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Two Red Hens

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Dearest Ellen in Heaven,

I remember the day Jamie was born. The way you and Brian looked at him like he might suddenly melt in yer hands, the way ye caught a tear running down the smooth curve of yer cheek ‘afore it landed in the wean’s ruddy curls.

I remember wondering why ye wept, this yer third child after all. I reckoned then that surely ye must get accustomed a bit eventually. I didna understand it of course, but now…

Are there tears in Heaven, sweet Ellen? Do ye weep seeing yer boy a grown man, now wi’ a family of his own?

Och, the hens. The wee terrors. Can ye see them from up there?

I ken now, Ellen, why ye wept so. I'm no’ likely to sire a child of my own at this age, save for the charge of Jamie you and Brian bestowed on me.  But when the lad shuffled into the hallway wi’ that daft half-smile ye ken he makes sometimes, the smallest bundle of blankets he gently placed in my arms, I couldna tell I was weeping till Jamie pulled wee Faith from me with a chuckle. 

I’d promised you and Brian I’d watch over Jamie, I swore it to ye and meant it. But I made no such absolutions to Jamie or Claire that day. Nay, I swore my allegiance to those tiny brown eyes, Brian’s certainly, that stared up unblinkingly at me. And I thought for a moment that no thing would ever compare to that feeling.

And then a year later, wee Brianna was born.

These two red hens wi’ flaming hair that everyone likens to their father, but I know Ellen, I ken, really comes from you. 

Faith may have the hair, but the sheer defiance she can summon wi’ just one look is her mother through and through.

Have ye seen Claire then, Ellen? Do ye approve? I told Jamie on his wedding day that I knew ye would. She ‘minds me of ye sometimes, sweet smile and all. And if it eases yer soul a bit, know that there isna a woman past, present or future, who will ever be as perfect a match for yer son. 

It’s Bree that’s truly you come back from the dead, though. Christ, she’s a Fraser right enough, but the sunlight catches her in a way that seems almost like God has restored ye to the world of the living.

Aye, they’re terrors but I’d give my life to them. Already have, at that. Me, the sole survivor of our old guard. And I’ll guard them. Heaven help the suitors that will eventually come calling.

To say no more of Jamie and myself, those unsuspecting lads will still have to get past Fergus, young Jamie and Rabbie, along wi’ any other children Jenny is likely to have. 

I guess what I mean is, the lassies are verra well-protected, ken? Blessed bride, Claire may just be the most frightening of all. It wouldna do well for any young lads to lose favour wi’ the only healer in Lallybroch.

Only 7 or so now, they'll grow to be beauties, surely. Jamie kens it well too. It keeps him up at night, that. 

Faith has her mother’s steely reserve, a quiet aloofness ye ken attracts curious lads like flies. And by all saints, when she has something to say, ye'll see it on her face about 3 seconds before she makes sure ye heard her. And ye will. 

Bree can hide her thoughts as well as Jamie, probably better with practice – she’s a fine enough liar whenever she gets treats from Mrs. Crook ‘afore dinner. Gets mad at her sister, that one, for giving the game away with that window of a face of hers. And by God, when Bree gets mad… I ken ye’ve seen yer share of Fraser quarrels, but the lass seems to have inherited the fury of every single one of her ancestors.

I wonder what ye make of Fergus, Ellen. ‘Minds me of a young Jamie too, in spite of the general Frenchness to him. But aye, yon smout that he is, he’s a Fraser like the rest of them. I thought the laddie would drop wee Faith in his arms first he held her. But not now though, he’s got as fierce a hold on both Bree and Faith's hands as ye ken Jenny had on her brother.

And for Christ’s sake, he and Faith teach Bree French when the puir lass canna even work the Gaidhlig yet. 

”Je ne dinna understand,” she'll say. It sends her father into a riot every time. 

I suppose, Ellen, after all this time, I found the life I wanted, ken? If I'd never saw ye at the Gathering so long ago, if ye hadna married Brian, never had Jamie…

Perhaps I’ve softened at this age. Perhaps these two hens, the way they cluck and fuss and burst into giggles and squeaks when Nunkie Murtagh arrives, perhaps they’ve melted whatever ice I’d encased this auld heart in.

Did ye weep for Jamie because ye saw, somehow, the man he’d become? Did ye see, can ye see, the outright joy that spills from him when he kisses Claire or lifts his daughters into his arms? When he hunts with Fergus, or drinks with Ian and Jenny? Sometimes I can see glimpses of the life Faith and Bree will have one day and Jamie catches me blubbering like a wee lad. He pats me on the shoulder and weeps too, for he kens. He sees it too. It takes a less-than-impressed glance from Claire to finally get us to stop.

I hope yer at peace, the two of ye. I hope ye look down at this madhouse of a family we’ve made and feel as full as I do. I hope this is everything ye ever wanted for Jamie because I assure ye, this is everything the lad has ever wanted himself. 

And finally…

Murtagh peered out the window to the courtyard where Bree’s round cheek fit snug into Claire’s neck. Faith clutched the side of her mother’s skirts, narrow eyes scrutinizing the way Fergus evaded Jamie chasing him. Murtagh caught Bree’s eye and could very well hear her squeal from inside the house as she waved at him.

…I hope I dinna see you two anytime soon.