Icy rain had pelted the earth, threatening to freeze everything into a single slickened crystalized mass, and for now, it had waned at least enough that Lieutenant Craig MacLean felt safe moving out of his tent.
While most of the men were celebrating their victory of the most recent battle, the rest of them were battling the ferocious weather, exhausted and simply looking for a place to get warm.
Craig was of the latter group and trudged toward the house to check on the prince, who’d come down with the ague that had seized a number in his own company. The closer he drew to Bannockburn House, the more certain he was that he could hear someone retching. Dear God, how many more of them were to catch this illness?
Then he saw her, bent almost all the way over, a hand holding her balance on the stone facade of the wall.
Her brow was slick with rain or sweat or both, dark tendrils of hair plastered to her forehead and temples. At his approach she stood up straight, swaying. Her pallor was gray and ghostlike. He stood for a moment watching her, recognizing in an instant who she was. Sister to his friend Graham, Annie MacPherson, the prince’s own healer and a healer to many of the soldiers within camp. Yet it appeared she was the one in need of healing now.
She leaned her back against the stones, stared almost through him, and then turned slowly, pressing her forehead to the cool outer wall. The lass was seriously ill. Craig edged closer.
Och, he’d never seen so much vomit in his life, not even from a drunken soldier. She’d vomited up the entirety of the last meal she’d eaten and perhaps what she’d consumed for the last sennight. Over and over again, so much so he’d begun to think it an unholy thing.
“My lady,” he started, standing only a few feet away now, arm outstretched as though to aid her somehow. She might have been ill as the devil, but he had to help her.
Annie wiped her mouth and then pulled a dagger from her boot, brandishing it toward him with wild eyes. “Get away from me, Sassenach, or I’ll cut off your ballocks and shove them down your throat if ye come another step closer.”
Craig held up his hands in surrender, brows raised nearly to his hairline. Had the illness caused her to be addled? He was clearly no Sassenach. “I only want to help, my lady.”
“I said leave me, ye savage Sassenach bastard. Run back to your butchering friends.” And then she bent over again, convulsing, her body not done tormenting her.
Craig glanced down, wondering what part of his attire—kilt, frockcoat, boots—made her think that he was a Sassenach. He’d yet to bathe after battle, not wanting to freeze to death, and it had been many days since he’d shaved his face, but if anything he just looked more like the rest of the bearded rebel Highlanders.
When Annie was finished retching, she brandished the knife toward him again, swinging it so wildly he feared she’d end up hurting herself. And then she threw it at him. Though he dodged, the tip nicked his lip before falling at his feet. Craig growled at her, the taste of blood on his tongue. Finished with this nonsense, he moved to turn away when she started to sway uncontrollably, stretching for the stone wall, not finding it, and pitching forward.
With her weapon at least discarded, he reached in then, an arm around her back, another beneath her legs, lifting her up into the air. She collapsed against him, weak as a lamb just born and hotter than fire with fever.
Annie struggled meekly. “Put me down. Do ye know who I am?” And then she fell into unconsciousness.
“I know exactly who ye are,” he said to her unaware face. “And your brother would have my head if I left ye here. I’m taking ye inside, lass. Get ye some help.” He carried her to the front door and managed to open it with her in his arms. “Is there someone who can help?” he called. But no one came. “Bloody hell.”
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