He raised his head and looked levelly at James. "I've come to fight by your side, and I've sixteen hundred Irishmen who stand with me."
"Good Lord ," Sibbald blurted.
Rollo leaned forward in his chair, intrigued. "And where are all these men?"
MacColla wove his thick fingers together and stretched his arms in front of him, joints popping. Leaning back, he placed his hands atop the crown of his head and said, "I've installed my men in Lochaber, where they're currently enjoying a spot of Cameron hospitality."
James barked a sudden laugh. "I'm certain the young Lochiel is well pleased by that turn of events."
"Och," MacColla dismissed him good-naturedly, "'tis good for the wee Cameron lad."
"Wee lad," James mused, looking at the enormous man sitting across from him. "I suppose." Satisfaction creased his eyes. "I am pleased to hear that Ewen sides with us." Sibbald rose. "If you two are going to gossip like milkmaids, I'd settle the horses and be off to bed."
"Sit, old man." The humor was gone from MacColla's voice. "The beasts can bide a wee. I've news yet. Campbell's kept busy since Aberdeen."
Leaning forward, he locked eyes with James and said, "I've word that he took your woman."
"Impossible," James said. "Napier, my brother-in-law, took her back with him to Montrose."
"No, the lass was taken from under his nose. Campbell has her," MacColla said. "He was given a commission of fire and sword, and he rides south, killing every Royalist in his path. He burnt the House of Airlie to the ground, and last word is that he's returned to his own castle."
The amiable effects of the whisky bled from James's eyes and voice. He edged forward in his seat, his features chill and focused. "Campbell took her to Inveraray?" he asked sharply.
"No, his other castle, Gloom. The bastard uses the old name." MacColla shook his head in disgust. "He seeks to intimidate by any means. Despite the men at his back, the Campbell is a soft and weak lump of flesh, and it angers him.
"I am sorry, Graham," he added. "If she's lucky, your woman is already dead."
They were to rest through the day, and travel by night. The sound of snoring Filled the small room, but James lay sleepless, fingering the strip of blue cloth once torn from Magda's dress. They'd shared just two kisses, and yet the thought of her seared him.
"You think of the lass." Rollo spoke softly in the semidarkness. They'd pulled the shutters tight, but daylight snuck in through cracks, throwing haphazard blades of light around the room.
"No…" James hesitated, and could feel his friend's stern look on his shoulders. "Aye," he admitted, his voice tight with pain. "I think of the lass."
The vividness of his memories shocked him. The silk of her heavy hair tangled in his hands, the flush of her wide, just-kissed mouth. Visceral images and sensations that sheared through James with a wanting and regret he hadn't realized in himself.
"I was a fool." he said in a tight whisper. "She came like a gift from the fates, and I foolishly entrusted her safety to another."
"Napier is not just any other person, James. You cannot blame yourself."
James's silent energy vibrated through the room, charging the air like lightning before a storm.
"She must be special indeed to have caught the eye of an inveterate bachelor like yourself," Rollo attempted lightheartedly.
"Extraordinary," James replied at once. After a pause, he repeated, "Magda is extraordinary."
"And what does your family think of her?"
"Och, my family gets along with most. You know my sister. Margaret was thrilled to have another woman's life with which to meddle."
"And is Magda much like your sister?"
James laughed, quick and low. "Not that you could say, no. Do you know, the lass plays golf?" James sat up eagerly, tucking the blue strip of cloth into his breast pocket. "Aye, she truly can play. She gave old Tom Sydserf a thorough trouncing." He chuckled quietly, a distant look in his eye. "And shooting from the rough? Magda… well, at first you'd think she was a starchy, queenly sort of lass. Very upright. But she got in it at Montrose. You ken the gorse near the tenth hole? Well she got into trouble, and damned if the lass didn't hunker down, waggling her haunches like a wee rabbit, and she took her shot and that ball sprang out like a rousted bird."
James's smile went slack. Hands restless, he once again took the cloth from his pocket and rubbed it idly between his fingers.
"I see we've a problem then," Rollo said gravely.
"Aye," he replied, knowing well what his friend referred to. To search for Magda now would be to waylay their current plans. They had a king's commission, thousands of Irishmen, and the north full of Highlanders ready for battle. To chase after a woman who might already be dead was a potentially ruinous complication. And yet it was clear that James would choose no other path. "We've a problem indeed."
They sat silent in the room's gloomy half light for some time, then a canny smile slowly spread across James's face. "Although…"
"Tell it, James. What do you have us in for now?"
"Spiriting Magda out from under Campbell's nose and the war we wage are not necessarily at cross -purposes. A mere minor detour on the way to Perth, aye? Not to mention a pleasant way to provoke the Campbell."
"MacColla will be pleased, at least," Rollo said. "We abscond with the lass, and Campbell has no choice but to follow us north."
"One could even say it's to our advantage."
Rollo paused for a moment, then asked somberly, "But what if she's dead, James?"
"She's not dead," he growled. "I feel… I feel I'd know it somehow. But if she is…" He inhaled sharply. "If he's harmed Magda in any way, I swear I'll take his life even if it means my own. Campbell's house will crumble around him."
At first Magda was frustrated and angered by Lonan's unwillingness to discuss his painting, or anything having to do with her time travel. Her relentless questioning had only been met with amused silence, or the occasional "in time, child." So she finally decided to just give in to the experience, trusting that the laconic brother really would tell her "in time."
At first she'd found monastery life startlingly rigorous, but as the weeks passed, Magda grew to find great comfort in the daily routine. So much so, she wondered if that weren't part of some greater lesson Lonan was teaching her.
The cycle was the same every day: up at dawn for matins, close each day with vespers, with every hour in between rigidly accounted for. Brother Lonan had stressed to her the importance of numbers in the order of life, and the monks put a premium on such precision. Prime stood for the first hour and for those prayers said at 6 a.m. Terce, the third hour, meant psalms at nine. Sext was the sixth- hour contemplation at noon, and so on.
Magda tried to feel some greater something surrounded by all this worship, and though she didn't think she'd be signing up for the convent any time soon, she did find an inner calm that had eluded her since Peter's death.
Admittedly, facing her fears in the lake had done much to open her to the experience, but somehow the simple rhythm of life at Inchmahome Priory had thrown her old world into greater relief.
She had chided herself that a couple of kisses from some handsome Scotsman, and she was ready to forsake the modern world and live in the past as if it were some sort of living history book. But now Magda saw some kernel of rightness in the desire to stay. She was grateful to Lonan that his reticence had forced her to put out of her mind life as she knew it, to face instead life as it came to her in the moment.
Her old world had been so caught up in trivia, things that, at the end of the day, held nothing for her soul. Her family's never- ending pursuit of status. The rush of life in
Manhattan, where she was surrounded by millions of people, not one of whom she could call in a crisis. And even her job. She loved the art she worked with, and yet it hadn't been about the paintings in so long. If she truly looked inward, she had to admit that her work had come to serve other purposes: pursuing a raise, jockeying for invites to the right openings, or—and this shamed her—keeping a sharp eye for possible mistakes made by her peers to save as fodder for some later advantage.
She'd lost sense of herself when Peter died and realized now she hadn't known who that Magda was, the Magda who was an empty shell of herself, walking through her daily grind at work, returning to her tiny studio every night. The Magda who would clearly drop everything at a chance for life. Being pulled back in time h ad been her excuse—she'd told herself it had been beyond her control, that life was something that happened to her.
But now it was time for Magda to wrest back her lost control. She pushed up the long draping sleeve of her borrowed cassock, trying to knot it at her elbow for what felt like the hundredth time that morning, and stirred the great pot of boiled oats in earnest.
As it turned out, the room where Lonan had bound her feet on that first day was one of the few with heat. The kitchen, though, was another, and that had become her primary refuge, even though the only culinary skills required by the monastery involved stirring oats and cleaning fish. Striving for simplicity, the monks ate poached fish and those godforsaken oats at every meal, and she fantasized now about any number of exotic foods, thinking with a smile that, at this point, she'd even be game to try black pudding.
The monks all played a part, each as he was able. Scholars like Lonan spent their days at tasks like illuminating manuscripts or maintaining the library. Most other men managed the physical labor of the island, gardening, fishing, repairing. The list of things that needed doing was endless.
Many of the men had taken vows of silence, and Magda had become accustomed to their language of gestures that, in many ways, was much easier to understand than the thick brogue of the old Scots.