In the event, it had rained too hard to get high up on the fells. Jamie had taken his string of horses pounding through the mud of the lakeshore road, then walked them through the shallows of Glassmere to get the worst of it off, then back to be rubbed down and dried. He’d glanced up toward the fells once, but the rain hid the heights where the ruins of the old shepherd’s hut lay.
It was cold on the fells today but bright, and he had no string to fash with. Augustus’s coat steamed from the effort of the climb, and Jamie reined up at the crest of the rocky path to reconnoiter and to let the horse breathe. This high up, the landscape was still patched with winter, rags of frozen snow in the lee of the rocks and dripping icicles still hanging under ledges, but he felt the sun’s warmth on his shoulders and there was a faint haze of green over White Moss, just visible in the distance below.
He’d come up this way, approaching the ruined shepherd’s cottage from behind and above, to give himself an opportunity to look things over. There was no reason to suspect ambush or trap, but instinct had kept him alive so far and he seldom ignored its grim mutterings in his ear.
He’d not been up here in months, but very little changed on the fells, save the weather. There was a small tarn below, rimmed with a crescent of thin ice, last year’s dry reeds poking black through it, not yet supplanted by new growth. The shepherd’s hut was just beyond the tarn. So ruined was it that from the water’s level you’d never see it, taking it for no more than another heap of lichened stones. From above, though, the square foundation was clearly visible—and, in one corner, something flapped in the wind. Canvas, maybe? There was a bundle of some kind there, he was almost sure.
Nothing moved below save the flapping canvas and the wind in the last of winter’s grass. He slid off Augustus and hobbled him, leaving the gelding to nose among the rocks for what might be found there. He walked a short way along the ridge for a better view and, emerging from behind a jutting outcrop, saw the man sitting on a rock, thirty feet below him, also watching the ruined hut.
He was thin; Jamie could see the bones of his shoulders stark under his coat. He wore a slouched hat, but as Jamie watched him, he removed this to scratch his scalp, revealing a head of brown curls streaked with gray. He seemed familiar, and Jamie was racking his memory in search of the man’s name when his foot dislodged a small rock. It made a tiny sound, but enough. The man turned and stood up, thin face lighting. He’d lost an eyetooth, Jamie saw, but it didn’t impair the charm of his smile.
“Well, and is it not Himself? Well met, Jamie dear, well met!”
“Quinn?” he said, disbelieving. “Is it you?”
The Irishman glanced quizzically down at his body, patted his chest, and looked up again.
“Well, what’s left of me. There’s none of us is all we once were, after all—though I must say ye’re lookin’ well in yourself.” He looked Jamie up and down with approval. “The air up here must agree with ye. And ye’ve filled out a bit since last I saw ye.”
“I daresay,” Jamie replied, rather dryly. When last he’d seen Tobias Quinn, in 1746, he had been twenty-five and starving along with the rest of the Jacobite army. Quinn was a year younger than himself, and Jamie saw the lines in the Irishman’s face and the gray in his hair with a sense of dismay. If Quinn felt any similar emotion at sight of Jamie, he kept it to himself.
“Ye might have told Betty your name,” Jamie said, making his way down. He held out a hand to the Irishman, but Quinn stood and flung his arms round Jamie, embracing him. Jamie was startled and embarrassed to feel tears come to his eyes at the touch, and he hugged Quinn tight for a minute, to blink them back.
“She knows my name. But I wasn’t sure ye’d come, if ye knew ’twas me.” Quinn stood back, brushed an unashamed knuckle under his own eyes, and laughed. “By the Blessed Mother, Jamie, it’s glad I am to see ye!”
“And I you.” That much was true; Jamie left alone the question of whether he would have come, knowing it was Quinn who waited on the fells. He sat down slowly on a rock, to gain a moment.
It wasn’t that he disliked the man; quite the opposite. But to see this bit of the past rise up before him like a ghost from blood-soaked ground roused feelings he’d gone to great trouble to bury—and memories were stirring that he didn’t want back. Beyond that … instinct had given over muttering in his ear and was talking plain and clear. Quinn had been one of Charles Stuart’s intimates, but never a soldier. He’d fled to France after Culloden, or so Jamie had heard. What the devil was he doing here now?
“Ah, sure that Betty’s a fine girl, and her with those snapping black eyes,” Quinn was saying. He eyed Jamie, head on one side. “She’s a bit of a fondness for you, my lad, I can tell.”
Jamie repressed the urge to cross himself at the thought.
“Ye’ve a clear field there,” he assured Quinn. “Dinna fash yourself that I’d queer your pitch.”
Quinn blinked at him, and it struck him of a sudden that “queer your pitch” was one of Claire’s expressions; maybe it was not merely English but from her own time?
Whether Quinn was puzzled or not, though, he plainly took Jamie’s meaning.
“Well, I might, too—save that Betty’s me late wife’s sister. I’m sure there’s a thing or two in the Bible about not doing the deed with your late wife’s sister.”
Jamie had read the Bible cover to cover several times—from necessity, it being his only book at the time—and recalled no such proscription, but he merely said, “I’m sorry to hear about your wife, man. Was it lang since that she died?”
Quinn pursed his lips and tilted his head from side to side.
“Well, when I say ‘late,’ I don’t mean necessarily that the woman’s deceased, if ye take my meaning.”
Jamie raised one brow, and Quinn sighed.
“When it all went to smash after Culloden, and I had to scarper to France, she took a hard look at my future prospects, so to speak, and decided her fortunes lay elsewhere. My Tess always did have a sound head on her shoulders,” he said, shaking his own head in admiration. “She was in Leeds, the last I heard. Inherited a tavern from her last husband. Well, by ‘last,’ mind, I mean the latest one, because I don’t for a moment think she means to stop.”
“But that’s what I wanted to speak with ye about, conveniently enough,” Quinn went on, waving an airy hand in dismissal of the erstwhile Tess.
“About Leeds? Or taverns?” Jamie prayed that the man didn’t mean wives. He’d not mentioned Claire to anyone in several years and would rather have his toenails pulled out with horse-nail pliers than be forced to talk about her.
“Culloden,” Quinn said, causing equal amounts of relief and dismay in the bosom of his hearer. Culloden came about fourth on Jamie’s list of things he didn’t want to talk about, preceded only by his wife, Claire; his son, William; and Jack Randall.
Jamie got off the rock, feeling obscurely that he’d rather be on his feet just now, though not knowing whether it was needing to feel ready to meet whatever was coming or an incipient urge to flee. Either way, he felt better standing.
“Or rather,” Quinn amended, “not Culloden so much as the Cause, if ye take my meaning.”
“I should think the two are much the same,” Jamie said, not trying to keep the edge out of his voice. “Dead.”
“Ah, well, now there ye’re wrong,” Quinn said, waggling a bony finger at him. “Though of course ye’ll have been out of touch.”
“I have, aye.”
Quinn continued to ignore the edge.
“The Cause may have suffered some reverses in Scotland—”
“Reverses!” Jamie exclaimed. “Ye call what happened at Drumossie reverses?”
“—but it’s alive and thrivin’ in Ireland.”
Jamie stared at him for a moment of blank incomprehension, then realized what he was saying.
“Ah, thought that would gladden yer heart, lad,” said Quinn, choosing to interpret Jamie’s cry as one of hallelujah rather than horror. He smiled, the tip of his tongue poking briefly through the hole left by his missing eyetooth.
“There’s a group of us, see. Did Betty not pass on what I said about the green branch?”
“She did, aye, but I didna ken what she meant by it.”
Quinn waved a hand, dismissing this.
“Well, it took some time to pull things together after Culloden, but it’s all moving a treat now. I’ll not give the details just yet, if ye don’t mind—”
“I dinna mind a bit.”
“—but I will say that there’s an invasion planned, maybe as soon as next year—ha-ha! Would ye look at your face now? Flabbergasted, aye? Well, I was, too, first I heard of it. But there’s more!”
Quinn leaned forward conspiratorially, lowering his voice—though there was no one near enough to hear save a soaring peregrine overhead.
“And this is where you come into it.”
“Me?!” Jamie had begun to sink back onto his rock, but this brought him up all standing at once. “Are ye mad?”
He hadn’t meant it as a rhetorical question, but neither did he expect an affirmative answer, and it was just as well, because he didn’t get one.
“Have ye ever heard”—and here Quinn paused to dart his eyes one way and then the other, looking out for invisible watchers—“of the Cupán Druid riogh?”
“I have not. A cup …?”
“The cup o’ the Druid king, the very thing!”
Jamie rubbed a hand over his face, feeling very tired. “Quinn, I’m pleased to see ye well, but I’ve work to do and—”
“Oh, indeed ye have, lad!” Quinn reached out and fastened an earnest hand to Jamie’s forearm. “Let me explain.”
He didn’t wait for permission.
“It’s the ancient possession o’ the kings of Ireland, the Cupán is. Given to the king of kings by the chief Druid himself, so far back folk have forgotten the time of it.”
“But the people know it still; it’s spoken of in the legends, and ’tis a powerful symbol of kingship.” The hand on Jamie’s forearm tightened. “Think, now. How would it be, Prince Tearlach riding into Dublin, standin’ in the courtyard o’ Dublin Castle, between the Gates of Fortitude and Justice, with the Cupán raised high as he claims all of Ireland for his father?”
“Well, since ye ask …”
“Why, man, the people would rise from the bailes and the bogs in their thousands! We should take England with scarce a shot fired, there’d be so many!”
“Ye have seen the English army …” Jamie began, but he might as well have tried to stop the tide coming into the River Ness.
“And that’s where you come in!” Quinn let go of his arm at last, but only in order to prod him enthusiastically in the chest.
Jamie recoiled slightly. “Me?”
“See, the thing is, we’ve found the Cupán—lost for two hundred years it’s been, and legends saying the faeries took it, the Druids reclaimed it, all manner of tosh, but we—well, I myself, in fact”—here he tried to look modest, with indifferent results—“discovered it, in the hands of the monks at the monastery of Inchcleraun.”
“Now, the monks are keepin’ the precious thing close and quiet, to be sure. But the thing is, the abbot at Inchcleraun is one Michael FitzGibbons.” He stood back a bit, looking expectant.
Jamie raised the brow again. Quinn sighed at such obtuseness but obliged with more information.
“Mi-chael Fitz-Gib-bons,” he repeated, prodding Jamie’s chest anew with each syllable. Jamie moved back out of reach.
“FitzGibbons,” Quinn repeated, “and the man first cousin to your godfather, Murtagh FitzGibbons Fraser, is he not? To say nothing of having grown up in the house of your uncle Alexander Fraser, and the two of them thick as thieves? Though perhaps that’s not quite the figure of speech to be using for a pair of priests, but what I mean to say is, they might be brothers, so close as they are, and the two writing back and forth from month to month. So—”
Finally, Quinn was obliged to draw breath, giving Jamie the chance to stick a word in edgewise.
“No,” he said definitely. “Not for all the tea in China.”
Quinn’s long face creased in puzzlement. “China? What’s China got to do with it, for all love?”
Ah. Another of Claire’s sayings, then. He tried again. “I mean I will not try to persuade my uncle Alexander to pry this thing out of FitzGibbons’s hands.”
“Oh, no, that’s not what I had in mind, at all.”
“I want ye to go to Inchcleraun yourself. Oh, now, there’s that look on your face again!” Quinn laughed in amusement, rocking back, then planted his hands on his knees and leaned forward.
Jamie leaned forward, too, to forestall him.
“Quinn, I’m a prisoner of war. I’ve given my parole. Surely to goodness Betty told ye as much?”
“Sure and I didn’t think ye were here for your health,” Quinn said, with a glance round at the bleak fells and the desolate ruins of the shepherd’s hut. “But that’s of no moment.”