Standing at the edge of a loch, Claire Beauchamp Randall quotes John Donne. "Absence. Absence, hear thou my protestation, against thy strength, distance, and length. Do what thou canst for alteration, for hearts of truest mettle. Absence doth still and time doth settle." She is joined for the last line by Ned Gowan. The others in the party are standing nearby and cheering two men as they wrestle. Claire asks Ned if he knows Donne, and he says he's one of his favorites. Claire asks what the men are shouting, and he says they're teasing young Willie, who's on his first trip on the road, and they're encouraging him to sleep with his sister. Lovely.
Ned is very pleased to meet Claire and says he's along to help Dougal MacKenzie with the records and receipts, that Ned is the only one Dougal trusts with the money. She admires his swan feather quill, and he proudly shows off the tools of his trade, including a large pouch for the Laird's rents. He says it must be big because the rents are paid in small coins, but they also get bags of grain and vegetables and livestock, although he has instructed the men there will be no live pigs. Claire asks about his coughing, and he says that every year along that stretch of the road, something burns his lungs. Claire offers to help and asks if he has a pipe. She fills it with thorn apple, also known as jimson weed that Claire knows relieves asthma. She lights his pipe after a few puffs, his coughing ebbs. He calls it remarkable.
Dougal calls for their departure and along the way leads the men in a song. Claire asks Ned how a qualified man such as he came to be in the remote Highlands. He says he studied law at the University of Edinburgh and had a nice practice but feeling restless and seeking adventure, he ventured into the Highlands hoping to find a Laird to work for. Claire assumes it was Colum, but Ned says it was for Jacob MacKenzie, his father. He says back then the Highlands were less civilized. Claire says he may be a lawyer, but he is a romantic. Claire thinks that her new friend Ned will make life on the road better, she could not let it distract her from getting to the stones at Craigh na Dun.
While eating dinner in camp, Dougal tells a ribald joke while Angus hands Claire a plate with partially skinned rabbit on it. He returns to the other men, speaking in Gaelic and pointing back at Claire. She thinks that she's not offended by their jokes or squeamish about her shriveled dinner, or that she had to rest her head on a stone for the night, but she was bothered when they spoke Gaelic to keep her out. She comforts herself with the knowledge that she would soon be away from them.
Jamie brings her a bannock and tells her not to worry about what they're saying. She says the other men hate her, and he denies that, but admits that Angus might as he hates everyone. He says it's just that they don't trust her. She asks if he thinks she's an English spy, and he answers no, but he does think she's hiding something and he knows about her escape attempt during the Gathering. She claims exhaustion and heads off for bed.
In a village, the men are collecting goods while Ned Gowan sits at a table and collects coins and writes receipts while Claire watches. Dougal greats the tenants cheerfully and when one carries a pig forward, he tells the pig hello and looks at Ned, who reluctantly writes a receipt for it. Claire says she thought he said no pigs and he agrees that he did. Duncan invites each man for a drink later that night. Bored, Claire wanders off and hears some women singing. She meets a woman who asks if she needs assistance. Claire says she's never heard singing like that before and the woman explains it's a waulking song and they're waulking wool. Claire introduces herself and the woman says she is Donalda Gilchrest. Claire explains she is with the MacKenzies who are busy collecting the rent, and she was idle. Donalda says she can help Claire with her problem if Claire has strong hands.
A group of women of all ages are sitting at a long table, singing and pounding on a rolled-up cloth. Donalda introduces Claire to the other women and says she will be helping them. The women say nothing. Claire watches as Donalda pours out the pungent contents of her bucket over the cloth. Donalda says it's hot piss, and it sets the dye fast. The women begin to work the cloth as Donalda sings the verse and the other women take up the chorus. Claire sits down at the table and gets to work.
After, inside the dyeing croft, Donalda pours out refreshment for Claire since she earned it. Claire notes the drink is quite strong and Donalda says it's their secret they keep from the men. Claire promises not to tell. A baby cries, and Donalda goes to pick him up. She tells Claire the baby is hungry because he won't suckle as he's teething and her husband gave their goat to the Laird for their rent. Another woman asks Claire where they're going next and Claire says she doesn't know, but asks the women about Craigh na Dun. An old woman says that's where the fairies are and a younger woman tells a story about her cousin who mistook a sheep for a fairy. Claire asks if the hill is nearby, and they tell her its three days away overland.
Donalda declares them back to work, and that they need a fresh bucket of piss. They all look at Claire, and she cheerfully adds her contribution. An angry Angus bursts in and tells her he's been looking all over for her. She says she's been right there waulking wool. He drags her back to the village center and says she's been drinking and smells like piss. At the wagon, Claire starts to untie the milk goat, but is stopped by Rupert MacKenzie. They tussle until Dougal arrives and asks Angus how hard is it to keep one woman from disappearing. Claire tells Dougal there's a baby who needs milk. He's unsympathetic and tells the watching crowd she's drunk. An Englishman asks Claire if she's all right and offers his service. Angus tells him to mind his own business. The man says he was speaking to Claire. Dougal informs him she is a guest of the MacKenzie clan. Angus threatens him and the man, seeing he is outnumbered, retreats to a hut where he dons his Redcoat and tricorn hat.
That night, Dougal tells the villagers that the land has been good this year with a fine oat harvest as he passes out drinks and makes jokes. Rupert closes the door to the cottage and Dougal's real business begins. He makes a long speech in Gaelic to the murmurings of the listeners. As his voice rises, he grabs Jamie's shirt and tears it, exposing his scarred back for all to see. Jamie warns Murtagh to sit down as Dougal concludes his speech. Men begin to take out their pouches and hand Ned Gowan coins, Dougal clapping them on the back. Good man.
Later, Dougal tells Ned that it's not a lot, but they can't expect much from a small place and with Jamie's back, they're guaranteed even more money. He throws Claire Jamie's ripped shirt and tells her to mend it. She says to mend it yourself and when he refuses, she relents. Jamie angrily grabs the shirt and says he'll fix it himself as he storms out of the cottage. Claire glares at Dougal, who just looks at her.
The next day, Ned offers Claire food, and she asks Ned how he thinks Colum will react if he found out he was helping his brother steal money from him. Ned evades her questioning and allows her to believe they're stealing and says it's a pity they don't allow women lawyers. She says not yet and he says perhaps, but not for centuries. As he leaves, she quips, only two. She looks behind her to see Dougal staring at her. She thinks that it's as if he could read her mind as if he was daring her to run. She knows he had brought her along since she had earned his respect as a healer, but that she's losing that small amount of trust.
Weeks pass as they visit many villages collecting rent and Dougal giving the same speech and exposing Jamie's back to collect coins for his other business. Claire feels as if she were still inside the stone walls of Castle Leoch, having made no progress in her quest to get home. Eventually, the group comes upon some members of the Watch, burning a family's home and barn and taking their belongings. Murtagh tells Claire that the Watch extorts the people to keep them from stealing their cattle, and they're burning the buildings as a warning. Murtagh had heard the husband was a Redcoat sympathizer. Claire says gossip is no excuse to commit crimes, and Ned says they may be criminals, but they're Scots and won't stand for traitors.
Dougal rides down and collects two chickens from the leader. Claire asks if Dougal's cut is patriotism and Ned says, no, simply business. Claire asks where Jamie was and Murtagh explains he rode off because the Watch wouldn't hesitate to turn him over for a profit. Claire bitterly points out they're patriots until it profits them not to be. Murtagh says their loyalty follows the money. Dougal returns and orders them to continue.
That night, the men cook up the chickens while Angus tells a lewd story. He passes the plate to Claire, who refuses it saying she's not hungry for stolen food, and she won't sit with thieves. Angus draws his dagger and says he won't be judged by an English whore. Jamie intervenes and says if Claire doesn't want the food, then there's more for them. Claire goes off to be alone, but Jamie follows her and asks why she spoke to Angus that way. Claire says Angus can kiss her English ass. He agrees Angus is a bastard, but she meant to provoke him. He tells her it doesn't matter what they do where she comes from. She's not there to judge things she doesn't understand, and he advises her to stay out of it.
The next town seems to have poorer offerings than the others. Dougal asks one man named Torcall what's amiss. Torcall says he's faithfully paid his rent every year on time, and he said that Redcoats came through two days ago and went from house to house taking what they wanted. Dougal takes a sack from the wagons and gives it to him, saying that Torcall's family will eat tonight, and afterwards he'll join Dougal for a drink. He orders more food to be distributed among the villagers and tells them to be there that evening for a drink.
Claire accuses Dougal of showing mercy now so he can collect more for himself that evening. Ned intervenes and says that Claire can see right through their plans and that the Scots are not as clever as the English, and it's a good thing they're not in Oxfordshire. Dougal asks what she is accusing him of, and she says gathering a penny for the Laird and a pound for himself. He says it's none of her business.
That night during Dougal's speech, thinks that even though she cannot understand the language, Dougal is telling the people if they pay him, he'll protect them from the English. Then she recognizes the name Stuart and remembers Frank and the Reverend Reginald Wakefield discussing the '45 Jacobite rebellion. The Reverend tells Claire that Prince Charles gathered Scottish sympathizers and called the Jacobites for a rebellion. He says Charles Stuart used the Highlanders to raise money for his army, but it was a lost cause. Claire realizes that Dougal is one of the Highlanders raising money for the prince and using Jamie's scars to stir up anger against the British.
Later that night, Claire overhears Jamie and Dougal arguing. Dougal reminds Jamie of his oath of obedience, and Jamie says the oath was to Colum, not him. Dougal says outside of Leoch he is Colum's head, hands and legs. Jamie says that Colum doesn't know what Dougal is up to, and Dougal retorts that the people do not give against their will, but are united in wishing their rightful king on the throne. He asks if Jamie wants that too as he has much to gain from a Stuart throne. Jamie says his neck as well as his back is his own business, and Dougal says not while he travels with them.
After Dougal leaves, Jamie begins punching a tree as Claire cautiously approaches. Claire says Dougal will use him like that again and Jamie says it gets him what he wants, but he'll let him for now because he's Jamie's uncle. He says a man has to choose what is worth fighting for as she well knows. They share a moment and then he suggests she go to bed. She agrees and asks him not to hit any more trees. He tells her that the trees are safe from him.
The next morning, Claire sees the men differently. They're not criminals; they're rebels. She wishes she could tell them they were on the losing side, that the rebellion was a dream doomed for failure. The group comes across two dead men hanging from X-shaped crucifixes. The men have been there for a while, but they could see the initial T for traitors carved in their skin. Claire immediately knows the Redcoats did this instead of the Watch. They cut down the men and bury them and burn the crucifixes. That night, Dougal tells the villagers what happened and this stirs them up even further.
In bed, Claire hears a creaking noise outside her door and investigates. She trips over Jamie and demands to know what he's doing lurking outside her door. He said he was trying to sleep because the tavern is full of drunkards, and he was afraid some might come upstairs to molest her, and he didn't think she'd like that. She said, after what happened today, she doubts any of them would feel kindly toward an Englishwoman. She apologizes for stepping on him. She says he can't sleep out here, and he's scandalized when she invites him into her room, that it would ruin her reputation. She points out she's been sleeping with him and ten other men under the stars and he says that's different. He does accept her blanket though. As she hands it to him, their hands touch and the room grows warmer.
The next morning, Claire comes into the taproom where people are eating breakfast. Jamie stuffs his mouth and greets Claire, then excuses himself to see to the horses. Dougal and his men are seated at one table so Claire joins Ned Gowan at his. Another group of men watch her and begin making loud comments in Gaelic. Claire asks Ned why he let her think they were common thieves, and he asks what makes her think they're not. She indicates Dougal's speech the other night, and that she's picked up enough Gaelic to understand what "Long live the Stuart" is. He warns she's picked up more than she should have. She tells him that the odds are against them and that the British army is the best in the world and they're raising money for a war they can't win.
The loud men continue to make laughing comments, and they get a nasty glare from Murtagh. Ned tells Claire that they might be out manned, but their fighting hearts can beat the best army in the world. Claire says that fighting hearts can't stand against cannons, and it's a fact they will lose, that there will never be another Stuart king and men will needlessly die for a doomed cause. He says history be damned.
As the comments from the rude men get louder, Angus finally stands up and bashes one of the men's head against the table. Claire sighs and says here they go. The other MacKenzie men jump into the fight as Claire and Ned get out of the way. The MacKenzies prevail. After the brawl, Claire tends to the men while counting the damage: three split lips, two bloody noses, twelve smashed knuckles and four loosened teeth. Willy points out his rib hurt a little and Rupert says one bastard's fingernails were as sharp as a boar's tusk and gouged a hole in his face. Angus shies from Claire's medicine, and she calls them all crybabies and she's treated children braver than them. She says they'll take any excuse for a fight, and Murtagh tells her that she was the excuse as it was her honor they were defending. The man called her a whore, and she's a guest of the MacKenzie. They can insult her, but God help any other man who does. Claire is stunned.
As the party prepares to leave, Rupert tells the tale of when he had two women in bed, and they were jealous of each other and argue about which one of them he's going to fornicate first and can they all believe it. Claire says she believes his left hand gets jealous of his right. The men all look at her in surprise and then Rupert bursts into laughter, and the others join in. Jamie calls her witty and Rupert says he's never heard a woman make a joke, and Claire tells him there's a first time for everything.
Jamie tells her they have a hard ride ahead and it's three days until they cross Culloden Moor. At the mention, Claire recalls visiting there with Frank and seeing the stone that reads the Battle of Culloden happened on April 16, 1746, three years from her current time. Frank told her how open and boggy is the moor and the Highland army was completely exposed, and they charged into the British muskets, cannon and mortars with only their broadswords. The battle was quick and bloody and took less than an hour. He says that over 2,000 Jacobites were killed, but in the following years, the clan chieftains had their estates plundered or sold, the government banned the wearing of tartans, swords and even speaking Gaelic, and it means the end of the Highlander way of life. Claire remembers seeing a grave stone marked Clan MacKenzie.
At camp, Dougal watches Claire as she struggles to remove a bedroll tied to a wagon. Angus comes up and helps her, and she thanks him. She greats Ned, but he's cold to her as he slips past her and joins Dougal. Claire announces she's going to the river to wash. Rupert and Angus start to follow, but Dougal says to let her go and Ned gets down to business. At the stream, Claire is washing when Dougal demands to know who she is. He says she wants them to believe she is an Englishwoman from Oxfordshire, but she appears to be a woman of strong political opinions. He says she's seen things while on the road with them, and if she tells the Redcoats, they will be bound to crosses the same way the men they cut down were. She insists she's not a spy, and he says perhaps not, but she's sowing doubt among them to undermine the cause. She says she's trying to warn them and save their lives.
Before he can reply to that, a voice asks if she's all right. They look up the ridge to see a group of mounted Redcoats line up above them. Dougal removes his hand from his sword. The leader of the soldiers is the man Claire met earlier, and he tells Claire it was a pleasure to meet her again as he dismounts. He asks her again if everything is all right as he approaches and other men line the other side of the stream. Claire greets the officer, and he introduces himself as Lieutenant Jeremy Foster of his Majesty's army, and he will determine the lady's well-being. Dougal tells him the lady is not his business. Foster asks who he is and Dougal says the war chief and brother to the Laird of Clan MacKenzie and the lands they are standing on. Foster says if he's holding the lady against her will, he be dealt with, MacKenzie or not. He asks if Claire is here of her own choice and he, and Dougal wait for her answer.