You have Barbara Schnell, my delightful and talented German translator, to thank for this: she asked whether I was going to post an Easter excerpt, in the style of our Advent Candles (which were her idea, too). Those of you who are German speakers will find the German translation of this (and a number of other things) on the German version of the website at http://www.dgabaldon.de/ (or simply click on the German flag icon at the top left of the home page here).
Do be warned: There is a Major Spoiler (not that it will help you in the slightest [g]) in this.
AN EASTER EGG
Copyright 2013 Diana Gabaldon
Roger hauled his way laboriously toward the summit of the mountain pass, muttering under his breath (as he had been doing for the last several miles),
“_If you had seen this road before it was made,
You would lift up your hands and bless General Wade_.”
The Irish General Wade had spent twelve years building barracks, bridges and roads all over Scotland, and if that bit of admiring verse was not in fact carved into a stone on one of the General’s roads, it ought to have been, Roger thought. He had picked up one of the General’s roads near Craig na Dun, and it had carried him as swiftly as he could walk, to within a few miles of Lallybroch.
These last few miles, though, had not had the benefit of Wade’s attention. A rocky trail, pitted with small mud-bogs and thickly overgrown with heather and gorse, led up through the steep pass that overlooked—and protected—Lallybroch. The lower slopes were forested with beeches, alders [ck.] and stout Caledonian pines, but up this high there was neither shade nor shelter, and a strong, cold wind battered him as he climbed.
Could Jem have come this far, by himself, if he’d escaped? Roger and Buck had cast round in the vicinity of Craig na Dun, hoping that perhaps Cameron had stopped to rest after the strain of the passage, but there had been no sign—not so much as the print of a size-4 trainer in a muddy patch of ground. Roger had come on then by himself, as fast as he could, pausing to knock at the door of any croft he came to—and there weren’t many along this way—but he’d made good time.
His heart was pounding, and not only from the exertion of the climb. Cameron had maybe a day’s lead, at the most. If Jem hadn’t got away and run for home, though…Cameron wouldn’t come to Lallybroch, surely. But where would he go? Follow the good road, left now ten miles behind, and head west, maybe, into the MacKenzies’ territory—but why?
“Jem!” He shouted now and then as he went, though moors and mountains were empty save for the rustling of rabbits and stoats, and silent but for the calling of ravens and the occasional shriek of a seagull winging high overhead, evidence of the distant sea.
“_Jem_!” He called as though he could compel an answer by sheer need, and in that need, imagined sometimes that he heard a faint cry in response. But when he stopped to listen, it was the wind. Only the wind, whining in his ears, numbing him. He could walk within ten feet of Jem and never see him, and he knew that.
His heart rose in spite of his anxiety, when he came to the top of the pass and saw Lallybroch below him, its white-harled buildings glowing in the fading light. Everything lay peaceful before him; late cabbages and turnips in orderly rows within the kailyard walls, safe from grazing sheep—there was a small flock in the far meadow, already bedding for the night, like so many wooly eggs in a nest of green grass, like a kid’s Easter-basket.
The thought caught at his throat, with memories of the horrible cellophane grass that got everywhere, Mandy with her face—and everything else within six feet of her—smeared with chocolate, Jem carefully writing “Dad” on a hardboiled egg with a white crayon, then frowning over the array of dye-cups, trying to decide whether blue or purple was more Dad-like.
“Lord, let him be here!” he muttered under his breath, and hurried down the rutted trail, half-sliding on loose rocks.
The dooryard was tidy, the big yellow rose brier trimmed back for the winter, and the step swept clean. He had the sudden notion that if he were simply to open the door and walk in, he would find himself in his own lobby, Mandy’s tiny red galoshes flung helter-skelter under the hall-tree where Brianna’s disreputable duffel-coat hung, crusty with dried mud and smelling of its wearer, soap and musk and the faint smell of her motherhood: sour milk, fresh bread, and peanut butter.
“Bloody hell,” he muttered, “be weeping on the step, next thing.” He hammered at the door, and a huge dog came galloping round the corner of the house, baying like the bloody hound of the Baskervilles. It slid to a stop in front of him but went on barking, weaving its huge head to and fro like a snake, ears cocked in case he might make a false move that would let it devour him with a clear conscience.
He wasn’t risking any moves; he’d plastered himself against the door when the dog appeared, and now shouted, “Help! Come call your beast!”
He heard footsteps within, and an instant later, the door opened, nearly decanting him into the hall.
“Hauld your wheesht, dog,” a tall, dark man said, in a tolerant tone. “Come ben, sir, and dinna be minding him. He wouldna eat you; he’s had his dinner.”
“I’m pleased to hear it, sir, and thank ye kindly.” Roger pulled off his hat and followed the man into the shadows of the hall. It was his own familiar hall, the slates of the floor just the same, though not nearly as worn, the dark wood paneling shining with beeswax and polishing. There _was_ a halltree in the corner, though of course different to his; this one was a sturdy affair of wrought iron, and a good thing, too, as it was supporting a massive burden of jackets, shawls, cloaks and hats that would have crumpled a flimsier piece of furniture.
He smiled at it, nonetheless, and then stopped dead, feeling as though he’d been punched in the chest.
The wood paneling behind the halltree shone serene, unblemished. No sign of the saber-slashes left by frustrated redcoat soldiers, searching for the outlawed laird of Lallybroch after Culloden. Those slashes had been carefully preserved for centuries, were still there, darkened by age but still distinct, when he had owned—would own, he corrected mechanically—this place.
“_We keep it so for the children_,” Bree had quoted her uncle Ian as saying. “_We tell them, ‘This is what the English are_.’”
He had no time to deal with the shock; the dark man had shut the door with a firm Gaelic adjuration to the dog, and now turned to him, smiling.
“Welcome, sir. Ye’ll sup wi’ us? The lass has it nearly ready.”
“Aye, I will, and thanks to ye,” Roger bowed slightly, groping for his 18th-century manners. “I—my name is Roger MacKenzie. Of Kyle of Lochalsh,” he added, for no respectable man would omit to note his origins, and Lochalsh was far enough away that the chances of this man—who was he? He hadn’t the bearing of a servant—knowing its inhabitants in any detail was remote.
He’d hoped that the immediate response would be, “MacKenzie? Why, you must be the father of wee Jem!” It wasn’t, though; the man returned his bow and offered his hand.
“Brian Fraser of Lallybroch, your servant, sir.”