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Excerpt from "The Custom of the Army"

“The Custom of the Army”
Copyright 2008 Diana Gabaldon

[Once again, please note that excerpts may NOT be copied, cut-and-pasted, or reposted anywhere without the author's express permission—though it's totally fine if you'd like to link to one from your own website(s)!]

It was small, but packaged with care, wrapped in oilcloth and tied about with twine, the knot sealed with his brother’s crest. That was unlike Hal, whose usual communiques consisted of hastily dashed notes, generally employing slightly fewer than the minimum number of words necessary to convey his message. They were seldom signed, let alone sealed.
Tom Byrd appeared to think the package slightly ominous, too; he had set it by itself, apart from the other mail, and weighted it down with a large bottle of brandy, apparently to prevent it escaping. That, or he suspected Grey might require the brandy to sustain him in the arduous effort of reading a letter consisting of more than one page.
“Very thoughtful of you, Tom,” he murmured, smiling to himself and reaching for his pen-knife.
In fact, the letter within occupied less than a page, bore neither salutation nor signature, and was completely Hal-like.

“Minnie wishes to know whether you are starving, though I don’t know what she proposes to do about it, should the answer be yes. The boys wish to know whether you have taken any scalps–they are confident that no Red Indian would succeed in taking yours; I share this opinion. You had better bring three tommyhawks when you come home.
Here is your new ring; the jeweler was most impressed by the quality of the stone. The other thing is a copy of Adams’s confession. They hanged him yesterday.”

The other contents of the parcel consisted of a small wash-leather pouch, and an official-looking document on several sheets of good parchment, this folded and sealed–this time with the seal of George II. Grey left it lying on the table, fetched one of the pewter cups from his campaign chest, and filled it to the brim with brandy, wondering anew at his valet’s perspicacity.
Thus fortified, he sat down and took up the little pouch, from which he decanted a gold ring into his hand. It was set with a faceted–and very large–sapphire, that glowed like flame in the palm of his hand. Where had Fraser acquired such a thing? he wondered.
He turned it in his hand, admiring the workmanship, but didn’t put it on. Not yet. Instead, he put it back into its pouch, and tucked this carefully into the inner pocket of his coat. He sipped his brandy for a bit, watching the official document as though it might explode. He was reasonably sure it would.
He weighed the document in his hand, and felt the wind [through the window, from the tent flap] lift it a little, like the flap of a sail, just before it fills and bellies with a snap.
Waiting wouldn’t help. And Hal plainly knew what it said, anyway; he’d tell Grey, whether he wanted to know or not. Sighing, he put by his brandy and broke the seal.

I, Bernard Donald Adams, do make this confession of my own free will…

Was it? he wondered. He did not know Adams’s handwriting, could not tell whether the document had been written or dictated–no, wait. He flipped over the sheets and examined the signature. Same hand. All right, he had written it himself.
He squinted at the writing. It seemed firm. Probably not extracted under torture, then. Perhaps it was the truth.
“Idiot,” he said under his breath. “Read the god-damned thing and have done with it!”
He drank the rest of his brandy at a gulp, flattened the pages upon the stone of the parapet and read, at last, the story of his father’s death.

[end section]

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14 Responses »

  1. You obviously must have more hours in your day than the rest of us do. :-) Thanks for taking the time to post about your work. The excerpts provided a much appreciated fix for my Gabaldon addiction!

  2. Wow! You have been busy! I tend to agree with Susan Mcc that you must have more hours to take advantage of than the rest of us mere mortals…thank God.

    I’m really looking forward to your graphic novel most of all. Such a different genre, a bit like writing a screenplay after having written a novel. The same, only different.

    May your use of time travel always remain with you so you can keep us all so wonderfully entertained.


  3. Thanks, I really enjoyed this! And once again we see how the books all intertwine. This small excerpt has links to the past (Adams in BOTB; Jamie in VOYAGER and the story of how he acquired the sapphire in the first place) and future (because, of course, we know we’ll see that sapphire mentioned again toward the end of ABOSAA).

    I loved that “slightly fewer than the minimum”. [g] Nicely put.


  4. So happy to see your blog. Love the excerpt.

    Betty ‘Eby’ Atkins

  5. The story of his father’s death… aaahhh! Where is the rest?! : D Thanks for this wonderful snippet! I am excited to read more when it is done!

  6. Diana, you are THE most generous and wonderful author ever! Thank you so much for this excerpt. I must find my way over to Compuserve to see what’s cookin’ there.
    All the best to you and yours
    Debbie in San Diego

  7. What a knack you have for The Cliffhanger! Way to make us all thirsty for the dirt on the Earl!

  8. Diana’s busy enough – so I’ll ask another of our resident experts – Karen Henry – if you don’t mind explaining to me – could you explain about the sapphire and Jamie? I know in Ashes he got it from John to help Bree and family go back, but when did he get one back to John, and where did it come from. After so many re-reads, I can’t believe I missed this, so I’d appreciate any light you could shed. TIA

  9. Dear Bedelia–

    John took it from him in Ardsmuir, after he was recaptured following his journey to the silkies’ island.

  10. Bedelia:

    “Resident expert”? [laughing] I’m flattered…especially since I’d never even heard of these books just two years ago.

    Anyway, the reference you’re looking for is in VOYAGER, chapter 10 (“White Witch’s Curse”), p. 135 in the hardcover. Since you asked…. [g]

    And just to make things more confusing [g], there are actually two sapphire rings. The one Lord John got from his first lover, Hector (this is the one he gives to Jamie in ABOSAA) and the one that’s mentioned in this excerpt, which is the sapphire Lord John took from Jamie at Ardsmuir.

    Hope this helps.


  11. Dear Karen and Bedelia–

    There’s actually a small error in this piece (I posted it from the original ms.)–what Lord John’s brother has sent him is supposed to be a paperweight with Jamie’s sapphire set in it (which we see in Jamaica, late in VOYAGER). I caught that on a re-read and fixed it in the ms. that went to the editor, but hadn’t thought to change the snippet.

  12. Diana:

    Thanks for the hint/correction about the paperweight. Do I have to add, that was yet another tiny detail I never noticed before? [vbg] But I just looked at VOYAGER and I see the reference now, on p. 759 (“Grey picked up a small silver paperweight….A large sapphire was set in it, winking blue in the candlelight.”)

    Very sneaky of you, to slip that one in there. [g] I’m sure the reason I never noticed it was that my attention tends to be focused on Claire during that scene, not on Lord John. But now that I see it, I like it. Looking at the situation from John’s POV, it gives the scene more depth [g] and poignancy than I thought it had.


  13. P.S. – to Bedelia: This is why I don’t consider myself an “expert” on this stuff. Just like everybody else, I pick up new little details all the time.


  14. Dear Diana and Karen,

    Thanks so much for clearing that up. Thought Jamie was rolling in sapphires for awhile there (g).

    P.S. To Karen, I know there is only one expert (Diana), but I truly learn so much from your insights into The Books that I consider you a VP of Expertise. And I can’t believe you’ve only been reading them for 2 years!


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