He sits on the white boulder below the cave, gazing up at the moon. The cup of weak stew that Young Jamie had brought up that evening clasped between hands that are numb with cold.
The stew is mainly liquid, the tentative hints of the rabbit and pheasant that he had brought home four days previously when he had come to Lallybroch to shave and hear word of the family, barely noticeable.
Jenny had thanked him for them, her pregnant stomach making his heart clench as he had taken in the shadowed smudges the caressed her lower lids, the pinched paleness to her cheeks. She had been in the kitchen with flour prints staining her apron and her hair escaping its’ pins, a distinctly harried look lighting the sharp blue eyes that match his own.
A Dhia, it wasnae right that she was carrying a child at the start of winter!
For it was winter now, there had been a frost to the ground for three mornings running, making tracking almost impossible.
It was winter now and he could feel its icy fingers creeping through the thin fabric of his rags, curling into the chilled marrow of his bones. It made the stiff fingers of his left hand ache, the memories of the mallet crashing down amid the terror of losing Claire, of being subject once again to Black Jack Randall, rising unwelcomingly to the surface.
‘Lord that she may be safe’, he whispers, watching the clouds shift and dance over the moor, watching the stars peep and twinkle out of a dark blue velvet sky.
Would Claire be watching the same sky, wherever she was?
Would she be holding the bairn, the child that he had felt for such a fleeting moment kick and squirm against the warmth of his hand?
Would the child, the boy that she had promised to name Brian after his father in the desperate anguish of their parting, be safe? And loved?
‘This child, this child… is all that will be left of me. Ever. I ask ye Claire, I beg ye, see it safe.’
The child would be nearly four now. Bonny no doubt, if it took after its’ mother and canty and braw and… And loved by a father that was not him.
Curling his hands tighter around the rapidly cooling beaker of soup, he leans back against the boulder, gazing up at the moon, suspended among a carpet of cloud in a velvet sky.
It is a harvest moon, deep and low and orange, the last of the season.
It dipped and swayed, glowing orange lights catching the reflections of the lamps that had been lit down at the main house. From this distance, they looked like watch fires, the watch fires that had burnt in the heady hours before Preston and Falkirk, the watch fires that the men had been too exhausted to light before the bloodbath of Culloden.
Would Claire and the bairn look up at the same moon? Would they, could they, see the benign eyes, the kindly mouth that his father had pointed out to him and Jenny and Willie when they were little more than bairns themselves?
‘That’s Orion, mo mac. See his quiver? Look, just there, just above the trees…’
And Jamie remembers, or thinks that he remembers the warmth of his father’s coat pressed against his heart as he snuggled deeper into his father’s arms, letting the smells of strawdust, horse and heather wash over him. Remembers the delight of being so high up, of being all of three years old and alone in the open quiet with his siblings and the man whom he saw so rarely, away from all the fuss of the nursery.
He remembers the way his father’s eyes, dark as pitch and twinkling had shone. A rough, warm, work worn hand had ruffled his hair and cleared his throat, his father’s voice a sweet, deep baritone across the night, the whole moor hushed in silence as if to listen.
‘There’s a man up there in the moon, mo chlann. But he isna alone. He has his wife and bairns and grandbairns and a whole stable filled wi’ horses and cows that are as white as snow…’
He is so caught up in the memory of watching the stars from the safety of his father’s arms. that he doesn’t hear the crackle of bracken or the soft cough coming up from the heather.
‘Milord? Are you well?’
The gleam of the hook that replaces the boy’s left hand glows against the light of the moon, the lines and bends of approaching, handsome manhood flickering in and out of the shadows.
‘Aye’, he hears himself say, his voice cracked and strange from lack of use.
‘I couldn’t sleep, milord, so I came up here. I am not disturbing you, I hope?’
A small smile cracks at the corner of his mouth at that and he shakes his head.
‘Nay mon fils, ye never could disturb me. Come inside and I’ll tell ye a story.’