He dropped to sit, looking around at the echoes of a battle run its course. They'd had a commanding victory. Royalists filled the Covenanter camp now, turning bodies, gathering stray weapons, or just standing dazedly, waiting for their minds to make sense of things and assure their pounding hearts that the threat was well and truly over.
James merely put his head in his hand and allowed himself to weep.
Campbell glowered from the deck of his galley, standing despite the agony in his injured shoulder. The vessel was a stout seagoing birlinn, twelve-oars strong with a single sail.
He rode at the bow and absent -mindedly stroked the honey-colored wood. He'd always treasured the boat, such an obvious emblem of his wealth, but he'd thought he'd be using it to parade his triumph along the Highland waterway, not be subjected to this despicable flight.
The boat bobbed unevenly, and agony shot up his arm. Campbell fisted his hands, digging nails into his palms to take his mind off the pain. The Cameron had come at him like a bull, and he'd heard the bone snap like a dried branch. One look at the mayhem outside his tent and Campbell had backtracked to his craft, docked just where Loch Eil fed into Loch Linnhe. Then, when he'd caught sight of the Royalists cavorting along the hillside and rummaging through his tents, he'd taken to the water.
If the Cameron had been a bull, then the Marquis of Montrose had been a lion, clawing and gutting Clan Campbell of its men, killing sons enough to have repercussions for generations to come. Campbell's power was decimated, whole families wiped out, not to mention almost half his forces killed.
He looked to his oarsmen, rowing two men short. Those who remained pulled frantically, powered by their fear, as the triumphant whoops and cries of Royalist soldiers echoed along Loch Linnhe to sound the Covenanters' escape.
Lips twitching, he studied the Campbell crest and motto stitched onto his sail. A boar's head, and the words Ne Obliviscaris. Do Not Forget.
Magda dashed to the room she shared with James. She'd just received word of his return, and news that he sustained some sort of injury. The healer passed her on his way out, and his grave nod sent a shiver up her spine. She'd been sleeping so long apart from him, lying awake through long, cold nights, and wishing so hard for his return, yet she hadn't imagined it would happen in this way.
Once she'd even tried Gormshuil's henbane, in search of anything that would grant her rest and a blank mind. But though it seemed to lessen the ache in her wrist, the green concoction only gave her a fitful sleep, sweaty and filled with strange nightmares.
Fear blanched her skin a bloodless white against the dark blue and black plaid of the arisaid that seemed unable to warm her. All she knew was that even the most minor wounds could fester, threatening limb or life.
He sat on the bed, propped up against a half-dozen pillows that appeared ready to slide under his slumped weight. Foul herbal smells assaulted her, infusing the sharp stink of alcohol that hung in the room.
"James?" she said, voice quivering.
"Aye?" His eyelids fluttered open. His cheeks were flushed and eyes bright, and Magda wondered if he wasn't already fighting a fever. "My Magda," he said with a wan smile, his voice weak. "You'd rouse any man to life."
She raced to his bedside, but stood uncertainly, afraid to stir him.
"Come," he whispered hoarsely. "Give me your ear, hen." He coughed weakly. "I'd tell you one last thing."
She leaned toward him on the bed. All her buried anxieties spewed forth to light as she wondered, was this it? Did her arrival spare James from one fate only to serve him another equally dire? Her heart an ache in her throat, Magda gently touched his cheek with her fingertips.
"Closer," he rasped.
She leaned closer still fear for him making her tremble. James grabbed her suddenly, pulling Magda roughly on top of him, and kissed her hard.
She kissed him back eagerly, inhaling his breath deeply into her own lungs, savoring again the smell of his skin, relief unspooling her muscles in one great shudder. Abruptly, she pulled away and began smoothing her hands over his chest and arms.
"But you're injured?"
Silent, he studied his calf beneath the blanket, then said, "Och, they're naught but scratches." He gestured to his upper arm. "I'd not even realized this one was there 'til the battle was well over."
"And you let me think… James Graham!" She smacked him on the chest. "How dare you? I thought you were dying." "Only with love for you, hen." He grabbed at her again, trying to pull her back to him.
"Dammit, James," she said, fighting not to laugh. "Don't do that again. You'll hurt yourself worse than you already are."
"Och, they're nothing. Truly." He pulled his shirt off to show her a thin bandage wound around his bicep. "I was on my horse racing back to you before I realized the sting of it." Magda admired the slide of fabric on his skin, and the sight again of his naked body. He was leaner, yet the weeks of marching through the mountains had hammered his muscles into even more prominence.
She made to get off the bed. "Magda." His voice was suddenly earnest. "I need you here with me." He took her hand to stroke it lightly in his and stared at her in silence for a moment. "I need to see your bonny face instead of these dreadful images filling my mind of late."
"I'm here—" she began, when he grabbed her hip and put an arm underneath her legs. "Aye," he growled, "I need you, Magda." Her arisaid fell from her shoulders, and he bent down to nip at her breast underneath the wool of her dress. "And you'll not move from this place." James nibbled and kissed his way up her chest to nuzzle at her neck. "Until I say so."
Desire thickened his voice, and Magda fe lt the hot rush of her body's response. All the fear and anxiety and loneliness of the last weeks were submerged by her desire for this man.
Hungry for him, she grabbed and pulled his face to hers. He moaned in response, a primal sound deep in his throat that reverberated through her. She couldn't get close enough to him, felt suffocated by her thick layers of clothing. James ran his hand down her throat and the creamy expanse of her breastbone. Her skin pebbled and nipples tightened in response to the feel of his hands, warm and rough on the cool smoothness of her skin.
She wore a simple tartan dress, with a tight bodice and low. square neck. He dipped his fingers down inside her gown to graze her nipple, and she gasped with the pleasure of it. The urgency to have him subsumed Magda, and she quickly rose to her knees and swung a leg over to straddle him.
Magda felt the hard ridge of him and ground her body into his. Kissing her deeply, he rubbed his hands up her back and eased his fingers into the ropes of hair gathered at the nape of her neck, loosening and freeing it. Magda shuddered as she felt the thick weight of it fall onto her back, and bit at his mouth with the joy of it.
James slipped his hand down into her dress again, and cupping her breast, released it from the tight bodice. The cool air on her skin was quickly replaced by his mouth, hot and sucking on her. Magda was lost for a moment, then heard the crisp tear of fabric and the popping of buttons as she realized she'd been bared from the waist up.
James hiked the skirts of her dress up and tore the blankets from between them, his movements heated, almost violent in their intensity.
He slowed, and inhaling deeply, pulled back to hold Magda's gaze with his own. "I love you more than life," he said, and tenderly inched himself into her. The simple feel of him, filling her, made her eyes tear. She had to look away then, dropping her head back and closing her eyes, nearly unable to endure such pleasure.
James thrust deeply to the last inch and Magda felt heat tear through her. Breath came in gasps as her body remembered to pull air into its lungs. Her head buzzed as, someplace distant, she felt James pumping fast into her for his own release.
Not more than a quarter hour passed, yet Magda felt like she'd slept for hours, dozing, spent, leaning against his body, her forehead damp against his neck.
"Are you with me, hen?" he whispered.
"Oh yes." An unintended giggle bubbled up as the relief and realization that James was returned safe finally became real to her.
"Truly, you'd make a man forget his own name." He kissed her over and over, quick pecks along her face and neck, and Magda giggled in earnest. Her whole body was sensitive, her blood still thrumming just below the surface of her skin.
"But I think we'd best make haste for dinner." He tucked her hair behind her ears. "I have visions of the Cameron bursting in here to see what's detained us."
She rose reluctantly, and a rush of air replaced James's body, cold on her moist skin.
He flicked back the blanket to reveal bare legs and the wide strip of cloth wrapped around his right calf. James swung his legs over the side of the bed, and a fresh spot of blood appeared, fanning out bright and angry against the white of his bandage.
Magda gasped. "You need to stay in bed."
"Only with you atop me."
"Seriously, James." She studied her torn dress, and not sure what else to do, wadded it into a ball to deal with later. She opened a trunk at the foot of the bed and retrieved the only other dress in her possession. She 'd been able to successfully avoid dresses in the more extravagant fabrics, and despite the judgmental once-overs of women like Mairi, the warm tartan wool was quickly becoming her favorite.
She clutched the dress to her breast, somehow more capable of argument when she wasn't completely naked. "You really shouldn't be up and around on that leg."
"Och," he muttered. He stood and shifted his weight from foot to foot, testing his wound. "Not when I hear Tom Sydserf's come to call."
Magda gaped at him, aghast at the nonchalance with which he treated his injury.
James looked at her and smiled. "Don't fash yourself on my account, hen." He hobbled to Magda. "I've had enough potions and salves to last me a lifetime of battles. You're the only medicine I need."