It had been a month since William Ransom, the Ninth Earl of Ellesmere, met Mrs. Brianna Fraser MacKenzie for the second time. Shock had frozen him in place when he first saw her in that parlor in Savannah. He could tell she too was surprised by the sudden encounter, though the amused look on her face made him think that it wasn’t necessarily unexpected for her. The temporary paralysis of meeting his recently realized sister wore off quickly. They had taken to each other easily, as though they were picking up where they left off more than three years prior in Wilmington.
It was she who convinced him to return with her to Fraser’s Ridge. William accepted Mrs. MacKenzie’s invitation, under the guise that it would be a fine opportunity to inquire after the well being of Fanny. Truth be told, he wanted to spend more time with this intriguing woman who looked so much like him. He had never longed for a sibling, being content with just the company of himself, but he didn't want to let the opportunity to get to know her pass him by. And not just her, but the rest of her family as well.
They talked amiably during their journey together from Savannah to the Ridge. He truly enjoyed the company of Mrs. Mac- Brianna . . . Bree. She insisted on William calling her Bree, saying that no matter his feelings, Mrs. MacKenzie was just too formal. She was his sister. He still had a hard time wrapping his mind around the notion. He thought about her quite often after his rendezvous with Jamie Fraser that night when he put two and two together. William recalled when he first met Brianna, her husband, and their two children; remembered their effortless conversation and the feeling it left him with. He had instantly felt at ease with her, like meeting an old friend. The reason for the familiarity he felt back then was painfully obvious to him now. They were very much alike not only in physicality but in temperament and interests also.
As they drew closer to their destination, William could feel the anticipation rising in him. Fear, excitement, and apprehension mingled together in the pit of his stomach. He didn’t know what to expect of this visit, how he would be received, or even what he wished to gain from it. That day when Jamie Fraser left him standing in the middle of that small stuffy office, had left him with a desire to know more about the man who sired him. “I’m not sorry.” That’s where they had left it and it just wasn’t enough.
He would never forget the look on Fraser’s face, the face that looked so much like his own, when he caught sight of William and Brianna riding up the path. In seconds his expressions went from one of confusion, to recognition, then perfect contentment, before it set into one that couldn’t be read. He had greeted William with simple formality, “Lord Elsmere,” and a nod. William had returned it with a curt but polite, “Mr. Fraser.” Since then few words had been exchanged between the two of them. The majority of his needs he conveyed through Mother Claire, who had welcomed him with a motherly embrace. He hadn’t realized just how much he had missed her. All of his thoughts before arriving had been solely focused on how it would be between him and Fraser, forgetting that he already had one person on the Ridge who seemed to deeply care for him.
After the initial sensation surrounding his arrival, William struggled to find a place amongst the day-to-day activities of the homestead. All the tenants, and his new family, had made him feel welcome. He tried to help as much as he could with daily chores, but everyone had their set ways of doing things that had him feeling as though he was in the way most times.
The one place William didn’t feel as though he was in the way was the stable. He was familiar with the care taking of horses and he found that this was where he could be the most helpful. The Ridge did not boast a large barn like those of his childhood, but it was still welcoming, more so even for its intimate feel. The others saw his expertise in this field and acquiesced the majority of the work there to him. He even found himself gravitating there when his situation became too overwhelming for him.
A week after he had arrived, the Frasers, MacKenzies, and Murrays, along with the few other Catholic families of the Ridge had come up to the big house for the christening of Rachel and Ian’s son. William smiled to himself seeing Rachel standing there with her son and thinking back to his first day on the Ridge when she had presented little Oggy to him with one of the biggest smiles he had ever seen. The happiness on her face made his animosity towards her and Murray fade instantly. Though Rachel, as a Quaker, did not subscribe to the idea of baptism, she had relented for the sake of her husband. The priest had come in from Baltimore to perform the sacrament and a small feast had been laid out in the parlor. Once everyone had gathered together, the priest began the ceremony.
He was only half paying attention to the things that were taking place in front of him, his mind elsewhere, but he came to himself as the business at hand reached its conclusion.
“I baptize thee-” William James. It hit him like a horse’s kick to the chest. He felt the bloodrush to his head upon hearing the priest’s words, “in the name of the Father, the Son, and The Holy Ghost.” They were the same words Mac had used when he had baptised William the night before he left Helwater.
“Amen,” the group responded to the priest’s prayer.
Those assembled began giving their well wishes to the proud parents and infant wiggling in his grandmother’s arms. Bringing his hand to his chest in reflex, he looked around searching for familiar blue eyes. William finally caught sight of him, back turned and making for the front door. He had come to the Ridge to speak with Fraser, get to know him, understand him, but thus far he hadn’t accomplished that. It was out of fear that he had been avoiding the confrontation; fear of losing the image of the man he once knew, fear of disappointing Fraser himself. Feeling overwhelmed with the memories that had begun to drown him, he turned and headed for the back door in search of solitude.
The warmth and smell of horses and other livestock hit him immediately as he slid open the door to the stable. A long sigh escaped him. It felt like home; no matter where you are a stable is still a stable. William relaxed against the door behind him, and he began to allow his mind to wander to the places he had been trying to keep it from going all week.
Every now and again he would catch Fraser in an interaction with Brianna, or Roger Mac, or any of his other children and wonder to himself what his life would have looked like if he had always been a part of this family. Would Fraser have sought William’s council on matters pertaining to the tenants and share a laugh about things their womenfolk had done like he did with Roger Mac? Would they have developed a sixth sense with one another like he had with Murray while hunting, always knowing where the other was and what they were doing without vocalization? Would the the drumming of Fraser’s fingers against his thigh be the same cadence that he had when thinking over one of Brianna’s improvements to the Ridge if William were to bring about an idea, or would he get his own special beat? There were so many what ifs that he couldn’t fully process them all.
What was abundantly clear to him was that Jamie Fraser loved his children dearly, even the ones that William came to understand weren’t his by blood. He knew that kind of love, was the recipient of it himself. Lord John had never treated William as anything other than his own, and he understood how deep a parent’s love could run for a child regardless of that one missing connection. The thought of Lord John made his heart wrench with guilt. He hadn’t come here in hopes of replacing his father, but it still felt like a betrayal to him.
He turned his thoughts to the times when he was little and just how much time he had spent with Mac over the course of those few short years. They would talk about everything and nothing, the towering Scot always taking the time to listen to his stories and troubles. There was so much already between him and Jamie Fraser in terms of a relationship, but it was hard for him to merge the two men in his mind even though they were one in the same. It had been so simple with Mac, just the two of them and usually the horses, no one else to worry over. But with Fraser it was complicated; there were others to think of now, entire families that would play a role in what they would be to each other from here on out.
Lost in his own mind, William didn’t realize that the soft lull of the deep Scottish burr wasn’t coming from his memories.
“Trying to escape the commotion of the house?”
William nearly jumped out of his boots, his movement startling the mule in its pen to his left. Turning to where the voice had come from, he saw Jamie Fraser in the far corner stall brushing out Miranda, an amused smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. Allowing William a moment to collect himself, he continued whispering sweet Gaelic nothings to the horse. William’s chest tightened at the familiarity of the scene before him. Even after all these years the sight and sound were calming to him.
“It’s quiet here, save the noises of the animals.”
“Aye,” Fraser nodded.
“I remember,” William said before he could stop himself, “Mac … you. The night before you left.” Fraser stopped his ministrations then.
“I thought ye did. Ye looked like ye’d seen a fetch when the priest started wi’ the words. Knew ye’d come here to set yer mind straight.”
“You did? How?” It came out more accusatory than he meant it and he softened his expression to take the edge off the question.
“Just because we havena been talking, doesna mean I havena been watching ye. This is where ye’ve been comin’ when it all gets to be a bit much, aye?”
This small detail that Fraser had picked up on made it clear to Willie that they had both been doing the same thing over the last week; taking each other in little by little, getting to know the other again through small observations. Both unsure of how to proceed with the other.
“It’s more the feel of it than anything else. Reminds me of simpler times, at Helwater.”
“Well, ye were always a good hand in the stables and a fine rider, no matter how small ye were.” Jamie smiled at that, one that reached his eyes. There was something else to his face then also. Pride, William thought.
“I had a good teacher.” There was a moment when his words hung in the air between the two men. But when one pair of slanted blue eyes met its match, they both let out a round of laughter.
“I suppose ye did, no matter how stubborn a wee fiend ye were.”
“Did you teach Brianna?”
“No … I wasna the one who taught her to ride.”
“You weren’t? But why not? From what Lord John has said you weren’t sent to prison until after she was of an age to ride. I wouldn’t expect you to have kept from teaching her just because she was a girl.”
“I wasna there to raise Brianna.” William saw Jamie tense as he spoke the words. “I didna get to know her until she was a grown woman. I havena raised any of the bairns I consider mine … ” his voice drifted off as though there were more he wanted to say.
William could sense there was more to the story regarding Jamie and Brianna’s past, but there was time enough for that later.
“You have a lot of them here on the Ridge, with you. Children that is.”
“That I do,” Jamie said with a chuckle, the mood lightening, “And I love them all the same. Even wi’ all the trouble they bring me sometimes.”
They shared a comfortable pause. William was relieved that the tension and awkwardness between them seemed to have faded.
“But they don’t only bring trouble. The lass set this up, ye ken?”
“Who? Set what up?”
“Brianna,” Jamie responded, a smile pulling at the corner of his mouth. “She told me after the two of ye arrived. She wanted us to finally have the same chance to know one another, like she and I did.”
“She is an extraordinary woman. I’m sorry for the time you may have missed with her.”
“Dinna fash, I have her now, and these moments I’ll have forever.” Jamie met William’s eyes then, “And you, I have memories with you. Even from afar, I got to watch ye grow … Weel, til’ you could ride that is,” he said with a slight chuckle, “Then ye wouldna leave me be.”
William made to interject, but Jamie stopped him.
“I was able to be there with ye, William, something I didn’t get with Brianna. Spend time with ye’, teach ye things. It was the first time I got to really help raise one of my bairns. And I can only hope I played a small part in the man that ye are today.”
William realized he hadn’t been the only one clinging to the memories they had shared in the past, and that they had meant just as much to Jamie Fraser -his father- as they had to him. He and Mac were the same man, all other circumstances be damned.
Jamie held out his hand to William then. He reached out and Jamie placed the small wooden rosary in hand.
“I thought ye might still have a place for it.” William knew very well the statement wasn’t solely about the rosary. He rubbed the beads between his fingers, worn smooth from years of consolation sought in them.
“Will ye stay then?” Jamie asked.
“Yes, I would like that.”