Outlander, p.24
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       Outlander, p.24
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         Part #1 of Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

  loved watching them as he lectured.

  “Tell me about your husband,” said Jamie, as though he had been reading my mind. I almost jerked my hands away in shock.

  “What?”

  “Look ye, lass. We have three or four days together here. While I dinna pretend to know all there is to know, I’ve lived a good bit of my life on a farm, and unless people are verra different from other animals, it isna going to take that long to do what we have to. We have a bit of time to talk, and get over being scairt of each other.” This blunt appraisal of our situation relaxed me a little bit.

  “Are you scared of me?” He didn’t look it. Perhaps he was nervous, though. Even though he was no timid sixteen-year-old lad, this was the first time. He looked into my eyes and smiled.

  “Aye. More scairt than you, I expect. That’s why I’m holdin’ your hands; to keep my own from shaking.” I didn’t believe this, but squeezed his hands tightly in appreciation.

  “It’s a good idea. It feels a little easier to talk while we’re touching. Why did you ask about my husband, though?” I wondered a bit wildly if he wanted me to tell him about my sex life with Frank, so as to know what I expected of him.

  “Well, I knew ye must be thinking of him. Ye could hardly not, under the circumstances. I do not want ye ever to feel as though ye canna talk of him to me. Even though I’m your husband now—that feels verra strange to say—it isna right that ye should forget him, or even try to. If ye loved him, he must ha’ been a good man.”

  “Yes, he…was.” My voice trembled, and Jamie stroked the backs of my hands with his thumbs.

  “Then I shall do my best to honor his spirit by serving his wife.” He raised my hands and kissed each one formally.

  I cleared my throat. “That was a very gallant speech, Jamie.”

  He grinned suddenly. “Aye. I made it up while Dougal was making toasts downstairs.”

  I took a deep breath. “I have questions,” I said.

  He looked down, hiding a smile. “I’d suppose ye do,” he agreed. “I imagine you’re entitled to a bit of curiosity, under the circumstances. What is it ye want to know?” He looked up suddenly, blue eyes bright with mischief in the lamplight. “Why I’m a virgin yet?”

  “Er, I should say that that was more or less your own business,” I murmured. It seemed to be getting rather warm suddenly, and I pulled one hand free to grope for my handkerchief. As I did so, I felt something hard in the pocket of the gown.

  “Oh, I forgot! I still have your ring.” I drew it out and gave it back to him. It was a heavy gold circlet, set with a cabochon ruby. Instead of replacing it on his finger, he opened his sporran to put it inside.

  “It was my father’s wedding ring,” he explained. “I dinna wear it customarily, but I…well, I wished to do ye honor today by looking as well as I might.” He flushed slightly at this admission, and busied himself with refastening the sporran.

  “You did do me great honor,” I said, smiling in spite of myself. Adding a ruby ring to the blazing splendor of his costume was coals to Newcastle, but I was touched by the anxious thought behind it.

  “I’ll get one that fits ye, so soon as I may,” he promised.

  “It’s not important,” I said, feeling slightly uncomfortable. I meant, after all, to be gone soon.

  “Er, I have one main question,” I said, calling the meeting to order. “If you don’t mind telling me. Why did you agree to marry me?”

  “Ah.” He let go of my hands and sat back a bit. He paused for a moment before answering, smoothing the woolen cloth over his thighs. I could see the long line of muscle taut under the drape of the heavy fabric.

  “Well, I would ha’ missed talking to ye, for one thing,” he said, smiling.

  “No, I mean it,” I insisted. “Why?”

  He sobered then. “Before I tell ye, Claire, there’s the one thing I’d ask of you,” he said slowly.

  “What’s that?”

  “Honesty.”

  I must have flinched uncomfortably, for he leaned forward earnestly, hands on his knees.

  “I know there are things ye’d not wish to tell me, Claire. Perhaps things that ye can’t tell me.”

  You don’t know just how right you are, I thought.

  “I’ll not press you, ever, or insist on knowin’ things that are your own concern,” he said seriously. He looked down at his hands, now pressed together, palm to palm.

  “There are things that I canna tell you, at least not yet. And I’ll ask nothing of ye that ye canna give me. But what I would ask of ye—when you do tell me something, let it be the truth. And I’ll promise ye the same. We have nothing now between us, save—respect, perhaps. And I think that respect has maybe room for secrets, but not for lies. Do ye agree?” He spread his hands out, palms up, inviting me. I could see the dark line of the blood vow across his wrist. I placed my own hands lightly on his palms.

  “Yes, I agree. I’ll give you honesty.” His fingers closed lightly about mine.

  “And I shall give ye the same. Now,” he drew a deep breath, “you asked why I wed ye.”

  “I am just the slightest bit curious,” I said.

  He smiled, the wide mouth taking up the humor that lurked in his eyes. “Well, I canna say I blame ye. I had several reasons. And in fact, there’s one—maybe two—that I canna tell ye yet, though I will in time. The main reason, though, is the same reason you wed me, I imagine; to keep ye safe from the hands of Jack Randall.”

  I shuddered a bit, at the memory of the Captain, and Jamie’s hands tightened on mine.

  “You are safe,” he said firmly. “You have my name and my family, my clan, and if necessary, the protection of my body as well. The man willna lay hands on ye again, while I live.”

  “Thank you,” I said. Looking at that strong, young, determined face, with its broad cheekbones and solid jaw, I felt for the first time that this preposterous scheme of Dougal’s might actually have been a reasonable suggestion.

  The protection of my body. The phrase struck with particular impact, looking at him—the resolute set of the wide shoulders and the memory of his graceful ferocity, “showing off” at swordplay in the moonlight. He meant it; and young as he was, he knew what he meant, and bore the scars to prove it. He was no older than many of the pilots and the infantrymen I had nursed, and he knew as well as they the price of commitment. It was no romantic pledge he had made me, but the blunt promise to guard my safety at the cost of his own. I hoped only that I could offer him something in return.

  “That’s most gallant of you,” I said, with absolute sincerity. “But was it worth, well, worth marriage?”

  “It was,” he said, nodding. He smiled again, a little grimly this time. “I’ve good reason to know the man, ye ken. I wouldna see a dog given into his keeping if I could prevent it, let alone a helpless woman.”

  “How flattering,” I remarked wryly, and he laughed. He stood up and went to the table near the window. Someone—perhaps the landlady—had supplied a bouquet of wildflowers, set in water in a whisky tumbler. Behind this stood two wineglasses and a bottle.

  Jamie poured out two glasses and came back, handing me one as he resumed his seat.

  “Not quite so good as Colum’s private stock,” he said with a smile, “but none so bad, either.” He raised his glass briefly. “To Mrs. Fraser,” he said softly, and I felt a thump of panic again. I quelled it firmly and raised my own glass.

  “To honesty,” I said, and we both drank.

  “Well, that’s one reason,” I said, lowering my glass. “Are there others you can tell me?”

  He studied his wineglass with some care. “Perhaps it’s just that I want to bed you.” He looked up abruptly. “Did ye think of that?”

  If he meant to disconcert me, he was succeeding nicely, but I resolved not to show it.

  “Well, do you?” I asked boldly.

  “If I’m bein’ honest, yes, I do.” The blue eyes were steady over the rim of the glass.

&nbs
p; “You wouldn’t necessarily have had to marry me for that,” I objected.

  He appeared honestly scandalized. “You do not think I would take ye without offering you marriage!”

  “Many men would,” I said, amused at his innocence.

  He sputtered a bit, at a momentary loss. Then regaining his composure, said with formal dignity, “Perhaps I am pretentious in saying so, but I would like to think that I am not ‘many men,’ and that I dinna necessarily place my behavior at the lowest common denominator.”

  Rather touched by this speech, I assured him that I had so far found his behavior both gallant and gentlemanly, and apologized for any doubt I might inadvertently have cast on his motives.

  On this precariously diplomatic note, we paused while he refilled our empty glasses.

  * * *

  We sipped in silence for a time, both feeling a bit shy after the frankness of that last exchange. So, apparently there was something I could offer him. I couldn’t, in fairness, say the thought had not entered my mind, even before the absurd situation in which we found ourselves arose. He was a very engaging young man. And there had been that moment, right after my arrival at the castle, when he had held me on his lap, and—

  I tilted my wineglass back and drained the contents. I patted the bed beside me again.

  “Sit down here with me,” I said. “And”—I cast about for some neutral topic of conversation to ease us over the awkwardness of close proximity—“and tell me about your family. Where did you grow up?”

  The bed sank noticeably under his weight, and I braced myself not to roll against him. He sat closely enough that the sleeve of his shirt brushed my arm. I let my hand lie open on my thigh, relaxed. He took it naturally as he sat, and we leaned against the wall, neither of us looking down, but as conscious of the link as though we had been welded together.

  “Well, now, where shall I start?” He put his rather large feet up on the stool and crossed them at the ankles. With some amusement, I recognized the Highlander settling back for a leisurely dissection of that tangle of family and clan relationships which forms the background of almost any event of significance in the Scottish Highlands. Frank and I had spent one evening in the village pub, enthralled by a conversation between two old codgers, in which the responsibility for the recent destruction of an ancient barn was traced back through the intricacies of a local feud dating, so far as I could tell, from about 1790. With the sort of minor shock to which I was becoming accustomed, I realized that that particular feud, whose origins I had thought shrouded in the mists of time, had not yet begun. Suppressing the mental turmoil this realization caused, I forced my attention to what Jamie was saying.

  “My father was a Fraser, of course; a younger half-brother to the present Master of Lovat. My mother was a MacKenzie, though. Ye’ll know that Dougal and Colum are my uncles?” I nodded. The resemblance was clear enough, despite the difference in coloring. The broad cheekbones and long, straight, knife edged nose were plainly a MacKenzie inheritance.

  “Aye, well, my mother was their sister, and there were two more sisters, besides. My auntie Janet is dead, like my mother, but my auntie Jocasta married a cousin of Rupert’s, and lives up near the edge of Loch Eilean. Auntie Janet had six children, four boys and two girls, Auntie Jocasta has three, all girls, Dougal’s got the four girls, Colum has little Hamish only, and my parents had me and my sister, who’s named for my Auntie Janet, but we called her Jenny always.”

  “Rupert’s a MacKenzie, too?” I asked, already struggling to keep everyone straight.

  “Aye. He’s—” Jamie paused a moment considering, “he’s Dougal, Colum, and Jocasta’s first cousin, which makes him my second cousin. Rupert’s father and my grandfather Jacob were brothers, along with—”

  “Wait a minute. Don’t let’s go back any farther than we have to, or I shall be getting hopelessly muddled. We haven’t even got to the Frasers yet, and I’ve already lost track of your cousins.”

  He rubbed his chin, calculating. “Hmm. Well, on the Fraser side it’s a bit more complicated, because my grandfather Simon married three times, so my father had two sets of half-brothers and half-sisters. Let’s leave it for now that I’ve six Fraser uncles and three aunts still living, and we’ll leave out all the cousins from that lot.”

  “Yes, let’s.” I leaned forward and poured another glass of wine for each of us.

  The clan territories of MacKenzie and Fraser, it turned out, adjoined each other for some distance along their inner borders, running side by side from the seacoast past the lower end of Loch Ness. This shared border, as borders tend to be, was an unmapped and most uncertain line, shifting to and fro in accordance with time, custom and alliance. Along this border, at the southern end of the Fraser clan lands, lay the small estate of Broch Tuarach, the property of Brian Fraser, Jamie’s father.

  “It’s a fairly rich bit of ground, and there’s decent fishing and a good patch of forest for hunting. It maybe supports sixty crofts, and the small village—Broch Mordha, it’s called. Then there’s the manor house, of course—that’s modern,” he said, with some pride, “and the old broch that we use now for the beasts and the grain.

  “Dougal and Colum were not at all pleased to have their sister marrying a Fraser, and they insisted that she not be a tenant on Fraser land, but live on a freehold. So, Lallybroch—that’s what the folk that live there call it—was deeded to my father, but there was a clause in the deed stating that the land was to pass to my mother, Ellen’s, issue only. If she died without children, the land would go back to Lord Lovat after my father’s death, whether Father had children by another wife or no. But he didn’t remarry, and I am my mother’s son. So Lallybroch’s mine, for what that’s worth.”

  “I thought you were telling me yesterday that you didn’t have any property.” I sipped the wine, finding it rather good; it seemed to be getting better, the more I drank of it. I thought perhaps I had better stop soon.

  Jamie wagged his head from side to side. “Well, it belongs to me, right enough. The thing is, though, it doesna do me much good at present, as I can’t go there.” He looked apologetic. “There’s the minor matter of the price on my head, ye see.”

  After his escape from Fort William, he had been taken to Dougal’s house, Beannachd (means “Blessed,” he explained), to recover from his wounds and the consequent fever. From there, he had gone to France, where he had spent two years fighting with the French army, around the Spanish border.

  “You spent two years in the French army and stayed a virgin?” I blurted out incredulously. I had had a number of Frenchmen in my care, and I doubted very much that the Gallic attitude toward women had changed appreciably in two hundred years.

  One corner of Jamie’s mouth twitched, and he looked down at me sideways.

  “If ye had seen the harlots that service the French army, Sassenach, ye’d wonder I’ve the nerve even to touch a woman, let alone bed one.”

  I choked, spluttering wine and coughing until he was obliged to pound me on the back. I subsided, breathless and red-faced, and urged him to go on with his story.

  He had returned to Scotland a year or so ago, and spent six months alone or with a gang of “broken men”—men without clans—living hand to mouth in the forest, or raiding cattle from the borderlands.

  “And then, someone hit me in the head wi’ an ax or something o’ the sort,” he said, shrugging. “And I’ve to take Dougal’s word for what happened during the next two months, as I wasna taking much notice of things myself.”

  Dougal had been on a nearby estate at the time of the attack. Summoned by Jamie’s friends, he had somehow managed to transport his nephew to France.

  “Why France?” I asked. “Surely it was taking a frightful risk to move you so far.”

  “More of a risk to leave me where I was. There were English patrols all over the district—we’d been fairly active thereabouts, ye see, me and the lads—and I suppose Dougal didna want them to find me lying sensele
ss in some cottar’s hut.”

  “Or in his own house?” I said, a little cynically.

  “I imagine he’d ha’ taken me there, but for two things,” Jamie replied. “For one, he’d an English visitor at the time. For the second, he thought from the look of me I was going to die in any case, so he sent me to the abbey.”

  The Abbey of Ste. Anne de Beaupré, on the French coast, was the domain, it seemed, of the erstwhile Alexander Fraser, now abbot of that sanctuary of learning and worship. One of Jamie’s six Fraser uncles.

  “He and Dougal do not get on, particularly,” Jamie explained, “but Dougal could see there was little to be done for me here, while if there was aught to help me, it might be found there.”

  And it was. Assisted by the monks’ medical knowledge and his own strong constitution, Jamie had survived and gradually mended, under the care of the holy brothers of St. Dominic.

  “Once I was well again, I came back,” he explained. “Dougal and his men met me at the coast, and we were headed for the MacKenzie lands when we, er, met with you.”

  “Captain Randall said you were stealing cattle,” I said.

  He smiled, undisturbed by the accusation. “Well, Dougal isna the man to overlook an opportunity of turning a bit of a profit,” he observed. “We came on a nice bunch of beasts, grazing in a field, and no one about. So…” He shrugged, with a fatalistic acceptance of the inevitabilities of life.

  Apparently I had come upon the end of the confrontation between Dougal’s men and Randall’s dragoons. Spotting the English bearing down on them, Dougal had sent half his men around a thicket, driving the cattle before them, while the rest of the Scots had hidden among the saplings, ready to ambush the English as they came by.

  “Worked verra well too,” Jamie said in approval. “We popped out at them and rode straight through them, yelling. They took after us, of course, and we led them a canty chase uphill and through burns and over rocks and such; and all the while the rest of Dougal’s men were making off over the border wi’ the kine. We lost the lobsterbacks, then, and denned up at the cottage where I first saw ye, waiting for darkness to slip out.”

  “I see,” I said. “Why did you come back to Scotland in the first place, though? I should have thought you’d be much safer in France.”

  He opened his mouth to reply, then reconsidered, sipping wine. Apparently I was getting near the edge of his own area of secrecy.

  “Well, that’s a long story, Sassenach,” he said, avoiding the issue. “I’ll tell it ye later, but for now, what about you? Will ye tell me about your own family? If ye feel ye can, of course,” he added hastily.

  I thought for a moment, but there really seemed little risk in telling him about my parents and Uncle Lamb. There was, after all, some advantage to Uncle Lamb’s choice of profession. A scholar of antiquities made as much—or as little—sense in the eighteenth century as in the twentieth.

  So I told him, omitting only such minor details as automobiles and airplanes, and of course, the war. As I talked, he listened intently, asking questions now and then, expressing sympathy at my parents’ death, and interest in Uncle Lamb and his discoveries.

  “And then I met Frank,” I finished up. I paused, not sure how much more I could say, without getting into dangerous territory. Luckily Jamie saved me.

  “And ye’d as soon not talk about him right now,” he said understandingly. I nodded, wordless, my vision blurring a little. Jamie let go of the hand he had been holding, and putting an arm around me, pulled my head gently down on his shoulder.

  “It’s all right,” he said, softly stroking my hair. “Are ye tired, lass? Shall I leave ye to your sleep?”

  I was tempted for a moment to say yes, but I felt that that would be both unfair and cowardly. I cleared my throat and sat up, shaking my head.

  “No,” I said, taking a deep breath. He smelled faintly of soap and wine. “I’m all right. Tell me—tell me what games you used to play, when you were a boy.

  * * *

  The room was furnished with a thick twelve-hour candle, rings of dark wax marking the hours. We talked through three of the rings, only letting go of each other’s hands to pour wine or get up to visit the privy stool behind the curtain in the corner. Returning from one of these trips, Jamie yawned and stretched.

  “It is awfully late,” I said, getting up too. “Maybe we should go to bed.”

  “All right,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “To bed? Or to sleep?” He cocked a quizzical eyebrow and the corner of his mouth twitched.

  In truth, I had been feeling so comfortable with him that I had almost forgotten why we were there. At his words, I suddenly felt a hollow panic. “Well—” I said, faintly.

  “Either way, you’re no intending to sleep in your gown, are ye?” he asked, in his usual practical manner.

  “Well, no, I suppose not.” In fact, during the rush of events, I had not even thought about a sleeping garment—which I did not possess, in any case. I had been sleeping in my chemise or nothing, depending on the weather.

  Jamie had nothing but the clothes he wore; he was plainly going to sleep in his shirt or naked, a state of affairs which was likely to bring matters rapidly to a head.

  “Well, then, come here and I’ll help ye wi’ the laces and such.”

  His hands did in fact tremble briefly as he began to undress me. He lost some of his self-consciousness, though, in the struggle with the dozens of tiny hooks
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