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A Second Chance at Love

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After they dressed, Jamie escorted Claire downstairs slowly.  They exited the front door and Jamie stopped on the top step of the veranda, holding tightly to Claire's arm, "Sassenach, the twin's birthday is in two weeks, try and return by then, for them."

Claire sighed and gave him a look of understanding, "Yes, my love, I remember and I will do my very best to return by then, for the children's sake as well as yours.  You saw my vision, I will only be sleeping in the company of the Jacobite army for one night.  The trip to Inverness takes only 5 days at a fast clip on dry land, pray that the weather holds out for us and I will hurry back and be safe in your arms before you know it."

Jamie pulled her into his embrace for a searing kiss, one she was not likely to soon forget. After a few moments, they pulled away breathless, pressing their forehead together, she whispered, "I promise, James Fraser, I will come back to you."

He closed his eyes to hold the tears back, "I will hold ye to that, Claire Fraser."

They both smiled softly at the memory of the first time they had exchanged this vow.  Then with one last chaste kiss, Jamie released her and took a step back, forcing himself to remain as she climbed descended the steps and mounted Eclipse.  Colonel Grey, his men, and Murtagh all tipped their heads to Jamie, in silent promise to return Claire to his side.  Claire smiled thoughtfully at him, blew him a kiss, and yelled back as she turned her horse away from the castle, "Take care of the children, my love.  I will be home soon."

Jamie stood on the veranda and watched as she rode away with the British Army, proud of her as she sat tall in her saddle, head held high, like the true Lady of the Castle that she is.  He let a single tear spill free only after she had finally disappeared over the ridge and out of his sight.  He took a deep restorative breath, turned on his heel, and went into the house and straight up to find the children in the nursery.  With Claire gone, he felt an overwhelming urge to hold his children close to his heart.

As Claire rode away, she felt her heart clench in her chest, she hated riding away and leaving Jamie behind, but she knew, she had seen what would happen if he came with her.  There was simply no other way to end this.  She had seen one other vision when Hal had brought the news, but she had kept that from Jamie, fearing what he would do if he knew about the other danger they faced if she refused to go with Hal. 

She sat tall in her saddle, held her head high, and reminded herself over and over again that this was the right choice, the only choice that did not lead to destruction.   The group rode on silently for several miles, Murtagh rode his own steed loyally by her side the entire time.  She noticed occasionally that he was watching her and had been struggling with what he wanted to say to her for the last 20 minutes. "What is it, Murtagh?  I'm used to your sour countenance, but something has got your craw in a twist, out with it already."

Murtagh furrowed his brow and grumbled, "Aye lass, somethin' has been botherin' me.  I can see by the look on yer face that ye are hidin' somethin' again.  I have no' seen that look upon yer face since ye first came through the stones and ye were hidin' where he truly came from, so the MacKenzies wouldna think ye a witch or fairy.  And I can tell, by how stiff ye are ridin' that is somethin' awful, will ye share it wi' me?"

Claire turned to Murtagh, astonished at his revelation, "Well, yes, actually there is something, but I can't speak of it now, not in mixed company.  I promise I will tell you, but it will have to wait until we return to Lallybroch.  Can you trust me to wait that long, I promise that keeping it to myself that much longer won't change anything."

Murtagh huffed, "Aye, I suppose it will keep.  But ye will tell me when it is safe to do so, aye?"

Claire smiled, "Aye, always Murtagh.  Thank you for not pressing the matter any further and for remaining at my side."

Murtagh relaxed his frown, but she couldn't tell if he was hiding a smile behind all that hair on his face or not, "I will always remain at yer side lass, I made a vow to Jamie's mother when he was just a bairn.  When the lad chose ye to be his wife, that vow extended to ye as well.  I'll not break that vow.  The lad is safe at the castle wi' the children, so my place is at yer side.  I'll not leave it until we return to the castle."

With nothing more to discuss for the time being, they rode on in silence until nightfall.  The soldiers were quite skilled at erecting a camp in record time, so Claire and Murtagh only had to worry about where they would place their own bedrolls for the night.  Claire hadn't slept alone since before she wed Jamie and felt a bit insecure about sleeping amongst a group of British soldiers that she was only vaguely familiar with, "Murtagh, would you mind placing your bedroll near mine, I would feel much safer if you were close enough to reach out and touch."

Murtagh nodded, "Aye, I would feel better if ye were close, so that I may guard ye.  I'll be within an arms reach of ye, lass, dinna fret."

After they agreed upon their sleeping arrangements and laid out their bedding, the two joined the soldiers at the campfire for dinner.  Hal was smart enough to have the forethought to bring along his camp cook and thankfully the man was quite skilled in his craft.  A few of the men had caught some trout after setting up camp and the cook had at least a bit of knowledge of herbs, so the fish was filleted, seasoned, and prepared over the fire on slabs of hazel wood.  When the fish was done, it had a smoky nutty flavor that was unexpectedly quite delicious.  Claire made a note to ask Jamie if they had any hazel trees growing on the estate.  The nuts would make a healthy addition to their diets and this new way of cooking fish was delectable enough that she wanted to share it with her family when she returned. 

After dinner was finished everyone returned to their bedrolls.  Claire made light conversation with Murtagh upon lying down, "How do you feel about Suzette coming to live with us?"

Murtagh made a noise in his throat that Claire couldn't quite identify.  While she was used to the sounds Jamie made and was well versed in the meaning of each, Murtagh's sounds were not quite so clear to her. "I dinna ken for sure, lass, it has been a while since we have seen one another.  I have no heard from the lass since we sailed from France, she may no' feel for me as I do for her."

Claire turned from her back onto her side so that she was facing him, "You say you haven't heard from her, but have you written to her, have you told her how you feel?"

Murtagh scoffed, it was a sound that Claire did recognize.  She had called him out and he realized he was just as at fault as Suzette for the lack of communication between the two of them. "A man doesna have time to worry about matters of the heart, especially when a war is going on."

Claire hummed as she thought of a solution, "Well if this mission goes as planned, we will have all the time in the world once we return to Lallybroch.  I think you should take some time and write her a letter, tell her how you feel, what's in your heart and on your mind."

Murtagh remained silent, not even making any Scottish noises and Claire began to think that perhaps he had simply fallen asleep.  She closed her eyes and began to let sleep take her when at last he cleared his throat and spoke up, "Do ye think if I do this, if I write to her, that she will be pleased to receive my letter?  Do ye think that perhaps she might return my affections?"

Claire leaned up on her elbow and leaned a bit toward Murtagh, "No one can say for sure how she will react, but you have to ask yourself a question."

Murtagh leaned up on his own elbow and furrowed his brow, "What question might that be?"

Claire smiled, "You must ask yourself, which will be your bigger regret, not writing a letter and never knowing how she feels or writing the letter and finding out that she doesn't return your feelings.   There is a third option as well, though.  You might write that letter and find out that she returns your affections and has perhaps thought that you don't want her."

Murtagh scoffed and laid back down on his back, his hands folded across his chest as he stared up at the stars, searching the heavens as if they held all the answers.  "Well, perhaps yer right and there is only one thing I can do.  I will write that letter when we arrive at Bannockburn House, we shall be there for at least one night and I can put it on a ship with the post while we are in Inverness.  That way it will arrive at least a fortnight sooner than if I were to wait till we return to Lallybroch to write it."

Claire grinned as she too laid back down, hands over her heart as she thought of her own loves back home at Lallybroch, "That sounds like a fine plan, let's get some rest now.  I'm afraid we might have a long ride tomorrow."

Unfortunately, when they woke the next morning, they found that the weather had turned.  It was cold and raining when they broke camp and continued on their journey.  The muddied roads slowed their travel considerably as the mud continually caked onto the horse's hooves.  They had to stop regularly to scrape the mud from their hooves, or risk injury to one of the horses.  They finally made it to Inverness eleven days after they rode away from Lallybroch.  Claire and Murtagh both knew that if the weather didn't clear soon, there was no way they would make it home in time for Alex and Eilidh's birthday. 

The soldiers stopped three miles away from Bannockburn House to make camp and allowed Murtagh, the three tenant spies and Claire to continue the rest of the way on their own.  The tenants were familiar to the two guards at the edge of town and they were all five allowed to pass without question.  The five of them rode right up to the large house, dismounted and passed their horses off to a young lad.  The lad was known to one of the tenants and he told the boy in Gáidhlig to stable the horses for the night.  Another of the tenants led them up the steps to Bannockburn House and informed the guard at the door in Gáidhlig that he had brought a healer and her husband to care for the Prince.

Claire and Murtagh exchanged a confused glance as the tenant turned and whispered something in Murtagh's ear.  Then the tenants walked back toward the few tents that were erected near the house and Murtagh and Claire were led to a single room inside the house. "Someone will be here to fetch ye soon, we must notify the Prince that ye have come.  He has been feeling poorly and might be resting just the now."

Murtagh thanked the man and followed Claire inside the room.  As soon as the door shut, she spun around and glared at him, "What the Hell is going on, why did Ronald tell that man that we are married?"

Murtagh took her by the elbow and guided her over toward the window where they could look out at the few men below. "He thought it better if they didna ken yer name.  Jamie is kent as a traitor in these parts and wi' the name Fraser, he fears they would kill ye just to spite him.  So yer name, at least while we are here is Elizabeth Fitzgibbons, remember to introduce yer self as such to the Prince.  I dinna like the situation we are in, any more than ye do, but we must deal wi' it, the best we can.  I'll sleep on the floor near the hearth while ye take the bed, perhaps Jamie would prefer that I'm here to guard ye.  The tenants will sleep in the camp and we will leave wi' them before first light while the rest of the camp still sleeps.  We might yet have a chance of returning to Lallybroch before the children's second birthday."