"What, then, does he do?" Alex interjected.
"Captain Carey? I suppose he oversees me." Reeves hesitated, then waved an apologetic hand. "An egregious oversimplification. There's much for a man of Captain Carey's station to manage. He cannot daily run hither and yon across the breadth of occupation Severn encompasses."
Alex raised a brow. "It's ye does the running hither?"
Reeves's mouth curved, as though the question amused. "It is. And I'd do more than that for the man. I owe Captain Carey everything. He took me in a year ago when I had next to nothing, treated me better than I merited "
"Oh, aye?" Alex asked, catching another shift of those hazel eyes.
Reeves hesitated. "It's only.... He isn't the man I knew aboard the 'Severn.' He's also recently retired as a justice of the peace for the New Hanover court. It may be his years in that capacity showed him too much of human nature's less desirable aspects. Such is bound to leave a man jaded."
Never mind this Captain Carey, generous and
jaded; Alex was having trouble enough taking Reeves's measure. The man talked too much. Was it fear motivating this chatter, fear that Reeves would feel the brunt if the new indenture he'd chosen failed to fall agreeably in line with his master's designs?
Perhaps so; Reeves chose that moment to produce a document from inside the coat he'd laid on the bench. The indenture.
* * *
The surface beneath him heaved. His belly echoed the motion, spewing forth the oat gruel they fed those condemned to hell—and hell it must be. He'd spent his life on the sea in boats and never felt such a ruckus in his innards. God have mercy
Memories surfaced. The shivering torment of naked stone—had that been a kirk, where they put them after the battle? The dark and dank of a ship at anchor. Crowded flesh unwashed and festering. His uncle's face swam through the memories. Like Alex, Rory MacNeill had been stripped to his shirt—plaid, belt, shoes, sporran, anything of value confiscated. His uncle's wound was never stitched, the gash held closed by a strip of soiled shirting. He could lend Alex no support, struggling himself to remain standing when forced to it.
"Come, lad. They'll have us on our feet again. Let's show these Lobsters they canna best a Barra man." His uncle's voice lapped across his mind like waves on a shingle. "A minute more on your feet. Feel the sea air. Breathe it in. Clear the cobwebs, does it?" It hadn't. Still, he'd clung to the voice like a drowning man and shuffled forward. Light as bright as blades. Gulls screeching fit to pierce his skull. The shove of strangers' hands. Groans of suffering. The roiling. The thirst. "Rest ye now. I'm here with ye, Alex . . ."
Alex MacKinnon. His name. His father's clan, though he'd lived all but his first years among the MacNeills of Barra, harvesting the fish, pasturing the cattle, riding with his uncle to collect the quitrents for their chief. He was twenty-two no, it must be three-and-twenty now, an unworthy nephew to the man who took him to hearth and heart, orphaned at three.
A clink of metal beside him. "Aye, lad. They've kept us together."
Together in the stench and chill of a ship's hold. He could barely see the contours of his uncle's face, high in the cheek and brow as his own, beard grizzled with an old man's gray though he was now but fifty.
"We're alive, then?"
A low dry chuckle, familiar as sight. "Looks to be we are. Though I'll not argue if ye wish to call this hell."
Guilt weighed like a cairn. "I'm sorry."
His uncle's hand, rough and cold, closed over his arm. "Ye did as your conscience bid ye, lad. Ye've always had that about ye, a need for a purpose beyond yourself. 'Tis the Almighty knit ye so. Besides, 'twas I chose to stand with ye at the end."
A groan rose somewhere near. The wheeze of labored breathing. They weren't alone. Alex moved his legs, felt the pull of chain; his ankles were manacled to the timbers enclosing them in near darkness. "How long since the battle?"
"Tomorrow marks Beltane. We lie at anchor, still at Inverness."
A fortnight. He absorbed that as Rory bridged the gap for him. After the redcoats came boiling from the pines and bashed his head, they'd been trussed and tossed into a cart bound for part of the field where the measured crack of gunfire bespoke execution. Then, for no reason Rory could fathom, the driver had taken a turn in the track. They'd left the moor to jostle over miles to Inverness. There, forced inside a kirk crowded with shivering, wounded Jacobites, they'd languished for two days lacking food and water, another eight without doctoring.
This excerpt ends on page 13 of the paperback edition.