Mac Ruaidh - Part Eight (two of two)
This one got a little too long to be posted in one piece but it was all meant to be read as one chapter so it’ll be back-to-back posts instead.
– Mod Lenny
Jamie knew it was only a matter of time before Grey found him. He thought it would be after dark and knew it would need to be private so he tried ushering Willie to bed early. But the lad was too perceptive for his own good and, not wanting to miss whatever the adults were going to talk about, had employed every trick in his arsenal to put off going to bed.
“I want to hear the story again,” Willie insisted.
“I’ve just told it to ye twice.”
“Then tell me another,” Willie pressed. “The time ye saved her when they thought she was a witch… Or how ye met the king in France.”
Jamie frowned. “Ye ken I told ye we need to be careful what we talk of when there’s men of His Majesty’s army about––even if it’s only Major Grey.”
Willie nodded but wasn’t distracted from his point. “The witch one then. From when ye first saw Murtagh coming to fetch ye.”
Jamie sighed and began to set the scene as he always did––the hunting trip with an unsettled Dougal, an unusual Duke, and himself, longing to be warm in his bed at the castle with his wife to hold through the night.
“It sounds lovely,” Grey’s voice cut in from the doorway of the barn. “I can wait until you’ve finished…”
“No,” Jamie said firmly, rising and swinging Willie up into his arms, carrying him to the ladder leading up to the loft. “To bed wi’ ye, wean,” he ordered. “And dinna even think of anything but crawlin’ ‘tween the sheets, sayin’ yer prayers, and waiting for sleep to take ye,” Jamie added sternly under his breath.
Jamie watched as Willie’s shoulders heaved a sigh and turned to climb the ladder.
“He can be a stubborn one,” Jamie remarked by way of an apology.
“Like his mother,” Grey agreed.
Jamie frowned at his own memories of Geneva’s stubbornness but the mention of his mother caught Willie’s attention. The lad turned so fast he nearly tumbled from the ladder in his over-tired state.
“You remember my mam?”
Jamie carefully held his face in check as he looked to Grey. Remember, Willie had said, not knew. Had the other man caught the word or was he too focused on his own slip to notice?
“Your mother…” Grey fumbled, meeting Jamie’s eye sheepishly. “Yeeesss,” Grey continued slowly. “I do remember meeting her. She made quite the impression.”
“Can I feel your arm?” Willie asked eagerly.
“My… arm?” Confusion washed over Grey’s face.
Jamie tried to step in. “To bed, William.”
“I wanna see if I can feel where ye broke it. I can on each of the fingers Da’s broken and his nose, though that one’s no hard.”
“How do you know about my arm?” Grey looked at Jamie accusingly.
“Mam set it for ye in the war,” Willie reminded the officer before doubt and a little fear crept into his face. He looked to his father, expecting a chastising but hoping for confirmation.
“Aye, he’s the one broke his arm. But I’ve told ye to go to bed several times now…”
Willie gulped. “G’night to ye, sir. G’night, Da,” he rattled off before hastily making his way up the ladder to the loft.
“Can we talk outside?” Jamie requested. “Inquisitive ears…”
The yard was empty and the sky dark, the sun having sunk some time before leaching color from the world as it went. They leaned against the outside wall of the barn gazing across the yard toward the house.
“You told him about our meeting during the war,” Grey stated. Jamie could hear the surprise in Grey’s voice but wasn’t sure he wanted to try naming what was paired with it.
“Casts ye in a better light in Willie’s eyes than telling him ye were my jailor,” Jamie explained with a shrug. Willie knew he’d fought in the Rising, that he’d been to prison. But he didn’t completely comprehend why they lived at Helwater––it was all he’d ever known, after all. There were things about his past that Willie was still too young to hear. He told himself that was why he indulged Willie’s desire for stories about Claire, why he’d given up the idea of forcing that truth on the lad until he was older and better able to understand. “He likes stories and there arena so many he’s old enough to hear.”
“Am I correct in understanding he believes your late wife is his mother? What the bloody hell have you been telling him?” Grey demanded, his voice low but insistent.
“I told him what I could of the truth and he’s made something of it that comforts him,” Jamie snapped. “He’s convinced my wife was taken by the fairies and that he’s the bairn she carried when I lost her. I’m not about to take that idea from him when the truth…” He broke off sharply, his indignation and desire to justify himself nearly carrying him too far.
It didn’t matter.
“What did she do to convince you to take such a risk?” Grey asked. “What did she offer you to get you into her bed? Or was she inducement enough?”
Jamie clenched his jaw as though refusing to answer might successfully deter Grey.
“The boy looks more like you every time I see him and I know Geneva was worse than a dog with a bone when there was something she wanted. She would do anything––”
“Well in my case it was threats and blackmail and it’s all the more reason I’d have Willie think his mother was a kind and gentle woman I loved more than my own life,” Jamie said quickly to stop Grey talking. He felt his cheeks warm as the confession he’d made sunk in. The growing darkness was a relief in that moment. I dinna ken why exactly ye’ve come just now but there is something I would speak to ye about.”
“I’ve spoken with Lady Dunsany and I don’t expect she’ll let this idea of hers go anytime soon.”
Jamie ground at the dirt beneath the toe of his boot creating a growing depression. “I see…”
“I have… That is… I’ve tried to… prepare her…” Grey struggled to find the right words but gave up with a sigh. “I’ve decided to speak with my brother about quietly seeking a pardon for you… with the Crown. I know it’s what you want and I’m afraid of what keeping the boy here longer might do. Everyone expects him to look like you except Lord and Lady Dunsany. It will pain them to see him go but I’m convinced it’s what’s best for everyone in the end.”
Jamie blinked while he let the words sink in. He’d be able to go home. To Scotland. With Willie.
“I… thank ye, sir.”
“John,” Grey said with a pained laugh. “If I do this you’ll no longer be under my supervision and you must promise to call me John then––if you don’t, I might change my mind.” But the threat was a hollow one.
“As ye please then… Lord John.”
Grey scoffed but smiled as he glanced at Jamie.
“It will be a while yet before anything goes through. I will tell Lord Dunsany the broad outlines of what’s going to happen to help him prepare his wife… I already hinted at it to her before supper.”
“Took it well, did she?”
“I have another idea I think I’ve settled on that will help to distract her when the time comes… I’m going to speak with Lord Dunsany about courting––and later marrying––Isobel.”
Jamie choked back what he thought at first was a laugh but actually sounded more like a strangled gasp.
“Wh––why?” he managed to ask.
“She wants to be married to please her parents but is nervous about it and leaving them. I… have family of my own that would like to see me wed and with my position in His Majesty’s army, there’s little need for my wife and I to live together––little opportunity if I get sent to the continent,” Grey rambled.
“But ye… Can ye… That is… would it truly be fair to the lass?” It was Jamie’s turn to have difficulty finding the right words.
“She needn’t accept me,” Grey insisted as though he were half hoping that would be the case. “There is one more thing I need you to promise me if I am to appeal on your behalf… and it isn’t that you call me by my Christian name…”
Grey looked to Jamie seeking the promise before offering the terms.
Jamie crossed his arms over his chest and waited for Grey to continue.
“I need you to promise me that you will keep me appraised of how the boy fares; that you will permit me to visit and see him when circumstances allow. I think it will go a way towards reassuring the Dunsanys.”
Jamie thought on it for a moment but the prospect of what might happen if a British officer were to stop at Lallybroch for an extended, friendly visit was too difficult to manage. There would be time to decide the particulars later––if and when he had his pardon from the Crown.
“Ye’d best go back inside,” Jamie suggested. “Ye can give yer report to Lady Dunsany that Willie’s on to learning a bit of Latin if ye think she’d believe that a mere groom kens it to teach his son.”
Grey let the remark pass without comment but pushed himself off the side of the barn where he’d been leaning and turned to face Jamie.
“Good night… MacKenzie.”
“Good night to ye, Lord John.”
Grey walked away and Jamie went inside and climbed the ladder.
Willie had tried to stay awake to question his father at the end of his informal meeting but the lad had fallen asleep sitting up against the wall, his chin resting against his chest and his hair loose and falling in a curtain to shade his face.
Jamie moved Willie to his cot. He wouldn’t tell Willie anything about being able to go to Scotland until he had that pardon in his hand but Jamie couldn’t wait to see the look on his face when he did tell him… or when he first looked down into the valley to see Lallybroch safely nestled there… or when he met Jenny, Ian and the bairns…
Jamie fell asleep quickly, his day dreams pulling him under to a Lallybroch where he carried Willie on his shoulders and Claire was there to meet him at the gate.