The eerie sound of laughter followed them over the ledge. Jamie tried to protect Gavin's head by pushing his face into the crook of her shoulder.
Sharp pain radiated throughout her body from the stones they rol ed over, and when they finally reached the ledge, Gavin's body took most of the impact.
The laughter was getting closer. Blood poured over Jamie's left eye, blocking her vision. She wiped the blood away with the back of her hand and then pul ed Gavin back against the rock wall . She was desperately trying to hide them from their enemy. Gavin groaned when she was tucking him under the overhang. She slapped her hand over his mouth and then flattened herself on top of him.
Long minutes passed before she realized the hideous laughter had stopped. Her shoulder and upper arm were throbbing. Jamie reached up to try to rub the ache away. She whimpered when she felt the hilt of the dagger protruding from her arm, and let her hand drop back to her side. She realized that the sharp object had been her dagger—someone had thrown her own dagger at her!
She heard someone cal ing to her, but did not answer until she recognized the voice. "Marcus! We're here, on the ledge," Jamie shouted then, though her relief was so great it weakened her voice.
"My God, Jamie, what—" Marcus asked when he leaned over the edge of the cliff and saw Jamie's bloody face peering up at him. "Give me your hand, lass."
"Be careful, Marcus. Don't kneel so close to the edge. Someone tried to hurt Gavin and me. Look behind you to make certain it's safe."
Marcus did as she ordered, and when he turned back to her, the look on his face began to frighten her.
"Gavin's injured," she rushed out, ignoring his outstretched hand again. "If I leave him, he might rol off the ledge."
Marcus nodded. When he started to withdraw his hand, Jamie suddenly reached up and grabbed hold. "I want Alec," she cried. "But I don't want you to leave us here, Marcus. Please don't leave us."
The warrior gave her hand a good squeeze. "Hold on to Gavin, Jamie. I won't leave you. I'l shout for help."
She thought that was the most wonderful idea she'd ever heard and told him so in long, rambling sentences. Her mind was so fil ed with pain now, she could barely make any sense. "Jamie, let go of my hand. I know you trust me."
He gave her a tender smile. " 'Tis the reason you grabbed hold of me," he told her. "Now you must let go of me. Hold Gavin."
He'd kept his voice soft, soothing. "Yes," she agreed, trying to keep her concentration on what he'd told her. "Hold Gavin. I will , Marcus. I'l protect him."
She finally let go of his hand. "That's a good lass," she heard him say as she scooted back to Gavin. She put Gavin's head in her lap. "Alec will be here in just a few minutes, Gavin. Marcus will keep us safe until he arrives."
Marcus's deep bel ow sent several pebbles cascading down the slope. Jamie closed her eyes against the noise. The ledge suddenly started spinning around and around until all her thoughts began to whirl together.
And then she couldn't think at all .
Jamie didn't wake up until she felt someone pul ing on her hands. She opened her eyes and saw Alec bending over her. "Alec," she whispered in wonder. She tried to reach out to him, but the pain in her upper arm stopped her. She managed a weak smile instead, as she noticed she was still on the ledge.
His expression was grim. When she noticed that, she began to frown. "Don't build me a box. Promise me, Alec. Don't build me a box."
She could tel by his puzzled look that he didn't know what she was talking about. "You were going to build Angus a box," she reminded him.
"I won't build you a box, love," Alec whispered.
She smiled again. "I'm so happy to see you."
His hands shook. "I'm happy to see you, too," he told her in a gruff voice.
"I lost my dagger."
She looked as though she was having as much difficulty as he was believing that statement. She frowned up at him while he gently brushed her hair away from her face, trying to remember the other question she wanted to ask him.
She gave up after a minute. "Alec, the dagger—"
"Don't worry about your dagger, love," Alec soothed. "Can you move your legs, Jamie? I want to take you into my arms and lift you up to my men.
Sweetheart, let go of Gavin now. Let me—"
"Yes, love, Gavin," he explained.
Jamie looked down when Alec started prying her hands away from Gavin's chest. She remembered everything then. "He was hit by a rock," she said. "The blow knocked him backwards, Alec. He was going to fal over the steep edge. I got behind him," she rushed on. "He was so heavy. I couldn't keep him from fal ing, so I put my arms around his waist and pushed us both down toward the slope."
She smiled at her husband, ignoring his worried grimace. "I couldn't remember which direction, but I guessed the right way, didn't I?"
"You did," he told her in a hoarse whisper.
"You have to take him up first," she ordered. Her voice was surprisingly clear now; she was so blissful y relieved to have Alec taking charge she wanted to weep.
Alec decided not to argue with her. He eased Gavin up, over his shoulders in much the same way a woman would wear a shawl, and then stood up.
His legs were braced apart for balance as he slowly lifted the sleeping soldier high above his head.
"We've got his hands," Marcus shouted down.
Alec moved Gavin's legs away from the rock once the weight was taken away. He knelt down beside Jamie again. His eyes looked suspiciously misty to her. She realized then that she must have caused him considerable worry. "I'm going to be fine, Alec. I told you I wouldn't leave you."
He couldn't believe she was trying to comfort him. "No, you're not going to leave me," he muttered affectionately. "I can see the blood on your face is all bluster," he added, remembering those words from her remarks about Angus's chest wound.
"My dagger's in my shoulder," she blurted out.
He didn't show any reaction to that statement. Jamie immediately decided the injury wasn't as horrible as she imagined. Stil , she needed to have him tel her so before she quit her worrying. "Is it awful, Alec?"
"No," he answered. "It isn't in your shoulder, either, Jamie."
"I can feel it," she argued. She tried to turn her head to look for herself, but Alec grabbed hold of her chin. "It's in your upper arm," he explained.
"You're most fortunate. It went through the fat."
"I don't have any fat," Jamie argued. She watched him tear a strip from his plaid, yet stil didn't guess what his intent was. "Clear through, Alec? Oh, God, it's going to hurt something fierce when it's—"
She never finished her sentence. Alec had the dagger out of her flesh as quick as lightning and was wrapping the strip of cloth around her arm before she could get enough strength back to scream.
"There! That didn't hurt, did it?" he asked.
"Hush, love," he soothed. "You would have worried about the dagger coming out until you'd made yourself sick."
He was right and they both knew it. "If you had to get yourself stabbed, I imagine you picked the best spot. The dagger didn't hit bone."
She let out a gasp. "I knew you'd think this was all my fault," she told him. Her mind concentrated on his contrary remark and she barely noticed Alec had lifted her into his arms and was slowly standing up. "I didn't get myself stabbed and you damn well know it."
"I know, love, but it's good of you to remind me," he told her. He was lifting her above his head now.
Jamie started to look down. He felt her tense in his grasp. He thought to warn her not to look down, then decided against it. His caution would only remind her of her precarious position. "At least you found your dagger," he announced, sounding outrageously cheerful.
"There is that," she snapped. "Alec, you're hurting me," she cried out when his hand accidental y brushed against her arm. She closed her eyes against the excruciating pain.
"I'm sorry, Jamie. I didn't mean to hurt you, lass."
The agony in his voice tugged at her heart. "It didn't hurt overly much," she said quickly. She felt someone lifting her away from Alec and opened her eyes again. Marcus had her in his arms an instant or two later, and then Alec was over the rise again and she was gently given back to him.
It barely bothered her injuries at all when Alec gained his stal ion. He kept her well cushioned in his arms.
His strength was such a comfort to her. She sighed against his shoulder.
"Why haven't you asked me if I saw the attacker?" she asked him.
"I know who it was," he answered.
"I think I know, too," Jamie whispered. "But you'l have to give me the name first."
She knew that didn't make any sense, and Alec's grim expression suggested he'd rather not discuss the topic now. She ignored the suggestion, of course, and asked, "Who was the witness?"
"What witness?" he asked. His concentration centered on keeping his stal ion at an easy gait, and he barely took the time to look down at his wife's face.
"The witness to Helena's death," she whispered.
Two hours later, Jamie was propped up in her bed in the great hall . Alec had kicked the screen to the floor in his hurry to get her settled. The screen had been carried outside and the hall was now crowded with her clan.
Alec tended to her injuries. She'd given him instructions about the proper powders to use, and made him refashion the bandage on her arm twice before she was satisfied. Gavin was awake, too. He had a fierce headache. Jamie wouldn't let anyone give him any ale, though. She ordered cold cloths on his head and water to drink. He'd have to suffer through his headache, she dictated from her bed, and that was that.
Jamie never made a sound or showed a grimace while she was being patched up. In truth, vanity was her real motive, not courage. She wasn't about to act cowardly in front of her relatives.
Father Murdock had made that task easy for her. The dear priest sat on the edge of the bed and held her hand all during Alec's work. Little Mary Kathleen was carried in and settled next to her mother when Alec was finished. The three-year-old started crying when she saw the bandage on Jamie's forehead.
Alec soothed the child by tel ing her to give her mother a kiss.
Mary immediately did as Alec suggested and was rewarded by her mama's surprised announcement that she was feeling ever so much better now.
The little girl fel asleep a few minutes later, cuddled up against Jamie's side.
Jamie saw Marcus motion to Alec. "You've found her, then?" she called out.
No one answered her. Alec started toward the door. "Alec, bring Annie inside," she said. "I want to ask her why."
Alec shook his head. "I'l listen to what she has to say outside."
Father Murdock squeezed Jamie's hand when she started to cal out to her husband again. "Leave it in his hands, lass. He's a compassionate man."
Jamie nodded. "He doesn't like admitting it, but he is compassionate. Annie's mind is twisted," she whispered. "Alec will remember that."
And then the sound of that horrid, inhuman laughter fil ed the hall and she found herself clutching the priest's hand for comfort. Annie's words lashed out with the sting of a whip. The venom she screeched was made worse by her singsong tone of voice. "I'l be your wife, I will . No matter how long it takes me, Kincaid. It's my right. My right. Helena took you away from me. I chal enged you then, Alec, and I'l chal enge you again."
Jamie heard another loud burst of laughter, and then Annie started chanting again. "I'l kil again and again and again until you've learned your lesson. It's my right to stand beside you. It's—"
The sudden silence, after such demoniacal sounds, was startling to Jamie. She tried to get out of the bed.
"Stay where you are, Jamie," Gavin ordered from the foot of the bed. He loomed over her like an angry avenger. His command was ruined when he put his hands to his head and groaned. "I shouldn't have yel ed at you, milady, but Alec wants you to stay put."
"You shouldn't have yel ed at me because it made your head pound," Jamie countered.
"That, too," Gavin admitted.
Jamie moved her feet out of the way just in the nick of time. Gavin col apsed on the foot of her bed and let out another pitiful groan as he fel back.
She guessed he was trying to turn her attention away from the happenings outside by demanding her sympathy.
"I have complete faith in my husband," she told Gavin. "You needn't carry on so to turn my concentration."
"Then I can have a drink of ale?" Gavin asked.
"The bed is getting damn crowded," Alec announced from the top of the steps.
Jamie smiled. She waited until he'd kissed her properly before asking, "It's finished?"
He nodded. "Alec? You were supposed to marry her, weren't you?"
"Edgar had planned to unite the Kincaids with their clan to gain peace. I was pledged to Annie, aye."
"But she's so much younger than you…"
"She's only one year younger than you, Jamie."
"She seems so much a child stil ," she whispered. "Edgar changed his mind after Helena's husband died?"
Alec nodded. "He did. Helena was carrying her babe, and the king wanted to give her a good home."
Jamie nodded, understanding. And then she gave him a magnificent smile. He had to shake his head over her strange reaction. "She didn't want to leave you either, Alec."
He stil didn't comprehend her joy until she turned to Father Murdock and said, "Tomorrow you'l have to bless Helena's grave. She must have a requiem mass, too. The entire clan must be there, Alec."
"Do you want her to be reburied in consecrated ground, Jamie?" Father Murdock asked.
She shook her head. "We'l extend the consecrated cemetery to include that whole section. Alec and I will , of course, be buried next to Helena. It is fitting, isn't it, husband?"