Today is the first Sunday of Advent! As many of you may know, Catholics observe a four-week season of spiritual contemplation, preparation and anticipation of Christmas, called Advent. (Yes, I’m a Roman Catholic. Surely you knew that, if you’ve been reading my books.
Barbara Schnell, who runs the German-language version of this website, suggested to me that it might be nice to share the season with all of you, by posting an excerpt from WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD for each of the four Sundays of Advent. I thought that was a great idea–so whether in English or German, we hope you’ll enjoy this small Advent gift–and may the season find you blessed.
A HUNDREDWEIGHT OF STONES
June 16th, 1778
The forest between Philadelphia and Valley Forge
Ian Murray stood with a stone in his hand, eyeing the ground he’d chosen. A small clearing, out of the way, up among a scatter of great lichened boulders, under the shadow of firs and at the foot of a big red-cedar; a place where no casual passerby would go, but not inaccessible. He meant to bring them up here—the family.
Fergus, to begin with. Maybe just Fergus, by himself. Mam had raised Fergus from the time he was ten, and he’d had no mother before that. Ian himself had been born about that same time, so Fergus had known Mam as long as he had, and loved her as much. Maybe more, he thought, his grief aggravated by guilt. Fergus had stayed with her at Lallybroch, helped to take care of her and the place; he hadn’t. He swallowed hard and walking into the small clear space, set his stone in the middle, then stood back to look.
Even as he did so, he found himself shaking his head. No, it had to be two cairns. His Mam and Uncle
Jamie were brother and sister, and the family could mourn them here together—but there were others he might bring, maybe, to remember and pay their respects. And those were the folk who would have known Jamie Fraser and loved him well, but wouldn’t ken Jenny Murray from a hole in the—
The image of his mother in a hole in the ground stabbed him like a fork, retreated with the recollection that she wasn’t after all in a grave, and stabbed again all the harder for that. He really couldn’t bear the vision of them drowning, maybe clinging to each other, struggling to keep—
“A Dhia!” he said violently, and dropped the stone, turning back at once to find more. He’d seen people drown.
Tears ran down his face with the sweat of the summer day; he didn’t mind it, only stopping now and then to wipe his nose on his sleeve. He’d tied a rolled kerchief round his head to keep the hair and the stinging sweat out of his eyes; it was sopping before he’d added more than twenty stones to each of the cairns.
He and his brothers had built a fine cairn for their father, at the head of the carved stone that bore his name—all his names, in spite of the expense—in the burying-ground at Lallybroch. And all the family, followed by the tenants and then the servants, had come one by one to add a stone each to the weight of remembrance.
Fergus, then. Or…no, what was he thinking? Auntie Claire must be the first he brought here. She wasn’t Scots herself, but she kent fine what a cairn was, and would maybe be comforted a bit, to see Uncle Jamie’s. Aye, right. Auntie Claire, then Fergus. Uncle Jamie was Fergus’s foster father; he had a right. And then maybe Marsali and the children. But maybe Germain was old enough to come with Fergus? He was almost eleven, near enough to being a man to understand, to be treated like a man. And Uncle Jamie was his grandsire; it was proper.
He stepped back again and wiped his face, breathing heavily. Bugs whined and buzzed past his ears and hovered over him, wanting his blood, but he’d stripped to a loincloth and rubbed himself with bear-grease and mint in the Mohawk way; they didn’t touch him.
“Look over them, O spirit of red cedar,” he said softly in Mohawk, looking up into the fragrant branches of the tree. “Guard their souls and keep their presence here, fresh as thy branches.”
He crossed himself and bent to dig about in the soft leaf-mold. A few more rocks, he thought. In case they might be scattered by some passing animal. Scattered like his thoughts, that roamed restless to and fro among the faces of his family, the folk of the Ridge—God, might he ever go back there? Brianna. Oh, Jesus, Brianna…
He bit his lip and tasted salt, licked it away and moved on, foraging. She was safe with Roger Mac and the weans. But Jesus, he could have used her advice—even more, Roger Mac’s.
Who was left for him to ask, if he needed help in taking care of them all?
Thought of Rachel came to him, and the tightness in his chest eased a little. Aye, if he had Rachel…she was younger than him, nay more than nineteen, and being a Quaker, had very strange notions of how things should be, but if he had her, he’d have solid rock under his feet. He hoped he would have her, but there were still things he must say to her, and the thought of that conversation made the tightness in his chest come back.
The picture of his cousin Brianna came back, too, and lingered in his mind: tall, long-nosed and strong-boned as her father…and with it rose the image of his _other_ cousin, Bree’s half-brother. Holy God, William. And what ought he to do about William? He doubted the man kent the truth, kent that he was Jamie Fraser’s son—was it Ian’s responsibility to tell him so? To bring him here, and explain what he’d lost?
He must have groaned at the thought, for his dog Rollo lifted his massive head and looked at him in concern.
“No, I dinna ken that either,” Ian told him. “Let it bide, aye?” Rollo laid his head back on his paws, shivered his shaggy hide against the flies and relaxed in boneless peace.
Ian worked a while longer, and let the thoughts drain away with his sweat and his tears. He finally stopped when the sinking sun touched the tops of his cairns, feeling tired but more at peace. The cairns rose knee-high, side by side, small but solid.
He stood still for a bit, not thinking anymore, just listening to the fussing of wee birds in the grass and the breathing of the wind among the trees. Then he sighed deeply, squatted and touched one of the cairns.
“Mo gragh, a mathair,” he said softly. My love is on you, mother. Closed his eyes and laid a scuffed hand on the other heap of stones. The dirt ground into his skin made his fingers feel strange, as though he could maybe reach straight through the earth and touch what he needed.
He stayed still, breathing, then opened his eyes.
“Help me wi’ this, Uncle Jamie,” he said. “I dinna think I can manage, alone.”
[end section] — Copyright 2012 Diana Gabaldon (no reproduction or reposting please–though you’re certainly welcome to post links to this, if you’d like to.)