She needed to protect herself from it. Needed to find her way back home.
She'd thought of his portrait as they traveled, and how it might once again be a portal for her, returning her back to her own time. It had disappeared from his room, but certainly it would still be somewhere in his possession, and she looked for it now.
She loved James—knew with regret and certainty that he was likely the only man she ever would love. She felt the sadness of leaving him already, profound and creeping steadily through her, deadening her to all other emotion. The shadows grew darker, and she looked to the candle on the floor beside her. It was sputtering now, and she estimated she had but thirty minutes more until she lost the light. She had just one trunk left to go.
Magda knew as the lid opened effortlessly that this would be the one. Reluctance and eagerness both coursed through her. She leaned the lid against the wall and there it was, sitting atop a pile of someone's long-forgotten dresses. A portrait lying amongst the threadbare velvet and lace. His portrait. And once again it buzzed with the eerie energy she'd felt when it had sent her back in time. It was suffused with life, an almost sentient presence that spoke to Magda. Beckoned her.
Tentatively, she reached down and took the painting in her hands. The black background was even more ominous in the candlelight. It was cold under her touch, yet hummed with its own strange vitality.
She placed the painting on the floor to lean against the trunk. She stared at it, knowing with certainty that it was a door back to her time. Where would it land her? Would she be back in that same workroom, as if nothing had ever happened?
Was this it, was this all there was to her time with James? Nausea rolled through her at the thought. She realized a part of her had hoped to find the painting lifeless, had imagined that the decision would be made for her. But just as she'd wanted, the life Magda would lead was hers to choose. She could go forward in time, back to her workroom and her tools, back to her apartment, with hot showers and all the comforts she could imagine. So why was she claimed by doubt that left her feeling so empty and alone?
She shrieked at the sound of Tom's voice.
He stood in the open doorway and scanned the room, trying to make sense of the scene. "What are you about, lass?"
Cold dread prickled through her chest at the vision of Tom. Distress furrowed his features, exaggerated in the spectral light of the single candle he held.
"They have him, lass. They have James. He had a price on his head. Some petty laird has betrayed him for gold."
"I…" Bile rose in her throat. "I…" Magda looked from Tom to the portrait at her side. Terror and love swelled in her in equal parts. James.
It was happening. What she'd feared most was coming to pass. James had been captured. The man she loved was going to be hanged.
And she was sitting here, rifling through trunks, thinking of abandoning him. Thinking about her old world, things like showers and work. How could she have forgotten how empty that life had felt after Peter's death? How life without love was a hollow procession of lonely days and unending, sleepless nights?
Magda dropped her hands from the painting as if stung. James would never abandon her. She wouldn't abandon him now.
She looked at the painting, edging away from it. She loved James, more than anything. To flee now would be an act of cowardice. She would no longer live her life in fear of loss. She had to try to save him. If she succeeded, she would live with him and love him every day for the rest of her days. The time would come when she'd lose him. or James her, but Magda wouldn't let the fear of that day dictate her life.
"I can't leave him."
"We must run," Tom said.
She rose steadily to her feet. "We have to find him."
"There's naught we can do, Magda." Tom went to her and grabbed her shoulders, pleading. "We'll be lucky to escape with our own heads. Listen to me. We leave now, take shelter with the Camerons."
"You listen to me." Magda pulled from his grip. "They'll be expecting us to run," she said. "Campbell will be looking for us on every road out of here."
"The more reason to make haste, woman."
She heard herself say the words before she'd even thought about them. "James said you were once an actor."
"Aye," Tom replied, bewildered. "On the finest stages in all Edinburgh."
"Well then." Magda looked at the trunks all around her. "We need to find some disguises, because I need to help James."
She hitched the creel higher on her back, and willed her muscles to cooperate. They'd traveled on horseback for as long as they dared, then as Magda and Tom had approached Selkirk, they'd had to adopt their disguises in full. Encountering a peddler family on the road, they had traded Tom's pistol and the last of his coin for a cart filled with pots and the basket she wore at her back, heavy with salt.
The town buzzed with excitement. Word had spread quickly about James's capture, and everyone had gath ered to see the great hero, bound and helpless.
"I don't get it," Magda hissed. "What's the matter with these people?" Her arisaid began to slide off and she tugged it back over the crown of her head, her frustration with the scratchy, overlarge garb only adding to her outrage. "They're Scottish too, right? James fought for them."
"Aye, Magda," Tom whispered, "Scotland is not so simple as that. You've Highlands and Low, and a mix of different religious beliefs, with clan grudges to leaven the dish." He was sweating profusely, the tan of his cloak already soaked to a dark brown at his back. "Not so simple at all."
James came into view, and Magda clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle her gasp. He'd regained control of his body, but remained immobile, hands trussed behind his back, tied to the seat of a cart. Despite his condition, he sat tall, sunlight picking gold highlights in his brown hair. Magda's throat closed as she forced her tears not to fall.
It was suddenly clear to her that worries over battles an d babies could come later. She couldn't think of the future, or what it meant to be in the past. Magda only had the now, and what she knew in that very moment was that James was hers. She needed him by her side, and if that meant living in seventeenth -century Scotland, then so be it.
There was a challenge in his eyes as he discretely scanned the crowd. They swept over Magda and Tom, and just when she thought James had missed them, she caught the hidden smile twitching his lips. That he'd seen her, that he knew she was there with him, gave Magda courage.
"Let's go," she said. "I think the show's starting."
Tom pushed the cart, and at once a wheel caught in the dirt-packed road. "I traded my pistol for this?" he grumbled, struggling to lever it up and over the rut. "Did you see the butt of it? Heart-shaped," he said wistfully, "like the rump of a French courtesan. And engraved too. It was a fine piece. Fine."
She silenced Tom with a glare, then looked around quickly to ensure nobody had heard. Though Campbell was nowhere to be seen, Magda was certain he was out there somewhere, lurking, and she made certain to keep her borrowed plaid draped over her head and pulled low over her brow.
They walked for some time, having no choice but to follow the growing mob. all angling for a glimpse of the Royalist hero before he was hanged. A handful of Campbell's men drove James's cart, pulled by a two-horse team. It was slow going, forced as they were to haul their load over drover's tracks whenever the dirt road faded into grass, but Magda made sure she and Tom kept the ragged jolting and dipping of James's cart constantly in sight.
"Had I known the intention was to march James all the way to Edinburgh, I would have posed as, say, a solicitor." Tom struggled with the wheels of his wagon. "Then I'd have had no need for this godforsaken thing."
Magda greeted Tom's nervous chattering with empty, unfocused stares. She'd made her decision to stay, and every bit of her was concentrated on James, as if he were some celestial body whose gravity drew her to him at all costs. In her mind, this was the moment. This was the single test, her chance to save James and live out her days by his side. Or she could lose everything. Magda somehow knew that, despite Lonan's assurances, in turning he r back on the portrait, she'd lost her chance to return to her world. And now she could lose James forever too. Campbell's men stopped frequently along the road and at every village and hamlet between Peebles and Edinburgh, and a distance of less than thirty miles stretched into a week of degradation for James. But despite the many humiliations suffered upon him, his posture never wavered. He always sought her in the crowd, managing to steal glimpses of her through the day.
Their peddlers' disguise was easy to maintain, and whenever Campbell's men stopped, Magda and Tom would set up keep not far from him. She was startled the first time someone approached her to buy salt, but was happy to lighten her load in trade for some bread and hard cheese.
On the morning they approached Edinburgh, rain fell far in the distance, looking like a gray veil billowing along the horizon. The weather followed close at their backs, and when they finally entered the capital, a gunmetal sky pressed in on the mass of granite buildings, robbing the city of color and shadow. Despite the gloom, Edinburgh throbbed with life, and Magda was overwhelmed by the bustle of what seemed like a remarkably modern city. The roads were narrow and buildings closed in on either side, many reaching higher than she'd have expected.
When Campbell's men turned the cart onto the smoothly cobbled stretch of Edinburgh's Royal Mile, a buzz swept through the crowd. The mob was expectant, and the sense of imminent change crackled in the air.
"I warned him of this," Tom muttered. "There was a time I warned him he'd end his days swinging from three fathom of rope, a day's diversion for the merchants of Mercat Cross."
"Where are they taking him?" Magda tucked her head toward Tom in an effort to make herself invisible. The crowd was growing now, a sickening crush of people smelling of sweat, smoke, and sewage.