The Man from Black Water, Chapter 17


A/N  Here’s a chapter I’ve been looking forward to writing for a long time - the hunt for Beauchamp’s colt.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

There’s one Gaelic phrase, which I’ve used Google Translator to translate in the endnotes.

Previous chapters can be found on my AO3 page.

Not long after Jamie and the rest of the search party had left Netherton, Murtagh rolled into the yard, a pleased grin on his recently exposed mouth.

“All the men ha’ just left,” Mrs. Crook advised when she saw him climb down from his cart.

“And that is why I’m here, my dear Mrs. Crook,” Murtagh explained with great solemnity.  “Tae look after the womenfolk.”

Rosemary was in the kitchen, kneading dough, when the cook entered with a strange man on her heels.  She startled when she realized who it was.

“Murtagh Fitzgibbons, I hardly recognized you,” she exclaimed with a faint blush.

“Oh, aye.  I’ve become a respectable businessman, Rosemary.  I’ve brought you a sample o’ my product.  Quite hard tae come by.  In fact, tis the last bottle o’ its vintage.”


It took Jamie and Donas no time to catch up with the riders near the old bridge at Lair.  He was greeted with half-hidden sneers and more than a few menacing looks, but he kept his head held high and ignored them.  Hugh went out of his way to speak to him, inquiring about Donas’ soundness.

“He’s raring tae go,” Jamie confirmed after he checked the horse’s strong legs for any sign of inflammation.

Before they could exchange any further information, a signal flare shot into the clouds from further up the glen.  With a shout of boyish glee, the men gathered their reins and took off again at a gallop.  Thousands of pounds of horseflesh shook the earth.  Clods of mud were thrown into the air by the passage of iron-shod hooves.  The hair on Jamie’s arms raised, prickling with the electric intensity of an imminent thunderstorm.  He bent low over Donas’ back, distributing his substantial weight to ease the burden on the willing gelding’s legs.

Unbeknownst to Jamie, his progress was being carefully followed by Angus, who was still smarting from the beating the younger man had administered. The stockhand with the weaselly eyes stayed close to the Highlander’s flank, on the lookout for an opportunity to mete out his revenge.

It came when Jamie broke away from the main group to take a shortcut across a burn in spate.  Angus spurred his mount to follow until the two men were close enough to touch, horses matched stride for stride.  With an evil smile, he reached forward and pulled the bridle over Donas’ ears, leaving Jamie with no choice but to rein his horse in and dismount to avoid losing control altogether.  Angus turned back to shout obscenities at the Highlander, but as he did he was hit square across the chest by a low-hanging tree branch, unseating him and knocking him unconscious.

Jamie spared two seconds to ensure his nemesis was still breathing, righted Donas’ bridle and leapt back into the saddle with a hiss of encouragement.  The gelding took off like a shot.

On and on they rode, gradually gaining elevation until the valley floor lay far below.  Horses unfamiliar with Highland terrain stumbled and fell, many of them pulling up lame. Soon the group had dwindled to about a dozen men, their mounts’ sides white and foamy with sweat.  The black colt could be made out galloping across a nearby plateau, his silken mane and tail waving like a black flag as he fled his pursuers.  He came to a sudden halt, nimble legs dancing in place as intelligent eyes surveyed the landscape for an escape route.

“Munro,” Henry Beauchamp advised the veteran horseman, “drive him up onto the ridge.  We’ll corner him at the corrie.”

Giddy with delight, Hugh Munro positioned himself between Hamlet and the valley floor.  Cracking his stock whip, he drove the young colt uphill, dodging and weaving between boulders and unmelted snow.  Jamie looked on in admiration and envy as his mentor single-handedly pivoted the colt onto a high ridgeline that ended in an abrupt drop.  Whistling and jeering, the rest of the men followed.

What happened next made Henry Beauchamp’s blood run cold. Without a second’s hesitation, his colt worth a thousand pounds launched himself over the precipice.  With a flick of his back fetlocks, he was gone from sight. Hugh Munro reined his mount in sharply, a shower of pebbles tumbling down the cliff.  He peered over, watching the agile colt effortlessly maneuver the nearly vertical drop, muscles bunching and extending in a perfect display of horsepower in motion.

The rest of the riders joined Munro at the top of the crag, watching in silent admiration as their quarry made his death-defying escape.

“You can bid the colt good day,” Henry Beauchamp lamented with a curse.

Without warning, a speeding brown blur rode through the middle of the group, his rider’s distinctive red curls bent so far forward they were almost between the horse’s ears.  With a single crack of his stock whip, Jamie Fraser and Donas launched themselves airborne over the edge.  It was several endless seconds before four hooves once again made contact with a solid surface, and then the pair were rushing headlong down the mountain, bodies moving like a single organism.

Jamie loosened the reins entirely, trusting Donas to take the least perilous path down the rocky slope.  He leaned as far backwards as gravity permitted, his back coming into contact with the gelding’s heaving hindquarters.  His heartbeat slowed and he was beset with a blanketing sense of calm, like hearing his mother’s voice as a bairn, or waking in the grey dawn at Lallybroch and listening to Claire’s even breathing.  There were moments that he was shaped for, destined to live, and this was one of them.

Almost too soon, the ground leveled out beneath them.  Jamie gathered the reins and looked around for Hamlet.  The colt had slowed and was trotting down the narrow valley, less agitated now that he wasn’t being chased by a gang of rowdy men on horseback.

Jamie patted Donas on his soaking wet neck, sending up a prayer of thanks that they both got to the bottom alive.

“Jes a wee bit farther, man,” he urged his exhausted mount.

Taking care to approach the colt from upwind, Jamie began to speak aloud, hoping the recognizable rhythm of his voice would further calm him. Hamlet slowed to a jog, then to a walk, his expressive ears pivoting towards the familiar sound of his caregiver’s voice. At last he came to a halt, only twenty feet and a rushing burn separating him from the man and his mount.

“Halo, Prince o’ Denmark,” Jamie greeted softly.  Hamlet snorted in reply.

Wishing to appear less intimidating and to spare poor Donas, who was still huffing like a bellows, Jamie dismounted.

“Ye’ve lived up tae yer pedigree, son.  Twas a merry chase ye’ve led us on.”

Hamlet lowered his head and began to graze, all while keeping one eye on the tall Scot.

“I reckon ye find this place a good sight better than yer usual hame, and it is, but tis no’ place tae be alone come wintertime.  Ye’ll be far better off in yer nice warm stall wi’ all the hay an’ oats ye can eat.”

Inspired by his words, Jamie dug into his pocket.  Making certain he had the colt’s attention, he placed one sugar cube on his palm and extended it to Donas, who happily crunched down on the delicacy.  Hamlet’s head came up immediately, his furled nostrils quivering in their quest for the well-loved scent.

Moving with slow, deliberate movements, Jamie extracted a lead rope from his saddle bag.  Leaving Donas with his reins looped under a rock, he quietly approached the burn.  Two sugar cubes balanced on his extended palm, he waited patiently on the far bank.  Hamlet looked down towards the glen, as though deliberating between freedom and the familiar.  Finally, with a shake of his mane the colt forded the narrow stream and lowered his muzzle to gobble down the beloved treat.  He rubbed his sweaty head against the Scot’s shoulder, letting out a tired whicker of complaint.

“Aye, I ken, man.  I’m scunnered too.  Let’s get ye back where ye belong.”


It was not yet teatime, but the timid Scottish sun was already beginning to set.  Murtagh fussed with his wagon in the yard, not wanting to antagonize Henry Beauchamp unnecessarily, but concerned for his godson’s safety.

One by one, the riders from the search party began to straggle back to Netherton.  A few led their horses, while Angus rode behind Rupert, an ugly red lump decorating his ruddy forehead.  Henry halted his horse in front of the manor house, his morose features a clear indication of the day’s lack of success.  He was so disheartened, he didn’t even bother to yell at Murtagh, who watched on with a worried expression.

“Where’s Jamie?” Claire asked from the front steps, where she and her aunt had come to hear news of the search.  Her father shook his head mutely, and an icy belt of dread took hold of her lungs.

Before she could inquire further, a murmur rippled through the bedraggled assembly.

“God almighty, would ye look at that!” Dougal blasphemed from his vantage point on top of his mount.

The source of his astonishment was Jamie Fraser, riding Hamlet and leading an exhausted Donas down the lane at a stately trot.  Noble bearing and bright blue eyes flashing with the pride of redemption, he first fastened his gelding to the back of Murtagh’s cart.  He then trotted the colt right up to Henry Beauchamp, dismounted, and handed him the reins.  

“Yer horse, sir,” he bit out with forced civility.  With a brief nod towards Hugh Munro, whose smile stretched from ear to ear, Jamie dragged his weary body up to sit next to Murtagh. He barely had the energy to acknowledge Claire, who watched him with clear delight.

“Fraser,” Henry Beauchamp approached the cart, a wad of ten-pound notes clenched in his hand.  “I promised a hundred pounds to whoever recovered the colt.  It’s yours.”

Jamie stared at the money, overwhelmed by all that it represented. He glanced over at Claire, who nodded in encouragement.  Still, he didn’t reach for the reward.  To do so felt like it would somewhat diminish the clearing of his name and place him irrevocably in Henry Beauchamp’s debt, a long shadow from which it would be impossible to escape.

“Tis not why I rode,” he finally said.

Seumas,” Murtagh whispered urgently, “smaoinich air na tha thu a’ dèanamh.” (*)

Even Claire looked momentarily doubtful.

“Ye’ve a fine herd of young heifers,” Jamie bargained, thinking quickly despite his exhaustion.  “I’ll be back in the spring tae collect a half-dozen o’ them.  And whatever else is mine,” he added, tipping his head in Claire’s direction.

“I don’t like to repeat myself,” Henry warned.  “She’s not for you.”

“Claire can decide her future fer herself.”

“You’ve got a lot of nerve, lad.”

“He’s no’ a lad, Henry,” Murtagh interjected.  “He’s a man.  A man!”

Slapping the reins against his horse’s back, Murtagh steered the old cart through the crowd of onlookers who parted like the Red Sea.

“Murtagh!”  Rosemary Morriston’s voice cut through the air.  

Murtagh reined in his nag and watched with bemusement as the elegant woman descended the manor house steps and made her way regally across the dusty yard.  Reaching the cart, Rosemary opened her arms as though inviting an embrace, and the old man’s cheeks reddened with pleasure.

“Remember what we spoke about,” Rosemary whispered past his whiskers before letting him go.

“I havena had sae much feminine attention in years,” Murtagh spoke loud enough for all to hear.  “Mayhap I’ll make my way tae church, in case God had a chance o’ heart as well.”

(*)  James.  Think about what you’re doing.

Leave a Reply

AWSOM Powered