In this latest sneak peek from my work in progress, an historical fiction based on the life of Ann MacLean, she has just given birth to her second son while fleeing as a Loyalist refugee from the American Revolution. Please let me know what you think in the comments below.
The babe stayed close to her heart all through that fitful night, and wee Jamie curled close against her side, all of them nestled under her ragged travelling cloak. Ann lay wakeful, staring up at the stars peeking through the gaps in the trees. The murmurs of a pair of sentries sitting by the fire did calm the constant hammer of her heart, but she still started at every rustle in the forest.
Periodically, her new son woke to feed. She did not even rise, but merely loosened the bodice of her homespun dress. She gazed at him in the dark—this beloved stranger. She barely knew what he looked like yet. He didn’t even have a name.
Tears welled up again in her eyes. She hadn’t wept herself dry after all.
Jamie was named for his father—the one who’d left this yawning chasm in her heart with his loss. She had lost everything. Everything but these two boys and a small bundle of memories. Her house, her fine clothes, her furniture and books. All of her friends. Gone. Yet it wasn’t the longing for these things that ached in her chest.
It was the thick mane of black hair streaked with silver slipping through her fingers. It was the enveloping scent of clean linen, musk, and lavender. It was the rumble of his Scottish burr through his chest and the ready smile. It was the clasp of strong, protective hands. Things no restitution could return to her.
This wasn’t the first time she had lost everything, though. She had been here before, lost and weeping, trembling at the brink of an uncertain future.
A voyage to the New World was supposed to have brought new hope and good fortune. Father would build ships for wealthy merchants again, and then they would have a house—a proper house, overlooking the sea—for the two of them to share.
They had sold everything—their little cottage in Dunvegan village, and all the furniture inside it. Ann had stood for a long moment inside the house bidding farewell to the last place she had seen her mother.
Mother’s last words echoed in Ann’s memory. Remember who ye are.
She had no last words from Father.
No, delirium had stolen that from her, if he’d even said anything in his own delirium. She’d awakened raw and weak, like a kitten just opening its eyes, with no memory of leaving the ship. Father was dead and buried already. Gone, just like the seeds of their new life—Father’s savings and her inheritance. All gone.
She had survived that time, and she could survive now.
Still, all she could see when she closed her eyes was the green grass just beginning to grow on the bare earth of Father’s grave. At least his grave had a marker, such as it was. At least he was buried in consecrated ground, tended by groundskeepers and prayed over by nuns.
Perhaps the British Army had buried James. But the best she could hope for was a hasty unmarked trench by the side of the road, along the path of a shameful retreat. More likely they had burned him in a heap of bodies, a faster, if less honourable, expedient. Her throat burned at the thought.
Either way, she had no grave to visit. No place for her final goodbyes. He was gone, and all that remained of him was the two boys nestled next to her, just as they were all that remained of her father’s legacy.
Jamie was named for his father…and the babe would be named for hers.
“John.” She whispered the name into his downy hair, testing the feel of it in her mouth. It seemed right. “Your name is John.”
She pulled him closer and kissed his head. No, she hadn’t lost everything. Not quite.
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