Thinking of Ellen MacKenzie, I remembered her pearls, which I was still carrying, sewn into the seam of my pocket. I groped for the free end, pulling them out into the firelight.
“I can pay you,” I said. “I wouldn’t expect your men to risk themselves for nothing.”
Moving a good deal faster than I would have thought possible, he snatched the pearls from my hand. He stared at them disbelievingly.
“Where did ye get these, woman?” he demanded. “Fraser, did ye say your name is?”
“Yes.” Tired as I was, I drew myself up straight. “And the pearls are mine. My husband gave them to me on our wedding day.”
“Did he, then?” The hoarse voice was suddenly hushed. He turned to Murtagh, still holding the pearls.
“Ellen’s son? Is this lass’s husband Ellen’s son?”
“Aye,” Murtagh said, unemphatic as ever. “As ye’d ken at once if ye saw him; he’s the spit of her.”
Mindful at last of the pearls he was clutching, MacRannoch unfolded his hand and gently stroked the shining gems.
“I gave these to Ellen MacKenzie,” he said. “For a wedding gift. I would ha’ given them to her as my wife, but as she’d chosen elsewhere—well, I’d thought of them so often, around her bonny throat, I told her I couldna see them elsewhere. So I bade her keep them, and only think of me when she wore them. Hm!” He snorted briefly at some memory, then handed the pearls carefully back to me.
“So they’re yours now. Well, wear them in good health, lassie.”
“I’ll stand a much better chance of doing so,” I said, trying to control my impatience at these sentimental displays, “if you’ll help me to get my husband back.”