Outlander, p.76
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       Outlander, p.76
 

         Part #1 of Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

  complications were the leading cause of death for women in these times. Still, I knew a thing or two myself, and I had no intention whatever of exposing myself to what passed for medical care here.

  “Aye, that—and everything,” he said softly. “I want to protect ye, Sassenach—spread myself over ye like a cloak and shield you and the child wi’ my body.” His voice was soft and husky, with a slight catch in it. “I would do anything for ye … and yet … there’s nothing I can do. It doesna matter how strong I am, or how willing; I canna go with you where ye must go … nor even help ye at all. And to think of the things that might happen, and me helpless to stop them … aye, I’m afraid, Sassenach.

  “And yet”—he turned me toward him, hand closing gently over one breast—“yet when I think of you wi’ my child at your breast … then I feel as though I’ve gone hollow as a soap bubble, and perhaps I shall burst with joy.”

  He pressed me tight against his chest, and I hugged him with all my might.

  “Oh, Claire, ye do break my heart wi’ loving you.”

  ***

  I slept for some time, and woke slowly, hearing the clang of a church bell ringing in the nearby square. Fresh from the Abbey of Ste. Anne, where all the day’s activities took place to the rhythm of bells, I automatically glanced at the window, to gauge the intensity of the light and guess the time of day. Bright, clear light, and a window free of ice. The bells rang for the Angelus then, and it was noon.

  I stretched, enjoying the blissful knowledge that I needn’t get up at once. Early pregnancy made me tired, and the strain of travel had added to my fatigue, making the long rest doubly welcome.

  It had rained and snowed unceasingly on the journey as the winter storms battered the French coast. Still, it could have been worse. We had originally intended to go to Rome, not Le Havre. That would have been three or four weeks’ travel, in this weather.

  Faced with the prospect of earning a living abroad, Jamie had obtained a recommendation as a translator to James Francis Edward Stuart, exiled King of Scotland—or merely the Chevalier St. George, Pretender to the Throne, depending on your loyalties—and we had determined to join the Pretender’s court near Rome.

  It had been a near thing, at that; we had been on the point of leaving for Italy, when Jamie’s uncle Alexander, Abbot of Ste. Anne’s, had summoned us to his study.

  “I have heard from His Majesty,” he announced without preamble.

  “Which one?” Jamie asked. The slight family resemblance between the two men was exaggerated by their posture—both sat bolt upright in their chairs, shoulders squared. On the abbot’s part, the posture was due to natural asceticism; on Jamie’s, to reluctance to let the newly healed scars on his back contact the wood of the chair.

  “His Majesty King James,” his uncle replied, frowning slightly at me. I was careful to keep my face blank; my presence in Abbot Alexander’s study was a mark of trust, and I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize it. He had known me a bare six weeks, since the day after Christmas, when I had appeared at his gate with Jamie, who was near death from torture and imprisonment. Subsequent acquaintance had presumably given the abbot some confidence in me. On the other hand, I was still English. And the English King’s name was George, not James.

  “Aye? Is he not in need of a translator, then?” Jamie was still thin, but he had been working outdoors with the Brothers who minded the stables and fields of the Abbey, and his face was regaining tinges of its normal healthy color.

  “He is in need of a loyal servant—and a friend.” Abbot Alexander tapped his fingers on a folded letter that lay on his desk, the crested seal broken. He pursed his lips, glancing from me to his nephew and back.

  “What I tell you now must not be repeated,” he said sternly. “It will be common knowledge soon, but for now—” I had tried to look trustworthy and close-mouthed; Jamie merely nodded, with a touch of impatience.

  “His Highness, Prince Charles Edward, has left Rome, and will arrive in France within the week,” the Abbot said, leaning slightly forward as though to emphasize the importance of what he was saying.

  And it was important. James Stuart had mounted an abortive attempt to regain his throne in 1715—an ill-considered military operation that had failed almost immediately for lack of support. Since then—according to Alexander—the exiled James of Scotland had worked tirelessly, writing ceaselessly to his fellow monarchs, and particularly to his cousin, Louis of France, reiterating the legitimacy of his claim to the throne of Scotland and England, and the position of his son, Prince Charles, as heir to that throne.

  “His royal cousin Louis has been distressingly deaf to these entirely proper claims,” the Abbot had said, frowning at the letter as though it were Louis. “If he’s now come to a realization of his responsibilities in the matter, it’s cause for great rejoicing among those who hold dear the sacred right of kingship.”

  Among the Jacobites, that was, James’s supporters. Of whom Abbot Alexander of the Abbey of Ste. Anne—born Alexander Fraser of Scotland—was one. Jamie had told me that Alexander was one of the exiled King’s most frequent correspondents, in touch with all that touched the Stuart cause.

  “He’s well placed for it,” Jamie had explained to me, discussing the endeavor on which we were about to embark. “The papal messenger system crosses Italy, France, and Spain faster than almost any other. And the papal messengers canna be interfered with by government customs officers, so the letters they carry are less likely to be intercepted.”

  James of Scotland, exiled in Rome, was supported in large part by the Pope, in whose interest it very much was to have a Catholic monarchy restored to England and Scotland. Therefore, the largest part of James’s private mail was carried by papal messenger—and passed through the hands of loyal supporters within the Church hierarchy, like Abbot Alexander of Ste. Anne de Beaupré, who could be depended on to communicate with the King’s supporters in Scotland, with less risk than sending letters openly from Rome to Edinburgh and the Highlands.

  I watched Alexander with interest, as he expounded the importance of Prince Charles’s visit to France. A stocky man of about my own height, he was dark, and considerably shorter than his nephew, but shared with him the faintly slanted eyes, the sharp intelligence, and the talent for discerning hidden motive that seemed to characterize the Frasers I had met.

  “So,” he finished, stroking his full, dark-brown beard, “I cannot say whether His Highness is in France at Louis’s invitation, or has come uninvited, on behalf of his father.”

  “It makes a wee bit of difference,” Jamie remarked, raising one eyebrow skeptically.

  His uncle nodded, and a wry smile showed briefly in the thicket of his beard.

  “True, lad,” he said, letting a faint hint of his native Scots emerge from his usual formal English. “Very true. And that’s where you and your wife may be of service, if ye will.”

  The proposal was simple; His Majesty King James would provide travel expenses and a small stipend, if the nephew of his most loyal and most esteemed friend Alexander would agree to travel to Paris, there to assist his son, His Highness Prince Charles Edward, in whatever ways the latter might require.

  I was stunned. We had meant originally to go to Rome because that seemed the best place to embark on our quest: the prevention of the second Jacobite Rising—the ’45. From my own knowledge of history, I knew that the Rising, financed from France and carried out by Charles Edward Stuart, would go much farther than had his father’s attempt in 1715—but not nearly far enough. If matters progressed as I thought they would, then the troops under Bonnie Prince Charlie would meet with disastrous defeat at Culloden in 1746, and the people of the Highlands would suffer the repercussions of defeat for two centuries thereafter.

  Now, in 1744, apparently Charles himself was just beginning his search for support in France. Where better to try to stop a rebellion, than at the side of its leader?

  I glanced at Jamie, who was looking over his u
ncle’s shoulder at a small shrine set into the wall. His eyes rested on the gilded figure of Ste. Anne herself and the small sheaf of hothouse flowers laid at her feet, while his thoughts worked behind an expressionless face. At last he blinked once, and smiled at his uncle.

  “Whatever assistance His Highness might require? Aye,” he said quietly, “I think I can do that. We’ll go.”

  And we had. Instead of proceeding directly to Paris, though, we had come down the coast from Ste. Anne to Le Havre, to meet first with Jamie’s cousin, Jared Fraser.

  A prosperous Scottish émigré, Jared was an importer of wines and spirits, with a small warehouse and large town house in Paris, and a very large warehouse indeed here in Le Havre, where he had asked Jamie to meet him, when Jamie had written to say we were en route to Paris.

  Sufficiently rested by now, I was beginning to feel hungry. There was food on the table; Jamie must have told the chambermaid to bring it while I slept.

  I had no dressing gown, but my heavy velvet traveling cloak was handy; I sat up and pulled the warm weight of it over my shoulders before rising to relieve myself, add another stick of wood to the fire, and sit down to my late breakfast.

  I chewed hard rolls and baked ham contentedly, washing them down with the jug of milk provided. I hoped Jamie was being adequately fed as well; he insisted that Jared was a good friend, but I had my doubts about the hospitality of some of Jamie’s relatives, having met a few of them by now. True, Abbot Alexander had welcomed us—insofar as a man in the abbot’s position could be said to welcome having an outlaw nephew with a suspect wife descend upon him unexpectedly. But our sojourn with Jamie’s mother’s people, the MacKenzies of Leoch, had come within inches of killing me the autumn before, when I had been arrested and tried as a witch.

  “Granted,” I’d said, “this Jared’s a Fraser, and they seem a trifle safer than your MacKenzie relatives. But have you actually met him before?”

  “I lived with him for a time when I was eighteen,” he told me, dribbling candle-wax onto his reply and pressing his father’s wedding ring on the resultant greenish-gray puddle. A small cabochon ruby, its mount was engraved with the Fraser clan motto, je suis prest: “I am ready.”

  “He had me to stay with him when I came to Paris to finish my schooling, and learn a bit of the world. He was verra kind to me; a good friend of my father’s. And there’s no one knows more about Parisian society than the man who sells it drink,” he added, cracking the ring loose from the hardened wax. “I want to talk to Jared before I walk into Louis’s court by the side of Charles Stuart; I should like to feel that I have some chance of getting out again,” he finished wryly.

  “Why? Do you think there’ll be trouble?” I asked. “Whatever assistance His Highness might require” seemed to offer quite a bit of latitude. He smiled at my worried look.

  “No, I dinna expect any difficulty. But what is it the Bible says, Sassenach? ‘Put not your trust in princes’?” He rose and kissed me quickly on the brow, tucking the ring back in his sporran. “Who am I to ignore the word of God, eh?”

  ***

  I spent the afternoon in reading one of the herbals that my friend Brother Ambrose had pressed upon me as a parting gift, then in necessary repairs with needle and thread. Neither of us owned many clothes, and while there were advantages in traveling light, it meant that holey socks and undone hems demanded immediate attention. My needlecase was nearly as precious to me as the small chest in which I carried herbs and medicines.

  The needle dipped in and out of the fabric, winking in the light from the window. I wondered how Jamie’s visit with Jared was going. I wondered still more what Prince Charles would be like. He would be the first historically famous person I had met, and while I knew better than to believe all the legends that had (not had, would, I reminded myself) sprung up around him, the reality of the man was a mystery. The Rising of the ’45 would depend almost entirely on the personality of this one young man—its failure or success. Whether it took place at all might depend upon the efforts of another young man—Jamie Fraser. And me.

  I was still absorbed in my mending and my thoughts, when heavy footsteps in the corridor aroused me to the realization that it was late in the day; the drip of water from the eaves had slowed as the temperature dropped, and the flames of the sinking sun glowed in the ice spears hanging from the roof. The door opened, and Jamie came in.

  He smiled vaguely in my direction, then stopped dead by the table, face absorbed as though he were trying to remember something. He took his cloak off, folded it, and hung it neatly over the foot of the bed, straightened, marched over to the other stool, sat down on it with great precision, and closed his eyes.

  I sat still, my mending forgotten in my lap, watching this performance with considerable interest. After a moment, he opened his eyes and smiled at me, but didn’t say anything. He leaned forward, studying my face with great attention, as though he hadn’t seen me in weeks. At last, an expression of profound revelation passed over his face, and he relaxed, shoulders slumping as he rested his elbows on his knees.

  “Whisky,” he said, with immense satisfaction.

  “I see,” I said cautiously. “A lot of it?” He shook his head slowly from side to side, as though it were very heavy. I could almost hear the contents sloshing.

  “Not me,” he said, very distinctly. “You.”

  “Me?” I said indignantly.

  “Your eyes,” he said. He smiled beatifically. His own eyes were soft and dreamy, cloudy as a trout pool in the rain.

  “My eyes? What have my eyes got to do with …”

  “They’re the color of verra fine whisky, wi’ the sun shining through them from behind. I thought this morning they looked like sherry, but I was wrong. Not sherry. Not brandy. It’s whisky. That’s what it is.” He looked so gratified as he said this that I couldn’t help laughing.

  “Jamie, you’re terribly drunk. What have you been doing?”

  His expression altered to a slight frown.

  “I’m not drunk.”

  “Oh, no?” I laid the mending aside and came over to lay a hand on his forehead. It was cool and damp, though his face was flushed. He at once put his arms about my waist and pulled me close, nuzzling affectionately at my bosom. The smell of mingled spirits rose from him like a fog, so thick as almost to be visible.

  “Come here to me, Sassenach,” he murmured. “My whisky-eyed lass, my love. Let me take ye to bed.”

  I thought it a debatable point as to who was likely to be taking whom to bed, but didn’t argue. It didn’t matter why he thought he was going to bed, after all, provided he got there. I bent and got a shoulder under his armpit to help him up, but he leaned away, rising slowly and majestically under his own power.

  “I dinna need help,” he said, reaching for the cord at the neck of his shirt. “I told ye, I’m not drunk.”

  “You’re right,” I said. “‘Drunk’ isn’t anywhere near sufficient to describe your current state. Jamie, you’re completely pissed.” His eyes traveled down the front of his kilt, across the floor, and up the front of my gown.

  “No, I’m not,” he said, with great dignity. “I did that outside.” He took a step toward me, glowing with ardor. “Come here to me, Sassenach; I’m ready.”

  I thought “ready” was a bit of an overstatement in one regard; he’d gotten his buttons half undone, and his shirt hung askew on his shoulders, but that was as far as he was likely to make it unaided.

  In other respects, though … the broad expanse of his chest was exposed, showing the small hollow in the center where I was accustomed to rest my chin, and the small curly hairs sprang up joyous around his nipples. He saw me looking at him, and reached for one of my hands, clasping it to his breast. He was startlingly warm, and I moved instinctively toward him. The other arm swept round me and he bent to kiss me. He made such a thorough job of it that I felt mildly intoxicated, merely from sharing his breath.

  “All right,” I said, laughing.
If you’re ready, so am I. Let me undress you first, though—I’ve had enough mending today.”

  He stood still as I stripped him, scarcely moving. He didn’t move, either, as I attended to my own clothes and turned down the bed.

  I climbed in and turned to look at him, ruddy and magnificent in the sunset glow. He was finely made as a Greek statue, long-nosed and high-cheeked as a profile on a Roman coin. The wide, soft mouth was set in a dreamy smile, and the slanted eyes looked far away. He was perfectly immobile.

  I viewed him with some concern.

  “Jamie,” I said, “how, exactly, do you decide whether you’re drunk?”

  Aroused by my voice, he swayed alarmingly to one side, but caught himself on the edge of the mantelpiece. His eyes drifted around the room, then fixed on my face. For an instant, they blazed clear and pellucid with intelligence.

  “Och, easy, Sassenach. If ye can stand up, you’re not drunk.” He let go of the mantelpiece, took a step toward me, and crumpled slowly onto the hearth, eyes blank, and a wide, sweet smile on his dreaming face.

  “Oh,” I said.

  ***

  The yodeling of roosters outside and the clashing of pots below woke me just after dawn the next morning. The figure next to me jerked, waking abruptly, then froze as the sudden movement jarred his head.

  I raised up on one elbow to examine the remains. Not too bad, I thought critically. His eyes were screwed tightly shut against stray beams of sunlight, and his hair stuck out in all directions like a hedgehog’s spines, but his skin was pale and clear, and the hands clutching the coverlet were steady.

  I pried up one eyelid, peered within, and said playfully, “Anybody home?”

  The twin to the eye I was looking at opened slowly, to add its baleful glare to the first. I dropped my hand and smiled charmingly at him.

  “Good morning.”

  “That, Sassenach, is entirely a matter of opinion,” he said, and closed both eyes again.

  “Have you got any idea how much you weigh?” I asked conversationally.

  “No.”

  The abruptness of the reply suggested that he not only didn’t know, he didn’t care, but I persisted in my efforts.

  “Something around fifteen stone, I make it. About as much as a good-sized boar. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any beaters to hang you upside down from a spear and carry you home to the smoking shed.”

  One eye opened again, and looked consideringly at me, then at the hearthstone on the far side of the room. One corner of his mouth lifted in a reluctant smile.

  “How did you get me in bed?”

  “I didn’t. I couldn’t budge you, so I just laid a quilt over you and left you on the hearth. You came to life and crawled in under your own power, somewhere in the middle of the night.”

  He seemed surprised, and opened the other eye again.

  “I did?”

  I nodded and tried to smooth down the hair that spiked out over his left ear.

  “Oh, yes. Very single-minded, you were.”

  “Single-minded?” He frowned, thinking, and stretched, thrusting his arms up over his head. Then he looked startled.

  “No. I couldn’t have.”

  “Yes, you could. Twice.”

  He squinted down his chest, as though looking for confirmation of this improbable statement, then looked back at me.

  “Really? Well, that’s hardly fair; I dinna remember a thing about it.” He hesitated for a moment, looking shy. “Was it all right, then? I didna do anything foolish?”

  I flopped down next to him and snuggled my head into the curve of his shoulder.

  “No, I wouldn’t call it foolish. You weren’t very conversational, though.”

  “Thank the Lord for small blessings,” he said, and a small chuckle rumbled through his chest.

  “Mm. You’d forgotten how to say anything except ‘I love you,’ but you said that a lot.”

  The chuckle came back, louder this time. “Oh, aye? Well, could have been worse, I suppose.”

  He drew in his breath, then paused. He turned his head and sniffed suspiciously at the soft tuft of cinnamon under his raised arm.

  “Christ!” he said. He tried to push me away. “Ye dinna want to put your head near my oxter, Sassenach. I smell like a boar that’s been dead a week.”

  “And pickled in brandy after,” I agreed, snuggling closer. “How on earth did you get so—ahem—stinking drunk, anyway?”

  “Jared’s hospitality.” He settled himself in the pillows with a deep sigh, arm round my shoulder.

  “He took me down to show me his warehouse at the docks. And the storeroom there where he keeps the rare vintages and the Portuguese brandy and the Jamaican rum.” He grimaced slightly, recalling. “The wine wasna so bad, for that you just taste, and spit it on the floor when you’ve done wi’ a mouthful. But neither of us could see wasting the brandy that way. Besides, Jared said ye need to let it trickle down the back of your throat, to appreciate it fully.”

  “How much of it did you appreciate?” I asked curiously.

  “I lost count in the middle of the second bottle.” Just then, a church bel started to ring nearby; the summons to early Mass. Jamie sat bolt upright, staring at the windowpane, bright with sun.

  “Christ, Sassenach! What time is it?”

  “About six, I suppose,” I said, puzzled. “Why?” He relaxed slightly, though he stayed sitting up.

  “Oh, that’s all right, then. I was afraid it was the Angelus bell. I’d lost all track of time.”

  “I’d say so. Does it matter?” In a burst of energy, he threw back the quilts and stood up. He staggered a moment, but kept his balance, though both hands went to his head, to make sure it was still attached.

  “Aye,” he said, gasping a bit. “We’ve an appointment this morning down at the docks, at Jared’s warehouse. The two of us.”

  “Really?” I clambered out of bed myself, and groped for the chamber pot under the bed. “If he’s planning to finish the job, I shouldn’t think he’d want witnesses.”

  Jamie’s head popped through the neck of his shirt, eyebrows raised.

 
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