Author: LowDesert PM
Angus and Morag are mostly honest innkeepers doing their best to stay out of the Rising of '45. But two travelers inquiring about Time are about to disrupt their way of life. Prequel to "Insurgency."Rated: Fiction T - English - Sci-Fi/Drama - Sapphire & Steel - Chapters: 10 - Words: 27,151 - Reviews: 8 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 08-26-12 - Published: 06-03-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8179786
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The next morning, Angus was very relieved to see the first breaking of dawn coming through his window. Hopefully this meant that his guests would leave promptly, on whatever dark business they had. He hadn't liked their look the moment they'd stepped through the door. The man, dressed in the Highland manner, was undoubtedly a rogue and likely a Jacobite rebel to boot. The woman, perhaps she was his cover, or maybe some highborn hostage. Morag had come to him with her tales after eavesdropping on them; normally he wouldn't mind, as gossip was an irrepressible habit for that woman (and for quite a few of her friends in the village), and nothing would change that (and also it could prove quite useful at times), but he shuddered to think of what may have happened had they noticed her in the act. Besides, half her tales were wholly imaginary, he'd learned from experience.
Morag, with that peculiar mix of anxiety and excitement that women seemed to have when gossiping about such matters (a bit more of the latter, he was sure) had babbled on and on about what she'd overheard. Morag had spun some wild story Angus at first barely listened to but then Morag had sworn that they had mentioned the Stuarts, and then he became alarmed.
"Surely they're connected with Prince Charles in some way!" Morag said, and by the tone of her voice she was enthralled by the possibility. "Perhaps they are Jacobites, like you said, and they're working for him! Maybe they are members of his court!"
Angus didn't want to think of the possibility that it could be true. "Maybe…it doesn't prove anything. Damn, you shouldn't have been listening! What if they heard you? Then they'd have to kill us!"
"They didn't," Morag frowned, taking that as a slur against her eavesdropping skill, which she assumed was excellent. "And another thing…"
"Well, for sure that lady is his woman and she's carrying his bairn, but it didn't sound like to me…like they were very happy with each other."
He snorted. "I'm sure many married couples aren't."
"Oh, enough of this. Let's go make sure our pair are happily on their way, once we've seen them gone the better."
The innkeepers made it a point to awaken before their guests stirred, as to get the fire going and prepare some porridge and drink. They themselves lived in a small room adjacent to the main room and kitchen, and usually they could hear anyone stirring before they did; in fact they were familiar with every noise their inn made, so it helped for them to be pre-warned if they were going to be robbed. Therefore it was a shock to both of them to see their guests fully dressed and awake and alert, just as if they'd been awaiting their hosts for quite some time. The man who called himself Steel was standing next to the woman, Sapphire, who was sitting quite at her ease behind the long wooden table where they served meals, wrapped in a short tartan cloak the same color as the man's. As soon as they had walked in, the Highlander had turned immediately on Angus. From his expression, Angus was sure that he'd eaten his last breakfast of Morag's atrocious porridge.
But the man's first words completely perplexed him.
"Where did you get that cooking pot?"
Angus was frozen for words. He opened his mouth, but nothing was able to come out.
Fortunately his wife came to his rescue, one of her rare good points.
"Ahhh, which…pot are you referring to, m'lord?" He could tell that she was also frightened by the way she'd lapsed into addressing the man, just as when she'd worked in service the years before she was married.
Sapphire smiled disarmingly. "You needn't call him 'lord.' We have no titles, we are only travelers. We would only like to ask you a few questions about your inn."
Angus stepped forward, unconsciously putting himself in front of Morag. "Why? What's your business with us?"
"We do not mean you any harm," a soothing tone emerged in Sapphire's voice. "We only want to inquire about certain items you have here."
Angus and Morag exchanged looks, puzzled. What was this about?
Steel stepped forward impatiently. "Answer the question," he pointed to the pot in their hearth. "Where did you get that?"
"At the market, where else?"
He's lying. Sapphire's thought came. He's frightened of you.
He has no cause to be.
Sapphire stood up, and stepped forward also, so that she was standing next to Steel, in front of Morag. She touched one of her work-worn, chapped hands with her own smooth, flawless one. Morag startled, but felt curiously calmer.
"Please answer Steel's question. It is very important to us that we know where it really came from. You know it is not an ordinary object…don't you?"
Steel brushed past Angus, and took the black iron pot in the hearth. "Here, now!" Angus objected, in spite of his fear. Steel flipped it over, and showed it to him.
"'Made in China' stamped along the bottom. I hardly think you bought this at the village market." Steel thrust the pot in Angus' hands. "And you did not buy that painting hanging in our room, nor the other junk scattered all over your inn!" Steel yanked one of the cloths from Morag's apron, and held it up to her – a cartoon rabbit danced on it. "Tell us – where did you get these?"
"All right!" Morag looked worriedly at Angus. "We didn't buy them at the market. We-we found them!"
"What is it to you?" Angus retorted angrily. "You come in here, asking these questions-"
"Angus," Morag muttered out of the corner of her mouth. Sometimes her husband's temper got them into trouble.
Angus ignored her. "Some Highland robber such as yourself, what business it is of yours? We're honest innkeepers!"
"It is our business," Steel insisted. "Because what you have does not belong to you."
"And who does it belong to, then!"
"To Time." Sapphire responded.
Angus and Morag stared at them. This was getting stranger by the minute.
These primitive humans will not understand, Steel replied mentally to Sapphire. This is a waste of time. We should immobilize them and locate the irruption right away.
We need to know where and how they got these objects. Try to be patient.
Then you make them understand how imperative it is for them to tell us.
"Those objects you found – they don't belong here. Not in this time. Not to anyone here, not even to us. We only mean to return them where they belong."
"Do they belong to the Prince?" Morag asked eagerly, and Angus had to restrain himself from kicking her in the shins.
Sapphire smiled. "No, not to any human. But they must be returned – to where you found them."
"You mean by the standing stones?" Angus now couldn't restrain himself from jabbing her sharply in the ribs. His wife yelped.
Steel and Sapphire exchanged looks. "Tell us about these stones. Megaliths?"
"Just some old stones, across the moor. They've been there forever. Sometimes Angus and I…we find things by the stones, sometimes, just lying by there. We didn't rob anyone. Just a few things, very pretty things mostly, but they've been very useful. Nothing valuable, no gold and silver, sad to say, but we never stole them. We just found them there, by accident."
Sapphire nodded. "So you took them. How long have you been doing this?"
Morag thought carefully, which seemed to be a physical activity for her. "Only in the past year or so."
"You never saw anyone else there?"
"No, nobody usually goes there at all, there's nothing there, I said we didn't rob no one! Angus and I were there because we one day we got lost in the mist and ended up at the standing stones. We usually don't never go there anyway, but it was just the one time. We found a bag with that wonderful pot in there, and since no one was around, we took it home. Well, I guess you can call it a hunch, my family sometimes had the second sight, but I thought if I came back, I would find more things, and I did! I didn't take everything I found, just the ones I thought we could use. We didn't mean no harm."
"Gather up all the things that you found and take us there," Steel said, in a voice that was clearly commanding, and carried an undercurrent of threat as well, of what kind Angus did not want to imagine.
"All bloody right," he muttered reluctantly. "If you will promise to leave us alone afterwards." He remembered they had paid good money for their one night here. If that was all it took to make them leave without trouble, then they'd count themselves fortunate.
Sapphire nodded gently. "You will not see us again, after we've returned all the objects there."
The government camp also awakened early in the morning, to the sounds of bugles and drums. Men swore, grumbled, and struggled into their uniforms and into formation. Banners flapped and so did tongues: rumors flew that they would be called into action against the Jacobites any minute, if only they knew exactly where they were. They were a force of a few hundred men, English, and impatient to see some action against the rebels. Rumor had it that General Cope would engage with them soon, and many feared that this whole thing would be over before they got a chance for action.
Two officers strode towards a big white tent, which belonged to the commanding officer. They had completed a lengthy reconnoitering mission the day before, and wondered what else the Colonel would task them with, before they could go on the march. The younger man was eager for some action and hoped that the Colonel would strike camp and join up with the rest of the army.
The Colonel was sitting at his writing desk, its surface littered with maps and papers. He was a tall, slender man, with fine, sharp and angular features; it sometimes seemed that his skull was trying to push its way out of his face. His hair was cut very close to his scalp and sprinkled with silver. They officers rarely saw him with a wig on, even though it was the custom; in fact, they rarely saw him except on military business since he rarely socialized. There was something about his manner that didn't encourage familiarity, even with his brother officers. But as long as he was coldly competent, and they had their orders, they weren't much bothered by his unsociability.
They passed the sentries and entered the tent. "Sir," said the older Captain. "Reporting as ordered."
The Colonel didn't glance up, busy writing with his quill some dispatch. "What news from the other patrols?"
"No sign of the rebels, sir, and no other indications that there is any Jacobite propagation here." the young ensign added.
No sound except for the pen's scratching on the paper. The ensign looked aside to the other officer, quizzically. Sometimes the Colonel's mannerism were a little odd.
"Take another patrol out."
"Another one, sir?"
"This mission is quite specific. You're to look for two Jacobite spies. A man and a woman. Here is a short description," the Colonel handed the paper to the senior officer, who looked at it with some surprise. Their commanding officer was also apparently a skilled artist.
"This description could match half the people in the Highlands," he said.
"They're likely traveling alone. You will spot them easily enough, they have a particular look about them," the Colonel looked at both of them closely; his eyes were quite piercing, and they stiffened nervously. "If you see them, do not engage them, but report back on their whereabouts to me personally. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir. Sir…does this mean that the rebels are indeed advancing?"
"'Advancing'? No, no…it's only an illusion. I guarantee you, these rebels will fail and they will retreat," the Colonel smiled, the first time his officers had seen such a thing, and they shivered, although later they would not admit it and certainly couldn't explain why. "And then they will be utterly destroyed."
To be continued.
Time disruption at standing stones? Sorry Outlander fans, this is not a crossover! (I've never read Diana Gabaladon's books, just never got into them) but I like that idea so I've borrowed it here.