Drums of Autumn

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Authors: Diana Gabaldon
across his face, and took another deep breath. The green eyes darted from me to Fergus to Duncan. “But will ye help me, maybe?”
    Duncan, who had relaxed at Jamie’s words, gave a grunt of surprise.
    “Help you? A thief?”
    Bonnet’s head swiveled in Duncan’s direction. The iron collar was a dark line about his neck, giving the eerie impression that his severed head floated several inches above his shoulders.
    “Help me,” he repeated. “There will be soldiers on the roads tonight—huntin’ me.” He gestured toward the wagon. “You could take me safely past them—if ye will.” He turned back to Jamie, and straightened his back, shoulders stiff. “I am begging for your help, sir, in the name of Gavin Hayes, who was my friend as well as yours—and a thief, as I am.”
    The men studied him in silence for a moment, digesting this. Fergus glanced inquiringly at Jamie; the decision was his.
    But Jamie, after a long, considering look at Bonnet, turned to Duncan.
    “What say ye, Duncan?” Duncan gave Bonnet the same kind of look that Jamie himself had used, and finally nodded.
    “For Gavin’s sake,” he said, and turned away toward the lych-gate.
    “All right, then,” Jamie said. He sighed and pushed a loose lock of hair behind his ear.
    “Help us to bury Gavin,” he said to our new guest, “and then we’ll go.”
    An hour later, Gavin’s grave was a blank rectangle of fresh-turned earth, stark among the gray hues of the surrounding grass.
    “He must have his name to mark him by,” Jamie said. Painstakingly, he scratched the letters of Gavin’s name and his dates upon a piece of smooth beach-stone, using the point of his knife. I rubbed soot from the torch into the incised letters, making a crude but readable grave marker, and Ian set this solidly into a small cairn of gathered pebbles. Atop the tiny monument, Jamie gently set the stub of candle that he had taken from the tavern.
    Everyone stood awkwardly about the grave for a moment, not knowing how to take farewell. Jamie and Duncan stood close together, looking down. They would have taken final leave of many such comrades since Culloden, if often with less ceremony.
    Finally Jamie nodded to Fergus, who took a dry pine twig, and lighting it from my torch, bent and touched it to the candle’s wick.
    “Requiem aeternam dona ei, et lux perpetua luceat ei.…” Jamie said quietly.
    “Eternal rest grant unto him, O God—and let perpetual light shine upon him.” Young Ian echoed it softly, his face solemn in the torchlight.
    Without a word, we turned and left the churchyard. Behind us, the candle burned without a flicker in the still, heavy air, like the sanctuary lamp in an empty church.
    The moon was high in the sky by the time we reached the military checkpoint outside the city walls. It was only a half-moon, but shed enough light for us to see the trampled dirt track of the wagon road that ran before us, wide enough for two wagons to travel abreast.
    We had encountered several such points on the road between Savannah and Charleston, mostly manned by bored soldiers who waved us through without bothering to check the passes we had obtained in Georgia. The checkpoints were mostly concerned with the interception of smuggled goods, and with the capture of the odd bondservant or slave, escaped from his master.
    Even filthy and unkempt, we passed notice for the most part; few travelers were in better case. Fergus and Duncan could not be indentured men, maimed as they were, and Jamie’s presence transcended his clothes; shabby coat or not, no man would take him for a servant.
    Tonight was different, though. There were eight soldiers at the checkpoint, not the usual two, and all were armed and alert. Musket barrels flashed in the moonlight as the shout of “Halt! Your name and your business!” came from the dark. A lantern was hoisted up six inches from my face, blinding me for a moment.
    “James Fraser, bound for Wilmington, with my

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