Thorn in My Heart
pocket confirmed it. The lingtowmen and their packhorses, laden with contraband, had no doubt departed the inn hours earlier under cover of darkness, eager to get their smuggled goods safely over the moors before the Sabbath dawn—or an overzealous exciseman—put a stop to their activities. Even the righteous Alec McKie availed himself of their goodswhen the price was favorable, which it always was. Salt and tea for the larder, candles and linens to store in the spence, printed silks to please Rowena—all found their way through the doors of Glentrool, courtesy of Thomas Findlay's shrewd bargaining.
Jamie trudged up the hill, chagrined to realize how much he already missed Glentrool and its odd assortment of characters. Ivy Findlay, with her pinched features and tighdy drawn brown hair, ruled the household staff with a piercing gaze. Ivy's husband, Thomas, factor to the McKies, had taught Jamie all there was to know of balancing ledgers. Aubert Billaud, of the high forehead and long nose, called Marseilles his true home and Glentrools kitchen his domain. Jamie imagined them pressed and dressed by now, prepared for the long journey south to the kirk at Monnigaff. Six horses carrying six riders: Alec and Rowena, Evan and Judith, Thomas and Ivy.
    In agreeable weather the rest of the household walked to the kirk with Henry Stewart, Glentrools head shepherd, leading the way. When winters worst kept everyone home, Alec led them in worship around the hearth. Jamie, seated at the elder McKies feet, sometimes caught a glimmer of his father's zeal for God. His grasp on it vanished the next moment, but he couldn't deny what he saw and felt during those Sabbath hours at home.
    “Guid Lords Day to ye, sir!”
    Jamie looked up with a start and found George bounding out to greet him, the wiry lad's clothes appearing even more threadbare by the light of day. Jamie handed him the plaid with a hasty apology. “Beg pardon for returning with your plaid but not, alas, with your coin.”
    The boys cheerful countenance fell. “I'd hoped to put it in the collection box this mornin. For the
, ye ken.”
    Jamie's neck grew warm. “I'm sorry, George. Truly I am. You see, I…I
my traveling pouch.” What was he to do? Confess to a child that he'd been robbed while he slept? “When I find it, I'll be certain to pay you what I promised.”
    “I'm sure ye will, sir.” George studied him closely, his grubby fingers wrapped around the plaid. “Are ye not the laird's son?”
    The heat in Jamie's neck spread to his face. “Aye.”
    “A McKie without coins in his pockets?” The boy shook his head in wonder. “Niver heard of
sic a.
    “Well, now you have.” Jamie marched past him toward the stable, anger and shame fighting for the upper hand. “Saddle my horse, and I'll be on my way.”
    George scrambled to catch up with him. “Home to Glentrool is it, sir?
    Jamie ignored the question, slowing as he approached his tethered mount.
Walloch was all he had left of home. He ducked beneath the crudely thatched roof laid with branches and bracken and lowered his voice. “Morning, boy.” The gelding lifted its sleek ebony head and whinnied in greeting. All at once Jamie felt calmer.
Speak quietly. Move slowly.
Glentrool's stable master had taught him well. Jamie stroked the horse's neck, putting them both at ease.
    “Ye've got a fine animal there,” the stable lad said softly. “Already been fed and watered. I'll have ye saddled in a blink, Mr. McKie.” The lad was good as his word. Moments later Jamie was riding over the crest of the hill with the Crée Valley behind him and the glistening Trool before him. He brought Walloch to a gende halt and gazed down at the familiar landscape.
Home to Glentrool, is it?
And then what? Ask for more money, draw another map? Or admit defeat and beg his brother for mercy? Having no money in his pockets meant no lodging at inns along the way, no evening meals at friendly tables.

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