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“I’m a Doctor, Not An Escalator!”


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2021-01-11-bees-photoThe first floor had now been walled in from the outside, though much of the inside was still just timber studs, which gave the place rather a nice sense of informality, as we walked cheerfully through the skeletal walls.

My surgery had no coverings for its two large windows, nor did it have a door—but it did have complete walls (as yet unplastered), a long counter with a couple of shelves over it for my bottles and instruments, a high, wide table of smooth pine (I had sanded it myself, taking great pains to protect my future patients from splinters in their bottoms) on which to conduct examinations and surgical treatment, and a high stool on which I could sit while administering these.

Jamie and Roger had begun the ceiling, but there were for the moment only joists running overhead, with patches of faded brown and grimy gray canvas (salvaged from a pile of decrepit military tents found in a warehouse in Cross Creek) providing actual shelter from the elements

Jamie had promised me that the second floor—and my ceiling—would be laid within the week, but for the moment, I had a large bowl, a dented tin chamber-pot and the unlit brazier strategically arranged to catch leaks. It had rained the day before, and I glanced upward to be sure there were no sagging bits in the damp canvas holding water overhead before I took my case-book out of its waxed-cloth bag.

“What ith—is that?” Fanny asked, catching sight of it. I had put her to work picking off and collecting the papery skins from a huge basket of onions for steeping to make a yellow dye, and she craned her neck to see, keeping her onion-scented fingers carefully away.

“This is my case-book,” I said, with a sense of satisfaction at its weight. “I write down the names of the people who come to me with medical difficulties, and describe each one’s condition, and then I put down what it was that I did or prescribed for them, and whether it worked or not.”

She eyed the book with respect—and interest.

“Do they always get better?”

“No,” I admitted. “I’m afraid they don’t always—but very often they do. ‘I’m a doctor, not an escalator,’” I quoted, and laughed before remembering that it wasn’t Brianna I was talking to.

Fanny merely nodded seriously, evidently filing away this piece of information.

I coughed.

“Um. That was a quote from a, er, doctor friend of mine named McCoy. I think the general notion is that no matter how skilled a person might be, every skill has its limits and one is well advised to stick to what you’re good at.”

She nodded again, eyes still fixed in interest on the book.

“Do you… think I might read it?” she asked shyly. “Only a page or two,” she added hastily.

I hesitated for a moment, but then laid the book on the table, opened it, and paged through to the spot where I had made a note about using gall berry ointment for Lizzie Wemyss’s malaria, as I hadn’t any Jesuit’s bark. I had told Roger about the need, but so far none had turned up. Fanny had heard me talk about the situation to Jamie, and Lizzie’s recurrent ague was common knowledge on the Ridge.

“Yes, you may—but only the pages before this marker.” I took a slim black crow’s feather from the jar of quills and laid it next to the book’s spine at Lizzie’s page.

“Patients are entitled to privacy,” I explained. “You oughtn’t to read about people that are our neighbors. But these earlier pages are about people I treated in other places and—mostly—a long time ago.”

“I prrromise,” she said, her earnestness giving emphasis to her r’s, and I smiled. I’d known Fanny barely a year, but I’ d never once known her to lie—about anything.

[Excerpt from GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE, Copyright © 2021 Diana Gabaldon.]


Visit my official GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE webpage for access to other excerpts (aka “Daily Lines”) from this book.


Many thanks to Janet Boren Campbell for the lovely bee photo!

This blog entry was also posted on my official Facebook page on Monday, January 11, 2021.

“Love Shines Like The Stars…”


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2021-01-01-DG-Christmas-cactusThe year turns
And the moon fills and wanes
Some things go
Some things stay the same
Life waxes and ebbs
But love shines like the stars
Constant at night

[This excerpt is from VOYAGER, Copyright ©1994 by Diana Gabaldon]

The house was bright that night, with candles lit in the windows, and bunches of holly and ivy fixed to the staircase and the doorposts. There were not so many pipers in the Highlands as there had been before Culloden, but one had been found, and a fiddler as well, and music floated up the stairwell, mixed with the heady scent of rum punch, plum cake, almond squirts, and Savoy biscuits.

Jamie had come down late and hesitant. Many people here he had not seen in nearly ten years, and he was not eager to see them now, feeling changed and distant as he did. But Jenny had made him a new shirt, brushed and mended his coat, and combed his hair smooth and plaited it for him before going downstairs to see to the cooking. He had no excuse to linger, and at last had come down, into the noise and swirl of the gathering.

“Mister Fraser!” Peggy Gibbons was the first to see him; she hurried across the room, face glowing, and threw her arms about him, quite unabashed. Taken by surprise, he hugged her back, and within moments was surrounded by a small crowd of women, exclaiming over him, holding up small children born since his departure, kissing his cheeks and patting his hands.

The men were shyer, greeting him with a gruff word of welcome or a slap on the back as he made his way slowly through the rooms, until, quite overwhelmed, he had escaped temporarily into the laird’s study.

Once his father’s room, and then his own, it now belonged to his brother-in-law, who had run Lallybroch through the years of his absence. The ledgers and stockbooks and accounts were all lined up neatly on the edge of the battered desk; he ran a finger along the leather spines, feeling a sense of comfort at the touch. It was all in here; the planting and the harvests, the careful purchases and acquisitions, the slow accumulations and dispersals that were the rhythm of life to the tenants of Lallybroch.

On the small bookshelf, he found his wooden snake. Along with everything else of value, he had left it behind when he went to prison. A small icon carved of cherrywood, it had been the gift of his elder brother, dead in childhood. He was sitting in the chair behind the desk, stroking the snake’s well-worn curves, when the door of the study opened.

“Jamie?” she had said, hanging shyly back. He had not bothered to light a lamp in the study; she was silhouetted by the candles burning in the hall. She wore her pale hair loose, like a maid, and the light shone through it, haloing her unseen face.

“You’ll remember me, maybe?” she had said, tentative, reluctant to come into the room without invitation.

“Aye,” he said, after a pause. “Aye, of course I do.”

“The music’s starting,” she said. It was; he could hear the whine of the fiddle and the stamp of feet from the front parlor, along with an occasional shout of merriment. It showed signs of being a good party already; most of the guests would be asleep on the floor come morning.

“Your sister says you’re a bonny dancer,” she said, still shy, but determined.

“It will ha’ been some time since I tried,” he said, feeling shy himself, and painfully awkward, though the fiddle music ached in his bones and his feet twitched at the sound of it.

“Its ‘Tha mo Leabaidh ’san Fhraoch’ — ‘n the Heather’s my Bed’ — you’ll ken that one. Will ye come and try wi’ me?” She had held out a hand to him, small and graceful in the half-dark. And he had risen, clasped her outstretched hand in his own, and taken his first steps in pursuit of himself.

“It was in here,” he said, waving his good hand at the room where we sat. “Jenny had had the furniture cleared away, all but one table wi’ the food and the whisky, and the fiddler stood by the window there, wi’ a new moon over his shoulder.” He nodded at the window, where the rose vine trembled. Something of the light of that Hogmanay feast lingered on his face, and I felt a small pang, seeing it.

“We danced all that night, sometimes wi’ others, but mostly with each other. And at the dawn, when those still awake went to the end o’ the house to see what omens the New Year might bring, the two of us went, too. The single women took it in turns to spin about, and walk through the door wi’ their eyes closed, then spin again and open their eyes to see what the first thing they might see would be—for that tells them about the man they’ll marry, ye ken.”

There had been a lot of laughter, as the guests, heated by whisky and dancing, pushed and shoved at the door. Laoghaire had held back, flushed and laughing, saying it was a game for young girls, and not for a matron of thirty-four, but the others had insisted, and try she had. Spun three times clockwise and opened the door, stepped out into the cold dawnlight and spun again. And when she opened her eyes, they had rested on Jamie’s face, wide with expectation.

“So… there she was, a widow wi’ two bairns. She needed a man, that was plain enough. I needed… something.” He gazed into the fire, where the low flame glimmered through the red mass of the peat; heat without much light. “I supposed that we might help each other.”

They had married quietly at Balriggan, and he had moved his few possessions there. Less than a year later, he had moved out again, and gone to Edinburgh.

“What on earth happened?” I asked, more than curious.

He looked up at me, helpless.

“I canna say. It wasna that anything was wrong, exactly — only that nothing was right.” He rubbed a hand tiredly between his brows. “It was me, I think; my fault. I always disappointed her somehow. We’d sit down to supper and all of a sudden the tears would well up in her eyes, and she’d leave the table sobbing, and me sitting there wi’ not a notion what I’d done or said wrong.”

His fist clenched on the coverlet, then relaxed. “God, I never knew what to do for her, or what to say! Anything I said just made it worse, and there would be days — nay, weeks! — when she’d not speak to me, but only turn away when I came near her, and stand staring out the window until I went away again.”

His fingers went to the parallel scratches down the side of his neck. They were nearly healed now, but the marks of my nails still showed on his fair skin. He looked at me wryly.

“You never did that to me, Sassenach.”

“Not my style,” I agreed, smiling faintly. “If I’m mad at you, you’ll bloody know why, at least.”

He snorted briefly and lay back on his pillows. Neither of us spoke for a bit. Then he said, staring up at the ceiling, “I thought I didna want to hear anything about what it was like — wi’ Frank, I mean. I was maybe wrong about that.”

“I’ll tell you anything you want to know,” I said. “But not just now. It’s still your turn.”

He sighed and closed his eyes.

“She was afraid of me,” he said softly, a minute later. “I tried to be gentle wi’ her—God, I tried again and again, everything I knew to please a woman. But it was no use.” His head turned restlessly, making a hollow in the feather pillow.

“Maybe it was Hugh, or maybe Simon. I kent them both, and they were good men, but there’s no telling what goes on in a marriage bed. Maybe it was bearing the children; not all women can stand it. But something hurt her, sometime, and I couldna heal it for all my trying. She shrank away when I touched her, and I could see the sickness and the fear in her eyes.” There were lines of sorrow around his own closed eyes, and I reached impulsively for his hand.

He squeezed it gently and opened his eyes.

“That’s why I left, finally,” he said softly. “I couldna bear it anymore.”

I didn’t say anything, but went on holding his hand, putting a finger on his pulse to check it. His heartbeat was reassuringly slow and steady. He shifted slightly in the bed, moving his shoulders and making a grimace of discomfort as he did so.

“Arm hurt a lot?” I asked.

“A bit.” I bent over him, feeling his brow. He was very warm, but not feverish. There was a line between the thick ruddy brows, and I smoothed it with a knuckle.

“Head ache?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll go and make you some willow-bark tea.” I made to rise, but his hand on my arm stopped me.

“I dinna need tea,” he said. “It would ease me, though, if maybe I could lay my head in your lap, and have ye rub my temples a bit?” Blue eyes looked up at me, limpid as a spring sky.

“You don’t fool me a bit, Jamie Fraser,” I said. “I”m not going to forget about your next shot.” Nonetheless, I was already moving the chair out of the way, and sitting down beside him on the bed.

He made a small grunting sound of content as I moved his head into my lap and began to stroke it, rubbing his temples, smoothing back the thick wavy mass of his hair. The back of his neck was damp; I lifted the hair away and blew softly on it, seeing the smooth fair skin prickle into gooseflesh at the nape of his neck.

“Oh, that feels good,” he murmured. Despite my resolve not to touch him beyond the demands of caretaking until everything between us was resolved, I found my hands molding themselves to the clean, bold lines of his neck and shoulders, seeking the hard knobs of his vertebrae and the broad, flat planes of his shoulder blades.

He was firm and solid under my hands, his breath a warm caress on my thigh, and it was with some reluctance that I at last eased him back onto the pillow and reached for the ampule of penicillin.

“All right,” I said, turning back the sheet and reaching for the hem of his shirt. “A quick stick, and you’ll—” My hand brushed over the front of his nightshirt, and I broke off, startled.

“Jamie!” I said, amused. “You can’t possibly!”

“I dinna suppose I can,” he agreed comfortably. He curled up on his side like a shrimp, his lashes dark against his cheek. “But a man can dream, no?”

*****

I didn’t go upstairs to bed that night, either. We didn’t talk much, just lay close together in the narrow bed, scarcely moving, so as not to jar his injured arm. The rest of the house was quiet, everyone safely in bed, and there was no sound but the hissing of the fire, the sigh of the wind, and the scratch of Ellen’s rosebush at the window, insistent as the demands of love.

“Do ye know?” he said softly, somewhere in the black, small hours of the night. “Do ye know what it’s like to be with someone that way? To try all ye can, and seem never to have the secret of them?”

“Yes,” I said, thinking of Frank. “Yes, I do know.”

“I thought perhaps ye did.” He was quiet for a moment, and then his hand touched my hair lightly, a shadowy blur in the firelight.

“And then…” he whispered, “then to have it back again, that knowing. To be free in all ye say or do, and know that it is right.”

“To say ‘I love you,’ and mean it with all your heart,” I said softly to the dark.

“Aye,” he answered, barely audible. “To say that.” His hand rested on my hair, and without knowing quite how it happened, I found myself curled against him, my head just fitting in the hollow of his shoulder.

“For so many years,” he said, “for so long, I have been so many things, so many different men.” I felt him swallow, and he shifted slightly, the linen of his nightshirt rustling with starch.

“I was Uncle to Jenny’s children, and Brother to her and Ian. ‘Milord’ to Fergus, and ‘Sir’ to my tenants. ‘Mac Dubh’ to the men of Ardsmuir and ‘MacKenzie’ to the other servants at Helwater. ‘Malcolm the printer,’ then, and ‘Jamie Roy’ at the docks.” The hand stroked my hair, slowly, with a whispering sound like the wind outside. “But here,” he said, so softly I could barely hear him, “here in the dark, with you… I have no name.”

I lifted my face toward his, and took the warm breath of him between my own lips.

“I love you,” I said, and did not need to tell him how I meant it.


The image above shows my Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera), a plant native to Brazil which blooms near Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere.

This blog entry was also posted on my official Facebook page on Friday, January 1, 2021.

Merry Christmas – 2020!


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[Excerpt from DRUMS OF AUTUMN, Copyright © 1998 by Diana Gabaldon.]

2020-12-25-bah-humbugIn which Jamie hasn’t returned from a hunting trip when expected, and after spending some time in an isolated cabin by herself, growing more agitated by the moment, Claire decides to go looking for him, and begins to exercise her rudimentary tracking skills.

He wasn’t behind me, he wasn’t in front of me. Left, then, or right?

“Eeny, meeny, miney, mo,” I muttered, and turned downhill because the walking was easier, shouting now and then.

I stopped to listen. Was there an answering shout? I called again, but couldn’t make out a reply. The wind was coming up, rattling the tree limbs overhead.

I took another step, landed on an icy rock, and my foot slid out from under me. I slipped and skidded, floundering down a short, muddy slope, hit a screen of dog-hobble, burst through and clutched a handful of icy twigs, heart pounding.

At my feet was the edge of a rocky outcrop, ending in thin air. Clinging to the bush to keep from slipping, I edged my way closer, and looked over.

It was not a cliff, as I’d thought; the drop was no more than five feet. It was not this that made my heart leap into my throat, though, but rather the sight that met my eyes in the leaf-filled hollow below.

There was a flurry of tossed and scuffled leaves, reminding me unpleasantly of the death marks left by the limp rabbit that hung at my belt. Something large had struggled on the ground here—and then been dragged away. A wide furrow plowed through the leaves, disappearing into the darkness beyond.

Heedless of my footing, I scrabbled my way down the side of the outcrop and rushed toward the furrow, following it under the overhanging low branches of hemlock and balsam. In the uncertain light of my flickering torch, I followed its path around a pile of rocks, through a clump of wintergreen, and…

He was lying near the foot of a large split boulder, half covered in leaves, as though something had tried to bury him. He wasn’t curled for warmth, but lay flat on his face, and deathly still. The snow lay thick on the folds of his cloak, dusted the heels of his muddy boots.
I dropped my torch and flung myself on his body with a cry of horror.

He let out a bloodcurdling groan and convulsed under me. I jerked back, torn between relief and terror. He wasn’t dead, but he was hurt. Where, how badly?

“Where?” I demanded, wrenching at his cloak, which was tangled round his body. “Where are you hurt? Are you bleeding, have you broken something?”

I couldn’t see any large patches of blood, but I had dropped my torch, which had promptly extinguished itself in the wet leaves that covered him. The pink sky and falling snow shed a luminous glow over everything, but the light was much too dim to make out details.

He was frighteningly cold; his flesh felt chilly even to my snow-numbed hands, and he stirred sluggishly, subsiding into small moans and grunts. I thought I heard him mumble, “Back,” though, and once I got his cloak out of the way, I tore at his shirt, yanking it ruthlessly out of his breeks.

This made him groan loudly, and I thrust my hands under the cloth in a panic, looking for the bullet hole. He must have been shot in the back; the entrance wound wouldn’t bleed much, but where had it come out? Had the ball gone clean through? A small piece of my mind found leisure to wonder who’d shot him, and whether they were still nearby.

Nothing. I found nothing; my groping hands encountered nothing but bare, clean flesh; cold as a slab of marble and webbed with old scars, but completely unperforated. I tried again, forcing myself to slow down, feeling with mind as well as fingers, running my palms slowly over his back from nape to small. Nothing.

Lower? There were dark smudges on the seat of his breeks; I’d thought them mud. I thrust a hand under him and groped for his laces, jerked them loose and yanked down his breeches.

It was mud; his buttocks glowed before me, white, firm, and perfect in their roundness, unmarred beneath a silver fuzz. I clutched a handful of his flesh, unbelieving.

“Is that you, Sassenach?” he asked, rather drowsily.

“Yes, it’s me! What happened to you?” I demanded, frenzy giving way to indignation. “You said you’d been shot in the back!”

“No, I didn’t. I couldna, for I haven’t been,” he pointed out logically. He sounded calm and still rather sleepy, his speech slightly slurred. “There’s a verra cold wind whistlin’ up my backside, Sassenach; d’ye think ye could maybe cover me?”

I jerked up his breeches, making him grunt again.

“What the hell is the matter with you?” I said. He was waking up a bit; he twisted his head to look round at me, moving laboriously.

“Aye, well. No real matter. It’s only that I canna move much.” I stared at him.

“Why not? Have you twisted your foot? Broken your leg?”

“Ah…no.” He sounded a trifle sheepish. “I…ah…I’ve put my back out of joint.”

“You what?”

“I’ve done it once before,” he assured me. “It doesna last more than a day or two.”

“I suppose it didn’t occur to you that you wouldn’t last more than a day or two, lying out here on the ground, covered with snow?”

“It did,” he said, still drowsy, “but there didna seem much I could do about it.” It was rapidly dawning on me that there might not be that much I could do about it, either. He outweighed me by a good sixty pounds; I couldn’t carry him. I couldn’t even drag him very far over slopes and rocks and gullies. It was too steep for a horse; I might possibly persuade one of the mules to come up here—if I could first find my way back to the cabin in the dark, and then find my way back up the mountain, also in the dark—and in the middle of what looked like becoming a blizzard. Or perhaps I could build a toboggan of tree branches, I thought wildly, and career down the snowy slopes astride his body.

“Oh, do get a grip, Beauchamp,” I said aloud. I wiped at my running nose with a fold of cloak, and tried to think what to do next.

It was a sheltered spot, I realized; looking upward, I could see the snowflakes whirling past the top of the big rock at whose foot we crouched, but there was no wind where we sat, and only a few heavy flakes floated down onto my upturned face.

Jamie’s hair and shoulders were lightly dusted with snow, and flakes were settling on the exposed exposed backs of his legs. I pulled the hem of his cloak down, then brushed the snow away from his face. His cheek was nearly the same color as the big wet flakes, and his flesh felt stiff when I touched it.

Fresh alarm surged through me as I realized that he might be a lot closer to freezing already than I had thought. His eyes were half closed, and cold as it was, he didn’t seem to be shivering much. That was bloody dangerous; with no movement, his muscles were generating no heat, and what warmth he had was leaching slowly from his body. His cloak was already heavy with damp; if I allowed his clothes to become soaked through, he might very well die of hypothermia right in front of me.

“Wake up!” I said, shaking him urgently by the shoulder. He opened his eyes and smiled drowsily at me.

“Move!” I said. “Jamie, you’ve got to move!”

“I can’t,” he said calmly. “I told ye that.” He shut his eyes again.

I grabbed him by the ear and dug my fingernails into the tender lobe. He grunted and jerked his head away.

“Wake up,” I said peremptorily. “Do you hear me? Wake up this moment! Move, damn you! Give me your hand.”

I didn’t wait for him to comply, but dug under the cloak and seized his hand, which I chafed madly between my own. He opened his eyes again and frowned at me. “I’m all right,” he said. “But I’m gey tired, aye?”

“Move your arms,” I ordered, flinging the hand at him. “Flap them, up and down. Can you move your legs at all?”

He sighed wearily, as though dragging himself out of a sticky bog, and muttered something under his breath in Gaelic, but very slowly he began to move his arms back and forth. With more prodding, he succeeded in flexing his ankles—though any further movement caused instant spasms in his back—and with great reluctance, began to waggle his feet.

He looked rather like a frog trying to fly, but I wasn’t in any mood to laugh. I didn’t know whether he was actually in danger of freezing or not, but I wasn’t taking any chances. By dint of constant exhortation, aided by judicious pokings, I kept him at this exercise until I had got him altogether awake and shivering. In a thoroughly bad temper, too, but I didn’t mind that.

“Keep moving,” I advised him. I got up with some difficulty, having grown quite stiff from crouching over him so long. “Move, I say!” I added sharply, as he showed symptoms of flagging. “Stop and I’ll step square on your back, I swear I will!”

I glanced around, a little blearily. The snow was still falling, and it was difficult to see more than a few feet. We needed shelter—more than the rock alone could provide.

“Hemlock,” he said between his teeth. I glanced down at him, and he jerked his head toward a clump of trees nearby. “Take the hatchet. Big…branches. Six feet. C-cut four.” He was breathing heavily, and there was a tinge of color visible in his face, despite the dim light. He’d stopped moving in spite of my threats, but his teeth were clenched because they were chattering; a sign I rejoiced to see.

I stooped and groped beneath his cloak again, this time searching for the hatchet belted round his waist. I couldn’t resist sliding a hand under him, inside the neck of his fringed woolen hunting shirt. Warm! Thank God, he was still warm; his chest felt superficially chilled from its contact with the wet ground, but it was still warmer than my fingers.

“Right,” I said, taking my hand away and standing up with the hatchet. “Hemlock. Six-foot branches, do you mean?”

He nodded, shivering violently, and I set off at once for the trees he indicated.

Inside the silent grove, the fragrance of hemlock and cedar enfolded me at once in a mist of resins and turpenes, the odor cold and sharp, clean and invigorating. Many of the trees were enormous, with the lower branches well above my head, but there were smaller ones scattered here and there. I saw at once the virtues of this particular tree—no snow fell under them; the fanlike boughs caught the falling snow like umbrellas.

I hacked at the lower branches, torn between the need for haste and the very real fear of chopping off a few fingers by accident; my hands were numb and awkward with the cold. The wood was green and elastic and it took forever to chop through the tough, springy fibers. At last, though, I had four good-sized branches, sporting multiple fans of dense needles. They looked soft and black against the new snow, like big fans of feathers; it was almost a surprise to touch them and feel the hard, cold prick of the needles.

I dragged them back to the rock, and found that Jamie had managed to scoop more leaves together; he was almost invisible, submerged in a huge drift of black and gray against the foot of the rock.

Under his terse direction I leaned the hemlock branches fan-up against the face of the rock, the chopped butt ends stuck into the earth at an angle, so as to form a small triangular refuge underneath. Then I took the hatchet again and chopped small pine and spruce branches, pulled up big clumps of dried grass, and piled it all against and over the hemlock screen. Then at last, panting with exertion, I crawled into the shelter beside him.

I nestled down in the leaves between his body and the rock, wrapped my cloak around both of us, put my arms around his body, and held on hard. Then I found the leisure to shake a bit. Not from cold—not yet—but from a mixture of relief and fear.

He felt me shivering, and reached awkwardly back to pat me in reassurance.

“It will be all right, Sassenach,” he said. “With the two of us, it will be all right.”

“I know,” I said, and put my forehead against his shoulder blade. It was a long time before I stopped shaking, though.

“How long have you been out here?” I asked finally. “On the ground, I mean?” He started to shrug, then stopped abruptly, groaning.

“A good time. It was just past noon when I jumped off a wee crop of rock. It wasna more than a few feet high, but when I landed on one foot, my back went click! and next I knew, I was on my face in the dirt, feelin’ as though someone had stabbed me in the spine wi’ a dirk.”

It wasn’t warm in our snug, by any means; the damp from the leaves was seeping in and the rock at my back seemed to radiate coldness, like some sort of reverse furnace. Still, it was noticeably less cold than it was outside. I began shivering again, for purely physical reasons.

Jamie felt me, and groped at his throat.

“Can ye get my cloak unfastened, Sassenach? Put it over ye.” It took some maneuvering, and the cost of a few muffled oaths from Jamie as he tried to shift his weight, but I got it loose at last, and spread it over the two of us. I reached down and laid a cautious hand on his back, gently rucking up his shirt to put my hand on cool, bare flesh.

“Tell me where it hurts,” I said. I hoped to hell he hadn’t slipped a disc; hideous thoughts of his being permanently crippled raced through my mind, along with pragmatic considerations of how I was to get him off the mountain, even if he wasn’t. Would I have to leave him here, and fetch food up to him daily until he recovered?

“Right there,” he said, with a hiss of indrawn breath. “Aye, that’s it. A wicked stab just there, and if I move, it runs straight down the back o’ my leg, like a red-hot wire.”
I felt very carefully, with both hands now, probing and pressing, urging him to try to lift one leg, right, now the other knee… no?

“No,” he assured me. “Dinna be worrit, though, Sassenach. It’s the same as before. It gets better.”

“Yes, you said it happened before. When was that?”

He stirred briefly and settled, pressing back against my palms with a small groan. “Och! Damn, that hurts. At the prison.”

“Pain in the same place?”

“Aye.”

I could feel a hard knot in the muscle on his right side, just below the kidney, and a bunching in the erector spinae, the long muscles near the spine. From his description of the prior occurrence, I was fairly sure it was only severe muscle spasm. For which the proper prescription was warmth, rest, and anti-inflammatory medication.

Couldn’t get much further away from those conditions, I thought with some grimness.

“I suppose I could try acupuncture,” I said, thinking aloud. “I’ve got Mr. Willoughby’s needles in my pouch, and—”

“Sassenach,” he said, in measured tones. “I can stand fine bein’ hurt, cold, and hungry. I wilna put up wi’ being stabbed in the back by my own wife. Can ye not offer a bit of sympathy and comfort instead?”

I laughed, and slid an arm around him, pressing close against his back. I let my hand slide down and rest in delicate suggestion, well below his navel.

“Er…what sort of comfort did you have in mind?”

He hastily grasped my hand, to prevent further intrusions. “Not that,” he said.

“Might take your mind off the pain.” I wiggled my fingers invitingly, and he tightened his grip.

“I daresay,” he said dryly. “Well, I’ll tell ye, Sassenach; once we’ve got home, and I’ve a warm bed to lie in and a hot supper in my belly, that notion might have a good bit of appeal. As it is, the thought of—for Christ’s sake, have ye not the slightest idea how cold your hands are, woman?”

I laid my cheek against his back and laughed. I could feel the quiver of his own mirth, though he couldn’t laugh aloud without hurting his back.

At last we lay silent, listening to the whisper of falling snow. It was dark under the hemlock boughs, but my eyes were adapted enough to be able to see patches of the oddly glowing snow-light through the screen of needles overhead. Tiny flakes came through the open patches; I could see it in some places, as a thin cloud of white mist, and I could feel the cold tingle as it struck my face.

Jamie himself was no more than a humped dark shape in front of me, though as my eyes became accustomed to the murk, I could see the paler stalk where his neck emerged between his shirt and his queued hair. The queue itself lay cool and smooth against my face; by turning my head only a bit, I could brush it with my lips.

“What time do you think it is?” I asked. I had no idea, myself; I had left the house well after dark, and spent what seemed an eternity looking for him on the mountain.

“Late,” he said. “It will be a long time before the dawn, though,” he added, answering my real question. “It’s just past the solstice, aye? It’s one of the longest nights of the year.”

“Oh, lovely,” I said, in dismay. I wasn’t warm, by any means—I still couldn’t feel my toes—but I had stopped shivering. A dreadful lethargy was stealing over me, my muscles yielding to fatigue and cold. I had visions of the two of us freezing peacefully together, curled up like hedgehogs in the leaves. They did say it was a comfortable death, but that didn’t make the prospect any more appealing.

Jamie’s breathing was getting slower and deeper.

“Don’t go to sleep!” I said urgently, poking him in the armpit.

“Agh!” He pressed his arm tight to his side, recoiling. “Why not?”

“We mustn’t sleep; we’ll freeze to death.”

“No, we won’t,” he said crossly. “It’s snowing outside; we’ll be covered over soon.”

“I know that,” I said, rather cross in my turn. “What’s that got to do with it?”

He tried to turn his head to look at me, but couldn’t, quite.

“Snow’s cold if ye touch it,” he explained, striving for patience, “but it keeps the cold out, aye? Like a blanket. It’s a great deal warmer in a house that’s covered wi’ snow than one that’s standing clean in the wind. How d’ye think bears manage? They sleep in the winter, and they dinna freeze.”

“They have layers of fat,” I protested. “I thought that kept them warm.”

“Ha ha,” he said, and reaching back with some effort, grabbed me firmly by the bottom. “Well, then, ye needna worry a bit, eh?”

With great deliberation I pulled down his collar, stretched my head up, and licked the back of his neck, in a lingering swipe from nape to hairline.

“Aaah!” He shuddered violently, making a sprinkle of snow fall from the branches above us. He let go of my bottom to scrub at the back of his neck.

“That was a terrible thing to do!” he said, reproachful. “And me lyin’ here helpless as a log!”

“Bah, humbug,” I said. I nestled closer, feeling somewhat reassured. “You’re sure we aren’t going to freeze to death, then?”

“No,” he said. “But I shouldna think it likely.”

“Hm,” I said, feeling somewhat less reassured. “Well, perhaps we’d better stay awake for a bit, then, just in case?”

“I wilna wave my arms about anymore,” he said definitely. “There’s no room. And if ye stick your icy wee paws in my breeks, I swear I’ll throttle ye, bad back or no.”

“All right, all right,” I said. “What if I tell you a story, instead?”

Highlanders loved stories, and Jamie was no exception.

“Oh, aye,” he said, sounding much happier. “What sort of story is it?”

“A Christmas story,” I said, settling myself along the curve of his body. “About a miser named Ebenezer Scrooge.”

“An Englishman, I daresay?” “Yes,” I said. “Be quiet and listen.” I could see my own breath as I talked, white in the dim, cold air. The snow was falling heavily outside our shelter; when I paused in the story, I could hear the whisper of flakes against the hemlock branches, and the far-off whine of wind in the trees.

I knew the story very well; it had been part of our Christmas ritual, Frank’s and Brianna’s and mine. From the time Bree was five or six, we had read A Christmas Carol every year, starting a week or two before Christmas, Frank and I taking it in turns to read to her each night before bed.

“And the specter said, ‘I am the Ghost of Christmas Past…’ ”

I might not be freezing to death, but the cold had a strange, hypnotic effect nonetheless. I had gone past the phase of acute discomfort and felt now slightly disembodied. I knew my hands and feet were icy, and my body chilled half through, but it didn’t seem to matter anymore. I floated in a peaceful white mist, seeing the words swirl round my head like snowflakes as I spoke them.

“…and there was dear old Fezziwig, among the lights and music…”

I couldn’t tell whether I was gradually thawing or becoming colder. I was conscious of an overall feeling of relaxation, and an altogether peculiar sense of déjà vu, as though I had once before been entombed, insulated in snow, snug despite desolation outside.

As Bob Cratchit bought his meager bird, I remembered. I went on talking automatically, the flow of the story coming from somewhere well below the level of consciousness, but my memory was in the front seat of a stalled 1956 Oldsmobile, its windscreen caked with snow.

We had been on our way to visit an elderly relative of Frank’s, somewhere in upstate New York. The snow came on hard, halfway there, howling down across the icy roads with gusts of wind. Before we knew where we were, we had skidded off the road and halfway into a ditch, the windscreen wipers slashing futilely at the pelting snow.

There was nothing to be done but wait for morning, and rescue. We had had a picnic hamper and some old blankets; we brought Brianna up into the front seat between us, and huddled all together under coats and blankets, sipping lukewarm cocoa from the thermos and making jokes to keep her from being frightened.

As it grew later, and colder, we huddled closer, and to distract Brianna, Frank began to tell her Dickens’s story from memory, counting on me to supply the missing bits. Neither of us could have done it alone, but between us, we managed well. By the time the sinister Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come had made his appearance, Brianna was snuggled sound asleep under the coats, a warm, boneless weight against my side.

There was no need to finish the story, but we did, talking to each other below the words, hands touching below the layers of blankets. I remembered Frank’s hands, warm and strong on mine, thumb stroking my palm, outlining my fingers. Frank had always loved my hands. The car had filled with the mist of our breathing, and drops of water ran down inside the white-choked windows. Frank’s head had been a dark cameo, dim against the white. He had leaned toward me at the last, nose and cheeks chilled, lips warm on mine as he whispered the last words of the story.

“ ‘God bless us, every one,’ ” I ended, and lay silent, a small needle of grief like an ice splinter through my heart. It was quiet inside the shelter, and seemed darker; snow had covered over all the openings.

Jamie reached back and touched my leg.

“Put your hands inside my shirt, Sassenach,” he said softly. I slid one hand up under his shirt in front, to rest against his chest, the other up his back. The faded whip marks felt like threads under his skin.

He laid his hand against mine, pressing it tight against his chest. He was very warm, and his heart beat slow and strong under my fingers.

“Sleep, a nighean donn,” he said. “I wilna let ye freeze.”

……………………

I woke abruptly from a chilly doze, with Jamie’s hand squeezing my thigh.

“Hush,” he said softly. Our tiny shelter was still dim, but the quality of the light had changed. It was morning; we were covered over with a thick blanket of snow that blocked the daylight, but the faint otherworldly quality of the night’s darkness had vanished.

The silence had vanished, too. Sounds from outside were muffled, but audible. I heard what Jamie had heard—a faint echo of voices—and jerked up in excitement.

“Hush!” he said again, in a fierce whisper, and squeezed my leg harder.

The voices were drawing closer, and it became almost possible to pick out words. Almost. Strain as I might, I could make no sense of what was being said. Then I realized that it was because they were not speaking any language I recognized.

Indians. It was an Indian tongue. But I thought the language was not Tuscarora, even though I couldn’t yet make out words; the rise and fall was similar, but the rhythm was somehow different. I brushed the hair out of my eyes, feeling torn in two directions.

Here was the help we so badly needed—by the sound of it, there were several men in the party, enough to move Jamie safely. On the other hand, did we really want to attract the attention of a band of unfamiliar Indians who might be raiders?

Rather plainly we didn’t, judging from Jamie’s attitude. He had managed to lift himself on one elbow, and he had his knife drawn, ready in his right hand. He scratched his stubbled chin absently with the point as he tilted his head to listen more intently to the approaching voices.

A clump of snow fell from the framework of our cage, landing on my head with a little plop! and making me start. The movement loosened more snow, which poured inward in a glittering cascade, dusting Jamie’s head and shoulders with fine white powder.

His fingers were gripping my leg hard enough to leave bruises, but I didn’t move or make a sound. A patch of snow had fallen from the latticework of hemlock branches, leaving numerous small spaces through which I could see out between the needles, peering over Jamie’s shoulder.

The ground sloped a little away from us, falling a few feet to the level of the grove where I had cut branches the night before. Everything was thick with snow; a good four inches must have fallen during the night. It was just past dawn, and the rising sun painted the black trees with coruscations of red and gold, striking white glare from the icy sweep of snow below. The wind had come up in the wake of the storm; loose snow blew off the branches in drifting clouds, like smoke.

The Indians were on the other side of the grove; I could hear the voices plainly now; arguing about something, from the sound of it. A sudden thought raised gooseflesh on my arms; if they came through the grove, they might see the hacked branches where I had chopped limbs from the hemlocks. I hadn’t been neat; there would be needles and bits of bark scattered all over the ground. Would enough snow have trickled through the branches to cover my awkward spoor?

A flash of movement showed in the trees, then another, and suddenly they were there, materializing out of the hemlock grove like dragon’s teeth sprung from the snow.

They were dressed for winter travel, in fur and leather, some with cloaks or cloth coats atop their leggings and soft boots. They all carried bundles of blankets and provisions, had headpieces made of fur, and most had snowshoes slung across their shoulders; evidently the snow here was not deep enough to render them necessary.

They were armed; I could see a few muskets, and tomahawks or war clubs hung at every belt. Six, seven, eight… I counted silently as they came out of the trees in single file, each man treading in the prints of the one before him. One near the back called out something, half laughing, and a man near the front replied over his shoulder, his words lost in the blowing veil of snow and wind.

I drew a deep breath. I could smell Jamie’s scent, a sharp tinge of fresh sweat above his normal musky sleep-smell. I was sweating, too, in spite of the cold. Did they have dogs? Could they sniff us out, hidden as we were beneath the sharp reek of spruce and hemlock?

Then I realized that the wind must be toward us, carrying the sound of their voices. No, even dogs wouldn’t scent us. But would they see the branches that framed our den? Even as I wondered this, a large patch of snow slid off with a rush, landing with a soft flump! outside.

Jamie drew in his breath sharply, and I leaned over his shoulder, staring. The last man had come out of the gap in the trees, an arm across his face to shield it from the blowing snow.

He was a Jesuit. He wore a short cape of bearskin over his habit, leather leggings and moccasins under it—but he had black skirts, kilted up for walking in the snow, and a wide, flat black priest’s hat, held on with one hand against the wind. His face, when he showed it, was blond-bearded, and so fair-skinned that I could see the redness of his cheeks and nose even at such a distance.

“Call them!” I whispered, leaning close to Jamie’s ear. “They’re Christians, they must be, to have a priest with them. They won’t hurt us.”

He shook his head slowly, not taking his eyes off the file of men, now vanishing from our view behind a snow-topped outcropping.

“No,” he said, half under his breath. “No. Christians they may be, but…” He shook his head again, more decidedly. “No.”

There was no use arguing with him. I rolled my eyes in mingled frustration and resignation.

“How’s your back?”

He stretched gingerly, and halted abruptly in mid-motion, with a strangled cry as though he’d been skewered.

“Not so good, hm?” I said, sympathy well laced with sarcasm. He gave me a dirty look, eased himself very slowly back into his bed of crushed leaves, and shut his eyes with a sigh. “You have of course thought of some ingenious way of getting down the mountain, I imagine?” I said politely.

He opened one eye.

“No,” he said, and shut it again. He breathed quietly, his chest rising and falling gently under his fringed hunting shirt, giving a brilliant impression of a man with nothing on his mind but his hair.

It was a cold day, but a bright one, and the sun was jabbing brilliant fingers of light into our erstwhile sanctum, making little blobs of snow drop like falling sugarplums around us. I scooped up one of these and gently decanted it into the neck of his shirt.

He drew in his breath through his teeth with a sharp hiss, opened his eyes, and regarded me coldly.

“I was thinking,” he informed me.

“Oh. Sorry to interrupt, then.” I eased myself down beside him, pulling the tangled cloaks up over us. The wind was beginning to lace through the holes in our shelter, and it occurred to me that he’d been quite right about the sheltering effects of snow. Only there wasn’t going to be any snow falling tonight, I didn’t think.

Then there was the little matter of food to be considered. My stomach had been making subdued protests for some time, and Jamie’s now voiced its much louder objections. He squinted censoriously down his long, straight nose at the offender.

“Hush,” he said reprovingly in Gaelic, and cast his eyes upward. At last he sighed and looked at me.

“Well, then,” he said. “Ye’d best wait a bit, to be sure yon savages are well away. Then ye’ll go down to the cabin—”

“I don’t know where it is.”

He made a small noise of exasperation.

“How did ye find me?”

“Tracked you,” I said, with a certain amount of pride. I glanced through the needles at the blowing wilderness outside. “I don’t suppose I can do it in reverse, though.”

“Oh.” He looked mildly impressed. “Well, that was verra resourceful of ye, Sassenach. Dinna worry, though; I can tell ye how to go, to find your way back.”

“Right. And then what?”

He shrugged one shoulder. The bit of snow had melted, running down his chest, dampening his shirt and leaving a tiny pool of clear water standing in the hollow of his throat.

“Bring me back a bit of food, and a blanket. I should be able to move in a few days.”

“Leave you here?” I glared at him, my turn to be exasperated.

“I’ll be all right,” he said mildly.

“You’ll be eaten by wolves!”

“Oh, I shouldna think so,” he said casually. “They’ll be busy with the elk, most likely.”

“What elk?” He nodded toward the hemlock grove.

“The one I shot yesterday. I took it in the neck, but the shot didna quite kill it at once. It ran through there. I was following it, when I hurt myself.” He rubbed a hand over the copper and silver bristles on his chin.

“I canna think it went far. I suppose the snow must have covered the carcass, else our wee friends would have seen it, coming from that direction.” “

So you’ve shot an elk, which is going to draw wolves like flies, and you propose to lie here in the freezing cold waiting for them? I suppose you think by the time they get round to the second course, you’ll be so numb you won’t notice when they start gnawing on your feet?”

“Don’t shout,” he said. “The savages might not be so far away, yet.”

I was drawing breath for further remarks on the subject, when he stopped me, putting his hand up to caress my cheek.

“Claire,” he said gently. “Ye canna move me. There’s nothing else to do.”

“There is,” I said, repressing a quaver in my voice. “I’ll stay with you. I’ll bring you blankets and food, but I’m not leaving you up here alone. I’ll bring wood, and we’ll make a fire.”

“There’s no need. I can manage,” he insisted.

“I can’t,” I said, between my teeth. I remembered all too well what it had been like in the cabin, during those empty, suffocating hours of waiting. Freezing my arse off in the snow for several days wasn’t at all an appealing prospect, but it was better than the alternative.

He saw I meant it, and smiled.

“Well, then. Ye might bring some whisky, too, if there’s any left.”

“There’s half a bottle,” I said, feeling happier. “I’ll bring it.”

He got an arm around me, and pulled me into the curve of his shoulder. In spite of the howling wind outside, it was actually reasonably cozy under the cloaks, snuggled tight against him. His skin smelled warm and slightly salty, and I couldn’t resist raising my head and putting my lips to the damp hollow of his throat.

“Aah,” he said, shivering. “Don’t do that!”

“You don’t like it?”

“No, I dinna like it! How could I? It makes my skin crawl!”

“Well, I like it,” I protested.

He looked at me in amazement.

“You do?”

“Oh, yes,” I assured him. “I dearly love to have you nibble on my neck.”

He narrowed one eye and squinted dubiously at me. Then he reached up, took me delicately by the ear, and drew my head down, turning my face to the side. He flicked his tongue gently at the base of my throat, then lifted his head and set his teeth very softly in the tender flesh at the side of my neck.

“Eeeee,” I said, and shivered uncontrollably.

He let go, looking at me in astonishment.

“I will be damned,” he said. “Ye do like it; ye’ve gone all gooseflesh and your nipples are hard as spring cherries.” He passed a hand lightly over my breast; I hadn’t bothered with my makeshift brassiere when I dressed for my impromptu expedition.

“Told you,” I said, blushing slightly. “I suppose one of my ancestresses was bitten by a vampire or something.”

“A what?” He looked quite blank. There was time to kill, so I gave him a thumbnail sketch of the life and times of Count Dracula. He looked bemused and appalled, but his hand carried on with its machinations, having now moved under my buckskin shirt and found its way beneath the cutty sark as well. His fingers were chilly, but I didn’t mind.

“Some people find the notion terribly erotic,” I ended.

“That’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard!”

“I don’t care,” I said, stretching out at full length beside him and putting my head back, throat invitingly exposed. “Do it some more.”

He muttered something under his breath in Gaelic, but managed to get onto one elbow and roll toward me. His mouth was warm and soft, and whether he approved of what he was doing or not, he did it awfully well.

“Ooooh,” I said, and shuddered ecstatically as his teeth sank delicately into my earlobe.

“Oh, well, if it’s like that,” he said in resignation, and taking my hand, pressed it firmly between his thighs.

“Gracious,” I said. “And here I thought the cold…”

“It’ll be warm enough soon,” he assured me. “Get them off, aye?”

It was rather awkward, given the cramped quarters, the difficulty of staying covered in order not to suffer frostbite in any exposed portions, and the fact that Jamie was able to lend only the most basic assistance, but we managed quite satisfactorily nonetheless.

What with one thing and another, I was rather preoccupied, though, and it was only during a temporary lull in the activities that I became aware of an uneasy sensation, as though I was being watched. I lifted myself on my hands and glanced out through the screen of hemlock, but saw nothing beyond the grove and the snow-covered slope below.

Jamie gave a low groan.

“Don’t stop,” he murmured, eyes half closed. “What is it?”

“I thought I heard something,” I said, lowering myself onto his chest again.

At this, I did hear something; a laugh, low but distinct, directly above my head. I rolled off in a tangle of cloaks and discarded buckskins, while Jamie cursed and snatched for his pistol.

He flung aside the branches with a swoosh, pointing the pistol upward.

From the top of the rock above, several heads peered over, all grinning. Ian, and four companions from Anna Ooka. The Indians murmured and snickered among themselves, seeming to find something immoderately funny.

Jamie laid the pistol down, scowling up at his nephew.

“And what the devil are you doin’ here, Ian?”

“Why, I was on my way home to keep Christmas with ye, Uncle,” Ian said, grinning hugely. Jamie eyed his nephew with marked disfavor.

“Christmas,” he said. “Bah, humbug.”


This excerpt was also posted on my official Facebook page on Friday, December 25, 2020.

Anunciation – Fourth Sunday of Advent


2020-12-20-advent-wk4-DGThis is the Fourth and final Sunday of Advent. It comes to us with a deep sense of annunciation; the surety of a great promise that will be kept. We turn inward now again and listen to the great silence of the night, preparing our hearts for what awaits us in the light.

The lantern bobbed along, moving away from me. I stood still, following the blob of light with my eyes. Every few feet he would stop, then continue, and a slow flame would rise up in his wake to burn in a small red glow. As my eyes slowly accustomed themselves, the flames became a row of lanterns, situated on rock pillars, shining into the black like beacons.


It was a cave. At first I thought it was a cave of crystals, because of the odd black shimmer beyond the lanterns. But I stepped forward to the first pillar and looked beyond, and then I saw it.

A clear black lake. Transparent water, shimmering like glass over fine black volcanic sand, giving off red reflections in the lantern light. The air was damp and warm, humid with the steam that condensed on the cool cavern walls, running down the ribbed columns of rock.

A hot spring. The faint scent of sulfur bit at my nostrils. A hot mineral spring, then. I remembered Anselm’s mentioning the springs that bubbled up from the ground near the abbey, renowned for their healing powers.

Jamie stood behind me, looking out over the gently steaming expanse of jet and rubies.

“A hot bath,” he said proudly. “Do ye like it?”

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I said.

“Oh, ye do,” he said, grinning at the success of his surprise. “Come in, then.” He dropped his own robe and stood glowing dimly in the darkness, patched with red in the glimmering reflections off the water. The arched ceiling of the cave seemed to swallow the light of the lanterns, so that the glow reached only a few feet before being engulfed.

A little hesitantly, I let the novice’s robe drop from my arms.

“How hot is it?” I asked.

“Hot enough,” he answered. “Dinna worry, it won’t burn ye. But stay over an hour or so, and it might cook the flesh off your bones like soupmeat.”

“What an appealing idea,” I said, discarding the robe. Following his straight, slender figure, I stepped cautiously into the water. There were steps cut in the stone, leading down underwater, with a knotted rope fastened along the wall to provide handholds.

The water flowed up over my hips, and the flesh of my belly shivered in delight as the heat swirled through me. At the bottom of the steps, I stood on clean black sand, the water just below the level of my shoulders, my breasts floating like glass fisher-floats. My skin was flushed with the heat, and small prickles of perspiration were starting on the back of my neck, under the heavy hair. It was pure bliss.

The surface of the spring was smooth and waveless, but the water wasn’t still; I could feel small stirrings, currents running through the body of the pool like nerve impulses. It was that, I suppose, added to the incredible soothing heat, that gave me the momentary illusion that the spring was alive—a warm, welcoming entity that reached out to soothe and embrace. Anselm had said that the springs had healing powers, and I wasn’t disposed to doubt it.

Jamie came up behind me, tiny wavelets marking his passage through the water. He reached around me to cup my breasts, softly smoothing the hot water over the upper slopes.

“Do ye like it, mo duinne?” He bent forward and planted a kiss on my shoulder. I let my feet float out from under me, resting against him.

“It’s wonderful! It’s the first time I’ve been warm all the way through since August.” He began to tow me, backing slowly through the water; my legs streamed out in the wake of our passage, the amazing warmth passing down my limbs like caressing hands.

….

The walls of the cave were of smooth, dark volcanic rock, almost like black glass, slick with the moisture of the spring. The whole chamber looked like a gigantic bubble, half-filled with that curiously alive but sterile water. I felt as though we were cradled in the womblike center of the earth, and that if I pressed my ear to the rock, I would hear the infinitely slow beat of a great heart nearby. We were very quiet for a long time then, half-floating, half-dreaming, brushing now and then against each other as we drifted in the unseen currents of the cave. When I spoke at last, my voice seemed slow and drugged.

“I’ve decided.”

“Ah. Will it be Rome, then?” Jamie’s voice seemed to come from a long way away.

“Yes. I don’t know, once there—”

“It doesna matter. We shall do what we can.” His hand reached for me, moving so slowly I thought it would never touch me.

He drew me close, until the sensitive tips of my breasts rubbed across his chest. The water was not only warm but heavy, almost oily to the touch, and his hands floated down my back to cup my buttocks and lift me.

The intrusion was startling. Hot and slippery as our skins were, we drifted over each other with barely a sensation of touching or pressure, but his presence within me was solid and intimate, a fixed point in a watery world, like an umbilical cord in the random driftings of the womb.

I made a brief sound of surprise at the small inrush of hot water that accompanied his entrance, then settled firmly onto my fixed point of reference with a little sigh of pleasure.

“Oh, I like that one,” he said appreciatively.

“Like what?” I asked.

“That sound that ye made. The little squeak.”

It wasn’t possible to blush; my skin was already as flushed as it could get. I let my hair swing forward to cover my face, the curls relaxing as they dragged the surface of the water.

“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to be noisy.”

He laughed, the deep sound echoing softly in the columns of the roof.

“I said I like it. And I do. It’s one of the things I like the best about bedding ye, Sassenach, the small noises that ye make.” He pulled me closer, so my forehead rested against his neck. Moisture sprang up at once between us, slick as the sulfur-laden water. He made a slight movement with his hips, and I drew in my breath in a half-stifled gasp.

“Yes, like that,” he said softly. “Or… like that?”

“Urk,” I said.

He laughed again, but kept doing it.

“That’s what I thought most about,” he said, drawing his hands slowly up and down my back, cupping, curving, tracing the swell of my hips. “In prison at night, chained in a room with a dozen other men, listening to the snoring and farting and groaning. I thought of those small tender sounds that ye make when I love you, and I could feel ye there next to me in the dark, breathing soft and then faster, and the little grunt that ye give when I first take you, as though ye were settling yourself to your job.”

My breathing was definitely coming faster. Supported by the dense, mineral-saturated water, I was buoyant as an oiled feather, kept from floating away only by my grip on the curved muscles of his shoulders, and the snug, firm clasp I kept of him lower down.

“Even better,” his voice was a hot murmur in my ear, “when I come to ye fierce and wanting, and ye whimper under me, and struggle as though you wanted to get away, and I know it’s only that you’re struggling to come closer, and I’m fighting the same fight.”

His hands were exploring, gently, slowly as tickling a trout, sliding deep into the rift of my buttocks, gliding lower, groping, caressing the stretched and yearning point of our joining. I quivered and the breath went from me in an unwilled gasp.

“Or when I come to you needing, and ye take me into you with a sigh and that quiet hum like a hive of bees in the sun, and ye carry me wi’ you into peace with a little moaning sound.”

“Jamie,” I said hoarsely, my voice echoing off the water. “Jamie, please.”

“Not yet, mo duinne.” His hands came hard around my waist, settling and slowing me, pressing me down until I did groan. “Not yet. We’ve time. And I mean to hear ye groan like that again. And to moan and sob, even though you dinna wish to, for ye canna help it. I mean to make you sigh as though your heart would break, and scream with the wanting, and at last to cry out in my arms, and I shall know that I’ve served ye well.”

The rush began between my thighs, shooting like a dart into the depths of my belly, loosening my joints so that my hands slipped limp and helpless off his shoulders. My back arched and the slippery firm roundness of my breasts pressed flat against his chest. I shuddered in hot darkness, Jamie’s steadying hands all that kept me from drowning.

Resting against him, I felt boneless as a jellyfish. I didn’t know—or care—what sort of sounds I had been making, but I felt incapable of coherent speech. Until he began to move again, strong as a shark under the dark water.

“No,” I said. “Jamie, no. I can’t bear it like that again.” The blood was still pounding in my fingertips and his movement within me was an exquisite torture.

“You can, for I love ye.” His voice was half-muffled in my soaking hair. “And you will, for I want ye. But this time, I go wi’ you.”

He held my hips firm against him, carrying me beyond myself with the force of an undertow. I crashed formless against him, like breakers on a rock, and he met me with the brutal force of granite, my anchor in the pounding chaos.

Boneless and liquid as the water around us, contained only by the frame of his hands, I cried out, the soft, bubbling half-choked cry of a sailor sucked beneath the waves. And heard his own cry, helpless in return, and knew I had served him well.

[end section]

We struggled upward, out of the womb of the world, damp and steaming, rubber-limbed with wine and heat. I fell to my knees at the first landing, and Jamie, trying to help me, fell down next to me in an untidy heap of robes and bare legs. Giggling helplessly, drunk more with love than with wine, we made our way side by side, on hands and knees up the second flight of steps, hindering each other more than helping, jostling and caroming softly off each other in the narrow space, until we collapsed at last in each other’s arms on the second landing.

Here an ancient oriel window opened glassless to the sky, and the light of the hunter’s moon washed us in silver. We lay clasped together, damp skins cooling in the winter air, waiting for our racing hearts to slow and breath to return to our heaving bodies.

The moon above was a Christmas moon, so large as almost to fill the empty window. It seemed no wonder that the tides of sea and woman should be subject to the pull of that stately orb, so close and so commanding.

But my own tides moved no longer to that chaste and sterile summons, and the knowledge of my freedom raced like danger through my blood.

“I have a gift for you too,” I said suddenly to Jamie. He turned toward me and his hand slid, large and sure, over the plane of my still-flat stomach.

“Have you, now?” he said. And the world was all around us, new with possibility.

[Excerpt from OUTLANDER, Copyright © 1991 by Diana Gabaldon.]


Related Blog Entries:

Rejoicing in 2020 – Third Sunday of Advent, posted on Sunday, December 13, 2020.

The Second Sunday of Advent – 2020, posted on Sunday, December 6, 2020.

The First Sunday of Advent – 2020, posted on Sunday, November 29, 2020.


This excerpt also appeared on my official Facebook page on Sunday, December 20, 2020.

Rejoicing in 2020 – Third Sunday of Advent


2020-12-13-advent-wk3-DG-2Today is the Third Sunday of Advent, called “Gaudete” (“Rejoicing”) Sunday. This is where we pause in our solemn reflections, light the third candle of our Advent wreath (which is pink) and realize with joy and wonder what this process is leading to: the fulfillment of hope and promise in the greatness of love.

I did wonder just how Roger proposed to follow Captain Cunningham’s act. The congregation had scattered under the trees to take refreshment, but every group I passed was discussing what the Captain had said, with great excitement and absorption—as well they might. The spell of his story remained with me—a sense of wonder and hope.

Bree seemed to be wondering, too; I saw her with Roger, in the shade of a big chinkapin oak, in close discussion. He shook his head, though, smiled, and tugged her cap straight. She’d dressed her part, as a modest minister’s wife, and smoothed her skirt and bodice.

”Two months, and she’ll be comin’ to kirk in buckskins,” Jamie said, following the direction of my gaze.

“What odds?” I inquired.

“Three to one. Ye want to wager, Sassenach?”

“Gambling on Sunday? You’re going straight to hell, Jamie Fraser.”

”I dinna mind. Ye’ll be there afore me. Askin’ me the odds, forbye… Besides, going to church three times in one day must at least get ye a few years off Purgatory.”

I nodded.

“Ready for Round Two?”

Roger kissed Brianna, and strode out of the shade into the sunlit day, tall, dark and handsome in his best black—well, his only black suit. He came toward us, Bree on his heels, and I saw several people in the nearby groups notice this, and begin to put away their bits of bread and cheese and beer, to retire behind bushes for a private moment, and to tidy up children who’d come undone.

I sketched a salute as Roger came up to us.

“Over the top?”

“Geronimo,” he replied briefly and with a visible squaring of the shoulders, turned to greet his flock and usher them inside.

Inside, it was noticeably warm, though not yet hot, thank God. The smell of new pine was softer now, cushioned by the rustle of homespun and the faint scents of cooking and farming and the messy business of raising children that rose in a pleasantly domestic fog.

Roger let them settle for a moment, but not long enough for conversations to break out. He walked in with Bree on his arm, left her on the front bench and turned to smile at the congregation.

“Is there anyone here who doesna ken me already?” he asked, and there was a slight ripple of laughter.

“Aye, well, the fact that ye do ken me and ye’re here anyway is reassuring. Sometimes it’s the things we know that mean a lot in part because we ken them well, and understand their strength. Will ye be upstanding then, and we’ll say the Lord’s Prayer together.”

They rose obligingly and followed him in the prayer—some, I noticed, speaking it in the Gaidhlig, though most in variously accented English.

When we all sat down again, he cleared his throat, hard, and I began to worry. I was sure that his voice was better than it had been, whether from natural healing, or from the treatments—if something so simple and yet so peculiar as Dr. MacEwan’s laying-on of hands could be dignified by the name—I’d been giving him once a month—but it had been a long time since he’d spoken at length in public, let alone preached—let alone sing, and the stress of expectation was a lot to deal with.

“Some of ye are from the Isles, I know—and from the North. So ye’ll ken what lined-singing is.”

…..[going through the Psalm]

More voices, a spreading confidence, and by the third phrase, we were sharing Roger’s happiness, moving into the words and their meaning.

It was a fairly short psalm, but they were having such a good time that he went through it twice, and stopped, finally, wringing with sweat and flushed with heat and effort, “Even life for evermore!” still ringing in the air.

“That was good,” he said, in a croak, and they laughed, though kindly. “Jamie—will ye come read to us from the Old Testament?”

I glanced at Jamie in surprise, but apparently he was ready for this, for he picked up his small green Bible, which he’d brought along with him, and came to the front of the room. He was wearing the best of his two kilts, with the only sober-looking coat he possessed, and taking his spectacles from the pocket, put them on and looked sternly over the tops of them at the boys in the back, who instantly ceased their whispering.

Evidently satisfied that the stern look would suffice, he opened the book and read from Genesis the story of the angels who visited Abraham, and in receipt of his hospitality, assured him that by the time they came again, his wife Sarah would have borne him a son, “…. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”

He glanced up briefly at that line, and his eyes met mine. He said, “Mphm,” in the back of his throat, looked down at the page and ended with…“Is any thing too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed, I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.”

I heard a tiny snigger from somewhere behind me, but it was instantly drowned by the final verse: “Then Sarah denied, saying ‘I laughed not:’ for she was afraid. And he said, Nay but thou didst laugh.”

Jamie closed the book with neat decision, bowed to Roger and sat down beside me, folding away his spectacles.

“I dinna ken how people can think God doesna have a wicked sense o’ humor,” he whispered to me.

[Excerpt from GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE, Copyright ©2020 by Diana Gabaldon.]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDT-fZTJl3Q


Related Blog Entries:

The Second Sunday of Advent – 2020, posted on Sunday, December 13, 2020.

The First Sunday of Advent – 2020, posted on Sunday, November 29, 2020.


This blog entry also appeared on my official Facebook page on Sunday, December 13, 2020.

The Second Sunday of Advent – 2020


2020-DG-2nd-Sunday-AdventToday is the second Sunday of Advent. Whether we live in peace or in times of chaos, uncertainty and danger, we need someone to trust, to love, and to trust to love us. We light our second candle tonight in that trust, knowing that Love awaits.

[Excerpt from OUTLANDER, Chapter 15, REVELATIONS OF THE BRIDAL CHAMBER. Copyright © by Diana Gabaldon.]

“Are you all right?” he whispered. His fingers brushed my wet cheek.

“Yes. I’m sorry to wake you. I had a nightmare. What on earth—” I started to ask what it was that had made him spring so abruptly to the alert.

A large warm hand ran down my bare arm, interrupting my question. “No wonder; you’re frozen.” The hand urged me under the pile of quilts and into the warm space recently vacated.

“My fault,” he murmured. “I’ve taken all the quilts. I’m afraid I’m no accustomed yet to share a bed.” He wrapped the quilts comfortably around us and lay back beside me. A moment later, he reached again to touch my face. “Is it me?” he asked quietly. “Can ye not bear me?”

I gave a short hiccupping laugh, not quite a sob. “No, it isn’t you.” I reached out in the dark, groping for a hand to press reassuringly. My fingers met a tangle of quilts and warm flesh, but at last I found the hand I had been seeking. We lay side by side, looking up at the low beamed ceiling.

“What if I said I couldn’t bear you?” I asked suddenly. “What on earth could you do?” The bed creaked as he shrugged.

“Tell Dougal you wanted an annulment on grounds of nonconsummation, I suppose.” This time I laughed outright.

“Nonconsummation! With all those witnesses?” The room was growing light enough to see the smile on the face turned toward me.

“Aye well, witnesses or no, it’s only you and me that can say for sure, isn’t it? And I’d rather be embarrassed than wed to someone that hated me.” I turned toward him.

“I don’t hate you.”

“I don’t hate you, either. And there’s many good marriages have started wi’ less than that.” Gently, he turned me away from him and fitted himself to my back so we lay nested together. His hand cupped my breast, not in invitation or demand, but because it seemed to belong there.

“Don’t be afraid,” he whispered into my hair. “There’s the two of us now.” I felt warm, soothed, and safe for the first time in many days. It was only as I drifted into sleep under the first rays of daylight that I remembered the knife above my head, and wondered again, what threat would make a man sleep armed and watchful in his bridal chamber?


“The First Sunday of Advent – 2020” is a related blog entry and WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD excerpt that I posted on November 29, 2020.

This blog entry was also posted on my my official Facebook page on December 6, 2020, the Second Sunday of Advent.


Image of Advent candles by Diana Gabaldon © 2020.

The First Sunday of Advent – 2020


Advent candles for first Sunday. From Diana Gabaldon.Today is the First Sunday of Advent. Advent is a four-week space in time, during which we draw aside from the world in preparation for the light of Christmas.

Whatever we suffer in grief, illness, fear, anger, in longing for home, for love—Advent offers us respite, a refuge, a small place of rest, repentance, reconciliation and peace.

A time to be still and listen to our hearts.

[Excerpt from WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD, Copyright © 2014 by Diana Gabaldon.]

“Are ye all right, Sassenach? Is it bad, then?”

“No,” I said, and wiped my eyes hastily on a corner of the sheet. “No—it—it’s fine. I just&,dash;oh, Jamie, I love you!” I did give way to tears, then, snuffling and blubbering like an idiot.

“I’m sorry,” I said, trying to get hold of myself. “I’m all right, there’s nothing wrong, it’s just—”

“Aye, I ken fine what it’s just,” he said, and, setting the candle and pot on the floor, lay down on the bed beside me, balancing precariously on the edge.

“Ye’re hurt, a nighean,” he said softly, smoothing my hair off my wet cheeks. “And fevered and starved and worn to a shadow. There’s no much of ye left, is there, poor wee thing?”

I shook my head and clung to him. “There’s not much of you left, either,” I managed to say, mumbling wetly into the front of his shirt.

He made a small amused noise and rubbed my back, very gently. “Enough, Sassenach,” he said. “I’m enough. For now.”

I sighed and fumbled under the pillow for a hankie to blow my nose.

“Better?” he asked, sitting up.

“Yes. Don’t go, though.” I put a hand on his leg, hard and warm under my hand. “Can you lie with me a minute? I’m awfully cold.” I was, though I realized from the damp and salt on his skin that the room was quite hot. But loss of so much blood had left me chilled and gasping; I couldn’t get through a sentence without stopping to breathe, and my arms were permanently goose-pimpled.

“Aye. Dinna move; I’ll go round.” He came round the bed and edged carefully in behind me. It was a narrow bed, barely wide enough to hold us closely pressed together.

I exhaled gingerly and relaxed against him in slow motion, reveling in the feel of his warmth and the solid comfort of his body.


“Elephants,” I said, drawing the shallowest possible breath compatible with speaking. “When a female elephant is dying, sometimes a male will try to mate with her.”

There was a marked silence behind me, and then a big hand came round and rested assessingly on my forehead.

“Either ye’re fevered again, Sassenach,” he said in my ear, “or ye have verra perverse fancies. Ye dinna really want me to—”

“No,” I said hastily. “Not right this minute, no. And I’m not dying, either. The thought just came to me.”

He made an amused Scottish noise and, lifting the hair off my neck, kissed my nape.

“Since ye’re no dying,” he said, “maybe that will do for the moment?”

I took his hand and placed it on my breast. Slowly I grew warmer, and my chilly feet, pressed against his shins, relaxed. The window now was filled with stars, hazy with the moistness of the summer night, and I suddenly missed the cool, clear, black-velvet nights of the mountains, the stars blazing huge, close enough to touch from the highest ridge.

“Jamie?” I whispered. “Can we go home? Please?”

“Aye,” he said softly. He held my hand and the silence filled the room like moonlight, both of us wondering where home might be.


This blog entry was also posted on my my official Facebook page on November 29, 2020, the first Sunday of Advent.

Image of Advent candles by Diana Gabaldon © 2020.

Scotland’s Treasures – Virtual Gala


Scotland-treasuresSeptember 29th, 2020 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. (Eastern Time or EDT in the U.S.A.) — is the first Virtual Trust for Scotland/USA Gala! (i.e., it’s the first time they’ve had to do it virtually—it happens every year, normally in New York, but physically.) It’s a fundraiser to help support Scotland’s natural and cultural heritage, and includes a live auction.

They’ve asked me to share the link with you all (below), and note that while the usual donation asked is $150 (which will, among other things, sponsor a puffin), you can go ahead and register without donating. The website for the event is:

https://ntsusa.org/about-us/celebration-gala/

You do need to sign up before the event on the website. If you don’t want to donate, click the box that says “No, thanks” when it asks for a credit card number.

   -Diana

From The Scotland Treasures Website

From the National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA website:

Each April, The National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA’s A Celebration of Scotland’s Treasures gala raises thousands of dollars to support the conservation of Scotland’s natural and cultural heritage. Because we were unable to gather in New York this spring – our milestone 20th anniversary year – due to the coronavirus pandemic, we missed the opportunity to raise vital funds on behalf of the National Trust for Scotland.

Committed to helping the Trust weather this time, we are delighted to host our first-ever virtual event and invite you to join us here on Tuesday, September 29, for an evening of special performances, updates from Scotland, and a live and silent auction. Moving our celebration online will allow us to highlight more of the Trust’s work on the ground in Scotland – especially at sites like Glencoe and Culloden that hold special meaning for Americans.

The highlight of the program will be the virtual presentation of the Great Scot Award by New York Times best-selling author Laura Lippman to Scottish crime novelist Denise Mina, author of Conviction and The Long Drop.

Proceeds from A (Virtual) Celebration of Scotland’s Treasures will support the international campaign to Save Our Scotland. This year, the Trust is expected to lose over $35 million in earned income from the closure of our historic sites due to the coronavirus pandemic. Together, we can ensure the future of the Trust and its irreplaceable natural and cultural treasures.


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From The Front Lines


GoFundMe Campaign for Paxton Gate PDX Employees

Laura-in-gear-cropHere is a small, offbeat request from the front lines.

At right, this is Eldest Daughter, Laura Watkins, OR Nurse—whom you may know better as the author of TALES FOR GULLIBLE CHILDREN on my Methadone List, who said:

“Hey Mom, you’re probably being deluged with requests to donate to laid-off workers’ funds right now, but if you could maybe tweet this one, it would really help the furloughed crew at Paxton Gate PDX, which is that super cool natural history shop we went to the last time you were in town:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/paxton-gate-portland-employee-relief-fund

“It’s a small thing, but it’s important because it’s a magic place, and we need to know there still is magic in the world right now, and keep a place for it to happen.”

So here it is. Laura’s right that there are a LOT of very worthwhile donation requests (and I answer the ones I can), so I thought I’d put up her request.

If you’d like to learn more about Paxton Gate PDX, the store, here is their home page:

https://paxtongate.com


Floral Print Road Warrior

Heck-On-Wheels-cropMy daughter Laura also asked me to send a big Thank You for all of the kind comments of support for her and the other healthcare professionals dealing with the ongoing crisis.

And thank you for the kind efforts of so many of you who are making non-surgical masks for people who need to go out in public. In Laura’s words, “One of my friends hooked me up with one, resulting in a grocery-getting look that I’m calling “Floral Print Road Warrior.” Image at left.

Fashion rules!


Making Masks!

If you sew and would like to make masks, Dr. Jeanne Schneider (a friend of my Webmistress) shared this website below which has free patterns you can use to make masks for yourself and your family, and/or to share with health professionals and others who need them:

https://www.craftpassion.com/face-mask-sewing-pattern/

Happy Sewing!


More Masks

2020-04-DianaGabaldon-masks

At right, this is actually a contemporary piece—it’s a bronze by an artist named Hib Sabin, and is called “Raven Mask (Large).”

We’ve always called it the Plague Doctor, though, for obvious reasons…


Information in this post also appeared on my official social media accounts.

“The Iconic Stable Scene – Ep. 506″


Jamie and Claire in the stable.“Better To Marry Than Burn”

Now, overall, I liked Ep. 506 (of the STARZ Outlander TV show)—especially Jocasta’s heartbreaking final words with Murtaugh—Maria Doyle Kennedy is fabulous (and Duncan LaCroix was right there with her)! Parade Magazine asked me what I thought of the iconic stable scene, though, and so I told them what I thought.

I know a lot of people found it arousing and enjoyed it, and that’s great—I’m all for people liking the show in all its manifestations <g>, and people being people, they’re going to like different things.

That being so, let’s respect each other’s opinions—and I’d like to hear all of them!

So—what did y’all think of 506? (And have you ever eaten grasshoppers or locusts? I have. Once…)

Read “Outlander Fans Get the Sex Scene They’ve Been Hoping for, but Diana Gabaldon Thinks They Might Not Be Satisfied,” by Paulette Cohn for Parade.com. Published on March 22, 2020.

Passage From the Parade article featuring Episode 506::

“As for Jamie and Claire’s fight—and I suppose you would have to call it makeup sex, though as played, it was more or less a continuation of the fight—this is one of those ‘iconic’ scenes from THE FIERY CROSS,” Gabaldon tells Parade.com exclusively.

“Those are the scenes that book readers particularly value, and spend months hoping will be included in the show. The book fans will be happy that it is included.” However, the more nitpicky fans might be distracted. “I’m afraid it’s one of those situations where they’re so provoked by the omissions and changes that they may forget to be thankful.”


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