January 3, 1747
The laird’s room was cold and dark, the fire in the hearth down to embers and only two candles burning to provide just enough light to make out the dark shapes of the furniture. Goosebumps rose on my newly-bared skin as I lowered the neckline of my shift to feed Brianna one last time before we departed. She ate greedily as usual, not a care in the world, having every faith that she would be doted on and provided for as she had been every other day of her short life. Her utter trust and reliance both comforted and terrified me at the same time. “I promise Mummy and Da will keep you safe, my darling,” I whispered, cradling her to me. “And one day we’ll bring you back here and show you your very first home when you can remember it. I know you’ll grow to love Lallybroch just as much as I have.”
I tried to soak in these last few moments in the only real home I had known since the death of my parents. Panic washed over me as I tried and failed to recall anything about the house I had lived in until I was five; would I even be able to remember my own parents’ faces if not for the few photographs that I’d clung to as a child? Jamie and I would not end up as distant memories for Brianna like my own parents were for me; I refused to let that happen to her. I brushed my lips across her forehead as I pulled my shift back up one-handed and couldn’t help but crack a smile when she grabbed onto a fistful of my curls as they hung in a curtain around her face. I gently pulled her tiny fist free and gazed about the room one last time, burning each detail into my memory. Since Brianna couldn’t remember Lallybroch, I would do it for her.
I was not able to dress as warmly as I would have liked for traveling through the Highlands in the dead of winter. Layers upon layers of clothing would only hinder Brianna’s access to me for nursing, and I could not take the chance of making her cry from impatience when she was ready to eat. Our lives very well may come to depend on keeping her quiet if we came across any soldiers. So I dressed as I normally would, Brianna’s sling tied around me underneath two cloaks to keep both of us warm. Luckily for me, she seemed to have inherited her father’s natural body heat, providing me with my own personal furnace held close to my heart.
Jamie, already dressed for the journey, had gone outside to hitch the horses to the wagon, Fergus bounding excitedly down the hall behind him. I knew Fergus had to at least be somewhat scared of the unknown dangers awaiting us, but he had been nothing but his usual helpful and optimistic self. When I finally got outside with Brianna, Fergus was already perched in the wagon looking more like an oddly-shaped bundle of wool than a boy. Jenny must have given him every spare scarf in the house, and he had somehow managed to wear each and every one of them. I chuckled to myself thinking at least I wouldn’t have to worry about one of my children staying warm. Jenny herself was almost unrecognizable. She had a cap pulled low over her face, and a scarf concealed her mouth and nose. She wore a coat that had presumably belonged to Jamie as a lad as it was only a bit too big on her. Her boots on the other hand were noticeably too large for her size, but shoes were expensive, and no one would think twice about a young boy wearing shoes he had yet to grow into.
“Ah, there ye are, Sassenach,” Jamie called, looking up from behind the piles of bagged potatoes in the wagon bed. He jumped down from the side of the wagon and strolled over to give me a kiss. “Is our lass all fed and ready to leave then?” he asked, pulling aside the layers of my cloaks to take a peek at Brianna.
With a forced smile I replied, “Ready as she’ll ever be.”
“Well, perhaps not quite ready yet,” Jamie informed me as he took my arm and led me to the wagon. “We’ve one more stop to make ‘afore we set out on the road.” He seemed oddly upbeat under the circumstances, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what he had to be excited about.
I flashed him a confused look, but he just smiled back at me as he lifted me up into the bed of the wagon. “Jamie, it’s almost midnight,” I reasoned.
He just nodded as he hopped into the wagon next to me. “Aye, mo nighean donn, ’tis. That’s why it’s safe enough to go where we’re headed.” I shook my head at him before attempting to find a comfortable position to settle into for a drive of undetermined length. I felt Brianna stretch in her sling as she was awoken with my movements, and I rubbed her back to try to soothe her back to sleep. Much to my surprise, both Ian and Jenny got into the seat of the wagon while Fergus mounted the mule that was to accompany us on our journey. Jamie then lifted a heavy, woolen blanket over the three of us where we were hidden among the potatoes, and the wagon jolted forward to carry us away from Lallybroch.
I had already shed all the tears I had in me over the past couple of days, so my eyes remained dry as we moved farther and farther away from home. I found it strange how easy it was to actually leave. After all the delays and ultimately pointless hoping that we could somehow remain in our home, I wasn’t even given the opportunity to watch it recede into the distance. As Jamie held me close to him, a feeling of peace settled over me. We were doing the right thing. I felt in my bones that we were finally on the correct path, and I felt just as strongly that we would see Lallybroch again one day. I closed my eyes and leaned my head on Jamie’s arm while I concentrated on keeping still so as not to disturb Brianna. She settled quickly, seeming to like the rhythmic nature of riding in the wagon, and I could feel her even, little breaths against my skin as she slumbered.
We hadn’t been riding for more than an hour when the wagon came to a stop, and Jamie lifted the blanket off of us. I sat up to see that we had pulled up outside the small church in Broch Mordha. The town was eerily silent at this late hour, and I felt as if even the slightest whisper could wake every resident therein. Even knowing how absurd this was having just ridden in on a noisy wagon, still I asked no questions as our little group headed toward the church.
Jamie swung open the door, and I audibly gasped at what I saw inside. The stone church was empty, but the altar at the end of the aisle was illuminated by at least a hundred candles placed all around it. Their flames danced as a gust of wind followed us through the door, but they held steady and did not go out. The sight was so beautiful, I could only think that we must be here for a wedding. “But, Jamie, we’re already married,” I blurted.
Jamie laughed at my confusion as he explained. “It isna for us, Sassenach, ’tis for the bairn.” It was then I noticed the baptismal font at the center of the altar, the light of the candles reflected in its holy water. “We canna leave on a dangerous journey without making sure Brianna has first been baptized.”
“No, I suppose we can’t,” I murmured, still in shock at what Jamie had managed to put together. Even in the most rushed and desperate of circumstances, he had managed to make this milestone so incredibly special for our daughter, just as he had done for me with our hasty wedding. “I don’t know what to say,” I marveled. “It’s perfect. How did you do it?”
“Ye remember young Alastair?” I nodded. “I had Ian ask his parents for a wee favor. I figured they owed us one for what their lad did, and they agreed. I didna want to involve the priest or anyone else who might have to lie for us, but if I had to christen her myself, I wanted to at least do it in a kirk.”
My eyes widened involuntarily. “You’re going to christen her?” I asked, a bit surprised.
“Aye, I suppose I must. Anyone can christen a bairn in an emergency, and I’d say this counts as one.” A chill went through me as I remembered how Faith had been baptized and buried in consecrated ground thanks to Mother Hildegarde’s quick work. Now my second daughter was in danger as well; though unlike her sister she had been born the picture of health, the dangers facing Brianna were nonetheless just as real and immediate.
“Dinna fash, Sassenach,” Jamie reassured me, knowing my thoughts must have turned to Faith. “We willna let anythin’ happen to her. I just dinna ken when we’ll have the chance to have her baptized properly, and Ian and Jenny willna be able to be there when we do. But I promise ye we will have a proper christening for Brianna, and you and I will both be there to see it.”
“Ian and Jenny. They’re to be her godparents?” I asked.
“Aye, if ye’ll have us,” Jenny replied, removing her cap and lowering her scarf to reveal a wide grin.
“Of course!” I exclaimed, hugging first Jenny, then Ian. “I couldn’t ask for anyone better.”
“Shall we begin then, Sassenach?” asked Jamie, taking my hand in his. I nodded, and we walked down the aisle, Jenny, Ian, and Fergus following behind us.
When we reached the altar, I took off my cloaks and removed a sleeping Brianna from her sling. Our little group stood reverently around the simply-carved stone font, and Jamie cleared his throat to begin. “I havena ever performed a christening before, but I ken what the important parts are. It’ll no’ be in Latin, but I hope the Lord will forgive me for speakin’ in my own tongue. I ken the first part is to state the child’s name, and that’s easy enough. Her name is Brianna Ellen Claire Fraser, named for her grandparents and her mother, and, although it isna a biblical name, I think it suits her well.” Jamie couldn’t help but smile as he said Brianna’s full name, and my heart filled with love and pride as it did every time I was reminded of how he’d insisted on naming her after me.
“Claire and I commit to raising Brianna in the Christian faith, and now I ask ye both if ye’ll commit to helping us fulfill those duties,” Jamie continued, nodding to Jenny and Ian.
“We do,” they answered in unison.
At this point Brianna awakened, and she twisted in my arms to have a better view of the hundreds of lights shining just for her. Jamie first traced the sign of the cross on her forehead, then Jenny, Ian, and I repeated the gesture. Jamie continued on, reciting a passage from the Bible while my mind began to wander. I gazed down at the child in my arms as the lights reflected in the wide, blue eyes given to her by her father. Was I really so lucky as to be able to call her mine? Was this how my parents had felt holding me at my own christening? Somehow I knew it was.
I thought back to a year ago, just a month or two before Brianna had been conceived. Faith had been gone for over a year, and my courses were still coming every month like clockwork. I hadn’t wanted to dash what was left of Jamie’s hopes for another child, but I was beginning to think Faith’s birth had damaged my body too much. Perhaps this was my punishment for not putting my baby first: I would simply never be a mother, never be able to make my husband a father. And besides, we were fighting in a war; this was no place for life to begin.
Then that day in April when I thought I had truly lost everything. But I hadn’t. Because Brianna was there, a heavy weight of persistent life in my belly. Once I knew I carried the life of another, I could not give up on my own. Against all odds, Jamie and I had created a child, and that child had saved both of us. Because I did not give up, and I got us home, and we lived.
And now here we were, leaving everything we knew in order to keep our family safe. I had no idea where we would end up or what dangers we would face, but our love for each other had gotten us this far; surely it would take us past the unknown and into a future of happiness and security.
I came out of my reverie as Jamie dipped his finger in a bit of oil to anoint Brianna, who did not enjoy the process in the slightest, letting out an indignant cry. “Och, give the lassie to me, then,” Jenny insisted, holding out her hands to take the fussy baby. “Shh, a leannan, ye dinna want to cry at yer own christening, now do ye?” she soothed, rocking Brianna back and forth until she quieted down.
Jamie proceeded to have us renounce Satan and to state our belief in God, and then all that was left was the actual christening. “Now, mo chuisle,” Jamie continued, cupping Brianna’s head, “it’s time for ye to be baptized.” Jamie scooped up a bit of water as Jenny held Brianna’s head over the font. “I baptize you, Brianna, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He scooped water over her head three times, and by the third, all the shiny lights in the world wouldn’t have distracted her enough to keep her from crying. Jenny quickly handed her back to me, and I held her close to my breast as she fussed.
“It’s all right, darling. That little bit of water wasn’t so bad, was it?” I asked, kissing her cheek.
“Och, it wouldna be a christening without a wailing bairn,” Ian reassured me. “At least she hasna spit up yet like her cousin did.” Ian and Jenny exchanged an exasperated parent look at their shared memory.
“I’ve never been so embarrassed,” Jenny reminisced, shaking her head. “Wee Jamie vomited all down the front of the priest’s robes. It was like the lad had been savin’ it up for days just for that moment. I couldna look the priest in the eye for weeks afterward.” Jenny shook her head while Fergus made a face, clearly displeased by the mental image the story had conjured up.
“Why does everything with bairns involve les dégueulis?” Fergus asked. “First from the mothers when they are first enceinte, then from the bairns every time they eat. It disgusts me!”
Jamie chuckled as he ruffled Fergus’s hair. “I think I’d watch my words if I were you,” he admonished Fergus. “I seem to recall certain young laddie in France who got into Jared’s wine cabinet and had quite the upset wame the next mornin’.”
“Yes,” I added, “and I believe that boy’s mother had quite the time scrubbing purple dégueulis from his sheets afterward as well.” I bopped Fergus playfully on the nose, and we all laughed together, the joy of the christening and of simply being together allowing us to forget the rapidly approaching end to this brief respite.
As silence descended once more upon the little church, we looked at each other, all desperate for someone to find a reason to delay our departure. “Well, we canna leave these candles lit,” Jenny finally said, heading over to start blowing them out.
“I can take care of that once ye’ve left, a nighean,” Ian insisted, placing a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll no’ be leavin’ til someone can give me a ride back to Lallybroch in the mornin’. Ye shouldna wait any longer.” Jenny looked up at him and nodded, tears welling in her eyes. Ian held his arms wide and welcomed Jenny into them, holding her tight as she leaned into his embrace. “Come back to me, mo ghraidh. I’ll never forgive ye if ye don’t,” he murmured.
“Never thought you’d be the one sayin’ that to me,” Jenny laughed, wiping her eyes. “I do feel a bit like you and Jamie when ye went off to France all those years ago.”
“Hopefully it willna be as dangerous as all that,” Ian replied as Jamie and I exchanged a nervous glance.
“Keep our bairns in one piece, and I swear I’ll return to ye as quickly as I can,” Jenny promised.
It was my turn next to say goodbye, but unlike Jenny, I likely would not see Ian again for a very long time. “Thank you,” I whispered as I hugged him as best I could while holding Brianna, “for everything.”
“Ye’ll watch over our Frasers for me?” he asked, holding onto Brianna’s little hand with his much larger one. I nodded, too emotional to speak, and he kissed my cheek before turning to Jamie.
“Mo charaid,” he said before Jamie gave him a brief hug, slapping him on the back with affection.
“I swear to keep yer wife safe so that she may return to you and yer family,” Jamie vowed. “I dinna ken how to thank or repay ye for what ye’ve given up for me. I’ll forever be in yer debt.”
“Just write to us when ye’re settled in yer new home. Yer happiness is all I need in repayment.” Jamie nodded at the friend who had become his brother, tears shining in his eyes as well.
With Brianna now officially christened and our goodbyes said to Ian, it was time to head back out to the wagon and put some distance between us and the town before morning. Ian and Jenny walked up the aisle, heads close together as they breathed the same air for a few moments longer.
“Time to go, lad,” Jamie beckoned Fergus as he looped his arm through mine. I held Brianna against my shoulder with my other arm so she could enjoy the view of her candlelit altar on our way out.
The cold wind whipped against my face as we exited the church, but the warm weight of my baby pressed against my body grounded and calmed me. Fergus’s lanky arms wrapped around my waist in a hug before he hopped up onto his mule, his enthusiasm for adventure radiating off of him in waves. As Jamie helped me into the bed of the wagon, I spied Jenny giving Ian one final kiss before pulling her scarf back up over her face and climbing into the seat to take the reins. Jamie climbed in after me, carefully adjusting the placement of the sacks of potatoes to more thoroughly hide us from view. He even went so far as to lay a sack over our bottom halves that felt as if it had been deliberately lightened for such a purpose.
We each grabbed a corner of the blanket and pulled it securely over our heads, settling in this time for a much longer ride. Jamie positioned his arm for me to lean my head against, my grateful smile lost to him in the dark. “I ken ’tis difficult not knowin’ what tomorrow will bring, Sassenach, but the one thing I do know for certain is this: I love ye today more than yesterday, and I’ll love ye even more tomorrow. Whatever comes, wherever our journey ends, ye can hold onto that truth as long as we both shall live.” He kissed my forehead, and I sighed, burrowing into the warmth of his chest as I heard the snap of the reins and we faced the unknown once more.