From THE SCOTTISH PRISONER
Copyright 2011 Diana Gabaldon
It was cold in the loft, and his sleep-mazed mind groped among the icy drafts after the words still ringing in his mind.
Wind struck the barn and went booming round the roof. A strong chilly draft with a scent of snow stirred the somnolence, and two or three of the horses shifted below, grunting and whickering. Helwater. The knowledge of the place settled on him, and the fragments of Scotland and Lallybroch cracked and flaked away, fragile as a skin of dried mud.
Helwater. Straw rustling under him, the ends poking through the rough ticking, prickling through his shirt. Dark air, alive around him.
They’d brought down the Yule log to the house that afternoon, all the household taking part, the women bundled to the eyebrows, the men ruddy, flushed with the labor, staggering, singing, dragging the monstrous log with ropes, its rough skin packed with snow, a great furrow left where it passed, the snow plowed high on either side.
Willie rode atop the log, screeching with excitement, clinging to the rope. Once back at the house, Isobel had tried to teach him to sing “Good King Wenceslaus,” but it was beyond him, and he dashed to and fro, into everything until his grandmother declared that he would drive her to distraction and told Peggy to take him to the stable, to help Jamie and Crusoe bring in the fresh-cut branches of pine and fir. Thrilled, Willie rode on Jamie’s saddle-bow to the grove, and stood obediently on a stump where Jamie had put him, safe out of the way of the axes while the boughs were cut down. Then he helped to load the greenery, clutching two or three fragrant, mangled twigs to his chest, dutifully chucking these in the general direction of the huge basket, then running back again for more, heedless of where his burden had actually landed.
Jamie turned over, wriggling deeper into the nest of blankets, drowsy, remembering. He’d kept it up, the wean had, back and forth, back and forth, though red in the face and panting, until he dropped the very last branch on the pile. Jamie had looked down to find Willie beaming up at him with pride, laughed and said on impulse, “Aye, that’s a bonnie lad. Come on. Let’s go home.”
William had fallen asleep on the ride home, his head heavy as a cannonball in its woolen cap against Jamie’s chest. Jamie had dismounted carefully, holding the child in one arm, but Willie had wakened, blinked groggily at Jamie and said, “WEN-sess-loss,” clear as a bell, then fallen promptly back asleep. He’d waked properly by the time he was handed over to Nanny Elspeth, though, and Jamie had heard him, as he walked away, telling Nanny, “I’m a bonnie lad!”
But those words came out of his dreams, from somewhere else, and long ago. Had his own father said that to him, once?
He thought so, and for an instant—just an instant—was with his father and his brother Willie, excited beyond bearing, holding the first fish he’d ever caught by himself, slimy and flapping, both of them laughing at him, with him in joy.
Willie. God, Willie. I’m so glad they gave him your name. He seldom thought of his brother; Willie had died of the smallpox when he was eleven, Jamie, eight. But every now and then, he could feel Willie with him, sometimes his mother or his father. More often, Claire.
I wish ye could see him, Sassenach, he thought. He’s a bonnie lad. Loud and obnoxious, he added with honesty, but bonnie.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, CHAG SAMEACH, JOYFUL KWANZAA, BLESSED SOLSTICE and/or a DELIGHTFUL EID-AlUdha to all of you!