fiery cross





Gideon darted out his head like a snake, aiming for the leg of the rider just ahead.

"Seas!" Jamie wrenched the big bay\'s head around before he could take a bite. "Evil-minded whoreson," he muttered under his
breath. Adam Chisholm, unaware of his narrow escape from Gideon\'s teeth, caught the remark, and looked back over his
shoulder, startled. Jamie smiled and touched his slouch hat apologetically, nudging the bay up even with Chisholm\'s long-legged
mule.

"A bit edgy," he said, with a nod toward the horse\'s head. One notched ear stuck out of the bay\'s head at a right angle, the
other lay flat back. "Best I take him on and let him work it off, eh?"

Chisholm looked warily at the bay\'s rolling eye and edged as far to the side of his mule\'s blanketed back as he could without
falling off.

"Oh, aye," he said. "A bit high-heided, is he?"

"Oh, a bit."

Jamie kicked Gideon ungently in the ribs, urging him past the rest of the slow-moving travelers at a speed fast enough to keep
the brute from biting, kicking, trampling stray bairns, or otherwise causing trouble. He passed Brianna and Marsali, halfway up
the column, at a slow trot; by the time he passed Claire and Roger, riding at the head, he was moving too fast to do more than
flourish his hat at them in salute.

"A mhic an dhiabhoil," he said, clapping the hat back on and leaning low over the horse\'s neck. "See how long ye last in the
rough, eh?"

He pulled hard left, off the trail, and down the slope, trampling dry grass and brushing leafless dogwood out of the way with a
gunshot snapping of twigs. What the seven-sided son-of-a-bitch needed was flat country, where Jamie could gallop the bejesus
out of him and bring him back blowing. Given that there wasn\'t a flat spot in twenty miles, he\'d have to do the next best thing.

He gathered up the reins, shouted "Eyaah, ye bastard, go!" slammed both heels into the horse\'s ribs, and they charged up the
shrubby hillside as though they had been fired from a cannon.

Gideon was large, well-nourished, and sound of wind, which was why Jamie had bought him two days before. He was also a
hard- mouthed, bad-tempered reester of a horse, which was why he hadn\'t cost much.

As they sailed over a small creek, jumped a fallen log and hared up an almost vertical hillside littered with scrub-oak and
persimmon, Jamie found himself wondering whether he\'d got a bargain or committed suicide. That was the last coherent thought
he had before Gideon veered sideways, crushing Jamie\'s leg against a tree, then gathered his hindquarters and charged down
the other side of the hill into a thicket of buckbrush, sending coveys of quail exploding from under his huge flat feet.

Half an hour of dodging low branches, lurching through streams and galloping straight up as many hillsides as Jamie could point
them at, and Gideon was, if not precisely tractable, at least manageable. Jamie was soaked to the thighs, bruised, bleeding from
half a dozen scratches, and breathing nearly as hard as the horse. He was, however, still in the saddle, and still nominally in
charge.

He turned the bay\'s head toward the sinking sun and clicked his tongue.

"Come on, then," he said. "Let\'s go home."

They had exerted themselves mightily, but given the rugged shape of the land, had not covered so much ground as to lose
themselves entirely. He turned Gideon\'s head upward, and within a quarter-hour, had come out onto a small ridge he
recognized.

They picked their way along the ridge, searching for a safe way down through the tangles of chinkapin, poplar and spruce. The
party was not far away, he knew, but it could take some time to cross to them, and he would as soon rejoin them before they
reached the Ridge. Not that Claire or MacKenzie could not guide them--but he admitted to himself that he wished very much
to return to Fraser\'s Ridge at the head of the party, leading his people home.

"Christ, man, ye\'d think ye were Moses," he muttered, shaking his head in mock dismay at his own pretensions.

The horse was lathered, and when the trees opened out for a space, he halted for a moment\'s rest--relaxing the reins no more
than enough to take the strain off his wrists, and keeping a sufficient grip as to discourage