You know I’ve wanted to leave here for weeks. And I know exactly how many sentry posts surround the castle. And I know how to make my way through the forest and find the road back to Inverness. Well, that’s a very sound plan, Sassenach. Or would be, did Colum not post extra guards through the woods tonight. He’d hardly leave the castle undefended, and the fighting men of the clan inside it. I’m going anyway. -[requested by anonymous]
He stretched himself, powerful shoulders rising dark against the shimmer of the water behind him.
Then he suddenly took hold of the oars across his knees and flung them into the bottom of the boat, with a crash that made me jump.
“I am more than five-and-forty!” he said. “A man should be settled at that age, no? He should have a house, and some land to grow his food, and a bit of money put away to see him through his auld age, at the least.”
He took a deep breath; I could see the white bosom of his shirt rise with his swelling chest.
“Well, I dinna have a house. Or land. Or money. Not a croft, not a tattie-plot, not a cow or a sheep or a pig or a goat! I havena got a rooftree or a bedstead, or a pot to piss in!”
He slammed his fist down on the thwart, making the wooden seat vibrate under me. “I dinna own the clothes I stand up in!”
There was a long silence, broken only by the thin song of crickets.
“You have me,” I said, in a small voice. It didn’t seem a lot.
He made a small sound in his throat that might have been either a laugh or a sob.
“Aye, I have,” he said. His voice was quivering a bit, though whether with passion or amusement, I couldn’t tell. “That’s the hell of it, aye?”
He threw up his hand in a gesture of profound impatience.
“If it was only me, what would it matter? I could live like Myers; go to the woods, hunt and fish for my living, and when I was too old, lie down under a peaceful tree and die, and let the foxes gnaw my bones. Who would care?”
He shrugged his shoulders with irritable violence, as though his shirt was too tight.
“But it’s not only me,” he said. “It’s you, and it’s Ian and it’s Duncan and it’s Fergus and it’s Marsali—God help me, there’s even Laoghaire to think of!”
“Oh, let’s don’t,” I said.
“Do ye not understand?” he said, in near desperation. “I would lay the world at your feet, Claire—and I have nothing to give ye!”
He honestly thought it mattered.
I sat looking at him, searching for words. He was half turned away, shoulders slumped in despair.
Within an hour, I had gone from anguish at the thought of losing him in Scotland, to a strong desire to bed him in the herbaceous borders, and from that to a pronounced urge to hit him on the head with an oar. Now I was back to tenderness.
At last I took one big, callused hand and slid forward so I knelt on the boards between his knees. I laid my head against his chest, and felt his breath stir my hair. I had no words, but I had made my choice.
“ ‘Whither thou goest,’ ” I said, “ ‘I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried.’ ” Be it Scottish hill or southern forest. “You do what you have to; I’ll be there.”
This is a direct continuation of Part 1, a story in my Pre Wedding series which can be read as stand-alone stories. It’s a bit naughtier than part 1. As always, all my fics can be found on the Master List.
The next day, he avoided Mistress Beauchamp completely. He said not a word, nor did he even make eye contact with her. He was unable to keep his gaze from her entirely, but he always waited until he was certain she wouldn’t notice before he risked a glance. This meant he had to keep his peripheral vision on her at all times, which left him so preoccupied that he nearly brained himself on a low-lying branch when his horse strayed from the path to graze.
Murtagh pulled up beside him as he urged his horse back to the road. “What’s wrong wi’ ye, lad? Where’s yer heid?”
“Up his own arse, I expect,” Rupert called out as his horse plodded by.
Angus helpfully added, “Or up Mistress Beauchamp’s–ow!” Jamie cut him off by flinging a walnut that bounced off Angus’s skull. “That hurt!”
Murtagh nodded approvingly. “Weel, nothing wrong with your aim, I see.”
Jamie peered ahead to see if Claire had noticed the disturbance, but she was deep in conversation with Ned. That was good. She and the lawyer had taken quite the liking to one another, and they occupied each other on the road. A few days ago, he actually found himself jealous of the old man’s familiarity with her, but now he was grateful that her attention was occupied.
He managed not to speak with her for the rest of the day and into the night, though there was no way to avoid all the men. His infatuation with her had become common knowledge to all but her, it seemed, and they teased him mercilessly, though thankfully out of her earshot. It made him irritable and unpleasant. When they stopped at a tavern that evening for food and for Dougal to hold court, he took care to sit on the opposite side of the room, away from her. He glowered into his stew and worked himself into a visible mood, which inadvertently served his uncle’s purpose when Dougal ripped off his shirt to display his scars to the assembled villagers. He looked bitter and angry, and he stormed upstairs with the remnants of his shirt in his hand to repair it.