Chapter Two: Marcus.
Jamie sends Claire thru the circle of standing stones atop Craigh na Dun.
The Catch? Jamie somehow manages to go with her.
The Double Catch? They’ve gone backwards instead of forwards into time.
You can find Chapter One here.
Jamie and I crouched low amid the underbrush at the base of Craigh na Dun. A cold wind swept thru the valley, the scent of coming rain heavy in its wake. I pulled the woolen arisaid tighter around my shoulders as I peered thru the leaves into the gathering darkness.
Recently thatched and boasting a brilliant coat of whitewash, the croft ahead of us barely resembled the abandoned structure we had spent the previous night in. A puff of welcoming smoke drifted out of its chimney and beckoned us forward. I, however, had vivid memories of my first encounter with the people of the past and had no wish to repeat the ordeal. Jamie seemed to be erring on the side of caution as well.
But, before we could make any sort of plan, the door suddenly opened and a weather-worn old man stepped out of the dim interior. He shuffled towards us, leaning on a large walking stick for support.
I gripped Jamie’s arm tightly. Would he be friend or foe?
“Ye can come oot o’ the bushes, lad,” a feeble voice spoke. “I can see ye both clear as day.”
Jamie rose slowly, ready for whatever challenge the man would lay at his feet. I followed suit once he had settled into position in front of me. Peeking around Jamie, I could see the man’s gap toothed smile.
He was ancient by modern standards, who knew how old he actually was. His hair was white as snow and fastened back in a long plait. His kilt was of a pattern I didn’t recognize, a matching plaid draped over his hunched shoulders. The boots on his feet were worn and roughly hewn.
“Ye havena reason to fear me,” he chuckled. A corner of my mouth tugged upwards as I envisioned the old man using that stick of his to ward us off. “I ken aboot the stones.”
The hint of a smile was gone in an instant at the mention of the standing stones.
He knows about the stones? What did that mean?
They were hardly a secret, visible here at the base of the hill.
Jamie reached a hand behind him and took hold of mine. I squeezed it, telling him I’d follow any plan he went with. He cleared his throat, my own felt as though I had swallowed a rock.
“Ye say ye ken the stones. Have ye gone thru them yerself?”
“Nae me, lad, but I ken the look of someone who has. My name is Marcus…” he trailed off, raising a brow in question.
“James,” my husband answered simply as he guided me to stand along side him, “and Claire.”
I copied the older man’s nod of deference and was rewarded with another grin.
“Aye, an’ a bonnie wife she is too, Jamie lad,” Marcus tittered as he gestured for us to follow him into the croft. “Ye’ll be hungry as the coos, nae doubt, an’ soaked clear thru. Come in, come in. Warm yerselves by the hearth. An’ tend that wound, aye?”
I took a deep breath and let it out again. Was this too good to be true? Could it be some sort of trap?
Jamie’s voice dropped low as we made our way across the clearing towards the croft.
“Dinna speak unless ye have to, Sassenach, at least until we have a plan.”
Oh, right, because he may think I’m an English spy. Here we go again.
I rolled my eyes, but squeezed his hand again in response. He gave me that slow, owl blink that passed for a wink with him and grinned. He knew exactly what I thought of the idea, preposterous and rude is what, but he also knew I trusted his instincts. Even if I wasn’t sure I liked his methods.
Despite his uneven and visibly painful gait, Marcus was deceptively spritely. He remained several paces ahead of us across the open clearing and didn’t stop talking the whole way. His voice, unfortunately, didn’t always keep up with his enthusiasm and I couldn’t make out half of what he said.
“…welcome… long as ye like… village … oddity… auld coot off on his own… fine company,” he broke off with a cackle.
Once inside, he set to work with a clatter of bowls and spoons. He all but shoved the both of us onto a three-legged stools near the fire. I reached over to take a better look at his leg, moving the wool cloth away from his burned flesh.
Jamie tried to downplay his injury, taking my hands away from the burn and holding them tightly in his. “‘Tis nothing, Claire.”
While he was right, the burn wasn’t overly serious, I still wanted to dress it before it had the chance to get infected. I gave him a look, knowing he’d get the message.
“I ken ye must be newlyweds.” Marcus beamed, not turning his gaze away from the steaming cauldron of stew. “Let her dote on ye, Jamie lad, makes a wife feel useful. ‘Tis what they’re for, aye? Tha’ an’ the bairns.”
He was doing his level best to keep a straight face, but the grin was winning. I poked Jamie in the ribs as he replied affirmatively.
Arching an eyebrow, he apparently felt the need to remind me to remain silent.
Heaven knows why, as I’ve always been the meek and obedient type. I reminded him with a swift kick to the shins.
Jamie winced and his grin widened.
“How long have ye been marrit? It canna be more than a year, I warrant, yer both naught but bairns yerself.”
Jamie’s thumb caressed my silver ring, turning around on my finger. His eyes were warm as he spoke. “It will be three come June.”
Three years. How could our wedding day have been three years ago already?
That familiar sinking feeling in my stomach returned as I corrected myself: our wedding hadn’t been three years ago, it would be hundreds of years from now. All people I had known, the people I had grown to love and care for were, for all intents and purposes, dead. And Jamie. His family, his whole life was now forever lost to him.
Quickly realizing that the feeling had more than one cause, I dashed towards the door, barely making it outside in time. Jamie was right on my heels and almost crashed into me as I heaved into the bush beside the door.
“Bidh e thairis a dh'aithghearr, mo nighean donn,” he soothed as he held back my hair, gently rubbing my back.”
“What?” I asked as I straightened up, having no idea what he just said.
He wiped my face with the edge of his sark, then gathered me into his arms. “I said it will be over soon.”
I groaned into his chest. “No, it won’t. Not for months.”
“Aye, well, maybe ye won’t be as sick with this bairn,” he tried.
“One can only hope,” I muttered.