Virgins by Diana Gabaldon

  Virgins is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  2016 Dell Ebook Edition

  Copyright (c) 2013 by Diana Gabaldon All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Dell, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

  DELL and the HOUSE colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

  This novella was originally published in Dangerous Women, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, published by Tor Books, a division of Macmillan, in 2013.

  eBook ISBN 9781101882528

  Cover design: Tatiana Sayig

  Cover images: Shutterstock





  Title Page




  By Diana Gabaldon

  About the Author

  OCTOBER 1740


  Ian Murray knew from the moment he saw his best friend's face that something terrible had happened. The fact that he was seeing Jamie Fraser's face at all was evidence enough of that, never mind the look of the man.

  Jamie was standing by the armorer's wagon, his arms full of the bits and pieces Armand had just given him, white as milk and swaying back and forth like a reed on Loch Awe. Ian reached him in three paces and took him by the arm before he could fall over.

  "Ian." Jamie looked so relieved at seeing him that Ian thought he might break into tears. "God, Ian."

  Ian seized Jamie in an embrace and felt him stiffen and draw in his breath at the same instant that Ian felt the bandages beneath Jamie's shirt.

  "Jesus!" he began, startled, but then coughed and said, "Jesus, man, it's good to see ye." He patted Jamie's back gently and let go. "Ye'll need a bit to eat, aye? Come on, then."

  Plainly they couldn't talk now, but he gave Jamie a quick private nod, took half the equipment from him, and then led him to the fire, to be introduced to the others.

  Jamie'd picked a good time of day to turn up, Ian thought. Everyone was tired but happy to sit down, looking forward to their supper and the daily ration of whatever was going in the way of drink. Ready for the possibilities a new fish offered for entertainment, but without the energy to include the more physical sorts of entertainment.

  "That's Big Georges over there," Ian said, dropping Jamie's gear and gesturing toward the far side of the fire. "Next to him, the wee fellow wi' the warts is Juanito; doesna speak much French and nay English at all."

  "Do any of them speak English?" Jamie likewise dropped his gear and sat heavily on his bedroll, tucking his kilt absently down between his knees. His eyes flicked round the circle, and he nodded, half-smiling in a shy sort of way.

  "I do." The captain leaned past the man next to him, extending a hand to Jamie. "I'm le capitaine--Richard D'Eglise. You'll call me Captain. You look big enough to be useful--your friend says your name is Fraser?"

  "Jamie Fraser, aye."

  Ian was pleased to see that Jamie knew to meet the captain's eye square and had summoned the strength to return the handshake with due force.

  "Know what to do with a sword?"

  "I do. And a bow, forbye." Jamie glanced at the unstrung bow by his feet and the short-handled ax beside it. "Havena had much to do wi' an ax before, save chopping wood."

  "That's good," one of the other men put in, in French. "That's what you'll use it for." Several of the others laughed, indicating that they at least understood English, whether they chose to speak it or not.

  "Did I join a troop of soldiers, then, or charcoal-burners?" Jamie asked, raising one brow. He said that in French--very good French, with a faint Parisian accent--and a number of eyes widened. Ian bent his head to hide a smile, in spite of his anxiety. The wean might be about to fall face-first into the fire, but nobody--save maybe Ian--was going to know it, if it killed him.

  Ian did know it, though, and kept a covert eye on Jamie, pushing bread into his hand so the others wouldn't see it shake, sitting close enough to catch him if he should in fact pass out. The light was fading into gray now, and the clouds hung low and soft, pink-bellied. Going to rain, likely, by the morning. He saw Jamie close his eyes, just for an instant, saw his throat move as he swallowed, and felt the trembling of Jamie's thigh, near his own.

  What the devil's happened? he thought in anguish. Why are ye here?


  It wasn't until everyone had settled for the night that Ian got an answer.

  "I'll lay out your gear," he whispered to Jamie, rising. "You stay by the fire that wee bit longer--rest a bit, aye?" The firelight cast a ruddy glow on Jamie's face, but Ian thought his friend was likely still white as a sheet; he hadn't eaten much.

  Coming back, he saw the dark spots on the back of Jamie's shirt, blotches where fresh blood had seeped through the bandages. The sight filled him with fury, as well as fear. He'd seen such things; the wean had been flogged. Badly, and recently. Who? How?

  "Come on, then," he said roughly, and, bending, slipped an arm under Jamie's and got him to his feet and away from the fire and the other men. He was alarmed to feel the clamminess of Jamie's hand and hear his shallow breath.

  "What?" he demanded, the moment they were out of earshot. "What happened?"

  Jamie sat down abruptly.

  "I thought one joined a band of mercenaries because they didna ask ye questions."

  Ian gave him the snort this statement deserved and was relieved to hear a breath of laughter in return.

  "Eejit," he said. "D'ye need a dram? I've got a bottle in my sack."

  "Wouldna come amiss," Jamie murmured. They were camped at the edge of a wee village, and D'Eglise had arranged for the use of a byre or two, but it wasn't cold out, and most of the men had chosen to sleep by the fire or in the field. Ian had put their gear down a little distance away and, with the possibility of rain in mind, under the shelter of a plane tree that stood at the side of a field.

  Ian uncorked the bottle of whisky--it wasn't good, but it was whisky--and held it under his friend's nose. When Jamie reached for it, though, Ian pulled it away.

  "Not a sip do ye get until ye tell me," he said. "And ye tell me now, a charaid."

  Jamie sat hunched, a pale blur on the ground, silent. When the words came at last, they were spoken so softly that Ian thought for an instant he hadn't really heard them.

  "My father's dead."

  He tried to believe he hadn't heard, but his heart had; it froze in his chest.

  "Oh, Jesus," he whispered. "Oh, God, Jamie." He was on his knees then, holding Jamie's head fierce against his shoulder, trying not to touch his hurt back. His thoughts were in confusion, but one thing was clear to him--Brian Fraser's death hadn't been a natural one. If it had, Jamie would be at Lallybroch. Not here, and not in this state.

  "Who?" he said hoarsely, relaxing his grip a little. "Who killed him?"

  More silence, then Jamie gulped air with a sound like fabric being ripped.

  "I did," he said, and began to cry, shaking with silent, tearing sobs.


  It took some time to winkle the details out of Jamie--and no wonder, Ian thought. He wouldn't want to talk about such things, either, or to remember them. The English dragoons who'd come to Lallybroch to loot and plunder, who'd taken Jamie away with them when he'd fought them. And what they'd done to him then, at Fort William.

  "A hundred lashes?" he said in disbelief and horror. "For protecting your home?"

  "Only sixty the first time." Jamie wiped his nose on his s
leeve. "For escaping."

  "The first ti-- Jesus, God, man!"

  "Would ye let go my arm, Ian? I've got enough bruises; I dinna need any more." Jamie gave a small, shaky laugh, and Ian hastily let go but wasn't about to let himself be distracted.

  "Why?" he said, low and angry. Jamie wiped his nose again, sniffing, but his voice was steadier.

  "It was my fault," he said. "It--what I said before. About my..." He had to stop and swallow, but went on, hurrying to get the words out before they could bite him in a tender place. "I spoke chough to the commander. At the garrison, ken. He--well, it's nay matter. It was what I said to him made him flog me again, and Da--he--he'd come. To Fort William, to try to get me released, but he couldn't, and he--he was there, when they...did it."

  Ian could tell from the thicker sound of his voice that Jamie was weeping again but trying not to, and he put a hand on the wean's knee and gripped it, not too hard, just so as Jamie would ken he was there, listening.

  Jamie took a deep, deep breath and got the rest out.

  "It was...hard. I didna call out, or let them see I was scairt, but I couldna keep my feet. Halfway through it, I fell into the post, just--just hangin' from the ropes, ken, wi' the blood...runnin' down my legs. They thought for a bit that I'd died--and Da must ha' thought so, too. They told me he put his hand to his head just then and made a wee noise, and then...he fell down. An apoplexy, they said."

  "Mary, Mother o' God, have mercy on us," Ian said. "He--died right there?"

  "I dinna ken was he dead when they picked him up or if he lived a bit after that." Jamie's voice was desolate. "I didna ken a thing about it; no one told me until days later, when Uncle Dougal got me away." He coughed and wiped the sleeve across his face again. "Ian...would ye let go my knee?"

  "No," Ian said softly, though he did indeed take his hand away. Only so he could gather Jamie gently into his arms, though. "No. I willna let go, Jamie. Bide. Just...bide."


  Jamie woke dry-mouthed, thickheaded, and with his eyes half swollen shut by midgie bites. It was also raining, a fine, wet mist coming down through the leaves above him. For all that, he felt better than he had in the last two weeks, though he didn't at once recall why that was--or where he was.

  "Here." A piece of half-charred bread rubbed with garlic was shoved under his nose. He sat up and grabbed it.

  Ian. The sight of his friend gave him an anchor, and the food in his belly another. He chewed slower now, looking about. Men were rising, stumbling off for a piss, making low rumbling noises, rubbing their heads and yawning.

  "Where are we?" he asked. Ian gave him a look.

  "How the devil did ye find us if ye dinna ken where ye are?"

  "Murtagh brought me," he muttered. The bread turned to glue in his mouth as memory came back; he couldn't swallow and spat out the half-chewed bit. Now he remembered it all, and wished he didn't. "He found the band but then left; said it would look better if I came in on my own."

  His godfather had said, in fact, "The Murray lad will take care of ye now. Stay wi' him, mind--dinna come back to Scotland. Dinna come back, d'ye hear me?" He'd heard. Didn't mean he meant to listen.

  "Oh, aye. I wondered how ye'd managed to walk this far." Ian cast a worried look at the far side of the camp, where a pair of sturdy horses was being brought to the traces of a canvas-covered wagon. "Can ye walk, d'ye think?"

  "Of course. I'm fine." Jamie spoke crossly, and Ian gave him the look again, even more slit-eyed than the last.

  "Aye, right," he said, in tones of rank disbelief. "Well. We're near Beguey, maybe twenty miles from Bordeaux; that's where we're going. We're takin' the wagon yon to a Jewish moneylender there."

  "Is it full of money, then?" Jamie glanced at the heavy wagon, interested.

  "No," Ian said. "There's a wee chest, verra heavy, so it's maybe gold, and there are a few bags that clink and might be silver, but most of it's rugs."

  "Rugs?" He looked at Ian in amazement. "What sort of rugs?"

  Ian shrugged. "Couldna say. Juanito says they're Turkey rugs and verra valuable, but I dinna ken that he knows. He's Jewish, too," Ian added, as an afterthought. "Jews are--" He made an equivocal gesture, palm flattened. "But they dinna really hunt them in France, or exile them anymore, and the captain says they dinna even arrest them, so long as they keep quiet."

  "And go on lending money to men in the government," Jamie said cynically. Ian looked at him, surprised, and Jamie gave him the I went to the Universite in Paris and ken more than you do smart-arse look, fairly sure that Ian wouldn't thump him, seeing he was hurt.

  Ian looked tempted but had learned enough merely to give Jamie back the I'm older than you and ye ken well ye havena sense enough to come in out of the rain, so dinna be trying it on look instead. Jamie laughed, feeling better.

  "Aye, right," he said, bending forward. "Is my shirt verra bloody?"

  Ian nodded, buckling his sword belt. Jamie sighed and picked up the leather jerkin the armorer had given him. It would rub, but he wasn't wanting to attract attention.


  He managed. The troop kept up a decent pace, but it wasn't anything to trouble a Highlander accustomed to hill-walking and running down the odd deer. True, he grew a bit light-headed now and then, and sometimes his heart raced and waves of heat ran over him--but he didn't stagger any more than a few of the men who'd drunk too much for breakfast.

  He barely noticed the countryside but was conscious of Ian striding along beside him, and Jamie took pains now and then to glance at his friend and nod, in order to relieve Ian's worried expression. The two of them were close to the wagon, mostly because he didn't want to draw attention by lagging at the back of the troop but also because he and Ian were taller than the rest by a head or more, with a stride that eclipsed the others, and he felt a small bit of pride in that. It didn't occur to him that possibly the others didn't want to be near the wagon.

  The first inkling of trouble was a shout from the driver. Jamie had been trudging along, eyes half closed, concentrating on putting one foot ahead of the other, but a bellow of alarm and a sudden loud bang! jerked him to attention. A horseman charged out of the trees near the road, slewed to a halt, and fired his second pistol at the driver.

  "What--" Jamie reached for the sword at his belt, half fuddled but starting forward; the horses were neighing and flinging themselves against the traces, the driver cursing and on his feet, hauling on the reins. Several of the mercenaries ran toward the horseman, who drew his own sword and rode through them, slashing recklessly from side to side. Ian seized Jamie's arm, though, and jerked him round. "Not there! The back!"

  He followed Ian at the run, and, sure enough, there was the captain on his horse at the back of the troop, in the middle of a melee, a dozen strangers laying about with clubs and blades, all shouting.

  "Caisteal DHOON!" Ian bellowed, and swung his sword over his head and flat down on the head of an attacker. It hit the man a glancing blow, but he staggered and fell to his knees, where Big Georges seized him by the hair and kneed him viciously in the face.

  "Caisteal DHOON!" Jamie shouted as loud as he could, and Ian turned his head for an instant, a big grin flashing.

  It was a bit like a cattle raid but lasting longer. Not a matter of hit hard and get away; he'd never been a defender before and found it heavy going. Still, the attackers were outnumbered and began to give way, some glancing over their shoulders, plainly thinking of running back into the wood.

  They began to do just that, and Jamie stood panting, dripping sweat, his sword a hundredweight in his hand. He straightened, though, and caught the flash of movement from the corner of his eye.

  "Dhoon!" he shouted, and broke into a lumbering, gasping run. Another group of men had appeared near the wagon and were pulling the driver's body quietly down from his seat, while one of their number grabbed at the lunging horses' bridles, pulling their heads down. Two more had got the canvas loose and were dragging out a long rolled cylind
er--one of the rugs, he supposed.

  He reached them in time to grab another man trying to mount the wagon, yanking him clumsily back onto the road. The man twisted, falling, and came to his feet like a cat, knife in hand. The blade flashed, bounced off the leather of Jamie's jerkin, and cut upward, an inch from his face. Jamie squirmed back, off-balance, narrowly keeping his feet, and two more of the bastards charged him.

  "On your right, man!" Ian's voice came suddenly at his shoulder, and without a moment's hesitation Jamie turned to take care of the man to his left, hearing Ian's grunt of effort as he laid about with a broadsword.

  Then something changed; he couldn't tell what, but the fight was over. The attackers melted away, leaving one or two of their number lying in the road.

  The driver wasn't dead; Jamie saw him roll half over, an arm across his face. Then he himself was sitting in the dust, black spots dancing before his eyes. Ian bent over him, panting, hands braced on his knees. Sweat dripped from his chin, making dark spots in the dust that mingled with the buzzing spots that darkened Jamie's vision.

  "All...right?" Ian asked.

  He opened his mouth to say yes, but the roaring in his ears drowned it out, and the spots merged suddenly into a solid sheet of black.


  He woke to find a priest kneeling over him, intoning the Lord's Prayer in Latin. Not stopping, the priest took up a little bottle and poured oil into the palm of one hand, then dipped his thumb into the puddle and made a swift sign of the cross on Jamie's forehead.

  "I'm no dead, aye?" Jamie said, then repeated this information in French. The priest leaned closer, squinting nearsightedly.

  "Dying?" he asked.

  "Not that, either."

  The priest made a small, disgusted sound but went ahead and made crosses on the palms of Jamie's hands, his eyelids, and his lips. "Ego te absolvo," he said, making a final quick sign of the cross over Jamie's supine form. "Just in case you've killed anyone." Then he rose swiftly to his feet and disappeared behind the wagon in a flurry of dark robes.

  "All right, are ye?" Ian reached down a hand and hauled him into a sitting position.

  "Aye, more or less. Who was that?" He nodded in the direction of the recent priest.

  "Pere Renault. This is a verra well-equipped outfit," Ian said, boosting him to his feet. "We've got our own priest, to shrive us before battle and give us Extreme Unction after."

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