Sometimes the night would call to Ian, beckoning him from sleep – either soft and slow, or quick and sudden, a single brutal jolt. It would call him in his Mam’s voice or his sisters’ – sometimes in his uncle’s low-pitched lilt or his cousin’s strange accent.
No matter how dark the nights, they held visions, glowing bright for him like a fire. He never knew whether to seek them out for their warmth or be cautious of their sharp burn.
During his first days and weeks in the long house, he’d shied away from the voices calling him, tried to shut them out, squeezing his eyes closed against the images they brought, nestling closer to Wakyo’teyehsnonhsa and the comfort she provided.
He soon had to admit to himself, however, that life without fire wasn’t possible – that warmth is a basic need and burns are a necessary risk coming with it.
So he would lie awake, staring at the birch bark ceiling, his mind far away from the Mohawk village, his senses filled with the ancient notion of belonging in blood, of family bonds woven tight over many winters. He learned to accept it as comfort, a caress of sorts - his past reaching out to his present.
There was a returning image of his Mam’s face, picking him up after he fell on the gravel in Lallybroch’s yard, running towards the house from the fields where his Da was fixing a fence. She wiped away his tears, muttering soothing endearments in Gaelic - “Ah, a bhailach, dinna cry, mo chridhe.”
There was Brianna’s tall figure, her long red hair, her fierce impression – mirroring and morphing into her father’s, his uncle Jamie’s, who’d taken him in and treated him like a son, who’d rescued him from danger at great cost. The man who had shaped the way he viewed life. But also the man who brought him here, whose eyes held traces of regret and pain upon leaving him behind.
Ian’s mind would wander the woods around Fraser’s Ridge, wondering whether they still stretched as far, whether their border remained the same or if the settlement had grown, shifted, changed.
He would try to imagine the big house, finished, inviting, bustling with people. The pen for the horses and the pigs. Auntie Claire’s garden, the strong smell of her herbs wafting through the crisp air.
On particularly dark nights, he would wonder whether Brianna’s bairn had been born – whether she’d had a son or a daughter, whether the bairn had its Mam’s and Grandda’s hair and eyes, or possibly Roger’s, who’s name it carried. He could almost feel his fingers tracing the wee thing’s tiny features, counting its fingers and toes, stroking its little ear. At times he was even roused from those thoughts by his own voice, barely audible, humming the lullabies his Mam used to sing to him.
Ian had become Mohawk. He lived with one of their women and he loved her deeply. He knew their ways, their culture, their language. He had hunted with them, eaten with them, celebrated and mourned with them. He had even taken the name they gave him, and he felt it his, felt he belonged here, as one of their warriors - but they had not erased Ian; what he was and had been before, what made him his own person, what defined him.
At his core, he was also Scot. He was of clan Fraser, clan Murray, his parents’ son and his uncle’s nephew. He was their youngest child. He was a runaway and a smuggler, a printer’s assistant and a farmer. He was scared, but determined. He was stubborn and fierce.
These were the things he counted and re-counted on his fingers; first what he knew of himself, then his homes (Lallybroch, Edinburgh, Fraser’s Ridge), then his family (Mam, Da, Jamie, Margaret, Katherine, Caitlin, Michael, Janet. Uncle Jamie, Auntie Claire, Fergus, Brianna.) Counting them one by one, kept them safe and alive in his memory. Real, no matter how far out of reach.
Over time, the images beckoning him grew further apart. Emily’s warm body next to his provided a strong tether to reality, to the present and his new life. Most nights, Okwaho’kenha slept soundly, dreamlessly, with Ian Fraser Murray just a distant memory buried in the depths of his soul.
He would still count – on nights so dark, that the black of the night threatened to blow out the glowing embers of their platform’s fire, when nightmares woke him, or before important hunts. In secret, when he had a moment to himself. It was a small ritual, the tiniest of reminders of where he came from, making him feel sure of where he was going.
It was his Mam’s voice, finally, after Emily couldn’t keep him anymore and Iseabaìl was gone. It was she who woke him, night after night after night until he chose to listen - her presence so concrete he could almost feel her arms around him. She was calling him, but not to her – no, she wanted him to return to himself.
Ian, a bhailach, go home. It’s time. Go home.