The Voyage of the Flora Marie

Lisa Krakowka

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Outside of Brodie, Scotland

August 1746

Richard Wakemore was scared. Terrified, even. But he'd be damned if he'd let any of those Scottish bastards see it. His wrists were bound cruelly above his head; the cord biting into flesh with a ruthless tension. Aside from that, though, he was relatively unharmed. A bruised liver, perhaps--from the heavily booted foot of their leader as he'd been kicked roughly off the young girl--but nothing broken, nothing bleeding.

He scanned the small and rather dank room once again, assessing the look of the motley band of clansmen that held him hostage. The one at the door, dark and thickly muscled, returned his gaze blandly, fingering the hilt of his dirk in a plain invitation to the lieutenant. Wakemore sniffed and raised his chin, turning toward the hearth. Two more were there, both slight of frame compared to their companion, sitting closely and holding a muted conversation between bites of meat and bread. Another stood at the window, shorter than the man guarding the door, but equally solid, and looking not quite Celtic, despite his kilt and ragged hair. He'd been there since their leader--a *woman* for the love of God-- had stormed out into the rain not an hour prior. There was one more in his merry band of captors: a smaller, finely boned blonde man who had taken the young woman through a small door and into what he could only presume was some kind of bed chamber. Serve the little whore right to be used hard by all of them, he thought. Bloody bitch had scratched his face. The wound stung slightly, in fact, inflamed by the sweat trickling off his brow.

"Och, the wee laddie's uncomfortable?" One of the two by the fire asked, noticing him shift in an attempt to wipe his cheek on the rather tattered and muddy sleeve of his once resplendent red coat.

"No more so than any gentleman forced to share company with a tribe of lice-ridden pigs," Wakemore answered.

The Scot leapt to his feet, a hand on his dirk, but was checked by his companion putting a hand on his elbow.

"Leave it be, Warren," the man said. "He'll get what's coming."

"Indeed," Wakemore added. "And I'll be right happy to see the lot of you hanged for your crime."

"An' what crime would *that* be, then?" the bulky one at the door answered, his lips twisting in a mirthless smile. "Och, I suppose ye're meaning the unlawful imprisonment of a member of his Majesty's army? Assuming they ever find ye', a'course."

The young lieutenant stiffened, preparing to shoot back a response, but was interrupted by the arrival of the sixth Scot. She was, he thought, impossibly tall for a woman and had a face as hard as the Highland granite. It softened for just an instant as she spoke to the man at the window and he realized that she might be quite pretty under all that filth. Most of the clanswomen were, actually. Or so his experience had been.

She vanished through the same door the blonde had, not even sparing her prisoner a glance.

"I say," Warren said casually, "that we take a piece out of his hide for every lass he's soiled."

Wakemore swallowed. That would be a lot of pieces of his hide. He'd been busy during his tenure at Inverness.

"Assumin' that he kin get enough up fer the job, ye mean."

The one next to Warren flashed a grin at his kinsman. "Aye, Duncan, assumin' that."

"Maybe we should let auld Ben take a crack at him," Duncan grinned back.

Judging by the reaction of the figure at the window, he must be "auld Ben", though the man certainly didn't *look* much past twenty. "I," he said with just a hint of the burr of his companions, "would rather have my cock ripped off by a pack of wolves than so much as set it anywhere near *that* sack of filth."

The room erupted into raucous laughter that set Wakemore's teeth on edge. He'd heard far too many stories about the sexual preferences of the Scots to find any humor in the exchange.

The noise-level dropped markedly, though, when the door opened once more.

"How is she, Sarie?" Ben asked.

In response, the woman stalked over to Wakemore and gripped him firmly by the hair, twisting a shock of it painfully. "That lass is nowt but sixteen ye' stinking Sassenach bastard."

"She was willing enough in the haystack," he answered coolly. "But if you're complaining, I'd be most happy to show you what made her beg for more. You'd likely make a better partner anyway."

Her free hand shot out and caught him between the legs with a grip that forced a yelp of pain and sent waves of white light running across his vision. He slumped forward in an effort to relieve the pressure, and was rewarded with a yank that nearly released his bladder. His head rocked forward, suddenly free of the support of her grip on his hair, only to shoot back again, encouraged by the razor point of a wicked looking dirk against his jaw.

"First," she said evenly, "ye'll tell me the details of yer damned garrison. Then, ye'll die."

He forced his eyes open, despite the pain in his crotch, and studied her face. She *was* pretty. Young, too. "They'll come for me," he said, fighting to control his voice. "And when they do, I'll personally see to it that you find your way into every bed in the fort."

Much to his surprise, she laughed. "Och, laddie, if I wanted t' do things that way, I could find my own way along. An' yer threats are pretty idle if yer men have the same wee handfuls as ye do." That last statement was marked by a sharp tug of her "wee handful" that shot more lights racing through his vision. They were compounded by a sudden stinging along his jawline and the unmistakable smell of blood.

He could hear the men in the room chuckling at her remarks, but focused instead on the fact that she had just left a searing gash along his face.

"Tis' fit fer neither man nor beast out there tonight, Sassenach," she said, dropping back a step and releasing him. "Even yer English friends 'ed rather stay inside than worrit about ye. An' by dawn, ye'll just be a corpse."

His eyes went to the window, suddenly aware of the fact that it was being battered with lashing rain and wind. Damned Highland weather. "I'll die before I tell you anything," he said.

She shrugged. "Maybe. It dinna matter much if ye don't talk, though. One dead Sassenach's as good as another."

He had the sinking feeling that she was speaking from experience.

"Sarah?"

She turned her back to Wakemore, cocking her head at the man who had called her name--the one who had calmed Warren's earlier desire to carve the lieutentant into bits. "Aye, Connor?"

The wiry Scot held up a bowl and a small mug, offering them to her. "Ye haven't eaten dinner."

She waved a dismissive hand at him. "Take it to the lass, I'm not hungry."

Wakemore watched the expression on the Highlander's face twist in a barely noticible twinge of concern and came to the conclusion that his relationship with the woman went somewhat deeper than a mere alliance against the English. Interesting.

"Are ye sure?" Connor asked.

She gave a curt nod, then turned on a heel and stalked over to the opposite corner, sinking onto a bedroll and bending to tend to the laces of her boots.

The Highlander watched her for a moment, then scowled fiercely at Wakemore on his way into the bedchamber.

Hours later, Richard Wakemore came awake to a shrieking howl that ripped through his body like the wind. Before he could get his bearings, a loud crash sounded. It was followed by two more and the sudden shaking of the small room as a door slammed open on it's hinges.

His companions, if one could call one's captors such a thing, were all instantly on their feet and armed, looking about wildly. All save one. The wiry Scot--Connor--was looking at him keenly; sporting an expression that looked to be a mixture between a mild compassion and pure malice. It was an unlikely combination that set Wakemore's skin crawling.

He scanned the room, hoping to God that the noise was his garrison arriving to rescue him. It wasn't, though. But, one of the Scots was missing. Could that be what the commotion was about?

"What is it?" Warren asked, lowering his sword slightly at the sight of Sarah in the doorway.

Sarah ignored him in favor of advancing on Wakemore, who, despite his great English resolve, began to quake. Her dirk materialized out of seemingly nowhere and before he could even squeak in fear, she buried it deeply into the inside of his right thigh, ripping downwards.

Wakemore forgot all sense of appearances and howled in agony.

"Aye, ye bleeding bastard, scream all ye want."

The dirk found its way to precisely the same spot on his left leg and repeated the gesture, laying his leg open to the bone.

"That girl," Sarah stepped back and wiped the spatters of his blood from her face with her sleeve, "took her own life and by God, yer gonna know what it's like to wish ye're dead."

Her next move was to drive the dagger deep into Wakemore's groin and twist it savagely, tearing upwards toward his ribs. She stepped back, panting slightly, and his last glimpse of the world was of her expressionless face, hard and smeared with his own blood.

***

Four days out to sea from Glasgow, Scotland

September 1746

Connor MacLeod leaned against the port side railing of the Flora Marie, staring blankly out at the green of the ocean waves. They were making excellent time--Ireland had vanished over the transom nearly a day ago--and the winds were strong enough to propel the ship at a decent speed without causing her crew and passengers discomfort.

Near as he could tell, there were only three passengers aboard: himself, Sarah, and a fellow Scot that he had not yet had the chance to converse with, given the circumstances of Sarah's temper at being hauled out of Scotland against her will. He'd spent most of the time in their cabin, in fact, trying everything from reason to stubborn Scottish force of will on her. Nothing had worked. She was *livid* and would likely stay that way for some time--though it was really anyone's guess as to whether her anger stemmed from her forced emigration, or the fact that he had wisely shackled her left wrist to the wall. Or both.

Both, probably.

The shackle had been necessary, though. Otherwise, he would have had no guarantee that she wouldn't jump ship and swim back to shore while they were close enough to land to do so, or, worse yet, jump the *captain* and force him to turn the boat around. Both were certainly within her means--especially lately.

Connor sighed and rubbed his jaw; still aching from the punch Sarah had managed to connect there in their most recent round of...discussion. This was for the best. Even if she never forgave him. She *needed* to be out of Scotland and away from the English influence on the Highlands before the anger of it all took a firm root in her soul.

It had been a very difficult task, convincing her to leave the Highlands and melt into the countryside with him and Connor still felt pangs of guilt at the plot he had used to orchestrate the events that had forced them to split from their small band of fellow immortals. He'd done it, though. And it had worked exactly as planned.

####

One month earlier, outside of Brodie, Scotland

"Canna sleep?" Connor asked, coming to sit at Bryan's left.

Auld Ben, as he was known to Duncan and Warren Cochrane, shook his head. "I keep seeing her face--the lass'. I don't think I'll ever get that out of my head. Or any of this, for that matter."

Connor noted the sweep of Bryan's arm as he gestured to the rainy landscape. "You don't have to stay, really. It's not yer fight."

"It is," Bryan answered. "I'm not a Scot, but this is my fight as much as it's yours. I was at Culloden too, I know what happened and I'll not sit by while it continues to happen."

Connor grunted softly and tucked one knee up to his chest, staring past the sheet of rain that ran from the thatch of the roof. It'd been a long and bloody year since the clans had fallen. He was tired. "I gave the lass my sgian," he said at length.

Bryan's head shot up from its perch on his knee. "What?!"

Connor nodded. "Bad enough that he raped her. The child shouldna have to live with it if she doesn't want to."

Bryan's mouth fell open in shock.

"Na," Connor brought a restraining hand down lightly, but firmly onto his companion's knee, strong fingers digging into the flesh. "Yer right. It is a coward's way out. But we're not all meant to be heroes, Ben. An' she's just a bairn."

Bryan's mind worked frantically for a minute, running a projection of what would happen when it was discovered that the girl had taken her own life. The Sassenach would surely pay. Dearly. Not that he minded really. Sarie had been right: one dead Englishman was as good as the next. He'd gladly gut the bastard himself. But neither Sarie nor Warren Cochrane would be that merciful.

"You....you know she'll..."

"Aye," Connor nodded. "A'course she will."

There was something odd in his tone and Bryan cocked his head, straining to get a look at Connor's face in the darkness. As usual, it was a mask of Highland composure.

"Here's what's going to happen, auld Ben. In about an hour, yer gonna ride fer the fort."

"I am?" Bryan asked, wondering when he had agreed to participate in Connor's plan--whatever it may be.

Connor nodded again. "Nice and leisurely, too. Come dawn, yer going to tell them yer an Italian cousin of Laird Brodie and that there's something going on down at the milkshed on yer lands."

"Oh really?"

It was madness. The entire garrison would ride out. They'd all be hung. Or worse.

"Really. Seems a band of clansmen--outlaws, ye think--have holed up there. Ye think, but yer not quite sure, that they may have a prisoner. Being a Brodie and all, yer just thinking that they might like to know this bit of information. In the spirit of things."

It was beginning to make some degree of sense, actually. The Brodies had somehow managed to remain neutral throughout the Rising and were on decent terms with the English stationed at Inverness. *He* likely wouldn't be harmed. "They'll kill you all," he said. "Or worse, throw you in prison."

Connor hitched up one shoulder, silently weighing the odds. "Duncan can fend fer himself. So can Warren. And yer James is a right mean bastard when he wants to be. They'll fight their way out and be just fine."

"You left out two names, Connor."

"Aye."

A moment of silence fell and Bryan grew rapidly impatient. "And?"

"And yer Sarie will be with me. Bound for...anywhere but here. Even if I have to knock her out, bind her, and throw her over my saddle."

Bryan's jaw went slack. This was *not* what he thought it would be. "You'd put us all at risk to get her out of here? Why?"

Connor stood in one swift movement and reached into the folds of his kilt. For an instant, Bryan tensed, thinking that a knife was about to appear. Instead, he heard a soft jingling as Connor produced something from his sporran.

"Because *that*," he answered, pointing to the window, "is not the Sarah MacGreggor that I know. And she won't get out of this until she's dragged out--we both know that. And because *this* is a losing war and we all need out. Take this," Connor pressed a small purse into Bryan's hand. "It isn't much, but is should help ye and wee James get out of Scotland."

With that, he stretched mightily and disappeared back into the shed. An hour later, Bryan saddled his horse and turned its head to the northwest, bound for Inverness.

####

Connor nodded, offering himself a silent affirmation as he recalled the events that had unfolded in the shed after Bryan's departure. It was for the best.

"Testing out yer neck then, eh? Glad to see nothing's broken."

Connor's head snapped up at the sound of the unfamiliar voice and he turned to his right to find their fellow passenger grinning at him.

"Timothy Buchanan," the stranger offered a hand. "Yer wife packs quite a wallop, from the sound of it."

Connor took his hand and shook it. "Connor MacLeod. And she's not my wife."

"No?" Buchanan cocked an eyebrow with a somewhat wicked grin. "Yer in the habit of kidnapping women and carrying them bodily onto ships, then?"

Connor chuckled. So, Buchanan had seen him carry the prostrate and allegedly ill Sarah on board three nights ago. At least he hadn't seen the dagger protruding from her chest. "My sister," he said. "She was ill."

It seemed unlikely, but Buchanan's grin broadened yet again. "From the sound of things in yer cabin, she's feeling better now."

"She...didn't want to leave Scotland."

"So I gathered," Buchanan's grin faded and he joined Connor at the rail. "Who would, really?"

"A certain Buchanan, at any rate," Connor answered.

He tipped his head slightly, acknowledging Connor's point. "Middle son of a moderately wealthy whisky family. My choices were the seminary, the book keeping, or marrying up."

Middle son of a wealthy family. That, at least, explained why Buchanan's burr seemed to fade in and out. It was likely that the lad had been well educated--most likely outside of the British Isles. Connor knew from experience, though, that no amount of education would ever fully rob a Scot of his burr.

"Or America," he said.

Buchanan nodded again. "Or America. It's a good time to go there, I think. Things will get worse before they get better at home."

"Probably very likely," Connor echoed his nod; another reason why he'd dragged Sarah out, actually.

"Your sister doesn't agree, though?"

Connor spent a moment studying his companion before answering. Buchanan was lean and well dressed. Clean hands. He was also well muscled and showing none of the signs of lingering deprivation of food that had been so tell-tale with all the Highlanders during the Rising. It was doubtful that he'd seen any of the fighting, yet he obviously had an opinion. Everyone, it seemed, had an opinion.

"Sarah," he said at last, "has no love for the English."

Buchanan chuckled softly and planted both elbows on the rail, leaning casually. "The only man I've ever met who had a love for the English was English himself."

"Fair enough," Connor laughed.

Buchanan flashed the grin once more. "Walk with me? The decks are nothing like the Highlands, but I can't bear to be still."

Connor nodded and fell into step with him. After three days of sitting across the cabin from Sarah with deflecting murderous glares as his only exercise, his muscles were in desperate need of motion.

The Flora Marie was 75 feet in length--a bit small for an ocean crossing, Connor thought. She'd been the only ship about to leave port, though, and he'd known he only had a very brief window of opportunity. Technically, she wasn't a passenger ship at all. Her hold was laden with barrels of whisky and bolts of linen bound for the market in Boston, but the captain had been willing to take them aboard once given a glance into the purse of silver Connor had stashed in his sporran. It would prove to be an expensive voyage, but worth every penny.

They rounded the port side, stepping nimbly over lines and hatches, and paused briefly on the bow of the ship to admire the view of the open water before turning to starboard and making their way back astern.

"This sister of yours," Buchanan said as they side-stepped around a crewman heading for the mast, "would she wallop a stranger if given the opportunity?"

"With the mood she's in," Connor answered with a grin, "you'd be lucky if the least she did was wallop you."

Buchanan countered with another of his grins. "Perhaps she merely needs an ally against you. I think you should let her out of the cabin and see what happens."

Connor had a pretty good idea of what would happen. It most likely involved a dirk being thrust into some delicate part of his body with alarming force. "*I* think you're more interested in my sister's company than my own."

The grin faded and Buchanan flushed a deep shade of crimson that came across in great blotches from his neck and moved upwards across his cheeks. He opened his mouth and a strange mixture of gurgles and coughs came out.

Connor, despite his efforts to the contrary, burst into laughter.

Buchanan snapped his jaw shut, took two deep breaths, and nodded once to himself. "I'm sorry. I didna mean t' imply that I was wanting to..."

Connor wrestled his mirth under control and grinned broadly at his companion. "It's not like she'd let you anyway, my friend."

"A bit of a hellcat, is she?"

"You could say that, yes."

"Mmmm," Buchanan nodded. "I have a sister like that as well. Greatest pain in the arse I've ever met. I couldna wait for my da to marry her off."

"Not an option for me, I'm afraid. I'll gladly introduce you to her, though. After that, you're on your own."

"Fair enough," Buchanan nodded again. "If I might ask, what brings two MacLeods to be heading for Boston?"

Connor dropped onto the step leading to the quarter-deck and made himself comfortable, stretching his legs out across the planks. "The war," he answered.

"Ah," his companion joined him on the step and tucked one knee up to his chin. "Did ye fight, then?"

It was Connor's turn to nod, and he did so very gravely.

"It seems to me," Timothy Buchanan said, shifting posture in his search for words, "the Scotland has suffered greatly for the men who would think to rule her."

Connor spent a long moment staring out across the stretch of ocean visible over the top of the rail. That, perhaps, was the greatest understatement he had ever heard. Second greatest. Charlie had told them that the English had acquired the assistance of a "few Hannovarians" just before they marched to Culloden.

"Aye," he answered at last. "She has."

****

"It's too far to swim, you know."

Sarah narrowed her eyes and spared Connor a glance, then returned to her sullen study of the wake of the ship.

They'd come to an uneasy truce the night before during a storm that had sent the Flora Marie pitching and rolling something terrible. Not victim to seasickness herself, Sarah had politely suggested that Connor at least toss her the key to her shackle in the event that ship went down, saying that she had no desire to spend the next hundred years at the bottom of the damned ocean.

Connor had been busy vascillating between cursing the small size of the ship and puking his guts up into a bucket that their captain had thoughtfully provided him. Unused to seasickness, he'd been too weak and miserable to spar with her. Amazingly, *she* had simply handed him a cool cloth once released from her bonds. Even more amazingly, she had emptied his bucket and returned with a pitcher of fresh water--though how she could walk with the ship bucking underneath her was quite beyond him.

For all her help in his time of need, Sarah had yet to actually say anything to him. This worried Connor greatly. Maybe he had been wrong in assuming that she would forgive him eventually. Or, worse, maybe he had waited too long to get her out.

"The dress suits you," he tried again.

She spared another glance downwards at the red fabric and pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders, returning her gaze to the water.

Sarah had awoken clad only in her undergarments and it became abundantly clear during the first of their many rows that her clothing--good, sturdy, woolen clothing that would actually keep her *warm* on the deck, despite the fact that it was a bit tattered and had a stain or two--had been disposed of. Her weapons were nowhere to be seen, but God alone could help Connor MacLeod if he had disposed of *them* as well. She had plans for those weapons; most of which involved injury to her fellow Highlander.

Connor sighed and took up position next to her on the rail. Two could play at this Stubborn Highlander game.

Neither of them heard Timonthy Buchanan approach and both jumped visibly when he spoke.

"Ah, the infamous sister! I trust ye faired the storm well, Lady?"

Connor found himself smiling. At last; a friendly face. "Sarah," he turned, gesturing to their companion "this is..."

"Timothy Buchanan," he cut in smoothly with a slight bow in her direction. "A pleasure t' make yer acquaintance."

Sarah turned, fully ready to lash into the man for no other reason than the fact that he seemed to be too damnably happy, but found her harsh words fleeting at the very sight of him.

He wasn't devastatingly handsome--not in the way that made a woman lose her words, anyway. In fact, his ears stuck out at a rather rakish angle from the sides of his head; clearly visible due to the cropped length of his dark hair. His smile was infectious, certainly, but, again, nothing to lose her words over. Dark eyes, rather merry and well set into his face...once more, nothing startling.

It was something in his stance...and his build. And the complete lack of grief on his face. He was so *young*...completely untouched by any of the weariness she had found herself falling victim to lately.

Buchanan smiled at her and cocked his head slightly to the right, revealing the red seam of a fresh scar running along his jawline.

It was a stunning reminder of a wound that she had inflicted upon a man that hadn't been more than a handful of years older than this one. His name had been Richard Wakemore--Lieutenant Richard Wakemore. And she had killed him in completely cold blood and without mercy. Reveled in the smell of his English blood spilling onto the hay, even.

Sarah's stomach flipped, hard. Her head swam dizzily and her skin went instantly hot, then cold. She barely had time to turn back to the rail before vomiting up the entire contents of both her breakfast and lunch.

Both Connor and Timothy lurched forward, grabbing an elbow to keep her from tipping herself overboard. They then steered her in perfect unison to a nearby cask of whisky--left on deck to warm the night watch--and sat her down. Buchanan produced a handkerchief from his pocket and gestured for Connor to get her some water from the rain barrel.

"Och," he said with a grin. "Canna say I've ever had a lady react t' me like *that* before."

Connor closed Sarah's fingers around the dipper from the barrel and scowled. "I told you that cheese was bad."

"It wasna the cheese," she croaked, gulping the water.

"Of course not," Buchanan put in. "I ate it myself. It was sheep cheese. It's supposed to smell like that."

It wasn't the cheese at all. It was the fact that she had gleefully murdered that boy without a lick of remorse. And not just that one. Dozens.

Sarah threw the dipper aside and dashed to the rail once again, heaving and coughing until nothing more would come of it.

"Seasick," Buchanan hissed, scurrying after Connor as the Highlander moved toward her.

Connor shook his head curtly. "No."

When she was done, Sarah simply hung there pressing her forehead against the study wooden planks of the Flora Marie. Connor had an arm wrapped firmly around her waist and she could hear them conversing in hushed tones--Buchanan suggesting any number of ailments and Connor dismissing them all equally. Cholera. Cholera would be good. At least then she could lose herself in the oblivion of a fever.

"I'm fine," she said at last, hauling herself upright by sheer force of will.

Buchanan looked considerably relieved and offered her his handkerchief once more.

Sarah took it gratefully and untangled herself from Connor's impromptu embrace, moving toward the rain barrel. Both men stood tactfully aside while she cleaned herself up and straightened her dress and shawl and Sarah took advantage of the relative privacy to compose herself somewhat. Her stomach threatened mutiny once more, but she wrestled it under control and turned back to face them with a forced smile.

She opened her mouth to speak, realizing entirely too late that she had absolutely no idea what to say.

Buchanan came to the rescue.

"Timothy Buchanan," he said with a smile. "A pleasure t' meet you, Lady."

Sarah's smiled turned genuine quite of its own volition and she offered her hand--quite taken aback when he brought it to his lips rather than shaking it. This wasn't war any more. And he had absolutely no reason to believe she was anything but the Scottish woman that appeared to be standing before him.

"Sarah," she answered.

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