Chapter 1: Part I
The wedding dress had been placed in the centre of the second-hand shop window.
It was simple yet elegant. Sleeveless and fitted at the ivory boned bodice and hips, the skirt flared to the hem in ripples of ivory satin, trimmed with delicate lace and finished with rows of tiny beading that shimmered in the light like droplets of ice upon snow.
The cardboard tag carefully tied around the slim waist dutifully declared NEVER WORN and £100.
It had stood in the window, quietly observing and being observed, for five days.
Waiting for the right person to come along.
The door opened, letting in a gust of fresh Spring air and James Fraser stepped inside the second-hand shop moments after his sister.
They had been on their way to lunch when Jenny had given a squeal of excitement and had suddenly ducked inside the shop as they passed by it. Bewildered, Jamie had watched through the window as Jenny admired the dress, gently fingering the beading down the back of the bodice and smoothing the satin skirt.
“Jenny?” he asked as he stood beside her. “What are ye doing, lass? Do ye even ken how hungry I am or do ye no’ care?”
She barely looked up at him. “I cannae believe it’s still here. Tis perfect, is it no’, bràthair.”
Jamie cast a brief glimpse over the dress. It was quite exquisite and would certainly suit his sister just fine. But it wasn’t the steak that he’d been dreaming of since agreeing to come into Inverness with her. “Aye, I suppose tis pretty enough.”
“Ye suppose?” Jenny scoffed in disbelief. “Have ye no’ been listening at all this past week, ye dolt? This is the dress, Jamie.”
He pretended to look shocked as he stared at it with exaggeration. “Oh, this is that dress? The one ye’ve blathered nonstop about from dawn till dusk until ye’ve made my ears bleed?”
Jenny rolled her eyes and punched him in the arm as they were approached by one of the assistants.
The woman smiled warmly. “It’s lovely, is it no’?”
“Oh, aye.” Jenny was quick to agree, ignoring Jamie as he rubbed his arm and pouted. “I saw it last week and cannae quite get over that it’s no’ been brought yet.”
“There has been some interest but no…would ye like to try it on?”
Jenny nodded enthusiastically and stood to one side to allow the assistant to lift the dress from off the mannequin. “Do ye ken anything about the woman that donated it?”
Jamie, who had been investigating the nearby glass cabinet full of porcelain animals, lifted his eyes in anticipation. But was immediately disappointed when the assistant shook her head.
“I’m afraid no’. The dress was only discovered in the back room a few weeks ago with nothin’ more than a hand-written note taped to the box. Seems it had been back there for some time.”
Intrigued, Jamie asked, “And I dinnae suppose ye kept the note at all?”
“Oh, aye.” She nodded enthusiastically as she wrestled with the layers of material that made up the skirt. “I can fetch it for ye if ye’d like to see it?”
He could feel the weight of Jenny’s gaze upon him. “Tis probably no’ much of a story, Jamie,” she said quietly. “Why are ye so taken by it?”
“Why are ye no’ intrigued by it? Tis goin’ to be yer wedding dress after all.”
She tilted her head and smiled. “I am. But I am more worrit about ye getting’ too involved. Ye need to think of yer stress levels seeing as yer currently on sick leave.”
It was Jamie’s turn to roll his eyes. “Tis a sabbatical, actually, seeing as I’m no’ sick.”
“Are ye no’? Then why has Murtagh insisted upon it?”
He shot her a look. “I doubt reading some wee note left behind by a heartbroken lass is going to tip me over the edge, Janet.”
“It had better no’.”
Knowing she only meant well, Jamie leaned down and kissed the top of her head. “Dinna fash.”
She glared up at him for good measure and turned to follow the assistant to the back of the shop, leaving Jamie to his own devices. It was after he had idly thumbed his way through the small collection of first editions (even considering one or two of them for purchase), the assistant reappeared, waving a neatly folded piece of paper in her hand. She handed it to him with a brief nod.
“If yer really interested in how the dress came to be here,” she said as she handed the paper to him. “I can ask if my grandmother remembers the lass. She kens every item in the shop by heart seeing as she worked here for so long before she retired.”
Jamie nodded, agreeing to leave his phone number at the till. She smiled and hurried back to Jenny, finally leaving him alone.
He stared down at the piece of paper, willing the moment not to stretch into an eternity.
It was strange to admit it, but he felt sure that the dress was calling out to him.
Jamie was a Highlander, born and bred. Superstitions, folklore and the myths of the Highlands were in his veins. If something felt magical or odd or unnatural, it was probably because it was. Unexplained occurrences were completely normal.
So when he felt the odd sense of familiarity when Jenny had first described the dress to him, he had paid attention.
When he had dreamt of warmth and light and love, he woke in the morning and immediately wrote down what he had seen.
And when the tingling of electricity surged through his fingers as he had taken possession of that single piece of paper, he knew he was on the path fate had set out for him.
With a shuddering breath, he slowly unfolded the note, catching the faint scent of herbs clinging to the weave. The cursive writing was neat and looped, hurrying across the page as though the author had been racing against time to put the words down on paper.
Elizabeth Gaskell once wrote ‘The cloud never comes from the quarter of the horizon from which we watch for it’ and I have found her to be quite correct. I hope that the dress affords you a much greater happiness than it did me.
CEB – 18th September 2018
Something squeezed around his heart. Sweet lass. Who was the mac na galla that caused ye such sorrow?
Jamie read the note twice more, running his thumb back and forth over the initials and date. He had known nothing about the note, hadn’t expected to find any link to the woman that flittered about the edge of his dreams. He felt something akin to devastation to find that it had been over a year since the note had been written, however. Did that mean that he was too late to find her?
“So, bràthair, what do ye think?”
Jamie looked up, pulled from his reverie, by his sisters voice. Upon seeing her, a vision in lace trimmed ivory satin, he gasped and clutched at his chest. “Christ, lass. Is that really ye?”
“Do ye think it will do?” She asked, timidly touching the skirt. “I ken it’s no’ brand new and lavishly expensive, but I kent it was the dress the first moment I saw it. And it’ll need to be adjusted as it does no’ quite fit across the-”
“Jenny!” Jamie interjected gently. “Does the dress make ye happy, lass?”
Tears formed even as a sweet smiled curved her lips. She nodded and said, “It does. Do ye think that Ma will mind that I’m no’ wearing hers after all?”
Jamie shook his head and pulled his older sister towards him for a quick hug. “No, lass. She will no’ mind at all.”
“Weel, he’d be happy to be marrit to ye even if ye wore an old sack, so he’ll like the price well enough.”
She sniffed into his coat and laughed. “Aye. He will. I can get the dressmaker in the village to do what needs to be done.”
Jamie nodded, grinning as his stomach rumbled. “Then buy it, lass, and let us go. I’m in need of being fed at some point today or I’ll waste away.”
It would be two weeks before Jamie received a phone call.
To get out from under the growing wedding mania that was building up now that the big day was less than a month away, Jamie had taken to passing a few hours helping out in the stables. As a lad, he had spent every free moment alongside Auld Alec, assisting him with the care of the horses and their training. It had often grounded him, especially in the years following the death of his mother, when he struggled to come to terms with his anger and loss. And now it was helping him again as he tried to string the numerous threads of thought and memory into something resembling coherency.
Ever since Jenny had returned to Lallybroch with the dress, the dreams had stopped.
He couldn’t explain it but with their absence, it felt like a small part of him had been cut away and he was slowly bleeding out from the open wound.
As though the loss of them had left him bereft.
Aching. Longing. Heartbroken.
To burn off the feelings, Jamie had rolled up his sleeves and was helping with mucking out the stalls. But so engrossed was he in his work, he almost missed his phone ringing in his discarded jacket down by the entrance. Somehow, he managed to scramble over the hay and down the row of stalls before the caller rung off.
“James Fraser.” He answered breathlessly, wiping sweat from off his brow.
It was an elderly woman who spoke gently, and with a little confusion, in his ear. “Oh, hello there. I’m hoping ye are the right James Fraser. My name is Mrs Agatha Graham. Ye spoke to my granddaughter, Fiona, a few weeks ago about a dress.”
His stomach lurched. “Aye. I did.”
“That’s grand. But can I ask why?”
Releasing a slow breath, Jamie replied, “I canna say for sure. Tis only that…I like stories, Mrs Graham. And this one feels to be quite special. I’d like to ken that she turned out okay after it all.”
“So ye are wanting to find her then?”
He shrugged, although there was no-one around to see him do so. “Maybe. My sister would certainly like to thank her.”
Mrs Graham hummed. “Weel…let me see what I can remember first before we get too carried away. Do ye have any specific that ye’d like to ken?”
Jamie thought for a second. “Did she have an accent of any kind?”
“Oh, aye. She was English and spoke quite well, but I dinna think she was one of those posh types, ye ken. Her hands were worn wit’ work.”
Okay. The lass was a Sassenach.
“And how would ye describe her, Mrs Graham? Was she tall? Fair-haired?”
“She was tall but no’ too tall. Her hair was brown and curly, but it was her eyes that took me aback. They were golden, like a hawk.”
Noted. “Did she say anything else?” – he asked, trying to keep the desperation from his voice – “Where she might be goin’ to, perhaps?”
Mrs Graham clicked her tongue. “No…not really. She only said that she was goin’ away for a wee while and that the dress should no’ be tucked away and go unworn.”
Jamie held his breath, almost too afraid to ask the question. “I…I dinna suppose she gave ye her name at all?”
There was a pause. Jamie felt his heart plummet to somewhere near to the floor.
“Ye ken, I think she said her name was Claire. Claire Beauchamp. I remember her insisting that it was spelt the French way but pronounced in the English. Verra odd. But I suppose finding her wit’ a name like that will be like finding a needle in a haystack, aye?”
Feeling breathless, Jamie said, “Weel, that was more than I kent before ye called. Thank ye.”
“I do hope that I helped and that ye manage to find her, Mr Fraser. She must have been heartbroken to part from her wedding dress.”
“As ye say. Goodbye, and thank ye again, Mrs Graham.”
Jamie ended the call and slowly slide down the wall. He had a name. But would that be enough?
It would have to be.
It was dusk by the time he finished up in the stables and slowly began to make his way back to the main house. Smoke rose up from the chimneys of Lallybroch, the grey wisps merging with the descending dark sky. The farm had been in his family for over three-hundred years, but it was only once his late father branded the name of Broch Tuarach that the sheep-farm diversified. Now, forty years after Brian Fraser had inherited the estate, it was known around the world for its popular fine whiskies and newly restored tartan mill.
Jamie reached the back door to the kitchen just as Jenny yanked it open.
“There ye are, Jamie. I was about to send Ian out to find ye. Leave yer muddy boots outside and come sit by the fire. I have so much to tell ye.”
Ian was already sat at the table, happily tucking into a large bowl of beef stew once Jamie wandered into the kitchen. Jamie sat down beside him as Jenny placed another steaming bowl down, alongside several freshly buttered bread rolls, and motioned for him to tuck in.
He supposed he should be grateful that she waited until he was halfway through his meal before she started talking.
Jamie raised a quizzical brow. “And should I ken who this Geillis Duncan is?”
“Oh, aye. She grew up near Cransmuir. Had a terrible wee crush on our Uncle Dougal.”
Jamie looked to Ian, but his future brother-in-law merely shook his head.
“But that’s no’ important. It seems that she spent a few years working in England, Oxford tae be precise, and when I took the dress down to her this morning to get it adjusted, she recognised it.”
Jamie spluttered into his stew. “She what now?”
“She recognised it. Seems that she was working for the designer who was commissioned to create it. The bride was an English doctor whose fiancée was one of the university History professors.”
Jenny smiled triumphantly.
“What do ye say about that then, bràthair?”
He bit into one of the bread rolls and chewed thoughtfully.
After a moment, he said as nonchalantly as he could, “Her name is Claire Beauchamp.”
Jenny’s eyes widened. “How do ye ken…?”
“The grandmother of the shop assistant finally called today. Remembered enough about her for us to start searching, at least.”
She clapped her hands and laughed. “That’s grand, Jamie.”
Jamie nodded but it was Ian who asked, “So, did Geillis ever meet her?”
Jenny shook her head. “Weel, no. But she did work on the dress. She said that her only stipulation was that it must have pockets.”
“Aye. Pockets. But as ye ken, the dress has no pocket. Except it does, only they had been stitched up with verra neat and precise stitches. Geillis was able to pick the thread and guess what? She discovered a second note.”
Jamie felt light-headed as he greedily took the note from Jenny’s outstretched hand:
If you are reading this, I am both overjoyed and a little put out that you’ve managed to pull apart my stitches. It would surely make me question my skills as a surgeon if I was there.
Regardless, I am so very pleased that the dress has found its way to you. If I may, would you be willing to let me know if it has finally bought happiness to someone, I've taken the liberty of writing my email below.
Jamie knew he must have been visibly shaking.
“Ye ken, bràthair.” Jenny said quietly, reaching out to place her hand over his. “I think the lass wants us to find her.”
Later that night, Jamie settled down with his laptop and composed an email.
In it, he explained everything in the best way that he could, careful to not pour out his heart to her before they had a chance to meet in person.
He also didn’t tell her about his dreams, fearful that she might be overwhelmed by the truth of them.
With Jenny’s bidding, he attached an invitation to the wedding.
He sent the email.
And waited for a reply.
But it would be five months before his email was answered.
Chapter 2: Part II
Claire was supposed to get married. But when that didn't happen, she had to rethink everything.
A little later than expected, here is the promised second part of the story. Do read on and feel free to ask any questions at the end.
Before we crack on though, I just want to say a MASSIVE thanks for the comments and kudos to the first part of Never Worn. When I posted it, I never thought it would get the reaction that it did. I am both overjoyed and quite humbled.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The wedding dress was finally worn on a windy but sunny Saturday in Spring.
There had been some slight alterations; the hem had been lifted and the bodice resized. The pockets had been checked for further secrets but, after disappointingly yielding none, were relined with a soft wool. Finally, a tartan sash in muted browns and greens had been added to tie loosely at the waist.
It was everything that the bride had wanted.
And after the big day, it was neatly folded and reverently placed in an antique oak chest in the attic.
But the dress had not yet finished what it had set out to do.
Two years before
The bell above the dressmaker’s door joyfully jangled as Claire Beauchamp stepped inside, bringing in with her a flurry of soft snow.
Not exactly surprising for February...
It was a small unobtrusive shop, located down one of the many side streets close to the university. Claire had found it by complete accident when she had had to duck into the doorway to escape a sudden summer downpour. Captivated by the dresses on display but running terribly late for a lunch appointment, Claire had returned later to explore along the racks. The owner, a tall woman called Maisri (who reminded Claire of a Modigliani painting what with her white streaked black hair and angularly pretty face ) had struck up a conversation and soon had Claire admitting to the fact that she had yet to find a wedding dress that she liked.
Hence why, several months later, Claire was stopping by for her final fitting on a dress that had been designed for her.
“Tis good to see ye, Claire.” Maisri smiled in greeting. “Are ye excited to see the finished result?”
Claire nodded excitedly and followed the dressmaker to the back of the shop where the fitting room was, passing by the kaleidoscope of rolled cloths and fabrics that were piled high along every wall. She stepped into the back room and her eyes were immediately drawn to the far wall where her ivory satin wedding dress had been hung, waiting for her to wear it.
Thirty minutes later, Claire stood before the floor-to-ceiling mirror, trying hard not to sway the skirt.
“It really is quite beautiful, Maisri.” Claire cooed, gently running her fingers over the material. Her hands ran down the sides of the skirt and she laughed in delight as she found the hidden pockets. “And you managed to get the pockets added after all.”
“It took a wee bit of thinking, but I have a bonnie new seamstress who managed well enough.”
“They’re perfect. Please send on my thanks.”
“Tis no bother. She was intrigued as to why ye wanted them added but I said nothing of yer reasoning.”
Claire hummed but said nothing more on it. The pockets were a simple necessity that she had been unwilling to compromise on.
“Where did you say the lace came from again?” She asked after a moment of staring at the pattern.
“The Scottish Highlands. Ma hometown in fact.” The dressmaker said from behind her where she was checking on the way the dress sat. “And tis verra old. I’ve kent for some time it would be used on a dress, but I was no’ sure which until I started working on yers.”
“Well, its stunning.”
Maisri beamed with pride as she appeared at her side. “Och, tis the bride that makes the dress, Claire. But this dress…” she mused, her intelligent dark eyes shifting to her face. And not for the first time since she met her, Claire wondered if there was something unearthly about Maisri. It was often there; in the slight turn of her head and a distant look, as though she was being pulled into a different time or place. “This dress has quite a wee destiny, ye ken.”
Maisri smiled knowingly. “I ken things. Of what is to come and what is already done. My mother called it The Sight, as her mother did before her. Tis found in those that have the Highlands in their veins. I ken what this dress will bring and it’s nothing but happiness for the one who wears it, Claire.”
Not knowing how to respond, Claire smiled warmly and went back to staring at the dress. She didn’t believe in superstitions. Her facts were based in science and reasoning. Although she would admit that the folklore and fables of Scotland, a place she had only visited once when she was a teenager, had often fascinated her. Frank knew something of the traditions and stories, had even suggested that their honeymoon could be taken in the Highlands. Eagerly, she had agreed, finding a quaint and comfortable cottage an hour outside of Inverness that overlooked the sea.
And as to happiness, Claire would certainly settle for it and she had no doubt that her life would be full of joy and contentment once she was married to Frank. And now that he had been offered a more permanent position here in Oxford, they could settle and perhaps start a family of their own.
“There ye are then,” Maisri spoke softly, pulling Claire from her thoughts. “The dress is all finished. Now, seeing as the wedding isnae for another week, ye can take it home with ye today or would ye like to keep it here and away from prying eyes?”
The thought of Frank prying into anything other than his research made her chuckle. “I’d like to take it home, if I may.”
“Alright.” Maisri nodded. She began to help Claire with the laces of the bodice when she paused. “You ken, it willna be yer fault, Claire,” she said with conviction, offering her reflection a sad smile. “Ye need to remember that.”
Confused, Claire asked, “What won’t be my fault?”
“He’ll find ye. He will always find ye.”
But Maisri shook her head, finished untying the laces and walked away, leaving her utterly baffled.
That night, once the dress was securely stored in a garment bag and hung with reverence within the wardrobe, Claire began to dream.
She dreamt of rolling green hills and distant mountains. Of fathomless waters and cloudless blue skies. Of a house, nestled so fittingly into its landscape that it could have risen from the earth itself. Of a tower, gently leaning to one side. Of the sound of laughter and the taste of whiskey and the warmth of hearth and home.
Of fiery red curls and sapphire blue eyes…
Those dreams swirled and tossed around her mind whilst she slept. They clung to her waking thoughts, were absorbed into her bloodstream, tethered themselves to her very bones
And on the day of her wedding, when the groom did not show, she felt that they were the only things that were keeping her from drowning in her despair. In her red-hot anger. In her final absolute acceptance that happiness was beyond her.
Because Maisri had been right. It had not been her fault that Frank had destroyed everything.
In the weeks that followed, Claire lifted herself out of her darkness. Wedding gifts were returned. She kept her head above the wave of pitiful looks and whispered gossip. She never spoke to Frank again but had received a letter from him a few days after, when the heat of shame at having to stand before their friends to say that there would be no wedding that day still burnt her face.
She almost didn’t open it.
The letter was full of worthless apologies and woefully inadequate explanations. He had fallen in love with someone else. He had moved to Boston to be with her. Claire could keep everything that he had not already taken in a mad dash the night before he had supposed to commit to a life with her.
It was fair to say that Claire kept very little.
The dress was condemned to the back of her wardrobe, boxed up and forgotten.
Determined to start again, Claire applied for a once in a lifetime opportunity to train under the watchful eye of Hildergard de Gascogne at L’Hôspital des Angles in Paris . She was accepted with immediate effect and as she was packing her things to make the move to France, Claire pulled the box free from where it had been buried beneath bogs and shoes.
She had felt sure that to see the dress again would break her, remind her of the life that she could have had. But instead, as she pulled back the tissue paper to reveal the delicate lace trim, Claire felt nothing but relief. Because she knew in that moment (she didn’t understand the how or the why) that the dress was never supposed to be hers.
Decision made and in a moment of whimsey, Claire placed a note into one of the pockets and stitched them both closed. If she was meant to know the outcome of her plan, then the note would be found. She boarded a plane to Inverness and left the box in the hands of one Agatha Graham, the proprietor of a second-hand shop.
It would be eighteen months before she returned.
“I’ll only be gone for a few days,” Claire said as she whirled around her apartment, double checking that she had all the things she would need to take with her. Passport. Phone charger. Adaptor. Toothbrush. “Everything is taken care of. You’ll just need to remember to feed the fish.”
“Az you have told me a thousand times already, mon amie.” Louise de la Tour replied from where she was slouched low in the ridiculously comfortable couch, eating crackers and watching the latest episode of a popular streaming series. “Besides, it’s not az though Écosse iz thousands of miles away.”
“I know,” Claire sighed, zipping up her bag, tawny eyes scanning the room one last time. “I’m just convinced I’ve forgotten something.”
Louise stood to dust the crumbs from off her jumper. “If you have, I’ll forward it to ze hotel,” she said, moving to stand beside Claire’s bags as her friend put on her coat. “Relax, mon amie. Go and enjoy ze conference and ze few days of holiday after. Find yourself that Scot you often dream about.”
Claire, who had been patting down her pockets to check for her keys, stilled. “What?”
Louise sighed in exaggerated exasperation. “Ze dreams, mon petit pois sucré. You told me about them when you first moved here, remember.”
She shrugged a shoulder. “Of course, you were drunk at ze time, which iz perhaps why. Let me see if I can remember…he iz tall. Red-haired. Handsome.” – here, she wiggled her eyebrows suggestively – “Lives somewhere remote, surrounded by mountains. Wears a kilt…”
Staggered, Claire stood there with her mouth open.
“You sometimes still do talk about him, when you are especially tired and fall asleep in ze break room.”
“I do not.”
“How would you know? You are asleep, mon amie.”
The sound of a car horn sounded out on the street.
“That will be your taxi. And if you happen to meet him, can I have your apartment?”
Despite the bombshell of new information, Claire rolled her eyes. “I really don’t know why you want it so much. One of the bathroom taps leaks, the heating is temperamental at the best of times and the-”
“Oui. Oui. But ze views…” – Louise pursed her lips and made a smacking sound – “Les vues sont incroyables.”
Claire couldn’t fault her friend there. When she had moved to Paris, it had been a stroke of luck that an apartment anywhere near L’Hôspital had been available to rent at such a reasonable rate. Situated in what had once been the home of a wealthy wine merchant back in the eighteenth-century, the second-floor apartment had views across the Seine towards Notre Dame and was only a short walk each day to work.
“And that’s why you’ll never have it,” Claire teased as she pulled on her coat. “And when I get back, we are having a talk about you listening to me when I’m asleep.”
Louise merely giggled as she handed Claire her bag. “Sure…that iz if you do come back.”
Claire really couldn’t explain what had compelled her to do it.
It was the day after the conference had finished. Most of the participants had returned home but there were still a handful around at breakfast that morning. Claire was staying in Scotland for a few more days, taking some much-earned vacation time before Hildergard forced her to; ‘Burn Out’ had been mentioned more than once.
So, Claire had spent some time over breakfast crafting a list of places she wouldn’t mind seeing, including a tartan mill about an hour away that produced the most divine looking scarfs. Then, she took a walk along the river that meandered its way through the city, enjoying the summer heat upon her skin. And as she made her way back to the hotel, she found herself staring through the window of a shop that looked vaguely familiar.
She looked up at the name. Squinted. And then realised.
It was the random second-hand shop where she had donated the wedding dress.
The memory of it struck her straight in the stomach.
Claire remembered the weeks after letting the dress go, when she would incessantly check her emails, hoping that someone would reach out. It was fanciful, she supposed, but she had felt so sure. But when the weeks turned into months, Paris proved to be a distraction. She would rarely scroll through the endless marketing emails and social media notifications that soon filled up the inbox. In fact, she didn’t think she’d scrolled beyond the immediate emails in months.
Compelled by a sudden curiosity, Claire pushed open the door to the shop and stepped inside.
“Hello!” The young woman behind the counter smiled brightly in greeting. “Let me ken if ye need help wit’ anything at all.”
“Actually,” Claire nodded and smiled as she drew near. “I was wondering if you’d ever sold a wedding dress before.”
“Och, yes. We don’t get many so it’s easy to remember.”
Claire’s heart started thumping louder. “I don’t suppose you recall anything about the woman who brought it?”
Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Why do ye ask?”
“Well…it’s just that the dress was mine, you see. And I was rather hoping to find out anything. An idle curiosity, if you will.”
The woman blinked. Then blinked again.
“Yer her, aren’t ye?” She whispered in awe. “Yer CEB?”
Cheeks flushed, Claire held out her hand and said, “Yes. Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp. Pronounced in the English but spe-”
“But spelt in the French way,” she interrupted, nodding eagerly. “My Grandma always remembers that.”
Claire smiled. “She was most kind to take the dress at all.”
“Yer somethin’ of a legend,” the woman went on, her expression softening. “The mysterious bride, jilted by her lover, who brought her dress all the way to Scotland in the hope that it would bring happiness to someone else. Tis all verra romantic.”
“Yes, well. I wouldn’t know anything about being a legend…or about it being romantic.”
“Ye ken that they tried to find ye.”
Claire raised a brow and shook her head. “Who did?”
“The couple that brought the dress. But I guess they had no luck.”
“No. No they did not. When was this?”
The woman pondered for a moment. “Och…probably around March, I’d say.”
But that was five months ago...
With a kind smile, Claire nodded her thanks and left the shop. As she walked slowly back to the hotel, she began to wonder why any of it mattered. She had moved on. Donated the dress. It had been purchased and had done what she had hoped; it had made another bride happy.
Yet she couldn’t shake the feeling that she had just been told something momentous.
Getting back to her room, and after making a cup of tea with shaking hands, Claire opened her emails and typed ‘dress’ into the search box.
Thankfully, there were only a handful of emails to scroll through. And when she saw that one email that she suspected she was looking for, her heart both fluttered and plummeted at the same time.
From: James Fraser
Re: The wedding dress
Taking a unsteady breath, Claire pressed her thumb to the screen of her phone and opened the email.
Dear Miss Beauchamp,
I hope that this email finds ye in good health.
I am writing to you on behalf of my sister, Jenny. Tis not a long story but I hope ye’ll allow me to tell it. She found yer note hidden within one of the wee pockets of the dress and…
There's going to be a third part after all. I have to get these two together now, right?
Chapter 3: Part III
It has all been leading up to this one moment.
Did this chapter turn out the way I expected it to? Nope. Nope it did not. But it went in this direction for a reason, I'm sure, but I can't say I'm completely okay with it.
A HUGE thank you for sticking with it. For leaving comments and kudos and just a general warm feeling of love. Read on...
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
As expected, on the day of its wearing, the wedding dress had been admired.
Whilst the sun hung in the sky, the dress swept and swayed over the wildflower lined path that led from manor to kirk and back again. It had basked in the sighs and gasps of delight. It shimmered a little more as the beading and stitching were adored, the wool-lined pockets idolized, and the satin skirts brushed with wonderous fingers.
It had known all along that the lace trim had been enchanting.
Delicate threads of silk and silver had been wound onto finely whittled bone bobbins, then braided and twisted to form a Highland pattern embellished with small thistle blooms. And into the pattern had been woven a promise, one that would take many years to fulfil.
Blood of my blood…
For the lace was not meant for that dress after all.
A mug of coffee was placed gently down onto the desk by his hand.
Bleary-eyed from staring at his laptop for the past few hours, Jamie glanced up to find Ian staring down at him, a hint of concern in his steadfast brown gaze. “I figured ye’d need it,” he said, leaning up against the edge of Jamie’s makeshift desk. “But dinna tell Jenny, otherwise she’ll have my balls in a vice.”
Grinning, Jamie gratefully took a sip and sighed. Ah! It had been a while. Coffee had been one of the many things his sister had banned him from since he’d returned to Lallybroch. His forced sabbatical from the publishing house had been due to a series of worrying heart palpitations which had turned out to be nothing too serious. However, Jenny had been eager to have him come home to get some rest. Two months had turned into six and as his feet grew steady upon the earth he had been raised upon, Jamie had started to write again.
“Are ye nearly finished wit’ it?”.
Pulled from his thoughts, Jamie nodded and sighed with relief. “Aye. Tis easier up write up here. Quieter, ye ken.” Jamie replied with a shrug. “I dinna get disturbed as much.”
Ian nodded. “Aye. I suppose. And yer no’ up here…pining?”
Jamie spluttered into his coffee.
“Pining? Why would I be doing that?”
“Because ye no’ heard from the English lass yet. And Jenny fears ye are losin’ yer mind over it.”
Unconsciously, Jamie’s gaze shifted to the large antique oak chest that had been placed beneath the attic window. How was he going to be able to explain the deep-rooted need to be in this room, to be somewhere close to something of hers.
He had no doubt that he would come across as quite mad.
“Jenny worries too much,” Jamie murmured, closing his laptop. “Ye both do.”
“Perhaps. But ye dinna help us out, what wit’ all the sighing and moping around.”
“I do no’ mope.”
Ian gave him an amused look.
“Ye do. Ye sigh so big sometimes that even I get a wee bit giddy. I dinna peg ye as a hopeless romantic, Jamie.”
“I would prefer hopeful,” Jamie retorted, finishing his coffee. And as much as he would have enjoyed discussing the matter with Ian (that was a lie because he wouldn’t have), Jamie needed to divert the conversation away. “Besides, as I’m heading back tae Edinburgh at the weekend, I’ll no’ have time tae sigh or mope, as ye put it. I’ve got a lot of work tae catch up on.”
“Aye. Tis true that Jenny and I will miss ye being around here all the time. But ye will no’ be leaving for a day or two yet, so why no’ come down for dinner, if yer hungry.”
His stomach rumbled in approval.
“Edinburgh tis only a few hours,” Jamie assured him as he stood, only now catching the faint but delicious aroma of roast chicken coming up through the floors below. “I can always come back at weekends and such. Especially once the bairn comes along.”
Ian stumbled over his feet as a faint blush rose up his neck. “What? What bairn? What are ye talkin’ about?”
Laughing at his terrible attempt at subterfuge, Jamie led the way back down from the attic. “I’ve spent all my life on this farm,” he said, glancing back over his shoulder. “Ye could say I ken a thing or two about it.”
Ian opened and closed his mouth several times before finally saying, “We’re still no’ sure. Jenny has a doctor’s appointment in the morning…”
Jamie grinned. “Ye two are going tae make such braw parents. And I cannae wait to be this bairns favourite uncle.”
Ian paused at the top of the last flight of stairs and frowned. “Ye’ll be their only uncle, Jamie.”
“And that makes me the best.” Jamie reasoned as he jumped the last few steps and followed his nose into the kitchen.
Jamie had gone back to his room after dinner.
Despite it being August, there was a definite chill to the air that seemed roll down from the mountains to slip beneath his skin. After showering, he sank down onto the bed, laying beneath a thick tartan blanket that settled over his hips, and tried to close his eyes. But just the same as every night for the past week, sleep refused to pull him under.
So he let him mind wander. He thought about the dreams of her, absent now for so long that he feared he would forget. Yet he would still sometimes see her, standing just outside of his vision, floating and drifting as though she was a ghost. He’d reach out to pull her towards him, to tether her to his side, but she always remained firmly out of his grasp.
How was it possible to miss someone he had never met?
With an exasperated sigh, he rolled over and listened to the sound of the clock in the hallway beneath his room tick away the minutes and then the hours. He squinted his eyes shut and suddenly he was standing by one of the storehouses that lined the cobbled yard of the mill. Jamie knew it well enough to immediately notice that there was something different, for all the colours had drained from the scene, shrouding everything in blanket of grey.
Finally, he was dreaming.
And she was there, standing at the far end of the yard with her back to him. Her coat was the only splash of colour; a vibrant peacock blue that billowed back and forth in the swirling wind. He took a step towards her, watching as more colours dashed through her loose curls, highlighting them with a dozen shades of brown and umber and gold. Another step and she lifted her head, the wind carrying her voice towards him in a broken whisper.
‘Come find me. Come find us.’
Jamie took another step but already the invisible walls of the dream were tumbling. Don’t open yer eyes, he begged of himself. Please dinna open yer eyes. No’ yet. But already, he could feel himself being drawn upwards, back into a wakefulness that tore out his heart.
Forty miles away from Lallybroch, in a hotel room in Inverness, Claire Beauchamp woke with a short, sharp intake of breath.
The faint glow of dawn peeked through the gap in the curtains, spilling beams of orange light into the room. The sheet beneath her was hot and damp, her skin prickling with cooling sweat as she stared wide-eyed and panting up at the ceiling.
She hadn’t had a dream that lucid since before she had moved to Paris.
Claire flung back the duvet and stood on shaking legs to make her way to the bathroom, switching on the shower as she took stock of her own reflection. Her normally pale skin was tinged with a faint blush and coated in a light sheen, her tawny eyes bright as though fevered. She filled a glass with water and slowly drank it, relieved as the cold liquid eased the tension in her throat. Jesus H Roosevelt Christ! All of this because of some bloody dream.
Clambering over the edge of the bath so that she could stand beneath the hot jets of water, it took several minutes before Claire felt her pulse began the slow descent into a state of calm. It was always this way after a dream, her body left shaking with need. Her memory recalled the sensation of his eyes upon her, of the ghost of his touch upon her arm. He had been so close this time that she had taken a step back, she would have felt the heat of him upon her back, seeping down through her clothes to her core.
For the red-haired man taunted her, pulling at her seams until she fell to her knees before him.
‘Come find me. Come find us.’
Despite the blistering heat from the water pouring down upon her, Claire shuddered. She was sure that it couldn’t have been his voice whispering in her ear. Only her mind finding a new way to mock her. Either way the vibration, the timbre of his voice had pulsed through her body, leaving behind a prickly and itchy sensation that she felt in the very tips of her fingers.
It was alarming, disconcerting, and bloody arousing.
Only as her fingers began to prune did Claire switch off the shower and climb out of the tub. Slowly, she dressed and corralled her hair into something more manageable for the day ahead. She checked her watch, swore loudly that it was only six-thirty and still too early for breakfast, so she began to pace up and down beside the bed. She knew what it was that was making her so agitated; she just had no point to begin from in order to remedy it.
Her mind shifted and she found herself grabbing her phone to open her emails. Her response to James Fraser was still in draft so she tapped the screen to re-read it:
From: Claire Beauchamp
Re: News of the wedding dress
Dear Mr. Fraser,
I must begin with my apologies for my lack of reply these past months. In truth, I did not see your email and it was only because I revisited the second-hand shop yesterday that I became aware of my error. I am also sorry to have missed your sister’s wedding; I am sure she would have made a beautiful bride.
I am so very pleased that it was she who brought the dress and that you both found my note, Mr. Fraser. I do believe that I have always known that the dress, despite being made for me, was not meant for me. That there would be another who would wear it with pride and love. And I do so hope that she has found her happiness.
With warmest regards
She stared down at the screen and sighed. Would her reply matter so much after five months? Would he be bothered at all to hear from her? Still unsure of herself, she did what she could not have done the day before and pressed Send.
Whatever the outcome, at least they would both have some closure.
And she needed to get the hell out of this room.
“Good morning, Doctor Beauchamp.”
Claire looked up from the newspaper to find one of the hotel staff hovering by her table, smiling down at her expectantly. He was a young lad, perhaps no older than eighteen, with a sense of keenness about him. She glanced at his name badge; Rabbie MacNab. Realising that he probably wanted to take away her empty plate, Claire leaned back and smiled as the table was cleared.
“Did ye enjoy yer breakfast, Doctor Beauchamp?”
“Yes, I did. Thank you.”
The young lad nodded. “Wonderful. And I hope ye dinna mind if I ask if ye have any plans for the day?”
“Not at all. I was hoping to find my way over to a place called Lallybroch. I’m rather keen to look around the mill there.”
He appeared to puff up with pride. “Oh, aye. Ye’ll be meaning the grand tartan mill then. A distant cousin of mine got marrit into the family only a few months ago. The Frasers of Broch Mordha. They’ve held the estate for over three-hundred years.”
Claire tilted her head and asked, “Fraser? I suppose it is quite a common name in Scotland.”
“Oh, aye.” He smiled and blinked. “But these Frasers are verra famous around these parts. Have ye heard of Broch Tuarach whisky?”
“Weel, the distillery is based on the estate and ye can go around it, if ye so wish. As ye can the mill for that matter. Would ye be interested in seeing them both, Doctor Beauchamp? I could talk to the lass at Reception to make all the arrangements, if ye like?”
Claire nodded eagerly. “That would be most kind of you, Rabbie. Thank you.”
He blushed and beamed with pride as he said, “Would be no bother, mistress. I’ll have it sorted for ye by the time ye come back down from yer room.”
And that was how, thirty minutes later, Claire found herself heading north out of Inverness. An hour later, she pulled up into the drive of Lallybroch and gasped in astonishment.
She knew this place.
“Will ye be able to check in on the mill this morning, Jamie?”
As he had a mouthful of bacon, all Jamie could do was nod as he plonked himself down into one of the kitchen chairs beside Jenny.
“That’s grand. Ian and I should be back before the afternoon.”
Jamie nodded again, his attention already turning to his phone after it had vibrated with a notification. He was about to ask Jenny if there was anything else that she needed from him when he saw from whom the email was from.
Jamie stared at the screen in disbelief.
He blinked. Shook his head. Blinked again.
No. The email subject and who it was from had not changed. He had an email back from Claire Beauchamp.
“Are ye alright, Jamie?” Jenny asked, peering at him from over the rim of her teacup. “Ye’ve gone as pale as a ghost, bràthair.”
Without saying a word, Jamie turned his phone around so that Jenny could see the screen. Her eyes widened and she gasped. “Truly?” She exclaimed, slowly putting down her cup. “After all this time, ye’ve finally got a reply. What does she say?”
As stunned as his sister, Jamie opened the email, his eyes devouring every one of the words written. He read it once, then twice, before reciting it back to his sister. He could no’ believe it. She had finally replied.
Jenny smiled as she motioned for him to hand her the phone. “Dinna ye see, bràthair. This is great news.”
“How so?” Jamie asked, frowning.
“Because she is in Scotland, ye dolt. Or at least she was.”
Jenny rolled her eyes and pointed at the screen. “She says so right here - ‘…I revisited the second-hand shop yesterday…’. It means ye may be able to meet her, if ye are quick about it.”
Realisation cut through the fog and Jamie made to take back his phone. Quickly, he typed a reply:
From: James Fraser
Re: Are ye in Scotland still?
Are ye? Still in Scotland, I mean. And if so, would ye be willing to meet? Anywhere ye like.
“Ye dinna come on too strong now,” Jenny enquired, trying to read the message from over his shoulder. “Ye dinna want to scare her off before she’s even seen yer face.”
“Will ye leave off, Janet.” Jamie laughed, glaring at his phone as though the action could somehow get Claire Beauchamp to answer him quicker.
“And here, ye will see some examples of lace that the mill weavers would have produced. In fact, in the years following the Clearances of the eighteenth century, the mill was used to make lace instead of tartan. Sadly though, the last lace was weaved here in eighteen forty-one, following the introduction of a specialist loom.”
Intrigued, Claire leaned over to inspect the items on display behind the glass, admiring each one in turn. Every one of the patterns were beautifully crafted and so…Claire paused as her eyes glanced over a particularly familiar length of lace. One that had a Highland pattern embellished with small thistle blooms.
Her heart faltered.
“Where did you say the lace came from again?” She asked after a moment of staring at the pattern.
“The Scottish Highlands. Ma hometown in fact.” The dressmaker said from behind her where she was checking on the way the dress sat. “And tis verra old. I’ve kent for some time it would be used on a dress, but I was no’ sure which until I started working on yers.”
“May I ask about this one?” Claire blurted out, pressing her finger directly above the piece as she glanced back at the guide. “Do you know much about this design?”
Seemingly unfazed by the question, the woman made her way over to Claire. “Tis the oldest and rarest of all the lace we have in the collection,” she replied after a moment’s thought. “Tis a unique pattern that was only ever braided the once and never repeated.”
“Weel, tis said that the weaver believed that it was no’ meant for just anyone. She paid the Master to keep the piece and when she moved on the following year, she left behind this one square as a token. No one kens where the rest of it went and this is all we have left of it.”
“How old did you say it was?” Claire asked, feeling a peculiar trickle of knowing run down her spine. Jesus H Roosevelt Christ!
“Och, tis from the eighteenth century and has always been kent as Da Mi Basia Mille. Translated, it means-”
Breathlessly, Claire interrupted, “Give me a thousand kisses…”
If the guide said anything more, Claire did not hear her. Memories were flashing through her mind, faster and faster until she was unable to distinguish one from another. The only exception was the memory of the man with the fiery red curls, his name like the touch of fresh water upon a thirsty tongue.
Reluctantly, Jamie made his way down to the mill.
He needed the time to clear his head. He had not known what to have expected. It wasn’t as though Claire would be sitting around waiting for him to reply. But it had been an hour without a response and Jamie was growing impatient.
Every day of the past six months, ever since his sister set her eyes upon that dress, his mind had been filled with Claire Beauchamp. She had flittered about his dreams even before he knew her name. And he had known it was her, had known it in the very marrow of his bones. He just had no way of explaining it.
He rounded the corner of one of the storehouses, taking a single step over the cobbles and froze.
The air rushed out of his lungs. His stomach clenched and rolled. His heart…well, it nearly came close to stopping altogether. For before him stood a woman, at the far end of the cobbled yard, wearing a peacock blue coat that billowed in the swirling wind.
Jamie had seen her standing there before. Countless times before.
Slowly, she turned to face him, tawny eyes widening with recognition. And then she smiled, so dazzling and bright that Jamie thought the sun had fallen from the sky above him.
“You found me.”
Unable to breath, Claire had stumbled out of the small museum and into the swirling wind.
She didn’t understand any of it. She didn’t understand what the lace meant, or why it had been sewn onto her ex-wedding dress. She had no idea why she had dreamt of this place before she had ever seen it. She had no clue as to why she had brought the dress to Inverness. Or why she left the notes for someone to find. Or why she’d left her email address behind but never checked it.
Claire didn’t understand any of it because it was all bloody ludicrous.
And yet, it felt as though there was something pushing her to come to some great realisation. A thread that was pulling her onwards, drawing her closer and closer. To here. To this moment in time.
Where lace had been weaved with a story, destined to play out long before either of players had been born.
She walked on over the cobbles, hearing the voice of Maisri whispering in her ear…
“He’ll find ye. He will always find ye.”
She took a deep calming breath once she reached the end of the yard and slowly turned.
Claire had seen him standing there before. Countless times before.
She took a step towards him. The wind tossed about his curls, the colour shifting through a dozen shades of red and gold and auburn. Her heart tumbled. Her stomach clenched. Her whole being thrummed and hummed at the sight of him.
Sapphire blue called her into the depths and she willingly followed.
“Aye. I found ye.”
Did I end it there? Yes. Yes I did. Because there is going to be a PART IV (pretty sure some of you are going to call me out on this) which should clear this mess up and give you all the Claire and Jamie time you need. And then an epilogue too. Now, Part IV probably wont appear for another two weeks but if you want to prod me with thoughts and feelings, come find me on Twitter @GoesHilly.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Chapter 4: Part IV
Explanations are to be had.
This has taken much longer than I thought it would. A low mood has been determined to kick my ass and has prevented me from stringing words into sentences for a while now. Its been tiring and frustrating. But I wanted to at least try. Otherwise, I doubt that this would ever have been written. I'm not entirely happy but it keeps us moving forward.
As always, please leave your thoughts in the comments. Your continued support continues to blow me away and I am so very grateful to each and every one of you.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The tartan had been woven upon an extremely old traditional loom.
It was meant only for the one that would wear it, the threads forming a length of unique fabric. It had taken time and a precise hand to ensure that the warp and the weft were interwoven in the right way, so that the story of the threads was told accurately.
For one wrong thread, one wrong pass or beat of the weft, and fate would be altered.
But luckily, the weaver knew well what she was doing. For the loom was her favourite, one that she returned to time and time again. One passed down to her from her mother and her grandmother. She knew the strength of the wool, the twist of the threads, the way in which the browns and golds were interlaced. She knew the pattern and she knew the promise.
For this tartan would form the underskirt of another wedding dress. One that would have a lace trim, the same as the last dress she had created.
For that lace belonged to this dress in the end.
Both stitched with fate and destiny and love.
The world around them had fallen away.
Were they dreaming again ?
Fingers itched to reach out, to touch. Skin and bones and sinew prickled with familiarity, with a longing that sunk deeper into their marrow, pressing down into the matter of their being. They stared at each other, breathing heavily, their gazes mirroring back confusion and curiosity. Nothing existed beyond the two of them and the nervous smiles they shared.
Jamie jolted with shock at seeing her there. His expression was one of sheer disbelief, tinged with a touch of fear. What if she didn’t want to know him? What if she wasn’t free? What if this was just some cruel twist of fate? He wanted to say something, anything, but his chest felt too tight. All he could do was stare at the woman standing before him, watching the way her hair curled around her face, jealous that it got to touch her when he could not.
Without moving her eyes from his, Claire slowly took another step forward. Her breaths were coming quickly, her cheeks hot from all the blood that had flooded her face. She felt shell-shocked and exhilarated and uncertain all at once. She wanted to say something, but her throat felt so dry. Would he want to know her? What was he doing here? What if she was about to get everything wrong? She stared at him, tall and unwavering.
Another step and the air between them grew heavier. They were close enough now to reach out, to ghost fingers against cloth and skin, if either felt brave enough to try.
“Yer real?” Jamie asked, his voice husky with stunned awe.
Claire nodded, tawny eyes scanning his face in wonder. “So are you,” she whispered back.
Jamie smiled faintly and reached out for her hand, blue eyes crinkling in warmth. “James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser. Or Jamie, if ye will.”
Her heart tripped over itself. Claire took his hand, feeling the shocks to her skin as the heat of him scorched its way into her core. “Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp.”
Jamie let out a shaky breath. “Tis ye then.”
“I guess so.”
They sank into a strangely comfortable silence.
The hazy summer sun was high in the blue and white canvas of the sky and Claire noted the way in which is glowed down upon him. He was breathtakingly handsome, with a strong and good-humored face beneath the attractive red stubble of his beard. And she realised that her dreams, her memories, could never have done him justice.
“Erm…I read your email. Sorry it took so long to reply.” Claire ventured to explain after a moment. “I do hope your sister’s wedding went well.”
He smiled. “Aye. It did. Christ, she’ll be overjoyed to finally meet ye.”
“Would she still want to?”
“Aye. Maybe later…if ye want tae meet her, that is.” – he frowned – “Over lunch, perhaps? If yer free, of course. I dinna want to suppose…” Jamie’s voice tailed off, the tips of his ears blushing pink.
Christ man! Will ye no’ stop blathering on like a wee moron.
Claire wasn’t sure what to say. Rationally, she probably shouldn’t accept such an invitation. But irrationally, that part of her that she so often ignored, could not deny the pull towards him. The sense of connection and familiarity and desire.
“I…” she started to speak and then paused. Could she do this? Jamie squeezed her fingers and she felt a swell of courage. “Well, I suppose I could. If it wouldn’t be too much bother.”
“Tis no bother.” He took a deep breath, his sapphire gaze dancing across her face. “I just cannae believe yer here.”
Claire smiled shyly. “It feels like it’s been a long time.”
“Aye. And that’s strange, is it no’?”
“So very strange.” Claire laughed and Jamie felt his wame tighten as he was struck again by her beauty.
Her curls reminded him of the water in a burn, where it ruffled over the stones; it was dark with flashes of gold where the sunlight hit it. Her skin was like pearl, luminous and flushed with pink from the breeze. But it was her eyes, clear and the exact same shade as the finest whisky, that had him enthralled. The brief glimpses of her that he had seen in his dreams were nothing but pale imitations by comparison.
“I have no idea how to explain any of this. Do you?”
He shook his head. “No’ at all. But dinna fash, Claire. We are here, now, and I think that’s all the matters.”
She opened her mouth to say something more but went still as the tour group she had abandoned suddenly spilled out into the yard. Shaking her head, Claire took a few steps back, breaking her contact with Jamie in order to let the group pass by. Jamie immediately felt the loss, the sense of calm that had settled over him like a protective shroud by the simple touch of her hand against his.
Claire waited until the group, chatting and laughing with excitement, were led over the bridge that crossed the river towards the distillery before looking back to Jamie. She’d taken those few minutes to try to pull her thoughts together, to try to begin reasoning with everything that she had come to learn. But finding no clear way forward, she focused on what she did know. On what felt right.
She smiled tentatively. “So, what do we do now?”
But it wasn’t Jamie that replied to her.
“I’ve always found that a wee dram helps.”
Claire blinked. Jamie frowned. And they both turned to find a woman standing a few feet from them. She was tall, her black hair streaked with white. She walked slowly towards them, brown eyes twinkling mischievously as she glanced back and forth between them.
“Tis good to see ye both. Here at last. And together.” Maisri said, smiling. “Tis time tae tell a tale.”
Jamie sat beside Claire at the distillery bar, watching her closely from out the corner of his eye as he poured them both a glass of the twelve-year single malt.
She had been quiet since Maisri had appeared, her glass face betraying the turmoil of her confusion. A slight frown had formed between her brows and she kept glancing at Maisri as though she was waiting for her to do something unexpected. It was something that he could certainly understand.
For her part, Maisri had her back to them, seemingly busying herself with inspecting the numerous bottles of whisky that lined the wall. He probably shouldn’t have been surprised that she was involved in some way; Maisri had always been a little…mysterious. Growing up, he and Jenny had often wondered if she was actually a witch.
“Jesus H Roosevelt Christ!”
He heard Claire mumble the curse and glanced at her, smiling slightly as she downed the dram of whisky in one go. He felt a swell of impressed pride that she didn’t even flinch.
“Are ye alright, a nighean?” He asked softly, shifting on his stool to be fractionally closer to her.
Claire cast a nervous look over at Jamie. Outwardly, he looked calm but the drumming of his fingers against his thigh was giving him away. Slowly, she puffed out her cheeks and shook her head. “I have absolutely no idea, Jamie. It’s been a rollercoaster morning.”
“Aye. What can I do?”
Claire’s heart squeezed. “Nothing right now. But what about you? Surely you must be finding this all a little odd?”
“Tis the Highlands, Claire.” He replied, nonchalantly shrugging his shoulders. As though there was no other explanation worth considering. “If it seems odd, tis probably because it is and should be respected as such. And if anyone kens anything about things being odd, tis Maisri.”
She couldn’t help grinning at the way he rolled his eyes as he said it. “How do you know her?”
“She’s been with Broch Tuarach since my father started it. And once the tartan mill opened, he made her the Head of Design. He always said that she was a canny weaver.”
“Aye. He did.” Maisri interjected from over her shoulder, reaching up to take one of the bottles down. “Brian Fraser was a braw man who kent the way of things. I shall always miss him,” she added sadly. turning to face them and brandishing the bottle triumphantly.
Jaime raised an eyebrow as he recognised the label. “Tis a forty-year-old whisky ye have there, Maisri.”
She smiled, opening the bottle and pouring each of them a glass. “I ken. I bottled it myself for this verra moment. Slàinte.” She offered, tipping her glass to them before knocking the liquid back. She then smiled and poured herself another.
“Now,” she stated, bracing her arms against the bar. “Where would ye like me to start?”
Claire and Jamie exchanged a look.
“I would have thought at the verra beginning, Maisri.” Jamie replied, grinning at Claire. “If ye dinna mind.”
The older woman nodded. “Verra well. But before I do, ye need to keep yer hearts clear and yer minds open for as long as ye can. What I have tae say may be a wee bit strange at times.”
They both nodded in agreement.
“Right. So, I’ll start with the loom. There has been one in my family for a verra long time. The way tae use it has been passed down from mother to daughter for hundreds of years until finally, it has come tae me. I have been its keeper for four-decades, weaving fates just as others have done before me.”
“Weaving fates?” Claire queried, tilting her head. “What on earth are you talking about?”
Maisri dismissed her question with a quick wave of her hand. “Tis no’ important right now. But what I will say is that it was my ancestor that began yer story, back when the first Laird of Broch Tuarach chose a bride.”
Jamie raised a brow. “The first Laird? But that was three-hundred years ago!”
What the hell…?
Both Claire and Jamie simultaneously downed their drinks and poured another.
“The story goes that he was a braw man; tall and broad, kind and fair. He loved a young lass – the wee niece of the local tutor. She was bonny and brave and fierce; a true match for him and he was determined to make her his Lady.
The day they pledged themselves was a time of great celebration and as the local seamstress, my ancestor was tasked with making their wedding clothes. The brides dress was tae be beautiful – grey satin embroidered with hundreds of tiny flowers. And the grooms tartan was tae be the first of his families, a weave to make them all proud. And so, my ancestor sat at the loom and began tae twine the threads of their destiny, weaving their stories together into the fabrics. But she had no’ accounted for the jealousy of others.”
Jamie was barely aware that Claire had reached for his hand. But he felt her fingers twin through his and he tightened his grip, finding both strength and courage in her touch.
“For there was another lass, the youngest daughter of a wealthy local family, wilful and spoiled. She bribed the Laird to marry her in order to protect Lallybroch. So, he broke off his engagement and marrit the other lass the verra next day. Disgraced and heartbroken, the poor jilted lass was taken away to France by her uncle. Eventually, she got marrit to a kind man called Beauchamp and had a family of her own.”
“Beauchamp?” Claire asked in surprise, eyes blown wide open.
Maisri smiled knowingly. “Yer family came from France, did they no’, Claire?”
Claire nodded. “They did. My great-grandfather moved from Paris to London before the outbreak of World War One. But how did you know?”
“Fate, it seems, wished to right the wrong.” Maisri said with a shrug of her shoulders. “The Laird had promised his Lady that he would always find her. His promise was a powerful one. And although they could no’ be together in that life, Fate swore that it would find a way in another. So, yer destiny was woven upon the loom, creating the length of lace that was used to trim yer wedding dress, Claire.”
Claire glanced at Jamie, seeing the same look of uncertainty that she no doubt bore. “I don’t think we understand…”
She sighed. “The two of ye have been destined tae meet for three-hundred years. It was seen, by my ancestor but instead of being written down, the story was woven into the lace. Ye have been given the chance the Laird and Lady never got.” Maisri turned to Jamie then. “Do ye remember, about two-and-a-half years ago, I asked if I could take a three month leave of absence?”
Jamie nodded. “Ye said it was tae help out a friend. It was why ye could no’ design Jenny’s wedding dress.”
“Weel, that’s no’ strictly true.” She smiled before glancing at Claire. “And do ye recall the first time we met in Oxford? When ye told me that ye did no’ yet have a dress for yer wedding?”
“You told me that you had the prefect design in mind for me.”
“Technically, it was for Jenny. But I figured I could kill two birds with one stone, as it were. Ye both needed a dress and I needed to make sure ye got a hold of the lace, Claire. That was why I asked for the time off. That was why I set up the dress shop right where I kent ye would find me. That was why I designed the dress, so that ye could bring it tae Jenny and come back to Scotland. But it seems that the lace had its own plan.”
“The lace…had a plan…?” Claire repeated dubiously.
Maisri nodded fiercely. “And a wee bit of magic. It is verra old, as I told ye before. The lace was split into two uneven parts; the shorter piece stayed here whilst the other went with my ancestor. It is always trying to pull itself back together again, determine to bring the two of ye together as well.”
Claire snorted. “But magic…?”
“Aye. Magic is a way in the Highlands, and if ye are tae stay here, ye best be getting used tae it.”
A stunned silence followed.
Claire blushed as she chanced a glance at Jamie. He was sat quietly, his eyes trained on her face.
Jamie held his breath, feeling the waves of tension that were rolling off of Claire. He suspected that, out of the two of them, he was more open to what Maisri had said. After all, there were often things about the Highlands that were unexplainable. Fanciful. Remarkable. And if having magic was a way to explain it, then it didn’t seem to be too far an assumption to make.
All he knew for sure was that he and Claire were at the start of something. That fate, in whatever shape it had decided to take, had brought them to this point and it was now up to them.
Claire, on the other hand, didn’t know what to think. It seemed too fanciful, too ridiculous. Threads of destiny and magical spells? It just wasn’t something that she felt comfortable with having to explain. But just as her head waged war on the notion, her heart felt the full weight of the truth of it. After all, what she felt for Jamie wasn’t ephemeral. It was permanent. Something that was as old as time itself.
And that made more sense to her than anything else she had heard that day. And now that they were here, in this moment, they could find their own path forwards. Get to know each other without fear.
She turned her attention to Jamie, meeting his sturdy gaze with her own. “What do you think any of this means for us now?”
Unable to resist any longer, Jamie cupped her cheek. “I canna say. But that is because I dinna understand it. No’ yet. But I do ken that I trust ye. I trust that there is a truth between us. So, whatever we tell each other, whatever feels right tae us both, will be our truth. Ours. And no one else.”
Claire nodded, placing her hand over his. “I have to go back to Paris the day after next.”
“And I have tae be back in Edinburgh tomorrow. Nothin’ has tae be decided today, a nighaen.”
She smiled sweetly and said, “In that case, how about we start with lunch first and see how we go from there.”
“Aye. That is a grand place tae begin, Claire.” Jamie replied, his smile as promising as her own.
Just the epilogue to go. x
Chapter 5: Epilogue
And so the story comes to an end.
I didn't know when I was going to get the epilogue written but, as it turns out, the muse was playing fair.
So, here it is. Happy reading.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.” ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
It proved to be the easiest and the hardiest thing, the pulling together of the threads of two lives.
There were the long-distance phone calls, voices softly speaking into all the hours of the day and night. The emails and text messages and pinged notifications on shared photographs as friendships merged along with them. The short flights between Edinburgh and Paris, sometimes taken impulsively, so that the yearning to be together was sated, even if it was only for a little while. The endless pleasures found in the touch of lips and the taste of skin and the scent of joined bodies as souls mated and limbs intertwined.
The heat of Summer gave way to Autumn. Eventually, the Winter winds came and blew away the fallen leaves before sweeping in a blanket of thick snow. A New Year dawned, heralding new beginnings.
Jamie had flown back to Scotland from Paris a few weeks before and the emptiness Claire had felt at his departure had been what propelled her to make a change. Determined, she’d had a meeting with Hildergard, pre-warned Louise about the apartment, and began to scroll the Scottish property pages.
Perhaps it was rash. Perhaps she should have devised a more succinct plan. But Claire was willing to follow her heart this time and, seeing as it was completely in the possession of one Jamie Fraser, she was happy to be wherever he was.
She just hoped that he would agree with her idea.
“This is it.”
Claire smiled as steered their rental car off the main road and onto a short gravel drive. Jamie, who had been messaging his sister with an estimated time of arrival to Lallybroch, looked up from the screen of his phone and frowned.
“And just what is it, Sassenach?”
She didn’t reply until she had parked the car in front of the garage door and switched off the engine. Shifting in her seat to face him, Claire grinned as she leaned forward to quickly press her lips to his cheek. “It’s a surprise. Come on!”
Affectionately rolling his eyes at her sudden giddiness, Jamie climbed out of the car and looked around, noticing the FOR SALE sign sticking out from the evergreen hedge. Suspicious but tempering the flare of hope that bloomed in his chest, Jamie followed Claire through a wooden side gate, watching her as she quickly crossed the snow-covered lawn towards the gabled porch of a picturesque stone cottage.
Claire stretched up, her fingers feeling their way along the gap above the lintel. She pushed up on the tips of her toes, gasping in delight as Jamie’s warm fingers wrapped around her wrists.
“What are ye looking for, a nighean.” He whispered into her ear, his breath causing goosebumps to pop out along her skin; ones that were most certainly not from the bitter cold of a Highland winters day.
“There is supposed to be a key…” she mumbled, fully aware of the way Jamie was pressing himself against her. The weeks apart were always the same; a crushing pining and longing that could never be tempered until they were once again together. “Do you think you can find it?”
His long fingers pressed against hers and he almost immediately found a small bronze key. He handed it to Claire with a soft kiss to her ear and stepped back so that she could unlock and open the door. Seconds later, he found himself standing in a well-lit hallway, with white walls and a varnished wooden floor. Claire was grinning at him from over her shoulder while holding a sheet of paper in her hand.
“‘A well maintained and spacious throughout three-bedroomed stone cottage, dating back to the eighteenth-century,’” she read aloud as she led him through into the kitchen. “‘Newly refurbished kitchen, large Living Room, downstairs study, three bathrooms with one en-suite, beautifully arranged gardens. No chain…’”
“What are ye thinking, Claire?” Jamie asked, his attention fully focused on her.
Slowly, she turned to face him. With a slow breath, she said, “I’m thinking that Paris is too far away. And I’m thinking that Scotland, the Highlands, are where I am supposed to be.”
He took a step closer. “But what about yer job, Sassenach?”
“Well, I had a phone interview with the Surgical Board of the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh a few days ago.” She said, a little sheepishly. “I have a second meeting the day after tomorrow. If it goes well then…”
“Ye’ll be buying this place.”
Claire shrugged but Jamie could see the excitement in her face. “I hope so. It’s half-way between Edinburgh and Lallybroch, so it’s convenient. Although, it does all depend on a certain stubborn Scot’s opinion of it. And if he likes it, then I’m hoping he’ll agree to move in here with me.”
Jamie raised a quizzical brow. “Move in with ye? Yer quite sure of yerself there, Sassenach.”
“I certainly am.” Claire smiled, her gaze softening as she handed him the sheet of paper. “And I am sure of him. Shall we take a look around?”
With a nod, Jamie took her hand and they wandered through the house together. They made it upstairs and into the largest bedroom with an uninterrupted view of the distant mountains. “Tis beautiful here,” he said, leaning into the window. “I can see why ye would want it.”
Claire went over to him and put her arms around his waist. She pressed a cheek to his shoulder as he leaned back into her embrace, placing his arms over hers. He felt her sigh into the cloth of his jacket before she said, “I want this to be our life together, Jamie. I know you’ve offered to come to Paris but that isn’t where we are supposed to be. It’s here. With Jenny and Ian and the Bump. It’s the mill and the distillery and your upcoming book. This is where I want our children to roam, to touch the mountains and breath in the air. This is the place that brought us together and I don’t ever want to leave it. Not again.”
Jamie turned in her arms, cupping her cheeks in his large hands. Just as the first time Claire had seen him for real, the sun was glowing behind him, casting his curls in a golden glow. She could see the brightness in his eyes, the happy glaze of tears that was mirrored back in her own.
“Are ye sure, Claire? Ye ken that I would be whether ye are. Will go wherever ye go. Always.”
She nodded and Jamie felt his heart double in size. He didn’t think that it was possible but every day that he woke, he found that he loved her more than he had done the day before. The faint winter sun shone into the whisky of her gaze and he found himself wondering if he could ever be happier.
Weel, there was only one way to find out…
“Alright, Sassenach. I’ll move in here wit’ ye. But I have a proviso of my own for ye to consider.”
She smiled brightly as she tightened her hold. “What is it?”
He had thought of a hundred different ways to ask her. But he had come to realise that he just needed to keep it simple. Unfussy. He took a deep, steadying breath, kissed her quickly on the lips, and asked, “Will ye let me live here as yer husband?”
Her eyes widened. Her breath hitched. Her smile faltered. “Are you…was that a proposal, James Fraser?”
Jamie suddenly felt nervous. “Weel, it is if ye want it tae be.”
“If I want it to be?” She shrieked, thumping him playfully in the chest. “I want nothing more.”
Jamie laughed. “Is that a yes then, Sassenach?”
Claire looked up, tears spilling down her cheeks. “I’m ready whenever you are,” she whispered as she reached up to kiss him, promising him a thousand kisses more.
Six months later, Claire was standing in the Laird’s Bedroom at Lallybroch.
She wore a wedding dress of grey satin, the fitted bodice embroidered with silver flowers and cinched at the waist. The full skirt was wide, and the layers of pale mushroom-colored tulle romantically glided over her hips. The lace, reverently repurposed, formed the trim where the bodice met the skirt and, per the bride’s request, pockets were hidden within the folds.
Uniquely, the dress was lined with a black and brown tartan with golden threads weaved through the pattern. Jamie had explained that he had envisioned it the day after he first met Claire. He had drawn it and presented it to Maisri, who had then woven it upon her loom. It would be copied, with slight alterations, and would form the basis for a new line of tartan .
And it was to be called Mo Nighaen Donn.
Claire sat on the edge of the bed, gently brushing her fingers along the edge of the tartan, when there came a gentle knock on the door.
“I just wanted tae give ye a wee present,” Maisri said as Claire called her into the room. “Ye could probably call it yer Something New.”
Claire gave her a bright smile as she excepted a beautifully wrapped package from the older woman. “You have already given me so much, Maisri. You did not need to do more.”
“Och, if ye mean the dress, Claire, ye need no’ think more of it. That was a given. No. This gift is tae do wit’ yers and Jamie’s future…”
Narrowing her eyes suspiciously, Claire unwrapped the paper to find a neatly folded length of Fraser tartan, far too short for an adult to wear. But perhaps the perfect length for a wee bairn...
Claire looked up in shocked surprise to find Maisri smiling at her knowingly. “Weel, I gave the tartan tae Jenny when Wee Jamie was born. Tis only fair ye get the same gift, ye ken. Although ye’ll no’ be needing it for another year yet. And then, twice more after.”
And with that, she turned and left the room, leaving Claire behind to press her fingers to her still flat stomach in amazed awe.
My eternal thanks to those who have left kudos and comments over the past few weeks. I've never quite believed in Fate but perhaps this story is my version of the lace. *shakes head* That sounds cheesy and terribly cliqued, but sometimes you have to wonder why a plot bunny pops up every now and again.
Anyway, thank you for coming along on this odd little journey with me. xx