It is obvious that the extracts below contain spoliers about the 8 previous volumes.
[Excerpt from GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE, copyright 2020 Diana Gabaldon]
Brianna and the kids slept like the dead, sprawled on the floor of the loft like victims of some sudden plague, fallen where they lay among the barrels of varnish and lampblack and the stacks of books and pamphlets. In spite of the long day, the emotional reunion and the impressive amount of wine drunk, Roger found himself unwilling to fall asleep at once. Not unable; he could still feel the vibration of the wagon and the reins in his hands, and a sort of hypnosis lurked in the back of his mind, urging him to drop into a slow-moving swirl of rice paddies and circling birds, cobbled streets and tree leaves moving like smoke in the dusk. But he held back, wanting to keep this moment for as long as he could.
Destination. Destiny, if he could bring himself to think such a thing. Did normal people, ordinary people, have a destiny? It seemed immodest to think he did—but he was a minister of God; that was exactly what he believed: that every human soul had a destiny, and had a duty to find and fulfill it. Just at this moment, he felt the weight of the precious trust he held, and wanted never to let go of the great sense of peace that filled him.
But the flesh is weak, and without his making any conscious decision to do so, he dissolved quietly into the night, the breath of his wife and his sleeping children, the damped fire below and the sounds of the distant marshes.
"Oh, ye’ve got your beads after all," Jenny said, surprised. "Ye didna have your rosary in Scotland, so I thought ye’d lost it. Meant to make ye a new one, but there wasna time, what with Ian…" She lifted one shoulder, the gesture encompassing the whole of the terrible months of Ian’s long dying.
He touched the beads, self-conscious. "Aye, well… I had, in a way of speaking. I… gave it to William. When he was a wee lad, and I had to leave him at Helwater. I gave him the beads for something to keep—to… remember me by."
"Mmphm." She looked at him with sympathy. "Aye. And I expect he gave them back to ye in Philadelphia, did he?"
"He did," Jamie said, a bit terse, and a wry amusement touched Jenny’s face.
"Tell ye one thing, a brathair—he’s no going to forget you."
"Aye, maybe not," he said, feeling an unexpected comfort in the thought. "Well, then…" He let the beads run through his fingers, taking hold of the crucifix. "I believe in one God…"
They said the Creed together, and the three Hail Marys and the Glory Be.
"Joyful or Glorious?" he asked, fingers on the first bead of the decades. He didn’t want to do the Sorrowful Mysteries, the ones about suffering and crucifixion, and he didn’t think she did, either. A magpie called from the maples, and he wondered briefly if it was one they’d already seen, or a third. Three for a wedding, four for a death.
"Joyful," she said at once. "The Annunciation." Then she paused, and nodded at him to take the first turn. He didn’t have to think.
"For Murtagh," he said quietly, and his fingers tightened on the bead. "And Mam and Da. Hail Mary, full o’ grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blest is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus."
"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen." Jenny finished the prayer and they said the rest of the decade in their usual way, back and forth, the rhythm of their voices soft as the rustle of grass.
They reached the second decade, the Visitation, and he nodded at Jenny—her turn.
"For Ian Òg," she said softly, eyes on her beads. "And Ian Mòr. Hail Mary…."
Back to the Book Nine webpage.
The first floor had now been walled in from the outside, though much of the inside was still just timber studs, which gave the place rather a nice sense of informality, as we walked cheerfully through the skeletal walls.
My surgery had no coverings for its two large windows, nor did it have a door—but it did have complete walls (as yet unplastered), a long counter with a couple of shelves over it for my bottles and instruments, a high, wide table of smooth pine (I had sanded it myself, taking great pains to protect my future patients from splinters in their bottoms) on which to conduct examinations and surgical treatment, and a high stool on which I could sit while administering these.
Jamie and Roger had begun the ceiling, but there were for the moment only joists running overhead, with patches of faded brown and grimy gray canvas (salvaged from a pile of decrepit military tents found in a warehouse in Cross Creek) providing actual shelter from the elements.
Jamie had promised me that the second floor—and my ceiling--would be laid within the week, but for the moment, I had a large bowl, a dented tin chamber-pot and the unlit brazier strategically arranged to catch leaks. It had rained the day before, and I glanced upward to be sure there were no sagging bits in the damp canvas holding water overhead before I took my case-book out of its waxed-cloth bag.
“What ith—is that?” Fanny asked, catching sight of it. I had put her to work picking off and collecting the papery skins from a huge basket of onions for steeping to make a yellow dye, and she craned her neck to see, keeping her onion-scented fingers carefully away.
“This is my case-book,” I said, with a sense of satisfaction at its weight. “I write down the names of the people who come to me with medical difficulties, and describe each one’s condition, and then I put down what it was that I did or prescribed for them, and whether it worked or not.”
She eyed the book with respect—and interest.
“Do they always get better?”
“No,” I admitted. “I’m afraid they don’t always—but very often they do. ‘I’m a doctor, not an escalator,’ I quoted, and laughed before remembering that it wasn’t Brianna I was talking to.
Fanny merely nodded seriously, evidently filing away this piece of information.
“Um. That was a quote from a, er, doctor friend of mine named McCoy. I think the general notion is that no matter how skilled a person might be, every skill has its limits and one is well advised to stick to what you’re good at.”
She nodded again, eyes still fixed in interest on the book.
“Do you…think I might read it?” she asked shyly. “Only a page or two,” she added hastily.
I hesitated for a moment, but then laid the book on the table, opened it, and paged through to the spot where I had made a note about using gall berry ointment for Lizzie Wemyss’s malaria, as I hadn’t any Jesuit’s bark. I had told Roger about the need, but so far none had turned up. Fanny had heard me talk about the situation to Jamie, and Lizzie’s recurrent ague was common knowledge on the Ridge.
“Yes, you may—but only the pages before this marker.” I took a slim black crow’s feather from the jar of quills and laid it next to the book’s spine at Lizzie’s page.
“Patients are entitled to privacy,” I explained. “You oughtn’t to read about people that are our neighbors. But these earlier pages are about people I treated in other places and—mostly--a long time ago.”
“I prrromise,” she said, her earnestness giving emphasis to her r’s, and I smiled. I’d known Fanny barely a year, but I’d never once known her to lie—about anything.
It was early afternoon and there was a storm coming on; the sky was dark enough that I’d had to bring Jamie’s reading-globe to my surgery and light a candle in order to see what I was doing.
The only way I had of crudely calibrating the dosage of a liquid medication was by estimating the relative color and turbidity of a sample, matched against a set of reference samples that I’d tested on one or another family member, relentlessly questioning them at ten minute intervals through a headache, belly-ache, fever or freshly-bound up wound as a means of estimating the solution’s effectiveness. The main drawback to this method—other than the testy reactions of my subjects—was that I had to make fresh reference samples at least once or twice a month.
“Either that, or hit Jamie on the head every Tuesday with a mallet by way of standardization,” I muttered to myself, holding up a vial against the soft clear light that came through the water-filled globe.
White willow bark—the best for the purpose [ck availability], brewed up into a tea that ranged from bright gold to a vivid red, to a color that looked like drying blood, if you left it to steep for long enough. And the flavor ranged from a pleasant tang to something that had to be mixed with honey, whisky, or both, in order to be swallowed at all.
“Why are ye wanting to hit me on the heid, Sassenach?” Jamie inquired, manifesting himself in the doorway with a silent unexpectedness that made me yelp and hurl my pestle at him in reflex. He caught it, also by reflex.
“Oh, ye meant it,” he said, eyeing me warily. “What have I done?”
“God knows,” I said, coming to take the pestle from him. “But if you hurt yourself doing it, I need you to try out the latest batch of willow-bark tea.” He’d been hunting for the last two days with Ian and the Beardsley boys, and smelled of blood, animal hair, fresh leaves and his own musk.
He made a Scottish noise indicating polite revulsion and bent to kiss me on the forehead.
“It doesna have to be me, does it?”
“No. Why, does someone else have a gripe, headache or other painful complaint?”
The look of amusement on his face faded.
“Aye, that’s what I came to tell ye.”
“A Brief Gaelic Lesson”
Jamie woke the next morning to an empty bed, sighed, stretched and rolled out of it. He’d dreamed, rather pleasantly, about Achilles’s ships, and would have liked to tell Claire about it. He shook off the remnants of sleep and went to wash, making a mental note of some of the things he’d dreamt, so as not to forget them. With luck, she’d be home before supper.
“Mr. Fraser?” A delicate rap on the door, Frances’s voice. “Your daughter says breakfast is ready.”
“Aye?” He wasn’t smelling anything of a savory nature, but “ready” was a relative term. “I’m coming, lass. Taing.”
“Tang?” she said, sounding startled. He smiled, pulled a clean shirt over his head and opened the door. She was standing there like a field daisy, delicate but upright on her stem, and he bowed to her.
“Taing,” he said, pronouncing it as carefully as he could. “It means ‘thanks’ in the Gaelic.”
“Are you sure?” she said, frowning slightly.
“I am,” he assured her. “‘Moran taing’ means ‘thank you very much,’ should ye want something stronger.”
A faint flush rose in her cheeks.
“I’m sorry—I didn’t really mean are you th-sure. Of course you are. It’s only that Germain told me ‘thank you’ is ‘tabag leet.’ Is that wrong? He might have been practicing on me, but I didn’t think so.”
“Tapadh leat,” he said, restraining the urge to laugh.
“No, that’s right; it’s only that Moran taing is… casual, ye might say. The other’s when ye want to be formal. If someone’s saved your life or paid your debts, say, ye’d say ‘Tapadh leat,’ where if they passed ye the bread at table, ye’d say ‘Taing,’ aye?”
“Aye,” she said automatically, and flushed deeper when he smiled. She smiled back, though, and he followed her down the stairs, thinking how oddly engaging she was; she was reticent, but not shy at all. He supposed one couldn’t be shy, if raised with the expectation of becoming a whore.
“I need to meet wi’ a few men there,” Jamie had said, with a casual reserve that she knew was meant to protect her own feelings. She knew his business was that of war, and he knew how much that troubled her, but she knew how much it troubled him, and would not force him to say the things he was thinking, let alone the things he knew.
She’d spoken about it—the war—in general, in Meeting. Jamie nearly always came, but seldom spoke himself. He’d come in quietly, and sit on a back bench, head bowed, listening. Listening, as any Friend would, to the silence and his inner light. When people felt moved of the spirit to speak, he would listen courteously to them, too, but watching the remoteness of his face on these occasions, she thought his mind was still by itself, in quiet, persistent search.
“I dinna suppose Young Ian’s told ye much about Catholics,” he’d said to her once, when he’d paused after Meeting to give her a fleece he’d brought from Salem.
“Only when I ask him,” she said, with a smile. “And thee knows he’s no theologian. Roger Mac knows more, I think, regarding Catholic belief and practice. Does thee want to tell me something about Catholics? I know thee must feel seriously out-numbered every First Day.”
He’d smiled at that, and it made her heart glad to see it. He was so often troubled these days, and no wonder.
“Nay, lass, God and I get on well enough by ourselves. It’s only that when I come to your Meeting, sometimes it reminds me of a thing Catholics do now and then. It’s no a formal thing, at all—but a body will go and sit for an hour before the Sacrament. I’d do it now and then when I was a young man, in Paris. We call it Adoration.”
“What does thee do during that hour?” she’d asked, curious.
“Nothing in particular. Pray, for the most part. Read, maybe, the Bible or the writings of some saint. I’ve seen folk sing, sometimes. I remember once, goin’ into the chapel of Saint Sebastian in the wee hours of the morning, long before dawn—almost all the candles were burnt out—and hearin’ someone playing a guitar, singing. Very soft, not playing to be heard, ken. Just… singing before God.”
Something odd moved in his eyes at the recollection, but then he smiled at her again, a rueful smile.
“I think that may be the last music I remember really hearing.”
He touched the back of his head, briefly.
“I was struck in the heid wi’ an ax, many years gone. I lived, but I never heard music again. The pipes, fiddles, singin’… I ken it’s music, but to me, it’s nay more than noise. But that song… I dinna recall the song itself, but I know how I felt when I heard it.”
She’d never before seen a look on his face as she did when he called back that song for her, but quite suddenly she felt what he had felt in the depth of that distant night, and understood why he found peace in silent spaces.
- Patience is a virtue -
Jamie had spoken to everyone over dinner about Sylvia Hardman, a Quaker woman he had met by chance at her home near Philadelphia and who had looked after him for several days, her back choosing to neutralize him.
“Besides his great kindness,” he says, “I was struck by his little girls. They were as nice as their mother, but it's their names that I liked the most. They were called Patience, Prudence and Chastity. So I wanted to ask you, Rachel - do Friends often call their children after virtues? '
'They do,' she said and, smiling at Jemmy who had started to twitch a bit, added, 'Jeremiah - if your name wasn't Jeremiah, what name would you choose? If you were to be named after a virtue, I mean. '
'What is virtue?' Mandy had asked, frowning at her brother like she expected him to sprout one instantly.
“Something good,” Germain had told him. 'Like…' he glanced dubiously at Rachel for confirmation, '… peace? Or maybe kindness? '
'Exactly,' she said, nodding gravely. 'What name would you choose, Germain, while Jemmy is thinking?' Devotion ?'
'No !' he had said, horrified. And, in the midst of a general burst of laughter, people had started coming up with names-of-virtue, both for themselves and for various family members, with bursts of laughter that ensued or - once or twice - lively discussions about the relevance of a suggestion.
'You started, Pa,' Brianna said, amused. 'But I noticed that you did not choose a virtuous name.'
'He already has the names of three Scottish kings,' Roger protested. 'He won't feel anymore if you give him other names to play with.'
'You didn't choose one either, did you mom?' I could see the mechanism spinning in Bree's mind and I jumped in to get ahead of her.
'Uh… how about the sweetness?' I said, making many people in the room laugh.
'Is ruthlessness a virtue?' Jamie asked smiling at me.
'Probably not,' I said rather coldly. 'Although I guess it depends on the circumstances.'
'That's right,' he said and, taking my hand, he kissed it. 'Resolved', then - or maybe 'Resolution?' '
'Well, Fraser's Resolution has some resonance,' I said. 'I have one for you too.'
He didn't stop smiling, but a certain look of sadness came to his eyes.
'Yes,' he said. 'That should do.'
Source unknown, if you find it, please let me know in the comments.
- No tittle-
William examined his handkerchief critically. There wasn’t much left of it; they’d tried to bind his wrists with it and he’d ripped it to shreds, getting it off. Still… He blew his nose on it, very gently. Still bloody, and he dabbed the seepage gingerly. Footsteps were coming up the tavern’s stairs toward the room where he sat, guarded by two wary privates.
“He says he’s _who_?” said an annoyed voice outside the room. Someone said something in reply, but it was lost in the scraping of the door across the uneven floor as it opened. He rose slowly to his feet and drew himself up to his full height, facing the officer—a major of dragoons—who had just come in. The major stopped abruptly, forcing the two men behind him to stop as well.
“He says he’s the fncking ninth Earl of Ellesmere,” William said in a hoarse, menacing tone, and fixed the major with the eye that he could still open.
“Actually, he is,” said a lighter voice, sounding both amused—and familiar. William blinked at the man who now stepped into the room, a slender, dark-haired figure in the uniform of a captain of infantry. “_Captain_ Lord Ellesmere, in fact. Hallo, William.”
“I’ve resigned my commission,” William said flatly. “Hallo, Denys.”
“But not your title.” Denys Randall looked him up and down, but forebore to comment on his appearance.
“Resigned your commission, have you?” The major, a youngish, thick-set fellow who looked as though his breeches were too tight, gave William an unpleasant look. “In order to turn your coat and join the rebels, I take it?”
William breathed, twice, in order to avoid saying anything rash.
“No,” he said, in an unfriendly voice.
“Naturally not,” Denys said, gently rebuking the major. He turned back to William. “And naturally, you would have been traveling with a company of American militia because….?”
“I was not traveling with them,” William said, successfully not adding “you nit” to this statement. “I encountered the gentlemen in question last night at a tavern, and won a substantial amount from them at cards. I left the tavern early this morning and resumed my journey, but they followed me, with the obvious intent of taking back the money by force.”
“Obvious intent?” echoed the major skeptically. “How did you discern such intent? Sir,” he added reluctantly.
“I’d imagine that being pursued and beaten to a pulp might have been a fairly unambiguous indication,” Denys said. “Sit down, Ellesmere; you’re dripping on the floor. Did they in fact take back the money?” He pulled a large, snowy-white handkerchief from his sleeve and handed it to William.
“Yes. Along with everything else in my pockets. I don’t know what’s become of my horse.” He dabbed the handkerchief against his split lip. He could smell Randall’s cologne on it, despite his swollen nose—the real Eau de Cologne, smelling of Italy and sandalwood. Lord John used it now and then, and the scent comforted him a little.
“So you claim to know nothing of the men with whom we found you?” said the other officer, this one a lieutenant, a man of about William’s own age, eager as a terrier. The major gave him a look of dislike, indicating that he didn’t think he needed any assistance in questioning William, but the lieutenant wasn’t attending. “Surely if you were playing cards with them, you must have gleaned some information?”
“I know a few of their names,” William said, feeling suddenly very tired. “That’s all.”
That was actually not all, by a long chalk, but he didn’t want to talk about the things he’d learned—that Abbot was a blacksmith and had a clever dog who helped him at his forge, fetching small tools or faggots for the fire when asked. Justin Martineau had a new wife, to whose bed he longed to return. Geoffrey Garland’s wife made the best beer in the village, and his daughter’s was nearly as good, though she was but twelve years old. Garland was one of the men the captain had chosen to hang. He swallowed, his throat thick with dust and unspoken words.
He’d escaped the noose largely because of his skill at cursing in Latin, which had disconcerted the captain long enough for William to identify himself, his ex-regiment, and a list of prominent army officers who would vouch for him, beginning with General Clinton (God, where _was_ Clinton now?).
Denys Randall was murmuring to the major, who still looked displeased, but had dropped from a full boil to a disgruntled simmer. The lieutenant was watching William intently, through narrowed eyes, obviously expecting him to leap from the bench and make a run for it. The man kept unconsciously touching his cartridge box and then his holstered pistol, clearly imagining the wonderful possibility that he could shoot William dead as he ran for the door. William yawned, hugely and unexpectedly, and sat blinking, sudden exhaustion washing through him like the tide.
Right this moment, he really didn’t care what happened next.
You will be dealing with Colonel Marion, Reverend, 'his escort told him, and he said:' When you have done your business with him, one of his men will bring you back to General Lincoln's tent. ' The man turned to leave, but turned to add a warning. 'Don't walk around alone, Reverend. It's not sure. And don't try to leave the camp either. The orderlies were ordered to shoot any man who tried to leave without a signed General Lincoln pass. '
'No,' Roger said. 'I will not do it.' But the corporal had not waited for his answer; he hurried back into the main body of the camp, his boots creaking on a white oyster shell. It was close, much closer than he thought. He could feel the whole camp buzzing, a sense of nervous energy, men getting ready. But it was surely too early to ...
Then he walked through the high stone door of the cemetery, its lintel decorated with the Star of David, and immediately saw what must have been Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Marion, hat in hand and a blue and chamois uniform thrown over his shoulders, deeply in conversation with three or four other officers.
The unfortunate word that popped up in Roger's mind was 'puppet.' Francis Marion was what Jamie would call a short man, measuring no more than three feet tall, by Roger's estimate, lean and tapered in hock, with a very prominent French nose.
Her appearance was made more striking by a new arrangement of the hairstyle, comprising thin strands of hair combed into a careful tuft atop a bald patch and two slightly larger tufts on either side of her head, like earmuffs. . Roger was burning with curiosity as to what the man's ears must look like to demand this kind of artifice, but he dismissed the thought with an effort of will, and waited patiently for the lieutenant colonel to finish his business.
Hunters [ndlt: name given in French], the corporal had said. French troops, then, and they were looking at him, very neatly arranged in blue and green coats and white underwear, with cockades and feathers pulling on the yellowish that stood on the front of their hats like sparkling candles from the 4th July. They also spoke unmistakably French, many of them at the same time.
On the other hand… they were black, which he didn't expect at all.
Marion held up a hand and most of them stopped talking, although there was a lot of movement from one foot to the other and a general look of impatience. He leaned forward, speaking in front of an officer standing six inches taller than him, and the others stopped shaking and groaning before listening.
Roger couldn't hear what was being said, but he was keenly aware of the electric current flowing through the group - it was the same current he had felt going through the camp, but stronger.
_Jesus Christ almighty, they are preparing to fight. Now._
He had never been on a live battlefield, but he had been through a few with his father. Reverend Wakefield had been a great war historian and a good storyteller; he had been able to evoke the feeling of a confused and panicked fight from the open ground of Sheriffmuir, and the feeling of doom and slaughter of the haunted land of Culloden.
Roger felt much the same sensation, rising from the calm earth of the graveyard through his body, and he clenched his fists, urgently wanting the feel of a weapon in his hand.
Source unknown, if you find it, please let me know in the comments.
- My father -
The upper gallery at Ellesmere. A broad, square open staircase led upward to the second floor. Here the roof soared high overhead, and a gallery surrounded the stairwell on three sides, with tall windows on one side and various portraits on the other three walls.
“Isobel told me this was painted soon after her marriage,” Lord John had said, nodding to the portrait of a very beautiful young woman. The painter hadn’t been particularly skilled—the woman’s hair was simply dark, some color between brown and black, and her gown clumsily rendered—but William recognized her face; the same face he’d seen every day for years, in a miniature he’d carried with him from home to London, to school, and now would take with him to the army.
He thought the painter had loved her, perhaps; the face was done with both care and feeling.
“Someone told me I have her mouth,” he said, softly, as though not to startle her.
“You have,” said Lord John, raising a brow. “Who told you that?”
“Mother Isobel.” He turned away from the portrait, feeling suddenly unsettled. “It seems strange to see her—Mother Geneva—here, alone.” There were several portraits of her at Helwater—but always portraits done with her younger sister, with her parents. Even the portraits of her by herself were always side by side with similar portraits of Isobel.
“So it does.” Lord John spoke softly, too. It was hushed as a church here on the landing, an illusion enhanced by the tall, quiet windows with their stained-glass borders. And by the fact that everybody in these pictures is dead…
He turned restlessly away, toward the opposite wall, across the open well of the staircase. The wall was dominated by a large portrait of an elderly man in a formal wig and the robes of an Earl. Not bad looking for his age, William thought. Bit of a tough, though, from his expression. The thought made William smile.
“That’s him, is it? My father?”
- Taking Leave -
She sat, unobtrusive in the shadows. Head bent, the soft shush of her charcoal lost in the clearing of throats, the rustle of clothing. But she watched them, in ones and twos and threes, as they ducked under the open tent flap and came to the general’s side. There each man paused to look on his face, calm in the candlelight, and she caught what she could of the drifting currents that crossed their own faces: shadows of grief and sorrow, eyes sometimes dark with fear, or blank with shock and tiredness.
Often, they wept.
William and John Cinnamon flanked her, standing just behind on either side, silent and respectful. General [ ]‘s orderly had offered them stools, but they had courteously refused, and she found their buttressing presences oddly comforting.
The soldiers came by companies, the uniforms (in some cases, only militia badges) changing. John Cinnamon shifted his weight now and then, and occasionally took a deep breath or cleared his throat. William didn’t.
What was he doing? she wondered. Counting the soldiers? Assessing the condition of the American troops? They were shabby; dirty and unkempt, and in spite of their respectful demeanor, few of the companies seemed to have much notion of order.
For the first time, it occurred to her to wonder just what William’s motive in coming had been. She’d been so happy at meeting him that she’d accepted his statement that he wouldn’t let his sister go unaccompanied into a military camp at face value. Was it true, though? From the little Lord John had said, she knew that William had resigned his army commission—but that didn’t mean he’d changed sides. Or that he had no interest in the state of the American siege, or that he didn’t intend to pass on any information he gained during this visit. Clearly he still knew people in the British army.
The skin on her shoulders prickled at the thought, and she wanted to turn round and look up at him. A moment’s hesitation and she did just that. His face was grave, but he was looking at her.
“All right?” he asked in a whisper.
“Yes,” she said, comforted by his voice. “I just wondered whether you’d fallen asleep standing up.”
She smiled, and opened her mouth to say something, apologize for keeping him and his friend out all night. He stopped her with a small twitch of fingers.
“It’s all right,” he said softly. “You do what you came to do. We’ll stay with you, and take you home in the morning. I meant it; I won’t leave you alone.”
- Piety -
Rachel had explained the basic working of a Friends Meeting to the attendees—that one sat in silence, listening to one’s inner light, unless or until the spirit moved you to say something—whether that was a worry you wished to share, a prayer you wanted to make, a song to sing, or a thought you might want to discuss.
She’d added that while many meetings both began and ended in silence, she felt moved of the spirit to begin today’s meeting by singing, and while she did not pretend to do so with the skill of Friend Walter Cunningham or Friend Roger, (the MacKenzies had come, of course, but the Cunninghams had not, which didn’t surprise me), if anyone wished to join her, she would be grateful for their company.
A good deal of warmth having been enkindled by the song—and Bluebell’s contribution—everyone had sat quietly for a few minutes. I’d felt Jamie, beside me, draw himself up a little, as though having made a decision, and he’d told the congregation about Sylvia Hardman, a Quaker woman he’d met by chance at her house near Philadelphia, and who had cared for him for several days, his back having chosen to incapacitate him.
“Besides her great kindness,” he said, “I was taken by her wee daughters. They were as kind as their mother—but it was their names I liked most. Patience, Prudence, and Chastity, they were called. So I’d meant to ask ye, Rachel—do Friends often call their children after virtues?”
“They do,” she said, and smiling at Jemmy, who had started to twitch a little, added, “Jeremiah—if thee wasn’t called Jeremiah, what name would thee choose? If thee were to be named for a virtue, I mean.”
“Whassa virtue?” Mandy had asked, frowning at her brother as though expecting him to sprout one momentarily.
“Something good,” Germain had told her. “Like…” he glanced dubiously at Rachel for confirmation, “…Peace? Or maybe Goodness?”
“Exactly,” she’d said, nodding gravely. “What name would thee choose, Germain, while Jemmy is thinking? Piety?”
“No!” he’d said, horrified, and amid the general laughter, people had begun proposing nommes-de-virtu, both for themselves and various family members, with ensuing outbursts of laughter or—once or twice—heated discussions regarding the appropriateness of a suggestion.
Roger opened his mouth to reply, but his throat had closed as hard as if he’d swallowed a rock, and nothing came out but a muffled grunt.
Jamie smiled and touched his arm, urging him toward a big stone at what Roger assumed would be the front of the house. Two pegged strings ran out at ninety-degree angles from the stone, outlining two sides of the house’s footprint. It was going to be a sizable house—maybe even bigger than the original Big House.
“Come walk the foundation with me, aye?”
Roger bobbed his head and followed his father-in-law to the big stone, and was surprised to see that the word “FRASER” had been chiseled into it, and below that, “1779.”
“My cornerstone,” Jamie said. “I thought if the house was to burn down again, at least folk would ken we’d been here, aye?”
“Ah…mm,” Roger managed. He cleared his throat hard, coughed, and found enough air for a few words. “Lallybroch… y-your da…” He pointed upward, as though to a lintel. “He put—the date.” Jamie’s face lighted.
“He did,” he said. “The place is still standing, then?”
“It was last time I… saw it.” His throat had loosened as the grip of emotion left it. “Though… come to think—” He stopped, recalling just when he’d last seen Lallybroch.
“I wondered, ken.” Jamie had turned his back and was leading the way down what would be the side of the house. A smell like roast chicken was wafting from the fire; it must be the pigeons. “Brianna told me about the men who came.” He glanced back briefly at Roger, his face careful. “Ye were gone then, of course, lookin’ for Jem.”
“Yes.” And Bree had been forced to leave the house—their house—abandoned to the hands of thieves and kidnappers. It felt like the rock had dropped from his throat into his chest. No use thinking of that just now, though, and he shoved the vision of people shooting at his wife and children down into the bottom of his brain—for the moment.
“As it is,” he said, catching up with Jamie. “The last time I saw Lallybroch was… a bit earlier than that.”
Jamie paused, one eyebrow raised, and Roger cleared his throat. It was what he’d come back here to say; no better time to say it.
“When I went to find Jem, I started by going to Lallybroch. He knew it, it was his home—I thought, if he somehow got away from Cameron, he’d maybe go there.”
Jamie looked at him for a moment, then drew breath and nodded. “The lass said… 1739?”
“You would have been eighteen. Away at university in Paris. Your family was very proud of you,” Roger added softly. Jamie turned his head sharply away, and stood quite still; Roger could hear the catch in his breath.
“Jenny,” he said. “Ye met Jenny. Then.”
“Aye, I did. She was maybe twenty. Then.” And then, for him, was no more than six months in the past. And Jenny now was what, sixty? “I thought—I thought I should maybe say something to ye, before I met her again.”
- Jamie and Jenny -
"God, I miss the old bugger," Jamie said impulsively. Jenny glanced at him and smiled ruefully.
"So do I. I wonder sometimes if he’s with them now— mam and da."
That notion startled Jamie — he’d never thought of it — and he laughed, shaking his head. "Well, if he is, I suppose he’s happy."
"I hope that’s the way of it," Jenny said, growing serious. "I always wished he could ha’ been buried with them, at Lallybroch."
Jamie nodded, his throat suddenly tight. Murtagh lay with the fallen of Culloden, buried in some anonymous pit on that silent moor, his bones mingled with the others. No cairn for those who loved him to come and leave a stone to say so.
Jenny laid a hand on his arm, warm through the cloth of his sleeve.
"Dinna mind it, a brathair," she said softly. "He had a good death, and you with him at the end."
"How would you know it was a good death?" Emotion made him speak more roughly than he meant, but she only blinked once, and then her face settled again.
"Ye told me, idiot," she said dryly. "Several times. D’ye not recall that?"
He stared at her for a moment, uncomprehending.
"I told ye? How? I dinna ken what happened."
Now it was her turn to be surprised.
"Ye’ve forgotten?" She frowned at him. "Aye, well… it’s true ye were off your heid wi’ fever for a good ten days when they brought ye home. Ian and I took it in turn to sit with ye— as much to stop the doctor takin’ your leg off as anything else. Ye can thank Ian ye’ve still got that one," she added, nodding sharply at his left leg. "He sent the doctor away; said he kent well ye’d rather be dead." Her eyes filled abruptly with tears, and she turned away.
He caught her by the shoulder and felt her bones, fine and light as a kestrel’s under the cloth of her shawl.
"Jenny," he said softly. "He didna want to be dead. Believe me. I did, aye… but not him."
"No, he did at first," she said, and swallowed. "But ye wouldna let him, he said— and he wouldna let you, either." She wiped her face with the back of her hand, roughly. He took hold of it, and kissed it, her fingers cold in his hand.
"Ye dinna think ye had anything to do with it?" he asked, straightening up and smiling down at her. "For either of us?"
- Untitled -
I had this kind of delicious dream where you realize you are asleep and you enjoy it hugely. I felt warm, so relaxed that I couldn't feel my skeleton anymore, and my mind was an exquisite void. I was just beginning to sink through that cloudy layer of bliss into the deeper realms of unconsciousness when a violent movement of the mattress beneath me prompted me to instant alertness. Reflexively, I rolled onto my side and looked for Jamie. I had not yet reached the stage of conscious thought, but my synapses had already drawn their own conclusions. He was still in bed, so we hadn't been attacked and the house was not on fire. I could only hear his rapid breathing; the children were fine and no one had broken in. So… it was his own dream that had woken him up. This thought entered the conscious part of my mind as my hand touched his shoulder. He stepped back, but not with the violent recoil he usually showed if I touched him too sharply after a bad dream. So he was awake; he knew it was me. Thank goodness, I thought, and took a deep breath. 'Jamie?' I say softly. My eyes had already adjusted to the dark; I could see him, half curled up next to me, tense, facing me. 'Don't touch me, Sassenach,' he said just as softly. 'Not yet. Let happen.' He had come to bed in a nightgown; the room was still cold. But he was naked now. When had he taken her? And why ?
Source unknown, if you find it, please let me know in the comments.
- The Souls of Dogs -
I looked downhill and saw Jamie emerging from the willow trees that fringed the creek, shooing children ahead of him like a herd of small, disobedient sheep, bumping into each other and giggling. Not for the first time, I missed Rollo, who would have taken that job in hand—or paw—with gusto, and crossed myself at the thought with a rueful smile.
“Do you think it’s proper to pray for the soul of an animal?” I asked Roger, who was building up the cook fire, assisted by Mandy, who was helpfully handing him sticks and other objects she thought should be included. He straightened up, dusting his hands, and smiled at me.
“I’m thinking that any prayer is a good prayer, but I don’t think Presbyterians have any doctrines concerning animals. Which animal did ye have in mind? Because if it’s the White Sow…”
“No,” I said thoughtfully. “I’m reasonably sure the White Sow is beyond redemption. I was thinking of Rollo.”
“Oh, dogs. No, sweetheart, the fire’s high enough now—we need to let it burn down a bit so Grannie can have coals to cook our dinner. Go wash your hands—and maybe your face while you’re about it, aye?”
“And ask Germain to bring me a bucket of water, will you, Mandy?” I called after her. She nodded amiably and skipped off toward the well, Esmeralda in the crook of her arm and her ratty pinafore—now smudged with charcoal—flapping round her legs.
“Dogs,” he repeated, turning back to me. “Well… I once met a Catholic priest in Inverness—he sang in the St. Stephen’s choir, for fun, you know; beautiful baritone—anyway, I took him for a pint one night and in the course of the conversation, we got round to dogs. He’d just lost one of his pets, a very sweet fluffy wee dog, who’d come with him to practice and curl up by his feet while the singing went on. So I proposed a toast to Tippy, and everyone in the bar joined in—well, anyway, someone asked Peter—Peter Drummond, Father Pete, they called him—asked him whether dogs have souls.”
“Well, of course they have.” Jamie had dispersed his flock and made his way up the hill in time to hear this. “How could ye look into a dog’s eyes and doubt it?”
“Good point,” I said. “Though the question was—wait. Why are you wet?” He was barefooted, the hem of his kilt dark and dripping.
“I had to wade out into the creek to fetch wee Orrie Higgins. He took a fright when Myers came into the water, and—”
“John Quincy is in the creek?”
“Aye, washing himself and his clothes. Amy Higgins gave him a bit of soft soap for the job. What is it about dogs’ souls?”
“I was wondering if it’s proper to pray for the soul of a dog,” I explained. “Rollo, you know…”
“If ever I met a dog with a better chance at heaven, I canna recall it.” Jamie shook his head. “He was a good dog.”
“Yes, he was,” Roger agreed. “But I was just telling Claire the views of a priest I knew. He said that dogs are pure love and thus when they die, they’re instantly in the presence of God. So theoretically, they wouldn’t need praying for.”
Jamie made a Scottish sound of approval at this bit of theological reasoning.
“I want a dog!” Mandy said, appearing with Germain and the bucket of water, “Can we has a dog, Daddy?”
“Later,” Roger said, adding with low cunning, “Ask your mother.”
“We need a house first,” I told her. “The dog will need a place to sleep.”
“It can sleep wif me!”
“It might eat Esmeralda,” Germain said, teasing. Mandy clutched the doll to her chest, scowling at him.
“No! Grannie, tell him no!”
“Germain, or the dog?” I inquired. “Jamie, help me with this, will you? And where are Jem and Fanny?”
Ian didn’t pretend not to know why she asked.
“Small,” he said, holding his hand about three inches above his elbow. Four inches shorter than I… “Neat, with a—a pretty face.”
“If she is beautiful, Ian, thee may say so,” Rachel said dryly. “I am a Friend; we aren’t given to vanity.”
He looked at her, his lips twitching a little. Then he thought better of whatever he’d been about to say. He closed his eyes for an instant, then opened them and answered her honestly.
”She was lovely. I met her by the water—a pool in the river, where the water spreads out and there’s not even a ripple on the surface, but ye feel the spirit of the river moving through it just the same.” He’d seen her standing thigh-deep in the water, clothed but with her shirt drawn up and tied round her waist with a red scarf, holding a thin spear of sharpened wood and watching for fish.
“I canna think of her in—in her parts,” he said, his voice a little husky. “What her eyes looked like, her face…” He made an odd, graceful little gesture with his hand, as though he cupped Wakyo’teyehsnohsa’s cheek, then traveled the line of her neck and shoulder. “I only—when I think of her—” He glanced at her and made a hem noise in his throat. “Aye. Well. Aye, I think of her now and then. Not often. But when I do, I only think of her as all of a piece, and I canna tell ye in words what that looks like.”
“Why should thee not think of her?” Rachel said, as gently as she could. “She was thy wife, the mother of—of your children.”
“Aye,” he said softly, and bent his head. She thought she might have chosen her place better; they were in the shed that served as a small barn and there was a farrowing sow in a pen right in front of them, a dozen fat piglets thrusting and grunting at her teats, a testament to fecundity.
“I need to tell ye something, Rachel,” he said, raising his head abruptly.
“Thee knows thee can tell me anything, Ian,” she said, and meant it, but her heart meant something different and began to beat faster.
William found Moira, the cook, in the kitchen garden, pulling spring onions. She was talking to Amaranthus, who had evidently been gathering as well; she carried a trug that held a large mound of grapes and a few pears from the small tree that grew near the cook-house. With an eye for the fruit, he strode up and bade the women good morning. Amaranthus gave him an up and down glance, inhaled as though trying to judge his state of intoxication from his aroma, and with a faint shake of the head, handed him a ripe pear.
“Coffee?” he said hopefully to Moira.
“Well, I’ll not be saying there isn’t,” she said dubiously. “It’s left from yesterday, though, and strong enough to take the shine off your teeth.”
“Perfect,” he assured her, and bit into the pear, closing his eyes as the luscious juice flooded his mouth. He opened them to find Amaranthus, back turned to him, stooping to look at something on the ground among the radishes. She was wearing a thin wrapper over her shift, and the fabric stretched neatly over her very round bottom.
She stood up suddenly, turning round and he at once bent toward the ground she’d been looking at, saying, “What is that?”, though he personally saw nothing but dirt and a lot of radish tops.
“It’s a dung beetle,” she said, looking at him closely. “Very good for the soil. They roll up small balls of ordure and trundle them away.”
“What do they do with them? The, um, balls of ordure, I mean.”
“Eat them,” she said, with a slight shrug. “They bury the balls for safekeeping, and then eat them as need requires—or sometimes they breed inside the larger ones.”
“How…cozy. Have you had any breakfast?” William asked, raising one brow.
“No, it isn’t ready yet.”
“Neither have I,” he said, getting to his feet. “Though I’m not quite as hungry as I was before you told me that.” He glanced down at his waistcoat. “Have I any dung beetles in this noble assemblage?”
That made her laugh.
“No, you haven’t,” she said. “Not nearly colorful enough.”
Amaranthus was suddenly standing quite close to him, though he was sure he hadn’t seen her move. She had the odd trick of seeming to apparate suddenly out of thin air; it was disconcerting, but rather intriguing.
“That bright green one,” she said, pointing a long, delicate finger at his middle, “is a Dogbane Leaf Beetle, Chrisosuchus auratus.”
“Is it, really?”
“Yes, and this lovely creature with the long nose is a Billbug.”
“A pillbug?” William squinted down his chest.
“No, a Billbug,” she said, tapping the bug in question. “It’s a sort of weevil, but it eats cat-tails. And young corn.”
“Rather a varied diet.”
“Well, unless you’re a dung beetle, you do have some choice in what you eat,” she said, smiling. She touched another of the beetles, and William felt a faint but noticeable jolt at the base of his spine. “Now here,” she said, with small, distinct taps of her finger, “we have an Emerald Ash Borer, a Festive Tiger Beetle, and the False Potato Beetle.”
“What does a true Potato Beetle look like?”
“Very much the same. This one’s called a False Potato Beetle because while it _wil_l eat potatoes in a pinch, it really prefers horse nettles.”
“Ah.” He thought he should express interest in the rest of the little things ornamenting his waistcoat, in hopes that she’d go on tapping them. He was opening his mouth to inquire about a large cream-colored thing with horns, when she stepped back in order to look up into his face.
“I heard my father-in-law talking to Lord John about you,” she said.
“Oh? Good. I hope they’d a fine day for it,” he said, not really caring.
“Speaking of False Potato Beetles, I mean,” she said. He closed his eyes briefly, then opened one and looked at her. She was perfectly solid, not wavering in the slightest.
“I know I’m a trifle the worse for drink,” he said politely. “But I don’t _think_ I resemble any sort of Potato Beetle, regardless of my uncle’s opinion.”
Source : Facebook
Roger found Jamie standing at the edge of a large rectangular hole in the ground, obviously lost in contemplation of its depths.
"New toilets?" he asked, nodding in the direction of the pit. Jamie looked up, smiling at the sight, and Roger felt a wave of heat - in more ways than one.
"Aye. I just wanted it to be the usual, you know, with one commode." Jamie pointed to the hole, the last rays of sunlight hitting his hair and skin with golden light. "But with four more - and maybe even more, over time? Like you say you plan to stay, I mean." He glanced sideways at Roger, and the smile came again.
"And then there are the people who come to see Claire too. One of the Crombie boys came down last week, to get cure for explosive diarrhea, and he spent so long growling and moaning in Bobby's bathroom. Higgins the whole family had to run into the woods and Amy wasn't too happy with the state of the washroom when he left, I can tell you. "
"So, do you want to make it bigger or do two toilets?"
"Yes, that's the question." Jamie seemed happy that Roger caught the essence of the situation so quickly. "You see, most homes with families have an emergency cabinet that can accommodate two people at a time - the MacHughs have a three-hole toilet, and that's a nice thing too; Sean MacHugh is a competent man with his tools, which is a good thing with seven kids. But the thing is… "He frowned a little and turned to look in the direction of the fire, which was hidden behind the dark mass of the fireplace. . "Women, you know?"
"Claire and Brianna, you mean." Roger understood immediately what Jamie meant. "Yes, they have notions of privacy. But a little latch on the
"Aye, I thought about it." Jamie waved, brushing off the idea. "The difficulty is more what they think of… germs." He said the word very carefully, and glanced quickly at Roger under his eyebrows, as if to see if he had said it right, or as if he wasn't sure that was a real word for. to start.
"Oh. I hadn't thought of it. You mean the sick people who come - they could leave…" He waved his hand towards the hole.
"Aye. You should have seen the commotion when Claire insisted on scalding Amy's closet with boiling water and laundry soap and pouring turpentine into it after the son Crombie left." Her shoulders cocked up to her ears in remembrance. "If she did that every time we had sick people in our washroom, we'd all be shitting in the woods too."
He laughs, however, as does Roger.
“Both, then,” Roger said. "Two holes for the family and a separate toilet for visitors - or rather for the infirmary - we'll say it's for convenience. You don't want to sound pretentious by not letting people use your own toilet."
"No, that wouldn't do it at all." Jamie vibrated briefly, then froze, but stayed a moment, looking down, a half-smile still on his face. The smells of damp, freshly dug earth and freshly sawn timber rose around them, mingling with the smell of the fire, and Roger could almost imagine he felt the house solidifying from the smoke.
Jamie then let go of what he was thinking and turned his head to look at Roger.
"I missed you, Roger Mac," he said.
Ian had entered quietly - like an Indian, Rachel thought - sometime after midnight, crouching by the bed and blowing her ear softly to wake her, lest he surprise her and wake Oggy. She had hastily checked the latter, then swung her feet off the bed and stood up to kiss her husband.
"You smell like blood," she whispered. "What did you kill?"
"A beast," he whispered back, and cupped her cheek in his palm. "I had to do it, but I'm not sorry for it."
She nodded, feeling a sharp stone form in her throat.
"Do you want to go out with me, wife? I need help."
She nodded again and turned to find the cloak she was using as a dressing gown. There was a feeling of sadness in him, but something else too, and she couldn't tell what it was.
She hoped he hadn't brought the body home in the hopes that she would help him bury it or hide it, whatever - or whoever - it was, but he had just killed something. which he considered bad and perhaps felt himself being pursued.
"Did your mom ever tell you about the dream I had? Soon after… you left." He couldn't help but glance over his shoulder, to make sure no one was within earshot.
"No." She was looking at him with deep interest, a small line between her eyebrows, and he couldn't help but smile at her. "Was it a fun dream?" she asked him.
"Och, no. I was only smiling because you looked so much like Claire there. When she's trying to figure out what's wrong with someone, I mean."
She didn't laugh, but the transient dimple that sometimes appeared on her right cheek quivered for a moment.
“No one ever says I look like mom,” she says.
"Oh, you often look like your mother," he assured her. "It's just that it's not about the hair or the eyes or the size. It's the look on your face when you touch Jem or Mandy - or when you talk to Roger Mac at night on the porch. , and the moonlight in your eyes. "
His own voice had grown soft and hoarse, and he stared at the ground, layering upon layers of dead leaves, like dying stars under his boots.
"You look like your mother in love, that's all I mean. Just like her."
The MacKenzies Are Here
June 17, 1779
Fraser’s Ridge, Colony of North Carolina
There was a stone under my right buttock, but I didn’t want to move. The tiny heartbeat under my fingers was soft and stubborn, the fleeting jolts life. The space between them was infinity, my connection to the dark sky and the rising flame.
“Move your arse a bit, Sassenach,” said a voice in my ear. “I need to scratch my nose and ye’re sitting on my hand.” Jamie twitched his fingers under me, and I moved, turning toward him as I shifted and resettled, keeping my hold on three-year-old Mandy, bonelessly asleep in my arms.
He smiled at me over Jem’s tousled head and scratched his nose. It must have been past midnight, but the fire was still high, and the light sparked off the stubble of his beard and glowed as softly in his eyes as in his grandson’s red hair and the shadowed folds of the worn plaid he’d wrapped about them both.
On the other side of the fire, Brianna laughed, in the quiet way people laugh in the middle of the night with sleeping children near.
She laid her head on Roger’s shoulder, her eyes half closed. She looked completely exhausted, her hair unwashed and tangled, the firelight scooping deep hollows in her face . . . but happy.
“What is it ye find funny, a nighean?” Jamie asked, shifting Jem into a more comfortable position. Jem was fighting as hard as he could to stay awake, but was losing the fight. He gaped enormously and shook his head, blinking like a dazed owl.
“Wha’s funny?” he repeated, but the last word trailed off, leaving him with his mouth half open and a glassy stare.
His mother giggled, a lovely girlish sound, and I felt Jamie’s smile.
“I just asked Daddy if he remembered a Gathering we went to, years ago. The clans were all called at a big bonfire and I handed Daddy a burning branch and told him to go down to the fire and say the MacKenzies were there.”
“Oh.” Jem blinked once, then twice, looked at the fire blazing in front of us, and a slight frown formed between his soft red brows. “Where are we now?”
“Home,” Roger said firmly, and his eyes met mine, then passed to Jamie. “For good.”
Jamie let out the same breath I’d been holding since the afternoon, when those four figures had appeared suddenly in the clearing below, and we had flown down the hill to meet them. There had been one moment of joyous, wordless explosion as we all flung ourselves at one another, and then the explosion had widened as Amy Higgins came out of her cabin, summoned by the noise, to be followed by Bobby, then Aidan—who had whooped at sight of Jem and tackled him, knocking him flat—with Orrie and little Rob.
Jo Beardsley had been in the woods nearby, heard the racket, and come to see . . . and within what seemed like moments, the clearing was alive with people. Six households were within reach of the news before sundown; the rest would undoubtedly hear of it tomorrow.
The instant outpouring of Highland hospitality had been wonderful; women and girls had run back to their cabins and fetched whatever they had baking or boiling for supper, the men had gathered wood and—at Jamie’s behest—piled it on the crest where the outline of the New House stood, and we had welcomed home our family in style, surrounded by friends.
Hundreds of questions had been asked of the travelers: where had they come from? How was the journey? What had they seen? No one had asked if they were happy to be back; that was taken for granted by everyone.
Neither Jamie nor I had asked any questions. Time enough for that—and now that we were alone, Roger had just answered the only one that truly mattered.
The why of that answer, though . . . I felt a stirring of the hair on my nape.
“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” I murmured into Mandy’s black curls, and kissed her tiny, sleep-deaf ear. Once more, my fingers probed inside her clothes—filthy from travel, but very well made—and found the hairline scar between her ribs, the whisper of the surgeon’s knife that had saved her life two years ago, in a place so far from me.
It thumped peacefully along, that brave little heart under my fingertips, and I blinked back tears—not for the first time today, and surely not for the last.
“I was right, aye?” Jamie said, and I realized he’d said it for the second time.
“Right about what?”
“About needing more room,” he said patiently, and turned to gesture at the invisible rectangle of the stone foundation, the only tangible trace so far of the New House. The footprint of the original Big House was still visible as a dark mark beneath the grass of the clearing below, but it had nearly faded away. Perhaps by the time the New House was finished, it would be only a memory.
Brianna yawned like a lion, then pushed back her tangled mane and blinked sleepily into the dark.
“We’ll probably be sleeping in the root cellar this winter,” she said, then laughed.
“O ye o’ little faith,” Jamie said, not at all perturbed. “The timber’s sawn, split, and milled. We’ll have walls and floors and windows aplenty before snowfall. Maybe no glass in them yet,” he added fairly. “But that can wait ’til the spring.”
“Mmm.” Brianna blinked again and shook her head, then stood up to look. “Have you got a hearthstone?”
“I have. A lovely wee piece of serpentine—the green stone, ken?”
“I remember. And do you have a piece of iron to put under it?”
Jamie looked surprised.
“Not yet, no. I’ll find that when we bless the hearth, though.”
“Well, then.” She sat up straight and fumbled among the folds of her cloak, emerging with a large canvas bag, clearly heavy and full of assorted objects. She delved about in this for a few moments, then pulled out something that gleamed black in the firelight.
“Use that, Da,” she said, handing it across to Jamie.
He looked at it for a moment, smiled, and handed it to me.
“Aye, that’ll do,” he said. “Ye brought it for the hearth?”
“It” was a smooth black metal chisel, six inches long and heavy in my hand, with the word “Craftsman” imprinted in the head.
“Well . . . for a hearth,” Bree said, smiling at him. She put a hand on Roger’s leg. “At first, I thought we might build a house ourselves, when we could. But—” She turned and looked across the darkness of the Ridge into the vault of the cold, pure sky, where the Great Bear shone overhead. “We might not manage before winter. And since I imagine we’ll be imposing ourselves on you . . .” She looked up from under her lashes at her father, who snorted.
“Dinna be daft, lass. If it’s our house, it’s yours, and ye ken that well enough.” He raised a brow at her. “And the more hands there are to help with the building of it, the better. D’ye want to see the shape of it?”
Not waiting for an answer, he disentangled Jem from his plaid, eased him down on the ground beside me, and stood up. He pulled one of the burning branches from the fire and jerked his head in invitation toward the invisible rectangle of the new foundation.
Bree was still drowsy, but game; she smiled at me and shook her head good-naturedly, then hunched her cloak over her shoulders and got up.
“Coming?” she said to Roger.
He smiled up at her and waved a hand, shooing her along. “I’m too knackered to see straight, love. I’ll wait ’til the morning.”
Bree touched his shoulder lightly and set off after the light of Jamie’s torch, muttering something under her breath as she stumbled over a rock in the grass, and I laid a fold of my cloak over Jem, who hadn’t stirred.
Roger and I sat quiet, listening to their voices move away into the dark—and then sat quiet for a few moments longer, listening to the fire and the night, and each other’s thoughts.
For them to have risked the dangers of the travel, let alone the dangers of this time and this place . . . whatever had happened in their own time . . .
He gazed into my eyes, saw what I was thinking, and sighed.
“Aye, it was bad. Bad enough,” he said quietly. “Even so—we might have gone back to deal with it. I wanted to. But we were afraid there wasn’t anyone there Mandy could feel strongly enough.”
“Mandy?” I looked down at the solid little body, limp in sleep. “Feel whom? And what do you mean, ‘gone back’?” Wait—” I lifted a hand in apology. “No, don’t try to tell me now; you’re worn out, and there’s time enough.” I paused to clear my throat. “And it’s enough that you’re here.”
He smiled then, a real smile, though with the weariness of miles and years and terrible things behind it.
“Aye,” he said. “It is.”
We were silent for a time, and Roger’s head nodded; I thought he was nearly asleep, and was gathering my legs under me to rise and collect everyone for bed when he lifted his head again.
“One thing . . .”
“Have you met a man—ever—named William Buccleigh MacKenzie? Or maybe Buck MacKenzie?”
“The name sounds familiar,” I said slowly. “Who is he?”
Roger rubbed a hand over his face and slowly down his throat, to the white scar left by a rope.
“Well . . . he’s the man who got me hanged, to begin with. But he’s also my five-times great-grandfather. Neither one of us knew that at the time he got me hanged,” he said, almost apologetically.
“Jesus H. . . . Oh, I beg your pardon. Are you still a sort of minister?”
He smiled at that, though the marks of exhaustion carved runnels in his face.
“I don’t think it wears off,” he said. “But if ye were about to say ‘Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,’ I wouldn’t mind it. Appropriate to the situation, ye might say.”
And in a few words, he told me the strange story of the witch’s child, and how Buck MacKenzie had ended in Scotland in 1980, only to travel back with Roger in an effort to find Jem.
“There’s a great deal more to it than that,” he assured me. “But the end of it—for now—is that we left him in Scotland. In 1739. With . . . erm . . . his mother.”
“With Geillis?” My voice rose involuntarily, and Mandy twitched and made small cranky noises. I patted her hastily and shifted her to a more comfortable position. “Did you meet her?”
“Yes. Ehm . . . interesting woman.” There was a mug on the ground beside him, still half full of beer; I could smell the yeast and bitter hops. He picked it up and seemed to be debating whether to drink it or pour it over his head, but in the event took a gulp and set it down.
“I—we—wanted him to come with us. Of course there was the risk, but we’d managed to find enough gemstones, I thought we could make it, all together. And . . . his wife is here.” He waved vaguely toward the distant forest. “In America, I mean. Now.”
“I . . . dimly recall that, from your genealogy.” Though experience had taught me the limits of belief in anything recorded on paper.
Roger nodded, drank more beer, and cleared his throat, hard. His voice was hoarse and cracking from tiredness.
“I take it you forgave him for—” I gestured briefly at my own throat. I could see the line of the rope and the shadow of the small scar I’d left there when I did an emergency tracheotomy with a penknife and the amber mouthpiece of a pipe.
“I loved him,” he said simply. A faint smile showed through the black stubble and the veil of tiredness. “How often do you get the chance to love someone who gave ye their blood, their life, and them never knowing who ye might be, or even if ye’d exist at all?”
“Well, you do take chances when you have children,” I said, and laid a hand gently on Jem’s head. It was warm, the hair unwashed but soft under my fingers. He and Mandy smelled like puppies, a sweet, thick animal scent, rich with innocence.
“Yes,” Roger said softly. “You do.”
Rustling grass and voices behind us heralded the return of the engineers—they were deep in a discussion of indoor plumbing.
“Aye, maybe,” Jamie was saying, dubious. “But I dinna ken if we can get all the things ye’ll need for it before the cold weather comes. I’ve just started digging a new privy, though; that’ll see us through for the time being. Then in the spring . . .”
Brianna said something in reply that I didn’t catch, and then they were there, caught in the fire’s halo, so alike to look at with the light glimmering on their long-nosed faces and ruddy hair. Roger stirred, getting his feet under him, and I stood up carefully, Mandy limp as her rag doll, Esmeralda.
“It’s wonderful, Mama,” Bree said, and hugged me to her, her body strong and straight and softly powerful, encompassing me, Mandy between us. She held me tight for a moment, then bent her head and kissed my forehead.
“I love you,” she said, her voice soft and husky.
“I love you, too, darling,” I said around the lump in my throat, and touched her face, so tired and radiant.
She stepped back then and took Mandy from me, swinging her up against a shoulder with practiced ease.
“Come on, pal,” she said to Jem, gently nudging him with the toe of her boot. “It’s time for bed.” He made a sleepy, interrogative noise and half-lifted his head, then collapsed again, soundly asleep.
“Dinna fash, I’ll get him.” Roger waved Jamie away and, stooping, rolled Jem into his arms and stood up with a grunt. “D’ye mean to go down, too?” he asked. “I can come back and take care of the fire, as soon as I’ve put Jem down.”
Jamie shook his head and put an arm around me.
“Nay, dinna trouble yourself. We’ll maybe sit awhile and see the fire out.”
They moved off slowly down the hill, shambling like cattle, to the accompaniment of clanking noises from Brianna’s bag. The Higgins cabin, where they’d spend the night, showed as a tiny glimmer in the dark; Amy must have lit a lamp and pulled back the hide that covered the window.
Jamie was still holding the chisel in his hand; eyes fixed on his daughter’s disappearing back, he raised it and kissed it, as he’d once kissed the haft of his dirk before me, and I knew this, too, was a sacred promise.
He put the chisel away in his sporran and took me in his arms, my back to him, so we could both watch them out of sight. He rested his chin on top of my head.
“What are ye thinking, Sassenach?” he said softly. “I saw your eyes; there are clouds in them.”
I settled against him, feeling his warmth a bulwark at my back.
“The children,” I said, hesitant. “They—I mean, it’s wonderful that they’re here. To think we’d never see them again, and suddenly . . .” I swallowed, overcome by the dizzying joy of finding myself—finding us—once again and so unexpectedly part of that remarkable thing, a family. “To be able to see Jem and Mandy grow up . . . to have Bree and Roger again . . .”
“Aye,” he said, a smile in his voice. “But?”
It took a moment, both to gather my thoughts and to put them into words.
“Roger said that something bad had happened, in their own time. And you know it must have been something truly terrible.”
“Aye,” he said, his voice hardening a little. “Brianna said the same. But ken, a nighean, they’ve lived in this time before. They do know, I mean—what it’s like, what it will be like.”
The ongoing war, he meant, and I squeezed his hands, clasped about my middle.
“I don’t think they do,” I said softly, looking down across the broad cove. They had vanished into the darkness. “Nobody knows who hasn’t been there.” To war.
“Aye,” he said, and held me, silent, his hand resting on my side, over the scar of the wound made by a musket ball at Monmouth.
“Aye,” he said again after a long moment. “I ken what ye’re saying, Sassenach. I thought my heart would burst when I saw Brianna and kent it was really her, and the bairns . . . but for all the joy of it . . . see, I missed them cruelly, but I could take comfort in thinking they were safe. Now—”
He stopped and I felt his heart beating against me, slow and steady. He took a deep breath, and the fire popped suddenly, a pocket of pitch exploding in sparks that disappeared into the night. A small reminder of the war that was rising, slowly, all around us.
“I look at them,” he said, “and my heart is suddenly filled with . . .”
“Terror,” I whispered, holding tight to him. “Sheer terror.”
“Aye,” he said. “That.”