Authors: Diana Gabaldon
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.”
“Aye. Exactly. Nobody else could see it, though,” he added, laughter fading out of his face. “Only me.”
I rubbed the palms of my hands slowly together, imagining it.
“Buck,” I said. “I assume he survived? Since you asked if we’d seen him.”
Roger’s face changed at that, a shadow passing behind his eyes.
“He did. Then. But we—separated, after I found Bree and the kids…It’s…”
“A long story,” I finished for him. “Maybe it should wait until Jamie and Bree come back from their hunting. But about this Dr. McEwan—did he tell you anything about—the blue light?” The words felt strange to say, and yet I could envision it; my palms tingled slightly at the thought, and I looked down at them involuntarily. No, still pink.
Roger was shaking his head. “Not much, no. Not in words. But—he put his hand on my throat.” His own hand rose, touching the ragged scar left by the hangman’s rope. “And…something happened,” he said softly.
“WOULD YE COME ASIDE
to the cabin, cousin?” Ian said, looking uncharacteristically shy. “In case Rachel might be back. I'dâ¦like ye to meet her.”
“I'd love to meet her,” Bree said, smiling at him, and meant it. She lifted an eyebrow at her father, but he nodded.
“It will be good to put this lot down for a bit,” he said, wiping a sleeve across his perspiring face. “And if ye milked the goats as your mother asked ye to this morning, Ian, I wouldna say no to a cup of it, either.” He and Ian were carrying the usable remains of the deer, bound into an unwieldy package inside the mostly intact skin and hanging from a stout pole that they bore across their shoulders. It was a hot day.
Someone was home at the cabin in the aspen grove. The door stood open, and there was a small spinning wheel standing on the front stoop amid the darting leaf shadows and a chair beside it with a flat basket piled with brown and gray puffs of what Brianna assumed must be combed clean wool. There was no sign of the spinner, but women were singing inside the house, in Gaelicâbreaking off every few bars in laughter, with one clear voice then singing the line over again, and the second after it, stumbling over an occasional word, then laughing again.
Jamie smiled, hearing it.
“Jenny's teachin' wee Rachel the
” he said, unnecessarily. “Set it down here, Ian.” He nodded at the pool of shade under a fallen log. “The women will ha' a fit if we bring flies into the house.”
Someone in the house had heard them, for the singing stopped and a head poked out of the open door.
“Ian!” A tallish, very pretty dark-haired girl popped out and hopped off the porch, grabbing Ian round the middle in exuberant embrace, this instantly returned. “Thy cousins have come! Does thee know?”
“Aye, I do,” he said, kissing her mouth. “Come say hello to my cousin Brianna,
mo ghrÃ idh.
Ohâand Uncle Jamie, too,” he added, turning round.
Bree was already smiling, moved by the obvious love between the young Murrays, and glancing at her father she saw the same smile on his face. Saw it broaden as he looked beyond them to the open door, where a small woman had come out, a baby wearing nothing but a clout in her arms.
“Whoâ” she began, and then her eyes fell on Brianna, and her mouth dropped open.
“Blessed Bride protect us,” she said mildly, but her eyes were warm, blue, and slanted like Jamie's, smiling up at Brianna. “The giants have come. And your husband, too, they say, and him even taller than yourself, lass. And ye've bairns, too, they sayâall of them springin' up like weeds, I reckon?”
“Toadstools,” Bree said, laughing, and bent down to hug her diminutive aunt. Jenny smelled of goats, fresh wool, porridge, and toasted yeast bread, and a faint scent in her hair and clothes that Bree had long forgotten but recognized instantly as the soap Jenny had made at Lallybroch, with honey and lavender and a Highland herb that had no name in English.
“It's so good to see you,” she said, and felt tears well in her eyes, for the soap brought back Lallybroch as she'd first seen itâand with that ghost, another, stronger one behind it: the ghost of her own Lallybroch.
She blinked back the tears and straightened up, a tremulous smile pasted on her face. This vanished at once, though, as she remembered.
“Oh, Auntie! I'm so sorry. About Uncle Ian, I mean.” A new wave of loss washed through her. Even though Ian Murray the elder had been dead all of her life, save for a few brief years, and she had met him only once, the loss seemed fresh and shocking now.
Jenny looked down, patting the baby's tender back. He had a downy head of brown-blond fuzz, like a guinea hen's chick.
“Ach,” she said softly. “My Ian's wi' me still. I can see him in this wee'un's face, clear as day.”
She turned the baby deftly so he rested on her hip, looking up at Brianna with big round eyesâeyes the same warm light brown of her cousin Ianâand his father.
“Oh,” Brianna said, charmed and comforted at once. She reached out a tentative hand and offered the baby a finger. “And your name isâ¦Oggy?”
Jenny and Rachel both laughed, one with honest amusement and the other ruefully.
“I'm afraid we haven't managed to find the proper name for him as yet,” Rachel said, touching him gently on the shoulder. Oggy turned toward his mother's voice and kept on turning, leaning slowly out of Jenny's arms like a sloth drawn ineluctably toward sweet fruit.
Rachel gathered him up, gently touching his cheek. He turned his headâagain slowlyâand started sucking on her knuckle.
“Ian says that Mohawk children find their proper names when they're older, and have just cradle-names until then.”
Jenny's shapely black eyebrows rose at this.
“Ye mean to tell me that the bairn's going to be Oggy untilâ¦when?”
“Oh, no,” Rachel assured her. “I'm sure I'll think of something before âwhen.'â” She smiled at her mother-in-law, who rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to Brianna.
“I'm glad ye didna have such trouble wi' your own bairns,
Jamie said in his letters that they're called Jeremiah and Amanda, is that right?”
Brianna coughed, avoiding Rachel's eye.
“Umâ¦Jeremiah Alexander Ian Fraser MacKenzie,” she said. “And Amanda Claire Hope MacKenzie.”
Jenny nodded approvingly, whether at the quality or the quantity of the names.
“Jenny!” Bree's father appeared on the porch, sweaty and disheveled, bloodstained shirt much in evidence. “Ian canna find the beer.”
“We drank it,” Jenny called back, not turning a hair.
“Oh.” He disappeared back into the house, presumably in search of something else potable, leaving damp, slightly bloody footprints on the porch.
“What's happened to him?” Jenny demanded, shooting a sharp glance from the footprints to Brianna, who shrugged.
“Oh.” She seemed to digest this for a moment, then shook her head. “I suppose I'll have to let him have beer, then.” She disappeared after the menfolk, leaving Brianna and Rachel outside.
“I don't think I've ever met a Quaker before,” Brianna said after a slightly awkward pause. “Is âQuaker' the right word, by the way? I don't mean toâ”
“We say Friend,” Rachel said, smiling again. “Quaker is not offensive, though. But I think thee must have met at least one. Thee might not know, if the Friend chose not to use Plain Speech in talking with thee. Most of us don't have stripes, spots, or any other physical mark by which thee might discern us.”
“Well, naturally I cannot see my own back, but I'm sure Ian would have told me, was there anything remarkableâ¦”
Brianna laughed, feeling slightly giddy from hunger, relief, and the simple, recurrent joy at being with her family again. A charmingly expanded family, too, it seemed.
“I'm really glad to meet you,” she said to Rachel. “I couldn't imagine what sort of girl would marry IanâI'm sorry, that sounds wrongâ¦”
“No, thee is quite right,” Rachel assured her. “I couldn't have imagined marrying a man like him, either, but there he is in my bed each morning, nonetheless. They do say the Lord moves in mysterious ways. Come into the house,” she added, shifting Oggy into a new position. “I know where the wine is.”
“IT ALL BEGINS
and if you’re lucky, it ends that way as well.” Roger swallowed, and I felt his larynx bob under my fingers. The skin of his throat was cool, and smooth where I held it, though I could feel a tiny prickle of beard stubble brush my knuckle just under his jaw.
“That’s what Dr. McEwan said?” I asked curiously. “What did he mean by it, I wonder?”
Roger’s eyes were closed—people normally closed their eyes when I examined them, as though needing to preserve what privacy they could—but at this, he opened them, an arresting deep green lit by the morning sun.
“I asked him. He said that nothing ever truly starts or stops, so far as he could see. That people think a child’s life begins at birth, but plainly that’s not so—ye can see them move in the womb, and a child that comes too soon will often live for a short time, and ye see that it’s alive in all its senses, even though it can’t sustain life.”
Now I’d closed my own eyes, not because I found Roger’s gaze unsettling, but in order to concentrate on the vibrations of his words. I moved my grip on his throat a little lower.
“Well, he’s quite right about that,” I said, envisioning the inner anatomy of the throat as I talked. “Babies are born already running, as it were. All their processes—except breathing—are working long before birth. But that’s still a rather cryptic remark.”
“Yes, it was.” He swallowed again and I felt his breath, warm on my bare forearm. “I prodded him a bit, because he’d obviously meant it by way of explanation—or at least the best he could do by way of explanation. I don’t suppose you could describe what it is you actually do when you heal someone, could you?”
I smiled at that without opening my eyes. “Oh, I might have a go at it. But there’s an implied error there;
don’t actually heal people. They heal by themselves. I just…support them.”
A sound that wasn’t quite a laugh made his larynx execute a complicated double bob. I
I could feel a slight concavity under my thumb, where the cartilage had been partially crushed by the rope…I put my other hand round my own throat, for comparison.
“That’s actually what he said, too—Hector McEwan, I mean. But he
heal people; I saw him do it.”
My hands released both our throats, and I opened my eyes.
He gave me a quick précis of his relations with William Buccleigh, from Buck’s role in his hanging at Alamance, through the reappearance of his ancestor in Inverness in 1980, and Buck’s joining him in the search for Jem, after Brianna’s erstwhile co-worker, Rob Cameron, had kidnapped the boy.
“That was when he became…a bit more than a friend,” Roger said. He looked down and cleared his throat. “He came with me to search for Jem. Jem wasn’t there, of course, but we did find another Jeremiah. My father,” he said abruptly, his voice cracking on the word. I reached by reflex for his hand, but he waved me off, clearing his throat again.
“It’s okay. I’ll—I’ll tell you about that…later.” He swallowed and straightened a little, meeting my eyes again. “But Buck—that’s what we called him, Buck—when we came through the stones in search of Jem, we were both…damaged by the passage. You said, I think, that it got worse, if you did it more than once?”
“I wouldn’t say once
damaging,” I said, with a small internal shudder at the memory of that void, a chaos where nothing seems to exist but noise. That, and the faint flicker of thought, all that holds you together between one breath and the next. “But yes, it does get worse. What happened to you?”
“To me, not that much. Unconscious for a bit, woke up strangling, fighting for air. Muck sweat, disorientation; couldn’t keep my balance for a bit, staggered all over. But Buck—” He frowned, and I saw his eyes change as he looked inward again, seeing the green hilltop of Craigh na Dun as he woke with the rain on his face. As I had waked three times. The hair on my neck rose slowly.
“It seemed to be his heart. He had a pain in his chest, his left arm, and he couldn’t breathe well, said it was like a weight on his chest, and he couldn’t get up. I got him water, though, and after a bit he seemed okay. At least he could walk, and he brushed off any suggestion that we stop and rest.”
They had separated then, Buck to search the road toward Inverness, Roger to go to Lallybroch, and—
“Lallybroch!” This time I did grab him by the arm. “You went there?”
“I did,” he said, and smiled. He clasped my hand, where it lay on his arm. “I met Brian Fraser.”
?” I shook my head in order to clear it. That made no sense.
“No, it didn’t make sense,” he said, plainly reading my thoughts from my face and smiling at the results. “We…didn’t go where—I mean
—we thought we were going. We ended in 1739.”
I stared at him for a moment, and he shrugged helplessly.
“Later,” I said firmly, and reached for his throat again, thinking,
“In medias res.” What the devil did McEwan mean by that?
I could hear distant childish shouts from the direction of the creek, and the high, cracked screech of a hawk in the tall snag at the far side of our clearing; I could just see him—or her—from the corner of my eye: a large dark shape like a torpedo on a dead branch. And I was beginning to hear—or to think I heard—the thrum of blood in Roger’s neck, a faint sound, separate from the thump of his pulse. And the fact that I was evidently hearing it through my fingertips seemed shockingly ordinary.
“Talk to me a bit more,” I suggested, as much to avoid hearing what I thought I heard as in order to loosen up his larynx. “About anything.”
He hummed for a moment, but that made him cough, and I dropped my hand so he could turn his head.
“Sorry,” he said. “Bobby Higgins was just telling me the Ridge is growing—a lot of new families, I hear?”
“Like weeds,” I said, replacing my hand. “We came back to find that at least twenty new families had settled down, and there’ve been three more just since we came back from Savannah, where the winds of war had briefly blown us.”
He nodded, a slight frown on his face, and gave me a sidelong green glance. “I don’t suppose any of the new settlers is a minister?”
“No,” I said promptly. “Is that what you—I mean, you still think you—”
“I do.” He looked up at me, a little shyly. “I’m not fully ordained yet; I’ll need to take care of that, somehow. But when we decided to come back, we talked—Bree and I. About what we might do. Here. And…” He lifted both shoulders, palms on his knees. “That’s what I might do.”
“You were a minister here before,” I said, watching his face. “Do you really
to be formally ordained to do it again?”
He didn’t have to think; he’d done his thinking long since.
“I do,” he said. “I don’t feel…wrong…about having buried or married folk before, or christened them. Someone had to do it, and I was all there was. But I want it to be right.” He smiled a little. “It’s maybe like the difference between being handfast and being properly married. Between a promise and a vow. Even if ye ken ye’d never break the promise, ye want—” He struggled for the words. “Ye want the weight of the vow. Something to stand at your back.”
A vow. I’d made a few of those. And he was right; all of them—even those I’d broken—had meant something, had weight. And a few of them had stood at my back, and were still standing.
“That does make a difference,” I said.
“Ye know, ye were right,” he said, sounding surprised, and smiled at me. “It
easy to talk to a doctor—especially one who’s got ye by the throat. D’ye want to give McEwan’s method a try, then?”
I straightened my back and flexed my hands, rather self-consciously.
“It can’t hurt,” I said, hoping I was right. “You know—” I added hesitantly, and felt Roger’s Adam’s apple bob below my hand.
“I know,” he said gruffly. “No expectations. If something happens…well, it does. If not, I’m no worse off.”
I nodded, and felt gently about, fingertips probing. The tracheotomy I’d performed to save his life had left a smaller scar in the hollow of his throat, a slight depression about an inch long. I passed my thumb over that, feeling the healthy rings of cartilage above and below. The lightness of the touch made him shiver suddenly, tiny goosebumps stippling his neck, and he gave the breath of a laugh.
“Goose walking on my grave,” he said.
“Stamping about on your throat, more like,” I said, smiling. “Tell me again what Dr. McEwan said. Everything you can remember.”
I hadn’t taken my hand away, and I felt the lurch of his Adam’s apple as he cleared his throat hard.
“He prodded my throat—much as you’re doing,” he added, smiling back. “And he asked me if I knew what a hyoid bone was. He said”—Roger’s hand rose involuntarily toward his throat but stopped a few inches from touching it—“that mine was an inch or so higher than usual, and that if it had been in the normal place, I’d be dead.”
“Really,” I said, interested. I put a thumb just under his jaw and said, “Swallow, please.”
He did, and I touched my own neck and swallowed, still touching his.
“I’ll be damned,” I said. “It’s a small sample size, and granted, there may be differences attributable to gender—but he may well be right. Perhaps you’re a Neanderthal.”
“A what?” He stared at me.
“Just a joke,” I assured him. “But it’s true that one of the differences between the Neanderthals and modern humans is the hyoid. Most scientists think they hadn’t one at all, and therefore couldn’t speak, but my Uncle Lamb said— You rather need one for coherent speech,” I added, seeing his blank look. “It anchors the tongue. My uncle didn’t think they could have been mute, so the hyoid must have been located differently.”
“How extremely fascinating,” Roger said politely.
I cleared my own throat and circled his neck once again.
“Right. And after saying about your hyoid—what did McEwan do? How, exactly, did he touch you?”
Roger tilted his head back slightly and, reaching up, adjusted my grip, moving my hand down an inch and gently spreading my fingers.
“About like that,” he said, and I found that my hand was now covering—or at least touching—all the major structures of his throat, from larynx to hyoid.
“And then…?” I was listening intently—not to his voice, but to the sense of his flesh. I’d had my hands on his throat dozens of times, particularly during his recovery from the hanging, but what with one thing and another I hadn’t touched it in several years—until today. I could feel the solid muscles of his neck, firm under the skin, and I felt his pulse, strong and regular—a little fast, and I realized just how important this might be to him. I felt a qualm at that; I had no idea what Hector McEwan might have done—or what Roger might have imagined he’d done—and still less notion how to do anything myself.
“It’s just that I know what a sound larynx should feel like, and I can tell what yours feels like, and…I put my fingers there and envision the way it should feel.”
That’s what McEwan had said in response to Roger’s questions. I wondered if I knew what a normal larynx felt like.
“There was a sensation of warmth.” Roger’s eyes had closed again; he was concentrating on my touch. The smooth bulge of his larynx lay under the heel of my hand, bobbing slightly when he swallowed. “Nothing startling. Just the feeling you get when you step into a room where a fire is burning.”
“Does my touch feel warm to you now?” It should, I thought; his skin was cool.
“Yes,” he said, not opening his eyes. “But it’s on the outside. It was on the inside when McEwan…did what he did.” His dark brows drew together in concentration. “It…I felt it…here—” Reaching up, he moved my thumb to rest just to the right of center, directly beneath the hyoid. “And…
” His eyes opened in surprise, and he pressed two fingers to the flesh above his collarbone, an inch or two to the left of the suprasternal notch. “How odd; I hadn’t remembered that.”
“And he touched you there, as well?” I moved my lower fingers down and felt the quickening of my senses that often happened when I was fully engaged with a patient’s body. Roger felt it, too—his eyes flashed to mine, startled.
“What—?” he began, but before either of us could speak further, there was a high-pitched yowl from the clearing below. This was instantly followed by a confusion of young voices, more yowling, then a voice immediately identifiable as Mandy in a passion, bellowing, “You’re bad, you’re bad, you’re
and I hate you! You’re bad and youse going to
Roger leapt to his feet. “Amanda!” he bellowed. “Come here right now!” Over his shoulder, I saw Amanda, face contorted with rage, trying to grab her doll, Esmeralda, which Germain was dangling by one arm, just above her head, dancing to keep away from Amanda’s concerted attempts to kick him.
Startled, Germain looked up, and Amanda connected full-force with his shin. She was wearing stout half boots and the crack of impact was clearly audible, though instantly superseded by Germain’s cry of pain. Jemmy, looking appalled, grabbed Esmeralda, thrust her into Amanda’s arms, and with a guilty glance over his shoulder ran for the woods, followed by a hobbling Germain.