After Silver had left, Morag busied herself by collecting some food and water to carry in case they all had to make a hasty retreat from the cave hideout. She also checked the small store of weapons, but was disappointed to find that there were only a few rusted old knives and pistols. She selected a few that seemed at least serviceable. She knew she could fight if backed into it and in her youth she had been in a few scrapes herself. That was how she and Angus had first met. With luck, it would not come to that; she doubted that Sapphire could survive the journey so soon after childbirth.
Worried, Morag looked in on Sapphire. She could not tell if she was asleep; Sapphire's eyes were partially open (Morag noticed just how incredibly blue her eyes were), but she did not seem to be entirely awake either. She lay on her side, her body curled protectively around the small child in her arms. Undoubtedly she was still recovering – that meant it would be very hard for her if they had to leave. Even so, this dank rock outcropping was not the best place for a newborn to reside. Morag found herself wishing Angus and Silver would hurry back quickly. She even wished the grim and unfriendly Steel would make an appearance. Morag returned to her preparations, praying that they could hide out from the soldiers a while longer.
Sapphire heard Morag, could sense what she was thinking, but she was unable to reassure her at the moment. She needed to recover her strength, knowing she would need every bit of it soon. Again, she tried to call out to Steel, but there was still no response, yet she felt as if he was near. Could he still be in this time period, but lying injured somewhere, unable to call her for assistance? She forced her mind to calm itself, despite its treacherous, panicky urges to imagine the worst. She realized that she desperately wanted nothing more than to see Steel again, in spite of all he had done.
A voice reached her mind, very, very faintly. Sapphire!
Silver? Silver, is that you? His thoughts were urgent, radiating alarm.
Sapphire, get out...quickly now! It is a Transient, he's coming for you. I'm…falling into the irruption – it's a trap…no time…GET OUT!
Then the voice abruptly cut off. Silver was gone.
Slowly, Sapphire sat up, cradling her son in her arms. Physically she was weakened, but her mind still functioned adequately. She assessed the situation as it was: Silver could not help her, and Steel was nowhere to be found. She was here, alone, with a Transient Being, the enemy, looking for her. It was very likely he would find her, even in this secluded place. The situation was grim, but not quite hopeless. Not as long as she still had strength to fight.
Morag noticed Sapphire sitting up. "Sapphire? Are you all right?"
Sapphire turned to look at her, and Morag surprised to see her eyes were even bluer than usual – no, they were actually glowing, it was incredible – but instead of fear she felt quite relaxed under the gaze of those brilliant blue eyes. She almost felt like she fall into them, like falling into a deep, dark loch.
"Morag, I'd like to ask you to do something for me."
"Y-yes, milady Sapphire…ww-what?"
Sapphire looked down at the tiny warm bundle in her arms for a minute, as if trying to memorize every detail of it. Then she held out the infant to Morag.
"Take the child for me. There is something I must do."
Angus stumbled forward, pushed ahead by the Colonel, nearly fainting with the pain and exhaustion. But he instinctively knew that if he stumbled and fell, the man – no, this devil – would kill him instantly. Perhaps it would be better that way, rather than lead this man back to the cave and to Morag and Sapphire. No doubt his intentions toward the woman was less than honorable, and what would become of them?
As if reading his mind, the Colonel said casually, "Once you lead me to the woman Sapphire, you and your wife will be free to go. You humans are not that ones we want."
Humans? Angus thought that man's words sounded as believable as the Bonnie Prince's claim that the French Army would land any minute with arms and soldiers to help the clans. "Why do ye want Sapphire? What has she done to you?"
"She is an Enemy of the State. That's all you need to know."
Enemy of the State? What did that mean? "What threat could a pregnant lass offer?"
The Colonel abruptly stopped in his tracks. He grabbed Angus roughly, and he bit back the scream of pain behind his teeth. The man looked surprised and immediately Angus cursed himself for saying too much.
"Sapphire is pregnant? You've seen this yourself?"
The creature shook Angus' broken shoulder again, and Angus gasped and nodded. The Colonel's expression displayed a mix of astonishment, incredulity, and something else Angus could not be sure of. Could it possibly be fear?
"So that was why he…" the Colonel muttered to himself. "It can't be possible! But if it were…" the man's face hardened again, as if coming to a decision.
"Go on, lead me to the place!" he ordered Angus and gave him a shove. The beaten innkeeper glared at the redcoat.
"To kill them as you've killed your soldiers? I'd rather die here than take another step."
The Colonel glared at him, and his eyes flashed. Angus suddenly felt as if all his muscles had suddenly and turned to warm water. As if he'd suddenly become a puppet held up by strings, he felt himself being turned around, and his legs moved. He struggled to fight against this, but he was helpless. He couldn't even speak.
"You needn't concern yourself," he heard the Colonel speaking behind him. "I have no intention of any harm coming to…the child." Again, Angus knew the man was lying through his teeth.
Nearly out of his mind with pain, dread and hunger Angus managed to make it back to the refuge. He hoped that Morag would have had the sense to take Sapphire and escape, but even if she had the wits to, he didn't think Sapphire could have managed it. He himself could barely feel his limbs, but he could hear the heavy footfalls of the Colonel behind him.
Desperately, Angus tried to regain some control over his body. To his surprise, he managed to run forward.
"Morag!" he shouted. "Run! Get…"
Angus felt a powerful shove from behind and he flew threw the air. He felt his head and body strike something and then he knew nothing more.
Once he'd gotten the man out of the way, the Colonel slowly approached the cave entrance, sensing an Elemental presence within. The human was correct about Sapphire, clearly: the War must surely be coming to within a satisfactory and quick conclusion if the Elementals had to rely on such primitive life forms for protection and help. But what the human had said about Sapphire…what were they planning? How long had they been planning this? What other Elementals were involved? The Colonel was determined to wring the answers he needed from Sapphire once she was in his possession.
At the entrance, the Transient hesitated. He detected something unusual within, a sort of steady and low hum, something he had not encountered for some time. A time loop, no doubt, something created by an Elemental.
"Sapphire?" he called out. "Is that you in there?"
The Colonel took a step within the entrance, but cautiously. He was not so overconfident he did not expect some kind of trap. Immediately he saw Sapphire in front of him, clad in a blue peasant woman's dress of the period. She was standing in front of what looked like the main dwelling space of the small cave, but it was occluded by the time loop she had created. He thought he could a see a large woman in there, but her appearance was blurry. The woman was performing the motions of taking something, carrying it away, then it all repeated. What it was in her arms, appeared to be a small bundle. He couldn't see it clearly, but he thought he knew what it was.
Sapphire showed no surprise or distress at his appearance. Her expression seemed to be one of calm resignation, but she did not move once he approached her.
"I knew I would find you eventually," The Colonel said. "I'm sure you knew that as well, Sapphire. Time has finally caught up with you."
"Where is Steel?" Sapphire's voice was direct and mild. The Colonel raised an eyebrow.
"Steel is...secured," he replied. "In the gentle care of these humans here. They might not understand how special he is, or I should say, used to be. He's now no more than they are really, powerless and hopeless," The Colonel watched Sapphire for a response, but she showed none. He gestured at the time loop. "What are you doing there?"
"Preparing to stop you," Sapphire said calmly. "What Steel failed to do, I will finish."
"You won't do anything," the Colonel's voice turned impatient. "I know what you and Steel were planning, your desperate and pathetic attempt to stop Time. This will stop nothing! What were you trying to do, were you actually trying to create a new Elemental? Futility. We will destroy it as easily as we have destroyed your race."
For the first time, Sapphire's eyes flashed dangerously. "You will not come further."
"Sapphire, hand over the Elemental. Do that, and you can join Steel, what's left of him, and stay here in your hole in the ground."
"If you think you can, you can enter the loop and take the child for yourself," Sapphire said derisively. "But I don't think you can, can you?"
The Colonel glared at her, but did not move.
"If the Elemental is nothing but futility, why not go ahead and take it?" Sapphire taunted him. "You're afraid, aren't you," Sapphire's eyes began to glow. "Leave here, now."
"Your time is done," the Colonel lunged forward and froze, as if straining against an invisible barrier. His eyes began to glow a pallid yellow color. "Give it up, Sapphire! Or there won't be enough of you to crawl away and die in this hole!"
Outside, Angus slowly stirred, pain echoing in every limb, but at least he could move all of them. For a second he had no idea where he was, then everything came crashing back to him. Morag! He painfully got to his feet, and staggered towards the hideout. It seemed to take an eternity, but he managed to stumble in. Perhaps it was the blood thundering in his bruised head, but he thought he could hear a deep throbbing noise coming from within. What was happening? He rushed in. "Morag!"
He saw the Colonel and Sapphire. They were only standing a foot away from each other, but it was as if they were straining against the other in some kind of mental wrestling, although neither of them were touching. The Colonel was trying to get behind Sapphire, where he thought he could see his wife, clutching something in her arms. Sapphire was trying to keep him out, but even Angus could see she was weakening.
The Colonel took advantage of the momentary distraction Angus unwittingly provided, and pushed Sapphire back. She staggered backwards, barely keeping from falling. Angus rushed forward to catch her before she hit the ground, even though that also caused him pain. Sapphire lost the mental barrier she had projected, and the loop, collapsed.
"Sapphire! Are ye all right?"
"Angus!" He could feel her shaking in his good arm. "Please, don't let him take the child!"
Suddenly it was as if Morag had just appeared out of thin air, and Angus could see her clearly. She was holding the bairn in her arms. She froze and blinked, as if she had no idea what she had been doing. The Colonel saw her too. For a moment he seemed stunned, staring at the bairn, as if he didn't know what such a thing was. Then he moved forward as if to take it from Morag.
"NO!" Sapphire cried out. Morag suddenly saw the Colonel, and stepped back, but there was no place to run.
"Give it to me!" the Colonel demanded.
Morag screamed shrilly, and the Colonel paused just a moment, surprised. But then Angus saw the reason why Morag had screamed, not because of the Coloenl, but of who she saw behind him.
Steel stood in the mouth of the cave, clutching a Claymore sword in one hand. His shirt was bloodied and in rags, only held together by his plaid. His grey eyes no longer held their typical coldness, now they blazed fiercely with anger, his jaw rigidly clenched. He looked as if he had just come from a battlefield of slain foes. The Colonel whirled around, facing this new challenge. His eyes glinted and Angus sensed an invisible power about him swirling; he wanted to yell out a warning to Steel, but he was still barely able to move. There was no way he could help him. The Colonel no longer noticed him or Sapphire, his attention was entirely focused Steel.
"Come to defend your precious family?" The Colonel's voice was mocking. "You're too late and you know it. No more Time!"
"Traitor!" roared Steel, and suddenly he flung something at the Colonel, which hit him in the chest. Startled, the Colonel grasped it, preparing for some shock weapon. He looked down at it, and then saw it was only a torn, bloody bit of shirt…a soldier's shirt. It was still damp, the human blood staining his fingers. The Colonel looked at Steel and sneered in disgust, flinging it aside.
"Pathetic, you are! All the Elementals! Your time is over and you know it."
"Come and fight me like a man, or are ye afraid?" Steel flung his challenge at him, still holding his Scottish burr.
Impatient to finally rid himself of Steel, the Transient Being lunged, but Angus suddenly pushed him from behind at the same moment. The Colonel stumbled, and Steel darted out of the way of man's falling saber. Faster than they could truly see, Steel grabbed ahold of the man's coat, and yanked him backwards. Before the Colonel could react, a foot of Claymore steel suddenly appeared protruding from the middle of his chest. The Colonel's eyes and mouth widened, but no sound came out.
Steel drove in the sword further through the Colonel's body, a dark thick liquid dripping from the exposed blade. He bent closer so that his mouth was by the Transient's ear, and spoke clearly and deliberately two words.
"For Lead," Steel said.
Violently, he ripped the sword out of the Colonel's body, and the creature dropped to its knees, its mouth open still open in bewilderment. In the next moment, Steel raised the Claymore and brought it down on the Transient's head, the massive blade slicing through the skull and the torso. Morag and Angus watched in stunned horror, as the redcoat seemed to disintegrate from the waist up, shattering into a hundred black shards, now almost totally unrecognizable as a human form. The rest of the body collapsed to the side, lifeless. In the next second, it seemed to shimmer, and then vanish. There was nothing left.
Steel tossed the Claymore to the ground, and it shattered into small metal bits. He took a moment to compose himself, breathing deeply, seeing that the threat of this particular Transient Being was finally over. Angus slowly walked over to Morag, embraced her with his good arm. Morag nodded at her husband, at a loss for any words. They looked at their two guests.
Sapphire and Steel faced each other, and only for a moment Steel was puzzled; there was something different about her, and he could not imagine what it was. Then he realized why she looked different, and then he felt a moment of terrible desolation - he could see that she was no longer pregnant.
"You've failed!" Steel blurted out. His voice was full of pain, but whether for Sapphire or for something else, Angus and Morag couldn't tell. They were only humans.
Sapphire said nothing. If she was disappointed or angry or hurt by his response she didn't express it. She only nodded towards Morag, and Steel turned to her, confused. Then he saw what she held.
Morag held out the tartan-wrapped bundle out to him. Wordlessly, Steel took the tiny infant in his hands, not noticing that they were shaking. This – this was the culmination of months of preparation, careful planning, incredible risk…what he had nearly destroyed his relationship with his closest partner to attempt…finally it was here. This small, fragile creature, warm and breathing in his arms, their son…it didn't seem possible.
Steel didn't feel his legs as he collapsed onto a chair, still staring down at the little bundle, committing every detail of it to his prodigious memory. After what seemed an eternity he looked up at Sapphire. She was watching him, with a thoughtful expression, her head slightly tilted to one side, the look she usually had when she was considering what would be the most prudent course of action on an assignment, on those rare occasions when he himself was indecisive.
Steel knew what she was thinking. "Sapphire," he managed to say, and he didn't recognize his own voice. He attempted what he wanted to say, mentally.
Don't leave us.
Sapphire did not reply for a long moment. Finally, she came forward, knelt beside him. She placed the palm of her hand on his knee, leaning in slightly towards him, so that they were touching. Steel knew then that she would not leave him. He bent his head towards her, his forehead touching hers.
Angus and Morag watched them, as she did her best to bandage his broken arm.
"The bastard's actually showing some emotion," Angus muttered, still dazed from what he'd seen. "I wouldnae believed it."
"Let's leave them alone for a minute."
Morag and Angus stepped out of the cave to give the couple some privacy. They imagined they would have some things to say each other.
"What happens next?" Morag asked.
"You're asking me?" Angus shook his head. "How would I know?"
"Well, what happened?"
Angus did his best to explain. All he could say was that Silver disappeared. Everything else seemed like a blur, and even Morag looked as if was not quite sure of what to think. They then realized they had been out for some time, and they had heard nothing from within.
"Sapphire, Steel!" Morag shouted. "Are you all right?"
Angus felt cold. Did that demon of a redcoat manage to come back. "I'm going to have a look."
Angus carefully crept back in, Morag close behind him as usual. To their surprise, the cave was empty. No redcoat, and no travellers.
"They've gone!" Morag exclaimed. "Where could they have gone? There's no other exit!"
"Good riddance," Angus said, although his voice lacked its previous conviction. "At least they've gone and left us alone."
"But without a goodbye!" Morag was hurt.
"It's for the best. The less we see of their like, the better, I imagine," Angus shrugged. "At least they took out that bastard Colonel."
"But Sapphire, she wouldn't-"
Angus sat down at the table, barely listening to her, and then froze, puzzled. "Morag, did you leave that there?"
Morag saw what he was looking at. A large velvet purse, in the center of the table. A folded piece of paper was tucked in under it. She took it out, read it aloud.
There were only a few terse words on it:
Angus - Morag,
As soon as you can, go to the harbor and take the first ship you can to the Americas. Don't stay here in the Highlands, it will not be a safe place for you. In the pouch is a letter to the harbormaster with your passage instructions. You will find your son Donald Murray working on the Adams farm in the Carolinas, near the coastline.
And...thank you for everything.
Sapphire – Steel
"How about that?" Morag said in wonderment. "They remembered us after all!"
"Aye, there's enough here to book us passage, and more," Angus muttered, staring into the purse. "Along with the other coins they left us."
Morag looked at her husband, her eyes shining. "So…we'll do it then? Go to the Americas?"
After a long moment, Angus nodded. "There are bad times coming," he said. "The Highland way is finished here. Might as well try to start again somewhere else."
"It'll be hard to leave...but at least we'll see our Donald again."
Morag sighed. "Do you think we'll see them again?"
"Sapphire and Steel, of course!"
"I hope not. It seems they draw to themselves unpleasant company," Angus took the note from Morag and looked at it. "Perhaps that is what they do, to keep devils like that Colonel away from us."
"It will be difficult, with a bairn to look after now, I imagine," Morag said thoughtfully. "But at least it's hope."
"That their way of life will survive," Morag nodded. "Sapphire told me that the child represented hope, more than anything. Hope that someday there will be no more War. I think that's a good thought, don't you? That's what children should represent."
"Well, let's get out of this anyway."
Angus and Morag left the cave, returning to their village, where they would see what could be salvaged. The next day, they departed for the coast, to take the ship to the New World.
Sapphire and Steel watched the sailing ship as it left, hidden in the crowd of people waving at the pier. They could not see the Murrays but they knew they were on the ship. They had stayed in this time to close the irruption, and ensure no more Transients could use it for their nefarious purposes. Sapphire had insisted that they come here to see that Angus and Morag would take ship, and escape the fate that would befall many of their countrymen in the coming years.
Sapphire held the child in secure in her cloak, Steel stood close to her, no longer dressed in Highland tartan, but more "neutral" townspersons' dress of the time.
"Well, they've gone then," Steel said. "We should be on our way as well."
"Our way to where?"
Steel looked at her. She had been more pensive than usual since the birth, which Steel had assumed was due to her new status as a mother. But as he considered the question, he found that he was not quite sure of the destination either.
"Another battle?" Steel could hear the bitterness still there in her voice. She had not quite forgiven him then.
"What else is there?" His voice was harsher than he'd intended. He looked back at the distant ship. "Did you imagine we could also just leave on a ship somewhere?"
"If only we could," Sapphire murmured, so low that Steel barely heard it, but hear it he did. He put his arms around her and pulled her - and the child - closer to him, which she allowed. He buried his face in her blond hair.
"One day...perhaps we will, my lass." Steel used his burr for the last time. Sapphire nodded slightly.
They turned, and walked away from the dock. No one paid attention to them, still looking back towards the vanishing masts, as the pair vanished with them.
On April 16, 1746, Charles Stuart's forces were defeated at the Battle of Culloden. Brutal reprisals for the uprising were then committed throughout the Highlands regardless if the inhabitants had supported the uprising or not. The Stuart Dynasty was never restored.
Thanks for reading everyone :)