Written in my own hearts.., p.51
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       Written in My Own Heart's Blood, p.51

         Part #8 of Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
 

  Hunter was driving his wagon, though, and that couldn’t keep up with the marching men. Clouds of dust rose in the air, stirred by thousands of eager feet; it tickled in his chest, and he coughed.

  “No,” she said. “Don’t worry.” And she smiled at him, brave, though her face was pale despite the heat, and he could feel the flutter of her fear in his own wame. “Are you all right?” She always looked at him in that searching way when he set out to a fight, as though committing his face to memory in case he was killed. He kent why she did it, but it made him feel strange—and he was already unsettled this morning.

  “Aye, fine,” he said, and taking her hand, kissed it. He should have spurred up and gone, but lingered for a moment, loath to let go.

  “Did you—” she began, and then stopped abruptly.

  “Put on clean drawers? Aye, though it’s like to be wasted effort, ken, when the guns start firin’.” It was a feeble enough jest, but she laughed, and he felt better.

  “Did I what?” he prompted, but she shook her head.

  “Never mind. You don’t need anything else to think of now. Just—be careful, will you?” She swallowed visibly, and his heart turned over.

  “I will,” he said, and took up the reins but looked back over his shoulder, in case Young Ian should be coming. She was safe enough, in the midst of the forming companies, but he’d still be happier with someone to look after her. And if he told her that, she’d likely—

  “There’s Ian!” she exclaimed, squinting to see. “What’s the matter with his horse, I wonder?”

  He looked where she was looking and saw the cause at once. His nephew was afoot, leading the halting horse, and both of them were looking crankit.

  “Lame,” he said. “And badly lamed, too. What’s amiss, Ian?” he called.

  “Stepped on summat sharp, coming up the bank, and cracked his hoof, right down into the quick.” Ian ran a hand down the horse’s leg and the animal all but leaned on him, picking up its unshod hoof at once. Sure enough, the crack was visible, and deep enough to make Jamie wince in sympathy. Like having a toenail torn off, he supposed, and having to walk a distance with it.

  “Take my horse, Ian,” Claire said, and slid off in a flurry of petticoats. “I can ride Clarence. No need for me to be fast, after all.”

  “Aye, all right,” Jamie said, though a bit reluctant. Her mare was a good one, and Ian had to have a mount. “Shift the saddles, then, and, Ian, watch out for Dr. Hunter. Dinna leave your auntie ’til he comes, aye? Goodbye, Sassenach; I’ll see ye later in the day.” He could wait no longer, and nudged his horse away into the crowd.

  Other officers had gathered around Washington; he’d barely be in time. But it wasn’t the risk of being conspicuously late that cramped his bowels. It was guilt.

  He ought to have reported John Grey’s arrest at once. He kent that fine, but had delayed, hoping … hoping what? That the ridiculous situation would somehow evaporate? If he had reported it, Washington would have had Grey taken into custody and locked up somewhere—or hanged him out of hand, as an example. He didn’t think that likely, but the possibility had been enough to keep him from saying anything, counting on the chaos of the impending exodus to keep anyone from noticing.

  But what was eating at his insides now was not guilt over duty deferred, or even over exposing Claire to danger by keeping the wee sodomite in his own tent instead of turning him over. It was the fact that he had not thought to revoke Grey’s parole this morning when he left. If he had, Grey might easily have escaped in the confusion of leaving, and even if there had been trouble later over it … John Grey would be safe.

  But it was too late, and with a brief prayer for the soul of Lord John Grey, he reined up beside the Marquis de La Fayette and bowed to General Washington.

  MORASSES AND IMBROGLIOS

  THERE WERE THREE CREEKS running through the land, cutting it up. Where the earth was soft, the water had cut deep and the creek ran at the bottom of a steep ravine, the banks of it thick with saplings and underbrush. A farmer he’d spoken to while scouting the day before had told him the names of them—Dividing Brook, Spotswood Middle Brook, and Spotswood North Brook—but Ian wasn’t at all sure he kent for sure which this one was.

  The ground here was wide and low; the creek ran out into a sunken, marshy sort of place, and he turned away; bad footing for either man or horse. One of the farmers had called the ravines “morasses,” and he thought that a good word. He looked up the creek, searching for good watering places, but the ravine fell too steeply. A man could make shift to scramble down to the water, maybe, but not horses or mules.

  Ian felt them before he saw them. The sense of a hunting animal, lying concealed in the wood, waiting for prey to come down to drink. He turned his horse sharply and rode along the creek bank, watching the trees on the other side.

  Movement, a horse’s head tossing against flies. A glimpse of a face—faces—painted, like his own.

  A thrill of alarm shot up his spine and instinct flattened him against the horse’s neck, as the arrow whizzed over his head. It stuck, quivering, in a nearby sycamore.

  He straightened, his own bow in hand, nocked an arrow in the same movement, and sent it back, aiming blind for the spot where he’d seen them. The arrow shredded leaves as it went but struck nothing—he hadn’t expected it to.

  “Mohawk!” came a derisory shout from the other side, and a few words in a language he didn’t understand but whose intended meaning was clear enough. He made a very Scottish gesture, whose meaning was also clear, and left them laughing.

  He paused to yank the arrow out of the sycamore. Fletched with a yaffle’s tail feathers, but not a pattern he knew. Whatever they’d been speaking wasn’t an Algonquian tongue. Might be something northern like Assiniboine—he’d know, if he got a clear look at them—but might equally be something from nearer to hand.

  Very likely working for the British army, though. He kent most of the Indian scouts presently with the Rebels. And while they hadn’t been trying to kill him—they could have done so, easily, if they’d really wanted to—this was rougher teasing than might be expected. Perhaps only because they’d recognized him for what he was.

  Mohawk! To an English speaker, it was just easier to say than “Kahnyen’kehaka.” To any of the tribes who lived within knowledge of the Kahnyen’kehaka, it was either a word to scare children with or a calculated insult. “Man-eater,” it meant, for the Kahnyen’kehaka were known to roast their enemies alive and devour the flesh.

  Ian had never seen such a thing, but he knew men—old men—who had and would tell you about it with pleasure. He didn’t care to think about it. It brought back much too vividly the night the priest had died in Snaketown, mutilated and burned alive—the night that had inadvertently taken Ian from his family and made him a Mohawk.

  The bridge lay upstream, perhaps sixty yards from where he was. He paused, but the woods on the other side were silent, and he ventured across, his horse’s hooves a careful clopping on the boards. If there were British scouts here, the army was not too far beyond.

  There were broad meadows past the woods on the far side, and beyond these the fields of a good-sized farm; he could see a snatch of the buildings through the trees—and the movement of men. He turned hastily, circling a copse and coming out into ground open enough to see.

  There were green-coated soldiers on the ridgeline beyond the farm buildings, and he could smell the sulfur of their slow match on the heavy air. Grenadiers.

  He wheeled his horse and headed back, to find someone to tell.

  WILLIAM FINALLY discovered the cavalry detachment of the British Legion, filling their canteens from a well in the yard of a farmhouse. They had a picket out, though, who gave a warning shout at sight of a lone horseman, and half the company swung round, on the alert. A well-trained company; Banastre Tarleton was a good, energetic officer.

  Tarleton himself was standing relaxed in the shade of a big tree, his ornately plumed helmet cradle
d in one arm, mopping his face with a green silk kerchief. William rolled his eyes briefly at this bit of affectation, but not so Tarleton could see. He came to a walk and rode up beside Tarleton, leaning down to give him the dispatch.

  “From Captain André,” he said. “Been busy?” The men had been fighting; he could smell the smoke on them, and a couple of men with what looked like minor wounds were sitting against the barn, uniforms streaked with blood. The barn doors hung open on emptiness, and the yard was trampled and spotted with dung; he wondered for a moment whether the farmer had driven his own stock away, or whether one or another of the armies had taken the animals.

  “Not nearly busy enough,” Tarleton replied, reading the note. “This may help, though. We’re to go reinforce my lord Cornwallis.” His face was flushed with the heat, and his leather stock was clearly cutting into his thick, muscular neck, but he looked exceedingly cheerful at the prospect.

  “Good,” said William, reining up to turn and go, but Tarleton stopped him with a raised hand. He tucked the dispatch away in his pocket, along with the green kerchief.

  “Since I see you, Ellesmere—saw a tasty piece last night in camp, in the bread line,” he said. Tarleton sucked his lower lip for an instant and released it, red and wet. “Very tasty, and a sweet little sister with her, too, though that one’s not quite ripe enough for me.” William raised his brows, but felt himself tense in thighs and shoulders.

  “Made her an offer,” Tarleton said, overtly careless but with a swift glance at William’s hands. William relaxed them with an effort. “She declined, though—said she was yours?” This last was not quite a question, but not quite not.

  “If her name is Jane,” William said shortly, “she and her sister are traveling under my protection.”

  Tarleton’s quizzical look flowered into open amusement.

  “Your protection,” he repeated. His full lips twitched. “I believe she told me that her name was Arabella, though—perhaps we’re thinking of different girls.”

  “No, we’re not.” William did not want to be having this conversation, and gathered up his reins. “Don’t fucking touch her.”

  That was a mistake; Tarleton never passed up a challenge. His eyes sparkled and William saw him set himself, legs spread.

  “Fight you for her,” he said.

  “What, here? Are you insane?” There were bugles in the distance, and not a very far distance, either. To say nothing of Tarleton’s troops, many of them clearly listening to this exchange.

  “Wouldn’t take long,” Tarleton said softly, rocking back on his heels. His left fist was loosely curled and he rubbed his right hand flat on the side of his breeches, coat pushed back. He glanced over his shoulder, to the empty barn. “My men wouldn’t interfere, but we could go in there, if you’re shy.” “Shy” said with that particular intonation that made it clear that cowardice was meant.

  It had been on the tip of William’s tongue to say, “I don’t own the girl”—but to make that admission was to give Tarleton license to go after her. He’d seen Ban with girls often enough; he wasn’t violent with them, but he was insistent. Never left without getting what he wanted, one way or another.

  And after Harkness … His thoughts hadn’t caught up with his body; he was on the ground, shucking his coat, before he’d made a conscious decision.

  Ban laid his helmet on the ground, grinning, and took off his own coat in a leisurely fashion. The motion attracted all his men at once, and in seconds they were surrounded by a circle of dragoons, whistling and hooting encouragement. The only dissenter was Ban’s lieutenant, who had gone a sickly shade of gray.

  “Colonel!” he said, and William realized that the man’s fear had all to do with taking issue with Ban and not the consequences of what might happen if he didn’t. He meant to do his duty, though, and reached out a hand to grip Tarleton’s arm. “Sir. You—”

  “Let go,” Ban said, not taking his eyes off William. “And shut up.” The lieutenant’s hand dropped away as though someone had punched him in the shoulder.

  William felt at once detached, as though he were watching this from somewhere outside himself, above it all—and that part of him wanted to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. And some very tiny remnant of conscience was appalled. But the fleshly part of him was grimly exultant, and very much in charge.

  He’d seen Ban fight before, and didn’t make the mistake of waiting for any sort of signal. The moment the green coat hit the ground, William launched himself and—ignoring a ferocious hook that slammed into his ribs—grabbed Tarleton by both shoulders, jerked him forward, and butted him in the face with a horrid sound of cracking bone.

  He let go, pushed Ban hard in the chest, and sent him staggering backward, blood flying from his broken nose and a surprised look on his face that turned immediately to berserk fury. Tarleton dug in his heels and leapt at William like a rabid dog.

  William had six inches and forty pounds on Ban, and three older cousins who had taught him to fight. Banastre Tarleton had an unshakable conviction that he was going to win any fight he started.

  They were struggling on the ground, so locked that neither was actually able to hit the other effectively, when William dimly heard the lieutenant’s voice, full of panic, and a rush all round them. Hands seized him and dragged him away from Tarleton; more hands pushed him frantically toward his horse. There were drums coming down the lane and the sound of marching feet.

  He mounted in a daze, a taste of blood in his mouth, and spat by reflex. His coat was thrown across his lap, and someone slapped his horse with a sharp “T’cha!” that nearly unseated William, whose feet were nowhere near the stirrups.

  He pressed knees and calves into the horse’s sides, urging Goth into a gallop, and burst from the lane directly in front of an infantry column, whose sergeant recoiled with a shout of alarm. Scots. He saw the checkered trews and caps, and heard a few uncouth shouts in what might be Scots or Gaelic, but didn’t care. They belonged to a regiment he didn’t know—and so their officers wouldn’t know him.

  Tarleton could give what explanations he liked. William’s left ear was ringing, and he shook his head and pressed the flat of his hand against the ear to quiet it.

  When he took the hand away, the ringing had eased, and a number of people were singing “Yankee Doodle” instead. He glanced over his shoulder, incredulous, and saw a number of blue-coated Continentals, dragging a number of cannon, making for the distant ridgeline.

  Go back and tell the Scots infantry and Tarleton’s men? Head south to Cornwallis?

  “Hey, redcoat!” A shout from his left made him look in that direction, and just in time. A group of ten or fifteen men in hunting shirts was bearing down on him, most of them armed with scythes and hoes. One man was aiming a musket at him; apparently he was the one who had shouted, for he did so again: “Drop your reins and get off!”

  “The devil I will,” William replied, and booted Goth, who took off as though his tail were on fire. William heard the boom of the musket, but crouched low over the horse’s neck and kept going.

  PECULIAR BEHAVIOR OF A TENT

  WHILE NOT EAGER to be removed to a prison of some sort, John Grey was beginning to wish at least for solitude. Fergus Fraser and his son had insisted on remaining with him until someone came for him. Presumably so they could tell Jamie how he had been disposed of.

  He was peculiarly disinterested in the method and means of that disposal, content to await developments. What he wanted solitude for was a contemplation of Percy Wainwright’s presence, motives, and possible action. With La Fayette, he’d said. Adviser. John shuddered to think what sort of advice might be given by that … and what about his interests in Fergus Fraser?

  He glanced at said printer, presently engaged in argument with his precocious offspring.

  “You did it!” Germain glowered up at his father, face flushed red with righteous indignation. “Ye told me so yourself, a dozen times or more! How you went to war with Gr
and-père, and stabbed a man in the leg, and rode on a cannon when the soldiers dragged it back from Prestonpans—and ye weren’t even as old as I am now when ye did all that!”

  Fergus paused for an instant, regarding his offspring through narrowed eyes, obviously regretting his previous prolixity. He breathed steadily through his nose for a moment, then nodded.

  “That was different,” he said evenly. “I was milord’s employee at the time, not his son. I had a duty to attend him; he had no responsibility to prevent me doing so.”

  Germain blinked, frowning uncertainly.

  “You weren’t his son?”

  “Of course not,” Fergus said, exasperated. “If I told you about Prestonpans, surely I have told you that I was an orphan in Paris when I met your grand-père. He hired me to pick pockets for him.”

  “He did?” John hadn’t meant to interrupt, but couldn’t help it. Fergus glanced at him, startled; evidently he hadn’t really noticed John’s presence, focused as he was on Germain. He bowed.

  “He did, my lord. We were Jacobites, you understand. He required information. Letters.”

  “Oh, indeed,” John murmured, and took a sip from his flask. Then, recalling his manners, offered it to Fergus, who blinked in surprise, but then accepted it with another bow and took a healthy gulp. Well, it must be thirsty work, pursuing an errant child through an army. He thought briefly of Willie, and thanked God his son was safe—or was he?

  He’d known that William would of course have left Philadelphia when Clinton withdrew the army—perhaps as a non-fighting aide-de-camp to a senior officer. But he hadn’t thought about that supposition in conjunction with the apparent present fact that General Washington was now in hot pursuit of Clinton and might just possibly catch up with him. In which case, William …

  These thoughts had distracted him from the ongoing tête-à-tête, and he was jerked out of them by a question directed to him by Germain.

  “Me? Oh … sixteen. I might have gone to the army earlier,” John added apologetically, “had my brother’s regiment been formed, but he only raised it during the Jacobite Rising.” He looked at Fergus with new interest. “You were at Prestonpans, were you?” That should have been his own first battle, too—and would have been, save for his happening to meet one Red Jamie Fraser, notorious Jacobite, in a mountain pass two nights before.

  “Did you kill anybody?” Germain demanded.

  “Not at Prestonpans. Later, at Culloden. I wish I hadn’t.” He stretched out a hand for the flask. It was nearly empty, and he drained it.

  A moment later, he was glad of his celerity; had he not drained the flask already, he might have choked. The tent flap folded back, and Percy Wainwright/Beauchamp stuck his head in, then froze in surprise, dark eyes darting from one to another of the tent’s inhabitants. John had an impulse to throw the empty flask at him, but thought better of it, instead saying coldly, “I beg your pardon, sir; I am engaged.”

  “So I see.” Percy didn’t look at John “Mr. Fergus Fraser,” he said softly, coming into the tent, hand outstretched. “Your servant, sir. Comment ça va?”

  Fergus, unable to avoid him, shook his hand with reserve and bowed slightly but said nothing. Germain made a small growling noise in his throat, but desisted when his father gave him a sharp glance.

  “I am so pleased finally to have encountered you in private, Monsieur Fraser,” Percy said, still speaking French. He smiled as charmingly as possible. “Monsieur—do you know who you are?”

  Fergus regarded him thoughtfully.

  “Few men know themselves, monsieur,” he said. “For my part, I am entirely content to leave such knowledge to God. He can deal with it far better than I could. And having come to this conclusion, I believe that is all I have to say to you. Pardonnez-moi.” With that, he shouldered past Percy, taking him off-guard and knocking him off-balance. Germain turned at the tent flap and stuck out his tongue.

  “Damned frog!” he said, then disappeared with a small yelp as his father jerked him through the flap.

  Percy had lost one of his silver-buckled shoes in trying to stay upright. He brushed dirt and vegetable matter from the bottom of his stocking and screwed his foot back into the shoe, lips compressed and a rather attractive flush showing across his cheekbones.

  “Oughtn’t you to be with the army?” John inquired. “Surely you want to be there, if Washington does meet Clinton. I imagine your ‘interests’ would want a full report by an eyewitness, wouldn’t they?”

  “Shut up, John,” Percy said briefly, “and listen. I haven’t got much time.” He sat down on the stool with a thump, folded his hands on his knee, and looked intently at John, as though evaluating his intelligence. “Do you know a man—a British officer—called Richardson?”

  FERGUS MADE HIS way through the shambles left by the exodus of the army, holding Germain firmly by the hand. The camp followers and such men as had been left behind as unfit were setting to the work of salvage, and no one gave the Frasers more than a glance. He could only hope that the horse was where he had left it. He touched the pistol tucked under his shirt, just in case.

  “Frog?” he said to Germain, not bothering to keep amusement out of his voice. “Damned frog, you said?”

  “Well, he is, Papa.” Germain stopped walking suddenly, pulling his hand free. “Papa, I need to go back.”

  “Why? Have you forgotten something?” Fergus glanced over his shoulder at the tent, feeling an uneasiness between his shoulder blades. Beauchamp couldn’t force him to listen, let alone to do anything he didn’t wish to, and yet he had a strong aversion to the man. Well, call it fear; he seldom bothered lying to himself. Though why he should fear a man such as that …

  “No, but …” Germain struggled to choose among several thoughts that were plainly all trying to emerge into speech at once. “Grand-père told me I must stay with his lordship and if Monsieur Beauchamp should come, I must listen to anything they said.”

  “Really? Did he say why?”

  “No. But he said it. And, also, I was—I am—his lordship’s servant, his orderly. I have a duty to attend him.” Germain’s face was touchingly earnest, and
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