Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, the last book (10) excerpts

Excerpts:




William and family

William opened his eyes and lay still.  He’d got used to not knowing quite where he was upon wakening, save when he slept in the woods.  Woods at night are mysterious places, and his inner ear heard sounds all night, some deep part of his brain evidently recognizing and dismissing things like wind through leaves, the falling of acorns or the patter of rain on the canvas of his lean-to, but still sensitive enough to apprise him of the heavy pad of a walking bear nearby—to say nothing of the branches snapping in its path.

The result of this behavior on the part of his brain was to keep him aware of his circumstances all night, even if he never woke all the way, and thus unsurprised at dawn.

He’d slept like a log last night, though, worn out from his journey, plied with good, hot food and as much alcohol as he could drink.  His memory of going to bed was confused, but he was lying now on the floor of an empty room—he lay on a ticking of some sort, but felt the smooth boards under his hands, something warm over him.  Light filtered through a burlap-covered window…

And quite suddenly, the thought was just there in his mind, without warning.

  _I’m in my father’s house_.

“Jesus,” he said aloud, and sat up, blinking.  All of the day before came flooding back, a jumble of effort, sweat and worry, climbing through forest and cliffs, and finally seeing a large, handsome house emerge, its glass—glass.  In this wilderness?--windows twinkling in the sun, incongruous amid the trees.

He’d pushed  himself and the horse past fear and fatigue, and then--there he was, just sitting on the porch.  James Fraser.

There had been other people on the porch and in the yard, but he hadn’t noticed any of them.   Just him.  Fraser.  He’d spent miles and days deciding what to say, how to describe the situation, frame his request—and in the end, had simply ridden right up to the porch, breathless, and said, “Sir, I need your help.”




 William tells the story

Jamie glanced at me, then fixed his gaze on William.

“So his lordship is—to the best o’ your knowledge—being held aboard a ship called _Palace_, in the hands of a man called Richardson, whom ye ken yourself as a right bastard who’s tried to kill _you_ more than once—and now he’s said he means to kill Lord John?”

“Yes.”

“But ye dinna ken why he should want to do that?”

William rubbed his hands hard over his face and shook his head.

“I told you what bloody Wainwright told me.  How would I know whether it’s the truth?  It sounds--”  He flung out his hands in  a violent, hopeless gesture.

Jamie and I exchanged a quick glance.  How, indeed?  It sounded like insanity to William; it sounded much worse to me, and to Jamie.

Jamie cleared his throat and set both hands on his desk.

“I suppose that bit doesna really matter, aye?  Whether we believe it or not, I mean.  The only thing to do is to find where his lordship is, and get him back.”

It was said so simply that I smiled, despite the situation, and William’s bunched shoulders dropped a little.

“You make it sound so easy,” he said.  His voice was still dry, but the note of strain in it had gone.

“Mmphm.  How long have ye been on the road, lad?”

“Don’t call me ‘lad’,” William said, automatically.  “Two months, more or less.  Looking for my fa—for Lord John, or for my uncle.  I can’t find _him_, either.

”He’d dropped his haversack on the floor beside his chair, and now dipped a hand into it and came out with a wodge of stained and folded papers, which he dropped on Jamie’s desk, letting out a sigh as he did so, as though the papers weighed heavily in his hand.

“Aye. Well, twenty-four hours willna alter your prospects of findin’ either one,” Jamie said, eyeing the papers. “ Eat, wash, and rest now.  We’ll talk more, and lay our plans tomorrow.”

He turned his head to look out the window, then glanced thoughtfully back at William.  It was  late afternoon, but the yard and the nearby trees were still alive with people celebrating the wedding of the Hardmans and Higgenses that had taken place in the morning, and I could tell what he was thinking.  So could William.

“Who do you mean to tell…them—” he nodded toward the window, “—that I am?  A lot of them saw me.  And Frances knows.”

Jamie leaned back a little, looking at his son.   _His son_, and I felt, rather than saw, the warmth that touched him at the thought.

“Ye dinna have to say who ye are.”  He caught William’s skeptical glance at his face.  “We’ll say you’re--my cousin Murtagh’s lad, if ye like.”

 I swallowed a startled laugh that went down the wrong way, and two pairs of dark blue eyes looked austerely down two long, straight noses at me.

“I’ve done with lies,” William said abruptly, and shut his mouth, hard.  Jamie gave him a long, thoughtful look, and nodded.

“There’s no way back from the truth, ken?”

“I don’t have to speak Scotch, do I?”

“I’d pay money to see ye try, but no.”  He took a deep breath and glanced at me.  “Just say your mother was English, and she’s dead, God rest her soul.”

“If anyone asks,” I said, trying to be reassuring.  Jamie made a brief Scottish noise.

“They’re Scots, Sassenach,” he said.  “Everyone will ask. They just may not ask _us_.”

Music was beginning to gather, fiddlers and drummers and zitherers coming down from the woods; there would be dancing as soon as it grew dark.

 “Ye’re tired and hungry, _a bhalaich_,” Jamie said, looking up from the scattered sheets of paper, “and I dinna think ye want company just now.”  He nodded slightly, indicating the noises coming through the open window.  “Go upstairs, aye?   To the third floor—there’s no one staying up there at present; ye can hear yourself think and rest for a bit.  Someone will bring ye a _greim-bidh_, aye?”

“A snack,” I added, smiling.  “Though perhaps you’ll want to wash first?”

William nodded, took a breath that went down to the soles of his boots, and stood up.

“Thank you, sir,” he said to Jamie, bowing slightly.

“Surely you needn’t go on calling him ‘sir’,” I said, glancing from one man to the other.  “I mean…not now.”

“Aye, he does,” Jamie said dryly.  “All the other things he might call me are things he can’t--or won’t. ‘Sir’ will do.”  Flicking a hand in dismissal of the matter, he rose from his chair, grimacing slightly at the effort needed to do it without bracing himself with his hands.

“You know,” William said, in a conversational tone, “there was a time when you called _me_ “sir”.   He didn’t wait to see if there was a response to this, but went out and down the hall, his steps light on the boards.

“Why, you little _bastard_ !" I said, though I was more amused than shocked, and so was Jamie, from the twitch at the corner of his mouth.  “Fine thing to say to someone you’ve just asked for help!”

“Aye, well, I suppose it depends who ye say it to.”  Jamie lifted one shoulder and dropped it.  “He was six, the last time I called him that.”




Bree and Fanny in the stables

 Davy let out a resounding belch and dribbled slightly.  

“That it?  Good.”  Brianna deftly wiped the dribble with the end of her kerchief, then did up her buttons one-handed and stood up.   They’d been sitting on a rock overlooking the creek, enjoying the momentary sense of solitude after the hullaballoo of the wedding.  She could still hear the music and the muffled roar of talk, like distant surf, but it mingled with the rushing creek and lost its meaning.

“Do you think hullaballoo is a word now?” she asked Davy, hoisting him up onto her shoulder.  “It was, in the sixties, where I came from.  I’ll tell you all about it when you’re older.  I think I heard Grandpa say “baloo” a few days ago, but I don’t know what he meant by it.”
“Gah,” said Davy agreeably.
“Right you are,” she said.  “We’ll ask him.  Where do you think he is?  I saw him on the porch, but then he disappeared.”

She didn’t care that much about hullaballoos, from whichever century, but had it in mind to hand Davy to her father, who was frequently immobilized, whether by his knee or her mother, and thus the perfect parking place for a large, healthy infant while said infant’s mother had a few private moments.  Privy first, then water.  Lots of water.  Nursing left her as thirsty as an island castaway, and she licked dry lips at thought of cold well-water.

They came down the slope toward the house, but she stopped to poke her head into the stable, in case her father should be there.  He wasn’t there, but Fanny was, rubbing down a big bay horse  with very dirty legs, and—to Brianna’s surprise—singing “Clementine” to him.
“Fed she duck-lings, on the wa-ter, every morrrning just at nine….Hit her foot a-gainst a splin-ter, fell intooo the foaming brine…”

The horse appeared to be enjoying this; his ears were pointed forward and he bent his neck obligingly so that Fanny could reach to detangle his mane.  He was quite a large horse.
“Ruby lips a-bove the wa-ter, blowing buuub-bles soft and fine…”  Brianna joined the song, patting Davy’s back in rhythm.  “Alas for me, I was no swim-mer, so I lost my Clementine.”

“Oh, my darlin, oh, my darlin, oh my DAR-LIN Clementine.  Thou are lost, and gone for-ev-er, dreadful sor-reeee….Clementine!”  They finished together and dissolved in giggles.
“You have a really good voice, Fanny,” Bree said, recovering.  “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you sing before.”
“Oh.  I, um…”  Fanny blushed and shrugged, turning back to the horse’s mane to hide her face.  “I—didn’t want to—I mean, I—I…don’t like people to notice me.”
“I see.”  She did, and her heart squeezed a little.  Most people on the Ridge had no idea that Fanny had grown up in a brothel.  Bree imagined that being noticed in a brothel might be dangerous, especially for a very young girl.  She let the subject drop, though, and brought Davy up closer to the horse’s head, though keeping a safe distance.
“See the horsie, baby?” she said to him.  “Pretty horsie!  Whose horsie is that, do you think?   Does he have a name?” she added, glancing at Fanny, whose blush immediately grew deeper.

 “His name ith—is—Trajan,” she blurted.  “He’s William’s.”
“William…?  Who—what, you don’t mean, William, err…Lord Ellesmere?”
“He won’t use that name anymore, he says.”  Fanny’s cheeks were rosy, but no longer flaming.  “I don’t know what name he wants, now, but I think he’s keeping William, at least.”

 Bree waved that aside.  Her heart was beating high, and Davy squirmed, trying to curl up into a ball.  She hoicked him up to her shoulder and patted his back, moving carefully round the horse in order to get closer to Fanny.
“Do you know what he does want?” she asked, lowering her voice even though there was no one near enough to hear.  “I mean, why is he here?”
Fanny shook her head.
“I don’t know.  I just heard noises on the porch and when I came to look, there was William coming up the steps with Mr. Fraser.   They went to the study, and your mother went with them.  William asked me to look after Trajan.”  There was an unmistakable note of pride in her voice.
“Wait—when did he tell you he wasn’t using his title anymore?”

The blush surged back, and Fanny bent to souse her rag in the bucket before returning to an energetic washing of Trajan’s hindquarters, which were heavily splashed with mud.
“Um.  He didn’t.  He didn’t tell _me_, I mean.  I went back to the kitchen to get some more rags and I…heard him.  In the study.  Somebody was coming, though, and I had to go on.”
Bree felt deeply envious; she would have loved to eavesdrop on a conversation—the first conversation?—between her brother and their father.   Still, excitement rose in her and her over-sensitive nipples hardened and left small wet spots on her blouse.  Davy sniffed and made voracious growling noises, beginning to root, and she shifted him expertly, loosening the neck of her shift one-handed.
“You absolute wee _pig_,” she told him as she settled him at the breast again, and Fanny laughed.

“But he’s so _sweet_,” she protested.
“Pigs can be sw—  Well, maybe not pigs.   Little piglets, maybe.  Ow!  Don’t you dare bite me, you little…”

“But he doesn’t have any teeth!”

“Neither do snapping turtles,” Brianna said grimly.  Her milk had let down, though, and her irritation eased as Davy settled contentedly again into his milky suckling.
“What does William look like?  Was he wearing an army uniform?” She was dying to go down to the house and see him, but not with a baby clinging like a leech to one exposed, milk-engorged breast and the other leaking down her front.  
Fanny shook her head.
“He looks like a tramp,” she said frankly.  “Mother Abbott wouldn’t have let him in the back door of her house.”
“I imagine a brothel has higher standards than we do.  Does he look healthy, though?”
Fanny’s wide, fair brow creased briefly.
“Not exactly,” she said.  “He’s really thin.   And I don’t think he slept much last night; his eyes are red and have dark circles under them.”

Brianna was more than curious—and more than a little uneasy, too, despite her delight at hearing of William’s presence.
“Something theri-_serious_ must have happened, don’t you think?”  Fanny stepped back a little, squinting at the horse, who was munching hay with single-minded concentration.
 “I do think.”  She eyed Fanny, who was now cleaning one of the horse’s back hooves as though it were a piece of valuable silver.  No chance of her looking after Davy.  “I tell you what—we’ll go find out and tell you.”
 



Jamie's dream extended

[Jamie and Roger sitting outside the malting shed, discussing Jamie’s imminent departure to find Lord John.]

“Are you afraid?” he said. Jamie gave Roger a sharp look, but shrugged and settled himself before replying.

“Does it show?”

“Not on you,” Roger reassured him. “On Claire.”

Jamie looked astonished, but after a moment’s contemplation, nodded slightly.

“Aye, I suppose it does. She sleeps wi’ me, ken?” Evidently Roger’s expression didn’t show complete comprehension, for Jamie sighed a little and leaned back against the wall of the malting shed.

“I dream,” he said simply. “I can mind my thoughts well enough whilst I’m awake, but…ken, the Indians say the dream world is as real as this one? Sometimes I think that’s true—but I often hope it’s not.”

“You tell Claire about your dreams?”

Jamie grimaced briefly.

“Sometimes. Some...well, ye’ll maybe ken that sometimes it helps to open your mind to someone, when ye’re troubled, and some dreams are like that; just saying what happened lets ye step back from it. Ye ken it’s only a dream, as they say.”

“Only.” Roger said it softly, but Jamie nodded, his mouth relaxing a little.

“Aye.” They were silent for a few moments, and the sounds of the wind and the local birds kept them company.

“I’m afraid for William,” Jamie said abruptly. He hesitated, but added, in a low voice, “And I’m afraid for John. I dinna want to think of the things that might—might be done to him. Things I may not be able to save him from.”

Roger glanced at him, trying not to look startled. But then he realized that Jamie didn’t avoid things, nor the mention of them. He had simply accepted the fact that Roger knew the things that had been done to Jamie, and exactly why he might fear for his friend.

“I wish I could go with you,” he said. It was impulsive, but true, and a genuine smile lighted Jamie’s face in response.

“I do, too, _a Smeoraich. But the folk here need ye—and they’ll need ye a good deal more, should I not come back.”

Roger found himself wishing that Jamie _would_ avoid some things now and then, but reluctantly conceded that things must be said now, no matter how uncomfortable. So he answered the question Jamie hadn’t asked.

“Aye. I’ll mind them for ye. The family; the weans. And all your bloody tenants, too. I’m not milking your kine, though, nor yet looking after that damn sow and her offpsring.”

Jamie didn’t laugh, but the smile was still there.

“It’s a comfort to me, Roger Mac, to ken ye’ll be here, to deal wi’ whatever might happen. And things will.”

“Now _I’m_ afraid,” Roger said, as lightly as he could.

“I know.” Luckily Jamie didn’t expand on this, but turned to practicalities.

“_An Deamhan Gael_ can mind herself,” he assured Roger, referring—Roger thought—to the White Sow. “And wee Frances will take care for the kine. Oh—as for Frances herself--”

“I won’t let her marry anyone until you come back,” Roger assured him.

“Good.” Jamie let out his breath and his shoulders slumped. “I think I will. But the dead ha’ been talking to me.” He caught Roger’s lifted eyebrow. “Not—well, not only—my own dead. That’s often a comfort to me, should my Da or Murtagh or Ian Mor come by. Once in a long while…my mother.” That made him shy; he looked away. 

Roger made a small noncommittal sound and waited for a moment, then asked, “you said, not only your own dead…?”

“Ah.” Jamie straightened up and set his feet solidly in the dirt. “The others. Men I’ve killed. Sometimes killed for cause. Others—in battle. Strangers. Men who—” he broke off and Roger saw his whole body tighten. Jamie looked away, down the path that led to the lake, as though something might be coming. The feeling was so strong that Roger looked too, and was relieved to see no more than a small covey of quail dust-bathing under a bush.

“Jack Randall came to me, two nights ago.”

Roger’s stomach contracted so suddenly that he said “Oof!” out loud. Jamie stared at him, then laughed.

“Aye, that’s what I said, too,” he assured Roger. “A few other things, besides, but I wilna repeat them wi’ Jemmy in earshot.”

There was a long pause, filled with birdsong from the trees that shaded the malting shed, punctuated by the distant cries of ravens.

“I suppose,” Roger said at last, “that it doesn’t matter what you said to him—but what did he say to you? Did he speak?”

Jamie looked down at the ground, and Roger could see the pulse beating at the side of his neck.“No. He just laughed.”



Extended William and Jamie on the road

They stopped for the night near a small creek, having passed the afternoon in silence, and made camp and ate, with no more than the occasional grunt of inquiry and acknowledgement while sharing out the last of the cheese, hard-cooked eggs, and soaking the last of the rock-hard journeycake in the last of the cider.

Finally, William cleared his throat, and Fraser looked at him, one bushy brow cocked.

“We’re following them, aren’t we?”

“There’s only the one road,” Fraser pointed out.  “I’d prefer they not be following _us_. And they’ve at least a day’s head start, thank God.”

“True.  But still.”

“Still?”

“That prayer,” William blurted.  “To Saint Michael.  ‘Defend us in battle.’  That wasn’t for the—the dead man and his sons; you said a prayer in Gaelic when we buried them.”

“Aye.  It’s called “Soul Leading”—ye say it for a person who’s killed unexpectedly and maybe didna have time to consider his soul and set his mind for the journey onward.”

“Oh.”  William found that oddly…not reassuring; there was nothing reassuring in the events of the day—but perhaps…consoling?   The notion that one might actually be able to do something for a dead person, other than merely disposing of their remains, was novel, but somewhat comforting.  Still…

“So the prayer to St. Michael.  Was that for the family, too?”

Fraser made one of his subterranean noises, with what William thought was a tinge of humor.

“No, that one was for us, _a bhalaich_.”

It was nearly dark, and Fraser picked up one of the sticks they’d gathered, broke it in pieces and added them carefully to the fire.   The flames swarmed the dry wood and flared high, throwing the man’s face into planes of light and shadow, tinted red.

“I ken ye’re a bonny fighter,” Fraser said casually.  “Saw ye on the battlefield, aye?  And I’ve seen the way ye move, and handle your sword.”  He shoved the last piece of wood into its place and straightened up, turning to William.

“A battle’s not a war, ken?” he said quietly.  He turned his head and lifted his chin, indicating the silent ruin in the darkness high above.  “That’s war.”

 


To remember Claire 

 “So,” I said, sitting up. “You’re proposing to go off for some unknown period of time, to unknown places, to do unknown things that are likely bloody dangerous, fortified only by your memories of my hands and my bottom?”

“They’ll be my shield and buckler,” he assured me, straight-faced.

“What _is_ a buckler? I’ve always wondered.”

“It’s something like a targe,” he said, reaching for his shirt. “A bittie round shield. About the size of your arse,” he added helpfully.

“I’ve _seen_ targes, you know,” I said, somewhat coldly.

“Have ye ever sat on one?”

“No. Have you?”

 “Aye, many times. Comes in handy, if you’re tired to death and out in the wet or havin’ to eat your supper in the snow. Mind,” he added fairly, bending to pick up his kilt off the floor, “ye canna do that if ye’ve got one o’ the fancy ones wi’ a spike in the middle. I couldna afford one o’ those, though—not at the time.”

 _Not at the time_. I rather thought the last time he’d held a targe would have been at Culloden. I felt the expected pang at the thought of that—but for once, the memory was tempered by another. He’d come back from that battle. _And a good many others_. And at least this search would keep him off battlefields. I hoped.

I slid off the table as he turned round, and put my arms around him, comforted by his solid warmth and the taste of salt on his skin.

“I’ll remember your hands, too,” I said. “If I recall what Roger was saying in church last month, though, that psalm says, “His truth shall be your shield and buckler.” If a buckler _is_ a shield, why do you need another?”

“To guard against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Sassenach,” he said, and kissed my brow. “A targe is for swords and knives. The close work, aye?”




Savannah 

They reached Savannah mid-morning, having ridden through swales of greening rice paddies and patches of sprouting farmland, dotted with men and women working, now and then with the assistance of a mule.  The horses were eager, sensing the imminence of food, and Jamie felt much the same.  There was urgent work to be done, of course, but they’d finished what food they had the day before yesterday

"What d’you want to eat first?”  William asked.  The boy was almost standing in his stirrups with anticipation.  “Shrimp and grits?  Redfish fried in cornmeal?”

“Frog-legs,” Jamie said, smiling.  “And fried oysters.  Though I wouldna mind a good thick Brunswick stew to go along.  And beer.  A lot of beer.”

Conversation devolved into a desultory argument over the merits of alligator as an ingredient of stew, but the boom of a nearby cannon both interrupted the talk and made the horses curvet and dance.

“[steh – Gaelic]!” Jamie said, jerking his horse’s head right round until it was almost in his lap.  “Settle, ye gomerel.  Surely ye’ve heard guns before?”

“Possibly not cannon,” William observed, having brought Trajan—who had heard cannon before--to a proper sense of his duty with little difficulty.  “That’s the noon gun, though,” he said, leaning forward to speak into the horse’s pricked ears.  “It won’t happen again.  Until tonight, at least,” he added, straightening in the saddle.  “Commander Archibald decided to use a single gun at sunset, rather than have drummers marching through the streets to sound the evening retreat; perhaps they may still be doing it.”

William spoke casually, but Jamie saw the lad’s shoulders tighten under his coat.

“D’ye ken whether Archibald is still here?” he asked, keeping his voice as neutral as he could.  The day was warm, but a sudden chill raised the hairs on his neck, with the memory of a lovely girl dead by her own hand in the middle of the night, in a dark room reeking of her blood and spilt beer—because of Commander Archibald.

William shot him a quick glance.

“No,” he said.  “But I hope he is.”

The lad’s color was high, and his hands clenched on the reins.  Jamie leaned over and took hold of Trajan’s bridle, drawing them both to a momentary halt.

“I ken what ye mean,” he said evenly, “and I’ll help ye do it.   But we canna risk drawing that kind o’ notice until we’ve done what we came to do.  We were too late for Frances’s sister; we willna be too late for Lord John.”

William gave him back a level look, but he saw the lad’s pulse, hammering at the side of his throat.

“We will not,” William said, and drawing up his reins, nudged Trajan into motion.

         

                                          


Reading the Trail

[POTENTIAL SPOILERS!]

Example of (William’s) Internals – NB:  I’m not marking any of William’s observations of Jamie, because while as thoughts, they’re certainly internal <g>, they’re essentially just a means of rendering the conversation that they’re having, even though part of it is unspoken.

Fraser was pushing their pace; only slightly, but William _felt the sense of urgency in it_.  When they paused for food and to water the horses, he saw Fraser hobble his horse and then step back into the woods.  _To take a piss, he assumed_, but unless the man was suffering from some indignity of age, he was taking a good deal more time about it than one would need to deal with a full bladder—and _so far as he’d seen, Fraser suffered no such impediment_.

“What are you doing?” he asked bluntly, when Fraser returned.  “Or rather, what were you doing, just now?

“Readin’ the trail,” Fraser answered without hesitation.  He sat down with a sigh and opened the sack of provisions, from which he removed a bit of cheese wrapped in cheesecloth, much diminished by the appetites of the last three days.   Fraser cut it scrupulously in half and handed William one of the crumbling chunks.

“For what?” William asked _curiously_.   The road had narrowed and deteriorated, but was still very passable, with ruts running along a thick center stripe of burgeoning grass and wildflowers.  “Do you have it in mind to hunt something for the pot?”  The cheese had a tangy, lubricious scent _that made his belly rumble_, and _he knew there was precious little else in the bag_.

“Not for the pot, no.”  Fraser swallowed the last of his cheese, licked his fingers and poked his long nose into the bag, sniffing.  He made a small pleased sound and drew out the end of a dried sausage of some sort, from which he cut a large piece that he passed to William.

Appearing to notice _William’s raised brow_, he paused with his own share in his hand.

“The villains who burnt that cabin are still before us,” he said.  “I want to catch them up, until I see if they have the woman with them.  If not, they can go and find their own doom.  Such men always do.”

 “And if they do?  Have her, I mean.”

Fraser shrugged briefly, and swallowed.

“Then doom will find them a bit sooner, I expect.”

The sausage was unexpectedly spicy, tasting not only of black pepper but something more exotic, that reminded him of  Italy.  It was tough and chewy, and it took a few moments for William to consume it.  The more so, as his belly was slowly tightening_.

“You take it personally,” he said.  “This woman.”




Leaving the Ridge 

 Rather to William’s surprise, Fraser appeared for departure clad in a faded kilt with a ragged hem, this worn with a hunting shirt shadowed with ancient blood-stains, and a belt from which depended an assortment of weaponry and a small goatskin bag whose purpose was a mystery. Tartan stockings and a cartridge box hung from a strap over his shoulder completed the ensemble.

 “Camouflage,” Fraser said with a shrug, answering William’s look.

 “What?”

 “Oh.” Fraser was evidently taken aback for a moment, and his face reflected an extraordinarily rapid series of uninterpretable thoughts. “It’s, ah…from the French, I think. _Camouflet_, ye ken that one?

 “I don’t, no. What does it mean?”

 “Aye, well—a ¬_camouflet_ is a whiff of smoke that ye blow in someone’s face. Camouflage just means ye want folk not to notice what ye are or ask what ye’re up to.”

 “And…_that_ is camouflage, is it?” William asked skeptically, gesturing at Fraser’s kilt. “You look like a bandit.”

 Fraser smiled.

 “Aye. And what would ye do, if ye met a bandit on the road? Stop and ask him his business?”

 “I take your point.”

 As he spoke the words, he had a sudden odd qualm and a coldness down his jaw.

Fraser’s smile changed to a look of mild concern.

 “What is it, lad, are ye taken queer?”

 “I—no,” William said abruptly. “I’m fine. And what, may I ask, am I meant to be, if you’re a bandit? Your accomplice?”

 “If necessary,” Fraser said, “but I suppose ye could be my prisoner, in case of need. There’s a bit o’ rope in my saddlebags.”

 “Jesus,” William muttered, and Fraser laughed. The man was in bloody high spirits, for someone snatched away from hearth and home to go off on what anyone might legitimately call a crackbrained venture.

 Mother Claire appeared at this point, with several packages in her arms, and Frances behind her, similarly burdened.

 “Food for the day,” Mother Claire said, handing her husband a cloth bag that smelled pleasantly of cheese, cold meat, fresh journey-cake and dried fruit. “Food for tomorrow,” and she handed William a similar bag. “And after that, you’re on your own for nourishment.”

 “What’s this?” William asked, as she handed him a cloth-wrapped bundle that didn’t smell of food.

 “Bandages,” she replied succinctly.

 “Ah. I’m sure those will be helpful,” he said, gingerly stuffing the bundle in his haversack.

 “I really hope not,” she said, giving him a bleak look. “But I’ve known your father far too long to have illusions.”

 “What about drink?” Fraser interrupted, with what even William could see was mock innocence.

 “Just here,” Frances said, with modest triumph, and handed over two similar bags, these clinking and sloshing as they moved. She met William’s eye with a tranquil face—no trace of what had happened in the stable half an hour before.  

 The qualm fluttered through him once again, but this time he knew what it was. _Jane_. Standing just behind his shoulder.

 “_I take your point_,” he’d said to her, once.

 “_Well, that’s a novelty_,” she’d replied. “_It’s usually the other way round_.”

 “Goodbye, Frances,” he said abruptly, and turned to mount his horse, consciously not looking as Fraser took farewell of his wife.



Burned cabin 

William stood still, listening as he slowly wiped soot from his fingers; the leaves and fruit of the apple trees had escaped burning, but not the clouds of smoke that must have rolled out of the burning cabin.

 Who had lived here? He wondered.  Had it been at night, the place caught afire from a careless spark from the fireplace?  Or maybe a cooking accident, where the woman of the house caught her apron alight and in her agitation, chucked it away onto something flammable?

 He wandered round the empty shell of the house, breathing the thick air in tiny sips through his mouth.   There was a garden in the back, the tender green sprouts trampled and scorched, blackened, like the apples, with soot.

 After a bit, Fraser emerged from the trees, a grubby cloth in his hand that proved to be the apron William had been envisioning, calico sprigged with pink flowers.  It was heavily splotched, but not with soot or charring—he knew the rusty stains of dried blood, and a quiver ran down his backbone at the sight.

 “They’ve gone,” Fraser said, folding the garment.

 “The people who lived here?”

 “Nay, they’re still here.  In the forest.  The men who killed them are gone.  Or at least I hope so,” he added.

 “I…Yes,” William said.  His lips felt suddenly cold, and his stomach was a heavy ball.

 Lacking a shovel, the best they could do was to lay out the remnants—animals had come—in what decency was possible, and cover them with rocks.  A man and two young boys.

 “They’ll have taken the woman,” Fraser said, his voice bleak.  “And girls, if there were any.”

 A flood of saliva hit the back of William’s throat.  He spat repeatedly, afraid he might vomit.

 “That—”  He stopped, swallowed hard.  “Can we…follow them?  Perhaps get her—them—back?”

 Fraser shook his head.

 “The bones are stripped and dry, corbies have taken the eyes and soft bits .  And the air still stinks but the ashes of the house are cold as stone.  They’ve been dead for some days—a week, maybe.   And if the villains took the woman to use, she’s likely dead by now, as well.”  He looked down at the blood-splotched apron in his hands, as though suddenly noticing it.  He hesitated for a moment, then wrapped the strings around the folded garment and tucked it into his saddle bag.

 “If we come across anyone on the road, or another house, maybe, it might be that they’d recognize it,” he said.  “We’d have a name for the family, at least.”

 William nodded, and got up on his horse, though to his surprise his hands were shaking and he had a moment’s trouble with the reins.

 Fraser mounted as well, but paused for a moment, reins in hand.  

 “Blessed Michael, Archangel,” he said, “defend us in battle.”  It wasn’t said with any special force, but in the way one might talk to a respected acquaintance face to face, and William blinked

 “Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who prowl the world, seeking the ruin of souls.  Amen.”

 He glanced at William, who managed a quick, “Amen!” in response, though the prayer itself left the hairs prickling on the back of his neck, and he couldn’t help but glance back as they rode away, the ruin of the little house in the orchard still and dreadful in the quiet sun.

 _Someone_ ought to thrust into hell the men who had done this, he thought.


                             


Three Musketeers

 “What are you thinking?” I asked. “I know it’s about William.”

 “Oh, aye?” Jamie glanced at me, mouth curled up at one side. “And what do I look like if I’m thinking of William?”

 “Like someone’s handed you a wrapped package and you’re not sure whether it’s something wonderful, or a bomb.”

 That made him laugh, and he put an arm around me and pulled me in close, kissing my temple. He smelled of day-old linen, ink and hay, and the dribble of honey that had dried down the front of his shirt, like tiny amber beads.

“Aye, well, one look at the lad and ye ken he’ll explode before too long,” he said. “I only hope he doesna damage himself doing it.”

 “Or you.”  

He shrugged comfortably.

“I’m no very breakable, Sassenach.”

“Says the man with four—no, _five_ bullet holes in his hide, to say nothing of enough surgical stitching to make a whole crazy quilt. And if we start counting the bones you’ve cracked or broken…”

“Ach, away—I’ve never broken anything important; just the odd finger. Maybe a rib, here or there.”

“_And_ your sternum and your left kneecap.”

He made a dismissive Scottish noise, but didn’t argue.

We stood for a bit, arms about each other, listening to the sounds outside. The younger children had fallen asleep under bushes or in their parents’ wagons, their happy screeching replaced by music and the laughter of the dancers, the clapping and calls of those watching.

“He came to me,” Jamie said quietly. He was trying to sound matter-of-fact, but he’d stopped trying to hide what he was feeling.

“He did,” I said softly, and squeezed his arm.

“I suppose there wasna really anyone else he _could_ go to,” he said, off-handed. “If he canna find his grace, I mean, and he couldna very well talk to anyone in the army, could he? Given that….” He stopped, a thought having struck him, and turned to me.

 “D’ye think he knows, Sassenach?”

“Knows what?”

“About—what he said. The…threat to Lord John. I mean--” he elaborated, seeing my blank look, “does he ken that it’s no just a canard.”

“A—oh.” I stopped to consider for a moment, then shook my head with decision. “No. Almost certainly not. You saw his face when he told us about what Richardson was threatening. He’d still have been scared—maybe _more_ scared, if he knew it wasn’t an empty threat—but he wouldn’t have looked the way he did.”

 “Anxious? Angry?”

 “Both. But anyone would be, wouldn’t they? Under the circumstances.”

 “They would. And…determined, would ye say?”

“Stubborn,” I said promptly, and he laughed.

 “A bomb for sure, then.”

The air had cooled with the setting of the sun. Now it was full dark and the mountain breathed, a lithe sense of spring in an air filled with night-blooming flowers and the resins of resting trees. It would be different on the coast. Still fresh, but strong with fish and seaweed, tar and wood and the tang of salt in everything.

I might have one more mountain night like this, maybe two or three, but likely not more. I breathed deep, resolved to enjoy it.  

 “When?” I asked.

 “If it were up to William, we’d already be gone,” Jamie said, drawing me closer. “I told him I must think, but meanwhile, preparations would be made; no time will be wasted. “ He glanced toward the window. With luck, Brianna and Roger Mac will have him drunk by now; he’ll sleep sound. He kens he’s safe,” he added, softly. “Or I hope so, at least.”

“I’m sure that he does,” I said, also softly, and rubbed his back, the scars invisible under his shirt. His children, his grandchildren. If only for a moment , here, together, in the place he had made. 

There was a break in the music, though the air was still full of talk and laughter. That died down now, though, and there were a few moments of silence before the faint sounds of a guitar drifted up from the distant bonfire. Then two voices, one rough and one smooth, weaving a song.

 _Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

 Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme…_

 My heart squeezed tight and so did my throat. I’d never heard Bree and Roger sing together. They must have done this before, though, in private; perhaps as an exercise to strengthen Roger’s voice.

 We stood in silence ‘til the song was over, listening to magic. I looked up at Jamie’s face, soft in the candlelight, his eyes far away. He didn’t hear music, as such, but I knew he felt the song anyway.

 As it ended in a rumble of shouts and applause, he cleared his throat and reached for a cup of water on the wash-stand.

 “I wasna sure which of them to take,” he said, after he’d drunk. “Roger Mac or Young Ian, I mean. But it will have to be Ian; Roger Mac’s needed here.”

 I nodded.

 “You, William and Ian. The three bloody Three Musketeers, is it?” I said, trying to make light of things. “What am I, then, D’Artagnan?”

 “Who’s D’Artagnan?” He gave me the sort of wary ‘now what’ look that was his response to most of the random observations made by the time-travelers in his family.

 I enlightened him, ending with “All for one, and one for all!”, brandishing my hairbrush like a sword.

 He stared at me.

 “You don’t think that’s romantic?” I lowered my weapon.

 “It sounds like a good way to get yourself killed. Any venture needs a leader, aye? And ye’re not going,” he concluded firmly. “The Ridge needs you as much as it does Roger Mac, and ye ken that perfectly well.”

 I stepped back a little, and ran my gaze slowly over his body, from crown to boot-sole, lingering on his left knee, and back up.

 “I do,” I said. “But you need me more, and you ken _that_ perfectly well. Besides, there’s Lord John. God knows what may have been done to him by the time you rescue him. Freedom won’t do him—or William-- much good if he dies on you, will it?”



Morning breakfast

 William washed his face—it was thick with stubble, but no point in trying to shave without mirror or soap—and made his way downstairs.

 The smell of food reached him at the top of the stairs and drew him down like a mosquito scenting blood, single-minded in his voracity.  And a good thing, too, he realized as he entered the kitchen.  He was so hungry that he’d suffered no hesitations regarding his welcome.

 In fact, while everyone at table turned to look at him, all the faces bore smiles, whether shy or broad, and he bowed to them, smiling back.

 “Good morning,” he said, and the smallest girl—Amanda, that was her name—giggled and pointed her spoon at him.  

 “Your beard looks like Grand-da’s!”

 A ripple of stifled amusement ran round the table, but before he could think of something to say, Mother Claire rose and took him by the sleeve, showing him to a place on the bench beside Frances, who looked up at him demurely.

 “I hope you thl-slept well?” she said.  Her cheeks were pink, but she met his eyes straight on, and he felt a slight jolt; her eyes were very much like Jane’s. 

 “Immensely well, I thank you,” he assured her.  A trencher appeared before him, piled with toast and bacon, and Amanda’s brother—James? No,  Jeremiah, Jem, that was it, a tall, red-haired boy, skinny as an oak sapling—shoved a pot of strawberry jam across the table.

 “What do we call him?” the boy asked, turning to his grandfather.  “Uncle Billy?”

William choked slightly on the mouthful of beer he’d just taken.  Frances, Claire, and the three little girls _all_ giggled, and he thought Fraser might have done as well, were he capable of making such a sound.  As it was, Fraser kept a relatively straight face, and replied, “Not unless he asks ye to.  ‘Til then, ye can call him Mr. Ransom, aye?”

 William cleared his throat.

 “You may call me William for the present, if you like,” he said to Jem.  “I haven’t had a great deal of practice in being an uncle, as yet.”

 “Don’t pester your uncle,” Mother Claire said, setting down a dish of succulent, glistening sausages, smelling of sage and onion, in front of William.  “Let him eat.”

 He ate like a ravening wolf, listening to the conversation with one ear, but making no effort to join it.  His cup was filled—and refilled—with the very good beer, and he finished the meal replete—well, stuffed like a goose—and wondering whether he might go find a tree to sleep under for a bit.

 “I’ll be goin’ to and fro on the Ridge today, fettling my tenants,” Fraser told him, brushing crumbs off his lap.  He handed a fragment of toast to the big bluetick hound who had been waiting patiently by his feet, and rose.  “D’ye want to come with me?”

 “I—yes.  I suppose so,” William replied, taken aback at the invitation.  He remembered Mac the groom saying “fettled,” with regard to grooming and feeding horses, but he supposed that Fraser merely meant that he proposed to tell his tenants that he would be gone for some time, and arrange for payment of rents to some factor.

 Fraser nodded.

 “Aye, good.  I’ll say you’re my son, though most of them will ken it already, after yesterday.”  He cocked a brow in question.  Was that agreeable to William?

 That made his full stomach drop another inch or two, but he nodded back.

 “Of course.  May I take time to shave?”

 “Aye.  Use the soap and basin in my room. It’s the one in front, on the left as ye go up.”

 The room was large and pleasant, the window opened for air, but screened with muslin to keep insects out, and the diffused light gave the room a pleasant, quiet feel, like being inside a cloud, despite the muffled racket from the kitchen below.  William found himself breathing shallowly, aware of the unfamiliar, intimate scent of the room.  The bed had not yet been made, and while the thrown-back sheets were clean, they held the faint, disturbing musk of recent bodies.

 If the intimacy of the Frasers’ bedroom was disturbing, the intimacy of using Mr. Fraser’s shaving soap was more so.  It was soft, white Castile soap, and smelled of olive-oil, but also of coriander and what he thought was marjoram, and…could that possibly be geranium-leaf?  He hadn’t seen or smelt a geranium plant since he left England, and it gave him a brief sense of dislocation, a vivid sense of his Aunt Minnie’s conservatory, redolent with foreign flowers and writhing exotic greenery.

 The thought made him feel more settled in himself.  No matter what the future held, he still had both a past and a present, and those must be sufficient to keep him in countenance for what might come.

 Refreshed and clean-shaven, he came downstairs, ready to see exactly what “fettling” might involve.




About to leave Ridge

[Notes:  This is NOT the beginning of the book.  And (historical footnote), the word “camouflage” didn’t exist until the early 19th century, which is why William doesn’t know it.   I don’t think there are really any spoilers in this, but use your own judgement.]

 Rather to William’s surprise, Fraser appeared for departure clad in a faded plaid with a ragged edge, this worn with a hunting shirt shadowed with ancient bloodstains, and a belt from which depended an assortment of weaponry and a small goatskin bag whose purpose was a mystery.  Homespun stockings and a cartridge box hung from a strap over his shoulder completed the ensemble.

 “Camouflage,” Fraser said with a shrug, answering William’s look.

 “What?”

 “Oh.”  Fraser was evidently taken aback for a moment, and his face reflected an extraordinarily rapid series of uninterpretable  thoughts.   “It’s, ah…from the French, I think.  _Camouflet_, ye ken that one?

 “I don’t, no.  What does it mean?”

 “Aye, well—_camouflet_ is a whiff of smoke that ye blow in someone’s face.  Camouflage just means ye want folk not to notice what ye are or ask what ye’re up to.” 

“And…_that_ is camouflage, is it?”  William asked skeptically, gesturing at Fraser’s kilt.  “You look like a bandit.”

 Fraser smiled.

 “Aye.  And what would ye do, if ye met a bandit on the road?  Stop and ask him his business?”

 “I take your point.”

 As he spoke the words, he had a sudden odd qualm and a coldness down his jaw.

 Fraser’s smile changed to a look of mild concern.

 “What is it, lad, are ye taken queer?”

 “I—no,” William said abruptly.  “I’m fine.  And what, may I ask, am I meant to be, if you’re taken for a bandit?  Your accomplice?”

 “If necessary,” Fraser said,  “but I suppose ye could be my prisoner, in case of need.  There’s a bit o’ rope in my saddlebags.”

“Jesus,” William muttered, and Fraser laughed.  The man was in bloody high spirits, for someone snatched away from hearth and home to go off on what anyone might legitimately call a crackbrained venture.

 _On the other hand_, he reflected, _maybe he’s glad to get away from his tenants_…

 Mother Claire appeared at this point, with several packages in her arms, and Frances behind her, similarly burdened.

 “Food for the day,” Mother Claire said, handing her husband a cloth bag that smelled pleasantly of cheese, cold meat and dried fruit.   “Food for tomorrow,” and she handed William a similar bag.  “And after that, you’re on your own for nourishment.”

 “What’s this?” William asked, as she handed him a cloth-wrapped bundle that didn’t smell of food.

 “Bandages,” she replied succinctly, and handed him a small wooden box.  “And medicines for diarrhea and constipation.”

 “Ah.  I’m sure those will be helpful,” he said, gingerly stuffing the medical items in his haversack.

 “I really hope not,” she said, giving him a bleak look.  “But I’ve known your father far too long to have illusions.”

 “What about drink?” Fraser interrupted, with what even William could see was mock innocence.

 “Just here,” Frances said, with modest triumph, and handed over two similar bags, these clinking and sloshing as they moved.  She met William’s eye with a tranquil face—no trace of what had happened in the stable half an hour before.  

 The qualm fluttered through him once again, but this time he knew what it was.  _Jane_.  Standing just behind his shoulder.

 “_I take your point_,” he’d said to her, once.

 _“Well, that’s a novelty_,” she’d replied.  “_It’s usually the other way round_.”

 “Goodbye, Frances,” he said abruptly, and turned to mount his horse, consciously not looking as Fraser took farewell of his wife.




Fanny being kissed

[Not really any spoilers here, but if you don’t want to know ANYTHING about Book Ten, you might want to beware.]

[In which William goes to the stable on Fraser’s Ridge to fetch his horse, before leaving with Jamie on their quest to find Lord John, and finds Fanny, who has been readying his horse for the journey.]

 Mildly surprised, William nevertheless bent courteously toward her, only to have her step back.

 “Not on the cheek,” she said. She sounded slightly breathless, but determined. “I’m not a little girl.”

 He realized, with an odd feeling that ran down his backbone like quicksilver, that she wasn’t. He took her hand, and bowed over it.

 “My apologies, Miss Pocock.” Her hand was quite warm in his, and surprisingly larger than he’d expected. Her fingers were long, supple and well-shaped—and they turned, moving between his own and grasping his hand.

 “And not that, either.”  

 He’d straightened up in surprise, but didn’t—not yet—pull his hand away.

“I’ve kissed men before, you know,” she said.

“Who?” he asked, not at all sure he wanted to know, but unable not to ask.

“I’ve been kissing men since I was five years old,” she said boldly, and he realized suddenly that while Jane had saved her sister from violation and defilement, there were other services a very young girl might be required to perform in a brothel.

He concealed his shock, though, asking lightly instead, “Oh? What about the tall Scottish chap that’s been skulking about looking daggers at me? Hasn’t he tried to kiss you?”

“Cyrus can’t skulk,” she said, without offense. “He’s much too tall. He didn’t have to ask. And you should be pleased it’s only looks. He’s a Highlander and a fisherman and he hasn’t punched you yet because I told him not to.”

“I appreciate your forbearance, Frances,” he said gravely. And not so gravely, took his hand from hers, and lifting her chin with a forefinger, bent again and kissed her lightly on the lips.

It lasted no more than a second or two, but long enough to leave a sense of softness and warmth.

“Goodbye, Frances,” he said, meeting her eyes, the soft yellow-brown of half-cured tobacco. “I’ll see you again.” And picking up his saddlebags, took [horse’s] rein and led him toward the daylight.

At the open door, though, he turned for a moment.

“Why did you do that?” he asked.

She was standing quite still in the shadows, the curry-comb hanging from her hand, and her eyes still on him.

“In case you don’t come back,” she said. “Often people don’t.”



William and Fanny

[In which William goes to the stable on Fraser’s Ridge to fetch his horse, before leaving with Jamie on their quest to find Lord John, and finds Fanny, who has been readying his horse for the journey.]

Mildly surprised, William nevertheless bent courteously toward her, only to have her step back.

 “Not on the cheek,” she said. She sounded slightly breathless, but determined. “I’m not a little girl.”

 He realized, with an odd feeling that ran down his backbone like quicksilver, that she wasn’t. He took her hand, and bowed over it.

 “My apologies, Miss Pocock.” Her hand was quite warm in his, and surprisingly larger than he’d expected. Her fingers were long, supple and well-shaped—and they turned, moving between his own and grasping his hand.

 “And not that, either.”  

  He’d straightened up in surprise, but didn’t—not yet—pull his hand away.

“I’ve kissed men before, you know,” she said.

“Who?” he asked, not at all sure he wanted to know, but unable not to ask.

“I’ve been kissing men since I was five years old,” she said boldly, and he realized suddenly that while Jane had saved her sister from violation and defilement, there were other services a very young girl might be required to perform in a brothel.

He concealed his shock, though, asking lightly instead, “Oh? What about the tall Scottish chap that’s been skulking about looking daggers at me? Hasn’t he tried to kiss you?”

“Cyrus can’t skulk,” she said, without offense. “He’s much too tall. He didn’t have to ask. And you should be pleased it’s only looks. He’s a Highlander and a fisherman and he hasn’t punched you yet because I told him not to.”

“I appreciate your forbearance, Frances,” he said gravely. And not so gravely, took his hand from hers, and lifting her chin with a forefinger, bent again and kissed her lightly on the lips.

It lasted no more than a second or two, but long enough to leave a sense of softness and warmth.

“Goodbye, Frances,” he said, meeting her eyes, the soft yellow-brown of half-cured tobacco. “I’ll see you again.” And picking up his saddlebags, took [horse’s] rein and led him toward the daylight.

At the open door, though, he turned for a moment.

“Why did you do that?” he asked.

She was standing quite still in the shadows, the curry-comb hanging from her hand, and her eyes still on him.

“In case you don’t come back,” she said. “Often people don’t.”



Jamie's choice of Roger

[William is conversing with Jamie in Jamie’s study, expressing some surprise at his choosing Roger to defend the Ridge while Jamie is gone, in such controversial times (he’s heard about what happened at Lodge Night, from Ian).]

 “I can’t say I know the Reverend MacKenzie well, but he is clearly a—a man of God. You’re sure he’s capable of handling…” He waved a hand toward the narrow window above the neat bookshelves, indicating the sunlit Ridge outside, with all its tenants, crops, servants, animals….

 Fraser gave him a faintly amused look.

“Aye, well. At least most o’ the tenants willna think he’s likely to collect a few men and come along by night to set their house ablaze or hang them in their own dooryard.”

 “And they think you _would_?” William blurted.

 “They’re no sure I wouldna,” Jamie said bluntly. “Ken this is a new-built house?” He lifted his chin, indicating the massive ceiling beams overhead, the wood raw and yellow, with small fragrant beads of oozing, half-dried sap along the edges. William stared at him.

 “Mind, it wasna the tenants who set fire to the last one. It was the neighbors—from Brownsville--who dragged me and my wife out of our home and tried to hang her and deport me to Scotland. But it _was_ some o’ my own tenants who tried to kill me later—in Lodge, no less—” He stopped abruptly, looked at William, then tapped his fingers on the desk; casually, but in a noticeable pattern.

 “No,” William said in answer. Papa had explained Freemasonry to him, but had never suggested that he join a Lodge, and he’d not felt a desire to do so.

 Fraser nodded, and went on.

 “This was nay more than last year, ken. I dealt wi’ the matter and there’s been nay bother since. I let some o’ them come back, for the sake of their wives and families—and because Harriett McIlhenny blackmailed me, the auld besom—but those that left the Ridge are likely still alive, and bear me a black grudge if they are.”

 “Why the devil did they want to kill you?” William asked, because it was the only straightforward question he could think of. His head wasn’t exactly spinning, but he could hear the blood beating in his ears.

 Fraser looked at him thoughtfully, and his fingers drummed softly on the table—though obviously as an aid to thought, rather than a Masonic identification.

 “Lad,” he said finally, “I’m a Highlander and a Papist. _ And_ a rebel, twice over. I ken ye know that, but ye maybe dinna ken that there are folk—and not all o’ them Englishmen—to whom my existence is a mortal offense.” One thick red eyebrow twitched up. “Ye could maybe have chosen a safer ally.”

 “Jesus. And—Mother Claire may be in danger, too--because of you?”

 That, strangely enough, made Fraser laugh.

“Nay, lad,” he said, shaking his head. “She can manage that on her own account. She’s known through all this neck o’ the woods—and a far piece beyond—as a conjure-woman. And to some folk, a healer who can cast folk into a deep sleep, or reach inside them to cure their ailments, is plainly a witch, and ye ken what the Bible says about _that_.”

 “What…you mean ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’?”   

 “Aye, that.” Fraser raised the eyebrow again. “Were ye taught your Bible? I ken neither Lord John nor his brother are what ye’d call godly men.”

 “They’re soldiers,” William said shortly.

 “So am I, lad,” Fraser said mildly. “And so are you.” He stopped, though, and leaned back a little, regarding William thoughtfully.

 “Ye dinna like it when I call ye ‘lad’, do ye? Shall I call ye William? Or Mr. Ransom?” His lips twitched, but the knot between William’s shoulder blades relaxed fractionally.

 “William will do.” He was—had been, for weeks—all too conscious of the last time he’d been obliged to ask James Fraser for help. Furious with his own helplessness when Fraser betrayed—he thought—hesitance at his request, he’d snapped, “Don’t bother—I’ll do it myself!”

 To which outburst Fraser had replied levelly, “_If ye thought ye could, lad, ye’d never have come to me_.”

 That objective assessment had burned at the time—it burned now, too. But Fraser had been right, then, and he was right now, though sufficiently courteous as not to mention the fact.

 William could only hope that things would end better, this time.



William sees Jamie's back

Jamie felt the crawling and slapped a hand hard over his ribs.  The slap numbed his flesh for a moment, but the instant it passed, he felt the tickle again—and in several places at once, including his—

 “[Gaelic curse]!  _Earbsa_!”

He ripped the flap of his breeks open and shoved them down over his legs, in time to catch the tick crawling toward his balls before it sank its fangs in him.  He snapped it away with a flick of a fingernail and jerked the collar of his sark up over his head.

 “Dinna go through the bushes!” he shouted from inside the shirt.  “They’re alive wi’ ticks!”   William said something, but Jamie didn’t catch it, his head enveloped in the heavy hunting shirt.  His skin was afire between the sweat and the crawling.

 He yanked the sark off and flung it away, scratching and slapping himself.   Ears now free, he heard the next thing William said.  Clearly.

 “Oh, Jesus.”  It wasn’t much more than a whisper, but the shock in it froze Jamie with realization.  By reflex, he bent, arm stretched out for his shirt, but it was too late.  Slowly, he stood up again.   A tick was trundling over the curve of his breast, just above the cutlass scar.  He reached to snap it off, and saw that his fingers were trembling.

He clenched his fist briefly to stop it, then bent his head, picked off three more of the wee buggers on his neck and ribs, then scratched his arse thoroughly, just in case, before pulling up his breeks.  His heart was racing and his wame was hollow, but there was naught to do about it.  He took a deep breath and spoke calmly, without turning around.

 “D’ye see any more of them on my back?”

 A moment’s silence, and a let-out breath. Crunching footsteps behind him and a faint sense of warmth on his bare back.

 “Yes,” William said.  “It’s not moving, I think it’s dug in. I’ll—get it off.”

 Jamie opened his mouth to say no, but then closed it.  William seeing his scars close to wasn’t like to make matters worse.  He closed his eyes instead, hearing the _shush_ of a knife being drawn from its sheath.  Then a large hand came down on his shoulder, and he felt his son’s breath hot on the back of his neck.  He barely noticed the prick of the blade or the tickle of a drop of blood running down his back.

 The hand left his shoulder, and to his surprise, he missed the comfort of the touch.  The touch came back an instant later, when William pressed a handkerchief below his shoulder blade, to stop the bleeding.

 A moment, and the cloth lifted, tickling his back.  He felt suddenly calm, and put on his shirt, after shaking it hard to dislodge any hangers-on.

 “_Taing_,” he said, turning to William.  “Ye’re sure ye’ve none on ye?”

 William shrugged, face carefully expressionless.

 “I’ll know soon enough.”

 They walked on without speaking until the sun began to touch the trees on the highest ridge.   Jamie had been looking out for a decent spot to camp, but William moved suddenly, nodding toward a copse of scrubby oaks near the top of a small hillock to the right.

 “There,” he said.  “Cover, we’ll have good sight of the trail, and there’s water coming down the side of that gravelly bit.”

 “Aye.”  Jamie turned in that direction, asking after a moment, “So, was it the army taught ye castrametation, or Lord John?”

 “A bit of both.”  William spoke casually, but there was a tinge of pride in his voice, and Jamie smiled to himself.

 They made camp—a rudimentary process involving naught more than gathering wood for a fire, fetching water from the rill and finding stones flat enough to sit on.  They ate the last of the bread and cold meat, and a couple of small, mealy apples pitted with the knots of insect chewing, and drank water, as there was nothing else.

 There was no conversation, but there was an awareness between them that hadn’t been there before.  Something different to their usual polite awkwardness, but just as awkward.

 _He wants to ask, but doesna ken how. I dinna want to tell him, but I will.  If he asks._

 As the dark deepened, Jamie heard a distant sound and turned his head sharply.  William had heard it too; rustling and shuffling below, and now a chorus of grunting and loud guttural noises that made it clear who the visitors were.

 He saw William turn his head, listening, and reach down for his rifle.  

 “At night?”  Jamie asked.   “There’s a dozen o’ them at least.  And if we killed one without being torn to bits by the rest, we’d leave most of it to the crows.  Ye really want to butcher a hog just now?”

 William straightened up, but was still listening to the pigs below.

 “Can they see in the dark, do you know?”

 “I dinna think they’d be walkin’ about now, if they couldn’t.  But I dinna think their sight is any better than ours, if as good.  I’ve stood near a herd o’ them, nay more than ten yards away—upwind, mind—and they didna ken I was there until I moved.  There’s naught amiss wi’ their ears, hairy as they are, and anything that can root out trubs has a better sense o’ smell than I have.”

 William made a small noise of amusement, and they waited, listening, ‘til the sounds of the wild hogs faded into the growing night sounds—a racket of crickets and shrilling toads, punctuated by the calling of night birds and owl-hoots.

 “When you lived in Savannah,” William said abruptly.  “Did you ever encounter a gentleman named Preston?”

 Jamie had been half-expecting a question, but not that one.

 “No, “ he said, surprised.  “Or at least I dinna think so.  Who is he?”

 “A…um…very junior undersecretary in the War Office.  With a particular interest in the welfare of British prisoners of war.  We met at a luncheon at General Prevost’s house, and then later that evening, to discuss…things…in more detail.”

 “Things,” Jamie repeated, carefully.

 “Conditions of prisoners of war, mostly,” William said, with a brief wave of the hand.  “But it was from Mr. Preston that I discovered that my father had once been governor of a prison in Scotland.  I hadn’t known that.”

 _Oh, Jesus_…

 “Aye,” Jamie said, and stopped to breathe.  “A place called Ardsmuir.  That’s where I first became acquainted—”  He stopped, suddenly recalling the whole truth of the matter.  _Do I tell him _that_?  Aye, I suppose I do…_

 “Aye, well, I met your father there, that’s true—though I’d met him some years before, ken.  During the Rising.”

 He felt a sudden prickle in his blood at the memory.

 “Where?” William asked, curiosity clear in his voice.

 “The Highlands.  My men and I were camped near the Carryarick  Pass—we were lookin’ out for troops bringin’ cannon to General Cope.”

 “Cope.  I don’t believe I recall the gentleman…”

 “Aye, well.  We--disabled his cannon.  He lost the battle.  At Prestonpans, it was.”  Despite the present situation, there was still a deep sense of pleasure at the recollection.

 “Indeed,” William said dryly.  “I hadn’t heard that, either.”

 “Mmphm.  It was your uncle, his grace, that was in charge of bringin’ the cannon, and he’d brought along his young brother to have a, um, taste of the army, I suppose.  That was Lord John.”

 “Young.  How old was he?” William asked curiously.

 “Nay more than sixteen.  But bold enough to try to kill me, alone, when he came across me sittin’ by a fire with my wife.”  Despite his conviction that this conversation wasn’t going to end well, he’d started, and he’d finish it, wherever it led.

 “He was sixteen,” Jamie repeated.  “Plenty of balls, but no much brain, ken.”

 William’s face twitched a little at that.

 “And how old were you, may I ask?”

 “Four-and-twenty,” Jamie said, and felt a rush of such unexpected feeling that it choked him.  He’d not thought of those days in many years, would have thought he’d forgotten, but no—it was all there in a heartbeat: Claire’s face in the firelight and her flying hair, his passion for her eclipsing everything, his men nearby, and then the moment of startlement and instant rage and pummeling a stripling on the ground, the dropped knife glinting on the ground beside the fire.

 And everything else—the war.  Loss, desolation.  The long death of his heart.

 “I broke his arm,” he said abruptly.  “When he attacked me.  He wouldna speak, when I asked where the British troops were, but I tricked him into saying.   Then I told my men to tie him to a tree where his brother’s men would find him…and then we went to deal wi’ the cannon.  I didna see his lordship again until--”  He shrugged.  “A good many years later.  At Ardsmuir.”

 William’s face was clearly visible in the firelight, and Jamie could plainly see interest war with caution, while the lad—_Christ, he’s…three-and-twenty?  Older than me when_…

 “Did he do it?” William asked abruptly.

 “What?”

 William made a small movement of one hand and nodded toward him.

 “Your…back.  Did Lord John do that…to you?”

 Jamie opened his mouth to say no, for all his memory had been focused on Jack Randall, but of course…

 “Part of it,” he said, and reached for his canteen on the ground, avoiding William’s eye.  “Not that much.”

 “Why?”

 Jamie shook his head, not in negation, but trying to organize his thoughts.

 “I made him,” he said, wondering  _What’s the matter wi’ me?  It’s the truth, but—_

 “Why?”  William asked again, in a harder tone of voice.  Jamie sighed deeply; it might have been irritation, but it wasn’t; it was resignation.

 “I broke a rule and he had me punished for it.  Sixty lashes. He didna have any choice, really.”

 William gave his own deep sigh and it _was_ irritation.

 “Tell me or don’t,” he said, and stood up, glaring down at Jamie.  “I want to know, but I’m not going to drag it out of you, God damn it!”   

 Jamie nodded, his immediate feeling of relief tainted by memory.  His back itched as though millions of tiny feet were marching over it, and the tiny wound burned.  He sighed.

 “I said I’d tell ye whatever ye wanted to know, and I will.  The Government outlawed the possession of tartan.   A wee lad in the prison had kept a scrap of his family’s tartan, for comfort—it wasna likely that any of us would see our families again.  It was found, and Lord John asked the lad was it his.   He—the lad, I mean—was no but fourteen or fifteen, small, and crined wi’ cold and hunger.  We all were.”  Memory made him stretch out his hands toward the fire, gathering the warmth.

 “So I reached over his shoulder and took the clootie and said it was mine,” he finished simply.   “That’s all.”



Roger takes over the Ridge

Jamie and Roger sitting outside the malting shed, discussing Jamie’s imminent departure to find Lord John.]

 “Are you afraid?” he said.  Jamie gave Roger a sharp look, but shrugged and settled himself before replying.

 “Does it show?”

 “Not on you,” Roger reassured him.   “On Claire.”

 Jamie looked astonished, but after a moment’s contemplation, nodded slightly.

 “Aye, I suppose it does.  She sleeps wi’ me, ken?” Evidently Roger’s expression didn’t show complete comprehension, for Jamie sighed a little and leaned back against the wall of the malting shed.

 “I dream,” he said simply.  “I can mind my thoughts well enough whilst I’m awake, but…ken, the Indians say the dream world is as real as this one?   Sometimes I think that’s true—but I often hope it’s not.”

 “You tell Claire about your dreams?”

 Jamie grimaced briefly.

 “Sometimes.  Some...well, ye’ll maybe ken that sometimes it helps to open your mind to someone, when ye’re troubled, and some dreams are like that; just saying what happened lets ye step back from it.  Ye ken it’s only a dream, as they say.”

 “Only.”  Roger said it softly, but Jamie nodded, his mouth relaxing a little.

 “Aye.” They were silent for a few moments, and the sounds of the wind and the local birds kept them company.

“I’m afraid for William,”  Jamie said abruptly.  He hesitated, but added, in a low voice, “And I’m afraid for John.  I dinna want to think of the things that might—might be done to him.  Things I may not be able to save him from.”

Roger glanced at him, trying not to look startled.  But then he realized that Jamie didn’t avoid things, nor the mention of them.  He had simply accepted the fact that Roger knew the things that had been done to Jamie, and exactly why he might fear for his friend.

“I wish I could go with you,” he said.  It was impulsive, but true, and a genuine smile lighted Jamie’s face in response.

“I do, too, _a Smeorach_.  But the folk here need ye—and they’ll need ye a good deal more, should I not come back.”

Roger found himself wishing that Jamie would avoid some things now and then, but reluctantly conceded that things must be said now, no matter how uncomfortable.  So he answered the question Jamie hadn’t asked.

“Aye.  I’ll mind them for ye.  Claire, and Bree and Ian and Rachel and the weans.  And all your bloody tenants, too.  I’m not milking your kine, though, nor yet looking after that damn sow and her offpsring.”

Jamie didn’t laugh, but the smile was still there.

 “It’s a comfort to me, Roger Mac, to ken ye’ll be here, to deal wi’ whatever might happen.  And things will.”

 “Now _I’m_ afraid,” Roger said, as lightly as he could.

 “I know.”  Luckily Jamie didn’t expand on this, but turned to practicalities.

“An Deamhan Gael can mind herself,” he assured Roger.  “And wee Frances will take care for the kine.  Oh—as for Frances herself--”

“I won’t let her marry anyone until you come back,” Roger assured him.

“Good.”  Jamie let out his breath and his shoulders slumped. “I think I will.  But the dead ha’ been talking to me.”  He caught Roger’s lifted eyebrow.  “Not—well, not only—my own dead.  That’s often a comfort to me, should my Da or Murtagh or Ian Mor come by.  Once in a long while…my mother.”  That made him shy; he looked away. 

 Roger made a small noncommittal sound and waited for a moment, then asked, “you said, not only your own dead…?”

“Ah.”  Jamie straightened up and set his feet solidly in the dirt.  “The others.  Men I’ve killed.  Sometimes killed for cause.  Others—in battle.  Strangers.  Men who—”  he broke off and Roger saw his whole body tighten.  Jamie looked away, down the path that led to the lake, as though something might be coming.  The feeling was so strong that Roger looked too, and was relieved to see no more than a small covey of quail dust-bathing under a bush.

“Jack Randall came to me, two nights ago.



Claire births a baby

 I uncurled the tiny fist to check again.  I’d caught only a glimpse, but…  By reflex,  I turned my left hand up and glanced at my own palm.  It was a maze of wandering lines: head, heart, life, love, fate—and dozens more caused by the daily wear of age and work.  A  net to catch an unknown future.

 But the twitching little starfish in my right hand was almost a blank slate, save for a single smooth, deep line across the upper palm. Only one.   The Merck Manual of Diagnosis called it a simian crease.

 The little fingers curled again, gripping my index finger.  Weak, but definitely a grasping reflex.  The birth had been easy—it was Mhairi MacDonald’s eighth labor, but things could go wrong with any birth.   Apgar scores were on the low side, but tolerable--with the exception of some of the other reflexes; I couldn’t get a Babinski reflex at all—and the muscle tone overall, which was…the baby gave a sort of floppy, convulsive movement that nearly spilled her off my lap and made a grunting squeak that wasn’t quite a cry.

 “Shh, sweetheart, I’ve got you…don’t worry, everything will be fine…”  I picked her up and cuddled her—small, but warm and solid, wrapped in her older brother’s shirt, for lack of a blanket—against my shoulder and glanced at the mother, a cold, heavy feeling in my chest.

 I knew.  Had known by the time I’d started  swabbing the little body with oil.  Not all the signs were there, but…enough.  The flattened nose, the unusual space between the big toe and the second toe… What could I—what _should_ I tell them?

 Old Mrs. MacDonald was helping her daughter, kneading her flaccid belly with a firm but kindly touch, whispering what I thought was a blessing in _Gaidhlig_.  Mhairi lay on her sweat-soaked pillow, breathing slowly, eyes half- shut, making little grunts that sounded not unlike her new daughter’s. 

 Maybe I shouldn’t say anything …specific.  “Down’s Syndrome” would mean nothing to anyone in this time, let alone “Trisomy of Chromosome 21”.  There was no telling how much cognitive impairment there might be; perhaps only a little, perhaps it wouldn’t be very noticeable.  And in this time, when girls largely worked in house and field and took care of children, it mightn’t matter that much; maybe she could function well enough in the bosom of her family.  

 If she could nurse.  If she couldn’t, she likely wouldn’t live long.  Her mouth was slightly open, filled by a large, protrusive tongue.  I laid her on my lap again and stroked her cheek lightly.  Her ears were still pink and slightly crumpled from birth, but looked normal, though small.  Her eyes looked somewhat slanted, but were still tight closed, lashes invisible, but she turned her head at once at my touch, snuffling.  

 _Rooting reflex.  Check_

 “Good,” I whispered.  “Can you suck, sweetheart?”

My hands weren’t clean enough for me to consider sticking a finger in her mouth to try.  We’d have to wait and see.  I glanced over at the bed, half-hidden in darkness.  Mrs. MacDonald was still kneading, but her head was raised and she was looking at me as she worked, a deep crease between her brows.  Her mouth was pressed tight, but it dawned on me that neither I nor the child was her immediate concern.

 “What is the word for a placenta in _Gaidhlig_?” I asked, rising to my feet with the baby.  Mrs. MacDonald blinked and knuckled away a bead of perspiration running down her cheek.  The door and window were closed to keep out flies drawn to the scent of blood, so there was a fire to provide light and hot water, and all of us—except the baby—were sweating in the moving shadows.

  She shrugged.   “There’s some as says ‘birth-cake’.  That’s  _breith-cèic_. ”  She glanced down at her working hands.  “Whatever ye choose to call it, this one’s no lettin’ go.”  There was a note of strain in her voice, though her gnarled old hands kept up a steady kneading.

 “I have something that might help,” I offered.  I’d brought my birthing kit along in a cloth bag.  The bag didn’t have everything, but it did have dried raspberry leaves.   A strong tea aided labor; it might—I hoped—dislodge an uncooperative placenta.  I would have put the child to Mhairi’s breast to suckle, but given my doubts…best start with the tea.

 Mrs. MacDonald hesitated for a moment, hands stilled and brows knit.  _Old Mrs. MacDonald thinks you’re a witch,_ Fanny had told me.  _But it doesn’t matter, because Mr. MacDonald is afraid of Mr. Fraser_.  She stared at me, eyes narrowed, but then glanced down at her gasping daughter, and gave in.

 “Gie’ me the wean and do what ye can,” she said abruptly.




"William"

#DailyLines   #Book10  #ABombInTheHand  #dontbotheraskingwhenitwillbedone  #really  #dont  #youllfindoutwhenIdo  

[Excerpt from Book 10 [Untitled], Copyright 2022 Diana Gabaldon]

 “What are you thinking?”  I asked.  “I know it’s about William.”

 “Oh, aye?”  He glanced at me, mouth curled up at one side.  “And what do I look like if I’m thinking of William?”

 “Like someone’s handed you a wrapped package and you’re not sure whether it’s something wonderful, or a bomb.”

 That made him laugh, and he put an arm around me and pulled me in close, kissing my temple.  He smelled of day-old linen, ink and hay, and the dribble of honey that had dried down the front of his shirt, like tiny amber beads.

 “Aye, well, one look at the lad and ye ken he’ll explode before too long,” he said.  “I only hope he doesna damage himself doing it.”

 “Or you.” 

He shrugged comfortably

“I’m no very breakable, Sassenach.

“Says the man with four—no, five bullet holes in his hide, to say nothing of enough surgical stitching to make a whole crazy quilt.  And if we start counting the bones you’ve cracked or broken…

“Ach, away—I’ve never broken anything important; just the odd finger.  Maybe a rib, here or there.

“And your sternum and your left kneecap.

He made a dismissive Scottish noise, but didn’t argue

We stood for a bit, arms about each other, listening to the sounds outside.  The younger children had fallen asleep under bushes or in their parents’ wagons, their happy screeching replaced by music and the laughter of the dancers, the clapping and calls of those watching.

“He came to me,” Jamie said quietly.  He was trying to sound matter-of-fact, but he’d stopped trying to hide what he was feeling.

“He did,” I said softly, and squeezed his arm.

“I suppose there wasna really anyone else he could go to,” he said, off-handed.  “If he canna find his grace, I mean, and he couldna very well talk to anyone in the army, could he?  Given that….”  He stopped, a thought having struck him, and turned to me.

“D’ye think he knows, Sassenach?”

“Knows what?”

“About—what he said.  The…threat to Lord John.  I mean--”  he elaborated, seeing my blank look, “does he ken that it’s no just a canard.”

“A—oh.”  I stopped to consider for a moment, then shook my head with decision.  “No.  Almost certainly not.  You saw his face when he told us about what Richardson was threatening.   He’d still have been scared—maybe more scared—if he knew it wasn’t an empty threat—but he wouldn’t have looked the way he did.”

Anxious?  Angry?”

“Both.  But Anyone would be, wouldn’t they?  Under the circumstances.”

“They would.  And…determined, would ye say?”

 “Stubborn,” I said promptly, and he laughed.

 “A bomb for sure, then.”



William on the Ridge

#DailyLines   #UntitledBook10    #HappyEaster   #ChagPesachSameach    #or #DeliriousRitesofSpring  #YourPreference  #nospoilers

[Excerpt from (Untitled) Book Ten, Copyright 2022 Diana Gabaldon]

The room was large and dim; someone had tacked part of a burlap sack over the large window, but light filtered through.  So  did a breeze carrying the earthy smell of fresh potatoes through the burlap.  He picked loose a couple of tacks and the breeze, thus invited, cooled his face and rippled through his hair, like the touch of gentle fingers.

“Mother?” he said softly.

It hadn’t happened in some time.  When he was younger, he felt it often; the passing touch of a hand, stroking his head, touching his shoulder, vanished in a moment.  He’d never told anyone about it.

 Maybe she was here, because _he_ was here—Fraser?

Fraser had declined to tell him anything regarding his relations with Mother Geneva, and William was reluctantly obliged to admit that this was gentlemanly of him.

 “I still want to know, though.”

 “Know what?”

He swung round, startled, to find his sister standing in the doorway, her face full of joy and her arms full of quilts.

“I—nothing,” he said, and felt a sudden bounce in his heart.  “Sister.  I—it’s good to see you.”   The smile on her face was on his own, and she dropped the bedding and hugged him tight.  The smell of her was different from the last time he’d seen her.  The pungent scents of turpentine and linseed oil were gone, replaced by an oddly disorienting scent that he tentatively identified as milk and baby-shit.

 “You’ve had a child?” he blurted, letting go.  “Another, I mean?” It wasn’t surprise at the revelation, as much as the fact that the scents of motherhood were inextricably linked with Amaranthus in his mind.

 “You have a new nephew,” she said, laughing at him.  “Davy.  David William James Fraser MacKenzie, to be exact.”

 “William?”  He could feel his lips twitching, not sure whether he should assume that…

 “Yes, we named him for you,” she assured him.  “Partly.”

 “Well, I’m entirely grateful,” he said, smiling.  “And most sensible of the honor…sister.”

 “Brother,” she said softly, and reached out to touch his face.  “It’s good to see you.  Will you stay awhile?”



"Jamie's dream"

Aaaand....Happy Birthday to James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, born May 1st, 1721!

#DailyLines #UntitledBook10  

“Did your Mam ever tell ye of the dream I had? Soon after ye…went away.” He couldn’t help glancing over his shoulder, to be sure no one was in earshot.

“No.” She was looking at him with deep interest, a small line between her brows, and he couldn’t help smiling at her. “Was it a funny dream?” she asked.

“Och, no. I was only smiling because ye looked so much like Claire, there. When she’s trying to puzzle out what’s the matter with someone, I mean.”

She didn’t laugh, but the transitory dimple that sometimes appeared in her right cheek flashed for an instant.

“Nobody ever says I look like Mama,” she said. “They carry on all the time about how much like _you_ I look.”

“Oh, ye look like your mother often,” he assured her. “It’s just that it’s no a matter of hair or eyes or how tall ye are. It’s the look on your face when ye touch Jem or Mandy—or when ye’re talkin’ with Roger Mac in the evening on the porch, and the light of the moon in your eyes.”  

 His own voice had gown soft and husky, and he looked down at the ground, the plastering of layer upon layer of dead leaves, like dying stars beneath his boots.

“Ye look like your mother in love, is all I mean. Exactly like her.”



Sage, Rosemary and Thyme 

 “What are you thinking?”  I asked.  “I know it’s about William.”

 “Oh, aye?”  He glanced at me, mouth curled up at one side.  “And what do I look like if I’m thinking of William?”

 “Like someone’s handed you a wrapped package and you’re not sure whether it’s something wonderful, or a bomb.”

 That made him laugh, and he put an arm around me and pulled me in close, kissing my temple. He smelled of day-old linen, ink and hay, and the dribble of honey that had dried down the front of his shirt, like tiny amber beads.

 “Aye, well, one look at the lad and ye ken he’ll explode before too long,” he said.  “I only hope he doesna damage himself doing it.”

 “Or you.”  

He shrugged comfortably.

“I’m no very breakable, Sassenach.”

“Says the man with four—no, five bullet holes in his hide, to say nothing of enough surgical stitching to make a whole crazy quilt.  And if we start counting the bones you’ve cracked or broken…”

“Ach, away—I’ve never broken anything important; just the odd finger.  Maybe a rib, here or there.”

“And your sternum and your left kneecap.”

He made a dismissive Scottish noise, but didn’t argue.

We stood for a bit, arms about each other, listening to the sounds outside.  The younger children had fallen asleep under bushes or in their parents’ wagons, their happy screeching replaced by music and the laughter of the dancers, the clapping and calls of those watching.

 “He came to me,” Jamie said quietly.  He was trying to sound matter-of-fact, but he’d stopped trying to hide what he was feeling.

“He did,” I said softly, and squeezed his arm.

“I suppose there wasna really anyone else he could go to,” he said, off-handed.  “If he canna find his grace, I mean, and he couldna very well talk to anyone in the army, could he?  Given that….”  He stopped, a thought having struck him, and turned to me.

“D’ye think he knows, Sassenach?”

“Knows what?”

“About—what he said.  The…threat to Lord John.  I mean--”  he elaborated, seeing my blank look, “does he ken that it’s no just a canard.”

“A—oh.”  I stopped to consider for a moment, then shook my head with decision.  “No.  Almost certainly not.  You saw his face when he told us about what Richardson was threatening.   He’d still have been scared—maybe more scared, if he knew it wasn’t an empty threat—but he wouldn’t have looked the way he did.”

“Anxious?  Angry?”

“Both.  But anyone would be, wouldn’t they?  Under the circumstances.”

“They would.  And…determined, would ye say?”

“Stubborn,” I said promptly, and he laughed.

“A bomb for sure, then.”

The air had cooled with the setting of the sun.  Now it was full dark and the mountain breathed, a lithe sense of spring in an air filled with night-blooming flowers and the resins of resting trees.   It would be different on the coast.  Still fresh, but strong  with fish and seaweed, tar and wood and the tang of salt in everything.

I might have one more mountain night like this, maybe two or three, but likely not more.  I breathed deep, resolved to enjoy it.  

“When?” I asked.

“If it were up to William, we’d already be gone,” Jamie said, drawing me closer.  “I told him I must think, but meanwhile, preparations would be made; no time will be wasted. “  He glanced toward the window.   With luck, Brianna and Roger Mac will have him drunk by now; he’ll sleep sound.  He kens he’s safe,” he added, softly.  “Or I hope so, at least.”

 “I’m sure that he does,” I said, also softly, and rubbed his back, the scars invisible under his shirt.  His children, his grandchildren.  If only for a moment, here, together, in the place he had made.

 There was a break in the music, though the air was still full of talk and laughter.  That died down now, though, and there were a few moments of silence before the faint sounds of a guitar drifted up from the distant bonfire.  Then two voices, one rough and one smooth, weaving a song.

 Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

 Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme…

 My heart squeezed tight and so did my throat.  I’d never heard Bree and Roger sing together.  They must have done this before, though, in private; perhaps as an exercise to strengthen Roger’s voice.

 We stood in silence ‘til the song was over, listening to magic.  I looked up at Jamie’s face, soft in the candlelight, his eyes far away.  He didn’t hear music, as such, but I knew he felt the song anyway.




William and Davy

A piercing scream stopped Brianna in mid-word.  At once, she detached the infant from her person and pushed him into William’s arms.

 “Here,” she said, and disappeared in a rustle of skirts.  He heard her footsteps, irregular thuds suggesting that she was taking the porch stairs two or three at a time, and then her distant voice inside the house, upraised in adjuration.  He looked down at the warm bundle, and carefully readjusted it so that the child rested—face up—in the crook of his elbow.

 The little boy was smacking his milky lips in a thoughtful sort of way, as though curious as to the sudden change in his circumstances, but didn’t seem to object to them.

 “Hullo,” he said, tentatively.  The infant’s round eyes narrowed suddenly.  The little body stiffened and a sharp smell of fresh pee made William hold the baby hastily out at arm’s length, then squat and lay David on the grass before anything else happened.  Something else promptly did, and the child turned purple and began shrieking.

 “Really?”  William said.  “Come now, we scarcely know one another.”  A quick glance at the house revealed a complete absence of Brianna or any other woman who might be helpful, and the muffled shouting inside suggested that no one was likely to appear very soon.  He rubbed a finger under his nose, then shrugged and set about gingerly removing the infant’s napkin, which was wet and filled with a sweetish smelling, mustard-like substance, sufficient in quantity as to have leaked down the baby’s legs.

 The blanket was wet in spots, but not filthy, and he used it to clean the tiny privates and legs.  The shirt had suffered somewhat in the eruption, and he managed to roll this up and edge it gingerly over the child’s head without getting too much shit on either of them.  David had quit yelling by this point, and kicked his little bandy legs with enthusiasm.

 “Better, yes?”  William asked, smiling down at him.  “Yes, I think so, too.  What the devil am I to put on you, though?”

 Davy—yes, that’s what his sister called the baby—was a good deal younger than Trevor had been the first time William had met him, but the sensation of something at once very fragile and yet amazingly solid—very male--brought back immediate memories of Amaranthus’s son—and Amaranthus.

William blew out his breath and drew it in again, slowly, trying to ease the sudden knot in the pit of his stomach.

 “Where are you?” he said softly to the mountain air.  “And what are you doing?”

 _What have you done_?  This thought came on the heels of the first, and he shook his head violently, in hopes of dislodging it.  Pressing his lips together, he pulled a large—and only slightly used—handkerchief from his pocket and shook it out.

 “Better than nothing,” he said to Davy.  “Must keep up appearances, mustn’t we?”


Excerpt Rachel's pregnant 

Rachel was sitting in a rocking-chair on the porch in her shift, when William stepped into the little aspen grove where the Murrays’ cabin stood. She heard his footsteps and looked up, her face lighting. Then she saw who it was, and while the light didn’t go from her eyes, her smile changed completely, and she reached for the shawl folded over the rocking-chair’s arm.
“William!” she said, and half-rose, the shawl held to her bosom. “Where on earth has thee come from?” The smile was warm and genuine—but he knew he wasn’t the man she had expected.
“Mrs. Murray,” he said, and bowed, smiling back. “Your servant, ma’am.”
She laughed.
“No man is servant to another, William, and I know thee is aware of that.”
“I’m aware that Friends believe that, yes. But surely you won’t deprive me of the pleasure of offering my meager services to you—_as_ a friend?” He glanced round for something to do; his heart had jumped when he saw her, and hadn’t quite returned to its business. A basket of freshly-picked green pea-pods stood by her rocking chair, along with a yellow pottery bowl, half-filled with shelled peas.
“Sit down,” he said. “I’ll do that.”
He sat down by her, legs dangling over the edge of the porch, and pulled the basket toward himself.
He was aware of a good many things at the moment, all of them concerning Rachel. Her dark hair was loose, somewhat disheveled, and her long legs bare and brown below the hem of her shift. She crossed her—very fine—ankles when she saw his glance, and he averted his gaze, not wanting to embarrass her, though he still wanted to look.
She was alone; the cabin’s door was open and there were no sounds of anyone inside.
On the long climb to the cabin, he hadn’t admitted to himself that he hoped to find her alone…but he had. The last time he’d met her, she’d slapped his face, kicked him in the shin and called him a rooster. She hadn’t meant any of it by way of compliment, and he hoped to make amends.
Still, that had been nearly three years ago, and she seemed well-enough disposed to him at the moment…and she was safely married now.
“My apologies,” he said. “I should have thought to bring you something from the feast—there’s a vast quantity of food; enough to keep the whole of the Ridge from starvation for three months, at least. Scores of fried chickens, pies of all descriptions, something I was told was corn fufu—and as it was my sister who told me, I’m inclined to believe her—sweet potatoes with apples and onions, and a monstrous great hog. They said it roasted underground for days, until the flesh began to drop from the bone—the smell of it covers the entire hillside and the remains of the carcass would feed—”
Rachel stood up suddenly, clutched the post that held up the roof of the cabin and vomited off the side of the porch.
“Miss Hunter! I mean…Mrs…Mrs…” In the stress of the moment, her married name had vanished. “Rachel!” He’d scrambled up when she rose, and now seized her elbow to save her falling off the porch.
She made an inarticulate sound, waving a hand to keep him off, and then threw up again, more profusely. She seemed very wobbly, even though she was clinging to the post with both hands now, and he put an arm about her waist to steady her.
“Oh, Jesus!” he said, at once relieved and appalled by the little round swelling that he’d touched beneath her shift. “You’re pregnant!”
Despite her clear disfirmity, she gave him a look that fortunately wasn’t translated into English.
“Forgive me, madam,” he said, gingerly removing his hand from her midriff.
She flapped a hand and stepped back, collapsing into the chair with a force that made it rock briefly to and fro. Her eyes were closed, her face shiny with sweat and she’d gone the color of curdled milk.
“Is there…anything…?” he said, though the situation seemed entirely beyond his capacities.
Her long, soft throat moved as she swallowed, and she grimaced.
“Pickle,” she said. “Pickles. Butter…milk.” She waved a limp hand toward the open door.
The suggestion of pickles with buttermilk made _him_ feel somewhat queasy, but he went immediately inside and rummaged the food-safe, which yielded a small crock of infant cucumbers that, from the smell, had been pickled in vinegar, dill, garlic and black pepper. They hardly seemed appropriate to someone with a deranged digestion, but Amaranthus had told him once the sorts of things she had found comestible while pregnant, all much worse than garlic-scented cucumbers. And dilled pickles _did_ work for sea-sickness…









Extended version
William shows up on the Ridge

Sometime in September (I think), I posted a short version of this excerpt. In early October, my beloved German translator, Barbara Schnell, asked me if I could give her something to post in honor of Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser Grey Fraser’s 104th birthday. So I sent her the complete excerpt. (This is available in German on dianagabaldon.de, the website Baerbel maintains for me.)
So—a number of English-speaking fans, eager to see the whole thing, translated the German posting on dianagabaldon.de (which is a wonderful site—Baerbel has a number of entertaining innovations, like a complete timeline of all the major events in the books)—and you can translate the site from German to English) back into English. Except that it wasn’t, quite. Translations are seldom literal and the literal ones tend not to be very good. So we had a rash of English-speaking readers arguing about whether “ein prust” (in the German version) meant the Scottish noise that Jamie and William make now and then (but which is defined as the coughing growl tigers use to communicate with each other). Now I do value my fans’ sanity <g>, so decided to post the entire excerpt (called “Sir”, for convenience). Hope you enjoy it! SIR Half an hour later, the whisky bottle was empty, but all three of us were stone-cold sober, and there was a ball of cold dread in the pit of my stomach. According to William, Perseverance Wainwright was dead, and Lord John was missing—kidnapped by a man named Richardson. Or so Percy had said, before dying messily, poisoned on the hearth-rug in Lord John’s house. Jamie rubbed a hand hard over his face, opened his eyes and looked at me, one eyebrow raised. “Is it possible?” he said. William’s lips pressed tight together and he made a noise that might have been a stifled snort. “I shouldn’t be surprised that you think me a liar, sir. But ask yourself why I should tell you such a tale. Or why I should be here.” “I have been,” Jamie said frankly. “Askin’ myself, I mean. And now I’m asking my wife.” “Possible, yes,” I said, trying not to show just how disturbing that possibility was. “John’s brother—you know, the Duke-- sent me a note last year, asking me what herbs I’d recommend for the extermination of…um…pests. I wasn’t sure that he was serious—but I’ve never known Hal to make jokes.” Jamie made a noise that was definitely a snort. “Oh, his Grace has a sense o’ humor,” he said, very cynical. “But ye’re right, he doesna make jests or play wi’ words like his brother. So, did ye answer him?” “I did,” I said, exchanging stares with him. “On the basis of what I knew was growing in Savannah at the time, I told him that an alcoholic extract of foxglove would be poisonous, but he should take care in using it. I thought that he might be intending to use it on mice or rats,” I added defensively. “There are mice in most houses in Savannah—and cockroaches.” Both of them snorted. I ignored this. “But do you actually think Hal intended to—to poison someone, a person, I mean? Or Percy, specifically? Because your description of his symptoms sounds very much like foxglove poisoning—but from what you say, it sounds as though Percy got hold of a bottle of poisoned brandy entirely by accident, doesn’t it?” “God only knows.” William closed his eyes briefly, and I saw how tired he was, his young face lined and smeared with the grime of long riding. He summoned his strength, though, and straightened. “I don’t care how or why Percival—or Perseverance—Wainwright happened to die in Lord John’s house. He came to tell me where Lord John was, and—and why.” Why. Jamie glanced at me, then fixed his gaze on William. “So his lordship is—to the best o’ your knowledge—being held aboard a ship called Pallas, in the hands of a man called Richardson, whom ye ken yourself as a right bastard that’s tried to kill you more than once—and now he’s said he means to kill Lord John?” “Yes.” “But ye dinna ken why?” William rubbed his hands hard over his face and shook his head. “I told you what bloody Wainwright told me. How would I know whether it’s the truth? It sounds--” He flung out his hands in a violent, hopeless gesture. Jamie and I exchanged a quick glance. How, indeed? It sounded like insanity to William; it sounded much worse to me, and to Jamie. Jamie cleared his throat and set both hands on his desk. “I suppose that bit doesna really matter, aye? Whether we believe it or not, I mean. The only thing to do is to find where his lordship is, and get him back.” It was said so simply that I smiled, despite the situation, and William’s bunched shoulders dropped a little. “You make it sound so easy,” he said. His voice was dry, but the note of strain in it had gone. “Mmphm. How long have ye been on the road, lad?” “Don’t call me ‘lad’,” William said, automatically. “Three months, more or less. Looking for my fa—for Lord John, or for my uncle. I can’t find him, either.” “Aye. Well, twenty-four hours willna alter your prospects of findin’ either one. Eat, wash, and rest now. We’ll lay our plans tomorrow.” He turned his head to look out the window, then glanced thoughtfully back at William. It was nearly evening, but the yard and the nearby trees were still alive with people and I could tell what he was thinking. So could William. “Who do you mean to tell…them—” he nodded toward the window, “—that I am? A lot of them saw me. And Frances knows.” Jamie leaned back a little, looking at his son. _His son_, and I felt, rather than saw, the warmth that touched him at the thought. “Ye dinna have to say who ye are.” He caught William’s skeptical glance at his face. “We’ll say you’re--my cousin Murtagh’s lad, if ye like.” I swallowed a startled laugh that went down the wrong way, and two pairs of dark blue eyes looked austerely down two long, straight noses at me. “I’ve done with lies,” William said abruptly, and shut his mouth, hard. Jamie gave him a long, thoughtful look, and nodded. “There’s no way back from the truth, ken?” “I don’t have to speak Scotch, do I?” “I’d pay money to see ye try, but no.” He took a deep breath and glanced at me. “Just say your mother was English, and she’s dead, God rest her soul.” “If anyone asks,” I said, trying to be reassuring. Jamie made a brief Scottish noise. “They’re Scots, Sassenach,” he said. “Everyone will ask. They just may not ask us.” Music was beginning to gather, fiddlers and drummers and zitherers coming down from the woods; there would be dancing as soon as it grew dark. “Come with me, William,” I said. “I’ll find you some food.” He took a breath that went down to the soles of his boots and stood up. “Thank you, sir,” he said to Jamie, bowing slightly. “Surely you needn’t go on calling him ‘sir’,” I said, glancing from one man to the other. “I mean…not now.” “Aye, he does,” Jamie said dryly. “All the other things he might call me are things he can’t--or won’t. ‘Sir’ will do.” Flicking a hand in dismissal of the matter, he rose from his chair, grimacing slightly at the effort needed to do it without bracing himself with his hands. “You know,” William said, in a conversational tone, “there was a time when you called _me_ “sir”. He didn’t wait to see if there was a response to this, but went out and down the hall toward the kitchen, his steps light on the boards. “Why, you little _bastard_,” I said, though I was more amused than shocked, and so was Jamie, from the twitch at the corner of his mouth. “Fine thing to say to someone you’ve just asked for help!” “Aye, well, I suppose it depends who ye say it to.” Jamie lifted one shoulder and dropped it. “He was six, the last time I called him that.” [end section] [Excerpt from Untitled Book Ten, Copyright 2022 Diana Gabaldon]







Jenny and Jamie

Happy New Year!
Jamie met his sister, half a mile from the Murrays’ cabin and looking worried. Her brow lightened a bit when she saw him, and further when she spotted the dog. “There ye are, ye wee gomerel!” The puppy barked happily at sight of her and charged uphill. Jenny intercepted him before he could leap on her skirt with his muddy paws, and firmly shoved him down, grabbing his scruff and rubbing his ears while he squirmed with delight and tried to lick her hands. “What are ye doing wi’ _him_?” she asked the dog, waving a hand in Jamie’s direction. “And what have ye done wi’ your master, eh?” “His master? Young Ian, ye mean?” “I do.” She craned her neck to look round him, in obvious hope that Ian was behind him. “He hasna come home yet. Rachel’s heavin’ her guts out and Oggy wanted his wee _cu_, so I thought the hound must be wi’ Ian and best I come down and dig them out of wherever they’d slept last night.” Jamie felt a tickle of unease between his shoulders. “That’s what I was meaning to do, as well. I found the dog sleepin’ wi’ Meyers, but I havena seen hide nor hair of Young Ian.” Jenny raised one sleek black brow. “When did ye see him last?” Every woman he knew said this when something was lost. He gave Jenny a look meant to suggest that he didn’t think this any more helpful than the last thousand times he’d heard it. He answered, though. “Yesterday, after the wedding, dancin’ wi’ Silvia Hardman and Patience—Higgins, I mean. Maybe an hour before…” He stopped abruptly. He’d been about to say, “Before William”, but didn’t want to be side-tracked in to a discussion about William right now. Jenny, Rachel and Oggy had left the festivities early; Rachel was feeling peely-wally and his sister needed to milk her goats. Had the news reached them? _No_, he thought, keenly aware of his sister’s eyes, fixed with interest on his face. _If she kent about him, it’s the first thing she would ha’ said to me_. _And she’ll kill me if I dinna tell her about it now_, he concluded. “My son’s come,” he said abruptly. “William.” Her face went blank for a second, and then went through such a flurry of expressions that he couldn’t follow it all. The end of it was a look of pure joy, though, and his throat went thick at sight of it. She laughed out loud, and he smiled, shy about his own feelings. “Did he come armed?” she asked then, a slight tinge of doubt in her voice.







Claire making lists

I woke with a list in my head. This was by no means unusual, but this list came with a spurt of adrenaline attached. I had—at most—only today in which to prepare not only to leave the Ridge for an unknown stretch of time, but to prepare the Ridge for being left.

I swung my feet out of bed, heart already speeding up, and then sat for a moment, trying to focus on what had to be done first. Well, that was simple…I fished the chamberpot out from under the bed and saw that it was clean and dry. Which meant either that Jamie had risen early and considerately gone out to the privy, or that he’d got up in the night and pissed out the window. While I had personally never felt the lack of a penis, I did admit that it was a handy thing to have along on a picnic…

My own sanitary needs being accomplished, I was clear-headed enough to brush my teeth, splash water over my face and run my wet hands through my hair. The hair was unlikely to be improved by the experience, but my hands were dry enough to pull my stockings on.

List…

_Find something like coffee._

_Drink coffee-like substance._

_Eat whatever was left over from yesterday’s feast, while inspecting pantry, pie-safe, simples closet and large cauldron._ Compile mental sublist of things to be found, things needing to be collected or dug up, put in cauldron to begin cooking…

Sylvia and her daughters had ceremoniously removed to Bobby’s cabin last night. I was happy for them all, but it did leave me somewhat short-handed. So…summon Fanny, Joanie and Fizzy and give them my list to start working on. Find Bree and run through separate list of people who might give trouble—medical, political or otherwise—over the next…how long?

“God knows,” I muttered. William had been looking for Lord John for three months [ck time]; what if Richardson had decided to take him to London and denounce him to the House of Lords or something?

Find Roger….no, Jamie would already have found Roger and informed him that he was now, de facto, Himself for the foreseeable future.

Back to the list… By now, I was padding downstairs in my stocking-feet, shoes in hand.

Send Jem or Germain or the girls for Jenny and Rachel. Feed them first, my subconscious chimed in.

I inhaled hopefully. Yes, I could smell porridge and toast. And bacon? Yes, definitely bacon. Likely they were already eating, then. I was ravenous, in spite of everything I’d eaten yesterday.

Would Jenny and Rachel want to come down to the big house while Ian was gone with us? Company and help for Brianna…all those children…but then there were Jenny’s goats to be considered…

I emerged into the kitchen, to find William seated at the table, surrounded by children and closely attended by Fanny, armed with a platter of crispy bacon and a pot of peach jam.

“Mother Claire!” William half-rose to greet me, prevented from pushing back the bench to stand up by the weight of the children sharing said bench. “Er…how are you?”

“Somewhat better than you, probably,” I said, sitting down on a spare stool to put my shoes on. “Did you sleep at all last night?” He was very thin; his cheekbones showed like blades and his skin was an unhealthy sort of grayish-yellow under his tan. This looked still more disagreeable by contrast with his sprouting beard, which was red.

“I don’t remember sleeping,” he said, rubbing a hand over his stubble, “but I definitely woke up, so I must have. I feel much better,” he assured me, taking a handful of bacon from Fanny’s platter. “Or I will, as soon as I’ve eaten. Thank you, Frances.”

“You should have milk, too,” she informed him. “To coat the insides of your stomach, after everything you drank last night.”

“Everything I drank?” A look of amusement crossed his face, despite the signs of road-weariness and hangover. “Were you keeping count, Frances? How very thoughtful of you. You’ll make some lucky man an excellent wife one day.”

She blushed crimson, but he smiled at her, and she gulped air and managed a tiny simper in return before tottering off to fetch more toast.

“What _did_ I drink last night?” William asked me, lowering his voice. “I admit that I don’t recall very much about last night. I was…so very much relieved. To—to have…”

“Reached shelter?” I asked, sympathetically. “I imagine so. You’ve been alone for quite a while.”

He paused for moment, spreading jam on a slice of toast, then said quietly, “I have. Thank you. For--” he gestured briefly round the lively kitchen, then cleared his throat. “Do you think—er, that Mister Fraser will be...”

“Back soon? Yes.” He offered me the toast and I took it. I was starving and it was delicious, warm and crunchy and sweet. “Fanny?” I said, swallowing. “Has Mr. Fraser had any breakfast?”

“Yes’m,” she said. “He was just going out when I came down, but he had a piece of fried chicken in his hand.”

“Did he say where he was going?”

“No, ma’am. He wasn’t armed,” she added helpfully. “Except his knife.”

“His dirk, or the little knife?” Her smooth brow crinkled in concentration, then relaxed.

“Both.”

He was leaving the property, then, but not going far.







William waking up on the floor at the Ridge William opened his eyes and lay still. He’d got used to not knowing quite where he was upon wakening, save when he slept in the woods. Woods at night are mysterious places, and his inner ear heard sounds all night, some deep part of his brain evidently recognizing and dismissing things like wind through leaves, the falling of acorns or the patter of rain on the canvas of his lean-to, but still sensitive enough to apprise him of the heavy pad of a walking bear nearby—to say nothing of the branches snapping in its path. The result of this behavior on the part of his brain was to keep him aware of his circumstances all night and thus unsurprised at dawn, even if he never woke all the way. He’d slept like a log last night, though, worn out from his journey, plied with good, hot food and as much alcohol as he could drink. His memory of going to bed was confused, but he was lying now on the floor of an empty room—he felt the smooth boards under his hands, something warm over him. Light filtered through a burlap-covered window… And quite suddenly, the thought was just there in his mind, without warning. _I’m in my father’s house._ “Jesus,” he said aloud, and sat up, blinking. All of the day before came flooding back, a jumble of effort, sweat and worry, climbing through forest and cliffs, and finally seeing a large, handsome house emerge, its glass—_glass. In this wilderness?_--windows twinkling in the sun, incongruous amid the trees. He’d pushed himself and the horse past fear and fatigue, and then--there he was, just sitting on the porch. James Fraser. There had been other people on the porch and in the yard, but he hadn’t noticed any of them. Just him. Fraser. He’d spent miles and days deciding what to say, how to describe the situation, frame his request—and in the end, had simply ridden right up to the porch, breathless, and said, _“Sir, I need your help.”_ He drew a deep breath and rubbed both hands through his disordered hair, reliving that moment. Fraser had risen at once, came down the steps, took him by the arm. And said, _“You have it.” _ “You have it,” he repeated softly, to himself. Yesterday, that had been enough--the relief of knowing help was at hand. The relief was still with him, but other things had crept in while he slept. The thought of Papa was still a blade in his chest and a stone in his belly. He hadn’t forgotten, even under the onslaught of people and the comfort of a lot of whisky. There had been an avalanche of people, flooding out of the house, running from the yard and from what seemed to be a party going on under a huge tree. He’d noticed only three people in the swirling mass: Mother Claire, little Fanny, and a few moments later, his sister. _Sister_. He hadn’t expected to find Brianna here. He’d been too stunned, by fear, dread, apprehension, fury and desperation, all happening at once, to even try to imagine his reception at Fraser’s Ridge. _And_, he admitted to himself, _because I could scarcely stay in the saddle, and if I’d tried to make the speech I’d thought out, I’d have fallen on my face before I got the first sentence out_. But he had got it out, and he’d got his answer. The encouragement of that was enough to get him on his feet. The thing that had covered him was a homely piece of knitting the color of vomit, and he folded it carefully and set it aside. He looked about for a utensil of some sort, and found a battered tin pot, placed by the door with a large bottle beside it, with a label tied round its neck, reading “Drink Me”. He pulled the cork and sniffed. Water. Exactly what he needed, and he drank thirstily, holding the bottle with one hand and unbuttoning his breeches with the other. He’d just about finished when the door opened. He choked, spraying water, and tried to cover himself with his other hand. “Good morning, William,” Fanny said. “I brought you something to break your fast. But there’s porridge and bacon downstairs. When you’re wead-_ready_.” She was holding a thick slice of buttered bread and a wooden cup that smelled like beer, and looked amused. “Thank you, Fanny,” he said, buttoning his breeches with what dignity he could summon. “Ah…how have you been?” “Very well, thank you,” she said, and straightened her back, thrusting a pair of new small breasts into sudden prominence. “I’ve learnt how to talk. Prroperly,” she added, rolling her ‘r’s slightly. “So I perceive,” he said, smiling. “Your voice is lovely, Frances. Is that beer?” “It is. I made it,” she said proudly, and handed him the cup. It was small beer, and noticeably sour, but he was still thirsty and it went down without effort. So did the bread and butter, which he wolfed in a few bites. Frances watched him with approval. “Why is it that women like to feed men?” he asked, swallowing the last mouthful. “We’re very grateful, of course, but it seems a good deal of effort for little gain.” She’d gone a bit pink in the face, and he thought she looked like a small flower, the sort you found hiding in the grass in a spring meadow. “Mrs. Fraser says women want to keep things alive, and men want to kill things,” she said, taking the empty cup. “But we need men to do that for us, so we feed them.” “Indeed,” he said, rather startled at hearing this sort of opinion attributed to Mother Claire. “Are you going to kill the man who took Lord John?” she asked seriously. Her flush had faded, and her eyes were serious. “I listened. I heard what you told Mith-Mister Fraser.” He took a deep breath, and felt the fresh-scented air of the woods cleanse him of the last traces of fatigue. “Yes, Frances,” he said. “I am.



Hal

A bit for the Fourth of July – Let us remember that there are always (at least) two sides to a fight…

Excerpt from Untitled Book Ten – Copyright 2023 Diana Gabaldon

 Hal gave up the notion of neatly folding his uniform coat—it looked simple enough when his valet did it, but as with many things, practice evidently mattered—and rolled it into a sort of thick sausage, which he folded in half and crammed into his saddlebag, moleskin breeches, clean neckcloth and gold-laced epaulets stuffed in on top.  Anything else?

 “Shirt, God damn it,” he said aloud, clutching the front of the one he was wearing.  Cursing under his breath, he pawed through the armoire in search of a clean frilled shirt.  The search not only resulted in a shirt—already folded, too!--but focused his mind to a sufficient extent as to remind him of stockings, dress boots and…what?  Something else was missing…

 “Oh, gorget, yes.  Can’t forget that.”  ‘That’ was on his dressing table, as usual.  He picked it up, weighing it in his hand as he usually did before putting it on, for the tactile pleasure of it.  Solid, smooth silver-gilt, gracefully made, with his regimental insignia embossed upon it.  He reached to drop it into the saddlebag, then impulsively put it on instead, tucking it down inside the rough shirt he’d put on for the journey.   Strange, that it should have the same effect upon his spirit as putting on armor might have had to an earlier warrior—though that’s what it was, in all fairness—armor, the remnant symbol of a breastplate.

 He took a deep breath, and with it, found the last scrap of courage that he needed.

 He closed the flap of the saddlebag, set it with its fellow by the door, and sat down at his desk to write to his wife.

 _I had hoped to surprise you with an early return to England, but Things have fallen out otherwise.  Ben is alive—but I forget, you likely don’t know he was supposed to be dead.  He’s not.  He has turned his Coat, though, and I must go and—_

 He broke off and eyed the paper, twiddling the quill between his fingers.

 “And what?” he said aloud.  Reproach Ben?  Kidnap him?  Kill him?

      “God knows,” he muttered, and wrote, “_mend Matters.  I love you._”  He hesitated for a moment, considering whether to add “_trust me_”, but didn’t, instead folding, sealing and stamping the note.  He wrote “_Her Grace the Duchess of Pardloe_” by way of direction, then laid it atop the pile of mail for one of his aides to take away.

His stomach growled; he hadn’t eaten anything yet today, he hadn’t been hungry before.  He glanced at the leather case that lay on the desk, and the hunger pangs disappeared.
 
He knew everything was in order, but flipped the case open anyway, unable not to check once more.

 The brace of duelling pistols lay gleaming somberly in their lambswool beds, facing each other like the men who would hold them.

6 comments:

  1. I have just finished book 9 so these excerpts from book 10 are nice nuggets of what to expect.

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  2. Enchanting, engaging all the senses, like all of Ms. Gabaldon’s work. I don’t like the waiting but know it will be worth it!

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    1. When Claire received the duke's note and answered it she talked about it to Jamie and he read her answer, so he should be able to remember the occasion only a year later! Their dialogue abuot it sounds a bit surprising!

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  3. I’m so looking forward to book 10. I hope it doesn’t take as long as book 9 but whatever, I will devour it when it’s finished. J’ai tellement apprécié cette série! I wasn’t aware of Outlander until the tv show aired and I immediately purchased all eight that were available at the time. I read them one after the other and was transported to another time, that was so rich in detail I felt I could see it. Thank you !

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  4. Cannot wait for more😁👍

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  5. I hope I live long enough for Book 10. I am older and in failing health. I have read all 9 three times. I so love the relationships and their stories.

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