September 15th, 1754. London, England
My Darling Girl,
I trust you have been behaving yourself in these past few months. I certainly do not want to be returning to find Helwater tumbled down around your ears! And yes, you read correctly; I will be back with you very soon! It has been a long few months, and there has been so much that has happened. I cannot include it all this letter, but I look forward to telling you all about it. But there is one piece of news that I simply cannot wait to tell you.
It is the most wonderful news in the world. We are to go home! Yes darling, to our real home, to your father’s home. As soon as we can manage it, you and I will be going home to Scotland. I cannot wait for you to meet your aunt and uncle, your cousins, all your true family. Everyone and everything that I’ve told you about. I am so sorry to have been separated from you for all of these long months, but it will all have been worth it, I promise. I know you have questions, and I will explain everything when I arrive, but before you know it, we will be on our way home. To Scotland.
I will see you very soon, lovey.
All of my love,
Late September, 1754. Helwater Estate, England
“MAC!! GUESS WHAT, MAC!”
Jamie wasn’t exactly sure what happened in that moment. All he knew was that one second he was peacefully training a jumpy young yearling, leading her around the pen on a long lead, and the next second he was flat on his arse, rope out of his hand, and yearling happily on the other side of the pen.
Jamie stumbled to his feet, muttering a quick “mac na galla” at the state of his breeks and the general situations, and whirled around to see who had called out and startled the horse so. Only to see Brianna MacTavish, halfway to climbing over the fence, with her hands clamped tightly over her mouth, her eyes wide as saucers and looking like she would burst into tears at any moment.
“Sorry Mac!” she said, her voice quavering just a little, “I didn’t mean to!”
Jamie let out a sigh, and then let the smile that always followed her presence take over his face. It certainly wasn’t the first time she had popped up seemingly out of nowhere, even it was the most dramatic to date.
“Ach, it’s alright. Dinna fash yerself, Bree, I’m just fine and so is Penny. No harm done at all.” He lowered his brows a little, trying to rein in the grin and add just a tad of sternness to his voice. “Ye’ll just remember to calm yerself a bit before coming close to the horses, aye? Especially the younger ones. They’re still learnin’, just like you.”
Jamie caught her under the arms and helped her over the fence before going on. “Penny’s just a bit of a high-spirited lass, is all.” He reached down to ruffle her curls, already well on their way to fully escaping her braid. “And she’s no the only one, aye?”
Bree grinned up at him, eyes still a bit watery, but upset forgotten in his teasing and the excitement that was nearly oozing out of her very skin; the excitement that had caused her to run down to the training yard in even more of whirlwind than usual.
Now that he wasn’t busy near being trampled, Jamie finally had a moment to take a closer look at the girl.
Christ, the lass is fair vibrating.
“What is it that has ye so worked up, then?” His eyes narrowed as she rocked up and down on her toes
“I got a letter today. Do you want to know what it said??”
Jamie had never seen her so excited, and he had even witnessed the first time he let her ride on the draft horse out in the pastures.
“Och, I dinna ken, Brianna. The way you’re acting it sounds fair exciting.” He arched a brow at her. “May be it’s best we leave it til the end of the day, aye? We both of us have work that needs to be done, and we dinna want to be distracted from it, so I really think tis best if we – ‘
“Och, alright Bree, nae need to fuss. What’s this letter about?”
Bree took a deep breath before exclaiming, “It’s from my Mama!” With her big news out, the little girl couldn’t hold in a hop or two fueled by pure joy. “She says she’s gonna be coming home soon! It’s just like she said and she’s not gonna be gone any more! Isn’t that the best news you’ve ever heard in your whole life?!”
Teasing and scowls and small grins completely forgotten, Jamie was beaming near as radiantly as Bree was. “Aye lass, that’s wonderful! See, yer Mam kept her promise, just like she said she would.” Seized by impulse, he picked her up and twirled her around, just for the sheer joy of hearing her laugh. When he set her down he let out an exaggerated grunt. “Och, and ye’ve grown a fair bit these last months. You’re shooting up like a weed, she’ll scarce believe her eyes.”
Once she had gotten her feet back under her from her spinning, Bree looked up at him, suddenly concerned.
“Mac, do you think she’ll recognize me? Have I grown too much since she left?”
Jamie shook his head, bending down to retrieve the rope that he had been using to lead the yearling, now tangled and uncoiled.
“Nay, Bree, how could she no’ recognize you? You’re her own wee lass, no matter how tall ye grow or how many new freckles pop up on yer nose. She’d ken ye from anyone, in a blink of the eye.” He cocked his head as he gathered up the last bit of rope. “But I dinna ken how happy she’ll be that ye’ve been passing your time mucking about in the stables instead of up at the house. Suppose she’ll have some words for me for distractin’ ye from yer lessons.”
“No, she won’t mind!” Bree said urgently. “She’s always digging in the dirt and mud for plants and herbs, so she doesn’t mind me being outside and getting dirty. And don’t be nervous about meeting Mama! I know I get nervous meeting new people, but Mama’ll love you! Well…” She paused to think a moment. “Maybe she’ll fuss a little bit about all your splinters and things. She fusses about my splinters all the time. But don’t worry about her fussing, it just means she likes you!”
“Thank ye for the warning, lass.” He ruffled her hair again. “I’ll try my best to withstand the fussing.”
The yearling had wandered back over to their side of the pen, and though she was still jumpy, Jamie managed to grab hold of her training bridle and a nearby brush. He started the slow task of brushing her down and getting her more and more used to being handled.
“Now, Bree, are ye staying down here tae help? If not, you’ll have to head back up to the house.” He glanced down from his brushing to meet the guileless blue eyes of his small charge. He cocked an eyebrow and held back a chuckle at her wordless pleading. “Aye, alright then, ye can stay.”
As if he would ever send her away.
He didn’t notice her edging a bit closer, watching intently as he murmured softly to the horse as he brushed.
“Is that Gaelic?”
One of these days he would have to grow accustomed to being taken off guard from the lass’s questions.
“Aye, that it is. Do ye ken any Gaelic then?” She might just, with a Scottish father. But he had been dead for a long time, and with an English mother… “And here, if you’re going to stay and help, you’ll have to help. Roll that cord up for me, aye?”
Brianna scrunched up her eyebrows as she picked up the rope and tried to untangle it bit by bit. “I don’t know much, not really. My mama said that my Da spoke it, and she knows a few words. But she doesn’t ‘member much, and we can’t practice a lot anyways, ‘cause Mama says we have to ‘lay low’ and not ‘draw attention to ourselves.’” Her voice took on a deliberate formality, as she imitated warnings that had obviously been given to her many times.
“Well,” Jamie said as he glanced around conspiringly, “There only seems to be us and the horses here abouts, and I swear I willna tell a soul. What kind of words did yer mam teach ye?”
After a moment’s thought, and a look of her own to be sure there were no other ears to overhear, Bree nodded with decision, and just a bit of excitement showing through. Just as meticulously as she handled the cord in her hands, Brianna was slow and careful in her pronunciation of words not often used. “Mama said that Da would call me M'annsachd, and….” here she paused to think for a moment before going on, “he would hate living with all the sassenachs.” She whipped her head up to look up at him, eyes bright and grin wide with pride at words correctly pronounced and properly shown off. “Do you know what those ones mean?”
His heart twinged at the familiar words, unheard for so long, even as he smiled down at her. “Aye lass, I do. And a blessing ye surely are, especially amongst all these outlanders.” He paused for a moment, making sure he had her attention again as she finished wrapping up the cord. “You’re doing a fine job learning new things, Brianna. I’m sure your da would be very proud of you; ye ken that, aye?”
She plopped the coil in his hand with a nod full of all the confidence a 7-year-old (pardon, nearly 8-year-old, thank you very much) could muster, “Aye! Mama tells me.”
Jamie chuckled (laughing, again. Christ. He had laughed more in the past 6 months than he had in the last 8 years), and ushered Bree back up towards the stables, lengthening his strides to keep up with her skipping. “Aye, I’m sure she does. Now, would you like to learn a few new words to teach your Mama?”
The lass spun around briefly, excited eyes sparkling up at him.
“Really? What other things can you teach me?”
“Och, all kinds of things. What would ye like to know?”
She cocked her head as she thought, going back to skipping every few steps to stay ahead of him. “You muttered something at Penny when she was rearin’. That sounded like Gaelic, but it didn’t sound very nice, not like how you usually talk to the horses.”
He raised his eyebrows.
“Oh aye? Well I’ll tell ye what that one means when you’re a wee bit older, ken? Let’s start with something else.”
Early October, 1754
Several weeks later, Jamie and Brianna were at their usual places within the stables; Jamie doing his chores and Brianna causing as much mayhem as she could get away with while still staying within earshot. Practicing her Gaelic was proving to be a better motivation for good behavior than anything else to date.
“Come on then, lass, give it a try.”
Bree furrowed her brow as she focused, then carefully pronounced the phrases she had been practicing. “Tha thu Seumus… agus…. tha thu à Alba.”
“Tha sin ceart! Agus cò thusa, a nighean?”
“Is mise Briana!”
“Agus….?” Jamie drew out the word as he asked, glancing over at Brianna, who had slowed in her stall-climbing to give her Gàidhlig-thinking more attention.
“Is mise... Is mise dubhar beag!”
“Aye, lass, that’s right! Tha thu mo dubhar beag.”
Jamie grinned down at his wee shadow, “Verra good, Bree. You’ll be speaking circles round yer Mam when she gets back. She’ll no’ ken what to make of ye.”
Bree paused again in her clamber to the top of one box stall, and looked up at him, sudden concern showing in her crinkled-up brow.
“You don’t think she’ll mind, do you? Mama always says that we haveta be careful when we speak Gaelic, because the English don’t like it. She says we could get in trouble for it.”
“Aye, you’re right about that. And I’m glad yer mother’s been careful; the English certainly dinna like it a bit. But no, I dinna think she’ll be upset,” he reassured her as she finally made it to the top of the stall. “We’ll be just as careful, aye? Just us and the horses when we speak it, and no one else about. I’m sure she’ll be pleased that you’re learning sae much. Dinna fash, ye can teach her all ye know the moment she’s back.”
“Aye!! And you can help too, Mac,” she said. “You’re better at teachin’ anyways. Mama likes learning new things.” Bree’s voice took on a tone of authority, like it nearly always did when reporting on her mother’s wisdom. “She says it’s very important to learn all the time.”
Jamie’s back was turned as he worked, so he didn’t bother to mask his grin. “And your mother’s right, we should always try to learn new things.” He hesitated a bit, as he often did before asking more about the Mistress MacTavish. He wasn’t sure where this hesitancy came from; he was curious about Bree’s mother to be sure, could barely contain that curiosity at times. She was clearly no ordinary woman to have a raised a child like Brianna. Yet… There was still something in the whole situation that gave him pause, that made him shy away from asking too much about her.
“Ye’ve said that she’s a skilled healer; has she been teaching ye about her healing?”
“Mmmhmm.” A sound thud from her direction told him that Bree had tired of her seat on top of the stall and had jumped down to explore something else. “She’s been showing me her herbs and things. And she lets me watch sometimes when she takes care of people.” Bree shrugged. “She says people are always getting hurt all the time wherever you go, so we must know how to help them. It’s useful.” She was beside him now, peering up at him while he sorted through a pile of tack. “Did you know that my da was always getting hurt?” She laughed, and then lowered her voice dramatically to a conspiring whisper. “Mama even said a bad word when she talked about it. Usually she only says bad words when she thinks I can’t hear her, but this one she said to me! She said my da was always getting “bloody” hurt, so she always had to “bloody” patch him back up.”
She giggled again, but then her voice grew serious as she thought about her mother and her calling. “I think she maybe she liked it though. She likes to take care of things.”
“Aye, lass.” Jamie said, looking down at her, heart aching for another healer he held close to his heart. This, he reminded himself, was why he so hesitated to ask more about Brianna’s mother. Every word on the subject seemed to hit far too close to home. “I’m sure she did.”
Late October, 1754
A rare late October sun was shining as Claire rode over the last rise before the house. These past seven months away from her daughter had been excruciating, the sting of separation all the more painful for the echo of its twin pain she thought long dulled. But being apart from Brianna had only brought the rending pain of that long ago April morning into crystal clear focus.
It was late afternoon as Claire dismounted, needing to walk off some of her riding soreness. She knew that Brianna would be down at the stables; Bree loved the horses, and she doubted her habits would have changed so extremely in their time apart. Besides having to get her own horse settled, Claire’s first priority was getting her daughter back into her arms. Her thoughts tumbled and whirled as she made her way to the long, low building, scarcely holding herself to a walk.
It was all going to be alright. Soon, soon she would hold her heart, her future, in her arms once again. And then, the two of them would finally go home. They would be surrounded by family, would use their own names. Claire wouldn’t have to feel that she was looking over her shoulder every hour, constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. She didn’t know what the coming weeks and months would bring, but she was finally setting her eyes beyond mere survival for herself and her daughter. She was setting her eyes towards the future. Towards home.
As Claire neared the stables, she caught a glimpse of bright sun on shining auburn hair. She grinned, her heart leaping as it always did at the sight of her daughter, then coming to a shuddering halt at the thought that she was seeing double. Two heads of auburn hair instead of one. Matching bright red heads leaned over the paddock fence, admiring the training colt within.
A laugh that had filled her dreams for the past eight years echoed across the yard in waking daylight. Broad shoulders she had thought she would never see again hunched down to point some technique or skill out to her daughter.
It could not be.
Claire took off at a run, towards her heart, her future, her home.
~~ the end ~~