Hi! Quick question, how can you single handedly be one of the funniest blogs while be one of the kindest muns on this website, combined with an amazing art style? Are we all secretly living in an anime? Are you the protagonist? When are you going to unlock your final form? Roughly how far away are we from the inevitable "beach party" arc?
Only one part left after this and then the Epilogue (and possibly other little snippets as the muse and prompts strike). - Mod Lenny
“I know where we are,” Frank exclaimed suddenly, sitting up straighter behind Claire on the horse.
She looked around, her pulse quickening with fear. They should still be at least a few hours away from the stones; it was too soon.
Then she too recognized the rock formation in the distance.
“Cocknammon Rock,” she said with a smile.
“You remember then?” There was something hopeful in Frank’s voice but Claire was distracted.
“Of course I do. You told me about the British patrols and when we passed this way on our journey to Leoch I warned Jamie about it,” she explained. “He alerted the others and then dumped me off the horse so I’d be safe out of the way while he and the others surprised the soldiers. I tried to get away back to the stones but he found me again before I got very far.”
She remembered how he’d slipped easily down from his horse and crossed to block her way, still covered in blood and dirt from the skirmish and making no hint as to the injuries he’d suffered. She smiled again. The idiot might’ve died if she hadn’t been there when it was his turn to fall off the horse.
“I see,” Frank said from behind her, his tone drastically different from the moment before.
Claire found herself annoyed with him but held her tongue. Like Murtagh had said that evening by the fire, she couldn’t help how she felt. And Frank certainly wasn’t making things easier.
If Murtagh heard the exchange he didn’t say anything about it, only let them know, “It’ll no be much longer. We can either stop for another night so ye dinna arrive where ye’re goin’ in the dark or ye can go through just afore sundown.”
“Tonight,” Frank said quickly. “The sooner we get home, the better.”
“Will it really be better to walk all the way to Inverness in the dark when we’ve been riding all day?” Claire challenged. “Or perhaps we’ll just be struck by a passing motorist. I think we should take advantage of having someone here to help keep watch while we get some rest.”
“What exactly is it that you’re waiting for?” Frank asked under his breath. “Do you think he’ll come after you? He knows his place in this, that you’re married to me, that you’re my wife. He knows you’ll be better off with me.”
“And what makes you so sure about what Jamie thinks?” Claire countered.
“He told me as much himself.”
That caused Claire’s breathing to catch and her chest to seize painfully.
“You two talked about me?” There was an accusation in her voice but regarding what, she wasn’t sure.
“It isn’t as though we have much else in common.” Frank’s tone hadn’t completely softened but it wasn’t as openly antagonistic either. “You did say he was your friend. He wants what’s best for you and that’s for you to come home.”
Claire could completely believe that Jamie had said those things to Frank; he had said similar thing to her. But hearing Frank say them… it changed them, somehow. It made her want to argue, to point out all the reasons she had to stay… but really, there weren’t many reasons for her to stay… just Jamie.
They passed back into silence as they rode the rest of the way finally spotting the hill in the distance as the sun set behind it. She recalled hiding with Frank near the summit of that hill and glimpsing the sun through the crack in the stone as it rose while the local druids danced. She saw the sun again through that crack but with the world turned around and the sun peeking through on its descent, shrouding the world in shadows rather than bathing it in light.
“I’m too tired to face going through that tonight, Frank,” Claire pleaded. “I’m hungry and I want to sleep.”
He sighed while Murtagh pointedly stayed out of the conversation.
“Very well. You’re right; we don’t know how long we’ll have to walk before a car stops and it’ll be safer if they can see us properly when they do,” Frank conceded.
“There’s a wee cottage near here,” Murtagh remarked now that a decision had been made. “It was abandoned last I knew. Might be a sight more comfortable than sleeping in the open.” He looked to Claire who nodded then he turned his horse to one side and led the way.
They set up their final camp in silence and quickly turned in for the night.
Claire lay next to Frank but her mind sought Jamie and refused to quiet. Was she really contemplating staying? How could she even think of doing something like that to Frank? All of it was insane. To think of everything she would have to give up in order to stay––the friends she’d made during the war, the conveniences of modernity, the rights and privileges she had taken for granted…
And what would she get in return? Jamie was an outlaw and since breaking Frank out of Fort William, she almost certainly was too. On top of that she was a woman and English and, as Jamie had told her once, that wasn’t a pretty thing to be in the Highlands of Scotland.
But she would have Jamie. He knew the truth now, about who and what she was; he knew the truth and believed her. She could be herself with him, talk about what life was like in the twentieth century; she could tell him about what lay…
Her heart began to pound and fear gripped her.
Culloden. The Jacobite Rising was just two years away. Would she be able to live with herself if she left Jamie behind knowing how likely it was that he would end up on that disastrous battlefield? If she returned to the future and failed to find out what happened to Jamie––or worse, that he had died in battle…
Murtagh. Whatever she ultimately decided to do with herself, she would be sure to warn Murtagh. If anyone had a hope of keeping Jamie from getting involved in the Rising, it was his godfather.
But she wanted to be sure. And the only way to do that was to stay. So why was she so scared to make up her mind?
She didn’t know how Jamie felt about her. She had her suspicions––she knew he liked her well enough––but he hadn’t ever said anything to her that would suggest…
Despite yearning for rest, Claire got no sleep that night, rising with the sun and staring at the hilltop where her fate would be decided once and for all.
“Are ye ready to go back then?” Murtagh’s quiet voice came up behind her.
She peered through the door to where Frank was only beginning to stir on the floor.
“If anything I’m more confused about what I ought to do than I was yesterday or the day before that or the day before that,” Claire lamented.
“Ye’ll do what ye must when the time comes,” Murtagh assured her. “And then ye’ll pray for the health and happiness of the one ye leave wi’out ye. Cannae do more’n that.”
“There is something I would tell you before we go,” Claire began solemnly. “It’s about… it’s about something that’s going to happen.”
Murtagh’s brow furrowed suspiciously.
“You know that there are always rumors of King James returning and taking back his throne?”
“D’ye mean to say he will?”
There was surprise and hope in the man’s face and Claire’s heart sank as she shook her head.
“His son, Prince Charles, will try in two years’ time… but it will end in disaster. You have to promise me that you’ll keep Jamie from getting involved in it; keep him away from Culloden.”
Confusion returned to Murtagh’s expression.
“When ye say,’disaster,’ ye mean the battle’s lost.”
“It’s more than just that though. The Highlanders will be severely punished in their defeat,” Claire explained as best she could.
“The Clans will end as you know them,” Frank chimed in from the doorway, his fingers tucking the ragged ends of his bandages in where they’d come loose in sleep. “Your language, your tartans––both will be outlawed. There will be raids throughout the highlands by the military––made worse by famine.”
Claire let Frank continue filling in the details that she recalled so little about, absorbing them anew herself. He couldn’t have been more precise if he’d prepared a proper lecture with notes. And Murtagh stood there listening and nodding, his mind already sorting and storing what he would need to know most, discarding the details that he could afford to forget.
Would telling a single Scotsman be enough to change the course of history? Probably not. But it might be enough to save Jamie––to save some of those at Leoch, perhaps, as well.
“Thank ye,” Murtagh said when Frank was through. He extended his hand for Frank but then flushed as he saw Frank glance at his bandages again and hesitate before shaking Murtagh’s hand gingerly.
“I don’t know what use you’ll be able to put it to,” Frank admitted. “But it seems a fair exchange for the services you’ve rendered Claire and I.”
“Fair exchange,” Murtagh murmured with a nod then turned to Claire. “Ye ken where ye’re goin’ from here, I take it.”
“Yes, thank you.” She stepped forward and surprised Murtagh with a hug. “Please, keep him safe,” she whispered.
Murtagh didn’t acknowledge what she’d said, just nodded farewell to her as she and Frank began the climb up the hill.
“Has it really only been two weeks?” Frank muttered, picking his way up carefully.
“For you it has,” Claire reminded him.
“Well, I am ready for the nightmare to be over,” he said with confidence, taking Claire’s hand loosely in his and guiding her to the stone.
She stopped when they were still a few feet away, her hand slipping from his easily.
“You don’t need to be scared,” he reassured her. “I remember how terrible it was but we just have to do this and it will all be over, once and for all.”
She was shaking her head slowly, tears in her eyes.
He took her hand again and squeezed it as hard as he was able. It was enough for her gold ring to dig uncomfortably into her finger.
“Claire… Just… look at me, all right. Keep your eyes on me. We’ll do this together.”
His eyes were brown; he had dirt on his cheek from where he’d slept with it pressed to the dirt floor of the cabin; he needed a haircut and a shave; there was a sheen of sweat on his face and redness in his eyes; his lips were chapped and he looked desperate and afraid.
She raised her free hand the way he had his other hand raised, reaching for the stone.
“On three,” he instructed. “One… two… th––”
“I’m sorry,” Claire said quickly as Frank’s hand went forward. She pulled her hand from his as he held tight and struggled to pull her forward with him.
And then she fell.
She was on the ground, her head spinning… and Frank was gone.