Adam fell on the ground, gingerly touching the side of his face that had been hit and passing his tongue over his teeth. Just to be sure. Since he started to compete with professional fighters, he had grown accustomed to minor injuries.
He got up, circling the Irish man in front of him, looking angry and huge, with the high molars and the broken nose. He could be extremely tall, almost like a giant, and he also could be strong like a bull, his muscles showing off under the pale skin. However, the man was not very smart and slow like a turtle.
This was the only advantage for Adam Grey, known as The Lord on the underground of London, where those matches wound happen every day. The date and the fighters would be passed among bettors in hushed voices, as the fights were prohibited by the King all over the territory and everyone involved could be hanged if caught.
Adam decided to go for the giant’s legs, exactly on his knees, so that the monster bend with the momentum and fell on the ground with a bang. Adam took advantage of the moment, climbing over the man and sitting on his chest, while punching him on the face.
He had only some minutes of fun, before he flew over the other side of the room, while everyone cheered for the Irish Giant.
“Damn!” Adam whispered to himself, catching his breath before being thrown to the other side again. He felt like a puppet.
Sliding through the floor, he kneeled and waited for the man to come running towards him. He knew it was just a matter of forces and levers. He just needed to act on…the…right…moment…
When the man came closer enough, Adam hold one of his knees and used his shoulder to take the bull of the ground, using the energy left to throw him on the floor, followed by a kick on the chin.
That was the end of it.
The crowd cheered, as the judge came closer to see if Adam’s opponent was, at least, alive. Verifying that he wouldn’t need to call the morgue that night, The Lord’s hand was raised high over his head and he left to get his money from the owner of the pub where he would fight every week.
He waited by the counter, taking the sweat of his face with the sleeve of his shirt. His heart was starting to enter the normal beating rhythm when he felt a hand over his sore shoulder. Adam turned quickly, just to see his cousin, William Ransom, the Earl of Ellesmere, behind him.
“Looking dashing as ever.” Said Adam, taping on the counter and motioning with his fingers some beer for him and his cousin.
“And you’re looking miserable.” Said William, sitting by his side, with his fancy jacket and waistcoat. “You’re a hard man to find.”
“I’m very mysterious.”
“There was one time that I would always know where you were.” Whispered William, taking a gulp of his beer and turning to see his cousin.
Adam remained silent, thinking of everything that happened the last year. He was the middle son of a duke and grew knowing he would not be very important for the future of the dukedom. This was a job for Benjamin, his older brother, that was taught exactly everything he needed to know to be a good heir and lord.
It was an easy decision when the Grey’s decided to serve in the Army. Benjamin would be protected at all costs by his father’s friends, Adam was still too young to be in trouble and Henry would follow Adam everywhere he went.
Well…Things turned to be a little different in the colonies. Benjamin was sent away in a mission and Henry got injured and transferred to Mrs. Woodcock house. Soon, Benjamin was presumed dead and Henry had eloped with Mrs. Woodcock, whose husband was still very much alive.
Her mother was in shambles, his father was roaming around North Carolina and the other states looking for Ben. William had his own business to attend in the army, so Adam decided to sell his patent and go back home, to tend for his mother and the lands.
He was happy, truly happy, for those months where he was the heir. He found his calling, after all. Adam was not a soldier or a minister: he was a farm boy, who loved to go see the tenants and help with the crops. He would get up with the dawn and go back home only with the dusk.
He got to see his mother find happiness helping a girl find her family again and saw his cousin fall in love with her. They got married, William sold his patent and they were the earl and countess of Ellesmere.
And Adam? Well, Adam dreamt of his own family and the future duchess of Pardloe.
Until his uncle John Grey found Ben, married with a kid. He and his family returned to London that spring and his life went upside down. From heir and land-owner, he returned to be the middle son, with no prospects and no self-respect.
He turned to drinking, gambling and women. Soon, he needed more. That’s when the fighting began. First, he would fight every drunk who would be next to him in the pubs. Then, he started to get better, to understand the body and how it would work during the matches. He would learn to anticipate movements and use his understand in physics to win over big brutes. Finally, Adam found something he was useful. And he was earning money with it.
But it was not enough. It never was. He needed…more. He missed his brother but…God…He missed his life more.
“What do you want, William?” Adam asked, regretting being so rude.
The earl just sighed, placing a hand over the man’s fist.
“Peggy is with child.”
Adam’s heart rejoiced for a moment and he forgot he was supposed to be cold and heartless.
“And I want you to be the godfather.”
He paused, blinking.
“I don’t know what to say… I…”
“You don’t need to say anything right now. Think of it and we could meet on the White’s, next week, to talk about it. What do you say?”
Adam just nodded, watching his friend smile warmly to him. He was happy, for the first time in months.
Lady Eleanor MacDonell was standing in front of her father, for what appeared to be the 3rd time that same day. She would spend hours, trying to convince the chief of changing his mind, to be free of the worst marriage she could think of.
However, as usual, chief Leith MacDonell was having none of it. He had been chief of his clan for 30 years and, despite being considered too old (he celebrated his 47 birthday some days before), he had gained knowledge and patience.
Especially with his only daughter.
He had married too young, with a girl from the clan next to his lands, the MacLean’s. Iona was a skinny, scared girl, with big green eyes, the color of moss and blond hair so white she seemed like a ghost. Many would say she was a fairy, a changeling, a gift from the beings who lived on the hills, that traded the sickly baby of the MacLean chief for this ethereal creature.
She would not speak and her eyes would be always lost, somewhere on the hills. She would mumble, sometimes, strange things about fairies and stones, but usually, she would remain quiet, watching him with those big, green eyes.
She got pregnant quickly and for some time, Leith was relieved. He would have an heir and he would be able to send that weird girl to another castle. Or maybe a nunnery. His relief lasted only six months: the baby was a girl and was named Eleanor, in honor of Leith’s mother. Even when she was asked to name their child, Iona remained silent and left the earth with a sigh.
Widowed and with a baby girl in his arms, the chief decided to remarry, a widow that had already two strong sons. Adaira Hamilton was the chosen one and she fulfilled her role with class: three years later she had given the chief three male children, ensuring the lineage of clan MacDonell.
And Eleanor? Well, Eleanor was raised by the woman, who would insist to be called Adaira and would not hold her when she was sad or scared. Her step-mother would provide her with food, enough for her too gain a beautiful body when she became a woman, but not too much so she would seem slob. She would have nice clothes, befitting her status as the first-born of the chief and would have the best education a woman could get, but nothing more.
But Eleanor wanted more than that. She wanted to learn to read and to write, she wanted to use a sword and an arrow. She wanted to get on her horse and be the best rider she could be.
So, behind Adaira’s back, Eleanor did it all. She was the best soldier in her father’s clan, the best rider in the Lowlands and she had the best aim in all Scotland. She would read the manuscripts and letters her father received in secret and write songs by candlelight.
She was too bright for her own sake.
“Father, please!” She screamed. “Gordon Wallace is a mad man!”
“We already talked about it today, Eleanor. Two times before.”
Eleanor was smart, funny and strong. Man feared her and thought they would never be able to control her. And due to that, she remained unmarry until the old age of seventeen. Then, Gordon Wallace appeared.
His clan was famous and rich. He was over 50 and already had so many sons and daughters that Eleanor couldn’t understand his suddenly interest in her. He clearly didn’t need an heir and it was not like he didn’t want to spend the remaining of his days alone: he didn’t had many left to spare.
“There’s no particular reason for you to accept this marriage.” She said. “If you want me to be married, I’m sure there is someone in Scotland that would have me and be younger than Lord Gordon!”
“I’m just saying.” She was starting to get tired.
“Give the man a chance. He will visit us in a week.”
“Father. Please.” She tried again. “Maybe in the Highlands. I know that Duncan Mackenzie have 5 sons of marrying age. Nessa said that they were visiting King James, in Glasgow…”
“Duncan Mackenzie is a fool! And his sons are fools too! You’re not marrying a Highlander, Eleanor, for God’s Sake! They are beasts!”
“Beasts?” Eleanor yelled, walking towards her father. “Lord Gordon is a beast! Nessa said he sold his soul to the devil. He has a room entirely dedicated to the Dark Arts. He hired wizards from France!”
“And you hear the bullshit your maid tells you?” He asked, closing his eyes and walking towards the window. “This are all lies created by his enemies.”
“You should be worried marrying your only daughter with a man with so many enemies.” Eleanor mumbled, for the 3rd time that day.
“Eleanor, please. Just…Meet the man. It would be a nice match between our clans and guarantee our position in the Lowlands. He is a good man and…a good friend.”
She saw her father leaving the room, without looking behind. Eleanor walked slowly towards the doors, pausing for a moment to place her hand over the hard surface of the stones around her.
Since she discovered about the prospects of marriage, she had been trying to convince her father to change his mind. She and Callum, her younger brother, kept thinking, over and over again of ways to convince the chief that the future relationship would not be ideal for Eleanor or the clan.
However, with each day she tried to talk with Leith MacDonell, she would lose a little bit of hope. The news about Lord Gordon would come from every member of the clan and she started to realize that the man was not only old, fat and weird. He was mean and terrible, an agent of evil in his true form.
And Eleanor couldn’t understand why her father was making her do that. Give her beauty and her freedom to such a terrible man, when she dreamt of red locks and blue eyes, in a tender and smooth face.
“How it went?” Asked Callum from the nook in the stairs.
Eleanor shook her head, her eyes low on the floor.
“Oh Ellie… It’s not lost.” The boy said, trying to cheer her up.
“He is coming to our lands in one week, Callum. There’s no hope anymore.” She looked up, to the boy in front of her. “We spent the last days trying to change his mind when we should have known it would never change.”
“No, Ellie. Listen.” Said the boy, approaching her. “I have one more option, but we will have to wait until Lord Gordon is here. I think this will do nicely.”
“I’m so glad you’re here.” Said William to Adam, as they sat together in a quiet room in the club. Some men were having lunch, others were playing cards and a few were just reading the newspapers.
“I had some time to think things over.” Answered Adam, playing with his brandy.
Indeed, he had. After William’s visit on the pub he was fighting, Adam returned to the small room he was ranting in Whitechapel and thought about his life. Since March he hadn’t seen his mother and his brother. He learnt that his father had come back to England, finally, and he hadn’t saw the man either.
It was a long time to be completely lonely.
And as he laid in bed, looking at his only widow, turned to another building, Adam thought about his old life. When he was happy. He missed that and he missed his family.
William had searched for him, just to ask Adam, crazy and pessimistic Adam, to be the guardian of his first born. He truly believed that the lost Grey boy could be able to care for a child if the good earl of Ellesmere and his charming wife were unable to do so.
This was crazy.
But it was… beautiful.
He spent the last of the night remembering the days he spent with William and Margareth in London. Days he went to the fields and tanned below the sun. He could almost feel the warmth in his skin, as his neighbors shouted with each other in the room above his head.
“I would be honored to be the godfather of your son, Willie.” Said Adam, using the nickname created when the cousin was just a boy.
Now, he was going to be a father.
“Or a daughter.” Added William, asking for champagne to celebrate.
“Do you really think so?” Asked the cousin, watching the bubbles go up the cup, smiling to the earl.
“I’m quite sure. Her belly is starting to show. As my housekeeper said, it is very round. A girl, for sure.” The earl assumed, taking a sip. “I was thinking of Isobel. Or maybe Claire.”
Adam laughed, raising one eyebrow.
“And what Margareth think of it?”
He could see the cousin blush under the edge of his cup.
“She thinks it is a boy. She already calls him James behind my back. It’s nerve wrecking.”
A nice silence took over them, as they stared at each other, with the champagne in their hands. There were many things left unsaid and Adam could see in William’s eyes the urge to ask questions about what happened on those last months.
But he hadn’t the strength to go over the questioning.
As if he could read his mind, William placed the glass on the table and said:
“I don’t intend to ask you anything that makes you uncomfortable, Adam. Me and Margareth were very worried when we went to Argus House and you were not there. Aunt Minnie said you left many days ago and never showed up. Not even to see your nephew.”
The earl nodded.
“I know. When I returned from the colonies, you didn’t ask a thing about what happened. When I married Margareth out of the blue, you didn’t ask me either. Even when I returned to the colonies without saying goodbye, you didn’t seem very bothered.” William paused, playing with his fingers. “But you were there for me, when I needed the most. You were busy trying to mend your family, but you were by my side on my wedding and I’m very grateful for that.”
“If it was not for me, you would have fainted and hit your head somewhere on the room. Margareth would have been a widow by now. Probably, she wouldn’t even had the time to marry you before you killed yourself in a dumb way.” Adam teased, making his cousin smile a little.
“You’re right. That’s why we, me and Margareth, want you to spend the next months with us, in Ellesmere Park.”
Adam raised his head, his mouth opening and closing like a fish in a pond.
“Oh, no, William. I would never… I could never… Such an imposition…”
“You sound like your mother.” William teased, raising an eyebrow and taking a chuckle from a flabbergasted Adam.
“I do not sound like my mother!” He laughed loudly, making some heads turn towards him. “God Almighty, William, your wife is in a… delicate… condition and I will do more harm than good, as usual.”
William shook his head in denial.
“No. She misses you. And we need to take care of a lot of things for the baby. I’ve been talking with the Secretary of War and managed to have a safe-conduct for Mother Claire and her husband, Mr. Fraser…”
“I still think it’s quite weird, you being so close to your ex-step-mother…”
“Pay attention. And they will arrive by the end of October, to be ready for the birth. Mr. Fraser has family in Scotland and he has sent a letter with some things to be brought from his home, Lallybroch, to Ellesmere Park for the baby. He is getting old and it’s a long way to get there…But for you…” William mumbled, looking to Adam under his lashes, pretending to pay attention in his glass, while his cousin got precisely the meaning of his words.
“You need an errand boy!”
“No.” William raised his eyes, his face a serious mask of acknowledgment. “It’s just… Something happened and I know it’s not my business. But, I want you to be healed, Ad. I will need you now more than ever and the green hills of Scotland, maybe, can help you to be the man you once was, before you earned money to slap drunks.”
“I was not slapping drunks. We were boxing.” Adam corrected him and saving the few pieces of his dignity he still had left.
“What do you say?” William asked, raising one eyebrow.
“I say… Why not?”