Outlander, p.10
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Outlander, p.10
Download  in MP3 audio

         Part #1 of Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

  “Young Jamie,” he said briefly, before returning his attention to the mutton bone in his hands.

  “Jamie? Why, whatever is the matter wi’ the lad?” Her full-cheeked countenance creased with concern.

  “Naught but a scratch, my dear,” Colum soothed. He glanced across at his brother. “Where is he, though, Dougal?” I imagined perhaps, that the dark eyes held a hint of suspicion.

  His brother shrugged, eyes still on his plate. “I sent him down to the stables to help auld Alec wi’ the horses. Seemed the best place for him, all things considered.” He raised his eyes to meet his brother’s gaze. “Or did ye have some other idea?”

  Colum seemed dubious. “The stables? Aye, well…ye trust him so far?”

  Dougal wiped a hand carelessly across his mouth and reached for a loaf of bread. “It’s yours to say, Colum, if ye dinna agree wi’ my orders.”

  Colum’s lips tightened briefly, but he only said, “Nay, I reckon he’ll do well enough there,” before returning to his meal.

  I had some doubts myself, as to a stable being the proper place for a patient with a gunshot wound, but was reluctant to offer an opinion in this company. I resolved to seek out the young man in question in the morning, just to assure myself that he was as suitably cared for as could be managed.

  I refused the pudding and excused myself, pleading tiredness, which was in no way prevarication. I was so exhausted that I scarcely paid attention when Colum said “Goodnight to ye, then, Mistress Beauchamp. I’ll send someone to bring ye to Hall in the morning.”

  One of the servants, seeing me groping my way along the corridor, kindly lighted me to my chamber. She touched her candle to the one on my table, and a mellow light flickered over the massive stones of the wall, giving me a moment’s feeling of entombment. Once she had left, though, I pulled the embroidered hanging away from the window, and the feeling blew away with the inrush of cool air. I tried to think about everything that had happened, but my mind refused to consider anything but sleep. I slid under the quilts, blew out the candle, and fell asleep watching the slow rise of the moon.

  * * *

  It was the massive Mrs. FitzGibbons who arrived again to wake me in the morning, bearing what appeared to be the full array of toiletries available to a well-born Scottish lady. Lead combs to darken the eyebrows and lashes, pots of powdered orrisroot and rice powder, even a stick of what I assumed was kohl, though I had never seen any, and a delicate lidded porcelain cup of French rouge, incised with a row of gilded swans.

  Mrs. FitzGibbons also had a striped green overskirt and bodice of silk, with yellow lisle stockings, as a change from the homespun I had been provided with the day before. Whatever “Hall” involved, it seemed to be an occasion of some consequence. I was tempted to insist on attending in my own clothes, just to be contrary, but the memory of fat Rupert’s response to my shift was sufficient to deter me.

  Besides, I rather liked Colum, despite the fact that he apparently intended to keep me here for the foreseeable future. Well, we’d just see about that, I thought, as I did my best with the rouge. Dougal had said the young man I had doctored was in the stables, hadn’t he? And stables presumably had horses, upon which one could ride away. I resolved to go looking for Jamie MacTavish, as soon as Hall was over with.

  Hall turned out to be just that; the dining hall where I had eaten the night before. Now it was transformed, though; tables, benches, and stools pushed back against the walls, the head table removed and replaced by a substantial carved chair of dark wood, covered with what I assumed must be the MacKenzie tartan, a plaid of dark green and black, with a faint red and white over-check. Sprigs of holly decorated the walls, and there were fresh rushes strewn on the stone flags.

  A young piper was blowing up a set of small pipes behind the empty chair, with numerous sighs and wheezes. Near him were what I assumed must be the intimate members of Colum’s staff: a thin-faced man in trews and smocked shirt, who lounged against the wall; a balding little man in a coat of fine brocade, clearly a scribe of some sort, as he was seated at a small table equipped with inkhorn, quills, and paper; two brawny kilted men with the attitude of guards; and to one side, one of the largest men I have ever seen.

  I stared at this giant with some awe. Coarse black hair grew far down on his forehead, nearly meeting the beetling eyebrows. Similar mats covered the immense forearms, exposed by the rolled-up sleeves of his shirt. Unlike most of the men I had seen, the giant did not seem to be armed, save for a tiny knife he carried in his stocking-top; I could barely make out the stubby hilt in the thickets of black curls that covered his legs above the gaily checked hose. A broad leather belt circled what must be a forty-inch waist, but carried neither dirk nor sword. In spite of his size, the man had an amiable expression, and seemed to be joking with the thin-faced man, who looked like a marionette in comparison with his huge conversant.

  The piper suddenly began to play, with a preliminary belch, followed at once by an ear-splitting screech that eventually settled down into something resembling a tune.

  There were some thirty or forty people present, all seeming somewhat better-dressed and groomed than the diners of the night before. All heads turned to the lower end of the hall, where, after a pause for the music to build up steam, Colum entered, followed at a few paces by his brother Dougal.

  Both MacKenzies were clearly dressed for ceremony, in dark green kilts and well-cut coats, Colum’s of pale green and Dougal’s of russet, both with the plaid slung across their chests and secured at one shoulder by a large jeweled brooch. Colum’s black hair was loose today, carefully oiled and curled upon his shoulders. Dougal’s was still clubbed back in a queue that nearly matched the russet satin of his coat.

  Colum walked slowly up the length of the hall, nodding and smiling to faces on either side. Looking across the hall, I could see another archway, near where his chair was placed. Clearly he could have entered the hall by that doorway, instead of the one at the far end of the room. So it was deliberate, this flaunting of his twisted legs and ungainly waddle on the long progress to his seat. Deliberate, too, the contrast with his tall, straight-bodied younger brother, who looked neither to left nor right, but walked straight behind Colum to the wooden chair and took up his station standing close behind.

  Colum sat and waited for a moment, then raised one hand. The pipes’ wailing died away in a pitiful whine, and “Hall” began.

  It quickly became apparent that this was the regular occasion on which the laird of Castle Leoch dispensed justice to his tacksmen and tenants, hearing cases and settling disputes. There was an agenda; the balding scribe read out the names and the various parties came forward in their turn.

  While some cases were presented in English, most of the proceedings were held in Gaelic. I had already noticed that the language involved considerable eye-rolling and foot-stamping for emphasis, making it difficult to judge the seriousness of a case by the demeanor of the participants.

  Just as I had decided that one man, a rather moth-eaten specimen with an enormous sporran made of an entire badger, was accusing his neighbor of nothing less than murder, arson, and wife-stealing, Colum raised his eyebrows and said something quick in Gaelic that had both complainant and defendant clutching their sides with laughter. Wiping his eyes, the complainant nodded at last, and offered a hand to his opponent, as the scribe scribbled busily, quill scratching like a mouse’s feet.

  I was fifth on the agenda. A placement, I thought, carefully calculated to indicate to the assembled crowd the importance of my presence in the Castle.

  For my benefit, English was spoken during my presentation.

  “Mistress Beauchamp, will ye stand forth?” called the scribe.

  Urged forward by an unnecessary shove from Mrs. FitzGibbons’s meaty hand, I stumbled out into the clear space before Colum, and rather awkwardly curtsied, as I had seen other females do. The shoes I had been given did not distinguish between right foot and left, being in either case only an oblong
of formed leather, which made graceful maneuvering difficult. There was a stir of interest through the crowd as Colum paid me the honor of getting up from his chair. He offered me his hand, which I took in order not to fall flat on my face.

  Rising from the curtsy, mentally cursing the slippers, I found myself staring at Dougal’s chest. As my captor, it was apparently up to him to make formal application for my reception—or captivity, depending how you wanted to look at it. I waited with some interest to see just how the brothers had decided to explain me.

  “Sir,” began Dougal, bowing formally to Colum, “we pray your indulgence and mercy with regard to a lady in need of succor and safe refuge. Mistress Claire Beauchamp, an English lady of Oxford, finding herself set upon by highwaymen and her servant most traitorously killed, fled into the forests of your lands, where she was discovered and rescued by myself and my men. We beg that Castle Leoch might offer this lady refuge until”—he paused, and a cynical smile twisted his mouth—“her English connections may be apprised of her whereabouts and due provision made for her safe transport.”

  I didn’t miss the emphasis laid on “English,” and neither did anyone else in the hall, I was sure. So, I was to be tolerated, but held under suspicion. Had he said French, I would have been considered a friendly, or at worst, neutral intrusion. It might be more difficult than I had expected to get away from the castle.

  Colum bowed graciously to me and offered me the unlimited hospitality of his humble hearth, or words to that effect. I curtsied again, with somewhat more success, and retired to the ranks, followed by curious but more or less friendly stares.

  Until this point, the cases seemed to have been of interest chiefly to the parties involved. The spectators had chatted quietly among themselves, waiting their turns. My own appearance had been met with an interested murmur of speculation and, I thought, approval.

  But now there was an excited stir through the hall. A burly man stepped forward into the clear space, dragging a young girl by the hand. She looked about sixteen, with a pretty, pouting face and long yellow hair tied back with blue ribbon. She stumbled into the space and stood alone, while the man behind her expostulated in Gaelic, waving his arms and occasionally pointing at her in illustration or accusation. Small murmurs ran through the crowd as he talked.

  Mrs. FitzGibbons, her bulk resting on a sturdy stool, was craning forward with interest. I leaned forward and whispered in her ear. “What’s she done?”

  The huge dame replied without moving her lips or taking her eyes from the action. “Her father accuses her of loose behavior; consortin’ improperly wi’ young men against his orders,” muttered Mistress FitzGibbons, leaning her bulk backward on the stool. “Her father wishes the MacKenzie to have her punished for disobedience.”

  “Punished? How?” I hissed, as quietly as I could.

  “Shhh.”

  In the center, attention now focused on Colum, who was considering the girl and her father. Looking from one to the other, he began to speak. Frowning, he rapped his knuckles sharply on the arm of his chair, and a shiver ran through the crowd.

  “He’s decided,” whispered Mrs. FitzGibbons, unnecessarily. What he had decided was also clear; the giant stirred for the first time, unbuckling his leather belt in a leisurely manner. The two guards took the terrified girl by the arms and turned her so that her back was to Colum and her father. She began to cry, but made no appeal. The crowd was watching with the sort of intent excitement that attends public executions and road accidents. Suddenly a Gaelic voice from the back of the crowd rose, audible over the shuffle and murmur.

  Heads turned to locate the speaker. Mrs. FitzGibbons craned, even rising on tiptoe to see. I had no idea what had been said, but I thought I recognized that voice, deep but soft, with a spiky way of clipping the final consonants.

  The crowd parted, and Jamie MacTavish came out into the clear space. He inclined his head respectfully to the MacKenzie, then spoke some more. Whatever he said seemed to cause some controversy. Colum, Dougal, the little scribe, and the girl’s father all seemed to be getting into the act.

  “What is it?” I muttered to Mrs. Fitz. My patient was looking much better than when last seen, though still a bit white-faced, I thought. He’d found a clean shirt somewhere; the empty right sleeve had been folded and tucked into the waist of his kilt.

  Mrs. Fitz was watching the proceedings with great interest.

  “The lad’s offering to take the girl’s punishment for her,” she said absently, peeking around a spectator in front of us.

  “What? But he’s injured! Surely they won’t let him do something like that!” I spoke as quietly as I could under the hum of the crowd.

  Mrs. Fitz shook her head. “I dunno, lass. They’re arguin’ it now. See, ’tis allowable for a man o’ her own clan to offer for her, but the lad is no a MacKenzie.”

  “He’s not?” I was surprised, having naively assumed that all the men in the group that had captured me came from Castle Leoch.

  “O’ course not,” said Mrs. Fitz impatiently. “Do ye no see his tartan?”

  Of course I did, once she had pointed it out. While Jamie also wore a hunting tartan in shades of green and brown, the colors were different than that of the other men present. It was a deeper brown, almost a bark color, with a faint blue stripe.

  Apparently Dougal’s contribution was the deciding argument. The knot of advisers dispersed and the crowd hushed, falling back to wait. The two guards released the girl, who ran back into the crowd, and Jamie stepped forward to take her place between them. I watched in horror as they moved to take his arms, but he spoke in Gaelic to the man with the strap, and the two guards fell back. Amazingly, a wide, impudent grin lighted his face briefly. Stranger still, there was a quick answering smile on the face of the giant.

  “What did he say?” I demanded of my interpreter.

  “He chooses fists rather than the strap. A man may choose so, though a woman may not.”

  “Fists?” I had no time to question further. The executioner drew back a fist like a ham and drove it into Jamie’s abdomen, doubling him up and driving his breath out with a gasp. The man waited for him to straighten up before moving in and administering a series of sharp jabs to the ribs and arms. Jamie made no effort to defend himself, merely shifting his balance to remain upright in the face of the assault.

  The next blow was to the face. I winced and shut my eyes involuntarily as Jamie’s head rocked back. The executioner took his time between blows, careful not to knock his victim down or strike too many times in one spot. It was a scientific beating, skillfully engineered to inflict bruising pain, but not to disable or maim. One of Jamie’s eyes was swelling shut and he was breathing heavily, but otherwise he didn’t appear too badly off.

  I was in an agony of apprehension, lest one of the blows redamage the wounded shoulder. My strapping job was still in place, but it wouldn’t hold for long against this sort of treatment. How long was this going to go on? The room was silent, except for the smacking thud of flesh on flesh and an occasional soft grunt.

  “Wee Angus’ll stop when blood’s drawn,” whispered Mrs. Fitz, apparently divining my unasked question. “Usually when the nose is broken.”

  “That’s barbarous,” I hissed fiercely. Several people around us looked at me censoriously.

  The executioner apparently now decided that the punishment had gone on for the prescribed length of time. He drew back and let fly a massive blow; Jamie staggered and fell to his knees. The two guards hurried forward to pull him to his feet, and as he raised his head, I could see blood welling from his battered mouth. The crowd burst into a hum of relief, and the executioner stepped back, satisfied with the performance of his duty.

  One guard held Jamie’s arm, supporting him as he shook his head to clear it. The girl had disappeared. Jamie raised his head and looked directly at the towering executioner. Amazingly, he smiled again, as best he could. The bleeding lips moved.

  “Thank you,” he said,
with some difficulty, and bowed formally to the bigger man before turning to go. The attention of the crowd shifted back to the MacKenzie and the next case before him.

  I saw Jamie leave the hall by the door in the opposite wall. Having more interest in him now than in the proceedings, I took my leave of Mrs. FitzGibbons with a quick word and pushed my way across the hall to follow him.

  I found him in a small side courtyard, leaning against a wellhead and dabbing at his mouth with his shirttail.

  “Here, use this,” I said, offering him a kerchief from my pocket.

  “Unh.” He accepted it with a noise that I took for thanks. A pale, watery sun had come out by now, and I looked the young man over carefully by its light. A split lip and badly swollen eye seemed to be the chief injuries, though there were marks along the jaw and neck that would be black bruises soon.

  “Is your mouth cut inside too?”

  “Unh-huh.” He bent down and I pulled down his lower jaw, gently turning down the lip to examine the inside. There was a deep gash in the glistening cheek lining, and a couple of small punctures in the pinkness of the inner lip. Blood mixed with saliva welled up and overflowed.

  “Water,” he said with some difficulty, blotting the bloody trickle that ran down his chin.

  “Right.” Luckily there was a bucket and horn cup on the rim of the well. He rinsed his mouth and spat several times, then splashed water over the rest of his face.

  “What did you do that for?” I asked curiously.

  “What?” he said, straightening up and wiping his face on his sleeve. He felt the split lip gingerly, wincing slightly.

  “Offer to take that girl’s punishment for her. Do you know her?” I felt a certain diffidence about asking, but I really wanted to know what lay behind that quixotic gesture.

  “I ken who she is. Havena spoken to her, though.”

  “Then why did you do it?”

  He shrugged, a movement that also made him wince.

  “It would have shamed the lass, to be beaten in Hall. Easier for me.”

  “Easier?” I echoed incredulously, looking at his smashed face. He was probing his bruised ribs experimentally with his free hand, but looked up and gave me a one-sided grin.

  “Aye. She’s verra young. She would ha’ been shamed before everyone as knows her, and it would take a long time to get over it. I’m sore, but no really damaged; I’ll get over it in a day or two.”

  “But why you?” I asked. He looked as though he thought this an odd question.

  “Why not me?” he said.

  Why not? I wanted to say. Because you didn’t know her, she was nothing to you. Because you were already hurt. Because it takes something rather special in the way of guts to stand up in front of a crowd and let someone hit you in the face, no matter what your motive.

  “Well, a musket ball through the trapezius might be considered a good reason,” I said dryly.

  He looked amused, fingering the area in question.

  “Trapezius, is it? I didna know that.”

  “Och, here ye are, lad! I see ye’ve found your healer already; perhaps I won’t be needed.” Mrs. FitzGibbons waddled through the narrow entrance to the courtyard, squeezing a bit. She held a tray with a few jars, a large bowl, and a clean linen towel.

  “I haven’t done anything but fetch some water,” I said. “I think he’s not badly hurt, but I’m not sure what we can do besides wash his face for him.”

  “Och, now, there’s always somethin’, always somethin’ that can be done,” she said comfortably. “That eye, now, lad, let’s have a look at that.” Jamie sat obligingly on the edge of the well, turning his face toward her. Pudgy fingers pressed gently on the purple swelling, leaving white depressions that faded quickly.

  “Still bleedin’ under the skin. Leeches will help, then.” She lifted the cover from the bowl, revealing several small dark sluglike objects, an inch or two long, covered with a disagreeable-looking liquid. Scooping out two of them, she pressed one to the flesh just under the brow bone and the other just below the eye.

  “See,” she explained to me, “once a bruise is set, like, leeches do ye no good. But where ye ha’ a swellin’ like this, as is still comin’ up, that means the blood is flowin’ under the skin, and leeches can pull it out.”

  I watched, fascinated and disgusted. “Doesn’t that hurt?” I asked Jamie. He shook his head, making the leeches bounce obscenely.

  “No. Feels a bit cold, is all.” Mrs. Fitz was busy with her jars and bottles.

  “Too many folk misuses leeches,” she instructed me. “They’re verra helpful sometimes, but ye must understand how. When ye use ’em on an old bruise, they just take healthy blood, and it does the bruise no good. Also ye must be careful not to use too many at a time; they’ll weaken someone as is verra ill or has lost blood already.”

  I listened respectfully, absorbing all this information, though I sincerely hoped I would never be asked to make use of it.

  “Now, lad, rinse your mouth wi’ this; ’twill cleanse the cuts and ease the pain. Willow-bark tea,” she explained in an aside to me, “wi’ a bit of ground orrisroot.” I nodded; I recalled vaguely from a long-ago botany lecture hearing that willow bark in fact contained salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin.

  “Won’t the willow bark increase the chance of bleeding?” I asked. Mrs. Fitz nodded approvingly.

  “Aye. It do sometimes. That’s why ye follow it wi’ a good handful of St. John’s wort soaked in vinegar; that stops bleedin’, if it’s gathered under a full moon and ground up well.” Jamie obediently swilled his mouth with the astringent solution, eyes watering at the sting of the aromatic vinegar.

  The leeches were fully engorged by now, swollen to four times their original size. The dark wrinkled skins were now stretched and shiny; they looked like rounded, polished stones. One leech dropped suddenly off, bouncing to the ground at my feet. Mrs. Fitz scooped it up deftly, bending easily despite her bulk, and dropped it back in the bowl. Grasping the other leech delicately just behind the jaws, she pulled gently, making the head stretch.

  “Ye don’t want to pull too hard, lass,” she said. “Sometimes they burst.” I shuddered involuntarily at the idea. “But if they’re nearly full, sometimes they’ll come off easy. If they don’t, just leave ’em be and they’ll fall off by themselves.” The leech did, in fact, let go easily, leaving a trickle of blood where it had been attached. I blotted the tiny wound with the corner of a towel dipped in the vinegar solution. To my surprise, the leeches had worked; the swelling was substantially reduced, and the eye was at least partially open, though the lid was still puffy. Mrs. Fitz examined it critically and decided against the use of another leech.

  “Ye’ll be a sight tomorrow, lad, and no mistake,” she said, shaking her head, “but at least ye’ll be able to see oot o’ that eye. What ye want now is a wee bit
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll