a dog.

I sat gazing into the low-burning flames, trying to conjure up some semblance of serenity. I tried summoning images of still pools, forest glades, even the dark peace of the Abbey chapel, but nothing seemed to be working; over all the images of peace lay those of the evening: hard hands and gleaming teeth, coming out of a darkness filled with fear; Mary’s white and stricken face, a twin to Alex Randall’s; the flare of hatred in Mr. Hawkins’s piggy eyes; the sudden mistrust on the faces of the General and the Duverneys; St. Germain’s ill-concealed delight in scandal, shimmering with malice like the crystal drops of the chandeliers. And last of all, Jamie’s smile, reassurance and uncertainty mingled in the shifting light of jostling lanterns.

What if he didn’t come back? That was the thought I had been trying to suppress, ever since they took him away. If he was unable to clear himself of the charge? If the magistrate was one of those suspicious of foreigners—well, more suspicious than usual, I amended—he could easily be imprisoned indefinitely. And above and beyond the fear that this unlooked- for crisis could undo all the careful work of the last weeks, was the image of Jamie in a cell like the one where I had found him at Wentworth. In light of the present crisis, the news that Charles Stuart was investing in wine seemed trivial.

Left alone, I now had plenty of time to think, but my thoughts didn’t seem to be getting me anywhere. Who or what was “La Dame Blanche”? What sort of “white lady,” and why had the mention of that name made the attackers run off?

Thinking back over the subsequent events of the dinner party, I remembered the General’s remarks about the criminal gangs that roamed the streets of Paris, and how some of them included members of the nobility. That was consistent with the speech and the dress of the leader of the men who had attacked me and Mary, though his companions seemed a good deal rougher in aspect. I tried to think whether the man reminded me of anyone I knew, but the memory of him was indistinct, clouded by darkness and the receding haze of shock.

In general form, he had been not unlike the Comte St. Germain, though surely the voice was different. But then, if the Comte was involved, surely he would take pains to disguise his voice as well as his face? At the same time, I found it almost impossible to believe that the Comte could have taken part in such an attack, and then sat calmly across the table from me two hours later, sipping soup.

I ran my fingers through my hair in frustration. There was nothing that could be done before morning. If morning came, and Jamie didn’t, then I could begin to make the rounds of acquaintances and presumed friends, one of whom might have news or help to offer. But for the hours of the night, I was helpless; powerless to move as a dragonfly in amber.

My fingers jammed against one of the decorated hairpins, and I yanked at it impatiently. Tangled in my hair, it stuck.

“Ouch!”

“Here, milady. I’ll get it.”

I hadn’t heard him pass behind me, but I felt Fergus’s small, clever fingers in my hair, disentangling the tiny ornament. He laid it aside, then, hesitating, said, “The others, milady?”

“Oh, thank you, Fergus,” I said, grateful. “If you wouldn’t mind.”

His pickpocket’s touch was light and sure, and the thick locks began to fall around my face, released from their moorings. Little by little, my breathing slowed as my hair came down.

“You are worried, milady?” said the small, soft voice behind me.

“Yes,” I said, too tired to keep up a false bravado.

“Me, too,” he said simply.

The last of the hairpins clinked on the table, and I slumped in the chair, eyes closed. Then I felt a touch again, and realized that he was brushing my hair, gently combing out the tangles.

“You permit, milady?” he said, feeling it as I tensed in surprise. “The ladies used to say it helped them, if they were feeling worried or upset.”

I relaxed again under the soothing touch.

“I permit,” I said. “Thank you.” After a moment, I said, “What ladies, Fergus?”

There was a momentary hesitation, as of a spider disturbed in the building of a web, and then the delicate ordering of strands resumed.

“At the place where I used to sleep, milady. I couldn’t come out because of the customers, but Madame Elise would let me sleep in a closet under the stairs, if I was quiet. And after all the men had gone, near morning, then I would come out and sometimes the ladies would share their breakfast with me. I would help them with the fastening of their underthings—they said I had the best touch of anyone,” he added, with some pride, “and I would comb their hair, if they liked.”

“Mm.” The soft whisper of the brush through my hair was hypnotic. Without the clock on the mantel, there was no telling time, but the silence of the street outside meant it was very late indeed.

“How did you come to sleep at Madame Elise’s, Fergus?” I asked, barely suppressing a yawn.

“I was born there, milady,” he answered. The strokes of the brush grew slower, and his voice was growing drowsy. “I used to wonder which of the ladies was my mother, but I never found out.”



* * *



The opening of the sitting-room door woke me. Jamie stood there, red-eyed and white-faced with fatigue, but smiling in the first gray light of the day.

“I was afraid you weren’t coming back,” I said, a moment later, into the top of his head. His hair had the faint acrid scent of stale smoke and tallow, and his coat had completed its descent into total disreputability, but he was warm and solid, and I wasn’t disposed to be critical about the smell of the head I was cradling next my bosom.

“So was I,” he said, somewhat muffled, and I could feel his smile. The arms around my waist tightened and released, and he sat back, smoothing my hair out of my eyes.

“God, you are so beautiful,” he said softly. “Unkempt and unslept, wi’ the waves of your hair all about your face. Bonny love. Have ye sat here all night long, then?”

“I wasn’t the only one.” I motioned toward the floor, where Fergus lay curled up on the carpet, head on a cushion by my feet. He shifted slightly in his sleep, mouth open a bit, soft pink and full-lipped as the baby he so nearly was.

Jamie laid a big hand gently on his shoulder.

“Come on, then, laddie. Ye’ve done well to guard your mistress.” He scooped the boy up and laid him against his shoulder, mumbling and sleepy-eyed. “You’re a good man, Fergus, and ye’ve earned your rest. Come on to your bed.” I saw Fergus’s eyes flare wide in surprise, then half-close as he relaxed, nodding in Jamie’s arms.

I had opened the shutters and rekindled the fire by the time Jamie returned to the sitting room. He had shed his ruined coat, but still wore the rest of last night’s finery.

“Here.” I handed him a glass of wine, and he drank it standing, in three gulps, shuddered, then collapsed onto the small sofa, and held out the cup for more.

“Not a drop,” I said, “until you tell me what’s going on. You aren’t in prison, so I assume everything’s all right, but—”

“Not all right, Sassenach,” he interrupted, “but it could be worse.”

After a great deal of argument to and fro—a good deal of it Mr. Hawkins’s reiterations of his original impressions—the judge-magistrate who had been hustled out of his cozy bed to preside over this impromptu investigation had ruled grumpily that since Alex Randall was one of the accused, he could hardly be considered an impartial witness. Nor could I, as the wife and possible accomplice of the other accused. Murtagh had been, by his own testimony, insensible during the alleged attack, and the child Claudel was not legally capable of bearing witness.

Clearly, Monsieur le Juge had said, aiming a vicious glare at the Guard Captain, the only person capable of providing the truth of the matter was Mary Hawkins, who was by all accounts incapable of doing so at the present time. Therefore, all the accused should be locked up in the Bastille until such time as Mademoiselle Hawkins could be interviewed, and surely Monsieur le Capitaine should have been able to think that out for himself?

“Then why aren’t you locked up in the Bastille?” I asked.

“Monsieur Duverney the elder offered security for me,” Jamie replied, pulling me down onto the sofa beside him. “He sat rolled up in the corner like a hedgehog, all through the clishmaclaver. Then when the judge made his decision, he stood up and said that, having had the opportunity to play chess with me on several occasions, he didna feel that I was of a moral character so dissolute as to permit of my having conspired in the commission of an act so depraved—” He broke off and shrugged.

“Well, ye ken what he talks like, once he’s got going. The general idea was that a man who could take him at chess six times in seven wouldna lure innocent young lasses to his house to be defiled.”

“Very logical,” I said dryly. “I imagine what he really meant was, if they locked you up, you wouldn’t be able to play with him anymore.”

“I expect so,” he agreed. He stretched, yawned, and blinked at me, smiling.

“But I’m home, and right now, I don’t greatly care why. Come here to me, Sassenach.” Grasping my waist with both hands, he boosted me onto his lap, wrapped his arms around me, and sighed with pleasure.

“All I want to do,” he murmured in my ear, “is to shed these filthy clouts, and lie wi’ you on the hearthrug, go to sleep straight after, with my head on your shoulder, and stay that way ’til tomorrow.”

“Rather an inconvenience to the servants,” I remarked. “They’ll have to sweep round us.”

“Damn the servants,” he said comfortably. “What are doors for?”

“To be knocked on, evidently,” I said as a soft rap sounded outside.

Jamie paused a moment, nose buried in my hair, then sighed, and raised his head, sliding me off his lap onto the sofa.

“Thirty seconds,” he promised me in an undertone, then said, “Entrez!” in a louder voice.

The door swung open and Murtagh stepped into the room. I had rather overlooked Murtagh in the bustles and confusion of the night before, and now thought to myself that his appearance had not been improved by neglect.

He lacked as much sleep as Jamie; the one eye that was open was red-rimmed and bloodshot. The other had darkened to the color of a rotten banana, a slit of glittering black visible in the puffed flesh. The knot on his forehead had now achieved full prominence: a purple goose-egg just over one brow, with a nasty split through it.

The little clansman had said barely a word since his release from the bag the night before. Beyond a brief inquiry as to the whereabouts of his knives—retrieved by Fergus, who, questing in his usual rat-terrier fashion, had found both dirk and sgian dhu behind a pile of rubbish—he had preserved a grim silence through the exigencies of our getaway, guarding the rear as we hurried on foot through the dim Paris alleys. And once arrived at the house, a piercing glance from his operating eye had been sufficient to quell any injudicious questions from the kitchen servants.

I supposed he must have said something at the commissariat de police if only to bear witness to the good character of his employer—though I did wonder just how much credibility I would be inclined to place in Murtagh, were I a French judge. But now he was silent as the gargoyles on Notre Dame, one of which he strongly resembled.

However disreputable his appearance, though, Murtagh never seemed to lack for dignity, nor did he now. Back straight as a ramrod, he advanced across the carpet, and knelt formally before Jamie, who looked nonplussed at this behavior.

The wiry little man drew the dirk from his belt, without flourishes, but with a good deal of deliberateness, and held it out, haft first. The bony, seamed face was expressionless, but the one black eye rested unwaveringly on Jamie’s face.

“I’ve failed ye,” the little man said quietly. “And I’ll ask ye, as my chief, to take my life now, so I needna live longer wi’ the shame of it.”

Jamie drew himself slowly upright, and I felt him push away his own tiredness as he brought his gaze to bear on his retainer. He was quite still for a moment, hands resting on his knees. Then he reached out and placed one hand gently over the purple knot on Murtagh’s head.

“There’s nay shame to ha’ fallen in battle, mo caraidh,” he said softly. “The greatest of warriors may be overcome.”

But the little man shook his head stubbornly, black eye unwinking.

“Nay,” he said. “I didna fall in battle. Ye gave me your trust; your own lady and your child unborn to guard, and the wee English lassie as well. And I gave the task sae little heed that I had nay chance to strike a blow when the danger came. Truth to tell, I didna even see the hand that struck me down.” He did blink then, once.

“Treachery—” Jamie began.

“And now see what’s come of it,” Murtagh interrupted. I had never heard him speak so many words in a row in all the time I had known him. “Your good name smirched, your wife attacked, and the wee lass…” The thin line of his mouth clamped tight for a moment, and his stringy throat bobbed once as he swallowed. “For that alone, the bitter sorrow chokes me.”

“Aye.” Jamie spoke softly, nodding. “Aye, I do see, man. I feel it, too.” He touched his chest briefly, over his heart. The two men might have been alone together, their heads inches apart as Jamie bent toward the older man. Hands folded in my lap, I neither moved nor spoke; it was not my affair.

“But I’m no your chief, man,” Jamie went on, in a firmer tone. “Ye’ve sworn me no vow, and I hold nay power ower ye.”

“Aye, that ye do.” Murtagh’s voice was firm as well, and the haft of the dirk never trembled.

“But—”

“I swore ye my oath, Jamie Fraser, when ye were no more than a week old, and a bonny lad at your mother’s breast.”

I could feel the tiny start of astonishment as Jamie’s eyes opened wide.

“I knelt at Ellen’s feet, as I kneel now by yours,” the little clansman went on, narrow chin held high. “And I swore to her by the name o’ the threefold God, that I would follow ye always, to do your bidding, and guard your back, when ye became a man grown, and needing such service.” The harsh voice softened then, and the eyelid drooped over the one tired eye.

“Aye, lad. I do cherish ye as the son of my own loins. But I have betrayed your service.”

“That ye havena and never could.” Jamie’s hands rested on Murtagh’s shoulders, squeezing firmly. “Nay, I wilna have your life from ye, for I’ve need of ye still. But I will lay an oath on ye, and you’ll take it.”

There was a long moment’s hesitation, then the spiky black head nodded imperceptibly.

Jamie’s voice dropped still further, but it was not a whisper. Holding the middle three fingers of his right hand stiff, he laid them together over the hilt of the dirk, at the juncture of haft and tang.

“I charge ye, then, by your oath to me and your word to my mother—find the men. Hunt them, and when they be found, I do charge ye wi’ the vengeance due my wife’s honor—and the blood of Mary Hawkins’s innocence.”

He paused a moment, then took his hand from the knife. The clansman raised it, holding it upright by the blade. Acknowledging my presence for the first time, he bowed his head toward me and said, “As the laird has spoken, lady, so I will do. I will lay vengeance at your feet.”

I licked dry lips, not knowing what to say. No response seemed necessary, though; he brought the dirk to his lips and kissed it, then straightened with decision and thrust it home in its sheath.





20

LA DAME BLANCHE

The dawn had broadened into day by the time we had changed our clothes, and breakfast was on its way up the stairs from the kitchen.

“What I want to know,” I said, pouring out the chocolate, “is who in bloody hell is La Dame Blanche?”

“La Dame Blanche?” Magnus, leaning over my shoulder with a basket of hot bread, started so abruptly that one of the rolls fell out of the basket. I fielded it neatly and turned round to look up at the butler, who was looking rather shaken.

“Yes, that’s right,” I said. “You’ve heard the name, Magnus?”

“Why, yes, milady,” the old man answered. “La Dame Blanche is une sorcière.”

“A sorceress?” I said incredulously.

Magnus shrugged, tucking in the napkin around the rolls with excessive care, not looking at me.

“The White Lady,” he murmured. “She is called a wisewoman, a healer. And yet…she sees to the center of a man, and can turn his soul to ashes, if evil be found there.” He bobbed his head, turned, and shuffled off hastily in the direction of the kitchen. I saw his elbow bob, and realized that he was crossing himself as he went.

“Jesus H. Christ,” I said, turning back to Jamie. “Did you ever hear of La Dame Blanche?”

“Um? Oh? Oh, aye, I’ve…heard the stories.” Jamie’s eyes were hidden by long auburn lashes as he buried his nose in his cup of chocolate, but the blush on his cheeks was too deep to be put down to the heat of the rising steam.

I leaned back in my chair, crossed my arms, and regarded him narrowly.

“Oh, you have?” I said. “Would it surprise you to hear that the men who attacked Mary and me last night referred to me as La Dame Blanche?”

“They did?” He looked up quickly at that, startled.

I nodded. “They took one look at me in the light, shouted ‘La Dame Blanche,’ and then ran off as though they’d just noticed I had plague.”

Jamie took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The red color was fading from his face, leaving it pale as the white china plate before him.

“God in heaven,” he said, half to himself. “God…in…heaven!”

I leaned across the table and took the cup from his hand.

“Would you like to tell me just what you know about La Dame Blanche?” I suggested gently.

“Well…” He hesitated, but then looked at me sheepishly. “It’s only…I told Glengarry that you were La Dame Blanche.”

“You told Glengarry what?” I choked on the bite of roll I had taken. Jamie pounded me helpfully on the back.

“Well, it was Glengarry and Castellotti, was what it was,” he said defensively. “I mean, playing at cards and dice is one thing, but they wouldna leave it at that. And they thought it verra funny that I’d wish to be faithful to my wife. They said…well, they said a number of things, and I…I got rather tired of it.” He looked away, the tips of his ears burning.

“Mm,” I said, sipping tea. Having heard Castellotti’s tongue in action, I could imagine the sort of merciless teasing Jamie had taken.

He drained his own cup at one swallow, then occupied himself with carefully refilling it, keeping his eyes fixed on the pot to avoid meeting mine. “But I couldna just walk out and leave them, either, could I?” he demanded. “I had to stay with His Highness through the evening, and it would do no good to have him thinkin’ me unmanly.”

“So you told them I was La Dame Blanche,” I said, trying hard to keep any hint of laughter out of my voice. “And if you tried any funny business with ladies of the evening, I’d shrivel your private parts.”

“Er, well…”

“My God, they believed it?” I could feel my own face flushing as hotly as Jamie’s, with the effort to control myself.

“I was verra convincing about it,” he said, one corner of his mouth beginning to twitch. “Swore them all to secrecy on their mothers’ lives.”

“And how much did you all have to drink before this?”

“Oh, a fair bit. I waited ’til the fourth bottle.”

I gave up the struggle and burst out laughing.

“Oh, Jamie!” I said. “You darling!” I leaned over and kissed his furiously blushing cheek.

“Well,” he said awkwardly, slathering butter over a chunk of bread. “It was the best I could think of. And they did stop pushing trollops into my arms.”

“Good,” I said. I took the bread from him, added honey, and gave it back.

“I can hardly complain about it,” I observed. “Since in addition to guarding your virtue, it seems to have kept me from being raped.”

“Aye, thank God.” He set down the roll and grasped my hand. “Christ, if anything had happened to you, Sassenach, I’d—”

“Yes,” I interrupted, “but if the men who attacked us knew I was supposed to be La Dame Blanche…”

“Aye, Sassenach.” He nodded down at me. “It canna have been either Glengarry nor Castellotti, for they were with me at the house where Fergus came to fetch me when you were attacked. But it must have been someone they told of it.”

I couldn’t repress a slight shiver at the memory of the white mask and the mocking voice behind it.

With a sigh, he let go of my hand. “Which means, I suppose, that I’d best go and see Glengarry, and find out just how many people he’s been regaling wi’ tales of my married life.” He rubbed a hand through his hair in exasperation. “And then I must go call on His Highness, and find out what in hell he means by this arrangement with the Comte St. Germain.”

“I suppose so,” I said thoughtfully, “though knowing Glengarry, he’s probably told half of Paris by now. I have some calls to make this afternoon, myself.”

“Oh, aye? And who are you going to call upon, Sassenach?” he asked, eyeing me narrowly. I took a deep breath, bracing myself at the thought of the ordeal that lay ahead.

“First, on Master Raymond,” I said. “And then, on Mary Hawkins.”



* * *



“Lavender, perhaps?” Raymond stood on tiptoe to take a jar from the shelf. “Not for application, but the aroma is soothing; it calms the nerves.”

“Well, that depends on whose nerves are involved,” I said, recalling Jamie’s reaction to the scent of lavender. It was the scent Jack Randall had favored, and Jamie found exposure to the herb’s perfume anything but soothing. “In this case, though, it might help. Do no harm, at any rate.”

“Do no harm,” he quoted thoughtfully. “A very sound principle.”

“That’s the first bit of the Hippocratic Oath, you know,” I said, watching him as he bent to rummage in his drawers and bins. “The oath a physician swears. ‘First, do no harm.’ ”

“Ah? And have you sworn this oath yourself, madonna?” The bright, amphibious eyes blinked at me over the edge of the high counter.

I felt myself flushing before that unblinking gaze.

“Er, well, no. Not actually. I’m not a real physician. Not yet.” I couldn’t have said what made me add that last sentence.

“No? Yet you are seeking to mend that which a ‘real’ physician would never try, knowing that a lost maidenhead is not restorable.” His irony was evident.

“Oh, isn’t it?” I answered dryly. Fergus had, with encouragement, told me quite a bit about the “ladies” at Madame Elise’s house. “What’s that bit with the shoat’s bladder full of chicken blood, hm? Or do you claim that things like that fall into an apothecary’s realm of competence, but not a physician’s?”

He had no eyebrows to speak of, but the heavy shelf of his forehead lifted slightly when he was amused.

“And who is harmed by that, madonna? Surely not the seller. Not the buyer, either—he is likely to get more enjoyment for his money than the purchaser of the genuine article. Not even the maidenhead itself is harmed! Surely a very moral and Hippocratic endeavor, which any physician might be pleased to assist?”

I laughed. “And I expect you know more than a few who do?” I said. “I’ll take the matter up with the next Medical Review Board I see. In the meantime, short of manufactured miracles, what can we do in the present case?”

“Mm.” He laid out a gauze square on the counter and poured a handful of finely shredded dried leaves into the center of it. A sharp, pleasant tang rose from the small heap of grayish-green vegetation.

“This is Saracen’s consound,” he said, skilfully folding the gauze into a tidy square with the ends tucked in. “Good for soothing irritated skin, minor lacerations, and sores of the privy parts. Useful, I think?”

“Yes, indeed,” I said, a little grimly. “As an infusion or a decoction?”

“Infusion. Warm, probably, under the circumstances.” He turned to another shelf and abstracted one of the large white jars of painted porcelain. This one said CHELIDONIUM on the side.

“For the inducement of sleep,” he explained. His lipless mouth stretched back at the corners. “I think perhaps you had better avoid the use of the opium-poppy derivatives; this particular patient appears to have an unpredictable response to them.”

“Heard all about it already, have you?” I said resignedly. I could hardly have hoped he hadn’t. I was well aware that information was one of the more important commodities he sold; consequently the little shop was a nexus for gossip from dozens of sources, from street vendors to gentlemen of the Royal Bedchamber.

“From three separate sources,” Raymond replied. He glanced out the window, craning his neck to see the huge horloge that hung from the wall of the building near the corner. “And it’s barely two o’clock. I expect I will hear several more versions of the events at your dinner before nightfall.” The wide, gummy mouth opened, and a soft chuckle emerged. “I particularly liked the version in which your husband challenged General d’Arbanville to a duel in the street, while you more pragmatically offered Monsieur le Comte the enjoyment of the unconscious girl’s body, if he would refrain from calling the King’s Guard.”

“Mmphm,” I said, sounding self-consciously Scottish. “Have you any particular interest in knowing what actually did happen?”

The horned-poppy tonic, a pale amber in the afternoon sunlight, sparkled as he poured it into a small vial.

“The truth is always of use, madonna,” he answered, eyes fixed on the slender stream. “It has the value of rarity, you know.” He set the porcelain jar on the counter with a soft thump. “And thus is worth a fair price in exchange,” he added. The money for the medicines I had bought was lying on the counter, the coins gleaming in the sun. I narrowed my eyes at him, but he merely smiled blandly, as though he had never heard of froglegs in garlic butter.

The horloge outside struck two. I calculated the distance to the Hawkins’s house in Rue Malory. Barely half an hour, if I could get a carriage. Plenty of time.

“In that case,” I said, “shall we step into your private room for a bit?”



* * *



“And that’s it,” I said, taking a long sip of cherry brandy. The fumes in the workroom were nearly as strong as those rising from my glass, and I could feel my head expanding under their influence, rather like a large, cheerful red balloon. “They let Jamie go, but we’re still under suspicion. I can’t imagine that will last long, though, do you?”

Raymond shook his head. A draft stirred the crocodile overhead, and he rose to shut the window.

“No. A nuisance, nothing more. Monsieur Hawkins has money and friends, and of course he is distraught, but still. Plainly you and your husband were guilty of nothing more than excessive kindness, in trying to keep the girl’s misfortune a secret.” He took a deep swallow from his own glass.

“And that is your concern at present, of course. The girl?”

I nodded. “One of them. There’s nothing I can do about her reputation at this point. All I can do is try to help her to heal.”

A sardonic black eye peered over the rim of the metal goblet he was holding.

“Most physicians of my acquaintance would say, ‘All I can do is try to heal her.’ You will help her to heal? It’s interesting that you perceive the difference, madonna. I thought you would.”

I set down the cup, feeling that I had had enough. Heat was radiating from my cheeks, and I had the distinct feeling that the tip of my nose was pink.

“I told you I’m not a real physician.” I closed my eyes briefly, determined that I could still tell which way was up, and opened them again. “Besides, I’ve…er, dealt with a case of rape once before. There isn’t a great deal you can do, externally. Maybe there isn’t a great deal you can do, period,” I added. I changed my mind and picked up the cup again.

“Perhaps not,” Raymond agreed. “But if anyone is capable of reaching the patient’s center, surely it would be La Dame Blanche?”

I set the cup down, staring at him. My mouth was unbecomingly open, and I closed it. Thoughts, suspicions, and realizations were rioting through my head, colliding with each other in tangles of conjecture. Temporarily sidestepping the traffic jam, I seized on the other half of his remark, to give me time to think.

“The patient’s center?”

He reached into an open jar on the table, withdrew a pinch of white powder, and dropped it into his goblet. The deep amber of the brandy immediately turned the color of blood, and began to boil.

“Dragon’s blood,” he remarked, casually waving at the bubbling liquid. “It only works in a vessel lined with silver. It ruins the cup, of course, but it’s most effective, done under the proper circumstances.”

I made a small, gurgling noise.

“Oh, the patient’s center,” he said, as though recalling something we had talked about many days ago. “Yes, of course. All healing is done essentially by reaching the…what shall we call it? the soul? the essence? say, the center. By reaching the patient’s center, from which they can heal themselves. Surely you have seen it, madonna. The cases so ill or so wounded that plainly they will die—but they don’t. Or those who suffer from something so slight that surely they must recover, with the proper care. But they slip away, despite all you can do for them.”

“Everyone who minds the sick has seen things like that,” I replied cautiously.

“Yes,” he agreed. “And the pride of the physician being what it is, most often he blames himself for those that die, and congratulates himself upon the triumph of his skill for those that live. But La Dame Blanche sees the essence of a man, and turns it to healing—or to death. So an evildoer may well fear to look upon her face.” He picked up the cup, raised it in a toast to me, and drained the bubbling liquid. It left a faint pink stain on his lips.

“Thanks,” I said dryly. “I think. So it wasn’t just Glengarry’s gullibility?”

Raymond shrugged, looking pleased with himself. “The inspiration was your husband’s,” he said modestly. “And a really excellent idea, too. But of course, while your husband has the respect of men for his own natural gifts, he would not be considered an authority on supernatural manifestations.”

“You, of course, would.”

The massive shoulders lifted slightly under the gray velvet robe. There were several small holes in one sleeve, charred around the edges, as though a number of tiny coals had burned their way through. Carelessness while conjuring, I supposed.

“You have been seen in my shop,” he pointed out. “Your background is a mystery. And as your husband noted, my own reputation is somewhat suspect. I do move in…circles, shall we say?”—the lipless mouth broadened in a grin—“where a speculation as to your true identity may be taken with undue seriousness. And you know how people talk,” he added with an air of prim disapproval that made me burst out laughing.

He set down the cup and leaned forward.

“You said that Mademoiselle Hawkins’s health was one concern, madonna. Have you others?”

“I have.” I took a small sip of brandy. “I’d guess that you hear a great deal about what goes on in Paris, don’t you?”

He smiled, black eyes sharp and genial. “Oh, yes, madonna. What is it that you want to know?”

“Have you heard anything about Charles Stuart? Do you know who he is, for that matter?”

That surprised him; the shelf of his forehead lifted briefly. Then he picked up a small glass bottle from the table in front of him, rolling it meditatively between his palms.

“Yes, madonna,” he said. “His father is—or should be—King of Scotland, is he not?”

“Well, that depends on your perspective,” I said, stifling a small belch. “He’s either the King of Scotland in exile, or the Pretender to the throne, but that’s of no great concern to me. What I want to know is…is Charles Stuart doing anything that would make one think he might be planning an armed invasion of Scotland or England?”

He laughed out loud.

“Goodness, madonna! You are a most uncommon woman. Have you any idea how rare such directness is?”

“Yes,” I admitted, “but there isn’t really any help for it. I’m not good at beating round bushes.” I reached out and took the bottle from him. “Have you heard anything?”

He glanced instinctively toward the half-door, but the shopgirl was occupied in mixing perfume for a voluble customer.

“Something small, madonna, only a casual mention in a letter from a friend—but the answer is most definitely yes.”

I could see him hesitating in how much to tell me. I kept my eyes on the bottle in my hand, to give him time to make up his mind. The contents rolled with a pleasant sensation as the little vial twisted in my palm. It was oddly heavy for its size, and had a strange, dense, fluid feel to it, as though it was filled with liquid metal.

“It’s quicksilver,” Master Raymond said, answering my unspoken question. Apparently whatever mind-reading he had been doing had decided him in my favor, for he took back the bottle, poured it out in a shimmering silver puddle on the table before us, and sat back to tell me what he knew.

“One of His Highness’s agents has made inquiries in Holland,” he said. “A man named O’Brien—and a man more inept at his job I hope never to employ,” he added. “A secret agent who drinks to excess?”

“Everyone around Charles Stuart drinks to excess,” I said. “What was O’Brien doing?”

“He wished to open negotiations for a shipment of broadswords. Two thousand broadswords, to be purchased in Spain, and sent through Holland, so as to conceal their place of origin.”

“Why would he do that?” I asked. I wasn’t sure whether I was naturally stupid, or merely fuddled with cherry brandy, but it seemed a pointless undertaking, even for Charles Stuart.

Raymond shrugged, prodding the puddle of quicksilver with a blunt forefinger.

“One can guess, madonna. The Spanish king is a cousin of the Scottish king, is he not? As well as of our good King Louis?”

“Yes, but…”

“Might it not be that he is willing to help the cause of the Stuarts, but not openly?”

The brandy haze was receding from my brain.

“It might.”

Raymond tapped his finger sharply downward, making the puddle of quicksilver shiver into several small round globules, that shimmied wildly over the tabletop.

“One hears,” he said mildly, eyes still on the droplets of mercury, “that King Louis entertains an English duke at Versailles. One hears also that the Duke is there to seek some arrangements of trade. But then it is rare to hear everything, madonna.”

I stared at the rippling drops of mercury, fitting all this together. Jamie, too, had heard the rumor that Sandringham’s embassage concerned more than trade rights. What if the Duke’s visit really concerned the possibilities of an agreement between France and England—perhaps with regard to the future of Brussels? And if Louis was negotiating secretly with England for support for his invasion of Brussels—then what might Philip of Spain be inclined to do, if approached by an impecunious cousin with the power to distract the English most thoroughly from any attention to foreign ventures?

“Three Bourbon cousins,” Raymond murmured to himself. He shepherded one of the drops toward another; as the droplets touched, they merged at once, a single shining drop springing into rounded life as though by magic. The prodding finger urged another droplet inward, and the single drop grew larger. “One blood. But one interest?”

The finger struck down again, and glittering fragments ran over the tabletop in every direction.

“I think not, madonna,” Raymond said calmly.

“I see,” I said, with a deep breath. “And what do you think about Charles Stuart’s new partnership with the Comte St. Germain?”

The wide amphibian smile grew broader.

“I have heard that His Highness goes often to the docks these days—to talk with his new partner, of course. And he looks at the ships at anchor—so fine and quick, so…expensive. The land of Scotland does lie across the water, does it not?”

“It does indeed,” I said. A ray of light hit the quicksilver with a flash, attracting my attention to the lowering sun. I would have to go.

“Thank you,” I said. “Will you send word? If you hear anything more?”

He inclined his massive head graciously, the swinging hair the color of mercury in the sun, then jerked it up abruptly.

“Ah! Do not touch the quicksilver, madonna!” he warned as I reached toward a droplet that had rolled toward my edge of the table. “It bonds at once with any metal it touches.” He reached across and tenderly scooped the tiny pellet toward him. “You do not wish to spoil your lovely rings.”

“Right,” I said. “Well, I’ll admit you’ve been helpful so far. No one’s tried to poison me lately. I don’t suppose you and Jamie between you are likely to get me burnt for witchcraft in the Place de la Bastille, do you?” I spoke lightly, but my memories of the thieves’ hole and the trial at Cranesmuir were still fresh.

“Certainly not,” he said, with dignity. “No one’s been burnt for witchcraft in Paris in…oh, twenty years, at least. You’re perfectly safe. As long as you don’t kill anyone,” he added.

“I’ll do my best,” I said, and rose to go.



* * *



Fergus found me a carriage with no difficulty, and I spent the short trip to the Hawkins house musing over recent developments. I supposed that Raymond had in fact done me a service by expanding on Jamie’s original wild story to his more superstitious clients, though the thought of having my name bandied about in séances or Black Masses left me with some misgivings.

It also occurred to me that, rushed for time, and beset with speculations of kings and swords and ships, I had not had time to ask Master Raymond where—if anywhere—the Comte St. Germain entered into his own realm of influence.

Public opinion seemed to place the Comte firmly in the center of the mysterious “circles” to which Raymond referred. But as a participant—or a rival? And did the ripples of these circles spread as far as the King’s chamber? Louis was rumored to take interest in astrology; could there be some connection, through the dark channels of Cabbalism and sorcery, among Louis, the Comte, and Charles Stuart?

I shook my head impatiently, to clear it of brandy fumes and pointless questions. The only thing that could be said for certain was that he had entered into a dangerous partnership with Charles Stuart, and that was concern enough for the present.

The Hawkins residence on the Rue Malory was a solid, respectable-looking house of three stories, but its internal disruption was apparent even to the casual observer. The day was warm, but all the shutters were still sealed tight against any intrusion of prying eyes. The steps had not been scrubbed this morning, and the marks of dirty feet smeared the white stone. No sign of cook or housemaid out front to bargain for fresh meat and gossip with the barrowmen. It was a house battened down against the coming of disaster.

Feeling not a little like a harbinger of doom myself, despite my relatively cheerful yellow gown, I sent Fergus up the steps to knock for me. There was some give-and-take between Fergus and whoever opened the door, but one of Fergus’s better character traits was an inability to take “no” for an answer, and shortly I found myself face-to-face with a woman who appeared to be the lady of the house, and therefore Mrs. Hawkins, Mary’s aunt.

I was forced to draw my own conclusions, as the woman seemed much too distraught to assist me by offering any sort of tangible information, such as her name.

“But we can’t see anybody!” she kept exclaiming, glancing furtively over her shoulder, as though expecting the bulky form of Mr. Hawkins suddenly to materialize accusingly behind her. “We’re…we have…that is…”

“I don’t want to see you,” I said firmly. “I want to see your niece, Mary.”

The name seemed to throw her into fresh paroxysms of alarm.

“She…but…Mary? No! She’s…she’s not well!”

“I don’t suppose she is,” I said patiently. I lifted my basket into view. “I’ve brought some medicines for her.”

“Oh! But…but…she…you…aren’t you…?”

“Havers, woman,” said Fergus in his best Scots accent. He viewed this spectacle of derangement disapprovingly. “The maid says the young mistress is upstairs in her room.”

“Just so,” I said. “Lead on, Fergus.” Waiting for no further encouragement, he ducked under the outstretched forearm that barred our way, and made off into the gloomy depths of the house. Mrs. Hawkins turned after him with an incoherent cry, allowing me to slip past her.

There was a maid on duty outside Mary’s door, a stout party in a striped apron, but she offered no resistance to my statement that I intended to go in. She shook her head mournfully. “I can do nothing with her, Madame. Perhaps you will have better luck.”

This didn’t sound at all promising, but there was little choice. At least I wasn’t likely to do further harm. I straightened my gown and pushed open the door.

It was like walking into a cave. The windows were covered with heavy brown velvet draperies, drawn tight against the daylight, and what chinks of light seeped through were immediately quenched in the hovering layer of smoke from the hearth.

I took a deep breath and let it out again at once, coughing. There was no stir from the figure on the bed; a pathetically small, hunched shape under a goose-feather duvet. Surely the drug had worn off by now, and she couldn’t be asleep, after all the racket there had been in the hallway. Probably playing possum, in case it was her aunt come back for further blithering harangues. I would have done the same, in her place.

I turned and shut the door firmly in Mrs. Hawkins’s wretched face, then walked over to the bed.

“It’s me,” I said. “Why don’t you come out, before you suffocate in there?”

There was a sudden upheaval of bedclothes, and Mary shot out of the quilts like a dolphin rising from the sea waves, and clutched me round the neck.

“Claire! Oh, Claire! Thank God! I thought I’d n-never see you again! Uncle said you were in prison! He s-said you—”

“Let go!” I managed to detach her grip, and force her back enough to get a look at her. She was red-faced, sweaty, and disheveled from hiding beneath the covers, but otherwise looked fine. Her brown eyes were wide and bright, with no sign of opium intoxication, and while she looked excited and alarmed, apparently a night’s rest, coupled with the resilience of youth, had taken care of most of her physical injuries. The others were what worried me.

“No, I’m not in prison,” I said, trying to stem her eager questions. “Obviously not, though it isn’t for any lack of trying on your uncle’s part.”

“B-but I told him—” she began, then stammered and let her eyes fall. “—at least I t-t-tried to tell him, but he—but I…”

“Don’t worry about it,” I assured her. “He’s so upset he wouldn’t listen to anything you said, no matter how you said it. It doesn’t matter, anyway. The important thing is you. How do you feel?” I pushed the heavy dark hair back from her forehead and looked her over searchingly.

“All right,” she answered, and gulped. “I…bled a little bit, but it stopped.” The blood rose still higher in her fair cheeks, but she didn’t drop her eyes. “I…it’s…sore. D-does that go away?”

“Yes, it does,” I said gently. “I brought some herbs for you. They’re to be brewed in hot water, and as the infusion cools, you can apply it with a cloth, or sit in it in a tub, if one’s handy. It will help.” I got the bundles of herbs from my reticule and laid them on her side table.

She nodded, biting her lip. Plainly there was something more she wanted to say, her native shyness battling her need for confidence.

“What is it?” I asked, as matter-of-factly as I could.

“Am I going to have a baby?” she blurted out, looking up fearfully. “You said…”

“No,” I said, as firmly as I could. “You aren’t. He wasn’t able to…finish.” In the folds of my skirt, I crossed both pairs of fingers, hoping fervently that I was right. The chances were very small indeed, but such freaks had been known to happen. Still, there was no point in alarming her further over the faint possibility. The thought made me faintly ill. Could such an accident be the possible answer to the riddle of Frank’s existence? I put the notion aside; a month’s wait would prove or dispel it.

“It’s hot as a bloody oven in here,” I said, loosening the ties at my throat in order to breathe. “And smoky as hell’s vestibule, as my old uncle used to say.” Unsure what on earth to say to her next, I rose and went round the room throwing back drapes and opening windows.

“Aunt Helen said I mustn’t let anyone see me,” Mary said, kneeling up in bed as she watched me. “She says I’m d-disgraced, and people will point at me in the street if I go out.”

“They might, the ghouls.” I finished my airing and came back to her. “That doesn’t mean you need bury yourself alive and suffocate in the process.” I sat down beside her, and leaned back in my chair, feeling the cool fresh air blow through my hair as it swept the smoke from the room.

She was silent for a long time, toying with the bundles of herbs on the table. Finally she looked up at me, smiling bravely, though her lower lip trembled slightly.

“At least I won’t have to m-marry the Vicomte. Uncle says he’ll n-never have me now.”

“No, I don’t suppose so.”

She nodded, looking down at the gauze wrapped square on her knee. Her fingers fiddled restlessly with the string, so that one end came loose and a few crumbs of goldenrod fell out onto the coverlet.

“I…used to th-think about it; what you told me, about how a m-man…” She stopped and swallowed, and I saw a single tear fall onto the gauze. “I didn’t think I could stand to let the Vicomte do that to me. N-now it’s been done…and n-nobody can undo it and I’ll never have to d-do it again…and…and…oh, Claire, Alex will never speak to me again! I’ll never see him again, never!”

She collapsed into my arms, weeping hysterically and scattering herbs. I clutched her against my shoulder and patted her, making small shushing noises, though I shed a few tears myself that fell unnoticed into the dark shininess of her hair.

“You’ll see him again,” I whispered. “Of course you will. It won’t make a difference to him. He’s a good man.”

But I knew it would. I had seen the anguish on Alex Randall’s face the night before, and at the time thought it only the same helpless pity for suffering that I saw in Jamie and Murtagh. But since I had learned of Alex Randall’s professed love for Mary, I had realized how much deeper his own pain must go—and his fear.

He seemed a good man. But he was also a poor, younger son, in ill health and with little chance of advancement; what position he did have was entirely dependent on the Duke of Sandringham’s goodwill. And I had little hope that the Duke would look kindly on the idea of his secretary’s union with a disgraced and ruined girl, who had now neither social connections nor dowry to bless herself with.

And if Alex found somewhere the courage to wed her in spite of everything—what chance would they have, penniless, cast out of polite society, and with the hideous fact of the rape overshadowing their knowledge of each other?

There was nothing I could do but hold her, and weep with her for what was lost.



* * *



It was twilight by the time I left, with the first stars coming out in faint speckles over the chimneypots. In my pocket was a letter written by Mary, properly witnessed, containing her statement of the events of the night before. Once this was delivered to the proper authorities, we should at least have no further trouble from the law. Just as well; there was plenty of trouble pending from other quarters.

Mindful, this time, of danger, I made no objection to Mrs. Hawkins’s unwilling offer to have me and Fergus transported home in the family carriage.

I tossed my hat on the card table in the vestibule, observing the large number of notes and small nosegays that overflowed the salver there. Apparently we weren’t yet pariahs, though the news of the scandal must long since have spread through the social strata of Paris.

I waved away the anxious inquiries of the servants, and drifted upward toward the bedchamber, shedding my outer garments carelessly along the way. I felt too drained to care about anything.

But when I pushed open the bedchamber door and saw Jamie, lying back in a chair by the fire, my apathy was at once supplanted by a surge of tenderness. His eyes were closed and his hair sticking up in all directions, sure sign of mental turmoil at some point. But he opened his eyes at the slight noise of my entrance and smiled at me, eyes clear and blue in the warm light of the candelabrum.

“It’s all right” was all he whispered to me as he gathered me into his arms. “You’re home.” Then we were silent, as we undressed each other and went finally to earth, each finding delayed and wordless sanctuary in the other’s embrace.





21

UNTIMELY RESURRECTION

My mind was still on bankers when our coach pulled up to the Duke’s rented residence on the Rue St. Anne. It was a large, handsome house, with a long, curving drive lined with poplar trees, and extensive grounds. A wealthy man, the Duke.

“Do you suppose it was the loan Charles got from Manzetti that he’s investing with St. Germain?” I asked.

“It must be,” Jamie replied. He pulled on the pigskin gloves suitable for a formal call, grimacing slightly as he smoothed the tight leather over the stiff fourth finger of his right hand. “The money his father thinks he’s spending to maintain himself in Paris.”

“So Charles really is trying to raise money for an army,” I said, feeling a reluctant admiration for Charles Stuart. The coach came to a halt, and the footman hopped down to open the door.

“Well, he’s trying to raise money, at least,” Jamie corrected, handing me out of the coach. “For all I ken, he wants it to elope with Louise de La Tour and his bastard.”

I shook my head. “I don’t think so. Not from what Master Raymond told me yesterday. Besides, Louise says she hasn’t seen him since she and Jules…well…”

Jamie snorted briefly. “At least she’s got some sense of honor, then.”

“I don’t know whether that’s it,” I observed, taking his arm as we climbed the steps to the door. “She said Charles was so furious at her for sleeping with her husband that he stormed off, and she hasn’t seen him since. He writes her passionate letters from time to time, swearing to come and take her and the child away with him as soon as he comes into his rightful place in the world, but she won’t let him come to see her; she’s too afraid of Jules finding out the truth.”

Jamie made a disapproving Scottish noise.

“God, is there any man safe from cuckoldry?”

I touched his arm lightly. “Likely some more than others.”

“Ye think so?” he said, but smiled down at me.

The door swung open to reveal a short, tubby butler, with a bald head, a spotless uniform, and immense dignity.

“Milord,” he said, bowing to Jamie, “and milady. You are expected. Please come in.”



* * *



The Duke was charm itself as he received us in the main drawing room.

“Nonsense, nonsense,” he said, dismissing Jamie’s apologies for the contretemps of the dinner party. “Damned excitable fellows, the French. Make an ungodly fuss over everything. Now, do let us look over all these fascinating propositions, shall we? And perhaps your good lady would like to…um, amuse herself with a perusal of…eh?” He waved an arm vaguely in the direction of the wall, leaving it open to question whether I might amuse myself by looking at the several large paintings, the well-furnished bookshelf, or the several glass cases in which the Duke’s collection of snuffboxes resided.

“Thank you,” I murmured, with a charming smile, and wandered over to the wall, pretending to be absorbed in a large Boucher, featuring the backview of an amply endowed nude woman seated on a rock in the wilderness. If this was a reflection of current tastes in female anatomy, it was no wonder that Jamie appeared to think so highly of my bottom.

“Ha,” I said. “What price foundation garments, eh?”

“Eh?” Jamie and the Duke, startled, looked up from the portfolio of investment papers that formed the ostensible reason for our visit.

“Never mind me,” I said, waving a gracious hand. “Just enjoying the art.”

“I’m deeply gratified, ma’am,” said the Duke politely, and at once reimmersed himself in the papers, as Jamie began the tedious and painstaking real business of the visit—the inconspicuous extraction of such information as the Duke might be willing to part with regarding his own sympathies—or otherwise—toward the Stuart cause.

I had my own agenda for this visit, as well. As the men became more immersed in their discussions, I edged my way toward the door, pretending to look through the well-furnished shelves. As soon as the coast looked clear, I meant to slip out into the hallway and try to find Alex Randall. I had done what I could to repair the damage done to Mary Hawkins; anything further would have to come from him. Under the rules of social etiquette, he couldn’t call upon her at her uncle’s house, nor could she contact him. But I could easily make an opportunity for them to meet at the Rue Tremoulins.

The conversation behind me had dropped to a confidential murmur. I stuck my head into the hall, but didn’t see a footman immediately. Still, one couldn’t be far away; a house of this size must have a staff numbering in the dozens. As large as it was, I would need directions in order to locate Alexander Randall. I chose a direction at random and walked along the hallway, looking for a servant of whom to inquire.

I saw a flicker of motion at the end of the hall, and called out. Whoever it was made no answer, but I heard a surreptitious scuttle of feet on polished boards.

That seemed curious behavior for a servant. I stopped at the end of the hall and looked around. Another hall extended at right angles to the one I stood in, lined on one side with doors, on the other with long windows that opened on the drive and the garden. Most of the doors were closed, but the one closest to me was slightly ajar.

Moving quietly, I stepped up to it and put my ear next to the paneling. Hearing nothing, I took hold of the handle and boldly pushed the door open.

“What in the name of God are you doing here?” I exclaimed in astonishment.

“Oh, you scared me! Gracious, I thought I was g-going to die.” Mary Hawkins pressed both hands against her bodice. Her face was blanched white, and her eyes dark and wide with terror.

“You’re not,” I said. “Unless your uncle finds out you’re here; then he’ll probably kill you. Or does he know?”

She shook her head. “No. I didn’t t-tell anyone. I took a public fiacre.”

“Why, for God’s sake?”

She glanced around like a frightened rabbit looking for a bolthole, but failing to find one, instead drew herself up and tightened her jaw.

“I had to find Alex. I had to t-talk to him. To see if he—if he…” Her hands were wringing together, and I could see the effort it cost her to get the words out.

“Never mind,” I said, resigned. “I understand. Your uncle won’t, though, and neither will the Duke. His Grace doesn’t know you’re here, either?”

She shook her head, mute.

“All right,” I said, thinking. “Well, the first thing we must do is—”

“Madame? May I assist you?”

Mary started like a hare, and I felt my own heart leap uncomfortably into the back of my throat. Bloody footmen; never in the right place at the right time.

There was nothing to do now but brazen it out. I turned to the footman, who was standing stiff as a ramrod in the doorway, looking dignified and suspicious.

“Yes,” I said, with as much hauteur as I could summon on short notice. “Will you please tell Mr. Alexander Randall that he has visitors.”

“I regret that I cannot do so, Madame,” said the footman, with remote formality.

“And why not?” I demanded.

“Because, Madame,” he answered, “Mr. Alexander Randall is no longer in His Grace’s employ. He was dismissed.” The footman glanced at Mary, then lowered his nose an inch and unbent sufficiently to say, “I understand that Monsieur Randall has taken ship back to England.”

“No! He can’t be gone, he can’t!”

Mary darted toward the door, and nearly cannoned into Jamie as he entered. She drew up short with a startled gasp, and he stared at her in astonishment.

“What—” he began, then saw me behind her. “Oh, there ye are, Sassenach. I made an excuse to come and find ye—His Grace just told me that Alex Randall—”

“I know,” I interrupted. “He’s gone.”

“No!” Mary moaned. “No!” She darted toward the door, and was through it before either of us could stop her, her heels clattering on the polished parquet.

“Bloody fool!” I kicked off my own shoes, picked up my skirts, and whizzed after her. Stocking-footed, I was much faster than she in her high-heeled slippers. Maybe I could catch her before she ran into someone else and was caught, with the concomitant scandal that would involve.

I followed the whisk of her disappearing skirts round the bend of the hall. The floor here was carpeted; if I didn’t hurry, I might lose her at an intersection, unable to hear from the footsteps which way she had gone. I put my head down, charged round the last corner, and crashed head-on into a man coming the other way.

He let out a startled “Whoof!” as I struck him amidships, and clutched me by the arms to keep upright as we swayed and staggered together.

“I’m sorry,” I began, breathlessly. “I thought you were—oh, Jesus H. fucking Christ!”

My initial impression—that I had encountered Alexander Randall—had lasted no more than the split second necessary to see the eyes above that finely chiseled mouth. The mouth was much like Alex’s, bar the deep lines around it. But those cold eyes could belong to only one man.

The shock was so great that for a moment everything seemed paradoxically normal; I had an impulse to apologize, dust him off, and continue my pursuit, leaving him forgotten in the corridor, as just a chance encounter. My adrenal glands hastened to remedy this impression, dumping such a dose of adrenaline into my bloodstream that my heart contracted like a squeezed fist.

He was recovering his own breath by now, along with his momentarily shattered self-possession.

“I am inclined to concur with your sentiments, Madam, if not precisely with their manner of expression.” Still clutching me by the elbows, he held me slightly away from him, squinting to see my face in the shadowed hall. I saw the shock of recognition blanch his features as my face came into the light. “Bloody hell, it’s you!” he exclaimed.

“I thought you were dead!” I wrenched at my arms, trying to free them from the iron-tight grip of Jonathan Randall.

He let go of one arm, in order to rub his middle, surveying me coldly. The thin, fine-cut features were bronzed and healthy; he gave no outward sign of having been trampled five months before by thirty quarter-ton beasts. Not so much as a hoofprint on his forehead.

“Once more, Madam, I find myself sharing your sentiments. I was under a very similar misapprehension concerning your state of health. Possibly you are a witch, after all—what did you do, turn yourself into a wolf?” The wary dislike stamped on his face was mingled with a touch of superstitious awe. After all, when you turn someone out into the midst of a pack of wolves on a cold winter evening, you rather expect them to cooperate by being eaten forthwith. The sweatiness of my own palms and the drumlike beating of my heart were testimony to the unsettling effect of having someone you thought safely dead suddenly rise up in front of you. I supposed he must be feeling a trifle queasy as well.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” The urge to annoy him—to disturb that icy calm—was the first emotion to surface from the seething mass of feelings that had erupted within me at sight of his face. His fingers tightened on my arm, and his lips thinned. I could see his mind working, starting to tick off possibilities.

“If it wasn’t yours, whose body did Sir Fletcher’s men take out of the dungeon?” I demanded, trying to take advantage of any break in his composure. An eyewitness had described to me the removal of “a rag doll, rolled in blood”—presumably Randall—from the scene of the cattle stampede that had masked Jamie’s escape from that same dungeon.

Randall smiled, without much humor. If he was as rattled as I, he didn’t show it. His breathing was a trifle faster than usual, and the lines that edged mouth and eyes cut deeper than I remembered, but he wasn’t gasping like a landed fish. I was. I took in as much oxygen as my lungs would allow and tried to breathe through my nose.

“It was my orderly, Marley. Though if you aren’t answering my questions, why should I answer yours?” He looked me up and down, carefully evaluating my appearance: silk gown, hair ornaments, jewelry, and stockinged feet.

“Married a Frenchman, did you?” he asked. “I always did think you were a French spy. I trust your new husband keeps you in better order than…”

The words died in his throat as he looked up to see the source of the footsteps that had just turned into the hall behind me. If I had wanted to discompose him, that urge was now fully gratified. No Hamlet on the stage had ever reacted to the appearance of a ghost with more convincing terror than I saw stamped on that aristocratic face. The hand still holding my arm clawed deep into my flesh, and I felt the jolt of shock that surged through him like an electric charge.

I knew what he saw behind me, and was afraid to turn. There was a deep silence in the hall; even the wash of the cypress branches against the windows seemed part of the quiet, like the ear-roaring silence that waves make, at the bottom of the sea. Very slowly, I disengaged my arm from his grasp, and his hand fell nerveless to his side. There was no sound behind me, though I could hear voices start up from the room at the end of the hall. I prayed that the door would stay closed, and tried desperately to remember how Jamie was armed.

My mind went blank, then blazed with the reassuring vision of his small-sword, hung by its belt from a hook on the wardrobe, sun glowing on the enameled hilt. But he still had his dirk, of course, and the small knife he habitually carried in his stocking. Come to that, I was entirely sure that in a pinch, he would consider his bare hands perfectly adequate. And if you cared to describe my present situation, standing between the two of them, as a pinch…I swallowed once and slowly turned around.

He was standing quite still, no more than a yard behind me. One of the tall, paned casements opened near him, and the dark shadows of the cypress needles rippled over him like water over a sunken rock. He showed no more expression than a rock, either. Whatever lived behind those eyes was hidden; they were wide and blank as windowpanes, as though the soul they mirrored were long since flown.

He didn’t speak, but after a moment, reached out one hand to me. It floated open in the air, and I finally summoned the presence of mind to take it. It was cool and hard, and I clung to it like the wood of a raft.

He drew me in, close to his side, took my arm and turned me, all without speaking or changing expression. As we reached the turning of the hall, Randall spoke behind us.

“Jamie,” he said. The voice was hoarse with shock, and held a note halfway between disbelief and pleading.

Jamie stopped then, and turned to look at him. Randall’s face was a ghastly white, with a small red patch livid on each cheekbone. He had taken off his wig, clenched in his hands, and sweat pasted the fine dark hair to his temples.

“No.” The voice that spoke above me was soft, almost expressionless. Looking up, I could see that the face still matched it, but a quick, hot pulse beat in his neck, and the small, triangular scar above his collar flushed red with heat.

“I am called Lord Broch Tuarach for formality’s sake,” the soft Scottish voice above me said. “And beyond the requirements of formality, you will never speak to me again—until you beg for your life at the point of my sword. Then, you may use my name, for it will be the last word you ever speak.”

With sudden violence, he swept around, and his flaring plaid swung wide, blocking my view of Randall as we turned the corner of the hall.



* * *



The carriage was still waiting by the gate. Afraid to look at Jamie, I climbed in and absorbed myself in tucking the folds of yellow silk around my legs. The click of the carriage door shutting made me look up abruptly, but before I could reach the handle, the carriage started with a jerk that threw me back in my seat.

Struggling and swearing, I fought my way to my knees and peered out of the back window. He was gone. Nothing moved on the drive but the swaying shadows of cypress and poplar.

I hammered frenziedly on the roof of the carriage, but the coachman merely shouted to the horses and urged them on faster. There was little traffic at this hour, and we hurtled through the narrow streets as though the devil were after us.

When we drew up in the Rue Tremoulins, I sprang out of the coach, at once panicked and furious.

“Why didn’t you stop?” I demanded of the coachman. He shrugged, safely impervious atop his perch.

“The master ordered me to drive you home without delay, Madame.” He picked up the whip and touched it lightly to the off-horse’s rump.

“Wait!” I shouted. “I want to go back!” But he only hunched himself turtle-like into his shoulders, pretending not to hear me, as the coach rattled off.

Fuming with impotence, I turned toward the door, where the small figure of Fergus appeared, thin brows raised questioningly at my appearance.

“Where’s Murtagh?” I snapped. The little clansman was the only person I could think of who might be able first, to find Jamie, and secondly, to stop him.

“I don’t know, Madame. Maybe down there.” The boy nodded in the direction of the Rue Gamboge, where there were several taverns, ranging in respectability from those where a traveling lady might dine with her husband, to the dens near the river, which even an armed man might hesitate to enter alone.

I laid a hand on Fergus’s shoulder, as much for support as in exhortation.

“Run and find him, Fergus. Quickly as you can!”

Alarmed by my tone, he leaped off the step and was gone, before I could add “Be careful!” Still, he knew the lower levels of Paris life much better than I did; no one was better adapted to eeling through a tavern crowd than an ex-pickpocket. At least I hoped he was an ex-pickpocket.

But I could worry effectively about only one thing at a time, and visions of Fergus being captured and hanged for his activities receded before the vision Jamie’s final words to Randall had evoked.

Surely, surely he would not have gone back into the Duke’s house? No, I reassured myself. He had no sword. Whatever he might be feeling—and my soul sank within me to think of what he felt—he wouldn’t act precipitously. I had seen him in battle before, mind working in an icy calm, severed from the emotions that could cloud his judgment. And for this, above all things, surely he would adhere to the formalities. He would seek the rigid prescriptions, the formulae for the satisfaction of honor, as a refuge—something to cling to against the tides that shook him, the bone-deep surge of bloodlust and revenge.

I stopped in the hallway, mechanically shedding my cloak and pausing by the mirror to straighten my hair. Think, Beauchamp, I silently urged my pale reflection. If he’s going to fight a duel, what’s the first thing he’ll need?

A sword? No, couldn’t be. His own was upstairs, hanging on the armoire. While he might easily borrow one, I couldn’t imagine his setting out to fight the most important duel of his life armed with any but his own. His uncle, Dougal MacKenzie, had given it to him at seventeen, seen him schooled in its use, taught him the tricks and the strengths of a left-handed swordsman, using that sword. Dougal had made him practice, left hand against left hand, for hours on end, until, he told me, he felt the length of Spanish metal come alive, an extension of his arm, hilt welded to his palm. Jamie had said he felt naked without it. And this was not a fight to which he would go naked.

No, if he had needed the sword at once, he would have come home to fetch it. I ran my hand impatiently through my hair, trying to think. Damn it, what was the protocol of dueling? Before it came to swords, what happened? A challenge, of course. Had Jamie’s words in the hallway constituted that? I had vague ideas of people being slapped across the face with gloves, but had no idea whether that was really the custom, or merely an artifact of memory, born of a film-maker’s imagination.

Then it came to me. First the challenge, then a place must be arranged—a suitably circumspect place, unlikely to come to the notice of the police or the King’s Guard. And to deliver the challenge, to arrange the place, a second was required. Ah. That was where he had gone, then; to find his second. Murtagh.

Even if Jamie found Murtagh before Fergus did, still there would be the formalities to arrange. I began to breathe a little easier, though my heart was still pounding, and my laces still seemed too tight. None of the servants was visible; I yanked the laces loose and drew a deep, expanding breath.

“I didna know ye were in the habit of undressing in the hallways, or I would ha’ stayed in the drawing room,” said an ironic Scots voice behind me.

I whirled, my heart leaping high enough to choke me. The man standing stretched in the drawing room doorway, arms outspread to brace him casually against the frame, was big, nearly as large as Jamie, with the same taut grace of movement, the same air of cool self-possession. The hair was dark, though, and the deep-set eyes a cloudy green. Dougal MacKenzie, appearing suddenly in my home as though called by my thought. Speak of the devil.

“What in God’s name are you doing here?” The shock of seeing him was subsiding, though my heart still pounded. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and a sudden wave of queasiness washed over me. He stepped forward and grasped me by the arm, pulling me toward a chair.

“Sit ye down, lass,” he said. “Ye’ll no be feeling just the thing, it looks like.”

“Very observant of you,” I said. Black spots floated at the edge of my vision, and small bright flashes danced before my eyes. “Excuse me,” I said politely, and put my head between my knees.

Jamie. Frank. Randall. Dougal. The faces flickered in my mind, the names seemed to ring in my ears. My palms were sweating, and I pressed them under my arms, hugging myself to try to stop the tremblings of shock. Jamie wouldn’t be facing Randall immediately; that was the important thing. There was a little time, in which to think, to take preventive action. But what action? Leaving my subconscious to wrestle with this question, I forced my breathing to slow and turned my attention to matters closer to hand.

“I repeat,” I said, sitting up and smoothing back my hair, “what are you doing here?”

The dark brows flickered upward.

“Do I need a reason to visit a kinsman?”

I could still taste the bile at the back of my throat, but my hands had stopped trembling, at least.

“Under the circumstances, yes,” I said. I drew myself up, grandly ignoring my untied laces, and reached for the brandy decanter. Anticipating me, Dougal took a glass from the tray and poured out a teaspoonful. Then, after a considering glance at me, he doubled the dose.

“Thanks,” I said dryly, accepting the glass.

“Circumstances, eh? And which circumstances would those be?” Not waiting for answer or permission, he calmly poured out another glass for himself and lifted it in a casual toast. “To His Majesty.”

I felt my mouth twist sideways. “King James, I suppose?” I took a small sip of my own drink, and felt the hot aromatic fumes sear the membranes behind my eyes. “And does the fact that you’re in Paris mean that you’ve converted Colum to your way of thinking?” For while Dougal MacKenzie might be a Jacobite, it was his brother Colum who led the MacKenzies of Leoch as chieftain. Legs crippled and twisted by a deforming disease, Colum no longer led his clan into battle; Dougal was the war chieftain. But while Dougal might lead men into battle, it was Colum who held the power to say whether the battle would take place.

Dougal ignored my question, and having drained his glass, immediately poured out another drink. He savored the first sip of this one, rolling it visibly around his mouth and licking a final drop from his lips as he swallowed.

“Not bad,” he said. “I must take some back for Colum. He needs something a bit stronger than the wine, to help him sleep nights.”

This was indeed an oblique answer to my question. Colum’s condition was degenerating, then. Always in some pain from the disease that eroded his body, Colum had taken fortified wine in the evenings, to help him to sleep. Now he needed straight brandy. I wondered how long it would be before he might be forced to resort to opium for relief.

For when he did, that would be the end of his reign as chieftain of his clan. Deprived of physical resources, still he commanded by sheer force of character. But if the strength of Colum’s mind were lost to pain and drugs, the clan would have a new leader—Dougal.

I gazed at him over the rim of my glass. He returned my stare with no sign of abashment, a slight smile on that wide MacKenzie mouth. His face was much like his brother’s—and his nephew’s—strong and boldly modeled, with broad, high cheekbones and a long, straight nose like the blade of a knife.

Sworn as a boy of eighteen to support his brother’s chieftainship, he had kept that vow for nearly thirty years. And would keep it, I knew, until the day that Colum died or could lead no longer. But on that day, the mantle of chief would descend on his shoulders, and the men of clan MacKenzie would follow where he led—after the saltire of Scotland, and the banner of King James, in the vanguard of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

“Circumstances?” I said, turning to his earlier question. “Well, I don’t suppose one would consider it in the best of taste to come calling on a man whom you’d left for dead and whose wife you’d tried to seduce.”

Being Dougal MacKenzie, he laughed. I didn’t know quite what it would take to disconcert the man, but I certainly hoped I was there to see it when it finally happened.

“Seduction?” he said, lips quirked in amusement. “I offered ye marriage.”

“You offered to rape me, as I recall,” I snapped. He had, in fact, offered to marry me—by force—after declining to help me in rescuing Jamie from Wentworth Prison the winter before. While his principal motive had been the possession of Jamie’s estate of Lallybroch—which would belong to me upon Jamie’s death—he hadn’t been at all averse to the thought of the minor emoluments of marriage, such as the regular enjoyment of my body.

“As for leaving Jamie in the prison,” he went on, ignoring me as usual, “there seemed no way to get him out, and no sense in risking good men in a vain attempt. He’d be the first to understand that. And it was my duty as his kinsman to offer his wife my protection, if he died. I was the lad’s foster father, no?” He tilted back his head and drained his glass.

I took a good gulp of my own, and swallowed quickly so as not to choke. The spirit burned down my throat and gullet, matching the heat that was rising in my cheeks. He was right; Jamie hadn’t blamed him for his reluctance to break into Wentworth Prison—he hadn’t expected me to do it, either, and it was only by a miracle that I had succeeded. But while I had told Jamie, briefly, of Dougal’s intention of marrying me, I hadn’t tried to convey the carnal aspects of that intention. I had, after all, never expected to see Dougal MacKenzie again.

I knew from past experience that he was a seizer of opportunities; with Jamie about to be hanged, he had not even waited for execution of the sentence before trying to secure me and my about-to-be-inherited property. If—no, I corrected myself, when—Colum died or became incompetent, Dougal would be in full command of clan MacKenzie within a week. And if Charles Stuart found the backing he was seeking, Dougal would be there. He had some experience in being a power behind the throne, after all.

I tipped up the glass, considering. Colum had business interests in France; wine and timber, mostly. These undoubtedly were the pretext for Dougal’s visit to Paris, might even be his major ostensible reason. But he had other reasons, I was sure. And the presence in the city of Prince Charles Edward Stuart was almost certainly one of them.

One thing to be said for Dougal MacKenzie was that an encounter with him stimulated the mental processes, out of the sheer necessity of trying to figure out what he was actually up to at any given moment. Under the inspiration of his presence and a good slug of Portuguese brandy, my subconscious was stirring with the birth of an idea.

“Well, be that as it may, I’m glad you’re here now,” I said, replacing my empty glass on the tray.

“You are?” The thick dark brows rose incredulously.

“Yes.” I rose and gestured toward the hall. “Fetch my cloak while I do up my laces. I need you to come to the commissariat de police with me.”

Seeing his jaw drop, I felt the first tiny upsurge of hope. If I had managed to take Dougal MacKenzie by surprise, surely I could stop a duel?



* * *



“D’ye want to tell me what you think you’re doing?” Dougal inquired, as the coach bumped around the Cirque du Mireille, narrowly avoiding an oncoming barouche and a cart full of vegetable marrows.

“No,” I said briefly, “but I suppose I’ll have to. Did you know that Jack Randall is still alive?”

“I’d not heard he was dead,” Dougal said reasonably.

That took me up short for a moment. But of course he was right; we had thought Randall dead only because Sir Marcus MacRannoch had mistaken the trampled body of Randall’s orderly for the officer himself, during Jamie’s rescue from Wentworth Prison. Naturally no news of Randall’s death would have gone round the Highlands, since it hadn’t occurred. I tried to gather my scattered thoughts.

“He isn’t dead,” I said. “But he is in Paris.”

“In Paris?” That got his attention; his brows went up, and then his eyes widened with the next thought.

“Where’s Jamie?” he asked sharply.

I was glad to see he appreciated the main point. While he didn’t know what had passed between Jamie and Randall in Wentworth Prison—no one was ever going to know that, save Jamie, Randall, and, to some extent, me—he knew more than enough about Randall’s previous actions to realize exactly what Jamie’s first impulse would be on meeting the man here, away from the sanctuary of England.

“I don’t know,” I said, looking out the window. We were passing Les Halles, and the smell of fish was ripe in my nostrils. I pulled out a scented handkerchief and covered my nose and mouth. The strong, sharp tang of the wintergreen with which I scented it was no match for the reek of a dozen eel-sellers’ stalls, but it helped a bit. I spoke through the spicy linen folds.

“We met Randall unexpectedly at the Duke of Sandringham’s today. Jamie sent me home in the coach, and I haven’t seen him since.”

Dougal ignored both the stench and the raucous cries of fishwives calling their wares. He frowned at me.

“He’ll mean to kill the man, surely?”

I shook my head, and explained my reasoning about the sword.

“I can’t let a duel happen,” I said, dropping the handkerchief in order to speak more clearly. “I won’t!”

Dougal nodded abstractedly.

“Aye, that would be dangerous. Not that the lad couldna take Randall with ease—I taught him, ye ken,” he added with some boastfulness, “but the sentence for dueling…”

“Got it in one,” I said.

“All right,” he said slowly. “But why the police? You dinna mean to have the lad locked up beforehand, do ye? Your own husband?”

“Not Jamie,” I said. “Randall.”

A broad grin broke out on his face, not unmixed with skepticism.

“Oh, aye? And how d’ye mean to work that one?”

“A friend and I were…attacked on the street a few nights ago,” I said, swallowing at the memory. “The men were masked; I couldn’t tell who they were. But one of them was about the same height and build as Jonathan Randall. I mean to say that I met Randall at a house today and recognized him as one of the men who attacked us.”

Dougal’s brows shot up and then drew together. His cool gaze flickered over me. Suddenly there was a new speculation in his appraisal.

“Christ, you’ve the devil’s own nerve. Robbery, was it?” he asked softly. Against my will, I could feel the rage rising in my cheeks.

“No,” I said, clipping the word between my teeth.

“Ah.” He sat back against the coach’s squabs, still looking at me. “Ye’ll have taken no harm, though?” I glanced aside, at the passing street, but could feel his eyes, prying at the neck of my gown, sliding over the curve of my hips.

“Not me,” I said. “But my friend…”

“I see.” He was quiet for a moment, then said meditatively, “Ever heard of ‘Les Disciples,’ have you?”

I jerked my head back around to him. He lounged in the corner like a crouching cat, watching me through eyes narrowed against the sun.

“No. What are they?” I demanded.

He shrugged and sat upright, peering past me at the approaching bulk of the Quai des Orfèvres, hovering gray and dreary above the glitter of the Seine.

“A society—of a sort. Young men of family, with an interest in things…unwholesome, shall we say?”

“Let’s,” I said. “And just what do you know about Les Disciples?”

“Only what I heard in a tavern in the Cité,” he said. “That the society demands a good deal from its members, and the price of initiation is high…by some standards.”

“That being?” I dared him with my eyes. He smiled rather grimly before replying.

“A maidenhead, for one thing. The nipples of a married woman, for another.” He shot a quick glance at my bosom. “Your friend’s a virgin, is she? Or was?”

I felt hot and cold by turns. I wiped my face with the handkerchief and tucked it into the pocket of my cloak. I had to try twice, for my hand trembled.

“She was. What else have you heard? Do you know who’s involved with Les Disciples?”

Dougal shook his head. There were threads of silver in the russet hair over his temples, that caught the light of the afternoon.

“Only rumors. The Vicomte de Busca, the youngest of the Charmisse sons—perhaps. The Comte St. Germain. Eh! Are ye all right, lass?”

He leaned forward in some consternation, peering at me.

“Fine,” I said, breathing deeply through my nose. “Bloody fine.” I pulled out the handkerchief and wiped the cold sweat off my brow.

“We mean you no harm, mesdames.” The ironic voice echoed in the dark of my memory. The green-shirted man was medium-height and dark, slim and narrow-shouldered. If that description fit Jonathan Randall, it also fit the Comte St. Germain. Would I have recognized his voice, though? Could any normal man conceivably have sat across from me at dinner, eating salmon mousse and making genteel conversation, barely two hours after the incident in the Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré?

Considered logically, though, why not? I had, after all. And I had no particular reason for supposing the Comte to be a normal man—by my standards—if rumor were true.

The coach was drawing to a halt, and there was little time for contemplation. Was I about to ensure that the man responsible for Mary’s violation went free, while I also ensured the safety of Jamie’s most loathed enemy? I took a deep, quivering breath. Damn little choice about it, I thought. Life was paramount; justice would just have to wait its turn.

The coachman had alighted and was reaching for the door handle. I bit my lip and glanced at Dougal MacKenzie. He met my gaze with a slight shrug. What did I want of him?

“Will you back my story?” I asked abruptly.

He looked up at the towering bulk of the Quai des Orfèvres. Brilliant afternoon light blazed through the open door.

“You’re sure?” he asked.

“Yes.” My mouth was dry.

He slid across the seat and extended a hand to me.

“Pray God we dinna both end in a cell, then,” he said.



* * *



An hour later, we stepped into the empty street outside the commissariat de police. I had sent the coach home, lest anyone who knew us should see it standing outside the Quai des Orfèvres. Dougal offered me an arm, and I took it perforce. The ground here was muddy underfoot, and the cobbles in the street made uncertain going in high-heeled slippers.

“Les Disciples,” I said as we made our way slowly along the banks of the Seine toward the towers of Notre Dame. “Do you really think the Comte St. Germain might have been one of the men who…who stopped us in the Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré?” I was beginning to tremble with reaction and fatigue—and with hunger; I had had nothing since breakfast, and the lack was making itself felt. Sheer nerve had kept me going through the interview with the police. Now the need to think was passing, and with it, the ability to do so.

Dougal’s arm was hard under my hand, but I couldn’t look up at him; I needed all my attention to keep my footing. We had turned into the Rue Elise and the cobbles were shiny with damp and smeared with various kinds of filth. A porter lugging a crate paused in our path to clear his throat and hawk noisily into the street at my feet. The greenish glob clung to the curve of a stone, finally slipping off to float sluggishly onto the surface of a small mud puddle that lay in the hollow of a missing cobble.

“Mphm.” Dougal was looking up and down the street for a carriage, brow creased in thought. “I canna say; I’ve heard worse than that of the man, but I havena had the honor of meeting him.” He glanced down at me.

“You’ve managed brawly so far,” he said. “They’ll have Jack Randall in the Bastille within the hour. But they’ll have to let the man go sooner or later, and I wouldna wager much on the chances of Jamie’s temper cooling in the meantime. D’ye want me to speak to him—convince him to do nothing foolish?”

“No! For God’s sake, stay out of it!” The thunder of carriage wheels was loud on the cobbles, but my voice was rose high enough to make Dougal brows lift in surprise.

“All right, then,” he said, mildly. “I’ll leave it to you to manage him. He’s stubborn as a stone…but I suppose you have your ways, no?” This was said with a sidelong glance and knowing smirk.

“I’ll manage.” I would. I would have to. For everything I had told Dougal was true. All true. And yet so far from the truth. For I would send Charles Stuart and his father’s cause to the devil gladly, sacrifice any hope of stopping his headlong dash to folly, even risk the chance of Jamie’s imprisonment, for the sake of healing the breach Randall’s resurrection had opened in Jamie’s mind. I would help him to kill Randall, and feel only joy in the doing of it, except for the one thing. The one consideration strong enough to outweigh Jamie’s pride, loom larger than his sense of manhood, than his threatened soul’s peace. Frank.

That was the single idea that had driven me through this day, sustained me well past the point where I would have welcomed collapse. For months I had thought Randall dead and childless, and feared for Frank’s life. But for those same months I had been comforted by the presence of the plain gold ring on the fourth finger of my left hand.

The twin of Jamie’s silver ring upon my right, it was a talisman in the dark hours of the night, when doubts came on the heels of dreams. If I wore his ring still, then the man who had given it to me would live. I had told myself that a thousand times. No matter that I didn’t know how a man dead without issue could sire a line of descent that led to Frank; the ring was there, and Frank would live.

Now I knew why the ring still shone on my hand, metal chilly as my own cold finger. Randall was alive, could still marry, could still father the child who would pass life on to Frank. Unless Jamie killed him first.

I had taken what steps I could for the moment, but the fact I had faced in the Duke’s corridor remained. The price of Frank’s life was Jamie’s soul, and how was I to choose between them?

The oncoming fiacre, ignoring Dougal’s hail, barreled past without stopping, wheels passing close enough to splash muddy water on Dougal’s silk hose and the hem of my gown.

Desisting from a volley of heartfelt Gaelic, Dougal shook a fist after the retreating coach.

“Well, and now what?” he demanded rhetorically.

The blob of mucus-streaked spittle floated on the puddle at my feet, reflecting gray light. I could feel its cold slime viscid on my tongue. I put out a hand and grasped Dougal’s arm, hard as a smooth-skinned sycamore branch. Hard, but it seemed to be swaying dizzily, swinging me far out over the cold and glittering, fish-smelling, slimy water nearby. Black spots floated before my eyes.

“Now,” I said, “I’m going to be sick.”



* * *



It was nearly sunset when I returned to the Rue Tremoulins. My knees trembled, and it was an effort to put one foot in front of the other on the stairs. I went directly to the bedroom to shed my cloak, wondering whether Jamie had returned yet.

He had. I stopped dead in the doorway, surveying the room. My medicine box lay open on the table. The scissors I used for cutting bandages lay half-open on my dressing table. They were fanciful things, given to me by a knifemaker who worked now and then at L’Hôpital des Anges; the handles were gilt, worked in the shape of storks’ heads, with the long bills forming the silver blades of the scissors. They gleamed in the rays of the setting sun, lying amid a cloud of reddish gold silk threads.

I took several steps toward the dressing table, and the silky, shimmering strands lifted in the disturbed air of my movement, drifting across the tabletop.

“Jesus bloody Christ,” I breathed. He had been here, all right, and now he was gone. So was his sword.

The hair lay in thick, gleaming strands where it had fallen, littering dressing table, stool and floor. I plucked a shorn lock from the table and held it, feeling the fine, soft hairs separate between my fingers like the threads of embroidery silk. I felt a cold panic that started somewhere between my shoulder blades and prickled down my spine. I remembered Jamie, sitting on the fountain behind the Rohans’ house, telling me how he had fought his first duel in Paris.

“The lace that held my hair back broke, and the wind whipped it into my face so I could scarcely see what I was doing.”

He was taking no chance of that happening again. Seeing the evidence left behind, feeling the lock of hair in my hand, soft and alive-feeling still, I could imagine the cold deliberation with which he had done it; the snick of metal blades against his skull as he cut away all softness that might obscure his vision. Nothing would stand between him and the killing of Jonathan Randall.

Nothing but me. Still holding the lock of his hair, I went to the window and stared out, as though hoping to see him in the street. But the Rue Tremoulins was quiet, nothing moving but the flickering shadows of the poplar trees by the gates and the small movement of a servant, standing at the gate of the house to the left, talking to a watchman who brandished his pipe to emphasize a point.

The house hummed quietly around me, with dinner preparations taking place belowstairs. No company was expected tonight, so the usual bustle was subdued; we ate simply when alone.

I sat down on the bed and closed my eyes, folding my hands across my swelling stomach, the lock of hair gripped tight, as though I could keep him safe, so long as I didn’t let go.

Had I been in time? Had the police found Jack Randall before Jamie did? What if they had arrived concurrently, or just in time to find Jamie challenging Randall to a formal duel? I rubbed the lock of hair between thumb and forefinger, splaying the cut ends in a small spray of roan and amber. Well, if so, at least they would both be safe. In prison, perhaps, but that was a minor consideration by contrast to other dangers.

And if Jamie had found Randall first? I glanced outside; the light was fading fast. Duels were traditionally fought at dawn, but I didn’t know whether Jamie would have waited for morning. They might at this moment be facing each other, somewhere in seclusion, where the clash of steel and the cry of mortal wounding would attract no attention.

For a mortal fight it would be. What lay between those two men would be settled only by death. And whose death would it be? Jamie’s? Or Randall’s—and with him, Frank’s? Jamie was likely the better swordsman, but as the challenged, Randall would have the choice of weapons. And success with pistols lay less with the skill of the user than with his fortune; only the best-made pistols aimed true, and even those were prone to misfire or other accidents. I had a sudden vision of Jamie, limp and quiet on the grass, blood welling from an empty eye socket, and the smell of black powder strong among the scents of spring in the Boìs de Boulogne.

“What in hell are you doing, Claire?”

My head snapped up, so hard I bit my tongue. Both his eyes were present and in their correct positions, staring at me from either side of the knife-edged nose. I had never seen him with his hair so close-clipped before. It made him look like a stranger, the strong bones of his face stark beneath the skin and the dome of his skull visible under the short, thick turf of his hair.

“What am I doing?” I echoed. I swallowed, working some moisture back into my dry mouth. “What am I doing? I’m sitting here with a lock of your hair in my hand, wondering whether you were dead or not! That’s what I’m doing!”

“I’m not dead.” He crossed to the armoire and opened it. He wore his sword, but had changed clothes since our visit to Sandringham’s house; now he was dressed in his old coat—the one that allowed him free movement of his arms.

“Yes, I noticed,” I said. “Thoughtful of you to come tell me.”

“I came to fetch my clothes.” He pulled out two shirts and his full-length cloak and laid them across a stool while he went to rummage in the chest of drawers for clean linen.

“Your clothes? Where on earth are you going?” I hadn’t known what to expect when I saw him again, but I certainly hadn’t expected this.

“To an inn.” He glanced at me, then apparently decided I deserved more than a three-word explanation. He turned and looked at me, his eyes blue and opaque as azurite.

“When I sent ye home in the coach, I walked for a bit, until I had a grip on myself once more. Then I came home to fetch my sword, and returned to the Duke’s house to give Randall a formal challenge. The butler told me Randall had been arrested.”

His gaze rested on me, remote as the ocean depths. I swallowed once more.

“I went to the Bastille. They told me you’d sworn to an accusation against Randall, saying he’d attacked you and Mary Hawkins the other night. Why, Claire?”

My hands were shaking, and I dropped the lock of hair I had been holding. Its cohesion disturbed by handling, it disintegrated, and the fine red hairs spilled loose across my lap.

“Jamie,” I said, and my voice was shaking, too, “Jamie, you can’t kill Jack Randall.”

One corner of his mouth twitched, very slightly.

“I dinna ken whether to be touched at your concern for my safety, or to be offended at your lack of confidence. But in either case, you needna worry. I can kill him. Easily.” The last word was spoken quietly, with an underlying tone that mingled venom with satisfaction.

“That isn’t what I mean! Jamie—”

“Fortunately,” he went on, as though not hearing me, “Randall has proof that he was at the Duke’s residence all during the evening of the rape. As soon as the police finish interviewing the guests who were present, and satisfy themselves that Randall is innocent—of that charge, at least—then he’ll be let go. I shall stay at the inn until he’s free. And then I shall find him.” His eyes were fixed on the wardrobe, but plainly he was seeing something else. “He’ll be waiting for me,” he said softly.

He stuffed the shirts and linen into a traveling-bag and slung his cloak over his arm. He was turning to go through the door when I sprang up from the bed and caught him by the sleeve.

“Jamie! For God’s sake, Jamie, listen to me! You can’t kill Jack Randall because I won’t let you!”

He stared down at me in utter astonishment.

“Because of Frank,” I said. I let go of his sleeve and stepped back.

“Frank,” he repeated, shaking his head slightly as though to clear a buzzing in his ears. “Frank.”

“Yes,” I said. “If you kill Jack Randall now, then Frank…he won’t exist. He won’t be born. Jamie, you can’t kill an innocent man!”

His face, normally a pale, ruddy bronze, had faded to a blotchy white as I spoke. Now the red began to rise again, burning the tips of his ears and flaming in his cheeks.

“An innocent man?”

“Frank is an innocent man! I don’t care about Jack Randall—”

“Well, I do!” He snatched up the bag and strode toward the door, cloak streaming over one arm. “Jesus God, Claire! You’d try to stop me taking my vengeance on the man who made me play whore to him? Who forced me to my knees and made me suck his cock, smeared with my own blood? Christ, Claire!” He flung the door open with a crash and was in the hallway by the time I could reach him.

It had grown dark by now, but the servants had lit the candles, and the hallway was aglow with soft light. I grasped him by the arm and yanked at him.

“Jamie! Please!”

He jerked his arm impatiently out of my grasp. I was almost crying, but held back the tears. I caught the bag and pulled it out of his hand.

“Please, Jamie! Wait, just for a year! The child—Randall’s—it will be conceived next December. After that, it won’t matter. But please—for my sake, Jamie—wait that long!”

The candelabra on the gilt-edged table threw his shadow huge and wavering against the far wall. He stared up at it, hands clenched, as though facing a giant, blank-faced and menacing, that towered above him.

“Aye,” he whispered, as though to himself, “I’m a big chap. Big and strong. I can stand a lot. Yes, I can stand it.” He whirled on me, shouting.

“I can stand a lot! But just because I can, does that mean I must? Do I have to bear everyone’s weakness? Can I not have my own?”

He began to pace up and down the hall, the shadow following in silent frenzy.

“You cannot ask it of me! You, you of all people! You, who know what…what…” He choked, speechless with rage.

He hit the stone wall of the passage repeatedly as he walked, smashing the side of his fist viciously into the limestone wall. The stone swallowed each blow in soundless violence.

He turned back and came to a halt facing me, breathing heavily. I stood stock-still, afraid to move or speak. He nodded once or twice, rapidly, as though making up his mind about something, then drew the dirk from his belt with a hiss and held it in front of my nose. With a visible effort, he spoke calmly.

“You may have your choice, Claire. Him, or me.” The candle flames danced in the polished metal as he turned the knife slowly. “I cannot live while he lives. If ye wilna have me kill him, then kill me now, yourself!” He grabbed my hand and forced my fingers around the handle of the dirk. Ripping the lacy jabot open, he bared his throat and yanked my hand upward, fingers hard around my own.

I pulled back with all my strength, but he forced the tip of the blade against the soft hollow above the collarbone, just below the livid cicatrice that Randall’s own knife had left there years before.

“Jamie! Stop it! Stop it right now!” I brought my other hand down on his wrist as hard as I could, jarring his grip enough to jerk my fingers free. The knife clattered to the floor, bouncing from the stones to a quiet landing on a corner of the leafy Aubusson carpet. With that clarity of vision for small details that afflicts life’s most awful moments, I saw that the blade lay stark across the curling stem of a bunch of fat green grapes, as though about to sever it and cut them free of the weft to roll at our feet.

He stood frozen before me, face white as bone, eyes burning. I gripped his arm, hard as wood beneath my fingers.

“Please believe me, please. I wouldn’t do this if there were any other way.” I took a deep, quivering breath to quell the leaping pulse beneath my ribs.

“You owe me your life, Jamie. Not once, twice over. I saved you from hanging at Wentworth, and when you had fever at the Abbey. You owe me a life, Jamie!”

He stared down at me for a long moment before answering. When he did, his voice was quiet again, with an edge of bitterness.

“I see. And ye’ll claim your debt now?” His eyes burned with the clear, deep blue that burns in the heart of a flame.

“I have to! I can’t make you see reason any other way!”

“Reason. Ah, reason. No, I canna say that reason is anything I see just now.” He folded his arms behind his back, gripping the stiff fingers of his right hand with the curled ones of his left. He walked slowly away from me, down the endless hall, head bowed.

The passage was lined with paintings, some lighted from below by torchere or candelabra, some from above by the gilded sconces; a few less favored, skulked in the darkness between. Jamie walked slowly between them, glancing up now and again as though in converse with the wigged and painted gallery.

The hall ran the length of the second floor, carpeted and tapestried, with enormous stained-glass windows set into the walls at either end of the corridor. He walked all the way to the far end, then, wheeling with the precision of a soldier on parade, all the way back, still at a slow and formal pace. Down and back, down and back, again and again.

My legs trembling, I subsided into a fauteuil near the end of the passage. Once one of the omnipresent servants approached obsequiously to ask if Madame required wine, or perhaps a biscuit? I waved him away with what politeness I could muster, and waited.

At last he came to a halt before me, feet planted wide apart in silver-buckled shoes, hands still clasped behind his back. He waited for me to look up at him before he spoke. His face was set, with no twitch of agitation to betray him, though the lines near his eyes were deep with strain.

“A year, then” was all he said. He turned at once and was several feet away by the time I struggled out of the deep green-velvet chair. I had barely gained my feet when he suddenly whirled back past me, reached the huge stained-glass window in three strides, and smashed his right hand through it.

The window was made up of thousands of tiny colored panes, held in place by strips of melted lead. Though the entire window, a mythological scene of the Judgment of Paris, shuddered in its frame, the leading held most of the panes intact; in spite of the crash and tinkle, only a jagged hole at the feet of Aphrodite let in the soft spring air.

Jamie stood a moment, pressing both hands tight into his midriff. A dark red stain grew on the frilled cuff, lacy as a bridal shirt. He brushed past me once again as I moved toward him, and stalked away unspeaking.



* * *



I collapsed once more into the armchair, hard enough to make a small puff of dust rise from the plush. I lay there limp, eyes closed, feeling the cool night breeze wash over me. The hair was damp at my temples, and I could feel my pulse, quick as a bird’s, racing at the base of my throat.

Would he ever forgive me? My heart clenched like a fist at the memory of the knowledge of betrayal in his eyes. “How could you ask it?” he had said. “You, you who know…” Yes, I knew, and I thought the knowing might tear me from Jamie as I had been torn from Frank.

But whether Jamie could forgive me or not, I could never forgive myself, if I condemned an innocent man—and one I had once loved.

“The sins of the fathers,” I murmured to myself. “The sins of the fathers shall not be visited upon the children.”

“Madame?”

I jumped, opening my eyes to find an equally startled chambermaid backing away. I put a hand to my pounding heart, gasping for air.

“Madame, you are unwell? Shall I fetch—”

“No,” I said, as firmly as I could. “I am quite well. I wish to sit here for a time. Please go away.”

The girl seemed only too anxious to oblige. “Qui, Madame!” she said, and vanished down the corridor, leaving me gazing blankly at a scene of amorous love in a garden, hanging on the opposite wall. Suddenly cold, I drew up the folds of the cloak I had had no time to shed, and closed my eyes again.



* * *



It was past midnight when I went at last to our bedroom. Jamie was there, seated before a small table, apparently watching a pair of lacewings fluttering dangerously around the single candlestick which was all the light there was in the room. I dropped my cape on the floor and went toward him.

“Don’t touch me,” he said. “Go to bed.” He spoke almost abstractedly, but I halted in my tracks.

“But your hand—” I started.

“It doesn’t matter. Go to bed,” he repeated.

The knuckles of his right hand were laced with blood, and the cuff of his shirt was stiff with it, but I would not have dared touch him then had he had a knife stuck in his belly. I left him staring at the death-dance of the lacewings and went to bed.

I woke sometime near dawn, with the first light of the coming day fuzzing the outlines of the furniture in the room. Through the double doors to the anteroom, I could see Jamie as I had left him, still seated at the table. Now the candle was burnt out, the lacewings gone, and he sat with his head in his hands, fingers furrowed in the brutally cropped hair. The light stole all color from the room; even the hair spiking up like flames between his fingers was quenched to the color of ashes.

I slid out of bed, cold in the thin embroidered nightdress. He didn’t turn as I came up behind him, but he knew I was there. When I touched his hand he let it drop to the table, and allowed his head to fall back until it rested just below my breasts. He sighed deeply as I rubbed it, and I felt the tension begin to go out of him. My hands worked their way down over neck and shoulders, feeling the chill of his flesh through the thin linen. Finally I came around in front of him. He reached up and grasped me around the waist, pulling me to him and burying his head in my nightdress, just above the round swell of the unborn child.

“I’m cold,” I said at last, very softly. “Will you come and warm me?”

After a moment, he nodded, and stumbled blindly to his feet. I led him to bed, stripped him as he sat unresisting, and tucked him under the quilts. I lay in the curve of his arm, pressed tight against him, until the chill of his skin had faded and we lay ensconced in a pocket of soft warmth.

Tentatively, I laid a hand on his chest, stroking lightly back and forth until the nipple stood up, a tiny nub of desire. He laid his hand over mine, stilling it. I was afraid he would push me away, and he did, but only so that he could roll toward me.

The light was growing stronger, and he spent a long time just looking down at my face, stroking it from temple to chin, drawing his thumb down the line of my throat and out along the wing of my collarbone.

“God, I do love you,” he whispered, as though to himself. He kissed me, preventing response, and circling one breast with his maimed right hand, prepared to take me.

“But your hand—” I said, for the second time that night.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, for the second time that night.





PART FOUR





Scandale





22

THE ROYAL STUD

The coach bumped slowly over a particularly bad stretch of road, one left pitted and holed by the winter freeze and the beating of spring rains. It had been a wet year; even now, in early summer, there were moist, boggy patches under the lush growth of gooseberry bushes by the sides of the road.

Jamie sat beside me on the narrow, padded bench that formed one seat of the coach. Fergus sprawled in the corner of the other bench, asleep, and the motion of the coach made his head rock and sway like the head of a mechanical doll with a spring for its neck. The air in the coach was warm, and dust came through the windows in small golden spurts whenever we hit a patch of dry earth.

We had talked desultorily at first of the surrounding countryside, of the Royal stables at Argentan for which we were headed, of the small bits of gossip that composed the daily fare of conversation in Court and business circles. I might have slept, too, lulled by the coach’s rhythm and the warmth of the day, but the changing contours of my body made sitting in one position uncomfortable, and my back ached from the jolting. The baby was becoming increasingly active, too, and the small flutters of the first movements had developed into definite small pokes and proddings; pleasant in their own fashion, but distracting.

“Perhaps ye should have stayed at home, Sassenach,” Jamie said, frowning slightly as I twisted, adjusting my position yet again.

“I’m all right,” I said with a smile. “Just twitchy. And it would have been a shame to miss all this.” I waved at the coach window, where the broad sweep of fields shone green as emeralds between the windbreak rows of dark, straight poplars. Dusty or not, the fresh air of the countryside was rich and intoxicating after the close, fetid smells of the city and the medicinal stenches of L’Hôpital des Anges.

Louis had agreed, as a gesture of cautious amity toward the English diplomatic overtures, to allow the Duke of Sandringham to purchase four Percheron broodmares from the Royal stud at Argentan, with which to improve the bloodlines of the small herd of draft horses which His Grace maintained in England. His Grace was therefore visiting Argentan today, and had invited Jamie along to give advice on which mares should be chosen. The invitation was given at an evening party, and one thing leading to another, the visit had ended up as a full-scale picnic expedition, involving four coaches and several of the ladies and gentlemen of the Court.

“It’s a good sign, don’t you think?” I asked, with a cautious glance to be sure our companions were indeed fast asleep. “Louis giving the Duke permission to buy horses, I mean. If he’s making gestures toward the English, then he’s presumably not inclined to be sympathetic to James Stuart—at least not openly.”

Jamie shook his head. He declined absolutely to wear a wig, and the bold, clean shape of his polled head had occasioned no little excitement at Court. It had its advantages at the present moment; while a faint sheen of perspiration glowed on the bridge of his long, straight nose, he wasn’t nearly as wilted as I.

“No, I’m fairly sure now that Louis means to have nothing to do with the Stuarts—at least so far as any move toward restoration goes. Monsieur Duverney assures me that the Council is entirely opposed to any such thing; while Louis may eventually yield to the Pope’s urgings so far as to make Charles a small allowance, he isna disposed to bring the Stuarts into any kind of prominence in France, wi’ Geordie of England looking over his shoulder.” He wore his plaid today pinned with a brooch at the shoulder—a beautiful thing his sister had sent him from Scotland, made in the shape of two running stags, bodies bent so that they joined in a circle, heads and tails touching. He pulled up a fold of the plaid and wiped his face with it.

“I think I’ve spoken with every banker in Paris of any substance over the last months, and they’re united in basic disinterest.” He smiled wryly. “Money’s none so plentiful that anyone wants to back a dicey proposition like the Stuart restoration.”

“And that,” I said, stretching my back with a groan, “leaves Spain.”

Jamie nodded. “It does. And Dougal MacKenzie.” He looked smug, and I sat up, intrigued.

“Have you heard from him?” Despite an initial wariness, Dougal had accepted Jamie as a devoted fellow Jacobite, and the usual crop of coded letters had been augmented by a series of discreet communications sent by Dougal from Spain, meant to be read by Jamie and passed on to Charles Stuart.

“I have indeed.” I could tell from his expression that it was good news, and it was—though not for the Stuarts.

“Philip has declined to lend any assistance to the Stuarts,” Jamie said. “He’s had word from the papal office, ye ken; he’s to keep awa’ from the whole question of the Scottish throne.”

“Do we know why?” The latest interception from a papal messenger had contained several letters, but as these were all addressed to James or Charles Stuart, they might well contain no reference to His Holiness’s conversations with Spain.

“Dougal thinks he knows.” Jamie laughed. “He’s fair disgusted, is Dougal. Said he’d been kept cooling his heels in Toledo for nearly a month, and sent awa’ at last with no more than a vague promise of aid ‘in the fullness of time, Deo volente.’ ” His deep voice captured a pious intonation perfectly, and I laughed myself.

“Benedict wants to avoid friction between Spain and France; he doesna want Philip and Louis wasting money that he might have a use for, ye ken,” he added cynically. “It’s hardly fitting for a pope to say so, but Benedict has his doubts as to whether a Catholic king could hold England anymore. Scotland’s got its Catholic chiefs among the Highland clans, but it’s some time since England owned a Catholic king—likely to be the hell of a lot longer before they do again—Deo volente,” he added, grinning.

He scratched his head, ruffling the short red-gold hair above his temple. “It looks verra dim for the Stuarts, Sassenach, and that’s good news. No, there’ll be no aid from the Bourbon monarchs. The only thing that concerns me now is this investment Charles Stuart’s made with the Comte St. Germain.”

“You don’t think it’s just a business arrangement, then?”

“Well, it is,” he said, frowning, “and yet there’s more behind it. I’ve heard talk, aye?”

While the banking families of Paris were not inclined to take the Young Pretender to the throne of Scotland with any seriousness, that situation might easily change, were Charles Stuart suddenly to have money to invest.

“His Highness tells me he’s been talking to the Gobelins,” Jamie said. “St. Germain introduced him; otherwise they’d not give him the time o’ day. And old Gobelin thinks him a wastrel and a fool, and so does one of the Gobelin sons. The other, though—he says that he’ll wait and see; if Charles succeeds with this venture, then perhaps he can put other opportunities in his way.”

“Not at all good,” I observed.

Jamie shook his head. “No. Money breeds money, ye ken. Let him succeed at one or two large ventures, and the bankers will begin to listen to him. The man’s no great thinker,” he said, with a wry twist of his mouth, “but he’s verra charming in person; he can persuade people into things against their better judgment. Even so, he’ll make no headway without a small bit of capital to his name—but he’ll have that, if this investment succeeds.”

“Mm.” I shifted my position once more, wriggling my toes in their hot leather prison. The shoes had fit when made for me, but my feet were beginning to swell a bit, and my silk stockings were damp with sweat. “Is there anything we can do about it?”

Jamie shrugged, with a lopsided smile. “Pray for bad weather off Portugal, I suppose. Beyond the ship sinking, I dinna see much way for the venture to fail, truth be told. St. Germain has contracts already for the sale of the entire cargo. Both he and Charles Stuart stand to triple their money.”

I shivered briefly at the mention of the Comte. I couldn’t help recalling Dougal’s speculations. I had not told Jamie about Dougal’s visit, nor about his speculations as to the Comte’s nocturnal activities. I didn’t like keeping secrets from him, but Dougal had demanded my silence as his price for helping me in the matter of Jonathan Randall, and I had had little choice but to agree.

Jamie smiled suddenly at me, and stretched out a hand.

“I’ll think of something, Sassenach. For now, give me your feet. Jenny said it helped to have me rub her feet when she was wi’ child.”

I didn’t argue, but slipped my feet out of the hot shoes and swung them up onto his lap with a sigh of relief as the air from the window cooled the damp silk over my toes.

His hands were big, and his fingers at once strong and gentle. He rubbed his knuckles down the arch of my foot and I leaned back with a soft moan. We rode silently for several minutes, while I relaxed into a state of mindless bliss.

Head bent over my green silk toes, Jamie remarked casually, “It wasna really a debt, ye ken.”

“What wasn’t?” Fogged as I was by warm sun and foot massage, I hadn’t any idea what he meant.

Not stopping his rubbing, he looked up at me. His expression was serious, though the hint of a smile lit his eyes.

“You said that I owed ye a life, Sassenach, because you’d saved mine for me.” He took hold of one big toe and wiggled it. “But I’ve been reckoning, and I’m none so sure that’s true. Seems to me that it’s nearly even, taken all in all.”

“What you do mean, even?” I tried to pull my foot loose, but he held tight.

“If you’ve saved my life—and ye have—well, I’ve saved yours as well, and at least as often. I saved ye from Jack Randall at Fort William, you’ll recall—and I took ye from the mob at Cranesmuir, no?”

“Yes,” I said cautiously. I had no idea where he was going, but he wasn’t just making idle conversation. “I’m grateful for it, of course.”

He made a small Scottish noise of dismissal, deep in his throat. “It isna a matter for gratitude, Sassenach, on your part or mine—my point is only that it’s no a matter of obligation, either.” The smile had vanished from his eyes, and he was entirely serious.

“I didna give ye Randall’s life as an exchange for my own—it wouldna be a fair trade, for one thing. Close your mouth, Sassenach,” he added practically, “flies will get in.” There were in fact a number of the insects present; three were resting on the Fergus’s shirtfront, undisturbed by its constant rise and fall.

“Why did you agree, then?” I stopped struggling, and he wrapped both hands around my feet, running his thumbs slowly over the curves of my heels.

“Well, it wasna for any of the reasons you tried to make me see. As for Frank,” he said, “well, it’s true enough that I’ve taken his wife, and I do pity him for it—more sometimes than others,” he added, with an impudent quirk of one eyebrow. “Still, is it any different than if he were my rival here? You had free choice between us, and you chose me—even with such luxuries as hot baths thrown in on his side. Oof!” I jerked one foot loose and drove it into his ribs. He straightened up and grabbed it, in time to prevent me repeating the blow.

“Regretting your choice, are you?”

“Not yet,” I said, struggling to repossess my foot, “but I may any minute. Keep talking.”

“Well then. I couldna see that the fact that you picked me entitled Frank Randall to particular consideration. Besides,” he said frankly, “I’ll admit to bein’ just a wee bit jealous of the man.”

I kicked with my other foot, aiming lower. He caught that one before it landed, twisting my ankle skillfully.

“As for owing him his life, on general principles,” he continued, ignoring my attempts to escape, “that’s an argument Brother Anselm at the Abbey could answer better than I. Certainly I wouldna kill an innocent man in cold blood. But there again, I’ve killed men in battle, and is this different?”

I remembered the soldier, and the boy in the snow that I had killed in our escape from Wentworth. I no longer tormented myself with memories of them, but I knew they would never leave me.

He shook his head. “No, there are a good many arguments ye might make about that, but in the end, such choices come down to one: You kill when ye must, and ye live with it after. I remember the face of every man I’ve killed, and always will. But the fact remains, I am alive and they are not, and that is my only justification, whether it be right or no.”

“But that’s not true in this case,” I pointed out. “It isn’t a case of kill or be killed.”

He shook his head, dislodging a fly that had settled on his hair. “Now there you’re wrong, Sassenach. What it is that lies between Jack Randall and me will be settled only when one of us is dead—and maybe not then. There are ways of killing other than with a knife or a gun, and there are things worse than physical death.” His tone softened. “In Ste. Anne, you pulled me back from more than one kind of death, mo duinne, and never think I don’t know it.” He shook his head. “Perhaps I do owe you more than you owe me, after all.”

He let go my feet and rearranged his long legs. “And that leads me to consider your conscience as well as mine. After all, you had no idea what would happen when ye made your choice, and it’s one thing to abandon a man, and another to condemn him to death.”

I did not at all like this manner of describing my actions, but I couldn’t shirk the facts. I had in fact abandoned Frank, and while I could not regret the choice I had made, still I did and always would regret its necessity. Jamie’s next words echoed my thoughts eerily.

He continued, “If ye had known it might mean Frank’s—well, his death, shall we say—perhaps you would have chosen differently. Given that ye did choose me, have I the right to make your actions of more consequence than you intended?”

Absorbed in his argument, he had been oblivious of its effect on me. Catching sight of my face now, he stopped suddenly, watching me in silence as we jostled our way through the greens of the countryside.

“I dinna see how it can have been a sin for you to do as ye did, Claire,” he said at last, reaching out to lay a hand on my stockinged foot. “I am your lawful husband, as much as he ever was—or will be. You do not even know that ye could have returned to him; mo duinne, ye might have gone still further back, or gone forward to a different time altogether. You acted as ye thought ye must, and no one can do better than that.” He looked up, and the look in his eyes pierced my soul.

“I’m honest enough to say that I dinna care what the right and wrong of it may be, so long as you are here wi’ me, Claire,” he said softly. “If it was a sin for you to choose me…then I would go to the Devil himself and bless him for tempting ye to it.” He lifted my foot and gently kissed the tip of my big toe.

I laid my hand on his head; the short hair felt bristly but soft, like a very young hedgehog.

“I don’t think it was wrong,” I said softly. “But if it was…then I’ll go to the Devil with you, Jamie Fraser.”

He closed his eyes and bowed his head over my foot. He held it so tightly that I could feel the long, slender metatarsals pressed together; still, I didn’t pull back. I dug my fingers into his scalp and tugged his hair gently.

“Why then, Jamie? Why did you decide to let Jack Randall live?”

He still gripped my foot, but opened his eyes and smiled at me.

“Well, I thought a number of things, Sassenach, as I walked up and down that evening. For one thing, I thought that you would suffer, if I did kill the filthy scut. I would do, or not do, quite a few things to spare you distress, Sassenach, but—how heavily does your conscience weigh, against my honor?

“No.” He shook his head again, disposing of another point. “Each one of us can be responsible only for his own actions and his own conscience. What I do canna be laid to your account, no matter what the effects.” He blinked, eyes watering from the dusty wind, and passed a hand across his hair in a vain attempt to smooth the disheveled ends. Clipped short, the spikes of a cowlick stood up on the crest of his skull in a defiant spray.

“Why, then?” I demanded, leaning forward. “You’ve told me all the reasons why not; what’s left?”

He hesitated for a moment, but then met my eyes squarely.

“Because of Charles Stuart, Sassenach. So far we have stopped all the earths, but with this investment of his—well, he might yet succeed in leading an army in Scotland. And if so…well, ye ken better than I do what may come, Sassenach.”

I did, and the thought turned me cold. I could not help remembering one historian’s description of the Highlanders’ fate at Culloden—“the dead lay four deep, soaking in rain and their own blood.”

The Highlanders, mismanaged and starving, but ferocious to the end, would be wasted in one decisive half-hour. They would be left to lie in heaps, bleeding in a cold April rain, the cause they had cherished for a hundred years dead along with them.

Jamie reached forward suddenly and took my hands.

“I think it will not happen, Claire; I think we will stop him. And if not, then still I dinna expect anything to happen to me. But if it should…” He was in deadly earnest now, speaking soft and urgently. “If it does, then I want there to be a place for you; I want someone for you to go to if I am…not there to care for you. If it canna be me, then I would have it be a man who loves you.” His grasp on my fingers grew tighter; I could feel both rings digging into my flesh, and felt the urgency in his hands.

“Claire, ye know what it cost me to do this for you—to spare Randall’s life. Promise me that if the time should come, you’ll go back to Frank.” His eyes searched my face, deep blue as the sky in the window behind him. “I tried to send ye back twice before. And I thank God ye wouldna go. But if it comes to a third time—then promise me you will go back to him—back to Frank. For that is why I spare Jack Randall for a year—for your sake. Promise me, Claire?”

“Allez! Allez! Montez!” the coachman shouted from above, encouraging the team up a slope. We were nearly there.

“All right,” I said at last. “I promise.”



* * *



The stables at Argentan were clean and airy, redolent of summer and the smell of horses. In an open box stall, Jamie circled a Percheron mare, enamored as a horsefly.

“Ooh, what a bonnie wee lass ye are! Come here, sweetheart, let me see that beautiful fat rump. Mm, aye, that’s grand!”

“I wish my husband would talk that way to me,” remarked the Duchesse de Neve, provoking giggles from the other ladies of the party, who stood in the straw of the central aisle, watching.

“Perhaps he would, Madame, if your own back view provided such stimulation. But then, perhaps your husband does not share my lord Broch Tuarach’s appreciation for a finely shaped rump.” The Comte St. Germain allowed his eyes to drift over me with a hint of contemptuous amusement. I tried to imagine those black eyes gleaming through the slits of a mask, and succeeded only too well. Unfortunately, the lace of his wrist frills fell well past his knuckles; I couldn’t see the fork of his thumb.

Catching the byplay, Jamie leaned comfortably on the mare’s broad back, only his head, shoulders and forearms showing above the bulk of the Percheron.

“My lord Broch Tuarach appreciates beauty wherever it may be encountered, Monsieur le Comte; in animal or woman. Unlike some I might name, though, I am capable of telling the difference between the two.” He grinned maliciously at St. Germain, then patted the mare’s neck in farewell as the party broke out laughing.

Jamie took my arm to lead me toward the next stable, followed more slowly by the rest of the party.

“Ah,” he said, inhaling the mixture of horse, harness, manure, and hay as though it were incense. “I do miss the smell of a stable. And the country makes me sick for Scotland.”

“Doesn’t look a lot like Scotland,” I said, squinting in the bright sun as we emerged from the dimness of the stable.

“No, but it’s country,” he said, “it’s clean, and it’s green, and there’s nay smoke in the air, or sewage underfoot—unless ye count horse dung, which I don’t.”

The sun of early summer shone on the roofs of Argentan, nestled among gently rolling green hills. The Royal stud was just outside the town, much more solidly constructed than the houses of the King’s subjects nearby. The barns and stables were of quarried stone, stone-floored, slate-roofed, and maintained in a condition of cleanliness that surpassed that of L’Hôpital des Anges by a fair degree.

A loud whooping came from behind the corner of the stable, and Jamie stopped short, just in time to avoid Fergus, who shot out in front of us as though fired from a slingshot, hotly pursued by two stable-lads, both a good deal bigger. A dirty green streak of fresh manure down the side of the first boy’s face gave some clue as to the cause of the altercation.

With considerable presence of mind, Fergus doubled on his tracks, shot past his pursuers, and whizzed into the middle of the party, whence he took refuge behind the bulwark of Jamie’s kilted hips. Seeing their prey thus safely gone to earth, his pursuers glanced fearfully at the oncoming phalanx of courtiers and gowns, exchanged a look of decision, and, as one, turned and loped off.

Seeing them go, Fergus stuck his head out from behind my skirt and yelled something in gutter French that earned him a sharp cuff on the ear from Jamie.

“Off wi’ ye,” he said brusquely. “And for God’s sake, dinna be throwin’ horse apples at people bigger than you are. Now, go and keep out of trouble.” He followed up this advice with a healthy smack on the seat of the breeches that sent Fergus staggering off in the opposite direction to that taken by his erstwhile assailants.

I had been of two minds as to the wisdom of taking Fergus with us on this expedition, but most of the ladies were bringing pageboys with them, to run errands and carry the baskets of food and other paraphernalia deemed essential to a day’s outing. And Jamie had wanted to show the lad a bit of country, feeling that he’d earned a holiday. All well and good, except that Fergus, who had never been outside Paris in his life, had got the exhilaration of air, light, and beautiful huge animals right up his nose, and, demented with excitement, had been in constant trouble since our arrival.

“God knows what he’ll do next,” I said darkly, looking after Fergus’s retreating form. “Set one of the hayricks on fire, I expect.”

Jamie was unperturbed at the suggestion.

“He’ll be all right. All lads get into manure fights.”

“They do?” I turned around, scrutinizing St. Germain, immaculate in white linen, white serge, and white silk, bending courteously to listen to the Duchesse, as she minced slowly across the straw-strewn yard.

“Maybe you did,” I said. “Not him. Not the Bishop, either, I don’t think.” I was wondering whether this excursion had been a good idea, at least on my part. Jamie was in his element with the giant Percherons, and the Duke was clearly impressed with him, which was all to the good. On the other hand, my back ached miserably from the carriage ride, and my feet felt hot and swollen, pressing painfully against the tight leather of my shoes.

Jamie looked down at me and smiled, pressing my hand where it lay on his arm.

“None so long now, Sassenach. The guide wants to show us the breeding sheds, and then you and the other ladies can go and sit down wi’ the food, while the men stand about makin’ crude jests about the size of each other’s cock.”

“Is that the general effect of watching horses bred?” I asked, fascinated.

“Well, on men it is; I dinna ken what it does to ladies. Keep an ear out, and ye can tell me later.”

There was in fact an air of suppressed excitement among the members of the party as we all pressed into the rather cramped quarters of a breeding shed. Stone, like the other buildings, this one was equipped not with partitioned stalls down both sides, but with a small fenced pen, with holding stalls at either side, and a sort of chute or runway along the back, with several gates that could be opened or closed to control a horse’s movement.

The building itself was light and airy, owing to huge, unglazed windows that opened at either end, giving a view of a grassy paddock outside. I could see several of the enormous Percheron mares grazing near the edge of this; one or two seemed restless, breaking into a rocking gallop for a few paces, then dropping back to a trot or a walk, shaking heads and manes with a high, whinnying noise. Once, when this happened, there was a loud, nasal scream from one of the holding stalls at the end of the shed, and the paneling shook with the thud of a mighty kick from its inhabitant.

“He’s ready,” a voice murmured appreciatively behind me. “I wonder which is the lucky mademoiselle?”

“The one nearest the gate,” the Duchesse suggested, always ready to wager. “Five livres on that one.”

“Ah, no! You’re wrong, Madame, she’s too calm. It will be the little one, under the apple tree, rolling her eyes like a coquette. See how she tosses her head? That one’s my choice.”

The mares had all stopped at the sound of the stallion’s cry, lifting inquiring noses and flicking their ears nervously. The restless ones tossed their heads and whickered; one stretched her neck and let out a long, high call.

“That one,” Jamie said quietly, nodding at her. “Hear her call him?”

“And what is she saying, my lord?” the Bishop asked, a glint in his eye.

Jamie shook his head solemnly.

“It is a song, my lord, but one that a man of the cloth is deaf to—or should be,” he added, to gales of laughter.

Sure enough, it was the mare who had called who was chosen. Once inside, she stopped dead, head up, and stood testing the air with flaring nostrils. The stallion could smell her; his cries echoed eerily off the timbered roof, so loud that conversation was impossible.

No one wanted to talk now, anyway. Uncomfortable as I was, I could feel the quick tingle of arousal through my breasts, and a tightening of my swollen belly as the mare once more answered the stallion’s call.

Percherons are very large horses. A big one stands over five feet at the shoulder, and the rump of a well-fed mare is almost a yard across, a pale, dappled gray or shining black, adorned with a waterfall of black hair, thick as my arm at the root of it.

The stallion burst from his stall toward the tethered mare with a suddenness that made everyone fall back from the fence. Puffs of dust flew up in clouds as the huge hooves struck the packed dirt of the pen, and drops of saliva flew from his open mouth. The groom who had opened his stall door jumped aside, tiny and insignificant next to the magnicent fury let loose in the pen.

The mare curvetted and squealed in alarm, but then he was on her, and his teeth closed on the sturdy arch of her neck, forcing her head down into submission. The great swathe of her tail swept high, leaving her naked, exposed to his lust.

“Jésus,” whispered Monsieur Prudhomme.

It took very little time, but it seemed a lot longer, watching the heaving of sweat-darkened flanks, and the play of light on swirling hair and the sheen of great muscles, tense and straining in the flexible agony of mating.

Everyone was very quiet as we left the shed. Finally the Duke laughed, nudged Jamie, and said, “You are accustomed to such sights, my lord Broch Tuarach?”

“Aye,” Jamie answered. “I’ve seen it a good many times.”

“Ah?” the Duke said. “And tell me, my lord, how does the sight make you feel, after so many times?”

One corner of Jamie’s mouth twitched as he replied, but he remained otherwise straight-faced.

“Verra modest, Your Grace,” he said.



* * *



“What a sight!” the Duchesse de Neve said. She broke a biscuit, dreamy-eyed, and munched it slowly. “So arousing, was it not?”

“What a prick, you mean,” said Madame Prudhomme, rather coarsely. “I wish Philibert had one like that. As it is…” She cocked an eyebrow toward a plate of tiny sausages, each perhaps two inches long, and the ladies seated on the picnic cloth broke into giggles.

“A bit of chicken, please, Paul,” said the Comtesse St. Germain to her pageboy. She was young, and the bawdy conversation of the older ladies was making her blush. I wondered just what sort of marriage she had with St. Germain; he never took her out in public, save on occasions like this, where the presence of the Bishop prevented his appearing with one of his mistresses.

“Bah,” said Madame Montresor, one of the ladies-in-waiting, whose husband was a friend of the Bishop’s. “Size isn’t everything. What difference if it’s the size of a stallion’s, if he lasts no longer than one? Less than two minutes? I ask you, what good is that?” She held up a cornichon between two fingers and delicately licked the tiny pale-green pickle, the pink tip of her tongue pointed and dainty. “It isn’t what they have in their breeches, I say; it’s what they do with it.”

Madame Prudhomme snorted. “Well, if you find one who knows how to do anything with it but poke it into the nearest hole, tell me. I would be interested to see what else can be done with a thing like that.”

“At least you have one who’s interested,” broke in the Duchesse de Neve. She cast a glance of disgust at her husband, huddled with the other men near one of the paddocks, watching a harnessed mare being put through her paces.

“Not tonight, my dearest,” she imitated the sonorous, nasal tones of her husband to perfection. “I am fatigued.” She put a hand to her brow and rolled her eyes up. “The press of business is so wearing.” Encouraged by the giggles, she went on with her imitation, now widening her eyes in horror and crossing her hands protectively over her lap. “What, again? Do you not know that to expend the male essence gratuitously is to court ill-health? Is it not enough that your demands have worn me to a nubbin, Mathilde? Do you wish me to have an attack?”

The ladies cackled and screeched with laughter, loud enough to attract the attention of the Bishop, who waved at us and smiled indulgently, provoking further gales of hilarity.

“Well, at least he is not expending all his male essence in brothels—or elsewhere,” said Madame Prudhomme, with an eloquently pitying glance at the Comtesse St. Germain.

“No,” said Mathilde gloomily. “He hoards it as though it were gold. You’d think there was no more to be had, the way he…oh, Your Grace! Will you not have a cup of wine?” She smiled charmingly up at the Duke, who had approached quietly from behind. He stood smiling at the ladies, one fair brow slightly arched. If he had heard the subject of our conversation, he gave no sign of it.

Seating himself beside me on the cloth, His Grace made casual, witty conversation with the ladies, his oddly high-pitched voice forming no contrast to theirs. While he seemed to pay close attention to the conversation, I noticed that his eyes strayed periodically to the small cluster of men who stood by the paddock fence. Jamie’s kilt was bright even amid the gorgeous cut velvets and stiffened silk.

I had had some hesitation in meeting the Duke again. After all, our last visit had ended in the arrest of Jonathan Randall, upon my accusation of attempted rape. But the Duke had been all charming urbanity on this outing, with no mention of either of the Randall brothers. Neither had there been any public mention of the arrest; whatever the Duke’s diplomatic activities, they seemed to rank highly enough to merit a Royal seal of silence.

On the whole, I welcomed the Duke’s appearance at the picnic cloth. For one thing, his presence kept the ladies from asking me—as some bold souls did every so often, at parties—whether it was true about what Scotsmen wore beneath their kilts. Given the mood of the present party, I didn’t think my customary reply of “Oh, the usual” would suffice.

“Your husband has a fine eye for horses,” the Duke observed to me, freed for a moment when the Duchesse de Neve, on his other side, leaned across the cloth to talk to Madame Prudhomme. “He tells me that both his father and his uncle kept small but quite fine stables in the Highlands.”

“Yes, that’s true.” I sipped my wine. “But you’ve visited Colum MacKenzie at Castle Leoch; surely you’ve seen his stable for yourself.” I had in fact first met the Duke at Leoch the year before, though the meeting had been brief; he had left on a hunting expedition shortly before I was arrested for witchcraft. I thought surely he must have known about that, but if so, he gave no sign of it.

“Of course.” The Duke’s small, shrewd blue eyes darted left, then right, to see whether he was observed, then shifted into English. “At the time, your husband informed me that he did not reside upon his own estates, owing to an unfortunate—and mistaken—charge of murder laid against him by the English Crown. I wondered, my lady, whether that charge of outlawry still holds?”

“There’s still a price on his head,” I said bluntly.

The Duke’s expression of polite interest didn’t change. He reached absently for one of the small sausages on the platter.

“That is not an irremediable matter,” he said quietly. “After my encounter with your husband at Leoch, I made some inquiries—oh, suitably discreet, I assure you, my dear lady. And I think that the matter might be arranged without undue difficulty, given a word in the right ear—from the right sources.”

This was interesting. Jamie had first told the Duke of Sandringham about his outlawry at Colum MacKenzie’s suggestion, in the hopes that the Duke might be persuaded to intervene in the case. As Jamie had not in fact committed the crime in question, there could be little evidence against him; it was quite possible that the Duke, a powerful voice among the nobles of England, could indeed arrange to have the charges dismissed.

“Why?” I said. “What do you want in return?”

The sketchy blond brows shot upward, and he smiled, showing small white even teeth.

“My word, you are direct, are you not? Might it not be only that I appreciate your husband’s expertise and assistance in the selection of horses, and would like to see him restored to a place where that skill might once again be profitably exercised?”

“It might be, but it isn’t,” I said. I caught Madame Prudhomme’s sharp eyes on us, and smiled pleasantly at him. “Why?”

He popped the sausage whole into his mouth and chewed it slowly, his bland round face reflecting nothing more than enjoyment of the day and the meal. At last he swallowed and patted his mouth delicately with one of the linen napkins.

“Well,” he said, “as a matter of supposition only, you understand—”

I nodded, and he went on. “As a matter of supposition, then, perhaps we may suppose that your husband’s recent friendship with—a certain personage recently arrived from Rome? Ah, I see you understand me. Yes. Let us suppose that that friendship has become a matter of some concern to certain parties who would prefer this personage to return peaceably to Rome—or alternatively, to settle in France, though Rome would be better—safer, you know?”

“I see.” I took a sausage myself. They were richly spiced, and little bursts of garlic wafted up my nose at each bite. “And these parties take a sufficiently serious view of this friendship to offer a dismissal of the charges against my husband in return for its severance? Again, why? My husband is no one of great importance.”

“Not now,” the Duke agreed. “But he may be in future. He has linkages to several powerful interests among the French banking families, and more among the merchants. He is also received at Court, and has some access to Louis’s ear. In short, if he does not at present hold the power to command substantial sums of money and influence, he is likely to do so soon. He is also a member of not one but two of the more powerful Highland clans. And the parties who wish the personage in question to return to Rome harbor a not unreasonable fear that this influence might be exerted in undesirable directions. So much better if your husband were to return—his good name restored—to his lands in Scotland, do you not think?”

“It’s a thought,” I said. It was also a bribe, and an attractive one. Sever all connection with Charles Stuart, and be free to return to Scotland and Lallybroch, without the risk of being hanged. The removal of a possibly troublesome supporter of the Stuarts, at no expense to the Crown, was an attractive proposition from the English side, too.

I eyed the Duke, trying to figure out just where he fitted into the scheme of things. Ostensibly an envoy from George II, Elector of Hanover and King—so long as James Stuart remained in Rome—of England, he could well have a dual purpose in his visit to France. To engage with Louis in the delicate exchange of civility and threat that constituted diplomacy, and simultaneously to quash the specter of a fresh Jacobite rising? Several of Charles’s usual coterie had disappeared of late, pleading the press of urgent business abroad. Bought off or scared away? I wondered.

The bland countenance gave no clue to his thoughts. He pushed back the wig from a balding brow and scratched his head unselfconsciously.

“Do think about it, my dear,” he urged. “And when you have thought—speak to your husband.”

“Why don’t you speak to him yourself?”

He shrugged and took more sausages, three this time. “I find that so often men are more amenable to a word spoken from the home quarter, from one they trust, rather than to what they may perceive as pressure from an outside source.” He smiled. “There is the matter of pride to be considered; that must be handled delicately. And for delicate handling—well, they do talk of ‘the woman’s touch,’ do they not?”

I hadn’t time to respond to this, when a shout from the main stable jerked all heads in that direction.

A horse was coming toward us, up the narrow alley between the main stable and the long, open shed that held the forge. A Percheron colt, and a young one, no more than two or three, judging from the dappling of his hide. Even young Percherons are big, and the colt seemed huge, as he blundered to and fro at a slow trot, tail lashing from side to side. Plainly the colt was not yet broken to a saddle; the massive shoulders twitched in an effort to dislodge the small form that straddled his neck, both hands buried deep in the thick black mane.

“Bloody hell, it’s Fergus!” The ladies, disturbed by the shouting, had all gotten to their feet by now, and were peering interestedly at the sight.

I didn’t realize that the men had joined us until one woman said, “But how dangerous it seems! Surely the boy will be injured if he falls!”

“Well, if he doesna hurt himself falling off, I’ll attend to it directly, once I’ve got my hands on the wee bugger,” said a grim voice behind me. I turned to see Jamie peering over my head at the rapidly approaching horse.

“Should you get him off?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No, let the horse take care of it.”

In fact, the horse seemed more bewildered than frightened by the strange weight on his back. The dappled gray skin twitched and shivered as though beset by hordes of flies, and the colt shook its head confusedly, as though wondering what was going on.

As for Fergus, his legs were stretched nearly at right angles across the Percheron’s broad back; clearly the only hold he had on the horse was his death-grip on the mane. At that, he might have managed to slide down or at least tumble off unscathed, had the victims of the manure fight not completed their plan to exact a measure of revenge.

Two or three grooms were following the horse at a cautious distance, blocking the alleyway behind it. Another had succeeded in running ahead, and opening the gate to an empty paddock that stood near us. The gate was between the group of visiting picnickers and the end of the alleyway between the buildings; clearly the intention was to nudge the horse quietly into the paddock, where it could trample Fergus or not as it chose, but at least would itself be safe from escape or injury.

Before this could be accomplished, though, a lithe form popped its head through a small loft window, high above the alleyway. The spectators intent on the horse, no one noticed but me. The boy in the loft observed, withdrew, and reappeared almost at once, holding a large flake of hay in both hands. Judging the moment to a nicety, he dropped it as Fergus and his mount passed directly beneath.

The effect was much like a bomb going off. There was an explosion of hay where Fergus had been, and the colt gave a panicked whinny, got its hindquarters under it, and took off like a Derby winner, heading straight for the little knot of courtiers, who scattered to the four winds, screeching like geese.

Jamie had flung himself on me, pushing me out of the way and knocking me to the ground in the process. Now he rose off my supine form, cursing fluently in Gaelic. Without pausing to inquire after my welfare, he raced off in the direction taken by Fergus.

The horse was rearing and twisting, altogether spooked, churning forelegs keeping at bay a small gang of grooms and stable-lads, all of whom were rapidly losing their professional calm at the thought of one of the King’s valuable horses damaging itself before their eyes.

By some miracle of stubbornness or fear, Fergus was still in place, skinny legs flailing as he slithered and bounced on the heaving back. The grooms were all shouting at him to let go, but he ignored this advice, eyes squeezed tight shut as he clung to the two handfuls of horsehair like a lifeline. One of the grooms was carrying a pitchfork; he waved this menacingly in the air, causing a shriek of dismay from Madame Montresor, who plainly thought he meant to skewer the child.

The shriek didn’t ease the colt’s nerves to any marked extent. It danced and skittered, backing away from the people who were beginning to surround it. While I didn’t think the groom actually intended to stab Fergus off the horse’s back, there was a real danger that the child would be trampled if he fell off—and I didn’t see how he was going to avoid that fate for much longer. The horse made a sudden dash for a small clump of trees that grew near the paddock, either seeking shelter from the mob, or possibly having concluded that the incubus on its back might be scraped off on a branch.

As it passed beneath the first branches, I caught a glimpse of red tartan among the greenery, and then there was a flash of red as Jamie launched himself from the shelter of a tree. His body struck the colt a glancing blow and he tumbled to the ground in a flurry of plaid and bare legs that would have revealed to a discerning observer that this particular Scotsman wasn’t wearing anything under his kilt at the moment.

The party of courtiers rushed up as one, concentrating on the fallen Lord Broch Tuarach, as the grooms pursued the disappearing horse on the other side of the trees.

Jamie lay flat on his back under the beech trees, his face a dead greenish-white, both eyes and mouth wide open. Both arms were locked tight around Fergus, who clung to his chest like a leech. Jamie blinked at me as I dashed up to him, and made a faint effort at a smile. The faint wheezings from his open mouth deepened into a shallow panting, and I relaxed in relief; he’d only had his wind knocked out.

Finally realizing that he was no longer moving, Fergus raised a cautious head. Then he sat bolt upright on his employer’s stomach and said enthusiastically, “That was fun, milord! Can we do it again?”



* * *



Jamie had pulled a muscle in his thigh during the rescue at Argentan, and was limping badly by the time we returned to Paris. He sent Fergus—none the worse either for the escapade or the scolding that followed it—down to the kitchen to seek his supper, and sank into a chair by the hearth, rubbing the swollen leg.

“Hurt much?” I asked sympathetically.

“A bit. All it needs is rest, though.” He stood up and stretched luxuriously, long arms nearly reaching the blackened oak beams above the mantel. “Cramped in that coach; I’d’ve sooner ridden.”

“Mmm. So would I.” I rubbed the small of my back, aching with the strain of the trip. The ache seemed to press downward through my pelvis to my legs—joints loosening from pregnancy, I supposed.

I ran an exploratory hand over Jamie’s leg, then gestured to the chaise.

“Come and lie on your side. I’ve some nice ointment I can rub your leg with; it might ease the ache a bit.”

“Well, if ye dinna mind.” He rose stiffly and lay down on his left side, kilt pulled above his knee.

I opened my medicine box and rummaged through the boxes and jars. Agrimony, slippery elm, pellitory-of-the-wall…ah, there it was. I pulled out the small blue glass jar Monsieur Forez had given me and unscrewed the lid. I sniffed cautiously; salves went rancid easily, but this one appeared to have a good proportion of salt mixed in for preservation. It had a nice mellow scent, and was a beautiful color—the rich yellow-white of fresh cream.

I scooped out a good bit of the salve and spread it down the long muscle of the thigh, pushing Jamie’s kilt above his hip to keep out of the way. The flesh of his leg was warm; not the heat of infection, only the normal heat of a young male body, flushed with exercise and the glowing pulse of health. I massaged the cream gently into the skin, feeling the swell of the hard muscle, probing the divisions of quadriceps and hamstring. Jamie made a small grunting sound as I rubbed harder.

“Hurt?” I asked.

“Aye, a bit, but don’t stop,” he answered. “Feels as though it’s doing me good.” He chuckled. “I wouldna admit it to any but you, Sassenach, but it was fun. I havena moved like that in months.”

“Glad you enjoyed yourself,” I said dryly, taking another dab of cream. “I had an interesting time myself.” Not pausing in the massage, I told him of Sandringham’s offer.

He grunted in response, wincing slightly as I hit a tender spot. “So Colum was right, when he thought the man might be able to help with the charges against me.”

“So it would seem. I suppose the question is—do you want to take him up on it?” I tried not to hold my breath, as I waited for his answer. For one thing, I knew what it would be; the Frasers as a family were renowned for stubbornness, and despite his mother’s having been a MacKenzie, Jamie was a Fraser through and through. Having made up his mind to stopping Charles Stuart, he was hardly likely to abandon the effort. Still, it was tempting bait—to me, as well as to him. To be able to go back to Scotland, to his home; to live in peace.

But there was another rub, of course. If we did go back, leaving Charles’s plans to run their course into the future I knew, then any peace in Scotland would be short-lived indeed.

Jamie gave a small snort, apparently having followed my own thought processes. “Well, I’ll tell ye, Sassenach. If I thought that Charles Stuart might succeed—might free Scotland from English rule—then I would give my lands, my liberty, and life itself to help him. Fool he might be, but a royal fool, and not an ungallant one, I think.” He sighed.

“But I know the man, and I’ve talked with him—and with all the Jacobites that fought with his father. And given what you tell me will happen if it comes to a Rising again…I dinna see that I’ve any choice but to stay, Sassenach.

Once he is stopped, then there may be a chance to go back—or there may not. But for now, I must decline His Grace’s offer wi’ thanks.”

I patted his thigh gently. “That’s what I thought you’d say.”

He smiled at me, then glanced down at the yellowish cream that coated my fingers. “What’s that stuff?”

“Something Monsieur Forez gave me. He didn’t say what it’s called. I don’t think it’s got any active ingredients, but it’s a nice, greasy sort of cream.”

The body under my hands stiffened and Jamie glanced over his shoulder at the blue jar.

“Monsieur Forez gave it ye?” he said uneasily.

“Yes,” I answered, surprised. “What’s the matter?” For he had put aside my cream-smeared hands and, swinging his legs over the side of the chaise longue, was reaching for a towel.

“Has that jar a fleur-de-lys on the lid, Sassenach?” he asked, wiping the ointment from his leg.

“Yes, it has,” I said. “Jamie, what’s wrong with that salve?” The look on his face was peculiar in the extreme; it kept vacillating between dismay and amusement.

“Oh, I wouldna say there’s anything wrong about it, Sassenach,” he answered finally. Having rubbed his leg hard enough to leave the curly red-gold hair bristling above reddened skin, he tossed the towel aside and looked thoughtfully at the jar.

“Monsieur Forez must think rather highly of ye, Sassenach,” he said. “It’s expensive stuff, that.”

“But—”

“It’s not that I dinna appreciate it,” he assured me hastily. “It’s only that havin’ come within a day’s length of being one of the ingredients myself, it makes me feel a bit queer.”

“Jamie!” I felt my voice rising. “What is that stuff?” I grabbed the towel, hastily swabbing my salve-coated hands.

“Hanged-men’s grease,” he answered reluctantly.

“H-h-h…” I couldn’t even get the word out, and started over. “You mean…” Goose bumps rippled up my arms, raising the fine hairs like pins in a cushion.

“Er, aye. Rendered fat from hanged criminals.” He spoke cheerfully, regaining his composure as quickly as I was losing mine. “Verra good for the rheumatism and joint-ill, they say.”

I recalled the tidy way in which Monsieur Forez had gathered up the results of his operations in L’Hôpital des Anges, and the odd look on Jamie’s face when he had seen the tall chirurgien escort me home. My knees were watery, and I felt my stomach flip like a pancake.

“Jamie! Who in bloody fucking hell is Monsieur Forez?” I nearly screamed.

Amusement was definitely getting the upper hand in his expression.

“He’s the public hangman for the Fifth Arondissement, Sassenach. I thought ye knew.”



* * *



Jamie returned damp and chilled from the stableyard, where he had gone to scrub himself, the required ablutions being on a scale greater than the bedroom basin could provide.

“Don’t worry, it’s all off,” he assured me, skinning out of his shirt and sliding naked beneath the covers. His flesh was rough and chilly with gooseflesh, and he shivered briefly as he took me in his arms.

“What is it, Sassenach? I don’t still smell of it, do I?” he asked, as I huddled stiff under the bedclothes, hugging myself with my arms.

“No,” I said. “I’m scared. Jamie, I’m bleeding.”

“Jesus,” he said softly. I could feel the sudden thrill of fear that ran through him at my words, identical to the one that ran through me. He held me close to him, smoothing my hair and stroking my back, but both of us felt the awful helplessness in the face of physical disaster that made his actions futile. Strong as he was, he couldn’t protect me; willing he might be, but he couldn’t help. For the first time, I wasn’t safe in his arms, and the knowledge terrified both of us.

“D’ye think—” he began, then broke off and swallowed. I could feel the tremor run down his throat and hear the gulp as he swallowed his fear. “Is it bad, Sassenach? Can ye tell?”

“No,” I said. I held him tighter, trying to find an anchorage. “I don’t know. It isn’t heavy bleeding; not yet, anyway.”

The candle was still alight. He looked down at me, eyes dark with worry.

“Had I better fetch someone to ye, Claire? A healer, one of the women from the Hôpital?”

I shook my head and licked dry lips.

“No. I don’t…I don’t think there’s anything they could do.” It was the last thing I wanted to say; more than anything, I wanted there to be someone we could find who knew how to make it all right. But I remembered my early nurse’s training, the few days I had spent on the obstetrical ward, and the words of one of the doctors, shrugging as he left the bed of a patient who’d had a miscarriage. “There’s really nothing you can do,” he’d said. “If they’re going to lose a child, they generally do, no matter what you try. Bed rest is really the only thing, and even that often won’t do it.”

“It may be nothing,” I said, trying to hearten both of us. “It isn’t unusual for women to have slight bleeding sometimes during pregnancy.” It wasn’t unusual—during the first three months. I was more than five months along, and this was by no means usual. Still, there were many things that could cause bleeding, and not all of them were serious.

“It may be all right,” I said. I laid a hand on my stomach, pressing gently. I felt an immediate response from the occupant, a lazy, stretching push that at once made me feel better. I felt a rush of passionate gratitude that made tears come to my eyes.

“Sassenach, what can I do?” Jamie whispered. His hand came around me and lay over mine, cupping my threatened abdomen.

I put my other hand on top of his, and held on.

“Just pray,” I said. “Pray for us, Jamie.”





23

THE BEST-LAID PLANS OF MICE AND MEN…

The bleeding had stopped by the morning. I rose very cautiously, but all remained well. Still, it was obvious that the time had come for me to stop working at L’Hôpital des Anges, and I sent Fergus with a note of explanation and apology to Mother Hildegarde. He returned with her prayers and good wishes, and a bottle of a brownish elixir much esteemed—according to the accompanying note—by les maîtresses sage-femme for the prevention of miscarriage. After Monsieur Forez’s salve, I was more than a little dubious about using any medication I hadn’t prepared myself, but a careful sniff reassured me that at least the ingredients were purely botanical.

After considerable hesitation, I drank a spoonful. The liquid was bitter and left a nasty taste in my mouth, but the simple act of doing something—even something I thought likely to be useless—made me feel better. I spent the greater part of each day now lying on the chaise longue in my room, reading, dozing, sewing, or simply staring into space with my hands over my belly.

When I was alone, that is. When he was home, Jamie spent most of his time with me, talking over the day’s business, or discussing the most recent Jacobite letters. King James had apparently been told of his son’s proposed investment in port wine, and approved it wholeheartedly as “…a very sounde scheme, which I cannot but feel will go a great way in providing for you as I should wish to see you established in France.”

“So James thinks the money’s intended merely to establish Charles as a gentleman, and give him some position here,” I said. “Do you think that could be all he has in mind? Louise was here this afternoon; she says Charles came to see her last week—insisted on seeing her, though she refused to receive him at first. She says he was very excited and puffed up about something, but he wouldn’t tell her what; just kept hinting mysteriously about something great he was about to do. ‘A great adventure’ is what she says he said. That doesn’t sound like a simple investment in port, does it?”

“It doesn’t.” Jamie looked grim at the thought.

“Hm,” I said. “Well, all things taken together, it seems a good bet that Charles isn’t meaning just to settle down upon the profits of his venture and become an upstanding Paris merchant.”

“If I were a wagering man, I’d lay my last garter on it,” Jamie said. “The question now is, how do we stop him?”



* * *



The answer came several days later, after any amount of discussion and useless suggestions. Murtagh was with us in my bedroom, having brought up several bolts of cloth from the docks for me.

“They say there’s been an outbreak of pox in Portugal,” he observed, dumping the expensive watered silk on the bed as though it were a load of used burlap. “There was a ship carrying iron from Lisbon came in this morning, and the harbor master was over it with a toothcomb, him and three assistants. Found naught, though.” Spotting the brandy bottle on my table, he poured a tumbler half-full and drank it like water, in large, healthy swallows. I watched this performance openmouthed, pulled from the spectacle only by Jamie’s exclamation.

“Pox?”

“Aye,” said Murtagh, pausing between swallows. “Smallpox.” He lifted the glass again and resumed his systematic refreshment.

“Pox,” Jamie muttered to himself. “Pox.”

Slowly, the frown left his face and the vertical crease between his eyebrows disappeared. A deeply contemplative look came over him, and he lay back in his chair, hands linked behind his neck, staring fixedly at Murtagh. The hint of a smile twitched his wide mouth sideways.

Murtagh observed this process with considerable skeptical resignation. He drained his cup and sat stolidly hunched on his stool as Jamie sprang to his feet and began circling the little clansman, whistling tunelessly through his teeth.

“I take it you have an idea?” I said.

“Oh, aye,” he said, and began to laugh softly to himself. “Oh, aye, that I have.”

He turned to me, eyes alight with mischief and inspiration.

“Have ye anything in your box of medicines that would make a man feverish? Or give him flux? Or spots?”

“Well, yes,” I said slowly, thinking. “There’s rosemary. Or cayenne. And cascara, of course, for diarrhea. Why?”

He looked at Murtagh, grinning widely, then, overcome with his idea, cackled and ruffled his kinsman’s hair, so it stuck up in black spikes. Murtagh glared at him, exhibiting a strong resemblance to Louise’s pet monkey.

“Listen,” Jamie said, bending toward us conspiratorially. “What if the Comte St. Germain’s ship comes back from Portugal wi’ pox aboard?”

I stared at him. “Have you lost your mind?” I inquired politely. “What if it did?”

“If it did,” Murtagh interrupted, “they’d lose the cargo. It would be burnt or dumped in the harbor, by law.” A gleam of interest showed in the small black eyes. “And how d’ye mean to manage that, lad?”

Jamie’s exhilaration dropped slightly, though the light in his eyes remained.

“Well,” he admitted, “I havena got it thought out all the way as yet, but for a start…”

The plan took several days of discussion and research to refine, but was at last settled. Cascara to cause flux had been rejected as being too debilitating in action. However, I’d found some good substitutes in one of the herbals Master Raymond had lent me.

Murtagh, armed with a pouch full of rosemary essence, nettle juice, and madder root, would set out at the end of the week for Lisbon, where he would gossip among the sailors’ taverns, find out the ship chartered by the Comte St. Germain, and arrange to take passage on it, meanwhile sending back word of the ship’s name and sailing date to Paris.

“No, that’s common,” said Jamie, in answer to my question as to whether the captain might not find this behavior fishy. “Almost all cargo ships carry a few passengers; however many they can squeeze between decks. And Murtagh will have enough money to make him a welcome addition, even if they have to give him the captain’s cabin.” He wagged an admonitory finger at Murtagh.

“And get a cabin, d’ye hear? I don’t care what it costs; ye’ll need privacy for taking the herbs, and we dinna want the chance of someone seeing ye, if you’ve naught but a hammock slung in the bilges.” He surveyed his godfather with a critical eye. “Have ye a decent coat? If you go aboard looking like a beggar, they’re like to hurl ye off into the harbor before they find out what ye’ve got in your sporran.”

“Mmphm,” said Murtagh. The little clansman usually contributed little to the discussion, but what he did say was cogent and to the point. “And when do I take the stuff?” he asked.

I pulled out the sheet of paper on which I had written the instructions and dosages.

“Two spoonfuls of the rose madder—that’s this one”—I tapped the small clear-glass bottle, filled with a dark pinkish fluid—“to be taken four hours before you plan to demonstrate your symptoms. Take another spoonful every two hours after the first dose—we don’t know how long you’ll have to keep it up.”

I handed him the second bottle, this one of green glass filled with a purplish-black liquor. “This is concentrated essence of rosemary leaves. This one acts faster. Drink about one-quarter of the bottle half an hour before you mean to show yourself; you should start flushing within half an hour. It wears off quickly, so you’ll need to take more when you can manage inconspicuously.” I took another, smaller vial from my medicine box. “And once you’re well advanced with the ‘fever,’ then you can rub the nettle juice on your arms and face, to raise blisters. Do you want to keep these instructions?”

He shook his head decidedly. “Nay, I’ll remember. There’s more risk to being found wi’ the paper than there is to forgetting how much to take.” He turned to Jamie.

“And you’ll meet the ship at Orvieto, lad?”

Jamie nodded. “Aye. She’s bound to make port there; all the wine haulers do, to take on fresh water. If by chance she doesna do so, then—” He shrugged. “I shall hire a boat and try to catch her up. So long as I board her before we reach Le Havre, it should be all right, but best if we can do it while we’re still close off the coast of Spain. I dinna mean to spend longer at sea than I must.” He pointed with his chin at the bottle in Murtagh’s hand.

“Ye’d best wait to take the stuff ’til ye see me come on board. With no witnesses, the captain might take the easy way out and just put ye astern in the night.”

Murtagh grunted. “Aye, he might try.” He touched the hilt of his dirk, and there was the faintest ironic emphasis on the word “try.”

Jamie frowned at him. “Dinna forget yourself. You’re meant to be suffering from the pox. With luck, they’ll be afraid to touch ye, but just in case…wait ’til I’m within call and we’re well offshore.”

“Mmphm.”

I looked from one to the other of the two men. Farfetched as it was, it might conceivably work. If the captain of the ship could be convinced that one of his passengers was infected with smallpox, he would under no circumstances take his ship into the harbor at Le Havre, where the French health restrictions would require its destruction. And, faced with the necessity of sailing back with his cargo to Lisbon and losing all profit on the voyage, or losing two weeks at Orvieto while word was sent to Paris, he might very well instead consent to sell the cargo to the wealthy Scottish merchant who had just come aboard.

The impersonation of a smallpox victim was the crucial role in this masquerade. Jamie had volunteered to be the guinea pig for testing the herbs, and they had worked magnificently on him. His fair skin had flushed dark red within minutes, and the nettle juice raised immediate blisters that could easily be mistaken for those of pox by a ship’s doctor or a panicked captain. And should any doubt remain, the madder-stained urine gave an absolutely perfect illusion of a man pissing blood as the smallpox attacked his kidneys.

“Christ!” Jamie had exclaimed, startled despite himself at the first demonstration of the herb’s efficacy.

“Oh, jolly good!” I said, peering over his shoulder at the white porcelain chamber pot and its crimson contents. “That’s better than I expected.”

“Oh, aye? How long does it take to wear off, then?” Jamie had asked, looking down rather nervously.

“A few hours, I think,” I told him. “Why? Does it feel odd?”

“Not odd, exactly,” he said, rubbing. “It itches a bit.”

“That’s no the herb,” Murtagh interjected dourly. “It’s just the natural condition for a lad of your age.”

Jamie grinned at his godfather. “Remember back that far, do ye?”

“Farther back than you were born or thought of, laddie,” Murtagh had said, shaking his head.

The little clansman now stowed the vials in his sporran, methodically wrapping each one in a bit of soft leather to prevent breakage.

“I’ll send word of the ship and her sailing so soon as I may. And I’ll see ye within the month off Spain. You’ll have the money before then?”

Jamie nodded. “Oh, aye. By next week, I imagine.” Jared’s business had prospered under Jamie’s stewardship, but the cash reserves were not sufficient to purchase entire shiploads of port, while still fulfilling the other commitments of the House of Fraser. The chess games had borne fruit in more than one regard, though, and Monsieur Duverney the younger, a prominent banker, had willingly guaranteed a sizable loan for his father’s friend.

“It’s a pity we can’t bring the stuff into Paris,” Jamie had remarked during the planning, “but St. Germain would be sure to find out. I expect we’ll do best to sell it through a broker in Spain—I know a good man in Bilbao. The profit will be much smaller than it would be in France, and the taxes are higher, but ye canna have everything, can ye?”

“I’ll settle for paying back Duverney’s loan,” I said. “And speaking of loans, what’s Signore Manzetti going to do about the money he’s loaned Charles Stuart?”

“Whistle for it, I expect,” said Jamie cheerfully. “And ruin the Stuarts’ reputation with every banker on the Continent while he’s about it.”

“Seems a bit hard on poor old Manzetti,” I observed.

“Aye well. Ye canna make an omelet wi’out breakin’ eggs, as my auld grannie says.”

“You haven’t got an auld grannie,” I pointed out.

“No,” he admitted, “but if I had, that’s what she’d say.” He had dropped the playfulness then, momentarily. “It’s no verra fair to the Stuarts, forbye. In fact, should any of the Jacobite lords come to know what I’ve been doing, I expect they’d call it treason, and they’d be right.” He rubbed a hand over his brow, and shook his head, and I saw the deadly seriousness that his playfulness covered.

“It canna be helped, Sassenach. If you’re right—and I’ve staked my life so far on it—then it’s a choice between the aspirations of Charles Stuart and the lives of a hell of a lot of Scotsmen. I’ve no love for King Geordie—me, wi’ a price on my head?—but I dinna see that I can do otherwise.”

He frowned, running a hand through his hair, as he always did when thinking or upset. “If there were a chance of Charles succeeding…aye, well, that might be different. To take a risk in an honorable cause—but your history says he willna succeed, and I must say, all I know of the man makes it seem likely that you’re right. They’re my folk and my family at stake, and if the cost of their lives is a banker’s gold…well, it doesna seem more a sacrifice than that of my own honor.”

He shrugged in half-humorous despair. “So now I’ve gone from stealing His Highness’s mail to bank robbery and piracy on the high seas, and it seems there’s nay help for it.”

He was silent for a moment, looking down at his hands, clenched together on the desk. Then he turned his head to me and smiled.

“I always wanted to be a pirate, when I was a bairn,” he said. “Pity I canna wear a cutlass.”



* * *



I lay in bed, head and shoulders propped on pillows, hands clasped lightly over my stomach, thinking. Since the first alarm, there had been very little bleeding, and I felt well. Still, any sort of bleeding at this stage was cause for alarm. I wondered privately what would happen if any emergency arose while Jamie was gone to Spain, but there was little to be gained by worrying. He had to go; there was too much riding on that particular shipload of wine for any private concerns to intrude. And if everything went all right, he should be back well before the baby was due.

As it was, all personal concerns would have to be put aside, danger or no. Charles, unable to contain his own excitement, had confided to Jamie that he would shortly require two ships—possibly more—and had asked his advice on hull design and the mounting of deck cannon. His father’s most recent letters from Rome had betrayed a slight tone of questioning—with his acute Bourbon nose for politics, James Stuart smelled a rat, but plainly hadn’t yet been informed of what his son was up to. Jamie, hip-deep in decoded letters, thought it likely that Philip of Spain had not yet mentioned Charles’s overtures or the Pope’s interest, but James Stuart had his spies, as well.

After a little while, I became aware of some slight change in Jamie’s attitude. Glancing toward him, I saw that while he was still holding a book open on his knee, he had ceased to turn the pages—or to look at them, for that matter. His eyes were fixed on me instead; or, to be specific, on the spot where my nightrobe parted, several inches lower than strict modesty might dictate, strict modesty hardly seeming necessary in bed with one’s husband.

His gaze was abstracted, dark blue with longing, and I realized that if not socially required, modesty in bed with one’s husband might be at least considerate, under the circumstances. There were alternatives, of course.

Catching me looking at him, Jamie blushed slightly and hastily returned to an exaggerated interest in his book. I rolled onto my side and rested a hand on his thigh.

“Interesting book?” I asked, idly caressing him.

“Mphm. Oh, aye.” The blush deepened, but he didn’t take his eyes from the page.

Grinning to myself, I slipped my hand under the bedclothes. He dropped the book.

“Sassenach!” he said. “Ye know you canna…”

“No,” I said, “but you can. Or rather, I can for you.”

He firmly detached my hand and gave it back to me.

“No, Sassenach. It wouldna be right.”

“It wouldn’t?” I said, surprised. “Whyever not?”

He squirmed uncomfortably, avoiding my eyes.

“Well, I…I wouldna feel right, Sassenach. To take my pleasure from ye, and not be able to give ye…well, I wouldna feel right about it, is all.”

I burst into laughter, laying my head on his thigh.

“Jamie, you are too sweet for words!”

“I am not sweet,” he said indignantly. “But I’m no such a selfish—Claire, stop that!”

“You were planning to wait several more months?” I asked, not stopping.

“I could,” he said, with what dignity was possible under the circumstances. “I waited tw-twenty-two years, and I can…”

“No, you can’t,” I said, pulling back the bedclothes and admiring the shape so clearly visible beneath his nightshirt. I touched it, and it moved slightly, eager against my hand. “Whatever God meant you to be, Jamie Fraser, it wasn’t a monk.”

With a sure hand, I pulled up his nightshirt.

“But…” he began.

“Two against one,” I said, leaning down. “You lose.”



* * *



Jamie worked hard for the next few days, readying the wine business to look after itself during his absence. Still, he found time to come up and sit with me for a short time after lunch most days, and so it was that he was with me when a visitor was announced. Visitors were not uncommon; Louise came every other day or so, to chatter about pregnancy or to moan over her lost love—though I privately thought she enjoyed Charles a great deal more as the object of noble renunciation than she did as a present lover. She had promised to bring me some Turkish sweetmeats, and I rather expected her plump pink face to peek through the door.

To my surprise, though, the visitor was Monsieur Forez. Magnus himself showed him into my sitting room, taking his hat and cloak with an almost superstitious reverence.

Jamie looked surprised at this visitation, but rose to his feet to greet the hangman politely and offer him refreshment.

“As a general rule, I take no spirits,” Monsieur Forez said with a smile. “But I would not insult the hospitality of my esteemed colleague.” He bowed ceremoniously in the direction of the chaise where I reclined. “You are well, I trust, Madame Fraser?”

“Yes,” I said cautiously. “Thank you.” I wondered to what we owed the honor of the visit. For while Monsieur Forez enjoyed considerable prestige and a fair amount of wealth in return for his official duties, I didn’t think his job got him many dinner invitations. I wondered suddenly whether hangmen had any social life to speak of.

He crossed the room and laid a small package on the chaise beside me, rather like a fatherly vulture bringing home dinner for his chicks. Keeping in mind the hanged-men’s grease, I picked the package up gingerly and weighed it in my hand; light for its size, and smelling faintly astringent.

“A small remembrance from Mother Hildegarde,” he explained. “I understand it is a favorite remedy of les maîtresses sage-femme. She has written directions for its use, as well.” He withdrew a folded, sealed note from his inner pocket and handed it over.

I sniffed the package. Raspberry leaves and saxifrage; something else I didn’t recognize. I hoped Mother Hildegarde had included a list of the ingredients as well.

“Please thank Mother Hildegarde for me,” I said. “And how is everyone at the Hôpital?” I greatly missed my work there, as well as the nuns and the odd assortment of medical practitioners. We gossiped for some time about the Hôpital and its personnel, with Jamie contributing the occasional comment, but usually just listening with a polite smile, or—when the subject turned to the clinical—burying his nose in his glass of wine.

“What a pity,” I said regretfully, as Monsieur Forez finished his description of the repair of a crushed shoulder blade. “I’ve never seen that done. I do miss the surgical work.”

“Yes, I will miss it as well,” Monsieur Forez nodded, taking a small sip from his wineglass. It was still more than half-full; apparently he hadn’t been joking about his abstention from spirits.

“You’re leaving Paris?” Jamie said in some surprise.

Monsieur Forez shrugged, the folds of his long coat rustling like feathers.

“Only for a time,” he said. “Still, I will be gone for at least two months. In fact, Madame,” he bowed his head toward me again, “that is the main reason for my visit today.”

“It is?”

“Yes. I am going to England, you understand, and it occurred to me that if you wished it, Madame, it would be a matter of the greatest simplicity for me to carry any message that you desired. Should there be anyone with whom you wished to communicate, that is,” he added, with his usual precision.

I glanced at Jamie, whose face had suddenly altered, from an open expression of polite interest to that pleasantly smiling mask that hid all thoughts. A stranger wouldn’t have noticed the difference, but I did.

“No,” I said hesitantly. “I have no friends or relatives in England; I’m afraid I have no connections there at all, since I was—widowed.” I felt the usual small stab at this reference to Frank, but suppressed it.

If this seemed odd to Monsieur Forez, he didn’t show it. He merely nodded, and set down his half-drunk glass of wine.

“I see. It is fortunate indeed that you have friends here, then.” His voice seemed to hold a warning of some kind, but he didn’t look at me as he bent to straighten his stocking before rising. “I shall call upon you on my return, then, and hope to find you again in good health.”

“What is the business that takes you to England, Monsieur?” Jamie said bluntly.

Monsieur Forez turned to him with a faint smile. He cocked his head, eyes bright, and I was struck once more by his resemblance to a large bird. Not a carrion crow at the moment, though, but a raptor, a bird of prey.

“And what business should a man of my profession travel on, Monsieur Fraser?” he asked. “I have been hired to perform my usual duties, at Smithfield.”

“An important occasion, I take it,” said Jamie. “To justify the summoning of a man of your skill, I mean.” His eyes were watchful, though his expression showed nothing beyond polite inquiry.

Monsieur Forez’s eyes grew brighter. He rose slowly to his feet, looking down at Jamie where he sat near the window.

“That is true, Monsieur Fraser,” he said softly. “For it is a matter of skill, make no mistake. To choke a man to death at the end of a rope—pah! Anyone can do that. To break a neck cleanly, with one quick fall, that requires some calculation in terms of weight and drop, and a certain amount of practice in the placing of the rope, as well. But to walk the line between these methods, to properly execute the sentence of a traitor’s death; that requires great skill indeed.”

My mouth felt suddenly dry, and I reached for my own glass. “A traitor’s death?” I said, feeling as though I really didn’t want to hear the answer.

“Hanging, drawing, and quartering,” Jamie said briefly. “That’s what you mean, of course, Monsieur Forez?”

The hangman nodded. Jamie rose to his feet, as though against his will, facing the gaunt, black-clad visitor. They were much of a height, and could look each other in the face without difficulty. Monsieur Forez took a step toward Jamie, expression suddenly abstracted, as though he were about to make a demonstration of some medical point.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “Yes, that is the traitor’s death. First, the man must be hanged, as you say, but with a nice judgment, so that the neck is not broken, nor the windpipe crushed—suffocation is not the desired result, you understand.”

“Oh, I understand.” Jamie’s voice was soft, with an almost mocking edge, and I glanced at him in bewilderment.

“Do you, Monsieur?” Monsieur Forez smiled faintly, but went on without waiting for an answer. “It is a matter of timing then; you judge by the eyes. The face will darken with blood almost immediately—more quickly if the subject is of fair complexion—and as choking proceeds, the tongue is forced from the mouth. That is what delights the crowds, of course, as well as the popping eyes. But you watch for the signs of redness at the corners of the eyes, as the small blood vessels burst. When that happens, you must give at once the signal for the subject to be cut down—a dependable assistant is indispensable, you understand,” he half-turned, to include me in this macabre conversation, and I nodded, despite myself.

“Then,” he continued, turning back to Jamie, “you must administer at once a stimulant, to revive the subject while the shirt is being removed—you must insist that a shirt opening down the front is provided; often it is difficult to get them off over the head.” One long, slender finger reached out, pointing at the middle button of Jamie’s shirt, but not quite touching the fresh-starched linen.

“I would suppose so,” Jamie said.

Monsieur Forez retracted the finger, nodding in approval at this evidence of comprehension.

“Just so. The assistant will have kindled the fire beforehand; this is beneath the dignity of the executioner. And then the time of the knife is at hand.”

There was a dead silence in the room. Jamie’s face was still set in inscrutability, but a slight moisture gleamed on the side of his neck.

“It is here that the utmost of skill is required,” Monsieur Forez explained, raising a finger in admonition. “You must work quickly, lest the subject expire before you have finished. Mixing a dose with the stimulant which constricts the blood vessels will give you a few moments’ grace, but not much.”

Spotting a silver letter-opener on the table, he crossed to it and picked it up. He held it with his hand wrapped about the hilt, forefinger braced on top of the blade, pointed down at the shining walnut of the tabletop.

“Just there,” he said, almost dreamily. “At the base of the breastbone. And quickly, to the crest of the groin. You can see the bone easily in most cases. Again”—and the letter opener flashed to one side and then the other, quick and delicate as the zigzag flight of a hummingbird—“following the arch of the ribs. You must not cut deeply, for you do not wish to puncture the sac which encloses the entrails. Still, you must get through skin, fat, and muscle, and do it with one stroke. This,” he said with satisfaction, gazing down at his own reflection in the tabletop, “is artistry.”

He laid the knife gently on the table, and turned back to Jamie. He shrugged pleasantly.

“After that, it is a matter of speed and some dexterity, but if you have been exact in your methods, it will present little difficulty. The entrails are sealed within a membrane, you see, resembling a bag. If you have not severed this by accident, it is a simple matter, needing only a little strength, to force your hands beneath the muscular layer and pull free the entire mass. A quick cut at stomach and anus”—he glanced disparagingly at the letter opener—“and then the entrails may be thrown upon the fire.”

“Now”—he raised an admonitory finger—“if you have been swift and delicate in your work, there is now a moment’s leisure, for mark you, as yet no large vessels will have been severed.”

I felt quite faint, although I was sitting down, and I was sure that my face was as white as Jamie’s. Pale as he was, Jamie smiled, as though humoring a guest in conversation.

“So the…subject…can live a bit longer?”

“Mais oui, Monsieur.” The hangman’s bright black eyes swept over Jamie’s powerful frame, taking in the width of shoulder and the muscular legs. “The effects of such shock are unpredictable, but I have seen a strong man live for more than a quarter of an hour in this state.”

“I imagine it seems a lot longer to the subject,” Jamie said dryly.

Monsieur Forez appeared not to hear this, picking up the letter opener again and flourishing it as he spoke.

“As death approaches, then, you must reach up into the cavity of the body to grasp the heart. Here skill is called upon again. The heart retracts, you see, without the downward anchorage of the viscera, and often it is surprisingly far up. In addition, it is most slippery.” He wiped one hand on the skirt of his coat in pantomime. “But the major difficulty lies in severing the large vessels above very quickly, so that the organ may be pulled forth while still beating. You wish to please the crowd,” he explained. “It makes a great difference to the remuneration. As to the rest—” He shrugged a lean, disdainful shoulder. “Mere butchery. Once life is extinct, there is no further need of skill.”

“No, I suppose not,” I said faintly.

“But you are pale, Madame! I have detained you far too long in tedious conversation!” he exclaimed. He reached for my hand, and I resisted the very strong urge to yank it back. His own hand was cool, but the warmth of his lips as he brushed his mouth lightly across my hand was so unexpected that I tightened my own grasp in surprise. He gave my hand a slight, invisible squeeze, and turned to bow formally to Jamie.

“I must take my leave, Monsieur Fraser. I shall hope to meet you and your charming wife again…under such pleasant circumstances as we have enjoyed today.” The eyes of the two men met for a second. Then Monsieur Forez appeared to recall the letter opener he was still holding in one hand. With an exclamation of surprise, he held it out on his open palm. Jamie arched one brow, and picked the knife up delicately by the point.

“Bon voyage, Monsieur Forez,” he said. “And I thank you”—his mouth twisted wryly—“for your most instructive visit.”

He insisted upon seeing our visitor to the door himself. Left alone, I got up and went to the window, where I stood practicing deep-breathing exercises until the dark-blue carriage disappeared around the corner of the Rue Gamboge.

The door opened behind me, and Jamie stepped in. He still held the letter opener. He crossed deliberately to the large famille rose jar that stood by the hearth and dropped the paper knife into it with a clang, then turned to me, doing his best to smile.

“Well, as warnings go,” he said, “that one was verra effective.”

I shuddered briefly.

“Wasn’t it, though?”

“Who do you think sent him?” Jamie asked. “Mother Hildegarde?”

“I expect so. She warned me, when we decoded the music. She said what you were doing was dangerous.” The fact of just how dangerous had been lost upon me, until the hangman’s visit. I hadn’t suffered from morning nausea for some time, but I felt my gorge rising now. If the Jacobite lords knew what I was doing, they’d call it treason. And what steps might they take, if they did find out?

To all outward intents, Jamie was an avowed Jacobite supporter; in that guise, he visited Charles, entertained the Earl Marischal to dinner, and attended court. And so far, he had been skillful enough, in his chess games, his tavern visits, and his drinking parties, to undercut the Stuart cause while seeming outwardly to support it. Besides the two of us, only Murtagh knew that we sought to thwart a Stuart rising—and even he didn’t know why, merely accepting his chief’s word that it was right. That pretense was necessary, while operating in France. But the same pretense would brand Jamie a traitor, should he ever set foot on English soil.

I had known that, of course, but in my ignorance, had thought that there was little difference between being hanged as an outlaw, and executed as a traitor. Monsieur Forez’s visit had taken care of that bit of naiveté.

“You’re bloody calm about it,” I said. My own heart was still thumping erratically, and my palms were cold, but sweaty. I wiped them on my gown, and tucked them between my knees to warm them.

Jamie shrugged slightly and gave me a lopsided smile.

“Well, there’s the hell of a lot of unpleasant ways to die, Sassenach. And if one of them should fall to my lot, I wouldna like it much. But the question is: Am I scairt enough of the possibility that I would stop what I’m doing to avoid it?” He sat down on the chaise beside me, and took one of my hands between his own. His palms were warm, and the solid bulk of him next to me was reassuring.

“I thought that over for some time, Sassenach, in those weeks at the Abbey while I healed. And again, when we came to Paris. And again, when I met Charles Stuart.” He shook his head, bent over our linked hands.

“Aye, I can see myself standing on a scaffold. I saw the gallows at Wentworth—did I tell ye that?”

“No. No, you didn’t.”

He nodded, eyes gone blank in remembrance.

“They marched us down to the courtyard; those of us in the condemned cell. And made us stand in rows on the stones, to watch an execution. They hanged six men that day, men I knew. I watched each man mount the steps—twelve steps, there were—and stand, hands bound behind his back, looking down at the yard as they put the rope around his neck. And I wondered then, how I would manage come my turn to mount those steps. Would I weep and pray, like John Sutter, or could I stand straight like Willie MacLeod, and smile at a friend in the yard below?”

He shook his head suddenly, like a dog flinging off drops of water, and smiled at me a little grimly. “Anyway, Monsieur Forez didna tell me anything I hadna thought of before. But it’s too late, mo duinne.” He laid a hand over mine. “Aye, I’m afraid. But if I would not turn back for the chance of home and freedom, I shallna do it for fear. No, mo duinne. It’s too late.”





24

THE BOIS DE BOULOGNE

Monsieur Forez’s visit proved merely to be the first of a series of unusual disruptions.

“There is an Italian person downstairs, Madame,” Magnus informed me. “He would not give me his name.” There was a pinched look about the butler’s mouth; I gathered that if the visitor would not give his name, he had been more than willing to give the butler a number of other words.

That, coupled with the “iian person” designation, was enough to give me a clue as to the visitor’s identity, and it was with relatively little surprise that I entered the drawing room to find Charles Stuart standing by the window.

He swung about at my entrance, hat in his hands. He was plainly surprised to see me; his mouth dropped open for a second, then he caught himself and gave me a quick, brief bow of acknowledgment.

“Milord Broch Tuarach is not at home?” he inquired. His brows drew together in displeasure.

“No, he isn’t,” I said. “Will you take a little refreshment, Your Highness?”

He looked around the richly appointed drawing-room with interest, but shook his head. So far as I knew, he had been in the house only once before, when he had come over the rooftops from his rendezvous with Louise. Neither he nor Jamie had thought it appropriate for him to be invited to the dinners here; without official recognition by Louis, the French nobility scorned him.

“No. I thank you, Madame Fraser. I shall not stay; my servant waits outside, and it is a long ride to return to my lodgings. I wished only to make a request of my friend James.”

“Er…well, I’m sure that my husband would be happy to oblige Your Highness—if he can,” I answered cautiously, wondering just what the request was. A loan, probably; Fergus’s gleanings of late had included quite a number of impatient letters from tailors, bootmakers, and other creditors.

Charles smiled, his expression altering to one of surprising sweetness.

“I know; I cannot tell you, Madame, how greatly I esteem the devotion and service of your husband; the sight of his loyal face warms my heart amid the loneliness of my present surroundings.”

“Oh?” I said.

“It is not a difficult thing I ask,” he assured me. “It is only that I have made a small investment; a cargo of bottled port.”

“Really?” I said. “How interesting.” Murtagh had left for Lisbon that morning, vials of nettle juice and madder root in his pouch.

“It is a small thing,” Charles flipped a lordly hand, disdaining the investment of every cent he had been able to borrow. “But I wish that my friend James shall accomplish the task of disposing of the cargo, once it shall arrive. It is not appropriate, you know”—and here he straightened his shoulders and elevated his nose just a trifle, quite unconsciously—“for a—a person such as myself, to be seen to engage in trade.”

“Yes, I quite see, Your Highness,” I said, biting my lip. I wondered whether he had expressed this point of view to his business partner, St. Germain—who undoubtedly regarded the young pretender to the Scottish throne as a person of less consequence than any of the French nobles—who engaged in “trade” with both hands, whenever the chance of profit offered.

“Is Your Highness quite alone in this enterprise?” I inquired innocently.

He frowned slightly. “No, I have a partner; but he is a Frenchman. I should much prefer to entrust the proceeds of my venture to the hands of a countryman. Besides,” he added thoughtfully, “I have heard that my dear James is a most astute and capable merchant; it is possible that he might be able to increase the value of my investment by means of judicious sale.”

I supposed whoever had told him of Jamie’s capability hadn’t bothered to add the information that there was probably no wine merchant in Paris whom St. Germain more disliked. Still, if everything worked out as planned, that shouldn’t matter. And if it didn’t, it was possible that St. Germain would solve all of our problems by strangling Charles Stuart, once he found out that the latter had contracted delivery of half his exclusive Gostos port to his most hated rival.

“I’m sure that my husband will do his utmost to dispose of Your Highness’s merchandise to the maximum benefit of all concerned,” I said, with complete truth.

His Highness thanked me graciously, as befitting a prince accepting the service of a loyal subject. He bowed, kissed my hand with great formality, and departed with continuing protestations of gratitude to Jamie. Magnus, looking dourly unimpressed by the Royal visit, closed the door upon him.

In the event, Jamie didn’t come home until after I had fallen asleep, but I told him over breakfast of Charles’s visit, and his request.

“God, I wonder if His Highness will tell the Comte?” he said. Having ensured the health of his bowels by disposing of his parritch in short order, he proceeded to add a French breakfast of buttered rolls and steaming chocolate on top of it. A broad grin spread across his face in contemplation of the Comte’s reaction, as he sipped his cocoa.

“I wonder is it lèse-majesté to hammer an exiled prince? For if it’s not, I hope His Highness has Sheridan or Balhaldy close by when St. Germain hears about it.”

Further speculation along these lines was curtailed by the sudden sound of voices in the hallway. A moment later, Magnus appeared in the door, a note borne on his silver tray.

“Your pardon, milord,” he said, bowing. “The messenger who brought this desired most urgently that it be brought to your attention at once.”

Brows raised, Jamie took the note from the tray, opened and read it.

“Oh, bloody hell!” he said in disgust.

“What is it?” I asked. “Not word from Murtagh already?”

He shook his head. “No. It’s from the foreman of the warehouse.”

“Trouble at the docks?”

An odd mixture of emotions was visible on Jamie’s face; impatience struggling with amusement.

“Well, not precisely. The man’s got himself into a coil at a brothel, it seems. He humbly begs my pardon”—he waved ironically at the note—“but hopes I’ll see fit to come round and assist him. In other words,” he translated, crumpling his napkin as he rose, “will I pay his bill?”

“Will you?” I said, amused.

He snorted briefly and dusted crumbs from his lap.

“I suppose I’ll have to, unless I want to supervise the warehouse myself—and I havena time for that.” His brow creased as he mentally reviewed the duties of the day. This was a task that might take some little time, and there were orders waiting on his desk, ship’s captains waiting on the docks, and casks waiting in the warehouse.

“I’d best take Fergus wi’ me to carry messages,” he said, resigned. “He can maybe go to Montmartre wi’ a letter, if I’m too short of time.”

“Kind hearts are more than coronets,” I told Jamie as he stood by his desk, ruefully flipping through the impressive pile of waiting paperwork.

“Oh, aye?” he said. “And whose opinion is that?”

“Alfred, Lord Tennyson, I think,” I said. “I don’t believe he’s come along yet, but he’s a poet. Uncle Lamb had a book of famous British poets. There was a bit from Burns in there, too, I recall—he’s a Scot,” I explained. “He said, ‘Freedom and Whisky gang tegither.’ ”

Jamie snorted. “I canna say if he’s a poet, but he’s a Scot, at least.” He smiled then, and bent to kiss me on the forehead. “I’ll be home to my supper, mo duinne. Keep ye well.”



* * *



I finished my own breakfast, and thriftily polished off Jamie’s toast as well, then waddled upstairs for my morning nap. I had had small episodes of bleeding since the first alarm, though no more than a spot or two, and nothing at all for several weeks. Still, I kept to my bed or the chaise as much as possible, only venturing down to the salon to receive visitors, or to the dining room for meals with Jamie. When I descended for lunch, though, I found the table laid for one.

“Milord has not come back yet?” I asked in some surprise. The elderly butler shook his head.

“No, milady.”

“Well, I imagine he’ll be back soon; make sure there’s food waiting for him when he arrives.” I was too hungry to wait for Jamie; the nausea tended to return if I went too long without eating.

After lunch, I lay down to rest again. Conjugal relations being temporarily in abeyance, there wasn’t that much one could do in bed, other than read or sleep, which meant I did quite a lot of both. Sleeping on my stomach was impossible, sleeping on my back uncomfortable, as it tended to make the baby squirm. Consequently, I lay on my side, curling around my growing abdomen like a cocktail shrimp round a caper. I seldom slept deeply, but tended rather to doze, letting my mind drift to the gentle random movements of the child.

Somewhere in my dreams, I thought I felt Jamie near me, but when I opened my eyes the room was empty, and I closed them again, lulled as though I, too, floated weightless in a blood-warm sea.

I was wakened at length, somewhere in the late afternoon, by a soft tap on the bedroom door.

“Entrez,” I said, blinking as I came awake. It was the butler, Magnus, apologetically announcing more visitors.

“It is the Princesse de Rohan, Madame,” he said. “The Princesse wished to wait until you awakened, but when Madame d’Arbanville also arrived, I thought perhaps…”

“That’s all right, Magnus,” I said, struggling upright and swinging my feet over the side of the bed. “I’ll come down.”

I looked forward to the visitors. We had stopped entertaining during the last month, and I rather missed the bustle and conversation, silly as much of it was. Louise came frequently to sit with me and regale me with the latest doings of the Court, but I hadn’t seen Marie d’Arbanville in some time. I wondered what brought her here today.

I was ungainly enough to take the stairs slowly, my increased weight jarring upward from the soles of my feet on each step. The paneled door of the drawing room was closed, but I heard the voice inside clearly.

“Do you think she knows?”

The question, asked in the lowered tones that portended the juiciest of gossip, reached me just as I was about to enter the drawing room. Instead, I paused at the threshold, just out of sight.

It was Marie d’Arbanville who had spoken. Welcome everywhere because of her elderly husband’s position, and gregarious even by French standards, Marie heard everything worth hearing within the environs of Paris.

“Does she know what?” The reply was Louise’s; her high, carrying voice had the perfect self-confidence of the born aristocrat, who doesn’t care who hears what.

“Oh, you haven’t heard!” Marie pounced on the opening like a kitten, delighted to find a new mouse to play with. “Goodness! Of course, I only heard myself an hour ago.”

And raced directly over here to tell me about it, I thought. Whatever “it” was. I thought I stood a better chance of hearing the unexpurgated version from my position in the hallway.

“It is my lord Broch Tuarach,” Marie said, and I didn’t need to see her, to imagine her leaning forward, green eyes darting back and forth, snapping with enjoyment of her news. “Only this morning, he challenged an Englishman to a duel—over a whore!”

“What!” Louise’s cry of astonishment drowned out my own gasp. I grabbed hold of a small table and held on, black spots whirling before my eyes as the world came apart at the seams.

“Oh, yes!” Marie was saying. “Jacques Vincennes was there; he told my husband all about it! It was in that brothel down near the fish market—imagine going to a brothel at that hour of the morning! Men are so odd. Anyway, Jacques was having a drink with Madame Elise, who runs the place, when all of a sudden there was the most frightful outcry upstairs, and all kinds of thumping and shouting.”

She paused for breath—and dramatic effect—and I heard the sound of liquid being poured.

“So, Jacques of course raced to the stairs—well, that’s what he says, anyway; I expect he actually hid behind the sofa, he’s such a coward—and after more shouting and thumping, there was a terrible crash, and an English officer came hurtling down the stairs, half-undressed, with his wig off, staggering and smashing into the walls. And who should appear at the top of the stairs, looking like the vengeance of God, but our own petit James!”

“No! And I would have sworn he was the last…but go on! What happened then?”

A teacup chimed softly against its saucer, followed by Marie’s voice, released by excitement from the modulations of secrecy.

“Well—the man reached the foot of the stairs still on his feet, by some miracle, and he turned at once, and looked up at Lord Tuarach. Jacques says the man was very self-possessed, for someone who’d just been kicked downstairs with his breeches undone. He smiled—not a real smile, you know, the nasty sort—and said, ‘There’s no need for violence, Fraser; you could have waited for your turn, surely? I should have thought you get enough at home. But then, some men derive pleasure from paying for it.’ ”

Louise made shocked noises. “How awful! The canaille! But of course, it is no reproach to milord Tuarach—” I could hear the strain in her voice as friendship warred with the urge to gossip. Not surprisingly, gossip won.

“Milord Tuarach cannot enjoy his wife’s favors at the moment; she carries a child, and the pregnancy is dangerous. So of course he would relieve his needs at a brothel; what gentleman would do otherwise? But go on, Marie! What happened then?”

“Well.” Marie drew breath as she approached the high point of the story. “Milord Tuarach rushed down the stairs, seized the Englishman by the throat, and shook him like a rat!”

“Non! Ce n’est pas vrai!”

“Oh, yes! It took three of Madame’s servants to restrain him—such a wonderful big man, isn’t he? So fierce-looking!”

“Yes, but then what?”

“Oh—well, Jacques said the Englishman gasped for a bit, then straightened up and said to milord Tuarach, ‘That’s twice you’ve come near killing me, Fraser. Someday you may succeed.’ And then milord Tuarach cursed in that terrible Scottish tongue—I don’t understand a word, do you?—and then he wrenched himself free from the men holding him, struck the Englishman across the face with his bare hand”—Louise gasped at the insult—“and said, ‘Tomorrow’s dawn will see you dead!’ Then he turned about and ran up the stairs, and the Englishman left. John said he looked quite white—and no wonder! Just imagine!”

I imagined, all right.

“Are you well, Madame?” Magnus’s anxious voice drowned out Louise’s further exclamations. I put out a hand, groping, and he took it at once, putting his other hand under my elbow in support.

“No. I’m not well. Please…tell the ladies?” I waved weakly toward the drawing room.

“Of course, Madame. In a moment; but now let me see you to your chamber. This way, chère Madame…” He led me up the stairs, murmuring consolingly as he supported me. He escorted me to the bedroom chaise, where he left me, promising to send up a maid at once to attend me.

I didn’t wait for assistance; the first shock passing, I could navigate well enough, and I stood and made my way across the room to where my small medicine box sat on the dressing table. I didn’t think I was going to faint now, but there was a bottle of spirits of ammonia in there that I wanted handy, just in case.

I turned back the lid and stood still, staring into the box. For a moment, my mind refused to register what my eyes saw; the folded white square of paper, carefully wedged upright between the multicolored bottles. I noted rather abstractedly that my fingers shook as I took the paper out; it took several tries to unfold it.

I am sorry. The words were bold and black, the letters carefully formed in the center of the sheet, the single letter “J” written with equal care below. And below that, two more words, these scrawled hastily, done as a postscript of desperation: I must!

“You must,” I murmured to myself, and then my knees buckled. Lying on the floor, with the carved panels of the ceiling flickering dimly above, I found myself thinking that I had always heretofore assumed that the tendency of eighteenth-century ladies to swoon was due to tight stays; now I rather thought it might be due to the idiocy of eighteenth-century men.

There was a cry of dismay from somewhere nearby, and then helpful hands were lifting me, and I felt the yielding softness of the wool-stuffed mattress under me, and cool cloths on my brow and wrists, smelling of vinegar.

I was soon restored to what senses I had, but strongly disinclined to talk. I reassured the maids that I was in fact all right, shooed them out of the room, and lay back on the pillows, trying to think.

It was Jack Randall, of course, and Jamie had gone to kill him. That was the only clear thought in the morass of whirling horror and speculation that filled my mind. Why, though? What could have made him break the promise he had made me?

Trying to consider carefully the events Marie had related—third-hand as they were—I thought there had to have been something more than just the shock of an unexpected encounter. I knew the Captain, knew him a great deal better than I wanted to. And if there was one thing of which I was reasonably sure, it was that he would not have been purchasing the usual services of a brothel—the simple enjoyment of a woman was not in his nature. What he enjoyed—needed—was pain, fear, humiliation.

These commodities, of course, could also be purchased, if at a somewhat higher price. I had seen enough, in my work at L’Hôpital des Anges, to know that there were les putains whose chief stock in trade lay not between their legs, but in strong bones overlaid with expensive fragile skin that bruised at once, and showed the marks of whips and blows.

And if Jamie, his own fair skin scarred with the marks of Randall’s favor, had come upon the Captain, enjoying himself in similar fashion with one of the ladies of the establishment—That, I thought, could have carried him past any thought of promises or restraint. There was a small mark on his left breast, just below the nipple; a tiny whitish pucker, where he had cut from his skin the branded mark of Jonathan Randall’s heated signet ring. The rage that had led him to suffer mutilation rather than bear that shameful mark could easily break forth again, to destroy its inflictor—and his hapless progeny.

“Frank,” I said, and my left hand curled involuntarily over the shimmer of my gold wedding ring. “Oh, dear God. Frank.” For Jamie, Frank was no more than a ghost, the dim possibility of a refuge for me, in the unlikely event of necessity. For me, Frank was the man I had lived with, had shared my bed and body with—had abandoned, at the last, to stay with Jamie Fraser.

“I can’t,” I whispered, to the empty air, to the small companion who stretched and twisted lazily within me, undisturbed by my own distress. “I can’t let him do it!”

The afternoon light had faded into the gray shades of dusk, and the room seemed filled with all the despair of the world’s ending. Tomorrow’s dawn will see you dead. There was no hope of finding Jamie tonight. I knew he would not return to the Rue Tremoulins; he wouldn’t have left that note if he were coming back. He could never lie beside me through the night, knowing what he intended doing in the morning. No, he had undoubtedly sought refuge in some inn or tavern, there to ready himself in solitude for the execution of justice that he had sworn.

I thought I knew where the place of execution would be. With the memory of his first duel strong in his mind, Jamie had shorn his hair in preparation. The memory would have come to him again, I was sure, when choosing a spot to meet his enemy. The Bois de Boulogne, near the path of the Seven Saints. The Bois was a popular place for illicit duels, its dense growth sheltering the participants from detection. Tomorrow, one of its shady clearings would see the meeting of Jamie Fraser and Jack Randall. And me.

I lay on the bed, not bothering to undress or cover myself, hands clasped across my belly. I watched the twilight fade to black, and knew I would not sleep tonight. I took what comfort I could in the small movements of my unseen inhabitant, with the echo of Jamie’s words ringing in my ears: Tomorrow’s dawn will see you dead.



* * *



The Bois de Boulogne was a small patch of almost-virgin forest, perched incongruously on the edge of Paris. It was said that wolves as well as foxes and badgers were still to be found lurking in its depths, but this story did nothing to discourage the amorous couples that dallied under the branches on the grassy earth of the forest. It was an escape from the noise and dirt of the city, and only its location kept it from becoming a playground for the nobility. As it was, it was patronized largely by those who lived nearby, who found a moment’s respite in the shade of the large oaks and pale birches of the Bois, and by those from farther away who sought privacy.

It was a small wood, but still too large to quarter on foot, looking for a clearing large enough to hold a pair of duelists. It had begun to rain during the night, and the dawn had come reluctantly, glowing sullen through a cloud-dark sky. The forest whispered to itself, the faint patter of rain on the leaves blending with the subdued rustle and rub of leaf and branches.

The carriage pulled to a stop on the road that led through the Bois, near the last small cluster of ramshackle buildings. I had told the coachman what to do; he swung down from his seat, tethered the horses, and disappeared among the buildings. The folk who lived near the Bois knew what went on there. There could not be that many spots suitable for dueling; those there were would be known.

I sat back and pulled the heavy cloak tighter around me, shivering in the cold of the early dawn. I felt terrible, with the fatigue of a sleepless night dragging at me, and the leaden weight of fear and grief resting in the pit of my stomach. Overlying everything was a seething anger that I tried to push away, lest it interfere with the job at hand.

It kept creeping back, though, bubbling up whenever my guard was down, as it was now. How could he do this? my mind kept muttering, in a cold fury. I shouldn’t be here; I should be home, resting quietly by Jamie’s side. I shouldn’t have to be pursuing him, preventing him, fighting both anger and illness. A nagging pain from the coach ride knotted at the base of my spine. Yes, he might well be upset; I could understand that. But it was a man’s life at stake, for God’s sake. How could his bloody pride be more important than that? And to leave me, with no word of explanation! To leave me to find out from the gossip of neighbors what had happened.

“You promised me, Jamie, damn you, you promised me!” I whispered, under my breath. The wood was quiet, dripping and mist-shrouded. Were they here already? Would they be here? Was I wrong in my guess about the place?

The coachman reappeared, accompanied by a young lad, perhaps fourteen, who hopped nimbly up on the seat beside the coachman, and waved his hand, gesturing ahead and to the left. With a brief crack of the whip and a click of the tongue, the coachman urged the horses into a slow trot, and we turned down the road into the shadows of the wakening wood.

We stopped twice, pausing while the lad hopped down and darted into the undergrowth, each time reappearing within a moment or two, shaking his head in negation. The third time, he came tearing back, the excitement on his face so evident that I had the carriage door open before he got near enough to call out to the coachman.

I had money ready in my hand; I thrust it at him, simultaneously clutching at his sleeve, saying, “Show me where! Quickly, quickly!”

I scarcely noticed either the clutching branches that laced across the path, nor the sudden wetness that soaked my clothing as I brushed them. The path was soft with fallen leaves, and neither my shoes nor those of my guide made any sound as I followed the shadow of his ragged, damp-spotted shirt.

I heard them before I saw them; they had started. The clash of metal was muffled by the wet shrubbery, but clear enough, nonetheless. No birds sang in the wet dawn, but the deadly voice of battle rang in my ears.

It was a large clearing, deep in the Bois, but accessible by path and road. Large enough to accommodate the footwork needed for a serious duel. They were stripped to their shirts, fighting in the rain, the wet fabric clinging, showing the outline of shoulder and backbone.

Jamie had said he was the better fighter; he might be, but Jonathan Randall was no mean swordsman, either. He wove and dodged, lithe as a snake, sword striking like a silver fang. Jamie was just as fast, amazing grace in such a tall man, light-footed and sure-handed. I watched, rooted to the ground, afraid to cry out for fear of distracting Jamie’s attention. They spun in a tight circle of stroke and parry, feet touching lightly as a dance on the turf.

I stood stock-still, watching. I had come through the fading night to find this, to stop them. And having found them, now I could not intervene, for fear of causing a fatal interruption. All I could do was wait, to see which of my men would die.

Randall had his blade up and in place to deflect the stroke, but not quickly enough to brace it against the savagery that sent his sword flying.

I opened my mouth to scream. I had meant to call Jamie’s name, to stop him now, in that moment’s grace between the disarming of his opponent and the killing stroke that must come next. I did scream, in fact, but the sound emerged weak and strangled. As I had stood there, watching, the nagging pain in my back had deepened, clenching like a fist. Now I felt a sudden breaking somewhere, as though the fist had torn loose what it held.

I groped wildly, clutching at a nearby branch. I saw Jamie’s face, set in a sort of calm exultance, and realized that he could hear nothing through the haze of violence that enveloped him. He would see nothing but his goal, until the fight was ended. Randall, retreating before the inexorable blade, slipped on the wet grass and went down. He arched his back, attempting to rise, but the grass was slippery. The fabric of his stock was torn, and his head was thrown back, dark hair rain-soaked, throat exposed like that of a wolf begging mercy. But vengeance knows no mercy, and it was not the exposed throat that the descending blade sought.

Through a blackening mist, I saw Jamie’s sword come down, graceful and deadly, cold as death. The point touched the waist of the doeskin breeches, pierced and cut down in a twisting wrench that darkened the fawn with a sudden flood of black-red blood.

The blood was a hot rush down my thighs, and the chill of my skin moved inward, toward the bone. The bone where my pelvis joined my back was breaking; I could feel the strain as each pain came on, a stroke of lightning flashing down my backbone to explode and flame in the basin of my hips, a stroke of destruction, leaving burnt and blackened fields behind.

My body as well as my senses seemed to fragment. I saw nothing, but could not tell whether my eyes were open or closed; everything was spinning dark, patched now and then with the shifting patterns you see at night as a child, when you press your fists against shut eyelids.

The raindrops beat on my face, on my throat and shoulders. Each heavy drop struck cold, then dissolved into a tiny warm stream, coursing across my chilled skin. The sensation was quite distinct, apart from the wrenching agony that advanced and retreated, lower down. I tried to focus my mind on that, to force my attention from the small, detached voice in the center of my brain, the one saying, as though making notes on a clinical record: “You’re having a hemorrhage, of course. Probably a ruptured placenta, judging from the amount of blood. Generally fatal. The loss of blood accounts for the numbness in hands and feet, and the darkened vision. They say that the sense of hearing is the last to go; that seems to be true.”

Whether it were the last of my senses to be left to me or not, hearing I still had. And it was voices I heard, most agitated, some striving for calmness, all speaking in French. There was one word I could hear and understand—my own name, shouted over and over, but at a distance. “Claire! Claire!”

“Jamie,” I tried to say, but my lips were stiff and numb with cold. Movement of any kind was beyond me. The commotion near me was settling to a steadier level; someone had arrived who was at least willing to act as though they knew what to do.

Perhaps they did. The soaked wad of my skirt was lifted gently from between my thighs, and a thick pad of cloth thrust firmly into place instead. Helpful hands turned me onto my left side, and drew my knees up toward my chest.

“Take her to the Hôpital,” suggested one voice near my ear.

“She won’t live that long,” said another, pessimistically. “Might as well wait a few minutes, then send for the meat wagon.”

“No,” insisted another. “The bleeding is slowing; she may live. Besides, I know her; I’ve seen her at L’Hôpital des Anges. Take her to Mother Hildegarde.”

I summoned all the strength I had left, and managed to whisper, “Mother.” Then I gave up the struggle, and let the darkness take me.





25

RAYMOND THE HERETIC

The high, vaulted ceiling over me was supported by ogives, those fourteenth-century architectural features in which four ribs rise from the tops of pillars, to join in double crossing arches.

My bed was set under one of these, gauze curtains drawn around me for privacy. The central point of the ogive was not directly above me, though; my bed had been placed a few feet off-center. This bothered me whenever I glanced upward; I kept wanting to move the bed by force of will, as though being centered beneath the roof would help to center me within myself.

If I had a center any longer. My body felt bruised and tender, as though I had been beaten. My joints ached and felt loose, like teeth undermined by scurvy. Several thick blankets covered me, but they could do no more than trap heat, and I had none to save. The chill of the rainy dawn had settled in my bones.

All these physical symptoms I noted objectively, as though they belonged to someone else; otherwise I felt nothing. The small, cold, logical center of my brain was still there, but the envelope of feeling through which its utterances were usually filtered was gone; dead, or paralyzed, or simply no longer there. I neither knew nor cared. I had been in L’Hôpital des Anges for five days.

Mother Hildegarde’s long fingers probed in relentless gentleness through the cotton of the bedgown I wore, probing the depths of my belly, seeking the hard edges of a contracting uterus. The flesh was soft as ripe fruit, though, and tender beneath her fingers. I winced as her fingers sank deep, and she frowned, muttering something under her breath that might have been a prayer.

I caught a name in the murmurings, and asked, “Raymond? You know Master Raymond?” I could think of few less likely pairings than this redoubtable nun and the little gnome of the cavern of skulls.

Mother Hildegarde’s thick brows shot up, astonished.

“Master Raymond, you say? That heretical charlatan? Que Dieu nous en garde!” May God protect us.

“Oh. I thought I heard you say ‘Raymond.’ ”

“Ah.” The fingers had returned to their work, probing the crease of my groin in search of the lumps of enlarged lymph nodes that would signal infection. They were there, I knew; I had felt them myself, moving my hands in restless misery over my empty body. I could feel the fever, an ache and a chill deep in my bones, that would burst into flame when it reached the surface of my skin.

“I was invoking the aid of St. Raymond Nonnatus,” Mother Hildegarde explained, wringing out a cloth in cold water. “He is an aid most invaluable in the assistance of expectant mothers.”

“Of which I am no longer one.” I noticed remotely the brief stab of pain that creased her brows; it disappeared almost at once as she busied herself in mopping my brow, smoothing the cold water briskly over the rounds of my cheeks and down into the hot, damp creases of my neck.

I shivered suddenly at the touch of the cold water, and she stopped at once, laying a considering hand on my forehead.

“St. Raymond is not one to be picky,” she said, absently reproving. “I myself take help where it can be found; a course I would recommend to you.”

“Mmm.” I shut my eyes, retreating into the haven of gray fog. Now there seemed to be faint lights in the fog, brief cracklings like the scatter of sheet lightning on a summer horizon.

I heard the clicking of jet rosary beads as Mother Hildegarde straightened up, and the soft voice of one of the sisters in the doorway, summoning her to another in the day’s string of emergencies. She had almost reached the door when a thought struck her. She turned with a swish of heavy skirts, pointing at the foot of my bed with an authoritative finger.

“Bouton!” she said. “Au pied, reste!”

The dog, as unhesitating as his mistress, whirled smartly in mid-step and leaped to the foot of the bed. Once there, he took a moment to knead the bedclothes with his paws and turn three times widdershins, as though taking the curse off his resting place, before lying down at my feet, resting his nose on his paws with a deep sigh.

Satisfied, Mother Hildegarde murmured, “Que Dieu vous bénisse, mon enfant,” in farewell, and disappeared.

Through the gathering fog and the icy numbness that wrapped me, I dimly appreciated her gesture. With no child to lay in my arms, she had given me her own best substitute.

The shaggy weight on my feet was in fact a small bodily comfort. Bouton lay still as the dogs beneath the feet of the kings carved on the lids of their tombs at St. Denis, his warmth denying the marble chill of my feet, his presence an improvement on either solitude or the company of humans, as he required nothing of me. Nothing was precisely what I felt, and all I had to give.

Bouton emitted a small, popping dog-fart and settled into sleep. I drew the covers over my nose and tried to do likewise.

I slept, eventually. And I dreamed. Fever dreams of weariness and desolation, of an impossible task done endlessly. Unceasing painful effort, carried out in a stony, barren place. Of thick gray fog, through which loss pursued me like a demon in the mist.

I woke, quite suddenly, to find that Bouton was gone, but I was not alone.

Raymond’s hairline was completely level, a flat line drawn across the wide brow as though with a rule. He wore his thick, graying hair swept back and hanging straight to the shoulder, so the massive forehead protruded like a block of stone, completely overshadowing the rest of his face. It hovered over me now, looking to my fevered eyes like the slab of a tombstone.

The lines and furrows moved slightly as he spoke to the sisters, and I thought they seemed like letters, written just below the surface of the stone, trying to burrow their way to the surface so that the name of the dead could be read. I was convinced that in another moment, my name would be legible on that white slab, and at that moment, I would truly die. I arched my back and screamed.

“Now, see there! She doesn’t want you, you disgusting old creature—you’re disturbing her rest. Come away at once!” Mother Hildegarde clutched Raymond imperatively by the arm, tugging him away from the bed. He resisted, standing rooted like a stone gnome in a lawn, but Sister Celeste added her not inconsiderable efforts to Mother Hildegarde’s, and they lifted him clean off his feet and bore him away between them, the clog dropping from one frantically kicking foot as they went.

The clog lay where it had fallen, on its side, square in the center of a scrubbed flagstone. With the intense fixation of fever, I was unable to take my eyes off it. I traced the impossibly smooth curve of the worn edge over and over, each time pulling back my gaze from the impenetrable darkness of the inside. If I let myself enter that blackness, my soul would be sucked out into chaos. As my eyes rested on it, I could hear again the sounds of the time passage through the circle of stones, and I flung out my arms, clutching frantically at the wadded bedding, seeking some anchorage against confusion.

Suddenly an arm shot through the draperies, and a work-reddened hand snatched up the shoe and disappeared. Deprived of focus, my heat-addled mind spun round the grooves of the flags for a time, then, soothed by the geometric regularity, turned inward and wobbled into sleep like a dying top.

There was no stillness in my dreams, though, and I stumbled wearily through mazes of repeating figures, endless loopings and whorls. It was with a sense of profound relief that I saw at last the irregularities of a human face.

And an irregular face it was, to be sure, screwed up as it was in a ferocious frown, lips pursed in adjuration. It was only as I felt the pressure of the hand over my mouth that I realized I was no longer asleep.

The long, lipless mouth of the gargoyle hovered next to my ear.

“Be still, ma chère! If they find me here again, I’m done for!” The large, dark eyes darted from side to side, keeping watch for any movement of the drapes.

I nodded slowly, and he released my mouth, his fingers leaving a faint whiff of ammonium and sulfur behind. He had somewhere found—or stolen, I thought dimly—a ragged gray friar’s gown to cover the grimy velvet of his apothecary’s robe, and the depths of the hood concealed both the telltale silver hair and that monstrous forehead.

The fevered delusions receded slightly, displaced by what remnants of curiosity remained to me. I was too weak to say more than “What…” when he placed a finger once more across my lips, and threw back the sheet covering me.

I watched in some bemusement as he rapidly unknotted the strings of my shift and opened the garment to the waist. His movements were swift and businesslike, completely lacking in lechery. Not that I could imagine anyone capable of trying to ravish a fever-wracked carcass like mine, particularly not within hearing of Mother Hildegarde. But still…

I watched with remote fascination as he placed his cupped hands on my breasts. They were broad and almost square, the fingers all of a length, with unusually long and supple thumbs that curved around my breasts with amazing delicacy. Watching them, I had an unusually vivid memory of Marian Jenkinson, a girl with whom I had trained at Pembroke Hospital, telling the rapt inmates of the nurses’ quarters that the size and shape of a man’s thumbs were a sure indication of the quality of his more intimate appendage.

“And it’s true, I swear it,” Marian would declare, shaking back her blond hair dramatically. But when pressed for examples, she would only giggle and dimple, rolling her eyes toward Lieutenant Hanley, who strongly resembled a gorilla, opposable—and sizable—thumbs notwithstanding.

The large thumbs were pressing gently but firmly into my flesh, and I could feel my swollen nipples rising against the hard palms, cold by comparison with my own heated skin.

“Jamie,” I said, and a shiver passed over me.

“Hush, madonna,” said Raymond. His voice was low, kind but somehow abstracted, as though he were paying no attention to me, in spite of what he was doing.

The shiver came back; it was as though the heat passed from me to him, but his hands did not warm. His fingers stayed cool, and I chilled and shook as the fever ebbed and flowed, draining from my bones.

The afternoon light was dim through the thick gauze of the drapes around my bed, and Raymond’s hands were dark on the white flesh of my breasts. The shadows between the thick, grimy fingers were not black, though. They were…blue, I thought.

I closed my eyes, looking at the particolored swirl of patterns that immediately appeared behind my lids. When I opened them again, it was as though something of the color remained behind, coating Raymond’s hands.

As the fever ebbed, leaving my mind clearer, I blinked, trying to raise my head for a better look. Raymond pressed slightly harder, urging me to lie back, and I let my head fall on the pillow, peering slantwise over my chest.

I wasn’t imagining it after all—or was I? While Raymond’s hands weren’t moving themselves, a faint flicker of colored light seemed to move over them, shedding a glow of rose and a pallor of blue across my own white skin.

My breasts were warming now, but warming with the natural heat of health, not the gnawing burn of fever. The draft from the open archway outside found a way through the drapes and lifted the damp hair at my temples, but I wasn’t chilled now.

Raymond’s head was bent, face hidden by the cowl of his borrowed robe. After what seemed a long time, he moved his hands from my breasts, very slowly over my arms, pausing and squeezing gently at the joints of shoulder and elbow, wrists and fingers. The soreness eased, and I thought I could see briefly a faint blue line within my upper arm, the glowing ghost of the bone.

Always touching, never hurrying, he brought his hands back over the shallow curve of my collarbone and down the meridian of my body, splaying his palms across my ribs.

The oddest thing about all this was that I was not at all astonished. It seemed an infinitely natural thing, and my tortured body relaxed gratefully into the hard mold of his hands, melting and reforming like molded wax. Only the lines of my skeleton held firm.

An odd feeling of warmth now emanated from those broad, square, workman’s hands. They moved with painstaking slowness over my body, and I could feel the tiny deaths of the bacteria that inhabited my blood, small explosions as each scintilla of infection disappeared. I could feel each interior organ, complete and three-dimensional, and see it as well, as though it sat on a table before me. There the hollow-walled stomach, here the lobed solidness of my liver, and each convolution and twist of intestine, turned in and on and around itself, neatly packed in the shining web of its mesentery membrane. The warmth glowed and spread within each organ, illuminating it like a small sun within me, then died and moved on.

Raymond paused, hands pressed side by side on my swollen belly. I thought he frowned, but it was hard to tell. The cowled head turned, listening, but the usual noises of the hospital continued in the distance, with no warning heeltaps coming our way.

I gasped and moved involuntarily, as one hand moved lower, cupped briefly between my legs. An increase in pressure from the other hand warned me to be silent, and the blunt fingers eased their way inside me.

I closed my eyes and waited, feeling my inner walls adjust to this odd intrusion, the inflammation subsiding bit by bit as he probed gently deeper.

Now he touched the center of my loss, and a spasm of pain contracted the heavy walls of my inflamed uterus. I breathed a small moan, then clamped my lips as he shook his head.

The other hand slid down to rest comfortingly on my belly as the groping fingers of the other touched my womb. He was still then, holding the source of my pain between his two hands as though it were a sphere of crystal, heavy and fragile.

“Now,” he said softly. “Call him. Call the red man. Call him.”

The pressure of the fingers within and the palm without grew harder, and I pressed my legs against the the bed, fighting it. But there was no strength left in me to resist, and the inexorable pressure went on, cracking the crystal sphere, freeing the chaos within.

My mind filled with images, worse than the misery of the fever-dreams, because more real. Grief and loss and fear racked me, and the dusty scent of death and white chalk filled my nostrils. Casting about in the random patterns of my mind for help, I heard the voice still muttering, patiently but firmly, “Call him,” and I sought my anchor.

“Jamie! JAMIE!”

A bolt of heat shot through my belly, from one hand to the other, like an arrow through the center of the basin of my bones. The pressing grip relaxed, slid free, and the lightness of harmony filled me.

The bedframe quivered as he ducked beneath it, barely in time.

“Milady! Are you all right?” Sister Angelique shoved through the drapes, round face creased with worry beneath her wimple. The concern in her eyes was underlaid with resignation; the sisters knew I would die soon—if this looked to be my last struggle, she was prepared to summon the priest.

Her small, hard hand rested briefly against my cheek, moved quickly to my brow, then back. The sheet still lay crumpled around my thighs, and my gown lay open. Her hands slid inside it, into my armpits, where they remained for a moment before withdrawing.

“God be praised!” she cried, eyes moistening. “The fever is gone!” She bent close, peering in sudden alarm, to be sure that the disappearance of the fever was not due to the fact that I was dead. I smiled at her weakly.

“I’m all right,” I said. “Tell Mother.”

She nodded eagerly, and pausing only long enough to draw the sheet modestly over me, she hurried from the room. The drapes had hardly swung closed behind her when Raymond emerged from under the bed.

“I must go,” he said. He laid a hand upon my head. “Be well, madonna.”

Weak as I was, I rose up, grasping his arm. I slid my hand up the length of forge-tough muscle, seeking, but not finding. The smoothness of his skin was unblemished, clear to the crest of the shoulder. He stared down at me in astonishment.

“What are you doing, madonna?”

“Nothing.” I sank back, disappointed. I was too weak and too light-headed to be careful of my words.

“I wanted to see whether you had a vaccination scar.”

“Vaccination?” Skilled as I was at reading faces by now, I would have seen the slightest twitch of comprehension, no matter how swiftly it was concealed. But there was none.

“Why do you call me madonna still?” I asked. My hands rested on the slight concavity of my stomach, gently as though not to disturb the shattering emptiness. “I’ve lost my child.”

He looked mildly surprised.

“Ah. I did not call you madonna because you were with child, my lady.”

“Why, then?” I didn’t really expect him to answer, but he did. Tired and drained as we both were, it was as though we were suspended together in a place where neither time nor consequence existed; there was room for nothing but truth between us.

He sighed.

“Everyone has a color about them,” he said simply. “All around them, like a cloud. Yours is blue, madonna. Like the Virgin’s cloak. Like my own.”

The gauze curtain fluttered briefly and he was gone.





26

FONTAINEBLEAU

For several days, I slept. Whether this was a necessary part of physical recovery, or a stubborn retreat from waking reality, I do not know, but I woke only reluctantly to take a little food, falling at once back into a stupor of oblivion, as though the small, warm weight of broth in my stomach were an anchor that pulled me after it, down through the murky fathoms of sleep.

A few days later I woke to the sound of insistent voices near my ear, and the touch of hands lifting me from the bed. The arms that held me were strong and masculine, and for a moment, I felt afloat in joy. Then I woke all the way, struggling feebly against a wave of tobacco and cheap wine, to find myself in the grasp of Hugo, Louise de La Tour’s enormous footman.

“Put me down!” I said, batting at him weakly. He looked startled at this sudden resurrection from the dead, and nearly dropped me, but a high, commanding voice stopped both of us.

“Claire, my dear friend! Do not be afraid, ma chère, it’s all right. I am taking you to Fontainebleau. The air, and good food—it’s what you need. And rest, you need rest…”

I blinked against the light like a newborn lamb. Louise’s face, round, pink, and anxious, floated nearby like a cherub on a cloud. Mother Hildegarde stood behind her, tall and stern as the angel at the gates of Eden, the heavenly illusion enhanced by the fact that they were both standing in front of the stained-glass window in the vestibule of the Hôpital.

“Yes,” she said, her deep voice making the simplest word more emphatic than all Louise’s twittering. “It will be good for you. Au revoir, my dear.”

And with that, I was borne down the steps of the Hôpital and stuffed willy-nilly into Louise’s coach, with neither strength nor will to protest.

The bumping of the coach over potholes and ruts kept me awake on the journey to Fontainebleau. That, and Louise’s constant conversation, aimed at reassurance. At first I made some dazed attempt to respond, but soon realized that she required no answers, and in fact, talked more easily without them.

After days in the cool gray stone vault of the Hôpital, I felt like a freshly unwrapped mummy, and shrank from the assault of so much brightness and color. I found it easier to deal with if I drew back a bit, and let it all wash past me without trying to distinguish its elements.

This strategy worked until we reached a small wood just outside Fontainebleau. The trunks of the oaks were dark and thick, with low, spreading canopies that shadowed the ground beneath with shifting light, so that the whole wood seemed to be moving slightly in the wind. I was vaguely admiring the effect, when I noticed that some of what I had assumed to be tree trunks were in fact moving, turning very slowly to and fro.

“Louise!” My exclamation and my grip on her arm stopped her chatter in mid-word.

She lunged heavily across me to see what I was looking at, then flopped back to her side of the carriage and thrust her head out of the window, shouting at the coachman.

We came to a slithering, dusty halt just opposite the wood. There were three of them, two men and a woman. Louise’s high, agitated voice went on, expostulating and questioning, punctuated by the coachman’s attempts to explain or apologize, but I paid no attention.

In spite of their turning and the small fluttering of their clothing, they were very still, more inert than the trees that held them. The faces were black with suffocation; Monsieur Forez wouldn’t have approved at all, I thought, through the haze of shock. An amateur execution, but effective, for all that. The wind shifted, and a faint, gassy stink blew over us.

Louise shrieked and pounded on the window frame in a frenzy of indignation, and the carriage started with a jerk that rocked her back in the seat.

“Merde!” she said, rapidly fanning her flushed face. “The idiocy of that fool, stopping like that right there! What recklessness! The shock of it is bad for the baby, I am sure, and you, my poor dear.…oh, dear, my poor Claire! I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to remind you…how can you forgive me, I’m so tactless…”

Luckily her agitation at possibly having upset me made her forget her own upset at sight of the bodies, but it was very wearying, trying to stem her apologies. At last, in desperation, I changed the subject back to the hanged ones.

“Who?” The distraction worked; she blinked, and remembering the shock to her système, pulled out a bottle of ammoniac spirits and took a hearty sniff that made her sneeze in reflex.

“Hugue…choo! Huguenots,” she got out, snorting and wheezing. “Protestant heretics. That’s what the coachman says.”

“They hang them? Still?” Somehow, I had thought such religious persecution a relic of earlier times.

“Well, not just for being Protestants usually, though that’s enough,” Louise said, sniffing. She dabbed her nose delicately with an embroidered handkerchief, examined the results critically, then reapplied the cloth to her nose and blew it with a satisfying honk.

“Ah, that’s better.” She tucked the handkerchief back in her pocket and leaned back with a sigh. “Now I am restored. What a shock! If they have to hang them, that’s all well, but must they do so by a public thoroughfare, where ladies must be exposed to such disgustingness? Did you smell them? Pheew! This is the Comte Medard’s land; I’ll send him a very nasty letter about it, see if I don’t.”

“But why did they hang these people?” I asked, interrupting in the brutal manner that was the only possible way of actually conversing with Louise.

“Oh, witchcraft, most likely. There was a woman, you saw. Usually it’s witchcraft when the women are involved. If it’s only men, most often it’s just preaching sedition and heresy, but the women don’t preach. Did you see the ugly dark clothes she had on? Horrible! So depressing only to wear dark colors all the time; what kind of religion would make its followers wear such plain clothes all the time? Obviously the Devil’s work, anyone can see that. They are afraid of women, that’s what it is, so they…”

I closed my eyes and leaned back in the seat. I hoped it wasn’t very far to Louise’s country house.



* * *



In addition to the monkey, from whom she would not be parted, Louise’s country house contained a number of other decorations of dubious taste. In Paris, her husband’s taste and her father’s must be consulted, and the rooms of the house there were consequently done richly, but in subdued tones. But Jules seldom came to the country house, being too busy in the city, and so Louise’s taste was allowed free rein.

“This is my newest toy; is it not lovely?” she cooed, running her hand lovingly over the carved dark wood of a tiny house that sprouted incongruously from the wall next to a gilt-bronze sconce in the shape of Eurydice.

“That looks like a cuckoo clock,” I said disbelievingly.

“You have seen one before? I didn’t think there were any to be found anywhere in Paris!” Louise pouted slightly at the thought that her toy might not be unique, but brightened as she twisted the hands of the clock to the next hour. She stood back, beaming proudly as the tiny clockwork bird stuck its head out and emitted several shrill Cuckoo!s in succession.

“Isn’t it precious?” She touched the bird’s head briefly as it disappeared back into its hidey-hole. “Berta, the housekeeper here, got it for me; her brother brought it all the way from Switzerland. Whatever you want to say about the Swiss, they are clever woodcarvers, no?”

I wanted to say no, but instead merely murmured something tactfully admiring.

Louise’s grasshopper mind leaped nimbly to a new topic, possibly triggered by thoughts of Swiss servants.

“You know, Claire,” she said, with a touch of reproof, “you ought really to come to Mass in the chapel each morning.”

“Why?”

She tossed her head in the direction of the doorway, where one of the maids was passing with a tray.

“I don’t care at all, myself, but the servants—they’re very superstitious out here in the countryside, you know. And one of the footmen from the Paris house was foolish enough to tell the cook all about that silly story of your being La Dame Blanche. I have told them that’s all nonsense, of course, and threatened to dismiss anyone I catch spreading such gossip, but…well, it might help if you came to Mass. Or at least prayed out loud now and then, so they could hear you.”

Unbeliever that I was, I thought daily Mass in the house’s chapel might be going a bit far, but with vague amusement, agreed to do what I could to allay the servants’ fears; consequently, Louise and I spent the next hour reading psalms aloud to each other, and reciting the Lord’s Prayer in unison—loudly. I had no idea what effect this performance might have on the servants, but it did at least exhaust me sufficiently that I went up to my room for a nap, and slept without dreaming until the next morning.

I often had difficulty sleeping, possibly because my waking state was little different from an uneasy doze. I lay awake at night, gazing at the white-gesso ceiling with its furbishes of fruit and flowers. It hung above me like a dim gray shape in the darkness, the personification of the depression that clouded my mind by day. When I did close my eyes at night, I dreamed. I couldn’t block the dreams with grayness; they came in vivid colors to assault me in the dark. And so I seldom slept.



* * *



There was no word from Jamie—or of him. Whether it was guilt or injury that had kept him from coming to me at the Hôpital, I didn’t know. But he hadn’t come, nor did he come to Fontainebleau. By now he likely had left for Orvieto.

Sometimes I found myself wondering when—or whether—I would see him again, and what—if anything—we might say to each other. But for the most part, I preferred not to think about it, letting the days come and go, one by one, avoiding thoughts of both the future and the past by living only in the present.

Deprived of his idol, Fergus drooped. Again and again, I saw him from my window, sitting disconsolately beneath a hawthorn bush in the garden, hugging his knees and looking down the road toward Paris. At last, I stirred myself to go out to him, making my way heavily downstairs and down the garden path.

“Can’t you find anything to do, Fergus?” I asked him. “Surely one of the stable-lads could use a hand, or something.”

“Yes, milady,” he agreed doubtfully. He scratched absentmindedly at his buttocks. I observed this behavior with deep suspicion.

“Fergus,” I said, folding my arms, “have you got lice?” He snatched his hand back as though burned.

“Oh, no, milady!”

I reached down and pulled him to his feet, sniffed delicately in his general vicinity, and put a finger inside his collar, far enough to reveal the grimy ring around his neck.

“Bath,” I said succinctly.

“No!” He jerked away, but I grabbed him by the shoulder. I was surprised by his vehemence; while no fonder of bathing than the normal Parisian—who regarded the prospect of immersion with a repugnance akin to horror—still, I could scarcely reconcile the usually obliging child I knew with the little fury that suddenly squirmed and twisted under my hand.

There was a ripping noise, and he was free, bounding through the black-berry bushes like a rabbit pursued by a weasel. There was a rustle of leaves and a scrabble of stones, and he was gone, over the wall and headed for the outbuildings at the back of the estate.

I made my way through the maze of rickety outbuildings behind the château, cursing under my breath as I skirted mud puddles and heaps of filth. Suddenly, there was a high-pitched whining buzz and a cloud of flies rose from the pile a few feet ahead of me, bodies sparking blue in the sunlight.

I wasn’t close enough to have disturbed them; there must have been some movement from the darkened doorway beside the dungheap.

“Aha!” I said out loud. “Got you, you filthy little son of a whatnot! Come out of there this instant!”

No one emerged, but there was an audible stir inside the shed, and I thought I caught a glimpse of white in the shadowed interior. Holding my nose, I stepped over the manure pile into the shed.

There were two gasps of horror; mine, at beholding something that looked like the Wild Man of Borneo flattened against the back wall, and his, at beholding me.

The sunlight trickled through the cracks between the boards, giving enough light for us to see each other clearly, once my eyes had adapted to the relative dark. He wasn’t, after all, quite as awful-looking as I’d thought at first, but he wasn’t a lot better, either. His beard was as filthy and matted as his hair, flowing past his shoulders onto a shirt ragged as any beggar’s. He was barefoot, and if the term sans-culottes wasn’t yet in common use, it wasn’t for lack of trying on his part.

I wasn’t afraid of him, because he was so obviously afraid of me. He was pressing himself against the wall as though trying to get through it by osmosis.

“It’s all right,” I said soothingly. “I won’t hurt you.”

Instead of being soothed, he drew himself abruptly upright, reached into the bosom of his shirt and pulled out a wooden crucifix on a leather thong. He held this out toward me and started praying, in a voice shaking with terror.

“Oh, bother,” I said crossly. “Not another one!” I took a deep breath. “Pater-Noster-qui-es-in-coeliset-in-terra…” His eyes bugged out, and he kept holding the crucifix, but at least he stopped his own praying in response to this performance.

“…Amen!” I concluded with a gasp. I held up both hands and waggled them in front of his face. “See? Not a word backward, not a single quotidianus da nobis hodie out of place, right? Didn’t even have my fingers crossed. So I can’t be a witch, can I?”

The man slowly lowered his crucifix and stood gaping at me. “A witch?” he said. He looked as though he thought I were crazy, which I felt was a bit thick under the circumstances.

“You didn’t think I was a witch?” I said, beginning to feel a trifle foolish.

Something that looked like a smile twitched into existence and out again among the tangles of his beard.

“No, Madame,” he said. “I am accustomed to people saying such things of me.”

“You are?” I eyed him closely. Besides the rags and filth, the man was obviously starving; the wrists that stuck out of his shirt were scrawny as a child’s. At the same time, his French was graceful and educated, if oddly accented.

“If you’re a witch,” I said, “you aren’t very successful at it. Who the hell are you?”

At this, the fright came back into his eyes again. He looked from side to side, seeking escape, but the shed was solidly built, if old, with no entrance other than the one in which I was standing. At last, calling on some hidden reserve of courage, he drew himself up to his full height—some three inches below my own—and with great dignity, said “I am the Reverend Walter Laurent, of Geneva.”

“You’re a priest?” I was thunderstruck. I couldn’t imagine what might have brought a priest—Swiss or not—to this state.

Father Laurent looked nearly as horror-struck as I.

“A priest?” he echoed. “A papist? Never!”

Suddenly the truth struck me.

“A Huguenot!” I said. “That’s it—you’re a Protestant, aren’t you?” I remembered the bodies I had seen hanging in the forest. That, I thought, explained rather a lot.

His lips quivered, but he pressed them tightly together for a moment before opening them to reply.

“Yes, Madame. I am a pastor; I have been preaching in this district for a month.” He licked his lips briefly, eyeing me. “Your pardon, Madame—I think you are not French?”

“I’m English,” I said, and he relaxed suddenly, as though someone had taken all the stiffening out of his spine.

“Great Father in Heaven,” he said, prayerfully. “You are then a Protestant also?”

“No, I’m a Catholic,” I answered. “But I’m not at all vicious about it,” I added hastily, seeing the look of alarm spring back into his light-brown eyes. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone you’re here. I suppose you came to try to steal a little food?” I asked sympathetically.

“To steal is a sin!” he said, horrified. “No, Madame. But…” He clamped his lips shut, but his glance in the direction of the château gave him away.

“So one of the servants brings you food,” I said. “So you let them do the stealing for you. But then I suppose you can absolve them from the sin, so it all works out. Rather thin moral ice you’re on, if you ask me,” I said reprovingly, “but then it isn’t any of my business, I suppose.”

A light of hope shone in his eyes. “You mean—you will not have me arrested, Madame?”

“No, of course not. I’ve a sort of fellow-feeling for fugitives from the law, having come rather close to being burnt at the stake once myself.” I didn’t know quite why I was being so chatty; the relief of meeting someone who seemed intelligent, I supposed. Louise was sweet, devoted and kind, and had precisely as much brain as the cuckoo clock in her drawing room. Thinking of the Swiss clock, I suddenly realized who Pastor Laurent’s secret parishioners must be.

“Look,” I said, “if you want to stay here, I’ll go up to the château and tell Berta or Maurice that you’re here.”

The poor man was nothing but skin, bones, and eyes. Everything he thought was reflected in those large, gentle brown orbs. Right now, he was plainly thinking that whoever had tried to burn me at the stake had been on the right track.

“I have heard,” he began slowly, reaching for a fresh grip on his crucifix, “of an Englishwoman whom the Parisians call ‘La Dame Blanche.’ An associate of Raymond the Heretic.”

I sighed. “That’s me. Though I’m not an associate of Master Raymond’s, I don’t think. He’s just a friend.” Seeing him squint doubtfully at me, I inhaled again. “Pater Noster…”

“No, no, Madame, please.” To my surprise, he had lowered the crucifix, and was smiling.

“I also am an acquaintance of Master Raymond’s, whom I knew in Geneva. There he was a reputable physician and herbalist. Now, alas, I fear that he has turned to darker pursuits, though of course nothing was proved.”

“Proved? About what? And what’s all this about Raymond the Heretic?”

“You did not know?” Thin brows lifted over the brown eyes. “Ah. Then you are not associated with Master Raymond’s…activities.” He relaxed noticeably.

“Activity” seemed like a poor description for the way in which Raymond had healed me, so I shook my head.

“No, but I wish you’d tell me. Oh, but I shouldn’t be standing here talking; I should go and send Berta with food.”

He waved a hand, with some dignity.

“It is of no urgency, Madame. The appetites of the body are of no importance when weighed against the appetites of the soul. And Catholic or not, you have been kind to me. If you are not now associated with Master Raymond’s occult activities, then it is right that you should be warned in time.”

And ignoring the dirt and the splintered boards of the floor, he folded his legs and sat down against the wall of the shed, gracefully motioning me also to sit. Intrigued, I collapsed opposite him, tucking up the folds of my skirt to keep them from dragging in the manure.

“Have you heard of a man named du Carrefours, Madame?” the Pastor said. “No? Well, his name is well known in Paris, I assure you, but you would do well not to speak it. This man was the organizer and the leader of a ring of unspeakable vice and depravity, in association with the most debased occult practices. I cannot bring myself to mention to you some of the ceremonies that were performed in secret among the nobility. And they call me a witch!” he muttered, almost under his breath.

He raised one bony forefinger, as though to forestall my unspoken objection.

“I am aware, Madame, of the sort of gossip that is commonly spread, without reference to fact—who should know it better than we? But the activities of du Carrefours and his followers—these are a matter of common knowledge, for he was tried for them, imprisoned, and eventually burned in the Place de la Bastille as punishment for his crimes.”

I remembered Raymond’s light remark, “No one’s been burned in Paris in—oh, twenty years at least,” and shuddered, in spite of the warm weather.

“And you say that Master Raymond was associated with this du Carrefours?”

The Pastor frowned, scratching absently at his matted beard. He likely had both lice and fleas, I thought, and tried to move back imperceptibly.

“Well, it is difficult to say. No one knows where Master Raymond came from; he speaks several tongues, all without noticeable accent. A very mysterious man, Master Raymond, but—I would swear by the name of my God—a good one.”

I smiled at him. “I think so, too.”

He nodded, smiling, but then grew serious as he resumed his story. “Just so, Madame. Still, he corresponded with du Carrefours from Geneva; I know this, for he told me so himself—he supplied various substances to order: plants, elixirs, the dried skins of animals. Even a sort of fish—a most peculiar and frightening thing, which he told me was brought up from the darkest depths of the sea; a horrible thing, all teeth, with almost no flesh—but with the most horrifying small…lights…like tiny lanterns, beneath its eyes.”

“Really,” I said, fascinated.

Pastor Laurent shrugged. “All this may be quite innocent, of course, a mere matter of business. But he disappeared from Geneva at the same time that du Carrefours came at first under suspicion—and within weeks of du Carrefours’s execution, I had begun to hear stories that Master Raymond had established his business in Paris, and that he had taken over a number of du Carre-fours’s clandestine activities as well.”

“Hmm,” I said. I was thinking of Raymond’s inner room, and the cabinet painted with Cabbalistic signs. To keep out those who believed in them. “Anything else?”

The Reverend Laurent’s eyebrows arched skyward.

“No, Madame,” he said, rather weakly. “Nothing else, to my knowledge.”

“Well, I’m really not given to that sort of thing myself,” I assured him.

“Oh? Good,” he said, hesitantly. He sat silently for a moment, as though making up his mind about something, then inclined his head courteously toward me.

“You will pardon me if I intrude, Madame? Berta and Maurice have told me something of your loss. I am sorry, Madame.”

“Thank you,” I said, staring at the stripes of sunlight on the floor.

There was another silence, then Pastor Laurent said delicately, “Your husband, Madame? He is not here with you?”

“No,” I said, still keeping my eyes on the floor. Flies lighted momentarily, then zoomed off, finding no nourishment. “I don’t know where he is.”

I didn’t mean to say any more, but something made me look up at the ragged little preacher.

“He cared more for his honor than he did for me or his child or an innocent man,” I said bitterly. “I don’t care where he is; I never want to see him again!”

I stopped abruptly, shaken. I had not put it into words before, even to myself. But it was true. There had been a great trust between us, and Jamie had broken it, for the sake of revenge. I understood; I had seen the power of the thing that drove him, and knew it couldn’t be denied forever. But I had asked for a few months’ grace, which he had promised me. And then, unable to wait, he had broken his word, and by so doing, sacrificed everything that lay between him and me. Not only that: He had jeopardized the undertaking in which we were engaged. I could understand, but I would not forgive.

Pastor Laurent laid a hand on mine. It was grimy with crusted dirt, and his nails were broken and black-edged, but I didn’t draw away. I expected platitudes or a homily, but he didn’t speak, either; just held my hand, very gently, for a long time, as the sun moved across the floor and the flies buzzed slow and heavy past our heads.

“You had better go,” he said at last, releasing my hand. “You will be missed.”

“I suppose so.” I drew a deep breath, feeling at least steadier, if not better. I felt in the pocket of my gown; I had a small purse with me.

I hesitated, not wanting to offend him. After all, by his lights I was a heretic, even if not a witch.

“Will you let me give you some money?” I asked carefully.

He thought for a moment, then smiled, the light-brown eyes glowing.

“On one condition, Madame. If you will allow me to pray for you?”

“A bargain,” I said, and gave him the purse.





27

AN AUDIENCE WITH HIS MAJESTY

As the days passed at Fontainebleau, I gradually regained my bodily strength, though my mind continued to drift, my thoughts shying away from any sort of memory or action.

There were few visitors; the country house was a refuge, where the frenetic social life of Paris seemed like one more of the uneasy dreams that haunted me. I was surprised, then, to have a maid summon me to the drawing room to meet a visitor. The thought crossed my mind that it might be Jamie, and I felt a surge of dizzy sickness. But then reason reasserted itself; Jamie must have left for Spain by now; he could not possibly return before late August. And when he did?

I couldn’t think of it. I pushed the idea into the back of my mind, but my hands shook as I fastened my laces to go downstairs.

Much to my surprise, the “visitor” was Magnus, the butler from Jared’s Paris house.

“Your pardon, Madame,” he said, bowing deeply when he saw me. “I did not wish to presume…but I could not tell whether perhaps the matter was of importance…and with the master gone…” Lordly in his own sphere of influence, the old man was badly discomposed by being so far afield. It took some time to extract a coherent story from him, but at length a note was produced, folded and sealed, addressed to me.

“The hand is that of Monsieur Murtagh,” Magnus said, in a tone of half-repugnant awe. That explained his hesitance, I thought. The servants in the Paris house all regarded Murtagh with a sort of respectful horror, which had been exaggerated by reports of the events in the Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré.

It had come to the Paris house two weeks earlier, Magnus explained. Unsure what to do with it, the servants had dithered and conferred, but at length, he had decided that it must be brought to my attention.

“The master being gone,” he repeated. This time I paid attention to what he was saying.

“Gone?” I said. The note was crumpled and stained from its journey, light as a leaf in my hand. “You mean Jamie left before this note arrived?” I could make no sense of this; this must be Murtagh’s note giving the name and sailing date of the ship that would bear Charles Stuart’s port from Lisbon. Jamie could not have left for Spain before receiving the information.

As though to verify this, I broke the seal and unfolded the note. It was addressed to me, because Jamie had thought there was less chance of my mail being intercepted than his. From Lisbon, dated nearly a month before, the letter boasted no signature, but didn’t need one.

“The Scalamandre sails from Lisbon on the 18th of July” was all the note said. I was surprised to see what a small, neat hand Murtagh wrote; somehow I had been expecting a formless scrawl.

I looked up from the paper to see Magnus and Louise exchanging a very odd kind of look.

“What is it?” I said abruptly. “Where’s Jamie?” I had put down his absence from L’Hôpital des Anges after the miscarriage to his guilt at the knowledge that his reckless action had killed our child, had killed Frank, and had nearly cost me my life. At that point, I didn’t care; I didn’t want to see him, either. Now I began to think of another, more sinister explanation for his absence.

It was Louise who spoke at last, squaring her plump shoulders to the task.

“He’s in the Bastille,” she said, taking a deep breath. “For dueling.”

My knees felt watery, and I sat down on the nearest available surface.

“Why in hell didn’t you tell me?” I wasn’t sure what I felt at this news; shock, or horror—fear? or a small sense of satisfaction?

“I—I didn’t want to upset you, chérie,” Louise stammered, taken aback at my apparent distress. “You were so weak…and there was nothing you could do, after all. And you didn’t ask,” she pointed out.

“But what…how…how long is the sentence?” I demanded. Whatever my initial emotion, it was superseded by a sudden rush of urgency. Murtagh’s note had arrived at the Rue Tremoulins two weeks ago. Jamie should have left upon its receipt—but he hadn’t.

Louise was summoning servants and ordering wine and ammoniac spirits and burnt feathers, all at once; I must look rather alarming.

“It is a contravention of the King’s order,” she said, pausing in her flutter. “He will remain in prison at the King’s pleasure.”

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I muttered, wishing I had something stronger to say.

“It is fortunate that le petit James did not kill his opponent,” Louise hastened to add. “In that case, the penalty would have been much more…eek!” She twitched her striped skirts aside just in time to avoid the cascade of chocolate and biscuits as I knocked over the newly arrived refreshments. The tray clanged to the floor unregarded as I stared down at her. My hands were clasped tightly against my ribs, the right protectively curled over the gold ring on my left hand. The thin metal seemed to burn against my skin.

“He isn’t dead, then?” I asked, like one in a dream. “Captain Randall…he’s alive?”

“Why, yes,” she said, peering curiously up at me. “You did not know? He is badly wounded, but it is said that he recovers. Are you quite well, Claire? You look…” But the rest of what she was saying was lost in the roaring that filled my ears.



* * *



“You did too much, too soon,” Louise said severely, pulling back the curtains. “I said so, didn’t I?”

“I imagine so,” I said. I sat up and swung my legs out of bed, checking cautiously for any residual signs of faintness. No swimming of head, ringing of ears, double vision, or inclination to fall on the floor. Vital signs all right.

“I need my yellow gown, and then would you send for the carriage, Louise?” I asked.

Louise looked at me in horror. “You are not meaning to go out? Nonsense! Monsieur Clouseau is coming to attend you! I have sent a messenger to fetch him here at once!”

The news that Monsieur Clouseau, a prominent society physician, was coming from Paris to examine me, would have been sufficient grounds to get me on my feet, had I needed them.

The eighteenth of July was ten days away. With a fast horse, good weather, and a disregard for bodily comfort, the journey from Paris to Orvieto could be made in six. That left me four days to contrive Jamie’s release from the Bastille; no time to fiddle about with Monsieur Clouseau.

“Hmm,” I said, looking round the room thoughtfully. “Well, call the maid to dress me, at any rate. I don’t want Monsieur Clouseau to find me in my shift.”

Though she still looked suspicious, this sounded plausible; most ladies of the Court would rise from a deathbed in order to make sure they were dressed appropriately for the occasion.

“All right,” she agreed, turning to go. “But you stay in bed until Yvonne arrives, you hear?”

The yellow gown was one of my best, a loose, graceful thing made in the modish sacque style, with a wide rolled collar, full sleeves, and a beaded closure down the front. Powdered, combed, stockinged, and perfumed at last, I surveyed the pair of shoes Yvonne had laid out for me to step into. I turned my head this way and that, frowning appraisingly.

“Mm, no,” I said at last. “I don’t think so. I’ll wear the others, the ones with the red morocco heels, instead.”

The maid looked dubiously at my dress, as though mentally assessing the effect of red morocco with yellow moiré silk, but obediently turned to rummage in the foot of the huge armoire.

Tiptoeing silently up behind her in my stockinged feet, I shoved her headfirst into the armoire, and slammed the door on the heaving, shrieking mass beneath the pile of fallen dresses within. Turning the key in the door, I dropped it neatly into my pocket, mentally shaking hands with myself. Neat job, Beauchamp, I thought. All this political intrigue is teaching you things they never dreamt of in nursing school, no doubt about it.

“Don’t worry,” I told the shaking armoire soothingly. “Someone will be along to let you out soon, I imagine. And you can tell La Princesse that you didn’t let me go anywhere.”

A despairing wail from inside the armoire seemed to be mentioning Monsieur Clouseau’s name.

“Tell him to have a look at the monkey,” I called over my shoulder, “It’s got mange.”



* * *



The success of my encounter with Yvonne buoyed my mood. Once ensconced in the carriage, rattling back toward Paris, though, my spirits sank appreciably.

While I was no longer quite so angry at Jamie, I still did not wish to see him. My feelings were in complete turmoil, and I had no intention of examining them closely; it hurt too much. Grief was there, and a horrible sense of failure, and over all, the sense of betrayal; his and mine. He should never have gone to the Bois de Boulogne; I should never have gone after him.

But we both did as our natures and our feelings dictated, and together we had—perhaps—caused the death of our child. I had no wish to meet my partner in the crime, still less to expose my grief to him, to match my guilt with his. I fled from anything that reminded me of the dripping morning in the Bois; certainly I fled from any memory of Jamie, caught as I had last seen him, rising from the body of his victim, face glowing with the vengeance that would shortly claim his own family.

I could not think of it even in passing, without a terrible clenching in my stomach, that brought back the ghost of the pain of premature labor. I pressed my fists into the blue velvet of the carriage seat, raising myself to ease the imagined pressure on my back.

I turned to look out the window, hoping to distract myself, but the sights went blindly by, as my mind returned, unbidden, to thoughts of my journey. Whatever my feelings for Jamie, whether we would ever see each other again, what we might be, or not be, to one another—still the fact remained that he was in prison. And I rather thought I knew just what imprisonment might mean to him, with the memories of Wentworth that he carried; the groping hands that fondled him in dreams, the stone walls he hammered in his sleep.

More importantly, there was the matter of Charles and the ship from Portugal; the loan from Monsieur Duverney, and Murtagh, about to take ship from Lisbon for a rendezvous off Orvieto. The stakes were too high to allow my own emotions any play. For the sake of the Scottish clans, and the Highlands themselves, for Jamie’s family and tenants at Lallybroch, for the thousands who would die at Culloden and in its aftermath—it had to be tried. And to try, Jamie would have to be free; it wasn’t something I could undertake myself.

No, there was no question. I would have to do whatever I must to have him released from the Bastille.

And just what could I do?

I watched the beggars scramble and gesture toward the windows as we entered the Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré. When in doubt, I thought, seek the assistance of a Higher Authority.

I rapped on the panel beside the driver’s seat. It slid back with a grating noise, and the mustached face of Louise’s coachman peered down at me.

“Madame?”

“Left,” I said. “To L’Hôpital des Anges.”



* * *



Mother Hildegarde tapped her blunt fingers thoughtfully on a sheet of music paper, as though drumming out a troublesome sequence. She sat at the mosaic table in her private office, across from Herr Gerstmann, summoned to join us in urgent council.

“Well, yes,” said Herr Gerstmann doubtfully. “Yes, I believe I can arrange a private audience with His Majesty, but…you are certain that your husband…um…” The music master seemed to be having unusual trouble in expressing himself, which made me suspect that petitioning the King for Jamie’s release might be just a trifle more complicated than I had thought. Mother Hildegarde verified this suspicion with her own reaction.

“Johannes!” she exclaimed, so agitated as to drop her usual formal manner of address. “She cannot do that! After all, Madame Fraser is not one of the Court ladies—she is a person of virtue!”

“Er, thank you,” I said politely. “If you don’t mind, though…what, precisely, would my state of virtue have to do with my seeing the King to ask for Jamie’s release?”

The nun and the singing-master exchanged looks in which horror at my naiveté was mingled with a general reluctance to remedy it. At last Mother Hildegarde, braver of the two, bit the bullet.

“If you go alone to ask such a favor from the King, he will expect to lie with you,” she said bluntly. After all the carry-on over telling me, I was hardly surprised, but I glanced at Herr Gerstmann for confirmation, which he gave in the form of a reluctant nod.

“His Majesty is susceptible to requests from ladies of a certain personal charm,” he said delicately, taking a sudden interest in one of the ornaments on the desk.

“But there is a price to such requests,” added Mother Hildegarde, not nearly so delicate. “Most of the courtiers are only too pleased when their wives find Royal favor; the gain to them is well worth the sacrifice of their wives’ virtue.” The wide mouth curled with scorn at the thought, then straightened into its usual grimly humorous line.

“But your husband,” she said, “does not appear to me to be the sort who makes a complaisant cuckold.” The heavy arched brows supplied the question mark at the end of the sentence, and I shook my head in response.

“I shouldn’t think so.” In fact, this was one of the grosser understatements I had ever heard. If “complaisant” was not the very last word that came to mind at the thought of Jamie Fraser, it was certainly well down toward the bottom of the list. I tried to imagine just what Jamie would think, say, or do, if he ever learned that I had lain with another man, up to and including the King of France.

The thought made me remember the trust that had existed between us, almost since the day of our marriage, and a sudden feeling of desolation swept over me. I shut my eyes for a moment, fighting illness, but the prospect had to be faced.

“Well,” I said, taking a deep breath, “is there another way?”

Mother Hildegarde knitted her brows, frowning at Herr Gerstmann, as though expecting him to produce the answer. The little music master shrugged, though, frowning in his turn.

“If there were a friend of some importance, who might intercede for your husband with His Majesty?” he asked tentatively.

“Not likely.” I had examined all such alternatives myself, in the coach from Fontainebleau, and been forced to conclude that there was no one whom I could reasonably ask to undertake such an ambassage. Owing to the illegal and scandalous nature of the duel—for of course Marie d’Arbanville had spread her gossip all over Paris—none of the Frenchmen of our acquaintance could very well afford to take an interest in it. Monsieur Duverney, who had agreed to see me, had been kind, but discouraging. Wait, had been his advice. In a few months, when the scandal has died down a bit, then His Majesty might be approached. But now…

Likewise the Duke of Sandringham, so bound by the delicate proprieties of diplomacy that he had dismissed his private secretary for only the appearance of involvement in scandal, was in no position to petition Louis for a favor of this sort.

I stared down at the inlaid tabletop, scarcely seeing the complex curves of enamel that swept through abstractions of geometry and color. My forefinger traced the loops and whorls before me, providing a precarious anchor for my racing thoughts. If it was indeed necessary for Jamie to be released from prison, in order to prevent the Jacobite invasion of Scotland, then it seemed that I would have to do the releasing, whatever the method, and whatever its consequences.

At last I looked up, meeting the music master’s eyes. “I’ll have to,” I said softly. “There’s no other way.”

There was a moment of silence. Then Herr Gerstmann glanced at Mother Hildegarde.

“She will stay here,” Mother Hildegarde declared firmly. “You may send to tell her the time of the audience, Johannes, once you have arranged it.”

She turned to me. “After all, if you are really set upon this course, my dear friend…” Her lips pressed tightly together, then opened to say, “It may be a sin to assist you in committing immorality. Still, I will do it. I know that your reasons seem good to you, whatever they may be. And perhaps the sin will be outweighed by the grace of your friendship.”

“Oh, Mother.” I thought I might cry if I said more, so contented myself with merely squeezing the big, work-roughened hand that rested on my shoulder. I had a sudden longing to fling myself into her arms and bury my face against the comforting black serge bosom, but her hand left my shoulder and went to the long jet rosary that clicked among the folds of her skirt as she walked.

“I will pray for you,” she said, smiling what would have been a tremulous smile on a face less solidly carved. Her expression changed suddenly to one of deep consideration. “Though I do wonder,” she added meditatively, “exactly who would be the proper patron saint to invoke in the circumstances?”



* * *



Mary Magdalene was the name that came to mind as I raised my hands overhead in a simulation of prayer, to allow the small wicker dress frame to slip over my shoulders and settle onto my hips. Or Mata Hari, but I was quite sure she’d never make the Calendar of Saints. I wasn’t sure about the Magdalene, for that matter, but a reformed prostitute seemed the most likely among the heavenly host to be sympathetic to the venture being now undertaken.

I reflected that the Convent of the Angels had probably never before seen a robing such as this. While the postulants about to take their final vows were most splendidly arrayed as brides of Christ, red silk and rice powder probably didn’t figure heavily in the ceremonies.

Very symbolic, I thought, as the rich scarlet folds slithered over my upturned face. White for purity, and red for…whatever this was. Sister Minèrve, a young sister from a wealthy noble family, had been selected to assist me in my toilette; with considerable skill and aplomb, she dressed my hair, tucking in the merest scrap of ostrich feather trimmed with seed pearls. She combed my brows carefully, darkening them with the small lead combs, and painted my lips with a feather dipped in a pot of rouge. The feel of it on my lips tickled unbearably, exaggerating my tendency to break into unhinged giggles. Not hilarity; hysteria.

Sister Minèrve reached for the hand mirror. I stopped her with a gesture; I didn’t want to look myself in the eye. I took a deep breath, and nodded.

“I’m ready,” I said. “Send for the coach.”



* * *



I had never been in this part of the palace before. In fact, after the multiple twists and turnings through the candle-lit corridors of mirrors, I was no longer sure exactly how many of me there were, let alone where any of them were going.

The discreet and anonymous Gentleman of the Bedchamber led me to a small paneled door in an alcove. He rapped once, then bowed to me, whirled, and left without waiting for an answer. The door swung inward, and I entered.

The King still had h