He breathed heavily through his nose, making a nasty snuffling noise, and swiped at his face with his bound hands, smearing the blood across one cheek.
“You want him back? You get me out of here, and fast!”
She’d been considering—and discarding—different plans of action, shuffling through them like a mental pack of cards, ever since she’d duct-taped him. And letting him out wasn’t one she’d considered. She had thought of fetching the .22 rifle the family used to hunt rats and winging him in a few nonessential places—but there was some risk of either disabling him too badly to be of help or killing him accidentally by hitting something vital if he squirmed.
“Think fast,” he shouted up at her. “Your wee lass will hit a hundred and be back any second!”
Despite the situation, Brianna smiled. Mandy had very recently been introduced to the idea that numbers were infinite and had been enchanted by the concept. She wouldn’t stop counting until she ran out of breath or someone stopped her. Still, she wasn’t going to engage in pointless conversation with her prisoner.
“Okay,” she said, and reached for the grate. “We’ll see how talkative you are after twenty-four hours without food or water, shall we?”
“You bloody bitch!” He tried to surge to his feet but fell over onto his side, writhing impotently. “You—you just think about this, aye? If I’m without food and water, so’s your wee lad!”
She froze, the metal edge of the grate digging into her fingers.
“Rob, you’re not bright,” she said. She was amazed that her voice sounded conversational; waves of horror and relief and renewed horror were rippling across her shoulders, and something primitive in the back of her mind was screaming.
A sullen silence from below, as he tried to work out what he’d just given away.
“Now I know you didn’t send Jem back through the stones,” she clarified for him. She carefully didn’t shriek, But you sent Roger back to look for him! And he’ll never find him. You . . . you . . . “He’s still here, in this time.”
“Yeah,” he said slowly. “Okay, you know that. But you don’t know where he is. And you’re not going to, until you turn me loose. I meant it, hen—he’ll be thirsty by now. And hungry. It’ll be a lot worse for him by morning.”
Her hand tightened on the grate. “You had better be lying,” she said evenly. “For your sake.” She shoved the grate back into place and stepped on it, clicking it down into its frame. The priest’s hole was literally a hole: a space about six feet by eight, and twelve feet deep. Even if Rob Cameron hadn’t been bound hand and foot, he couldn’t jump high enough to get hold of the grate, let alone reach the latch that held it down.
Ignoring the furious shouts from below, Brianna went to retrieve her daughter and her jeans.
THE MUDROOM WAS empty, and for an instant she panicked—but then she saw the tiny bare foot sticking out from under the bench, long toes relaxed as a frog’s, and her heart rate dropped. A little.
Mandy was curled up under Roger’s old mac, thumb half in her mouth, sound asleep. The impulse was to carry her to her bed, let her sleep ’til daylight. Brianna laid a soft hand on her daughter’s black curly hair—black as Roger’s—and her heart squeezed like a lemon. There was another child to consider.
“Wake up, sweetheart,” she said, gently shaking the little girl. “Wake up, honey. We need to go and look for Jem.”
It took no little cajoling and the administration of a glass of Coca-Cola—a rare treat, and absolutely unheard of so late at night, how exciting!—to get Mandy into a state of alertness, but once there she was all eagerness to go and hunt for her brother.
“Mandy,” Bree said as casually as she could, buttoning her daughter’s pink quilted coat, “can you feel Jem? Right now?”
“Uh-huh,” Mandy replied offhandedly, and Brianna’s heart leapt. Two nights before, the child had waked screaming from a sound sleep, weeping hysterically and insisting that Jem was gone. She had been inconsolable, wailing that her brother had been eaten by “big wocks!”—an assertion that had terrified her parents, who knew the horrors of those particular rocks all too well.
But then, a few minutes later, Mandy had suddenly calmed. Jem was there, she said. He was there in her head. And she had gone back to sleep as though nothing had happened.
In the consternation that had followed this episode—the discovery that Jem had been taken by Rob Cameron, one of Brianna’s fellow employees at the hydroelectric plant, and presumably taken through the stones into the past—there had been no time to recall Mandy’s remark about Jem being back in her head, let alone to make further inquiries. But now Brianna’s mind was moving at the speed of light, bounding from one horrifying realization to the next, making connections that might have taken hours to make in cooler blood.
Horrifying Realization Number 1: Jem hadn’t gone into the past, after all. While by itself this was undeniably a good thing, it made Horrifying Realization Number 2 that much worse: Roger and William Buccleigh had undoubtedly gone through the stones, searching for Jemmy. She hoped they were in fact in the past and not dead—traveling through whatever sort of thing the stones were was a bloody dangerous proposition—but, if so, that brought her back to Horrifying Realization Number 1: Jem wasn’t in the past. And if he wasn’t there, Roger wasn’t going to find him. And since Roger would never give up looking . . .
She pushed Horrifying Realization Number 3 aside with great force, and Mandy blinked, startled.
“Why you making faces, Mummy?”
“Practicing for Halloween.” She rose, smiling as best she could, and reached for her own duffel coat.
Mandy’s brow creased in thought.
Cold rippled over Brianna, and not just from the draft through the crack under the back door. Did they make it? They thought the portal was most active on the sun feasts and fire feasts—and Samhain was an important fire feast—but they couldn’t wait the extra day, for fear that Jem would be taken too far from Craigh na Dun after passing through the stones.
“Tomorrow,” she said. Her fingers slipped and fumbled on the fastenings, shaky with adrenaline.
“Goody, goody, goody!” Mandy said, hopping to and fro like a cricket. “Can I wear my mask to look for Jemmy?”
NOTHING’S SO HARD BUT SEARCH WILL FIND IT OUT
HE’D FELT THE DIAMONDS explode. For some time, that was the only thought in his mind. Felt it. One instant, briefer than a heartbeat, and a pulse of light and heat in his hand and then the throb of something going through him, surrounding him, and then . . .
Not “then,” he thought muzzily. Wasn’t any then. Wasn’t any now. Now there is, though . . .
He opened his eyes to find that there was a now. He was lying on stones and heather and there was a cow breathing—no, not a cow. He made to rise and managed to turn his head half an inch. It was a man, sitting huddled on the ground. Taking huge, irregular, gasping sobs of breath. Who . . . ?
“Oh,” he said aloud, or almost. “ ’S you.” The words came out in a mangle that hurt his throat, and he coughed. That hurt, too. “You . . . okay?” he asked hoarsely.
“No.” It came out in a grunt, filled with pain, and alarm got Roger up onto hands and knees, head spinning. He did a bit of gasping himself but crawled as fast as he could toward Buck.
William Buccleigh was curled over, arms crossed, gripping his left upper arm with his right hand. His face was pale and slicked with sweat, lips pressed so tight together that a ring of white showed round his mouth.
“Hurt?” Roger lifted a hand, not sure where or whether to prod. He couldn’t see any blood.
“My . . . chest,” Buck wheezed. “Arm.”
“Oh, Jesus,” Roger said, the last remnants of muzziness stripped away by a blast of adrenaline. “Are you having a bloody heart attack?”
“What . . .” Buck grimaced, then something seemed to ease a little. He gulped air. “How would I know?”
“It’s—never mind. Lie down, will you?” Roger looked wildly round, though even as he did, he realized the sheer pointlessness of doing so. The area near Craigh na Dun was wild and unpopulated in his own time, let alone this one. And even should someone appear out of the stones and heather, the chances of whoever it was being a doctor were remote.
He took Buck by the shoulders and eased him gently down, then bent and put his ear to the man’s chest, feeling like an idiot.
“D’ye hear anything?” Buck asked anxiously.
“Not with you talking, no. Shut up.” He thought he could make out a heartbeat of some sort but had no idea whether there was anything wrong with it. He stayed bent a moment longer, if only to compose himself.
Always act as if you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t. He’d been given that bit of advice by a number of people, from performers he’d shared a stage with to academic advisers . . . and, much more recently, by both of his in-laws.
He put a hand on Buck’s chest and looked into the man’s face. He was still sweating and plainly scared, but there was a little more color in his cheeks. His lips weren’t blue; that seemed a good sign.
“Just keep breathing,” he advised his ancestor. “Slow, aye?”
He tried to follow that bit of advice himself; his own heart was hammering and sweat was running down his back, in spite of a cold wind that whined past his ears.
“We did it, aye?” Buck’s chest was moving more slowly under his hand. He turned his head to look round. “It’s . . . different. Isn’t it?”
“Yes.” In spite of the current situation and the overwhelming worry for Jem, Roger felt a surge of jubilation and relief. It was different: from here, he could see the road below—now no more than an overgrown drovers’ trace rather than a gray asphalt ribbon. The trees and bushes, they were different, too—there were pines, the big Caledonian pines that looked like giant stalks of broccoli. They had made it.
He grinned at Buck. “We made it. Don’t die on me now, you bugger.”
“Do my best.” Buck was gruff but maybe starting to look better. “What happens if ye die out of your time? D’ye just disappear, like ye never were?”
“Maybe ye explode into bits. I don’t know, and I don’t want to find out. Not while I’m standing next to you, at least.” Roger got his feet under him and fought down a wave of dizziness. His own heart was still beating hard enough that he felt it in the back of his head. He breathed as deep as he could and stood up.
“I’ll . . . get ye some water. Stay there, aye?”
ROGER HAD BROUGHT a small empty canteen, though he’d worried about what might happen to the metal in transit. Evidently whatever it was that vaporized gemstones wasn’t bothered about tin, though; the canteen was intact, and so was the small knife and the silver pocket flask of brandy.
Buck was sitting up by the time Roger came back from the nearest burn with water, and after mopping his face with the water and drinking half the brandy, he declared himself recovered.
Roger wasn’t all that sure; the look of the man was a little off-color still—but he was much too anxious about Jem to suggest waiting any longer. They’d talked about it a bit on the drive to Craigh na Dun, agreeing on a basic strategy, at least to start.
If Cameron and Jem had made it through without mishap—and Roger’s heart misgave him at that thought, recalling Geillis Duncan’s careful collection of news reports involving people found near stone circles, most of them dead—they had to be on foot. And while Jem was a sturdy little boy and capable of walking a good distance, he doubted they could make much more than ten miles in a day over rough country.
The only road was the drovers’ track that led near the base of the hill. So one of them would take the direction that would intersect with one of General Wade’s good roads that led to Inverness; the other would follow the track west toward the pass that led to Lallybroch and, beyond it, Cranesmuir.
“I think Inverness is the most likely,” Roger repeated, probably for the sixth time. “It’s the gold he wants, and he knows that’s in America. He can’t be meaning to walk from the Highlands to Edinburgh to find a ship, not with winter breathing down his neck.”
“He won’t find a ship anywhere in the winter,” Buck objected. “No captain would cross the Atlantic in November!”
“D’ye think he knows that?” Roger asked. “He’s an amateur archaeologist, not a historian. And most folk in the twentieth century have trouble thinking anything was ever different in the past, save the funny clothes and no indoor plumbing. The notion that the weather could stop them going anywhere they’d a mind to—he may well think ships run all the time, on a regular timetable.”
“Mmphm. Well, maybe he means to hole up in Inverness with the lad, maybe find work, and wait ’til the spring. D’ye want to take Inverness, then?” Buck lifted his chin in the direction of the invisible town.
“No.” Roger shook his head and began patting his pockets, checking his supplies. “Jem knows this place.” He nodded toward the stones above them. “I brought him here, more than once, to make sure he never came upon it unawares. That means he knows—approximately, at least—how to get home—to Lallybroch, I mean—from here. If he got away from Cameron—and, God, I hope he did!—he’d run for home.”
He didn’t trouble saying that even if Jem wasn’t there, Brianna’s relatives were, her cousins and her aunt. He’d not met them, but they knew from Jamie’s letters who he was; if Jem wasn’t there—and, Lord, how he hoped he was—they’d help him search. As to how much he might try to tell them . . . that could wait.