Highland Swan – Anna Markland

Even before the musket ball tore into the flesh of his forearm, Evan Bruce deeply regretted enlisting in the Jacobite army. The burning desire to spite his powerful father and follow the banner of the incompetent Earl of Mar had fled as the battle raged on. What did he care who sat on England’s throne—the Hanoverian or a Stuart whose father had never shown the least interest in his Scottish subjects before being deposed? The icy damp of the lonely moor seeped into his breeches as he sank to his knees, dizzied by the fiery agony of shattered bone and torn muscle. Could a man die from a wound to the arm? He realized the odds weren’t in his favor if he lay bleeding on the boggy ground long enough, far from any physician. He may have cried out as he collapsed, but his cries were borne away by the cold wind, along with the pathetic wailing of hundreds of others. Born and bred in the heart of Perth, he’d never before ventured out on the heathland below the snow-capped Ochils—and now he would die in this desolate place. His father might never know what became of him; defying his sire had probably been for naught. Licking chapped lips, he lamented he would never see his fiancée again. Pity that, though Eala’s sot of a father was no prize—almost as domineering as his own. Did Walter Bruce not realize his opposition to the marriage just made Evan more determined to marry the lass? In time, he and Eala might have learned to love one another—not that love mattered. She had the right hips to be a good breeder. Evan fought to stay awake as long as he could, but the din of battle gradually faded and he gratefully allowed oblivion to take him. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed when he woke in hell. His whole body was on fire. A woman was screaming obscenities in Gaelic; bairns wailed; the stench of pigs made his eyes water.

“Where am I?” he dared, though he thought he knew. “Dinna fash,” a surprisingly kind, unknown male voice rasped. “You’ll be safe here. I’m a doctor.” Safe? He could scarcely believe he had survived. “Did we win?” he asked, tempted to laugh hysterically. “Aye,” someone said at the same time as another lamented, “Nay, the fyking Hanoverian carried the day.” At least, he thought that’s what was said. If only the woman would cease screeching. Thankfully, the darkness released him from her tirade.

An Unexpected Request Edinburgh University, December 1715 A mbrose Pendray was delighted to see his mentor waiting for him outside the university’s wrought iron gates, although Dr. Giles Raincourt looked tired. Certainly, there was a lot more gray in his hair than the last time Ambrose had seen him more than a year ago. “Uncle,” he exclaimed, setting down his cumbersome portmanteau so he could extend a hand. “I didna ken ye were in Edinburgh. Will ye be traveling home to Ayrshire with me for Yuletide?” Still frowning, Giles shook his hand. “How go the studies?” “Excellent,” Ambrose replied, unable to resist boasting. “At the age of twenty-six, I am now Dr. Ambrose Pendray, having passed my exams magna cum laude, and received my certificate.” He brandished his shiny, new medical bag.

“I’m equipped with all the tools of the surgical trade.” Giles stroked his tidy mustache. “Good.” “Yer example inspired me.” “I’m proud of you. You’ve kept your nose to the grindstone. I need you to accompany me to Perth.” Ambrose grimaced. “Why would we go to Perth?” “It’s where most of the Jacobite casualties from Sheriffmuir were taken after the battle a fortnight since. I’ve just come from there, and we desperately need more surgeons.

The wounded men are hidden in crofts scattered on the moor above Perth.” Ambrose removed his fur hat and scratched his head. Hidden men were desperate fugitives, which meant government forces were hunting them. “I canna do that. The family’s expecting me at Kilmer. My parents will be disappointed.” If he was being honest, his refusal had as much to do with a reluctance to become involved with the Jacobite rebellion in any way, shape or form. “I’m not asking as a Jacobite,” Giles insisted, as if sensing Ambrose’s train of thought. “It’s our duty as surgeons to answer the call when wounded men need us. Your family will understand.

” He was probably right. The Pendrays had, at one time or another, been on opposing sides in conflicts concerning royalty, yet they’d reconciled their differences and prospered. It seemed Giles was intent on reminding him of it. “Your grandmother Hannah was a staunch Catholic royalist who’d risked her life to rescue the Scottish Crown Jewels from under the nose of Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentary army when he invaded Scotland.” “I ken, but…” “She married a Presbyterian—Morgan Pendray, a Welsh officer in Cromwell’s army.” Ambrose recognized it was pointless to try to interrupt his uncle as he continued. “My adopted father, Munro Pendray, now Earl of Glenheath after his sire’s passing, married the illegitimate daughter of a man who signed the death warrant of Charles I.” Ambrose didn’t need to be reminded of all these historical events. In an effort to hurry the conversation along, he chimed in. “Next, ye’re going to recount how my own parents acted as spies for the Crown during Argyll’s Rising.

“It would be tempting to assume my family would support the Jacobites’ campaign to put James II’s son on the throne. However, over the years, they’ve come to see that William and Mary, and later Anne Stuart, were more acceptable monarchs as far as the Protestant majority in the Lowlands was concerned.” “I am not a Jacobite,” Giles argued strenuously. “I have no wish to see a Catholic restored to the throne. You know I hail originally from Birmingham, a decidedly Puritan town. Prince James Francis Edward has spent his life in France and cannot even speak English.” “Like our current Hanoverian king,” Ambrose retorted, unable to resist the jibe. Giles chuckled. “Touché.” Ambrose felt it necessary to fill the awkward silence.

“So how did ye end up going to Perth?” “A colleague, who, by the way, is a staunch government supporter, told me he’d heard scores of Jacobite wounded had been sent there. As far as he was concerned, they could all rot in hell. He maintains it was a rout for the government troops.” Ambrose shook his head. “I’ve heard the opposite. ’Twas a victory for the Jacobites.” “The wounded rebels I’ve treated say the same thing. Which side won or lost is immaterial. Your parents named you after a famous battlefield surgeon. Men who are suffering need you.

I don’t know who else to ask.” The last words were uttered with a downcast expression Ambrose had never seen on his uncle’s face. He might have known Giles would mention Ambrose Paré in order to convince him. Without the methods spearheaded by the French barber-surgeon, Ambrose’s father might have died after being shot in the leg during Argyll’s Rising, and never sired a son. “I’m sure there are Jacobite sympathizers among my classmates,” Ambrose countered, though he admitted inwardly he was in Giles’ debt for saving his father’s leg, and his life, so many years ago. He’d always admired the man he called uncle, though they weren’t blood relatives. Giles had never married, having dedicated his whole life to helping the afflicted. The way things were going—or weren’t going—with Ambrose’s love life, he might also end up a lifelong bachelor. Giles rejected the notion of a spirit of rebellion among Ambrose’s classmates. “I don’t know your fellow students.

You I know, and trust.” Ambrose was tempted to mention he didn’t want to miss Christmas at home, but then he’d sound like a whining bairn. “I suppose ye’ve arranged for the ferry across the Forth?” Giles slapped him on the back. “I knew I could count on you.” “Aye,” Ambrose replied, “that’s me. Dependable to a fault.” Doubts Clutching a kerchief liberally sprinkled with lavender perfume to her nose, Eala Calhoun knelt before the massive altar that dominated the ancient chapel in the grounds of Scone Palace, trying not to inhale the cloying incense billowing from the censor. Scores of wounded men lay hidden in the nearby crofts of Jacobite sympathizers, her betrothed among them. Yet, only two other women knelt in prayer beside her, a sign perhaps of their desperation. They were older than her nineteen years, weeping wives tearfully begging the Lord God to spare their stricken husbands.

She supposed there were families all over the Highlands praying for the safe return of their menfolk from the bloody battlefield at Sheriffmuir. She was trying desperately to concentrate on praying for the recovery of her betrothed, but the incense, the musty odor, the overwhelming grandeur of the elaborately carved frescoes behind the altar, the squeal of the censor as the priest swung it back and forth, back and forth: all served to distract her. Guilt pressed on her temples. She’d pleaded with her fiancé not to join the rebel cause, but he’d gone off with the Earl of Mar in spite of her entreaties, probably to spite the father he despised. Knowing Evan Bruce’s recklessness, it was possible he’d put himself in harm’s way deliberately and been shot in the arm as a result. Served him right. Instantly remorseful, she made the sign of the Savior across her body. “God forgive my unchristian thoughts.” The life-sized, white marble knight carved into the altarpiece sneered back. You don’t love him anyway.

She squeezed her eyes tight shut and took a deep breath. “I’ll learn to love him. Few husbands and wives love each other. He’s a noble Highlander and we…” She sneezed into the kerchief when incense stole up her nose. And sneezed again…and again. The soon-to-be-widowed women glared. The ancient priest lifted his gaze to the heavens. Gasping for breath, eyes watering, Eala fled the chapel. * * * Having made arrangements with the ostlers in the university’s stables to take care of his horse over Yuletide, Ambrose passed his portmanteau up to the driver and climbed into Giles’ shiny black, covered berlin. “Traveling in style,” he quipped as the driver coaxed the horse to a slow trot.

Giles chuckled. “I’m too old to traipse about Scotland on a horse. You’ll feel cramped with those long legs of yours but, for a skinny fellow like me, a two-seater is ideal.” The narrow, pot-holed streets of Edinburgh made for a slow and bumpy ride. Ambrose gripped the edge of his seat as he and Giles were jostled against each other. But the carriage had its compensations. “At least we’re out of the cold wind,” he allowed. Giles nodded. “And the ride will be smoother when I replace the leather suspension straps with the newly-invented steel springs.” A few miles outside Edinburgh, the driver climbed down from his perch and coaxed the horse aboard the galley that plied the Queen’s ferry route across the Forth.

Giles suggested they remain inside the berlin. “Too windy out,” he observed, spreading a woollen rug over their legs. “I plan to nap for an hour.” “What about the driver?” Ambrose asked. “Rob will be fine. He doesn’t feel the cold, and he’ll tuck himself into the suspension at the back.” Glad he wasn’t out in the wind with the hardy Rob, Ambrose blew on his fingers and folded his arms across his chest in an effort to keep warm. Listening to Giles’ snoring, he began to question why he was heading off to Perth. It would likely be even colder there, whereas Christmas in the comfortable and admittedly opulent Pendray manor house consisted of joyful gatherings around a hearty fire. They’d catch up on each other’s lives, play parlor games, drink copious amounts of mulled wine and stuff themselves with rich food until they couldn’t move a muscle.

He hadn’t reunited with his brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles since Easter, and he’d missed them. If he went to Perth, he might not even make it home in time for Hogmanay, an even bigger celebration than Christmas. The idea of assisting with the care of men wounded in battle bordered on the foolhardy. He’d worked with patients in Edinburgh hospitals when practicums were assigned, but the worst problem he’d dealt with unsupervised was a septic carbuncle on an unmentionable part of a portly gentleman’s anatomy. He’d taken a goodly amount of ribbing from fellow students over that episode. As the icy gusts buffeted the berlin, the leather suspension straps creaked and whined. “The wind’s filling the sails,” he muttered. “Should make for a shorter crossing.” Giles slept on.

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