I picked up the large history volume Frank set in front of me and felt my hands begin to tremble. Scanning the pages, I sensed my skin had drained of all colour and peered back up at my husband. 'What does this mean?' Inwardly, I questioned myself as I examined the book's pages and then began flipping them back and forth, seeking an explanation of his rationalising to present me a book about the Jacobites and The Rising of '45. Then I saw it, his name, the name of the ghost I swore I wouldn't chase. The name of the man I had vowed to let go. ' Captain James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser - Alive ', I read over in my head before looking back up at Frank. ' What does this mean? ' Mentally, I inquired before concluding; 'It means you can go back to him Beachump' . Closing the book, I allowed my eyes to meet Franks' and searched his face for an explanation. Was that what he was telling me? He was permitting me to leave, to return to Jamie?
"I thought it might ease your mind," Frank spoke deliberately and steadily.
"It does," I murmured, drawing the book closer to my breast as if I was holding Jamie himself.
"Why not take an interim the coming semester," My husband proposed, "We'll take a family trip to the United Kingdom. Visit the Reverend, show Brianna where we came from."
"Isn't she a bit young for a historical trip?" I challenged, thinking of my copper-haired daughter.
Frank swayed his head in disagreement. Perhaps he was right; after all, he did spend time taking her to museums and reading her historical novels while I was attending medical school. He frequently declared she appreciated them more than the children's books I had purchased for her. Agreeing, I released a small exhalation from my lips and laid the book against the coffee table in our parlour. Around the time Brianna was six months old, I began to experience postpartum depression which drove me to apply and be admitted into the Harvard University medical program. It was wildly uncommon for a woman to apply, let alone a woman with an infant in the house; however, I lacked a sense of purpose. I required something to restrain my brain from Jamie, Culloden, and the 18th century. As supportive as Frank seemed to be, I knew he preferred I was similar to the other 20th century wives. A homemaker, someone who had supper on the table when he came home from a lengthy day of teaching. Someone who minded our child, instead of instructing a nanny to do it.
"I can take my physician assistant exam at the end of the month after next and then we can go." I eventually responded. "We can go back to Scotland."
"Please don't take her Claire," Frank remarked, as I rose from the sofa and began up the stairs to my bedroom. "If we find more, please don't take my daughter back with you."
I stopped on the stairs yet said nothing to Frank. I let his words settle around me and fill the warm spring air of our residence in Boston. He knew I couldn't deliver such a promise. He had to have known that by bringing us back to Scotland, my leaving with Brianna was a probability. If we discovered Jamie, I would not be leaving behind the one soul he sought to give his life to protect. The child he was prepared to die for. Standing on the stairs for a few more moments, I turned to admire the family portraits we had leading up the stairs. He cherished Brianna like she was his own flesh; I was aware of that. However she wasn't his child, though, she was a product of love between Jamie and me. And if he were still breathing, if he had lived through Culloden. She had a right to know her father, as he had a right to know who he helped conceive even if that meant hurting Frank.
When I started this story, it originally started with that will be the second 'chapter'.
I added these two parts after deciding to add some intro to Claire and Brianna ending up at the stones. I'm not in love with this chapter nor the next, but I hope they are somewhat bearable.
Even with the still warm mid-autumn air, I sensed a shiver of coldness down my spine as I wrapped my arms tighter around my frame. Observing Frank stroll hand-in-hand with my daughter, I felt my chest clench, and my breathing shallow as we advanced further into the prison. I had told myself I would never return to his place, not in Jamie's time nor my own; yet here I was. Fighting to fill my lungs with air while I half-listened to Frank prattle his knowledge of this site to my daughter. As my body succumbed to another involuntary shiver, I felt warm liquid fall down my cheeks. Six years earlier, this place almost destroyed her birth father. I nearly broke and killed me. And yet, my memories of this place weren't the reason I was quietly weeping as my child wandered these halls that held several unsettling memories. No, I realised that I was allowing tears to come over the fact it was Jonathan Randall's decedent escorting her around. The knowledge of Frank truly being a decedent of his younger brother entirely escaped my mind as I started to compare the pair. Different in practically every way imaginable, at least in every way that truly mattered but at that instant, my breath caught in my lungs once more. The way the light captured Frank's hazel eyes as he gazed back at me made my skin crawl. In that singular moment, I no longer viewed my husband, I only saw Jonathan Randall clutching my daughter's hand, and I desired to scream.
"Mama, can we go?" Brianna questioned, spinning towards me and thankfully released Franks' hand before hurrying to me, "I dinna like tis place."
Not trusting my own voice to sound level and constant, I nodded and stretched my arms towards my child. Once she was close enough, I swiftly picked her up and pressed her tightly to my body and allowed the faint floral scent of shampoo in her hair to fill my lungs. Rotating away from Frank and Jamie's cell's direction, I felt my feet begin to carry us towards an exit. I needed to get myself, us, out of this dungeon and away from the ghosts of my past. When I first returned from the stones, I had told Frank about the events that had occurred here. I discreetly told him about his ancestor and his sadistic behaviour towards not only me but towards Jamie, other men and women and even children. From that point on, Frank seldomly spoke about Randall around me, and if he did, it concerned his family tree. The man was proud that he could add his own daughter to Randalls' long list and although I was extremely grateful to him accepting Brianna as his own. It gutted me to see her name with that man.
Releasing a small amount of air I had trapped in my lungs, I knew the reason for our visit to this place in particular. As we outlined our holiday around England and Scotland, he had remained persistent we visit this place. He comprehended my stories. Frank was conscious of the wounds that would reopen by me setting foot within these walls. Bringing to the forefront of my mind the hazards of the 18th century. He was still attempting to persuade my decision to return to Craigh na Dun and travel through the stones. Travelling with Brianna. Only having two more weeks until the eve of Samhain or all hallows' eve, he knew time was running out of time.
"I'm sorry Claire," I caught Franks' voice speak from behind me, prompting my feet to stop walking. I didn't attempt to turn and face him as I ran my silver ringed hand down my daughters back in a tender way, while I anticipated him to resume speaking. "You need to remember the bad times. It would be best if you saw the security this time has to offer. Wasn't that why he sent you back? To give Brianna the best, safest life that was possible?"
"Despite everything, I constantly felt safe with Jamie." I practically hissed as I ultimately shifted to face him. Feeling my face flame with ferocity, I pressed my eyebrows together and proceeded, "I don't need to relive these memories when I can still vividly retrieve them without being here. Sometimes at night, I can still relive the feeling of being throw onto a heap of dead men, defending my life from wolves. I can recall on my own how I murdered a young prison guard as I assisted Jamie to escape after YOUR ancestor had tortured his soul without your helpful nudges."
"Claire." He breathed, moving his palm down his face and stared over to Brianna. I could see on his face he presently was regretting taking us here and provoking this conflict. He didn't want the things I had just said spoken aloud in the presence of Brianna. He didn't want us arguing in front of other visitors attempting to enjoy their historical experience at this literal hell.
"No, do not Claire me." I allowed my voice to soften, as I heard it echo off the stone walls. "You think this one experience outweighs all the good? Because you Frank, are mistaken."
Frank remained silent after my enraged outburst. Looking straight at my face, I could see the gears whirring in his head as he attempted to figure out how to deescalate the situation before we made an additional scene. Peering down at Brianna, I felt her tug on a section of my curly hair and sighed.
"Are we done here?" I inquired following a few minutes of deafening silence, acknowledging that there were various meanings to my simplistic four worded question.
Moving his tongue over his lips, he parted his mouth open serval times before shrugging. As I waited for him to make up his mind, I felt myself become increasingly more impatient and smother in the prison hall and attempted to leave. Clutching Brianna close to me once more, I had barely made it several paces before I caught, "The Dun-Bonnet" leave Franks' lips.
"I believe it's Jamie," He practically whispered, "It is an apparent folklore, but it's a tale about a wanted man by the British after the Rising."
"You found him?" I questioned nearly in disbelief.
"It is assumed he lived in a hidden cavern, which I believe is near his family residence." Frank countered, "You can leave Claire if that's what you want, but I wish you'd stay. And if you go, I would like to keep Brianna here in our time with me."
"I stay with mama." A little voice muttered into my shoulder, prompting me to smile.
"I…I... No, Frank." I responded to him, caressing my lips to the crown of her copper curled head, "She is the blood of my blood, nothing will harm her. Jamie and I will make sure of it."
I didn't remain to catch Franks counter to me as I left him in the stoned walls of the prison. Feeling my heart leap, I stared down at my daughters' cat-like blue eyes; I felt a new sensation as I left Wentworth Prison. One so diverse to the last sentiment I felt in that dreadful place, peace and a sense of optimism.
Enduring the crisp autumn Scotland wind as I examined the rings on the ring fingers on either side of my hands. One a simplistic gold band, symbolising a secure and predictable life. The other silver, a botanical pattern encircled my finger, promising a life of passion and adventure. I was torn; I felt as if I was being divided into two pieces. Between the life I wanted and the life I was supposed to live, between the man my soul continued to seek and the man I was settling with. The way I saw it, I had two paths before me. Glancing back towards the direction of Inverness and closed my eyes. Feeling the desire of the stones pulling me towards them a few meters ahead of my feet, I could detect the buzzing that proceeded to grow louder as I was confined in my thoughts. Sounding like a swarm of hostile bees growing closer with each beat of my heart, my body was overcome with an involuntary shiver of uneasiness. I had been at the stones of Craigh na Dun a handful of times, but it had been nearly six years since my first trip through them. During my second honeymoon with Frank had been the first time through the stones, a trip intended to rekindle a romance we felt strained from while we were away during the war, I had been forced from my life and into another.
I didn't want the life I began to live in the 18th century, I tried my hardest to reject it, but when I was finally allowed to leave. After Jamie learned the truth about me and where I was from, he brought me here. He gave me the option to go home but at that point. He was my home. The eve of Culloden, when we returned together for the second time was different though. He had forced me the morning of the battle, to return to my own time. He assumed it would be a safe life—a life without him but a suitable life for our child and myself.
Opening my eyes and turning back to the face the stones, this time was by my own free will. Gradually freeing the air I didn't realise I had held in my lungs, I felt the heat from my eyes spill over and slide down my wind-battered cheeks. I had sought to live my life as fully as I could without him. I had created a life for myself for us with Frank. Shifting my right hand, the one with the silver ring over my empty womb, I glanced down at my daughter. She was my single reminder of Jamie, of the ghost I swore when I returned I would not pursue. For her sake and my own. Watching her, stand peacefully next to me, I noted as she shifted her blue eyes away from me to the stones and then back up at me. She could hear them. I felt swells of relief wash over me, and I knelt next to her and turned her to face me. Laying my lips softly on the top of her copper-coloured curls, I felt a different wave of emotions wash over me. Guilt. Was I acting selfishly? Thinking about my own needs, my heart instead of hers? Was I in the right, taking her from the only life and home she had ever known? Was I about to take her from the father she had known since birth only because I wanted to pursue the ghost I now perceived to be alive? I began again to enter my own mental turmoil. The same one I had been battling with since Frank first suggested Jamie alive back in Boston.
"Okay, Beauchamp," I muttered into my daughters' hair, "think of Jamie."
"Jamie?" She questioned and frowned her brows together.
"He's your, um," fumbling with an answer for her, I sighed and moved my tongue over my lips to dampen them before opening my mouth, "he's your father darling."
Shaking her head, Brianna pointed back away from the stones and towards the direction of Inverness. She knew this name didn't belong to the father she knew. The man is known as Franklin Wolverton Randall. The man that helped raise her, the man that loved her for the past three years and eleven months. He was the one that had been there for her, witnessing the first moments of her life thus far. Frank was the man that held her at night if she woke with a nightmare and I wasn't home to comfort her. James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser was a stranger to her. Someone only connected to her by blood. A man that was willing to give up his life for her. A man that without ever meeting her, loved her more than one would think humanly possible.
Still kneeling in front of my daughter, I fiddled with Frank's gold ring. Extracting it from my wedding finger, I slipped it into the pocket of the woollen skirt I was wearing. Hearing it clank with the 18th-century money I had obtained, I felt a gasp escape my mouth like a piece of my heart that was his broke free. Gazing over my daughters' head again, I sighed, I had signed divorce papers, releasing Frank of me, from us. Leaving them with Mrs Graham to give to Frank depending on if we travelled through the stones or not. I needed Frank to find love again, the sort of love I had with Jamie. The love he deserved and I could not and would not give him. Switching the silver ring from my right hand to the left, I patted my skirt pocket once before sliding my hand inside and pulled back out the golden circle. Staring at it, I replaced it upon my right hand. I was releasing him from me, from our family, but I wasn't ready to let go of him. I still needed the reminder of his kindness and selflessness. Redirecting my attention back on Brianna, I forced a smile and pushed her copper bangs behind her right ear.
"Darling, the stones," I began to speak, peeping over my shoulder at them, "can you hear them?"
Brianna nodded, causing the wisps of hair I had pushed behind her ear to bounce back into the breeze. Observing her stare at the stones with complete concentration, she creased her eyebrows together and took a step forward. Grabbing her, I drew her close to my frame, hearing the buzzing dull into background noise. Concentrating on only my thoughts, I thought about how best to explain to her how we'd need to pass through stone to reach Jamie, to reach her father. Being less than a month shy of four, she could comprehend a great deal more than most children her age. My Brianna was an intelligent and clever girl, just like her father, but there was a limit. Even her for.
"We'd need to touch them, to travel through them, to get to Jamie," I informed her, gently, uncertain of her reaction. "He's our family."
"We're go-ing?" She questioned, pointing to the stones as she tugged her stuffed rabbit closer to her small body. "I ready."
"Oh, my brave, sweet girl." I cooed, noting another trait she had inherited from the Fraser clan, as I stood and straightened out my skirt.
Holding Brianna's hand, I guided her away from the stone we were meant to travel through and crossed the circle of stones to where I had stored our belongings when we arrived at Craigh na Dun. I had summed our lives into one old military issued canvas rucksack. At the bottom of the bag, I had neatly folded copies of important 20th-century documents. Leaving the originals once again with Mrs Graham, in the event we ever returned. On top of those, I had a small keepsake book of Brianna's, packed with baby photographs and memories. Things I wanted to share with Jamie, something I wanted to remember. A photograph of Frank, for Brianna, so she could forever cherish him. I had stolen a first aid kit and medical supplies from the hospital I was employed at in Boston. I had acquired an assortment of seeds for the Murray's at Lallybroch, unsure of the famine; I wanted to contribute to our living circumstances since I would be adding two more mouths to feed. And at the very top of everything, I rammed in two knitted blankets. Gliding the straps over my shoulders, I bent down to pick up the small haversack I had intended for Brianna to carry packed with peanut butter and jam sandwiches, dried fruit and small apples. Laying it on her tiny shoulders, she beamed up at me before looking down to fidget with the crossbody strap.
My theory was that everything on our person would make it through the stones with us. Uncertain how accurately that would work, I kept all our money tucked into my skirts' pockets and advised Brianna to hold on tightly to her stuffed rabbit. Heaven forbid she lost that thing.
"Ready?" I questioned myself more than my daughter as I stretched out my hand for hers.
"Ready Mama." She responded and gave me a little grin before pulling her rabbit closer as I previously requested.
Once more, I witnessed my daughters fearlessness and closed my eyes and thought of the person she got that from. Seeing his smirking face, ruddy-coloured hair and slanted blue eyes, my heart jumped. I thought of Lallybroch and the family we had there. I imagined my family being whole: Jamie, Brianna, and myself. I could nearly feel Jamie holding me again; I could imagine him cradling his daughter in his arms. Snapping my eyes opened, I guided our hands towards the stone as we took our decisive steps. "You can do this Beauchamp," I inwardly gave myself the extra courage I needed. Then in an instant, the world around us disappeared. Gripping Brianna's hand tighter, I heard her voice yelp, causing my stomach clenched and then I felt emptiness. I could see nothing, only oblivion.
"Mama," I detected her melodious voice speak, as I felt a palm push my hair off my face, "Mama, open eyes now."
For another moment, I laid still as I felt her hand stroke my face once more before I cracked my eyes open. Pushing myself gradually onto my knees, I welcomed the soft grass beneath my hands and then dragged Brianna into my embrace and held her to my body and pressed my lips to the crown of her head. As I released her, I saw that she still had her rabbit tucked securely in her small clasp.
Sighing, I overlooked the haversack with food. Feeling my stomach start to drop with concern, Brianna smiled and pointed behind her and sprang over to the edge of the hill where she dropped not only her bag but mine as well. Shifting my weight from my knees to my feet, I rose gradually, still attempting to regain my balance and overheard the faint clink of coins from my skirt pockets.
'Nice work, Beauchamp, ' I gloated inwardly as I began to evaluate our surroundings. There were only a few discrepancies between Craigh na Dun in my time and the 18th century, for one the trees seemed much younger. Trees that only moments prior old and whether; now were nothing more than immature saplings. Propelling my feet towards where Brianna had set our bags, I saw it. Tears spilt from my eyes as my breathing caught in my throat, the old decaying cottage was once again erected at the base of the hill.
"Mama?" Brianna peered up at me, frowning her eyebrows. "We okay?"
"Yes, darling, "I laughed, whisking away a tear, "We are more than okay."
"Why, crying?" She asked.
I knelt to meet her at eye level as I tucked her bangs behind an ear and yanked the sweater I had crudely knitted her on the aeroplane from Boston around her small body and smiled, "They are happy tears, Bree."
Laying a hand on my cheek, she wiped away the warm liquid and nodded, "Da's here?"
"Yes," I responded, feeling air catch in my lungs at how she referred to Jamie, "Da's here, somewhere. Now, my sweet girl, are you ready for an adventure?"
Without waiting for a response, I reached out my hand and secured it around hers before picking up the bags and began to lead her down the slope and away from the stones that no longer were attracting us towards them.
"We'll set up camp tonight in that cottage there," I told her, "And in the morning we'll start to find Da."
"Daddy will bring us in the car?" She asked, prompting me to stop momentarily.
Turning to my daughter, I shook my head and combed her eyes for some understanding without having to say the news that would break my heart. Her 'daddy' would not be collecting us in the morning after camping; she wouldn't be seeing him for a very long time, quite possibly never again.
"Um, no darling," I vocalised somewhat above a whisper, "We won't be seeing Daddy for a very long time."
"Daddy's gone?" She challenged, looking in front of her towards Inverness.
Unable to trust my voice not to break while I answered her, I nodded and led her further down the hill and the disintegrating cottage. Noting the British soldiers' fallen remains, I held my breath swooping my child up and pressed her face into my shoulder to shield her eyes. Hoping none of them would resemble Jamie's body, I held my breath, hoping our research had been correct and our journey hadn't been for nothing.
As we strolled passed, the wind picked up, moving the bones lightly with each burst, I noticed the discoloured red coloured material amongst the bones. Immediately, I knew these were the men that had ambushed Jamie and I the morning of Culloden. The morning he had sent me back to my own time, to give our daughter a chance in the world. I set Brianna upon her feet as we reached the doorway to the cottage. Attempting to billow out the skirts I had on, I obstructed her view of the bones and sent her inside with the instructions to take one of the sandwiches from the haversack for her dinner.
As she sauntered inside, I evoked the last images I had mentally held on to of this place. Watching as she squatted in the centre of the room, I sighed, reliving the last time Jamie had me there, laying in his arms like that was how it would be for the rest of our days. It was the spot he sat and carved the small ' J' under my thumb, and I marked him with a ' C '.
Stroking my fingers over the scar, another rush of nostalgia swept through me as I drove down the feelings that ensued that night and into the morning and turned back to the fallen soldiers. Investigating the old figures, I inaudibly said a prayer for their souls. I began to rob their bones in search of a small dirk or weapon I could conceal in my pocket or garter of my sock to help defend us in case we happened into harm's way in our travels.
The Highlands wasn't the safest place to live in the aftermath of the Rising, and although, I was, in fact, a British subject by birth, I had no admiration for my countrymen throughout this century. Satisfied with the two dirks, I plucked from the bones, and I next set my sights upon obtaining a flat rock to sharpen the blades. Reminiscing on my time travelling with Murtagh, I could hear him clearly educating me on the proper way to sharpen a dirk. Criticising every stroke of contact between the blade and stone as we would assemble around a fire late at night. I often remembered the kind mousey-Scotsman. Questioning if he made it through the battle of Culloden. He was lost to history, Murtagh was no one important, expect to the people he knew him, and I shuttered at the thought of him being another body left in the moor in the mass grave under a Fraser Clan marker.
Shaking the thoughts of him from my mind, I chose two stones and retreated to the cottage to discover Brianna peacefully sheltered in one of the blankets, asleep. Noiselessly, I moved within the small space and set the dirks down before drawing out the second blanket and spread it across the floor next to her. Bending over, I smoothed her hair away from her rosy cheek and touched my lips to it to kiss her good night. Smiling at myself, I saw her sleepy smile and pulled away from her before I ate half of my own sandwich and started to sharpen my new found dirks.
I couldn't remember falling asleep. I knew I must have as I opened my eyes and saw the dawn of a new morn radiating through the damaged windows of the cottage. Hearing the distant sounds of hoofbeats and faint voices of men become louder. I sprung off my blanket and clutched the dirk I must have pushed under my makeshift pillow before falling asleep and slithered over to the hole that once held the glass-pane of a window. British inflexions, I noted and rubbed my sleepy eyes glanced back at my dormant child. Holding my breath, I watched as the patrol rode by, only glancing back to their fallen kin. Pausing until the horses were out of sight before I turned away from the obscure spot by the window.
Making no noise, I tightened the stays I had slackened the night before, knocking the air from my lungs and then straightened out the layers of petticoats around my waist before adding my woollen top skirt and bodice over my stays. Once dressed, I placed the wool shawl; I had also knitted myself, upon my shoulders for extra warmth from the late autumn air. Tucking the ends beneath my arms, I fastened it to the back of the bodice and slipped on my shoes before cutting an apple for Brianna's breakfast.
"G' morning my darling," I murmured into her ear, pushing her tangled ruddy curls from her face. "Time to wake up."
As she leisurely ate and dressed in the best of my knowledge of children's attire of the 18th century, I gathered up the blankets and placed them back into my rucksack. With minimal words, I picked my drowsy child up and carried her away from the cottage. Travelling towards the direction, I knew Inverness to be; we began our long walking journey to the city. While the first day drew on, I had made sure we stayed adjacent to the wooded side of the road, dodging into the heather upon seeing the British patrol or anytime someone would pass by on horseback.
By the twilight of the second day, my body was surpassing exhaustion from the mix of walking, carrying Brianna and overall lack of sleep. Spotting a place to camp for the night, I laid the larger blanket on the ground and held Brianna near as she slept encased in the second. I began to wonder how Jamie did it for all those years he was on the run and then once more while we were together. I knew, much like our daughter, he was a similar sleeper; aroused by the smallest noises. While I was the opposite if I fully indulged myself more than what I believed was roughly twenty minutes every hour. I could sleep through virtually anything.
On the third day, my shortage of sleep caught up with me with force. Multiples times, I would turn behind us. Convincing myself at times we were being followed, 'keep it together, Beauchamp', I'd tell myself, as I carried my daughter and proceeded walking. Stroking her back soothingly, I turned around once more, falling victim to my own paranoia. This time though, I didn't imagine things. I wasn't seeing a redcoat patrol either, hurtling towards us was, in fact, a carriage. In a moment of panic, I placed Brianna down in the heather and slid my hand into my pocket and seized the hilt of my dirk. 'You should be running, Beauchamp' I told myself as the carriage started to lag and the horses towing it relaxed into a walk.
"Good morrow to ye mistress." One of the coachmen beckoned, as he approached.
"Morning," I answered with a fatigued forced a smile and glanced back at Brianna who was now fully awake and watching from where I had planted her.
"Would ye be in need of a ride?" Another proposed, glancing over my head and towards the heather, I remained to concentrate on.
Spinning back at them, I clenched my hold on the hilt, "No, sir, I'm fine walking."
The first coachman opened his mouth to speak once more; I imagined in protest when a voice from inside the carriage exclaimed out in delight, "My lord, tis as if I've seen a ghost."
Taking a step back, I faintly recognised the voice, but it had been years since I had heard it. Sensing my hands begin to tremble, I felt the colour drain from my face. Most of the people I knew during this time in Scotland had died at Culloden Moor or lived at Lallybroch. And knowing the tenants of Lallybroch, those folks rarely left their farms. Jamie had informed me of that on our way to meet with Charles Stuarts' armies, as we lead his people to their deaths. The sounds of the heather behind me, rustled, indicating Brianna becoming anxious, and I took another step backwards away from the carriage. ' Forgive me Jamie; for endangering our child' , I spoke to him inwardly.
"Mistress, ye havena need to be 'fraid." The disembodied voice announced as the carriage door started to open, "I am a friend ."
"I'm sorry sir, I fear I don't have many friends left in this part of Scotland," I responded, attempting to keep my speech even without a hint of concern.
"Oh my dear Claire, ye be surprised."
I gasped as the door of the carriage finally opened, and one modest older man strode out. Ned McGowan, he hadn't changed one bit since the last I had seen him at the witch trial in Cranesmuir. Momentarily thinking of my dear friend Geillis Duncan, I concentrated back to Ned and grinned. Noting the several new wrinkle lines upon his face, I hauled him into a firm embrace before laughing in relief and released him from my hold. He was indeed a friend. Straightening my bodice and attempting to make myself slightly presentable, I turned back to the heather and motioned for Brianna to join us.
"So yer in need of transport?" He queried as he composed himself from my abrupt embrace.
"If it wouldn't be a bother," I responded appreciatively.
"Dear Lord," He paused sputtering regarding it being no trouble and gawked at my daughter as I picked her up off the ground and settled her onto my hip. "Is she?"
Glancing at his coachmen, I nodded and then allowed my lips to spread into a small smile. "Brianna, darling, this is Mister McGowan."
Holding her hand out to shake his hand, Ned laughed and clasped his hands around hers and gently pressed his lips to it before gesturing us to his carriage. Peering up at me confused, Brianna pulled her hand back towards her body as I set her just inside the carriage entrance before Ned assisted me inside. Settling ourselves, I placed our bags at my feet on the ground and drew my daughter into my lap. Grinning and swaying his head, Ned tapped the top of the carriage to indicate to his coachmen we were ready and the horses began to move.
"We're heading to Inverness ourselves," He declared as I turned away from him and peered out the windowpane of the moving carriage, "From there, I'll help wit a carriage to Fraser lands. That where ye be going, aye?"
"Thank you, Ned." I answered with sincerity, "I was thinking of just acquiring a horse, fewer people knowing where I'm heading."
"Verra wise." Ned acknowledged and began to fill me in on the last several years of his life. Regarding the rest of his time with Clan Mackenzie, his energies to see Hamish and the boy's mother securely to Inverness, and how the remainder of the clan were displaced across Europe and the Colonies. McGowan informed me about his experience since the Rising as well, how considering he was bound to the crown as a man of the law himself, he had effortlessly slipped back into everyday life as if the Rising had never occurred.
I started to tune him out as he spoke about the destruction of Highland culture and the clans. Having read about it in my own time, I comprehended how far the British exerted forbidding weapons, clans, tartans and even the Gaelic language. Removing away the way of their life, for merely desiring to be free. Moving my palm down my daughters back, I observed as the familiarity began to take over me. Taking the opportunity to remember the details of the road, having travelled down them numerous times years ago with Jamie and later in my own time with Frank.
"They assumed ye dead." I caught him say, bringing my attention back to him, "I had a verra hard time believing such things, and it appears I had a reason."
"He made me leave" I responded, "I was placed on a ship to the colonies."
"The lass spent most of her life on the sea then?" Ned inquired.
"She was born in Boston," I told him honestly, "I had been there a few months before she made her grand arrival. We left the colonies to return England this past July; there were favourable winds."
"Favourable indeed." He accepted and glanced up to smile. "Aye looks like we're about in Inverness now."
Twisting to gaze back out the window, I had never actually made it to the 18th century Inverness the last time I was here. Even after all those months trying to return the stones, pressing the Mackenzie Clan to return me here, I never made it. Now upon seeing it, it wasn't vastly different from its modern counterpart. Feeling the carriage started to lag, I pushed Brianna's hair from her face and laid a soft kiss near her ear, prompting her to smile.
"The lass looks just like Ellen Mackenzie," Ned declared, as Brianna stirred from my lap and to area adjacent to me.
"Who Ellen, Mama?" Brianna questioned, covering a yawn.
"She would be yer grandmother, my dear lass." The older gentleman responded for me, "Ye' er Da's mother. Bonnie, much like yerself."
"Mama says, I look like Da."
"Aye that ye do too." Ned agreed with my child as the carriage halted.
Exiting the carriage first, I spun around to catch Brianna as she attempted to jump out, trying to skip the steps. Gasping in panic, Ned chuckled and compared her to Jamie quietly under his breath. Flushed, Ned ushered us in the direction of a stable and helped pick out a suitable horse. Examining each available mare, I used my minimal knowledge regarding horses; I acquired from Jamie as I decided on a young chestnut filly, Maise, as identified by the stablehand. The creature was gentle and calm as my daughter rubbed her nose, thrilled for her first pony ride. As the stablehands guided her to be saddled, I said our last farewells and well wishes to Ned McGowan. Attempting to compensate him for the transportation to Inverness, he expelled the sentiment of my money and kissed my hand farewell before I watched him disappear from my sightline.
Once I had Brianna settled upon the horses back, I mounted the mare myself and stabilised myself with the small child sitting in front of me. I practically immediately regretted my decision to travel by horseback instead of by carriage. As if my lack of sleep wasn't a reason enough, as the horse began to trot away from Inverness, I realised just how out of practice I was on horseback, not having ridden since I was last in this century. Reacquiring my confidence, I squeezed the mare's side with my heels to gallop faster and listened to Brianna giggle with delight.
It was four days of hard riding to Lallybroch. Planning only to relieve ourselves nap while we watered the horse, I found myself slipping into a daze as we travelled on. The roads were familiar, having completed this ride several times before, muscle memory took over as I navigated us to Fraser lands. Finally, as the sun was setting, I slid off the mount and stood gazing down the valley with the reins firmly in my hands. Fatigued from lack of sleep, I turned and beamed up at Brianna, who was sitting proudly on top of the horse. Subconsciously, my daughter ran her hand down Maize's mane as the winds blew her copper hair around her face.
' You look so much like him ,' I murmured to myself. From the moment we arrived back in Scotland, I had seen the proud Scotsman in her more than the natural mannerisms she possessed that almost mimicked the stranger.
Now, seeing her on top of the horse, riding with her small rock hard head thumping against the front of my stays, I had forgotten at times I was riding with our daughter and not the man we were pursuing. Sighing, with journey's end in sight, I remounted the horse and started down the valley once more before settling behind her and pulling the reins to gesture movement to the horse.
"That's Lallybroch." I told Brianna as I pointed my finger to the house among the skyline, "That's our Da's home, Our home."
Thank you so much for your comments and kudos; I greatly appreciate it.
This story is slowly taking shape; I have about two more 'chapters' prewritten and the outline I have for the rest are taking shape. I would like to know y'alls opinion on Murtagh? In the show, he lived through Culloden and in the books he died. What would you prefer?
Thanks for reading!
Time appeared to slow to a halt as the late afternoon sky changed from its hues of oranges and pinks to the unique shades of purples. Digging my heels harder into the sides of my horse, I implored her to gallop faster. Whisking down the ridge and into the valley, I longed to be home since the last time we rode away from it. I desired the times when Jenny and I would sit in the sitting room, while she knitted and I sipped whiskey, and her children played by our feet while Jamie and Ian were out in the pasture. I was conscious that somethings would be different upon my return; I wasn't naive about time changes. I had bared spectator to them before I had even been sent through the stones and again since returning. I was entirely aware that my husband's price would have duplicated after the Rising and our involvement. Still, as I raced passed the exterior barn, I dismissed all worries for that moment and only felt the same excitement I felt the first time Jamie brought me home.
In the distance, I could see the smoke plumate from the chimney stacks and heard the dogs bark avidly prompting the sheep in the fields to scatter in alarm. Brianna pointing to the sheep and let out a faint bleat as I yanked the reins into one hand as the dogs rushed about the horses' legs and squeezed her tightly. Gradually, I allowed the horse to slow to her own desired pace as she entered through the entranceway of the front courtyard of the property. ' Ian Murray, calm ye damn hounds .' I heard Jenny call out to her husband, succeeded by the sounds of laughing children.
I felt the corners of my lips curl into a slight smile as I dismounted my horse and led her to the stable with my daughter still holding on tightly to the saddle. I hadn't given sufficient thought to how I would feel once we arrived at Lallybroch. Only caring that we made it here. Although, now that we were here, home, I hadn't considered our first meeting with anyone upon my return aside from seeing Jamie. The words Ned McGowan still played loudly in my ears, 'They assumed ye dead'. Shuttering at the notion, I had pondered what Jamie must have told them about my absence after arriving home after Culloden. With his original plan to die failed, he could no longer dodge the discussion to his family about his child and me.
Pushing my loose brown curls from my face, I abandoned the horses' reins and turned to remove Brianna from her back once we moved inside the stable. Having her feet back on the ground after our extended ride, Brianna stumbled forward as she fished the last apple from her haversack and held it out towards Maise. Her laugh echoing as she mumbled an 'it tickles' as the animal's mouth came into contact with her fingers, engulfing the piece of fruit. Casually reaching up to stroke her new friend's nose, Brianna scanned the area before making herself comfortable upon a small pile of hay. Being occupied in my own thoughts, I loosened the strap encompassing the beast's girth and started removing it.
"Milady!" I heard a voice pant from behind me as I felt a pair of slender limbs wrap around my waist, "Tu es revenu!"
Releasing the saddle, I whirled around and pulled the body at belonged to my adopted son as near to me as feasible. Taking a deep breath in, I never thought I'd see my once small ten-year-old child again. Every time I reminisced to him, I still imagined the last moments I had seen his big dark eyes and mop of curly black hair gazing down at me from the back of Donas as we sent him to Lallybroch with the Deed of Sasine. Now as I released him from my grasp, I felt my heart break about leaving him, and pulled a young man of nearly fourteen back into me, "Mon chéri Fergus, you've grown."
"Oui Milady, I have." He laughed as he spoke in his mix of English and French, "The Murray's will be enchanté to see you! Please, come in."
Fergus gripped my arm as if I was going to float away as he ushered me out of the stables and towards the house. Hesitating, he acknowledged and greeted Brianna as if she was another one of the children regularly at the farm before he turned back and examined her small features and peered back at me. Opening his mouth, he closed it before repeating his action once more, spreading his full lips, Fergus looked at me with complete perplexity. My suspicion of Jamie leaving out the detail of my pregnancy confirmed as he turned pale in confusion.
"Milady, does Milord know about L'Enfant?" Fergus reduced his voice to just above a whispered as he glanced between my daughter and me and then back towards the house.
"Jamie was aware of her existence," I replied to Fergus as I slipped from his grasp, I turned from him and towards my daughter, lifting her from the pile of hay she was still settled in. I placed her on my hip, and I shifted to face Fergus and feeling the smile that started to grace my lips fell as I noticed the liquid pooling in his eyes as he watched me, "Fergus, what's the matter?"
"You left, Milady." He whispered and encircled his arms around me.
Stroking his back with my available hand, I kissed the crest of his head, "I'm home now," I assured him, pulling away, "for good this time."
Clearing away the fallen tears from his cheeks, Fergus nodded and forced a pitiful smile on his face. Appearing satisfied in my answer, he took my arm once more and led us into the house. My nose was delighted as we walked through the threshold and was met with the delicious scents of fresh bread and what I assumed was some stew prepared by Mrs Crook. Solely living off of peanut butter and jam sandwiches the last week, my stomach rumbled just at the notion of warm food. Entering the central sitting room, I put my rucksack down in the corner of the room, and bent down to remove Brianna's sweater as Fergus disappeared from the room. Unpinning my own shawl from around my arms, I felt cumbersome standing in the one spot I had just fantasised about sitting in with my sister-in-law. Hearing patters of small feet running down the halls, I glanced up to see six sets of eyes staring at me from the doorway and felt a tug on my lips.
"Auntie Claire!" The oldest, Jamies' namesake gasped, "ye have come home!"
"Young Jamie," I smiled and crossed the room to hug him and his siblings, "Maggie and Kitty, why you are all so grown!"
Katherine stepped away from me and behind her sister. Trying not to be offended, I understood the last time I saw the girl; she had to be only months old. It was hardly her fault that she had no memories of my existence other that what she heard from the people around her.
Detecting a throat clearing, the Murray children turned and darted away at the sight of the stern look their mother had on her face. Standing up from my kneeling position, I ran my hands down the front of my bodice and skirts and forced a sympathetic smile at her as I took in her appearance. ' They assumed ye dead ', drummed on my brain again, as I stood before Jenny with a scowl on her face. She had assumed me dead. Sighing, I stepped towards her as she took one backwards and wrapped her arms protectively around her swollen middle, and all colour drained from her face.
We stood in silence for what seemed like an eternity as she glared at me. The Jenny I once knew, wasn't one to stew in her feelings, she'd let you know exactly what she was thinking without asking. Silent Jenny made me anxious, I couldn't read her expression, and as I heard the faint tapping on the floor of Ian's wooden leg. Watching as her eyes grow wide, I listened to the soft voice of my daughter greet Ian.
"It seems Jamie dinna mention more than one thing about Claire," Ian stated, breaking the painful silence amidst his wife and me.
"Daft wee fool," Jenny stammered, as evidence of deception and bewilderment crossed her face and voice, "He said ye were gone."
"I know," I murmured, shutting my eyes as they filled with corresponding emotions the black-haired woman across from me held within her own.
"He sent me to the colonies when he realised I was with child," I began to explain as I opened my eyes, "He believed it would be safer for us there."
"We mourned for ye, Claire. We thought ye dead!" She expressed, looking away from Brianna and back at me, "We said prayers for ye and ye soul. Jamie grieves for ye; I grieved for ye! Ye ner'er wrote ye were like my own sister, ye ken?" Jenny rambled on, "Three years and we hear nothing of ye, and then ye plop outta the sky like before."
I nodded but remained quiet, permitting her voice her opinion on my return. If the tables were turned, I would be a lot worse if I were the one left behind in the dark. She had every right to feel the way she did, "And ye come back wit a bairn? Is it even Jamie's? He hasna said a thing about it."
"Mo Chridhe," Ian said in a calming voice as he crossed the room, my child secured in his arms as he approached his wife.
"Jenny," I opened my mouth and licked my dry lips with my tongue, "You have every right to be mad, I'm sorry, but it's what Jamie thought best for his child. I was never supposed to return, but I," I hesitated and felt my mouth grow even drier, "I heard talk that he lived and I gambled everything to return to him now, to return to you all."
"Aye," Ian smiled, "He's alive."
Jenny wordlessly nodded and loosened her arms from around her womb as he advanced closer with Brianna. Relaxing her facial features, Jenny opened her arms towards my child, lifting her away from Ian, she pulled my daughter closer, as if to study similarities between Brianna and her brother, much like Fergus did earlier. Ian sighed before turning to me and embraced me into a sympathetic hug.
"Mama," Brianna pipped up as Ian released me and began to exit the sitting room, "Is that Da?" She pointed to Ian with a doubtful look upon her small face.
"No, Bree, that's your Uncle Ian, and this is your Auntie Jenny," I explained softly, smiling at her aunt and uncle.
Brianna turned and stared at the woman who was holding her, placing her small hands upon Jenny's cheeks, Brianna laid a feathery kiss to her nose, like I have done countless time to her. Jenny laughed as tears swelled her eyes and embraced my daughter closer to her body. This was in truth the reception I had dreamt out in my mind countless times on our ride to Lallybroch. One where Jenny welcomed us back with all of her affection and tenderness as she accepted the Fraser Clan's newest member.
"The lass does look like Jamie; I'll give ye that." Jenny said softly, "And my mother. She's verra bonnie; she'll have Jamie wrapped around that wee finger."
"How is he?" I inquired, glancing around the sitting room for him.
I knew that Ian or Fergus or any other the children would have alerted him of my arrival by now. That if he were in the house, he would be here with us by now.
As she kissed her cheek, Jenny looked down at Brianna, set her down upon her feet, and called for Mrs Crook. At once, Mrs Crook emerged and took my daughter by the hand as Jenny gave her instructions to wash and feed her supper with her cousins. Observing my daughter's deep blue eyes upon me, I smiled, to provide her with some reassurance as the housekeeper whisked her away. Indicating towards the sofa, Jenny drew two cups from a side table and poured us small whisky glasses before joining me. Taking a small sip, I let the pleasant warmness fill my throat and anticipated for her to speak.
"He was in verra bad shape when he arrived home after the battle," She began, staring down at her own glass, "His thigh, it was badly wounded, and he'd beg me to let him die. He kept sayin' 'please Jen, let me be with Claire'," she shook her head and brought the glass to her lips and took a sip before proceeding, "I told him, ye'd ner'er forgive me, but he'd say it didna matter, ye were gone."
I watched as a solitary tear slid down Jenny's cheek as she retold me, her experiences after Culloden. Aching to provide some comfort, I set my glass on the table next to me and shifted towards her, as if she knew what was to come, Jenny placed her hand up to stop my movements. Of course, she knew, it was the sort of reaction anyone with empathy would have. Sighing, I plucked back up my glass, took another sip, and she resumed, "I healed him as well as I could," She reassured me, turning to face me finally, "I saved his leg, but his soul, Claire, ye took that when ye left him. I hated ye for ruining him; I had to blame ye."
"I know." I whimpered pathetically and caught her hand in my own, "I should've fought harder to stay."
Nodding, Jenny drank the rest of her whiskey and laid the empty cup on the table, "Aye, but if my brother sent ye away, he kent he'd die. Jamie doesna live far and comes back now and then to check-in," she stated with a shrug, "Brings us the game he's caught but ner'er says much."
"I won't leave him again," I assured her, my voice just above a whisper, "Promise."
"Aye, well, I suppose that's best." She cracked a smile and patted my hand before she ran her fist across her back with a look of pain flash across her face, "This bairn hasn't been as easy as his siblings, I'll tell ye that."
"Always sure it's a boy." I smiled, recalling the first time I were at Lallybroch, and she was convinced little Margaret was a boy.
"One day young Jamie will have a wee brother to grow up with, instead of hanging around Rabbie and yer wee Fergus." She shot back with a laugh, "He'll ner'er learn to be Laird with those two."
"I can't imagine Fergus is much of a good influence," I replied.
We sat in silence again, this time, a prosperous one as Jenny filled our glasses with the second round of whiskey. Springing up, I noticed Jenny jump lightly at my abruptness as I crossed the sitting room to where I had placed my rucksack and gingerly pulled out the small muslin wrapped parcel I had brought for her. Returning to the sofa, where she had finished pouring the drinks, I sat down next to her and laid the gift on her lap.
Smiling, I picked up my glass and took a short sip and watched as she eyed the parcel, "A gift." I explained as she raised an eyebrow at it and looked over to me, "It's only seeds, Jenny, from the colonies."
"For the farm?" She asked as she untied the fabric, "What kinds?"
"Mostly vegetables," I answered, hearing Brianna laugh somewhere in the house, followed by Fergus speaking sternly in his native French tongue. Shaking my head, I eyed Jenny as she finished untying the fabric, "I included tomatoes, cucumbers, some herbs and strawberries. I'm not sure they will grow here, but I thought if the tomatoes grow, we could preserve them in jars for next winter."
"I.." Jenny started to say, however stopping as we heard a frustrated Mrs Crook reprimand one of the children, causing Jenny to rewrap the seeds and stick them into her skirt pocket, "Come, Claire, let us see which child is a nuisance now." She smiled and stuck out her hand to pull me to my feet, "And you can explain toe-mat-toes over dinner after the bairns are tucked away."
I stood standing in the centre of one of the vacant spare bedrooms on the second level of the house as I stripped my muddy riding clothes from my body and dampened the cloth next to the washbasin Jenny had provided me. Eliminating the weeks' worth of filth from my skin with the goats' milk and lavender lye soap, I shuttered at the scent and quivered as the cold air hit my now wet skin, causing goose flesh to appear. Trying not to think of the material objects I would miss from my former life, hot baths-showers and indoor plumbing remained at the top of the list - right under modern medicine.
As I utilised the last of the now lukewarm water, I rinsed my hair, removing any lingering soap from it and used my fingers to detangle the knots the wind had formed among my curls. Picking up the linen towel that was left to the right of the washbasin, I wrapped it tightly around my body turned to survey the room further. Closing my eyes and taking a deep breath in, I embraced the sounds of the house as I tried to compose my nerves.
I could overhear Brianna murmuring conversations to her female cousins as they laid in bed collectively from the neighbouring room, prompting my lips to curve into a small smile. I had convinced myself, she was relishing the camaraderie of the other Murray children. I had felt continuously guilty in Boston, as it was something lacking in our lives there. Several of Franks' colleagues' wives' invited us to playgroups. However, the invitations never were renewed or extended due to the other mothers' dissatisfaction of me. The homemakers never could wrap their brains around how a woman could create a life and suddenly not bend their identity to raise the child, which meant they excluded her, because of me.
Scuffling my bare feet across the cold wooden floor, I sank down to pull on the wool socks that had been gifted to me by Jenny and fastened them into place with the garters I had on earlier as I caught sight of my old clothing trunk shoved into the corner of the room. It was apparent that neither of the Fraser siblings believed I was genuinely gone as I opened it and observed the garments were exactly the way I had left them five years prior. Shifting aside, the neatly folded silk gowns that were produced for me while we lived in France, I plucked the extra shift from the base of the chest. I slipped it over my frigid body before withdrawing several petticoats and a homespun woollen skirt and bodice.
As I redressed, for the first moment in nearly five years, I seemed at peace with my surroundings. Feeling more at home since arriving back through the gate of Lallybroch than I ever allowed myself to feel in Boston, I felt as if I could genuinely breathe without worrying. I no longer had to fret over saying the wrong thing to Frank or keeping back my emotions in fear of mentioning Jamie to Brianna or troubling him. Frank was far in the future, centuries from existing and we, we were back where we belonged.
Consumed in my opinions concerning Frank, I jumped somewhat as I detected a faint tap on the door as I slid my feet into shoes. Not waiting for a response, the door opened, revealing Jenny holding a cloak and a basket, I assumed for me, and Fergus standing directly behind her with a small grin upon his lips. Rising from the bed, I shook out my skirts, detangling them from my legs and took a small step forwards towards the door.
"Wee Fergus will take ye to Jamie." Jenny explained, holding out the cloak and basket for me as she entered the room, "He goes there the most."
Accepting the items, I picked the muslin protected keepsake book I had brought for Jamie and some medical supplies up off the small table next to the bed and set them into the basket before placing it down.
Wrapping the fur-lined cloak around my shoulders, I noted of its faltering aroma of my husband and sighed, "Thank you." I replied.
Glimpsing over at young Fergus, I smiled gently as I proceeded my way over to him and drew him into another hug. Still, I was grappling with how much he had grown over these few fleeting years. Realising, I someday would have to worry about keeping a man out of trouble instead of the young pick-pocket I had known in Paris and leading up to the Rising. I was entirely capable of acknowledging that it was an event I was unprepared for as I picked the basket's wicker handle from the table. I glazed momentarily at my appearance in the standing mirror and exhaled.
Perceiving the flushed hue of my cheeks produced by anxious nerves, ' Pull yourself together, Beauchamp ' I told myself, ' Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, he's your husband .'
"Allons-nous partir maintenant?" Fergus asked, tearing me away from my internal dialogue, "It's getting late, no?"
A frail motion jolted through my neck, indicating I was ready and followed him out of the bed-chamber as I said my farewells for the evening to Jenny and then to Ian who was resting in the front sitting room as we descended down the stairs. Murmuring a gentle appreciation to the duo for keeping an eye on my daughter for the night, I exited the house following Fergus and stepped into the cold autumn air. Trembling as it sent a chill through my bones, we made our way past the front gate of the property. The moon had yet to reach its full height as we crossed over the small stream that ran parallel to the residence and into the woodlands. Leaving us little light to see, I watched as white puffs of air escaped my lips as I tucked my basket beneath my cloak and drew the fabric secure around my body. Wordlessly, Fergus turned to me and laid his index finger to his lips as we went down a pathway, I assumed to be one of the central travelling roads nearby Lallybroch. Pushing my feet to endure the swift pace Fergus had set for us, I didn't understand the necessity to remain hushed. There was sufficient sound from the nighttime breeze to mask us against British patrol, simultaneously with the protection of darkness; I additionally doubted they would be travelling this late. Shrugging the thoughts of the British from my mind, I succeeded him farther into the forests as we departed the road and sought to commit to memory the route we travelled. Keeping an eye out for awkwardly formed trees for landmarks, I felt my foot skid and succumbed to a heap of mouldy foilage and braced myself for a fall.
"Milady, be careful," Fergus murmured into my ear as he helped me up.
Sweeping the leaves from my skirt's knee area, I nodded as I picked up the basket I had dropped and glanced over to Fergus. Observing the way his dark eyes flickered as the light of the moon caught them as he spoke and pointed up the crag that stood before us, "What did you say?" I asked, missing the directions he was communicating to me.
"Tis that way Milady," He reiterated, still pointing, "Whistle once you've reached the top. That way, Milord knows you are not, how do you say l'ennemi."
"Thank you, mon chéri," I responded and caressed his cheek tenderly, "Return home safely and sleep well."
My mothering instincts seized me to follow as Fergus faded beyond my eyesight and into the blackness of the night before I rotated myself towards the narrow pathway up the crag. Hoisting my skirts away from my feet, I attempted to watch where I was stepping in the dark. Yet even with my eyes suitably adapted to the darkness, it was nearly impossible to see the ground before me due to the shadow my body was casting, with the aid of the light the moon.
Gasping, I felt myself topple forward as a branch snapped in the distance whilst the night breeze stirred the leaves. ' Stay quiet, Beauchamp ', I grumbled as I steadied myself and reached the top of the second of the smaller crags. Taking deep breaths of air into my lungs, I attempted to catch my breath from the hike and took in my new environment. Fergus had not specified which crag Jamie was dwelling on, and while I surveyed the formation before me, my legs quivered at the thought of climbing all the way to the top.
"You can do it, Beauchamp." I whispered, "One foot in front of the other."
Branches snapped once more from behind me, prompting me to whisk around towards the direction I believed I heard the sound come from, feeling as if someone or something were watching me. An uneasy feeling took over as I chewed my lower lip pondering whether or not I should heed to Fergus guidance and whistle, indicating to Jame, if it were him that I intended no harm.
Debating internally, I moved my tongue on my lips to moisten them before exhaling a low staggered whistle. Waiting for movement arise from the direction I heard the sound; it remained quiet as I anticipated something to happen. Feeling somewhat reassured nothing transpired, I turned to meet the trail that I intended to climb.
Emitting a small breath, I connected my left foot with the ground in front of me, taking a stride forward, I felt a set of arms embrace my waist, provoking me to stiffen. The sensation of a body pushed securely upon my back as the appendages tightened. Something that should have terrified me, yet queerly relaxed me as the intoxicating fragrance of fire smoke and sweat saturated my lungs. Inhaling, I sank into the body, he had found me.
"Jesus Sassenach," His voice rasped in my ear while a hand travelled up my body and settled upon the breast of my stays, "I've dreamt of ye, but ye ner'er felt this real."
Rotating within his arms, I turned, so I stood facing him and examined his close appearance under the light the moon continued to offer me. Placing a hand to his face, I stroked the unkempt beard that had replaced the lightly stubbled jaw I was accustomed too and sighed at his dishevelled look. I had admittedly broken him, as Jenny had concluded to me, or he simply did not care how he was perceived living out in the woods. Only faintly echoing the man I loved, I gawked at him. A force still drawing me to the faltering familiarity of him to the surface as I leaned into his chapped lips and laid a delicate kiss against them. Pulling away, I caught his breathing hitch and grew jagged as he leaned back in for a ravenous embrace that left me gasping for air.
"It's not a dream," I whispered against his mouth as we broke apart, "I'm truly here."
"Nae, mo nighean donn, tis a dream," Jamie repeated to himself with his eyes still sealed from our kiss, "A dream."
"Jamie," I breathed as I guided my hand to his hair, "Open your eyes."
Several drops emerged from behind his long eyelashes while his deep blue eyes fluttered open and welcomed me with anguish rooted within them. As if anticipating me to have disappeared once they were, in fact, open, he took a step backwards and braced himself. Staring up at him with my own tear-filled eyes, I forced the edges of my mouth upwards as he lured me back into his arms and held me. Tightening his grasp on me, he began to whisper softly in Gaelic and kissed my unbridled hair and then my forehead. Embracing my face between his rough palms, he gazed into the eyes before a smile painted his lips.
"Jesus, Claire," He whispered, relaxing his forehead against mine and lowered his hands to my waist, "Ye truly are here."
"I am," I responded with a small laugh and leaned back into him.
“I canna believe it, Sassenach, how?”
"Frank actually, he thought it would give me a peace of mind to know you were alive," I explained, feeling his hand glide into mine while he drew his face away, "his assumption was I'd be happy and give up on being a doctor and submit to being a housewife."
"Aye, a foolish man Frank is then," Jamie spoke with sparse amusement, "Nothin' will keep ye from healin'."
Jame guided us in content silence, pausing momentarily to make sure I had not vanished and allowed a small grin to expand across his mouth. We weren't far from the small cavern he had made his residence, barely walking a few meters from where he spotted me, I took in my surroundings and sighed. I wasn't entirely sure what I had been anticipating when Frank informed me of the man residing in a cave, but this wasn't as archaic as I had envisioned.
Inside, Jamie had set himself up amidst a rope twin-bed, a stool and a table, several lanterns and a collection of publications. Staring at the mounds of novels, I assumed they signified how he occupied his time skulking away from the British patrols that still roamed the Highlands. Setting my basket on the table, I turned back to him, resembling a magnet, I submitted to the pull of attraction biding us together and grasped onto the ragged lapels of his woollen overcoat and united my feverish lips to his. Sensing the intense want to be near him, as I clasped the buttons of his coat and began unhitching them. Seizing power from me, Jamie pulled the bonds that held my cloak together, and I shrugged it from my shoulders, permitting it to fall to the earth. Gazing up at him, I drew my lower lip beneath my teeth and felt my hands started to tremble as I stretched out towards him.
Noticing, Jamie secured his atop mine and guided them to his mouth and kissed them tenderly, "ye dinna need to be afraid of me."
"I..I... I'm not," I sputtered out, "I'm merely nervous."
"Claire, you dinna need to feel nervous," He murmured into my lips as he reconnected them, "tis only me."
Nodded, I allowed him to turn me as he discarded the bodice from my chest and began to loosen the strands of my stays. Rather gently, he extracted the ribbon away as he caressed the nape of my neck, starting at my ear. Gasping with pleasure, I shut my eyes. Desperately longing for his touch and intimate embrace, I wasn't nervous for any reason other than the changes my body had endured since the last moment we occurred in this inmate setting. Feeling his fingers brush my somewhat fuller hips, I gulped as my skirts dropped away, joining the collection of my clothes upon the soil.
Crisp air swept over my nipples, causing them to tighten as I lifted my arms above my head to allow my shift to be removed and stood stark naked in the centre of his cavern, attempting to conceal my exposed abdomen flesh as goosebumps emerged. Jamie grabbed my hand, preventing me from covering any further as I tried to pull from him, he towed me back within his arms and into his muscular frame. Peering down into my eyes, he breathed another breathless gasp as he sank down and settled his palms beneath my arse, elevating me from the ground. Jolting away my shoes, I coiled my legs around his abdomen and peeped backwards towards his bed. Thoughtfully avoiding stepping on my garments, Jamie transferred me over to his bed and gently laid me down.
Watching as he discarded his breeches, he smirked, "Mo nighean donn, you're as bonnie as the first time I had ye."
Heat rose on my cheeks as he continued to whisper faint phrases in Gaelic and reconnected his lips to my body as he guided my head on to the bed. The swell of pleasure overwhelmed me, quivering through my form as I welcomed his rough fingers descend atop my skin. Allowing my self-conscious doubts to vanished as his mouth worked down from the crown of my head and settled against my bosom, I felt my lips curve upwards. And reopened my eyes, having not realised I had closed them and looked up at Jamie.
Staring as if he was seeking to re-memorise my body, Jamie took his time making love to me, much like the last time, he behaved like this was the last moment we'd be whole. Working my nails down his hindquarters, caressing the marks of a different life, I moaned his name tenderly, seeing his eyes spark into a smirk before he skilfully shifted our positions upon the bed. Requiring me to straddle his groin, I lowered myself down as he connected his hands to my hips, guiding me. Deliberately, rousing back and forth, I took my time, making it last as the world encompassing us slipped away. We remained swaddled within our private pleasure and bliss.
We laid in stillness as we allowed our breathing to level and became natural once more. Looking up at Jamie, I forced myself up against my elbow and reconnected our lips temporarily, and released a content exhalation as we drew apart. Placing my head against his chest, I listened to the beating of his heart while I subconsciously ran my fingers down his thigh and quivered as I grazed the wound Jenny had told me of, assuming I was chilled. Jamie hugged me closer to the warmth of his body and kissed the top of my scalp as he tucked the blanket around my posterior.
Running my hand back up to his chest and away from the scar, I said nothing regarding it, nor did he submit any information about it. Unable to pinpoint precisely why this particular scar struck a nerve with me. I reached my fingers towards the old bullet wound on his shoulder, the one he received the day we met. His entire body had been mangled at one point or another, his back itself looks as though it had been through a meat grinder, there remained a hairline scar on the back of his skull also received before I had met, and then there was his shattered right hand with the pair of stiff fingers. The hand Black Jack Randall had smashed to a pulp, the hand I set back together with minimal surgical knowledge.
No, I concluded this scar tore me because it was the first time he had needed me since we had met, and I wasn't there. I wasn't the one to nurse him back to health, to put him back together. He had sent me away to have his child, the individual he still didn't know existed. Yet, this scar symbolised all lost between us—the moments as a family, the battle of Culloden Moor, kinsmen, and time. Topics we dare not speak of.
"I can hear ye thinking from here, Sassenach." Jamie mumbled as he fastened his knuckle under my chin turn my it up to meet my eyes with his own, "Is the bairn with Faith?"
My eyes widened, catching him mention our first child, our first daughter. Capturing his hand in my own, I touched my lips to the spot that bore the ' C ' scar in his hand and swayed my head. Drawing one of the blankets around my body, I rose and fled the warmth of the bed and crossed the small cavern to where I had placed the basket upon arriving. Extracting the keepsake book wrapped in muslin, I shifted back to Jamie and beamed, "A girl."
"A lass?" He asked, thrusting himself into a sitting position, I filled the space between us and sat between his legs, leaning my back upon his chest, I felt him snake his arm around me and drew me in tight as he relaxed his chin against my shoulder.
"I brought you photographs of her," I informed him as I opened the book.
"What's a pho-to-graph?" He inquired as he picked up one of the small black and white squares and investigated it.
"It's like a painting," I stated, "it captures ones' likeness but with a camera."
"Oh aye," Jamie nodded as if he understood what a camera was, "She's verra beautiful."
Agreeing, I picked out the photograph the hospital had taken and gazed down at it before giving it to Jamie, "When she was born, she looked just like Faith."
Holding the picture, Jamie took a closer look at it and breathed a shaky sigh. He hadn't had the opportunity to see our first child before she was laid to rest. I had hoped, seeing her now, through our second child, would provide him with some peace and alleviate any guilt he still held. Healing the wounds that had yet to mend for him concerning her as they had for me. Giving the photograph back to me, Jamie then picked up the small pile of other photos and took the same care to examine each one, as if he was attempting to commit her face to his memory.
Shutting his eyes, Jamie bent forward and planted a small kiss upon my shoulder as he reopened his eyes and released a sorrowful sigh, "What did ye name her?"
"Brianna, for your father," I answered.
"Bre-ANN-na?" He repeated gently, allowing the syllables to roll across his tongue, "What a horrible name for a lass."
Slapping his arm away from my midsection, I attempted to pull away from him. Nearly offended he would state such an opinion concerning his own daughters' name, "I named her for your father, Brian," I grumbled, "Brianna is the female equivalent of the name."
Luring me back into his chest, Jamie laughed sweetly, "Aye then ye are sayin' it wrong, Sassenach, it's BREE-anna."
Heeding how he pronounced the syllables at the beginning of her name instead of the centre of it, where I had installed the empathises, "fine, BREE-anna," I answered. Nevertheless, it seemed not to bother me as it did to Jamie. Believing it imperative that her name suits the 18th-century Scottish structure of the name and not the modern period she was born into.
"I'm verra glad ye have returned to me," He stated wistfully as he glanced back to the images in his fist, "But the lass needs ye more, it wasna wise to leave her."
"Jamie," I breathed as I craned my neck to face him, "Darling, she's at Lallybroch with Jenny and Ian."
"Sh... She's here?" He questioned, glancing from me back to the photographs, "She can travel through the stones?"
Responding, I stated nothing simply bowed my neck and enabled him to process the knowledge of his child being close by, "Tell me about the lass," He whispered to my ear.
"She reminds me of you," I began, "Gallant and clever and she is far too stubborn for her own good."
I grinned as I talked of her to Jamie, recounting to him the particulars of her young life. Her birth, her first words, the tale of her first steps, and my favourite things she had accomplished thus far. Looking away from him, I softly spoke about her fondness for Frank and how he had been a wonderful father to her, even proposing I didn't take her through the stones with me. Jamie's body tenses as I proceeded to speak of Frank, understanding he loathed sharing his wife with another, just as Frank had. I tilted back my head upon his chest and whispered regarding being unable to fathom, leaving her behind. How I required her merely as much as I wanted him. That our daughter needed her parents, the ones wasted in love, not forcing something out of obligation.
"I shall verra much like to meet her, Sassenach." He murmured to my shoulder as he finally settled the photographs on a mound of books next to the bed and allowed his body to decompress.
"Tomorrow," I yawned, feeling my eyes become heavy.
"Aye tomorrow, Mo Chridhe," He acknowledged as he repositioned us.
Arms tightened around my abdomen while I looked up at him and caught a small smirk flickering in his blue eyes. Identifying Jamie had no intentions on allowing me to sleep anytime soon, no matter how exhausted we might be. There was lost time that had to be made up for, attaching our lips, he pushed himself to hover over me, and I melted back into the bed. Feeling muscle memory take over, in that singular moment, I realised I had not wholly lived without him, and I was finally whole once more.
Thank you for all your comments. I very much appreciate them.
I think from now on I'll try to update this story once a week, instead of twice a week like I was initially planning. It's taking me longer to get the 'chapters' to where I like them enough to allow people to read them.
Anyways, have a fantastic weekend and thank you from the bottom of my little heart for reading.
Fergus smiled down at Brianna as he gripped her small hand tighter as they skipped ahead of me on the trail. Pointing to various plants on the edge of the path, the young boy exercised his wisdom of the woods, amazing the small girl next to him. Gasping at the new knowledge, she would grin and then point to a new plant and wait for him to explain that to her.
Fergus glowed back towards me and then would turn back to Bree and continue conversing with her. He had taken on his new position as an older sibling without question. To him, it was the honour of his young life to have a sister, to be her protector, to teach her the way of the world as he saw it. I had often wondered about our family dynamic in Paris when I was first with a child. For a boy born at Madame Elise's brothel, he was tender and caring, and on his way to being well-educated thanks to the lessons Jenny included him in. Fergus was all that I could have hoped for in a son, adopted or no; he was my own.
The birds had ceased chirping as we strolled further down the path of the main road, and I forced my eyes up towards the tops of the trees. A grey clouded sky showed down upon, typical weather for the autumn in the Highlands, I recalled. The sun's absence wasn't something new to me, spending the last three and a half years living in New England, the weather had been similar, possibly with a little more sunlight leading to winter. Yet, something was unsettling regarding the environment we were currently in as I swung the basket containing our lunch casually in my left hand. Four meters until we reached the unmarked path, four meters until we were off the road and closer to Jamie, closer to Brianna meeting her father.
Earlier that morning, in the first hours of the daybreak, I had watched as Jamie had taken care to shave his face with his straight-head razor with precision so he would not cut his face. He was in a sort of trance kneeling by the small spring adjacent to the cave. Watching, as he drew the linen towel down his face as he finished, removing the excess shaving soap and stood before flashing me a slight smirk. His body was damp from bathing in the cold spring, and he had droplets dripping for his ruddy curls as he slid his arms around my waist, pulling me in for a tight embrace, probably to steal the warmth I had trapped under my shawl. Cupping my hand at the corner of his cheek, I ran my thumb across, feeling the now smooth skin and stretched up to lay a tender kiss on his lips. I had already redressed while he bathed, and noticed his small frown as he ran down the small of my back and sighed.
"Ye leavin', Sassenach?" Jamie had murmured into my hair.
"Bree," I whispered as I moved my hand from his cheek to the temple of his skull and brushed away a droplet of water before it slid down his face, "She's meeting her Da today, and I should probably get home to see she's prepared."
Jamie nodded and closed his eyes as he leaned his wet forehead to mind and released a slightly minty breath upon my face. I had an immediate sense of pride, as the scent reached my nose, he had listened to me on the importance of oral health, caring for his teeth. However, I knew this wasn't the time to gloat to myself about that, something was troubling him, and I couldn't place my finger on it.
"Do ye think the lass will like me?" He asked, so softly I had nearly missed his question.
"Why wouldn't she?" I responded, baffled on why that was his concern.
His shoulders had risen slightly towards his ears as he mumbled, ' Frank '. There hadn't been much thought on my end to how Jamie would feel about meeting his child after she bonded with another man under the pretext that he was her father. A man, I knew he was grateful existed for the sole reason he had taken me back, he had loved me, but he had also given me back to him. Yet, that was about me and our relationship, that one did not include our child. I could sense the envy the night prior as I spoke about our child and her relationship with Frank. After all, Frank had been able to experience all the firsts of fatherhood, moments that were rightfully his.
At present, I could see it in Jamie's slanted blue eyes he was beginning to compare himself to the memory of a man that would not exist for another two-hundred or so years, a man that yes had bonded with my daughter, his daughter, but was not her father. Jamie was her present and future, as he was mine. I was aware it would take time to forget Frank and accept Jamie as her father truly, I wasn't moronic. Nevertheless, I knew she would like him, not having a mean bone in her body, I told him, she might appear standoffish at first, but she would like him.
When I returned my gaze upon my children, shaking the memory of that morning from my mind, I noticed as Fergus had swooped down to try and pick up Brianna and saunter back towards me. Closing the ten pace gap between us, I shot him a confused look as I raised Bree from the awkward way he had her in his arms and settled her upon my hip. Colour had drained from his once rosy cheeks as I followed his sightline towards the British patrol up the road rushing towards us.
We stepped towards the side of the road, opposite from the unmarked trail we were meant to take a meter ahead; I felt as Fergus linked his hand to my arm, just below the elbow and squeezed. He knew just as I did, there wasn't enough time for us to cross the road, nor was there enough coverage from the underbrush for us to hide among. Exhaling to steady my breathing, I watched as the horses drew near. Preparing myself for the interrogation of a gentlewoman of English birth living in the Scottish highlands, I felt Fergus's arm slip away from mine as he bent towards the road. Securing Brianna's rabbit, he dusted the dingy thing off on his breeches before handing it back to her, trying to soothe the now fussing child. An excellent brother, I noted once more.
"Good day to ye mum." One of the British officers called out as he tipped his tricorn at us while gesturing for the horses to halt.
Bowing my head slightly, I prayed it appeared as a manner of respected. I wasn't about to courtesy with a child attached to my hip, and I wasn't about to let her go either.
"Good afternoon, sirs," I said, lightly and forced a small smile.
Glaring at Fergus to indicate him to bow, he lowered himself at the waist and forced an uneasy grin up at the mounted soldiers as he re-straighten his posture. A look of worry flickered across Fergus's face as he peered away from me and then just beyond the soldiers' shoulders towards the trail we were meant to take to Jamie. My eyes widened, as I felt my daughter lay her head into my shoulder as I ran my hand across her back, attempting to soothe her, as my frame tensed. Fergus must have seen him; first, that was his startled look of distress that I had caught as I watched my husband peer from behind a large tree, bow gripped tightly in his right hand.
"Are you new to the area Madam?" The same officer asked as I heard a twig snap, catching the attention of the soldiers.
"No, I just returned from visiting family in the colonies," I replied promptly, drawing attention to me and away from Jamie, "My foster son stayed here with cousins of mine, the Murray's of Lallybroch while I was away."
Another twig snapped as I finished speaking, and I shifted my gaze just over the shoulder of the man addressing me. Jamie was plainly visible now as he moved to another large tree, trying his hardest to remain silent, he stood frozen as another twig broken beneath his boots. I opened my mouth to speak more, my mouth became dry, and nothing came out, I peered down at Fergus, using my stare to plead with him for some assistance. I knew bloodshed would commence soon if we did develop a plan to stop the men from turning and recognising Jamie. He was in prime position to allow them to apprehend him, having Brianna and I there, he wouldn't risk our lives.
"Mère," Fergus said in French before shifting back to English, "Shall we offer the men some of the cider and cakes Mistress Murray provided for our outing?"
"Can we offer you refreshments, gentlemen?" I asked, as I handed the basket over to Fergus and he drew out the jug of cider. Observing as Jamie safely crept behind another large Ash tree, I added, "We don't have much, but we'd be delighted to provide it for His Majesty's army."
A few of the men nodded and licked their lips upon my proposition, but their commanding officer shook his head in protest and grinned, "Your generosity is too much, madam, alas we should be on our way." Raising his hand to his men, he turned back to me and added, "Please heed cautious of the folk here, they aren't bred as finely as yourself."
"Bloody lobster-backs," Fergus muttered, as the officer motioned to his men to start moving out.
Turning, he glanced at him and stared back to me, "I'd watch your sons' tongue madam, not every officer will take compassion and allow it to slid, English or no."
I drew Fergus into my side with my free limb and drove his face into my shoulder and secured my hand to his mouth. As if that would hinder him from speaking any further, he took my hint and remained speechless as I watched the soldiers ride off and out of view. I lingered for several moments longer, incapable of moving in fear. Fearing for my children, myself and Jamie.
' Jamie ', I remembered and snapped my head in the direction he was previously. No one appeared in the woods, they remained still as if Jamie hadn't even been there, to begin with, and both Fergus and I had envisioned seeing him. Our worst fear had been exposed to us, playing tricks upon our minds.
"I'm sorry, Milady." Fergus said as he picked up the basket off the soil, "I didn't mean it."
I had opened my mouth to reply to Fergus, when Bree issued a small squeak from her lungs, causing me to focus on Fergus and behind me. Jamie was standing behind us on the road. His skin was almost as white as a fresh cotton sheet as he took a step forward towards us. Feeling air rush into my lungs, I gasped and rushed to him, feeling the tension escape my body as I felt Jamie's arms pull us in and allowed our bodies to crash into the others. A small tear escaped my eye as I smiled slightly and leaned forward to kiss him.
"mo nighean donn," Jamie mumbled into my hair as he pulled away and turned to his daughter, "mo chridhe."
"Da?" Bree questioned.
Jamie nodded as he held his arms out towards her, allowing her to decide on her own accord whether or not to go to him. Bree peered back up at me, scanning for some assurance as I nodded as she leaned forwards and plunged into his arms. As I moved back to Fergus, my heartstrings began to pull and wrapped an arm around him and watched Brianna study her father.
I noticed as tears slowly slid down Jamie's face, as she reached out to wipe one away before she lifted her hand to brush his matching ruddy curls. This was a moment he had only imagined; he had told me about it the night before while I laid in his arms. Every night, he'd have this dream, the dream of him embracing his child, but in his dreams, Brianna had been Brian, and he was fresh from his mothers' womb. Only just cleaned, he would hold his son tightly to his chest before presenting him to me and promising us the world.
"Why was my daddy my daddy and not you?" She demanded as she forced her brows together.
"Well, I couldna be with ye," Jamie said slowly, as he glanced over at me, "Yer mam wasna safe here, ye wouldna be safe here."
"There was a war here, ye ken?"
Bree nodded, "Like the one daddy and mama were in?"
"Oh aye, similar," He responded, he had known I was a combat nurse, but I wasn't sure I had ever spoken of Franks involvement in the war, "It wasna a safe place to bring a bairn into the world."
"A child," Jamie smiled, "Ye are my bairn."
"Oh aye," She nodded and mimicking his previous expression, "It's safe now?"
Jamie looked over at me and exhaled, I knew the answer, but I didn't want it to be spoken aloud in clear English. It still wasn't safe, at least for him. We might have been okay, the fantasy of the 'Stuart Witch' had died with the Rising, also with the assumption I was deceased, but Jamie. He was still wanted for his crimes against the crown, crimes that he did not commit when Charles Stuart forged his name on the declaration of war.
"Tis safe enough," Jamie nodded and pressed his lips to the crown of her head and promised, "Ye will always be safe."
I did my best with this chapter; I had about four different versions going at one point.
After editing and rewriting, this is what I was left with. I feel like it's still pretty rough, but I think I hit a wall with this one, so enjoy?
I'm sorry I shorted y'all from a better Bree/Jamie introduction.
I also started a new story; it's my take on a modern Claire.
So, please check that out.
Until next time, thank you!
"You got one, Da!"
Jamie turned to see his daughter jump with delight, while a smile curved on his lips as he extracted a fish out of the stream. It was mid-December, and they had been attempting to catch what fish they could for most of the afternoon for their supper. Jamie knew they wouldn't be swimming, hibernating for winter. However, it had been unseasonably warm for that time of year in Scotland and when Brianna asked if they could have fish and something called chips for dinner. He didn't have it within his heart to refuse his daughter anything she requested of him. Brianna had quickly become his weakness, much like her mother, anything she wanted Jamie sought to make it happen.
"Stay there, a leannan," Jamie instructed, noticing his daughter inching towards the shore of the stream.
They had been almost successful once earlier in the afternoon. One large fish had been passing by, and Jamie had snagged it on his fishing-line. But, Brianna had been enthusiastic about seeing the fish and stumbled forwards. Almost toppling into the water, he had dropped a line, releasing their dinner to catch her. This time, he had learned his lesson regarding four-year-olds and their excitement over new things.
"Okay," she beamed with a nod, "I stay here."
He grunted in acknowledgement as he pulled the fish with ease from the water, it wasn't overly big. Yet, he concluded it would be plenty to feed Brianna and himself. And perhaps Claire, if she joined them for dinner. Not sure on the likelihood of seeing his wife, he turned to his daughter and held his catch up with pride.
"Are we have chips wi' it?" She asked, glowing as he moved closer.
"Chips?" He inquired, drawing his sgian-dubh from his belt to start filleting the fish on a collapsed log.
"Aye, chips." Brianna repeated, watching her father, "mama told Fergie to pack potatoes. Daddy used to make 'em wi' fish."
A pang of jealously raged through the large Scotsman as she mentioned Frank Randall. He couldn't help but feel the sentiment every time his daughter brought up the man she considered to be her father until Claire had uprooted their lives, two months ago. Jamie realised that his daughter was still processing what was happening around her. That Frank was no longer a part of her life, that she was now with the man that would give up his life to see her smile. Nonetheless, he wasn't daft, Jamie understood her memories thus far, always included Frank. And even if it hurt him, he would do anything to make her happy. Since Claire reentered in his life, Jamie had vowed to himself that he would do whatever necessary for his family. Including making whatever chips were.
"What are chips?" Jamie asked, keeping his focus steadfast on the fish.
"They are chips." Brianna shrugged, unable to deliver a better description.
Jamie chuckled softly and nodded, allowing a calm silence to wash over them as he continued with filleting the fish. Brianna perched across from him, observing him, as if she was studying his actions, committing them to her memory for her future use. Jamie saw so much of himself in his young blue-eyed lass. Accurately described by Claire, she was intelligent, smart, and most of all, brave.
"Da," she said, disrupting the quietness, "Where do bairns come from?"
His eyes grew wide as he released his sgian-dubh onto the ground, utterly unprepared for the question his child had just asked him. She was four; he told himself over and over in his head. He wasn't sure how to address the question, hoping Claire would be the one to cover it. He groaned and stooped down to pick up his knife, attempting to compose himself before refacing his daughter.
Fergus had said when he delivered her to the cavern earlier that morning that Madam Murray had gone into labour during the night. Surely, that was what provoked this topic. She was a curious child, needing to know everything, much like he had at her age. Jamie took a deep breath in, rose to his full height, smiled at Brianna, nodded, and prepared to tell her exactly what his father had told him.
It was just after nightfall when I reached at the cave Jamie had made his home, well now our home. He was sleeping in a sitting position; I noticed as I entered the cramped space. Slightly slumped over with our daughter nestled into his side as I walked further into the room. I smiled, crossing the dirt floor and stretched out my fingers to his hair. Pushing his long ruddy curls off his face, a tiny sleepy smile graced his lips before he opened his blue eyes.
"Hi," I murmured.
"Sassenach." He rasped, shifting Brianna closer to the wall and moved over, to provide me with some space on the small cot, "we had chips."
"Did you?" I inquired, leaning down to kiss him, "They are Bree's favourite."
"Aye, I see." Jamie agreed as he pulled away, "She said they were better than Franks'."
"Well, that is an achievement." I yawned and placed my head upon his chest, pressing my eyes close as he stroked the delicate skin behind my ears.
"She asked where bairns come from today." He mumbled.
I drew away and sought hard not to laugh at the uncomfortable expression present upon his face.
"What did you tell her?"
"That it's much like farming, sowing seeds in the field and then a bairn grows." He said with complete seriousness. "I'm afraid she won't be much help on any farm now. Thinkin' we planted bairns in the ground."
"She'll grow out of it." I reassured him, and sank back down, "Last year she discovered that animals and meat were the same things. She refused to eat anything other than applesauce for nearly a week."
"So there's hope," Jamie replied as I felt him caress his lips to the crown of my head.
I didn't respond. I didn't feel it was required, considering he didn't ask any follow-up questions. I closed my eyes once more and slipped into a peaceful slumber surrounded by my family. We had much to discuss, Jamie and I. We needed to plan our future; we couldn't hide out forever in this cave. I knew this wasn't how he wanted to raise our children, Brianna and Fergus. Yet, I knew convincing him to leave Scotland would be hard. Our time in Paris was far from perfect.
It had almost destroyed us. Scotland had always been our home, our safe refuge. Now that it wasn't, where would we turn too? The colonies were our best option, America. I thought, Brianna's country of birth. Tomorrow I repeated once more in my head as sleep overtook me. Tomorrow we'll consider it.
I'm not a fan of this, and I've hit a major block with this story.
I had so many ideas for it, and then I had to get a new laptop, and my outline with ideas for this wasn't saved to my cloud. ):
I'll try my best to finish it and not have it be complete trash, but please bear with me.
Anyways, as always, thanks for reading. (:
"Da," Brianna gasped, popping her mitten covered hand out from beneath her winter cloak and pointed to a relatively small and pitiful looking Douglas fir tree, "that's it!"
"Are ye sure, lass?" Jamie asked as a small sigh of exhaustion escaped his lips, creating a puff of white air to linger around his mouth as my own lips curved into a slight grin.
"Aye, da, tis pewfect." She affirmed with a sparse nod of her head in conformation, driving the curls I had skillfully tucked inside her winter cap to escape, "I pwomise."
Jamie shifted, permitting me to catch a glimpse of the look of annoyance that swept across his features before he took a deep breath and turned back to our daughter. Her matching slanted blue eyes shimmered with excitement as she watched him in anticipating. I could tell his patience were weaning from where I was standing, and he was practising restraint with her. Brianna had already declared four other various types of pine trees as the perfect tree. Each time, she'd wait until Jamie would draw his axe back behind his head to deliver his first strike against the trunk of the tree. She would then provide Jamie with a sudden outburst about being mistaken. As a family, we would renew our search through the woods surrounding Lallybroch for Brianna's perfect Christmas tree.
"Bree, my love," I said, seizing her concentration away from Jamie as I knelt down, instantly sensing the wet earth seep through the many layers of my woollen skirts, "come here. Let's give your father some space."
Brianna took one step closer to Jamie, peering up at him again before she even entertained my request of moving away from him. In the last few years of her young memory, Frank had allowed her to help carry the tree. I smiled, briefly, thinking of our previous life as I felt her warm body slip into my arms and stood with her nestled upon my hip. Frank cherished Christmas, transferring that sentiment of the holiday and his traditions on to my daughter. I touched my lips to her temple as I reminisced over the pop-up shops throughout Boston that would sell trees for the holidays. We would set a whole afternoon aside to visit several shops, searching for the perfect tree and then, Frank with Bree nuzzled upon one hip, and the tree to the other would carry the tree home. Collectively, as a family, once it was placed near the hearth, we would decorate it. It was the one time of year we could put the strains between us and our marriage aside, and concentrate on our family, concentrate on Brianna.
My head darted up and released all thoughts and memories of my past life as I caught the crack of the tree. It took four hard blows of his axe before it crashed down and he was wiping his brow of the small beads of sweat that formed there. Picking a tree in the 20th century was perhaps more comfortable. However, our first holiday together would forever hold a special place within my own heart—our first Christmas tree.
Jamie led us back towards Lallybroch one he secured our tree on his shoulder, carrying it with ease. It was already Christmas Eve, meaning the British paroles would no longer bother us until at least after Hogmanay or what we knew as New Years. It meant we could live openly as a family without the constant fear of us having to hide. Giving us a taste of what our life could be somewhere other than Scotland. Still having no progress on whether we were to leave his home and people or not, I was at least thankful for this short period of normalcy.
"So, Sassenach, ye are tellin' me," Jamie started to say as he dragged the Douglas fir into the parlour of the house, "Not only do we have a tree in the house, we have to decorate it?"
"Da," Brianna shouted, pointing to a spot near the hearth, "It goes there!"
"Aye, a leannan." He murmured and did as she requested.
"It's a tradition in our time," I said softly, setting our daughter upon the floor and watched as she hurried over to him.
"We did no such things last ye were here," Jamie said, as he bent down and captured Bree in his own grasp, while she held out the shrivelled fruit ornaments she had made towards the tree.
"Well, we are doing them now." I pointed out, beaming as I chose an ornament and placed it on the tree.
"Aye, we are." Jamie accepted as he leaned over and caressed his lips temporarily to my own, "I'm glad."
The house was calm later that evening, with Brianna tucked in her own bed in the room she shared with her cousins. Jenny and Ian had retired early as well. Leaving Jamie and me on the main floor parlour. I admired the Christmas tree, holding my knitting in my hands as Jamie concentrated on finishing Brianna's Christmas present. I smiled at the line of the miniature carved farm animals situated before him as he added another to the group. He had been working on them for weeks, each night, he would add another beast to the collection. Jamie breathed, glancing up at me and forced a small smile. He was bothered about whether or not his gift was suitable for our daughter. He had heard her babble on regarding her last Christmas and about Frank and me's gifts in our time. I knew he wanted to give her the world. No matter how many times I told him, it wasn't the presents she needed; it was him. I felt as if my statements fell upon deafened ears. He was out to be better than Frank.
"Penny for your thoughts?" I proposed, depositing my knitting into the sofa's empty space and slid down to the floor next to him.
Jamie shrugged as he encircled his limbs around my abdomen and pulled me between his extended legs, "What if she doesna like these?"
"She will," I promised him, turning to lay my hand tenderly on his cheek, "You made them for her."
"Aye," he responded, avoiding my gaze as he tilted his head to my shoulder, "Do I tell her they're from Santa? She asked if Santa will ken how to find her since movin'. I dinna ken who that is. I assume he's from your time. I told her, he kent."
"Jamie," I grinned, "Santa brings children gifts if they've been good during the year. I've already covered her gift from Santa. Your sister assisted with making her a doll, much like Kitty's."
Jamie nodded as if in understanding, "So, my present is from me."
I nodded, overall, the Christmas traditions between our times were not entirely different. They were similar in more ways than they were different. However, Brianna kept finding a way to emphasise the differences out. She inquired about Santa and her Christmas tree. She questioned if daddy would be coming to read her Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carole' and drink hot cocoa by the tree with her. For the most part, we were able to continue the few traditions we had except for the few that involved Frank and works of literature that had yet to be written.
"She'll no be disappointed about Frank and the Christmas tale?" Jamie asked, pulling me back into the reality of being in his arms.
"Bree might be, but Jamie, our life is here." I told him with a small grin, "Our life is with you and she's young and still adjusting. We'll make new traditions, and she'll forget about the ones we had."
"I'd like that Sassenach." He smiled as his eyes dilated and the tips of his ears turned pink, "Now, Bree said she'll be waking early. So, I must get ye to bed now if I shall have ye at least once tonight."
"Jamie!" I giggled, a hit his chest gently.
He smirked as he rose and slid his palms into my own to pull me to my feet. We stood there in silence for a moment longer. Gazing into his eyes, I felt my heart quicken. I had fantasised over the holiday season with him since my first one as a parent. I had imagined Brianna rushing into our room on Christmas morning, bouncing on our bed to wake us. It felt so surreal now, living it.
"What was the story ye told Bree tonight?" He inquired as he led me up the stairs to our bedroom.
" The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore."
"Aye, I liked it," Jamie whispered into my lips as he pressed my back against the door to our room.
"Did you?" I questioned, feeling breathless as I drew away, sensing his hands tremble as he tugged at the laces of my bodice, "It won't be written until the 1800s, along with A Christmas Carole."
Jamie's chuckle warmed my insides, igniting the fire in my lower abdomen that had already sparked, "Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night. Tis indeed the happiest Christmas since ye left and a good night."
I nodded in agreement as I felt down the side of the door looking for the handle to open the door, "Take me to bed, Jamie Fraser." I said as I opened the door and stepped into the dark space. Feeling a shiver down my spine from the coldness of our room from lack of a fire, I wasn't concerned with having him started one. I could tell by the devilish gleam in his blue eyes; we wouldn't need one, not tonight.
"Aye, Sassenach, with pleasure."
And Happy Holidays!
I present you with this little Christmas family fluff.
I hope everyone had the best holiday season, no matter what you celebrate or believe in during this trying time we have been all faced with.
Thank you for reading!
And if I don't update this before New Years, have a happy and safe Hogmanay!