Can we ask for another chapter of Brian and Ellen AU?

Brian and Ellen AU

“Are ye sure ye’ve got that, lass?”

Six-year-old Faith Fraser nodded fiercely, carefully balancing the tray as she crested the attic stairs. “Aye, Grannie. Can ye knock on the door? Let Da know we’re here?”

Ellen Fraser did – six quick knocks, followed by two quicker knocks. They felt Jamie’s footsteps on the floorboards before he cracked open the door – then opened it wider, to accommodate his eldest daughter.

“Is that supper?”

Slowly Faith crossed the threshold of Jamie’s attic hideaway and set the tray down on the simple table Ian and Robert had made.

“Aye – a bit early today if ye dinna mind. Mrs. Crook just put a new roast over the fire, and yer Da and Robert are up at the far field to supervise the planting, and – ”

Gently Jamie bent to kiss his mother’s cheek. “I dinna mind, Mam. I ken weel how everyone is busy this time of year.”

“Mama had to stich up two of the men yesterday – and she let me help her!” Faith exclaimed excitedly as Jamie sat down at the table. Ellen sank to the foot of Jamie’s cot, smoothing out the creases in the quilt, and Jamie hoisted Faith onto his lap.

“And I suppose ye did a fine job of it, hmm?”

She nodded. “I disinfected the sutures wi’ whisky, and told the men to stop yelling, because William was sleeping.”

“She’s in charge, this one,” Ellen smiled. “Can’t imagine where she gets that from.”

Jamie chewed on a hunk of bread. “Do ye want to be a healer like yer Mam, when you’re older?”

“Aye. Mama says I can have my own wee basket for herbs this year, and that I can be her assistant when she goes out to forage!”

Jamie swallowed and kissed his daughter’s forehead, warm with joy. “I’m sure she’ll be happy to have such a dedicated assistant.”

Just then, Faith sat up a bit straighter. She scooted off of Jamie’s knee and scampered to the window.

“Someone’s here,” she announced.

Immediately Ellen crossed the room. “Stay away from the window, Jamie.”

Hands shaking, he set down his spoon. “Is there a man in the house?”

“Ian is downstairs, in the study. Fergus, too. And Claire and Jenny, of course – and all the bairns.”

“Look – someone’s getting out of the carriage,” Faith remarked, nose pressed up against the window. “He’s old.”

“Redcoats?” Jamie whispered.

Ellen’s hand flew to her mouth.

Jamie stood, alert. Waiting to pounce. “Mam?”

A Dhia,” she gasped. “It’s Ned Gowan.”

“May I thank you again for your hospitality, Mistress Fraser?”

“Ellen, please, Ned – I’ve known you all my life!” Ellen re-filled Ned’s tumbler of whisky, still smiling ear-to-ear. “How long has it been since we’ve seen each other?”

“Oh, my.” He scratched his head. “It must have been when Jamie was at Leoch, that first time.”

“I was sixteen,” Jamie added, squeezing Claire’s hand as she sat on the settee beside him. “It was when you and Da took me to Leoch.”

“My first time back since Brian had stolen me away,” Ellen smiled. “Aye – it was quite the memorable experience.”

The door to the sitting room opened – Fergus entered, followed quickly by Brian and Robert. Ned stood to greet the Fraser men.

“Oh, I’m so sorry to have intruded on your day – ”

“Nonsense.” Brian warmly clasped Ned’s weathered hand. “The potatoes can wait another day to be planted. It’s not every day we have visitors such as yourself here!”

Brian sat next to Ellen, while Robert squeezed in beside Jenny and Ian on the other settee. The fire crackled – Fergus added another log, then sat on the floor next to his sisters and cousins. Rapt with attention.

“This is a long way to come for a social visit, Ned.” Claire shifted her sleeping eight-month-old son to her other shoulder. “And it’s been more than three years since Culloden. Are you well?”

In an instant, Ned’s face seemed to get even older – the lines cut deeper – and his shoulders slumped.

“Truth be told, my dear – I’ve lived quite the ragtag existence since we lost Leoch.”

They knew it had happened, of course – had heard tell of how the castle and its contents had been ransacked in the wake of Culloden, with the redcoats in power and no living MacKenzie brother to stop them. But now to hear Ned speak of it –

“For a while I eked out a living in Cranesmuir. I’ll have you know, Mrs. Fitz and her kitchen lads saved almost all of Collum’s library – it’s in a safe house in the village, if I can ever figure out what to do with it.”

“That was my father’s library,” Ellen breathed. “My sons have good heads on their shoulders – they can figure something out.”

“Anyway,” Ned continued, “I was able to practice law in the village, for a time. That’s how Roddie MacKenzie, my driver, came into my employ.”

“Mrs. Crook is feeding him in the kitchen right now.” Jenny turned to her father, gesturing to the back rooms. “Puir man looked half-starved.”

“It’s been a meager existence, I’ll tell you that. This land is different now – far fewer people. The soldiers don’t begrudge me for my service to the MacKenzies, given that I’m a man of letters – so I’ve been a bit of a roving solicitor. Adjudicating disputes, writing marriage contracts, and the like.”

“He did write a good one for us,” Jamie mused. Claire smiled.

Brian shifted forward in his seat. “Do ye need a place to stay for a while, then? Because we’ve room enough here – if ye dinna mind bunking wi’ Rob.”

“He’s more than welcome,” Robert piped up. “I’ll take care of him.”

Ned sniffed and wiped at his eyes. “I – I would be most grateful.” He swallowed, blinking harshly from behind his spectacles. “You see, I’ve been in service to the MacKenzies for so long – and I don’t have any family of my own…”

Ellen leaned forward and took Ned’s hand. “You’re wi’ family now, Ned. Ye can stay as long as ye like.”

Ned looked around, at the smiling faces surrounding him. He sat up a bit straighter.

“It would be my honor.”

Sometime later – supper, and at least three whiskys later – Ned and Brian and Jamie and Claire sat in Brian’s study. Footsteps thundered overhead as Ellen and Ian and Jenny and Robert tried to get the Fraser/Murray children – still excited by the new houseguest – into bed.

“If ye say ‘thank you’ one more time, Ned, I may have to turn ye out into the dooryard,” Brian smiled.

Ned set down his empty tumbler of whisky. “Well then – until I find my feet, of course I’m happy to consult on any legal matters for which I can assist.”

Brian scratched his chin. “There’s all the deeds to the house and the land – we registered them with a magistrate before the Rising, so that there would be no dispute as to ownership of the land.”

“And I presume you still have a copy of yours and Ellen’s marriage contract?”

Brian smiled and patted the thick, dark wood of his desk. “I do indeed – you wrote it very well. Clearly laid out the terms of Ellen and my ownership of this land.”

“Good. I’d be happy to take a fresh look.” Ned turned to Jamie. “As far as I know, young man, you’re still an outlaw.”

“Red Jamie, to be exact. And I am.”

“Don’t forget, I’m the Stuart Witch,” Claire smiled. “Though that all seems to have been forgotten now.”

“And may I presume that the Crown doesn’t know you’re here?”

“They don’t – and they won’t, if we keep it that way.” Jamie slung an arm around Claire’s shoulders. “I lived in the far cottage for a time, and moved upstairs into the attic a few months back. My children have never known their father to live out in the open.”

Ned pursed his lips. “I presume you haven’t attempted to petition the Crown.”

Jamie sighed. “For what? The penalty for treason is death. You and I both know that.”

Ned tilted his head, thinking. “If I could find a way for you to be pardoned – for you to live openly – would you be open to that?”

Jamie looked at Claire. She looked back at him, silently supportive.

“Yes,” he replied, eyes still fixed on Claire’s. “There’s nobody else I would trust.”

Ned’s beaming smile was positively infectious. “Well then. I have work to do.”

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