Outlander, p.73
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       Outlander, p.73
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         Part #1 of Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

  castaway might find himself in possession of a knife or a fishing line. It is not immoral to use it, so long as you do so in accordance with the dictates of God’s law, to the best of your ability.”

  He paused, drew a deep breath, and blew it out in an explosive sigh that ruffled his silky mustache. He smiled.

  “And that, ma chère madame, is all I can tell you—no more than I can tell any troubled soul who comes to me for advice: put your trust in God, and pray for guidance.”

  He shoved the fresh pastry toward me.

  “But whatever you are to do, you will require strength for it. So take one last bit of advice: when in doubt, eat.”

  * * *

  When I came into Jamie’s room in the evening, he was asleep, head pillowed on his forearms. The empty broth bowl sat virtuously on the tray, the untouched platter of bread and meat beside it. I looked from the innocent, dreaming face to the platter and back. I touched the bread. My finger left a slight depression in the moist surface. Fresh.

  I left him asleep and went in search of Brother Roger, who I found in the buttery.

  “Did he eat the bread and meat?” I demanded, without preliminaries.

  Brother Roger smiled in his fluffy beard. “Yes.”

  “Did he keep it down?”

  “No.”

  I eyed him narrowly. “You didn’t clean up after him, I hope.”

  He was amused, the round cheeks pink above his beard. “Would I dare? No, he took the precaution of having a basin ready, in case.”

  “Damn wily Scot,” I said, laughing despite myself. I returned to his chamber and kissed him lightly on the forehead. He stirred, but didn’t wake. Heeding Father Anselm’s advice, I took the platter of fresh bread and meat back to my chamber for my own supper.

  * * *

  Thinking I would give Jamie time to recover, both from pique and indigestion, I stayed in my own room most of the next day, reading an herbal Brother Ambrose had provided me. After lunch I went to check on my recalcitrant patient. Instead of Jamie, though, I found Murtagh, sitting on a stool tilted back against the wall, wearing a bemused expression.

  “Where is he?” I said, looking blankly around the room.

  Murtagh jerked a thumb toward the window. It was a cold, dark day, and the lamps were lit. The window was uncovered and the chilly draft set the little flame fluttering in its dish.

  “He went out?” I asked incredulously. “Where? Why? And what on earth is he wearing?” Jamie had remained largely naked over the last several days, since the room was warm and any pressure on his healing wounds was painful. He had worn a monk’s outer robe when leaving his room on necessary short excursions, with the support of Brother Roger, but the robe was still present, neatly folded at the foot of the bed.

  Murtagh rocked his stool forward and regarded me owlishly.

  “How many questions is that? Four?” He held up one hand, index finger pointing up.

  “One: aye, he went out.” The middle finger rose. “Two: Where? Damned if I know.” The fourth finger joined its companions. “Three: Why? He said he was tired of bein’ cooped up indoors.” The little finger waggled briefly. “Four: Also damned if I know. He wasna wearin’ anything at all last time I saw him.”

  Murtagh folded all four fingers and stuck out his thumb.

  “Ye didna ask me, but he’s been gone an hour or so.”

  I fumed, at a loss as to what to do. Since the offender wasn’t available, I snapped at Murtagh instead.

  “Don’t you know it’s near freezing out there, and snow coming on? Why didn’t you stop him? And what do you mean he isn’t wearing anything?”

  The diminutive clansman was tranquil. “Aye, I know it. Reckon he does, too, not bein’ blind. As for stoppin’ him, I tried.” He nodded at the robe on the bed.

  “When he said he was goin’ out, I said he wasna fit for it, and you’d have my head, did I let him go. I snatched up his gown and set my back against the door, and told him he wasna leavin’, unless he was prepared to go through me.”

  Murtagh paused, then said irrelevantly, “Ellen MacKenzie had the sweetest smile I ever saw; would warm a man to the backbone just to see it.”

  “So you let her fat-headed son go out and freeze to death,” I said impatiently. “What’s his mother’s smile to do with it?”

  Murtagh rubbed his nose meditatively. “Weel, when I said I wouldna let him pass, young Jamie just looked at me for a moment. Then he gave me a smile looked just like his ma’s, and stepped out of the window in naught but his skin. By the time I got to the window, he was gone.”

  I rolled my eyes heavenward.

  “Reckoned I should let ye know where he’d gone,” Murtagh continued, “so ye’d no be worrit for him.”

  “So I’d no be worrit for him!” I muttered under my breath as I strode toward the stables. “He’d better be ‘worrit,’ when I catch up to him!”

  There was only the one main road heading inland. I rode along it at a good pace, keeping an eye on the fields as I passed. This part of France was a rich farming area, and luckily most of the forest had been cleared; wolves and bears would not be as much a danger as they might be further inland.

  As it happened, I found him barely a mile beyond the gates of the monastery, sitting on one of the ancient Roman mile-markers that dotted the roads.

  He was barefoot, but otherwise clad in a short jerkin and thin breeches, the property of one of the stable lads, to judge from the stains on them.

  I reined up and stared at him for a moment, leaning on the pommel. “Your nose is blue,” I remarked conversationally. I glanced downward. “And so are your feet.”

  He grinned and wiped his nose on the back of his hand.

  “So are my balls. Want to warm them for me?” Cold or not, he was plainly in good spirits. I slid off the horse and stood in front of him, shaking my head.

  “It’s no use at all, is it?” I asked.

  “What isn’t?” He rubbed his hand on the ragged breeches.

  “Being angry with you. You don’t care a bit whether you give yourself pneumonia, or get eaten by bears, or worry me half to death, do you?”

  “Well, I’m no much worrit about the bears. They sleep in the winter, ye know.”

  I lost my temper and swung my hand at him, intending to slap his ear through the side of his head. He caught my wrist and held it without difficulty, laughing at me. After a moment’s fruitless struggle, I gave up and laughed too.

  “Are you coming back, now?” I asked. “Or have you got anything else to prove?”

  He gestured back along the road with his chin. “Take the horse back to that big oak tree and wait for me there. I’ll walk that far. Alone.”

  I bit my tongue to repress the several remarks I felt bubbling to the surface, and mounted. At the oak tree, I got off and looked down the road. After a moment, though, I found I couldn’t bear to watch his labored progress. When he fell the first time, I clutched the reins tight in my gloved hands, then resolutely turned my back, and waited.

  We barely made it back to the guests’ wing, but managed, staggering through the corridor, his arm looped over my shoulder for support. I spotted Brother Roger, anxiously lurking in the hall, and sent him. scampering for a warming pan, while I steered my awkward burden into the chamber and dumped him onto the bed. He grunted at the impact, but lay still, eyes closed, as I proceeded to strip the filthy rags off him.

  “All right; in you get.”

  He rolled obediently under the covers I held back for him. I thrust the warming pan hastily between the sheets at the foot of the bed and shoved it back and forth. When I removed it, he stretched his long legs down and relaxed with a blissful sigh as his feet reached the pocket of warmth.

  I went quietly about the room, picking up the discarded clothes, straightening the trifling disorder on the table, putting fresh charcoal in the brazier, adding a pinch of elecampane to sweeten the smoke. I thought he was asleep, and was startled when he spoke behind me.


  “Claire.”

  “Yes?”

  “I love you.”

  “Oh.” I was mildly surprised, but undeniably pleased. “I love you too.”

  He sighed, and opened his eyes halfway.

  “Randall,” he said. “Toward the end. That’s what he wanted.” I was even more startled by this, and replied cautiously.

  “Oh?”

  “Aye.” His eyes were fixed on the open window, where the snow clouds filled the space with a deep, even grey.

  “I was lying on the floor, and he was lying next to me. He was naked by then, too, and both of us were smeared with blood—and other things. I remember trying to lift my head, and feeling my cheek stuck to the stone of the floor with dried blood.” He frowned, a distant look in his eyes as he conjured the memory.

  “I was far gone by then; so far that I didna even feel much pain—I was just terribly tired, and everything seemed far away and not very real.”

  “Just as well,” I said, with some asperity, and he smiled briefly.

  “Aye, just as well. I was drifting a bit, half-fainted, I expect, so I don’t know how long we both lay there, but I came awake to find him holding me and pressing himself against me.” He hesitated, as though the next part were difficult to say.

  “I’d not fought him ’til then. But I was so tired, and I thought I couldna bear it again.…anyway, I started to squirm away from him, not really fighting, just pulling back. He had his arms round my neck, and he pulled on me, and buried his face in my shoulder, and I could feel he was crying. I couldna tell what he was saying for a bit, and then I could; he was saying ‘I love you, I love you,’ over and over, with his tears and his spittle running down my chest.” Jamie shuddered briefly, from cold or memory. He blew out a long breath, disturbing the cloud of fragrant smoke that swirled near the ceiling.

  “I canna think why I did it. But I put my arms about him, and we just lay still for a bit. He stopped crying, finally, and kissed me and stroked me. Then he whispered to me, ‘Tell me that you love me.’ ” He paused in the recital, smiling faintly.

  “I would not do it. I dinna know why. By then I would ha’ licked his boots and called him the King of Scotland, if he’d wanted it. But I wouldna tell him that. I don’t even remember thinking about it; I just—wouldn’t.” He sighed and his good hand twitched, gripping the coverlet.

  “He used me again—hard. And he kept on saying it: ‘Tell me that you love me, Alex. Say that you love me.’ ”

  “He called you Alex?” I interrupted, not able to hold back.

  “Aye. I remember I wondered how he knew my second name. Did not occur to me to wonder why he’d use it, even if he knew.” He shrugged.

  “Anyway, I didna move or say a word, and when he’d finished, he jumped up as though he’d gone mad, and started to beat me with something—I could not see what—cursing and shouting at me, saying ‘You know you love me! Tell me so! I know it’s true!” I got my arms up over my head to protect it, and after a bit I must have fainted again, because the pain in my shoulders was the last I remember, except for sort of a dream about bellowing kine. Then I woke, jouncing along belly-down on a horse for a few moments, and then nothing again ’til I came round on the hearthside at Eldridge, with you looking down on me.” He closed his eyes again. His tone was dreamy, almost unconcerned.

  “I think…if I had told him that…he would have killed me.”

  Some people have nightmares peopled by monsters. I dreamed of genealogical charts, thin black branches, bearing clusters of dates on every stem. The lines like snakes, with death between the brackets of their jaws. Once again I heard Frank’s voice, saying He became a soldier, a good choice for a second son. There was a third brother who became a curate, but I don’t know much about him…I didn’t know much about him, either. Only his name. There were the three sons listed on that chart; the sons of Joseph and Mary Randall. I had seen it many times: the oldest, William; and the second, Jonathan; and the third, Alexander.

  Jamie spoke again, summoning me from my thoughts.

  “Sassenach?”

  “Yes?”

  “Ye know the fortress I told ye of, the one inside me?”

  “I remember.”

  He smiled without opening his eyes, and reached out a hand for me.

  “Well, I’ve a lean-to built, at least. And a roof to keep out the rain.”

  * * *

  I went to bed tired but peaceful, and wondering. Jamie would recover. When that had been in doubt, I had looked no further than the next hour, the next meal, the next administration of medicine. But now I needed to look further.

  The abbey was a sanctuary, but only a temporary one. We could not stay here indefinitely, no matter how hospitable the monks. Scotland and England were too dangerous by far; unless Lord Lovat could help—a remote contingency, under the circumstances. Our future must lie on this side of the channel. Knowing what I now knew about Jamie’s seasickness, I understood his reluctance to consider emigration to America—three months of nausea was a daunting prospect to anyone. So what was left?

  France was the most likely. We both spoke French fluently. While Jamie could do as well in Spanish, German, or Italian, I was not so linguistically blessed. Also, the Fraser family was rich in connections here; perhaps we could find a place on an estate owned by a relative or friend, and live peacefully in the country. The idea held considerable attractions.

  But there remained, as always, the question of time. It was the beginning of 1744—the New Year was but two weeks past. And in 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie would take ship from France to Scotland, the Young Pretender come to claim his father’s throne. With him would come disaster; war and slaughter, the crushing of the Highland clans, and with them, the butchery of all that Jamie—and I—held dear.

  And between now and then, there lay one year. One year, when things might happen. When steps might be taken to prevent disaster. How, and by what means? I had no idea, but neither had I any doubts about the consequences of inaction.

  Could events be changed? Perhaps. My fingers stole to my left hand and idly caressed the gold ring on my fourth finger. I thought of what I had said to Jonathan Randall, burning with rage and horror in the dungeons under Wentworth Prison.

  “I curse you,” I had said, “with the hour of your death.” And I had told him when he would die. Had told him the date written on the genealogical chart, in Frank’s fine black calligraphic script—April 16, 1745. Jonathan Randall was to die at the battle of Culloden, caught up in the slaughter that the English would create. But he didn’t. He had died instead a few hours later, trampled beneath the hooves of my revenge.

  And he had died a childless bachelor. Or at least I thought so. The chart—that cursed chart!—had given the date of his marriage, sometime in 1744. And the birth of his son, Frank’s five-times-great-grandfather, soon after. If Jack Randall was dead and childless, how would Frank be born? And yet his ring was still upon my hand. He had existed, would exist. I comforted myself with the thought, rubbing the ring in the darkness, as though it contained a jinni that could advise me.

  I woke out of a sound sleep sometime later with a half-scream.

  “Ssh. ’Tis only me.” The large hand lifted from my mouth. With the candle out, the room was pitch-black. I groped blindly until my hand struck something solid.

  “You shouldn’t be out of bed!” I exclaimed, still groggy with sleep. My fingers slid over smooth cold flesh. “You’re freezing!”

  “Well, of course I am,” he said, somewhat crossly. “I havena got any clothes on, and it’s perishing in the corridor. Will ye let me in bed?”

  I wriggled as far over as I could in the narrow cot, and he slid in naked beside me, clutching me for warmth. His breathing was uneven, and I thought his trembling was from weakness as much as from cold.

  “God, you’re warm.” He snuggled closer, sighing. “It feels good to hold ye, Sassenach.”

  I didn’t bother asking what he was doing there; that
was becoming quite plain. Nor did I ask whether he was sure. I had my own doubts, but would not voice them for fear of making self-fulfilling prophecies. I rolled to face him, mindful of the injured hand.

  There was that sudden startling moment of joining, that quick gliding strangeness that at once becomes familiar. Jamie sighed deeply, with satisfaction and, perhaps, relief. We lay still for a moment, as though afraid to disturb our fragile link by moving. Jamie’s good hand caressed me slowly, feeling its way in the dark, fingers spread like a cat’s whiskers, sensitive to vibration. He moved against me, once, as though asking a question, and I answered him in the same language.

  We began a delicate game of slow movements, a balancing act between his desire and his weakness, between pain and the growing pleasure of the body. Somewhere in the dark, I thought to myself that I must tell Anselm that there was another way to make time stop, but then thought perhaps not, as it was not a way open to a priest.

  I held Jamie steady, with a light hand on his scarred back. He set our rhythm, but let me carry the force of our movement. We were both silent save our breathing, until the end. Feeling him tiring, I grasped him firmly and pulled him to me, rocking my hips to take him deeper, forcing him toward the climax. “Now,” I said softly, “come to me. Now!” He put his forehead hard against mine and yielded himself to me with a quivering sigh.

  The Victorians called it “the little death,” and with good reason. He lay so limp and heavy that I would have thought him dead, if not for the slow thump of his heart against my ribs. It seemed a long time before he stirred and mumbled something against my shoulder.

  “What did you say?”

  He turned his head so his mouth was just below my ear. I felt warm breath on my neck. “I said,” he answered softly, “my hand doesna hurt at all just now.”

  The good hand gently explored my face, smoothing away the wetness on my cheeks.

  “Were ye afraid for me?” he asked.

  “Yes,” I said. “I thought it was too soon.”

  He laughed softly in the dark. “It was; I almost killed myself. Aye, I was afraid too. But I woke with my hand painin’ me and couldna go back to sleep. I was tossing about, feeling lonely for ye. The more I thought about ye, the more I wanted ye, and I was halfway down the corridor before I thought to worry about what I was going to do when I got here. And once I thought…” He paused, stroking my cheek. “Well, I’m no verra good, Sassenach, but I’m maybe not a coward, after all.”

  I turned my head to meet his kiss. His stomach rumbled loudly.

  “Don’t laugh, you,” he grumbled. “It’s your fault, starving me. It’s a wonder I could manage at all, on nothing but beef broth and ale.”

  “All right,” I said, still laughing. “You win. You can have an egg for your breakfast tomorrow.”

  “Ha,” he said, in tones of deep satisfaction. “I knew ye’d feed me, if I offered ye a suitable inducement.”

  We fell asleep face to face, locked in each other’s arms.

  41

  FROM THE WOMB OF THE EARTH

  Over the next two weeks, Jamie continued to heal, and I continued to wonder. Some days I would feel that we must go to Rome, where the Pretender’s court held sway, and do…what? Other times, I wanted with all my heart only to find a safe and isolated spot, to live our lives in peace.

  It was a warm, bright day, and the icicles hanging from the gargoyles’ noses dripped incessantly, leaving deep ragged pits in the snow beneath the eaves. The door of Jamie’s room had been left ajar and the window uncovered, to clear out some of the lingering vapors of smoke and illness.

  I poked my head cautiously around the jamb, not wishing to wake him if he was asleep, but the narrow cot was empty. He was seated by the open window, turned half away from the door so that his face was mostly hidden.

  He was desperately thin still, but the shoulders were broad and straight beneath the rough fabric of the novice’s habit, and the grace of his strength was returning; he sat solidly without a tremor, back straight and legs curled back beneath the stool, the lines of his body firm and harmonious. He was holding his right wrist with his sound left hand, slowly turning the right hand in the sunlight.

  There was a small pile of cloth strips on the table. He had removed the bandages from the injured hand and was examining it closely. I stood in the doorway, not moving. From here, I could see the hand clearly as he turned it back and forth, probing gingerly.

 
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