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December 5

In 1745, Prince Charles Edward Stuart stared wildly around the oak-paneled drawing room of Exeter House,wondering how he could be hearing such madness spoken in the most elegant mansion in Derby.

In Which His Royal Highness Charles Edward Stuart Receives Aid from an Unexpected Source"What reason have I to give orders, if they are not obeyed?" he demanded, fists clenched beside his tartan kilt. "You all plan to betray me!"

His commander, Lord George Murray, patiently repeated what the Prince already knew only too well. His supporters in England had not risen in any great numbers to join his Scottish invasion. Only a few, like Sir Francis Townley, had answered his call.

"They will join us when we advance on London," the Prince urged.

"We must go back to Scotland where our friends are and make our stand there," Lord George repeated calmly, as though speaking to an unreasonable child.

Prince Charles turned to Ranald MacGregor, "You were the first one to follow me. You said that you would come with me to London, even if we were the only two who went there".

Ran MacGregor nodded his shaggy red-brown head. "Aye, and I say it again," the young Highland chief proclaimed, his devotion showing clearly in his eyes. They were all the more compelling because they matched his thatch of hair. Stubborn determination showed just as clearly in the long, hard chin jutting forward from his square, wind-burned face.

An excerpt from the Jackie Rose's e-book Prince Charlie's Witch"Your Royal Highness is right, and these others are daft to oppose you," he said. Seeing that the others were listening, Ran MacGregor pressed on.

"What need we of English followers? Our men are fighting over who will be the first to have his sword sharpened in time for the march on London. All we need are your good Highlanders".

Reluctantly he added, with a nod at Captain Francis O'Neill, "and your loyal Irish regiments from France to help us".

The Irishman bowed and smiled in ironic thanks. Standing with his back to the fire on that raw December day, he seemed like a dandy in his fine red wool uniform with its shining emerald satin lining, among the Highland men in their tartan kilts. His smile was as deceptive as his dandified airs. It was warm and genial, while his blue eyes glittered like ice against his dark, hard, handsome, black-Irish face.

"And is there any English army that can stand against good Scottish and Irish men together, and them fighting for their rightful Prince?"

"The Irish were ever brave fighters but they cannot change the facts," Lord Elcho retorted. "The fact is, if we march on London, we will be in Newgate Prison within the week".

"And if we retreat to Scotland-" with growing desperation, the Prince began his reply.

A frantic female voice from outside interrupted him.

"I have ridden straight from London with news for the Prince!"

Ran flung the door open. Glenmoriston MacGregors were on guard that night. Once their young laird had welcomed the stranger, they would never have dreamed of trying to stop her.

Racing through the doorway, the girl stumbled on her skirts, as though unaccustomed to their length and weight. She jerked them shockingly high above her booted ankles and ran resolutely on, until she stood surrounded by the Prince's men. Her resolution failed her then, and she stared at them helplessly, as though frozen by wonder.

She was already frozen by the cold. Her lips were literally blue with the chill. Snowflakes clung to her long golden curls, which were a tangled mass peeking from beneath the hood of her russet wool cloak. The cold had also turned her pink-and-white Highland complexion into a rough red, just as Ran and the Prince had had their fair skins burned by the sun. Her numb hands struggled in vain to remove riding gloves that seemed frozen to her fingers.

The Prince drew her gloves off gently and gave her his own kerchief to dry her hands. Leading her to the marble mantel, he waited as patiently as he could for the heat to reach her.

"What news do you bring us, lass?" he asked kindly, as her violent shivering started to subside.

Her lips were returning to their normal pink, but she still seemed unable to answer. Instead, she stared down at her hand in his, as though that were the most wonderful sight in the world.

The Prince was used to seeing that look of awe on young ladies' faces-first in Scotland, now here in England as well, when they crowded the streets to see him. Her accent told him that she came from the American Colonies, and he was pleasantly surprised to learn that he had fair admirers so far away.

But if she did have any news, this was no time for feminine vapors. He hoped that she would not suddenly shriek and faint, as so many other young ladies had done at the touch of his hand.

"Go on, lass," he said, smiling encouragement at her. "What news have you for us?"

Still, she stared up at him in amazement, from great brown eyes that seemed much too large for her heart-shaped little face, giving her the look of a wild woodland creature.

Then she turned his gaze to his companions. They all seemed to amaze her-Lord George Murray, Ranald MacGregor, Lord Elcho, Francis O'Neill-but always, she turned back to Bonnie Prince Charlie himself, as the most astonishing sight of all.

Her eyes were almost level with most of their own. Taller than almost any other woman they had ever seen, she stood nearly as high as Murray and O'Neill. Only MacGregor and the Prince himself towered above her, and they stood over six feet.

As she continued to stare at Prince Charles, his interest gave way to impatience. She had come to him just as the other girls did, he decided irritably. She merely wanted to judge for herself if he really was as bonnie as they said, with his broad shoulders, his compelling brown eyes and his lion's mane of red-gold curls.

"She only wanted to see you, as all the lassies do," Lord George snapped, unpleasantly echoing the Prince's thoughts. "Well, Miss, you may see him tonight, at the public reception". He reached for her shoulder to put her out of the room.

The pressure of his hand stung her into frantic action. She pulled sharply away from his grip.

"Never mind the public reception, you can't stay here that long," she cried.

Once the words had started, there was no stopping them. They came tumbling out in a torrent, racing over each other in their rush to be heard.

"You must leave at once for London," she exclaimed. "It lies open before you".

Lord George parted his lips to object, but she raced heedlessly on.

"The banks are shut, the shops are closed, the streets are empty!" she cried. "No army stands between you and the capital. Cumberland is in the West, Wade is in the East, they could never intercept you if you head straight south right now".

Even more urgently, she rushed on, "Above all, you must not think of retreating back to the Scottish Highlands. Your enemies will follow you there, and you will be trapped and destroyed. You must not give them time to grow stronger".

Seeing Lord Elcho violently shaking his head, she added with frantic urgency, "Your time is now. Right now! King George-German Georgie the Usurper-has his yacht loaded and ready to take him back to Hanover".

She noted the annoyance on Lord George's womanish face. He could tell that the Prince was listening to her, so he demanded angrily, "Why should we believe you, Girl, when you could be a spy or a madwoman? We can't change our plans for your ravings!"

"Then change them for this!" From her cloak pocket, she produced a flintlock pistol and pressed it into Murray's side. To read a brief summary and enjoy another excerpt (reporting on the really enchanted evening that the victorious Prince Charlie shares with two famous London actresses), go to Extasy Books and search for Prince Charlie's Witch under the author's name, Jackie Rose.

© Today in Alternate History, 2013-. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.