Murtagh lay on the damp planks of the lower deck of the old and rotting ship that had brought him to the colonies, far from his homeland of the Scottish Highlands. A small dark space crammed with bodies, the prison deck of the ship was just above the cargo hold, below the water line, cold from water that constantly seeped into the dank air the prisoner’s breathed spreading illness and disease. When Adsmuir was closed his only comfort that he would be with his godson be that in death or further imprisonment but without warning they had been separated. Lord John had taken Jamie from the cells, hauling him away and hitching him to a horse taking with him the last piece of family Murtagh has left. Whilst the rest of the men had been loaded into wagons, in the freezing wind and rain they had been driven miles from even the crumbling stone prison that had provided them some shelter and sent on ships to the New World.
He had been lucky to even survive this voyage if you could call it luck. The ship was overcrowded with Scottish prisoners, and many had perished, or disease left to be buried at sea. Murtagh had seen weary men who had survived years in Adsmuir finally leave this earth. The fight had left them, exiled from their homeland with little hope of ever returning to their families many men had simply given up. Murtagh had clung to life through the long months at sea. He was a stubborn bastard and he refused to die without seeing his godson safe and alive.
The prisoners were fed slop, a watery oaten mess that would have made Claire see red Murtagh thought with a dark chuckle. The stubborn healer woman had instilled in all the men before Colluden her ideas on food. Murtagh had found himself relishing the green things he had occasionally eaten in prison, he had felt like an animal grazing in the fields, but what he wouldn’t have given to have had some plants to fill his hollow belly on this long voyage. With naught but a hammock to call his own Murtagh had shared this deck with a hundred other men, it was damp and moulding, food was scarce til even the slop ran low, and water dripped down the slimy walls. It was worse than the crumbling prison he had left in Scotland. He closed his eyes and hoped against his better judgement that being indentured would at least provide him better conditions, perhaps a warm and dry place to sleep.
The ship’s ladder creaked and Murtagh saw two soldiers clamber down the ladder to stand before the waiting prisoners, he roused himself and warily looked to his dirty and thin faced companions contemplating his chances in this so-called New World.
“Get up” The lead soldier commanded. “Ready yourself, your new life begins now.”
Murtagh shuffled forward as much as his tired, worn body would allow and disembarked the ship into the streets of the port town, he joined a line of prisoners fortunately not shackled together but his hands were bound in front of him, and the men were marched in a line by soldiers. The soldiers escorted them at gun point to the slave markets, that’s all they were now, he thought, bodies to be put to use at the will of others. Murtagh heard the scared mumblings of the men around him as they realised the reality of their indenture. Most of the men were sentenced to a term of at least ten years and this New World did not look as though it would be without hardship. Looking around Murtagh could see the port town was a basic but lucrative outpost, a coastal town boasting several inns and taverns, along with shops and even a large apothecary across the way. Most of the buildings were in good repair and a few boasted large signs showing the wealth of the proprietor. Travellers with horses and carts strode out of shops carrying supplies and sharing the news of the day and going about their business. Soldiers stood on street corners, and he could see one man being beaten behind the taken. Another a black slave was shackled to his master’s horse forced to run behind him through the streets. Murtagh hoped that would not be his fate, he was weak from months of illness, not improved by weeks at sea.
He is attention returned to the present situation as he was dragged up a set of stairs and onto a raised platform above a crowd of onlookers, the slave master began calling out the details of his indenture to the waiting crowd below. One of these people would become his new master, it was all dependant on who had the most coin. His life had never been sure, he had spent much of it wondering the world chasing after his erstwhile godson, but now his life would depend on the good will of the man who purchased him. He considered that he may be bought by a fair master but looking at the crowd he saw several hard and cruel looking men in attendance.
Murtagh considered himself a strong and proud Scot, but his sense of self-worth had been severely diminished in prison, he could not bring himself to look further into the faces of those who might own his person, he kept his eyes on his boots.
The bidding started low, he was considered older and would not be worth as much as some of the younger lads who would be strong farm labourers. The bidding was a little over 12 shillings, and it seemed that his fate was sealed, then he heard a strong clear voice over the din.
“One Hundred shillings” a heavily accented English voice came calling across the crowd towards him.
Murtagh was dragged forward hands bound again without even the chance to raise his head and see his buyer.
After the auction was completed Murtagh was left in a line with the other purchased prisoners as their masters stepped forward to collect their newly indentured men. All the men were dragged roughly off into their new lives until, eventually Murtagh was the only one left, a solider approached him.
“We are to escort you to your new master” the solider said, addressing him primly, looking him over with distain.
Murtagh was once again dragged through the streets until they reached the Apothecary he had seen earlier. A large wooden building with steps up to an open doorway. His feet faltered suddenly unsure, before he was pushed up the steps and into the room beyond.
The shop much resembled the surgery at Castle Leoch, jars of medicines and things Murtagh could not identify lined the walls and the space was filled with a large worktable and a desk in the corner, a door led to other rooms beyond.
“Behave yourself!” A soldier barked as he removed his bonds. “Why a healer needs an indentured man I will never know” the man muttered to himself.
The soldiers left him standing there and suddenly Murtagh was alone that was until he noticed a small red headed lass who had popped up from behind the desk as the soldiers left.
She came over to him and stared straight up into his face, Murtagh’s heart throbbed with homesickness, he felt as though he was looking at a small female version of Jamie. She had the same inquisitive expression on her face and that blazing red hair that was signature of those in the highlands.
The girl didn’t give him a moment to recover before she was shouting. Turning and looking back into the rooms further beyond.
“Mama, the soldiers brought a man here” she shouted excitedly.
Something crashed in the room beyond before and English voice was heard echoing through the apothecary. Loud and a little annoyed.
“Brianna what have I told you about yelling in the surgery?”
“Ta not to” the girl replied sheepishly.
Murtagh’s breath caught as the woman came into the room wiping her hands on her apron, a mop of brown curls confirmed her identity.
“Hello Murtagh” Claire whispered her voice betraying the emotion she felt, eyes shining. “Welcome to America, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to bring you here myself.” She rambled quickly when he didn’t respond. “I had an emergency, one of the settlers on one of the farms put a pitchfork through his foot.”
Murtagh didn’t know what to say, here in front of him was his godson’s wife, how many cold nights had he spent in Adsmuir listening to Jamie prat for his wife and bairn, safe in the future and now they were in front of him. He thought they were safe in Claire’s time, that had been what Jamie had said, how were they here, why had they not come back to Jamie? Had Claire been all alone in danger here in this dangerous New World, pregnant and without a protector, anything could have happened. She seemed physically alright although there seemed to be a sadness in her eyes, one he had only seen before when Jamie had been thought lost.
He came back to himself, trying to form a coherent sentence but all that passed his lips was fragmented questions.
“Lass...” he trailed off. “How the Devil”
“Jamie sent me away before Colluden to go through the stones, as you know but it didn’t work for me.” Claire had felt relief and terror when she had found herself still in the 1700’s, unable to keep their child safe in the future but able she thought to stay with Jamie whatever their fate.
“I tried to come back to the moor and the battle, but the English soldiers were everywhere, I couldn’t make it back to Lallybroch without drawing trouble to Ian and Jenny, as the wife of Red Jamie I was known everywhere. So, I came here on a ship to the colonies. I couldn’t get word back to Scotland after the battle, and it still wouldn’t have been safe for me to go back to Lallybroch with the clearances. I started an apothecary here in America with not a penny to my name, now I am a respected surgeon here in town, even as a woman”.
She moved forward and gently pushed Murtagh down into a chair, began untying his bonds and applying a kind of ointment to the raw skin of his wrists.
“I heard of a ship of indentured Scotsmen, and I thought I might be able to save a few, then I saw you and I, I can’t stop the indenture, but I thought with me you could have the chance to be free, not on paper but I wouldn’t treat you as a prisoner…” Claire trailed off and Murtagh pulled her into a hug, it was more than he could of hope for. Claire had become family to him and now he had her back and now she had the bairn, he would protect them with his life, just as the vow he had made to Jamie.
Claire stood back wiping her eyes and turned to look behind her, the same redhaired lass from earlier peering up at the pair from behind a chair.
“There is someone I want you to meet, this is Brianna Ellen Fraser.” She motioned the lass forward and Murtagh caught sight of her shining eyes and timid smile. “She’s mine, mine and Jamie’s daughter.”
Just like that Murtagh’s world tilted on its axis.