• “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting 'Scrooge McDuck' comics.”—Salon.com
  • A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

Signed Books, Tip Sheets, and Trolls…

2021-09-17-Diana-office-tipsheetsIt must be a dull week in Trollsville. I went by the Poisoned Pen (that’s my local independent bookstore, for those unfamiliar) yesterday afternoon to sign the latest pile of backlist titles (the Pen handles all my autographed books, and has done so for the last twenty-odd years) and while chatting with Patrick, the manager, was surprised (and displeased) to hear that some folk with too much time on their hands were posting intemperate messages on tumblr, claiming that the Poisoned Pen is a scam outfit, that they don’t really provide signed books, and that people who have pre-ordered BEES won’t get their copies signed.


This is a shot of my small office tonight (above image). I’m up in Flagstaff, in my old family house, just for the day. And what am I doing, in the middle of the night?

2021-09-17-tipsheet-DGSigning tip-sheets. A tip-sheet (see image at left) is a loose sheet of paper, which will eventually be bound into a book as it’s produced. It’s a method of dealing with huge numbers of books, where shipping the actual books to and fro would be both expensive and laborious. I do this now and then—on request—for some of my publishers (in the US, the UK (including Australia and New Zealand(, and Canada, on this go) when a new book is coming out.

Normally, I might sign something like a thousand tip-sheets for a publisher. This time…

The UK asked for 8,000 tip-sheets.

Canada asked for a modest 2,000.

The US asked for 17,000.

(That’s 27,000 signatures, for those who are adding them up.)

This is NOT what I do for the Poisoned Pen. The Pen is an old-fashioned bookstore, that caters to people who truly love books, and to whom it makes a substantial difference as to whether a book was personally handled and signed by the author, rather than having a tip-sheet bound in ex post facto, so to speak.

I generally go by the Pen once or twice a month, and sign (and personalize, if requested) their orders. This usually amounts to 4-500 books at a time.

When I have a new book out, it’s all hands on deck, because I’m signing several thousand copies, and doing that requires a team of five people helping me:

Pen-signing-3Person 1 opens the cartons of books, dumps them and stacks the books at one end of the table.

Person 2 takes a book from the stack, opens it and finds the second title page (the one with both the book’s title and my printed name and a small, evocative photo). They then fold the dust jacket over the copyright and first title pages, so the jacket serves as a book-mark, allowing

Person 3 to open a book immediately to the right page. (This is called “flapping.” ) The flapped books are restacked next to—

Person 3. This person grabs a flapped book, opens it, turns it at a ninety-degree angle (because I sign uphill, not side to side) and sets the open book in front of me.

I sign it (fast), shut it and shove it toward—

Person 4, who grabs the hurtling book (you want a smooth surface for this, preferably wood, because plastic-topped tables build up a terrific charge of static electricity if you send books whizzing across them in large quantities, and people get shocked) and places it neatly on a growing stack.

Person 5 takes the stacks and puts them back into the original cartons (having run down to the other end of the table every other minute in order to retrieve said cartons), tapes the cartons shut and stacks them. There’s limited room in the backroom of a bookstore, and if you’re dealing with huge quantities, it’s lots easier to move the cartons from place to place than it is to load the books onto a cart and drive them to distant shelving, unload and come back. (This is also how you move a lot of books to an offsite signing/event venue.)

I can sign roughly 500 books per hour, doing this with help.

Awright. That’s how it works. Now—thanks to you all who’ve been ordering the book!—BEES is going to be kind of a big thing, apparently, in terms of copies needing to be signed, moved, etc.

Pen-signing-2-crop-fixedI don’t know how many copies of of BEES have so far been ordered from the Poisoned Pen (let alone how many they’ll eventually sell), but they had 20,000 pre-orders by August (thank you!!), and at that point, the Pen’s owner put out word that while I will sign all the books people want signed, there’s a limit (physically) to how many I can sign by December 10th— that being the latest shipping date on which you might reasonably expect the book to be delivered by Christmas 2021. That limit is 20,000. (See, I can’t sign books until they arrive at the bookstore, which won’t be until November.) Ergo, if you want a signed book, handled by me personally <g>, you can certainly have it—but if you order it now, I might not be able to sign it in time for it to be shipped for Christmas delivery (especially not this year, when shipping and delivery is a lot bigger and more complex in every area of business). And I can’t personalize them, sorry. (If you really want a personalized book, just wait until January or February, when we’re not working under a shipping deadline.)

As for the tip-sheets… those are sent back to the publisher when they’re done [after I sign them]. The publisher decides which bookstore accounts will get the books with signed tipsheets; I have no control over that and no idea where the books may end up.

But if you see a dump (that’s what the cardboard stands set up by the cashier’s desk are called) or other display of BEES in a chain bookstore that says, “Signed Books”—that’s what they are. Books with a signed tipsheet bound in.

2014-05-Diana-Pen3-smNow, to some people, it won’t make the slightest difference whether their signed book has a tipsheet (signed by me en masse), or was signed by me on the second title page (if you want to tell the difference easily, that’s how; the tip-sheets are blank, aside from my signature), as a complete book. To some people, it does make a substantial difference, and these are the Poisoned Pen’s book-loving customers.

I’ve known the Pen and its proprietor and managers for more than thirty-five years; I’ve been coming by to sign books for them for more than twenty of those years. (And no, there’s no extra charge for an autographed book.)

So, if you should happen to see any nasty little trolls grumping away to each other under some dank bridge… don’t bother dropping garbage on them; they make plenty of their own.

P.S. If you were keeping track…. 27,000 tip-sheets, plus 20,000 books is 47,000 signatures. Just for fun, try signing your name 25 times on a sheet of paper and see what it feels like… <g>

P.P.S. In the photos above with me in them, I am signing DRAGONFLY IN AMBER in hardcover and WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD when they came out in hardcover in the past. As I say, I do it pretty much all the time.

Pen-Signing-1 The image at left shows many copies of my books waiting to be signed by me in the storeroom at the Poisoned Pen.

Congratulations, Caitriona!

C-Balfe-2021-08-babyHUGE congratulations to Caitriona and her husband Tony on the birth of their lovely little boy! (Said little boy, along with Covid, is one of the reasons why Season Six of OUTLANDER has eight episodes, rather than the originally planned twelve—don’t worry, though, the last four episodes are not lost; they’ll just be pushed forward into Season Seven (which–God willing and everybody’s not down with the Zeta variant or something–will start filming early in 2022) which will end up with sixteen episodes!)

Caitriona posted the image at right on her official Instagram account after the baby’s birth, according to an online article in Parade magazine in August, 2021.

“Freedom Has Many Costs” (BEES)

Social Media Hashtags: #DailyLines, #GoTELLTheBEESThatIAmGONE, #Book9, #YES, #ItsDONE, #PubDate #November23rd, #YesThisYear, #HappyFourthOfJuly, #FreedomHasManyCosts, #LetUsNotForgetThem

2021-07-04-Tordjman-beesIt wasn’t God Roger found with him, but the next best thing. The memory of Major Gareth Everett, one of his father’s friends, an ex-military chaplain. Everett was a tall, long-faced man who wore his graying hair parted down the middle in a way that made him look like an old hound dog, but he’d had a black sense of humor and he’d treated Roger, then thirteen years old, as a man.

“Did you ever kill anyone?” he’d asked the Major when they were sat around the table after dinner one night, the old men telling stories of the War.

“Yes,” the Major replied without hesitation. “I’d be no use to my men, dead.”

“What did you do for them?” Roger had asked, curious. “I mean—what does a chaplain do, in a battle?”

Major Everett and the Reverend had exchanged a brief look, but the Reverend nodded and Everett leaned forward, arms folded on the table in front of him. Roger saw the tattoo on his wrist, a bird of some kind, wings spread over a scroll with something written on it in Latin.

“Be with them,” the Major said quietly, but his eyes held Roger’s, deeply serious. “Reassure them. Tell them God is with them. That I’m with them. That they aren’t alone.”

“Help them when you can,” his father had said, softly, eyes on the worn gray oilcloth that covered the table. “Hold their hands and pray, when you can’t.”

He saw—actually saw—the blast of a cannon. A brilliant red flowering spark the size of his head that blinked in the fog with a firework’s BOOM! and then vanished. The fog blew back from the blast and he saw everything clearly for a second, no more—the black hulk of the gun, round mouth gaping, smoke thicker than the fog rolling over it, fog falling to the ground like water, steam rising from the hot metal to join the roiling fog, the artillerymen swarming over the gun, frenzied blue ants, swallowed up the next instant in swirling white.

And then the world around him went mad. The shouts of the officers had come with the cannon’s blast; he only knew it because he’d been standing close enough to the Lieutenant-Colonel to see his mouth open. But now a general roar went up from the charging men in his column, running hell-bent for the dim shape of the redoubt before him.

The sword was in his hand, and he was running, yelling, wordless things.

Torches glowed faintly in the fog—soldiers trying to re-fire the abatis, he thought dimly.

The Lieutenant-Colonel was gone. There was a high-pitched yodeling of some sort that might be the general, but might not.

The cannon—how many? He couldn’t tell, but more than two; the firing kept up at a tremendous rate, the crash of it shaking his bones every half-minute or so.

He made himself stop, bent over, hands on his knees, gasping. He thought he heard musket-fire, muffled, rhythmic crashes between the cannon blasts. The British army’s disciplined volleys.



“Fall back!” An officer’s shouts rang out sudden in the heartbeat of silence between one crash and the next.

You’re not a soldier. If you get killed… nobody will be here to help them. Fall back, idiot.

He’d been at the back of the rank, with the Lieutenant-Colonel. But now he was surrounded by men, surging together, pushing, running in all directions. Orders were being barked, and he thought some of the men were struggling to obey; he heard random shouts, saw a black boy who couldn’t be more than twelve struggling grimly to load a musket taller than he was. He wore a dark blue uniform, and a bright yellow kerchief showed when the fog parted for an instant.

He tripped over someone lying on the ground and landed on his knees, brackish water seeping through his breeches. He’d landed with his hands on the fallen man, and the sudden warmth on his cold fingers was a shock that brought him back to himself.

The man moaned and Roger jerked his hands away, then recovered himself and groped for the man’s hand. It was gone, and his own hand was filled with a gush of hot blood that reeked like a slaughterhouse.

“Jesus,’ he said, and wiping his hand on his breeches, grappled with the other in his bag, he had cloths… he yanked out something white and tried to tie it round… he felt frantically for a wrist, but that was gone, too. He got a fragment of sleeve and felt his way up it as fast as he could, but he reached the still solid upper arm a moment after the man died—he could feel the sudden limpness of the body under his hand.

He was still kneeling there with the unused cloth in his hand when someone tripped over him and fell headlong with a tremendous splash. Roger got up onto his feet and duck-walked to the fallen man.

“Are you all right?” he shouted, bending forward. Something whistled over his head and he threw himself flat on top of the man.

“Jesus Christ!” the man exclaimed, punching wildly at Roger. “Get the devil off me, you bugger!”

They wrestled in the mud and water for a moment, each trying to use the other for leverage to rise, and the cannon kept on firing. Roger pushed the man away and managed to roll up onto his knees in the mud. Cries for help were coming from behind him, and he turned in that direction.

The fog was almost gone, driven off by explosions, but the gun-smoke drifted white and low across the uneven ground, showing him brief flashes of color and movement as it shredded.

“Help, help me!”

He saw the man then, on hands and knees, dragging one leg, and splashed through the puddles to reach him. Not much blood, but the leg was clearly wounded; he got a shoulder under the man’s arm and got him on his feet, hustled him as fast as possible away from the redoubt, out of range…

The air shattered again and the earth seemed to tilt under him, he was lying on the ground with the man he’d been helping on top of him, the man’s jaw knocked away and hot blood and chunks of teeth soaking into his chest. Panicked, he struggled out from under the twitching body—Oh, God, oh, God, he was still alive—and then he was kneeling by the man, slipping in the mud, catching himself with a hand on the chest where he could feel the heart beating in time with the blood spurting, Oh, Jesus, help me!

He groped for words, frantic. It was all gone. All the comforting words he’d gleaned, all his stock in trade…

“You’re not alone,” he panted, pressing hard on the heaving chest, as though he could anchor the man to the earth he was dissolving into. “I’m here. I won’t leave you. It’s gonna be all right. You’re gonna be all right.” He kept repeating that, kept his hands pressing hard, and then in the midst of the spouting carnage, felt the life leave the body.


He sat on his heels, gasping, frozen in place, one hand on the still body as though it was glued there and then the drums.

A faint throb through the rhythmic sounds of gunfire. His bones had absorbed that without his noticing; he could feel the ebb when the first rank of muskets fell back and the surge when the second rank reached the edge of the redoubt and fired. Something in the back of his head was counting… one… two…

Created with GIMP“What the hell,” he said thickly and stood up, shaking his head. There were three men near him, two still on the ground, the third struggling to rise. He got up and staggered over to them, gave the live man his hand and pulled him up, wordless. One of the others was plainly dead, the other almost so. He let go of the man he was holding and collapsed on his knees by the dying one, taking the man’s cold face between his hands, the dark eyes bleared with fear and ebbing blood.

“I’m here,” he said, though the cannon fired then and his words made no sound.

The drums. He heard them clearly now, and a sort of yell, a lot of men shouting together. And then a rumbling, squashing, splashing and suddenly there were horses everywhere, running… Running at the fucking redoubts full of guns.

A crash of guns and the cavalry split, half the horses wheeling, back and away, the rest scattering, dancing through the fallen men, trying not to step on the bodies, big heads jerking as they fought the reins.

He didn’t run; he couldn’t. He walked forward, slowly, sword flopping at his side, stopping where he found a man down. Some he could help, with a drink or a hand to press upon a wound while a friend tied a cloth around it. A word, a blessing where he could. Some were gone and he laid a hand on them in farewell and commended their souls to God with a hasty prayer.

He found a wounded boy and picked him up, carrying him back through the smoke and puddles, away from the cannon.

Another roar. The fourth column came running through the broken ground, to throw themselves into the fighting at the redoubt. He saw an officer with a flag of some kind run up shouting, then fall, shot through the head. A little boy, a little black boy in blue and yellow, grabbed the flag and then bodies hid him from view.

“Jesus Christ,” Roger said, because there wasn’t anything else he could possibly say. He could feel the boy’s heart beating under his hand through the soaked cloth of his coat. And then it stopped.

The cavalry charge had broken all together. Horses were being ridden or led away, a few of them fallen, huge and dead in the marshy ground, or struggling to rise, neighing in panic.

An officer in a gaudy uniform was crawling away from a dead horse. Roger set the boy’s body down and ran heavily to the officer. Blood was gushing down his thigh and his face, and Roger fumbled in his pocket, but there was nothing there. The man fell and doubled up, hands pressing his groin, and saying something in a language Roger didn’t recognize.

“It’s all right,” he said to the man, taking him by the arm. “You’re going to be all right. I won’t leave you.”

“Bòg i Maryla pomò&zring;cie mi,” the man gasped.

“Aye, right. God be with you.” He turned the man on his side, pulled out his shirt-tail and ripped it off, then stuffed it into the man’s trousers, pressing into the hot wetness. He leaned on the wound with both hands, and the man screamed.

Then there were several cavalrymen there, all talking at once in multiple languages, and they pushed Roger out of the way and picked the wounded officer up bodily, carrying him away.

Most of the firing had stopped now. The cannon was silent, but his ears felt as though fire-bells were ringing in his head; it hurt.

He sat down, slowly, in the mud and became aware of rain running down his face. He closed his eyes. And after some time, became aware that a few words had come back to him.

“Out of the depths I cry unto you, O, Lord. O, Lord, hear my voice.”

The trembling didn’t stop, but some little time later, he got up and staggered away toward the distant marshes, to help bury the dead.

[end section]

Click here to visit my webpage for GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE, which features more excerpts (“Daily Lines”), news, and information about this new book.

Excerpt from GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE, Copyright © 2021 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved. Please do not copy and repost this excerpt elsewhere; instead share the link to this blog post. Thank you.

And many thanks to Yolande Tordjman for the beautiful collage of bees on lemon blossoms!

This excerpt was also posted on my official Facebook page on July 4, 2021.

Happy Flag Day!

2021-06-15-excerpt-BEES-cropA Happy Flag Day to all! (I don’t seem to have any notable flag scenes in BEES, but one is at least mentioned here…)

Social Media Hashtags: #DailyLines, #GoTELLTheBEESThatIAmGONE, #pubdatenovember23rd, #minorspoilerspossible

“My name is Roger MacKenzie. I’m a Presbyterian minister, and I’ve brought a letter to General Lincoln from General James Fraser, late of General Washington’s Monmouth command.”

Sergeant Bradford’s brows rose out of sight beneath his hat.

“General Fraser,” he said. “Monmouth? That the fellow that abandoned his troops to tend his wife?”

This was said with a derisive tone, and Roger felt the words like a blow to the stomach. Was this how Jamie’s admittedly dramatic resignation of his commission was commonly perceived in the Continental Army? If so, his own present mission might be a little more delicate than he’d expected.

“General Fraser is my father-in-law, sir,” Roger said, in a neutral voice. “An honorable man—and a very brave soldier.”

The look of scorn didn’t quite leave the man’s face, but it moderated into a short nod, and the man turned away, jerking his chin in an indication that Roger might follow, if he felt so inclined.

US_Flag_Day_poster_1917General Lincoln’s tent was a large but well-worn green canvas, with a flagstaff outside from which the red and white stripes of the Grand Union flag fluttered in the wind off the sea.

Sergeant Bradford muttered something to the guard at the entrance, and left Roger with a curt nod.

“The Reverend MacKenzie, is it?” the guard said, looking him up and down with an air of skepticism. “And a letter from General James Fraser, have I got that right?”

Christ. Did Jamie know of the talk about him? Roger remembered the moment’s hesitation when Jamie had handed him the letter. Perhaps he did, then.

“I am, it is, and you do,” Roger said firmly. “Is General Lincoln able to receive me?”

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

Visit my official BEES webpage for links to more than ninety excerpts from my new novel, listed by temporary titles in order of their release.

Image of the flag day poster from 1917 is from Wikipedia. Caption: 140th U.S. Flag Day poster. 1777-1917. The birthday of the stars and stripes is June 14th, 1917. ’Tis the Star Spangled Banner, oh, long may it wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave! (Library of Congress)

And many thanks to Vikki Brush for the lovely bee photo! (Posted with permission.)

Please do not copy and paste the text in whole or in part from this excerpt and post or print it elsewhere, since it is copyrighted material. Ditto for all of my other excerpts, aka “Daily Lines.”



This excerpt was also posted on my official Facebook page on Monday, June 14, 2021.

BEES (Book 9) Publication Date!

Social Media Hashtags: #DailyLines, #GoTELLTheBEESThatIAmGONE, #YESYESYESYESYES!!!!, #WeHaveAPubDate, #And #It #Is… #NOVEMBER23rd #2021 #AndYesThisYear #YesInTimeForChristmas! #Hooray!!!

2021-04-15-BEES-PRH-US-coverFor those cavalier souls who don’t read hashtags—Penguin Random House has decided on a publications date for GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE. (That’s it, right there in the Social Media Hashtags banner overhead.)

The book will be released on November 23rd (yes, this year, yes, in plenty of time for Christmas), which is tidings of great joy, to be sure, but also—

You can pre-order the book now, should you want to!

Check out the announcement in an exclusive Entertainment Weekly’s aritcle:


And YES, of course there is a link for ordering information for our U.K. readers:


(No, I don’t have pub dates yet for the non-English editions; those will be set by the individual publishers in each country.)

Visit my webpage for GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE to access excerpts (aka “Daily Lines”) that I have released from this new book:


Links to other vendors who are accepting pre-orders, including new hardcover ediitons signed by me, are also on my BEES webpage.

I’ve Finished Writing BEES…!

Important Update: Just a few weeks after I posted this blog entry below, a publication date of November 23, 2021, was announced for GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE by my publisher, Penguin Random House.

Please read my newer blog entry about the publication date announcement, or visit my BEES webpage for current information about this new book.

2021-03-29-what-finished-means-DGI’ve finished writing GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE, as of March 27, 2021! Now this new book enters the publication process, outlined below, which will likely take months (a guesstimate only).

Please keep in mind that I do not set the publication date, the day when you can buy the book at a bookstore. That date will be decided by my publishers. Stay tuned!


What Finished Means To An Author

As my husband often remarks, "‘FINISHED’ is a relative term to a writer."

This is true! <g> I thought y’all might be interested in Just What Happens to a book after the writer is “finished” writing the manuscript:

(NB: This is the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). Owing to the tight Production schedule—such as there was for MOBY (Book 8) and THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION, Volume 2—a lot of these steps have been done concurrently, rather than sequentially, and a few repetitive steps have been skipped. But by and large, this is how it works.)

  1. Books don’t go directly from the author to the bookstore.
  2. Books go from the author to the editor, who
    1. reads the manuscript
    2. discusses the manuscript with the author, and
    3. suggests minor (we hope) revisions that may improve the book
  3. The book goes back to the author, who

    1. re-reads the manuscript
    2. considers the editor’s comments, and
    3. makes whatever revisions, emendments, or clarifications seem right.
  4. The book goes back to the editor, who

    1. reads it again
    2. asks any questions that seem necessary, and
    3. Sends it to
  5. The copy-editor. This is a person whose thankless job is to

    1. read the manuscript one…word…at…a…time
    2. find typos or errors in grammar, punctuation, or continuity (one heck of a job, considering the size not only of the individual books, but of the overall series), and
    3. apply “house style” to things like numbers (e.g. do we write “two” or “2”?), and
    4. write queries to the author regarding anything questionable, whereupon
  6. The book comes back to the author—yes, again— who

    1. re-reads the manuscript
    2. answers the copy-editor’s queries, and
    3. alters anything that the copy-editor has changed that the author disagrees with, and
    4. adds things inspired by the copy-editor’s comments that seem like a good idea. After which, the author sends it back to
  7. The editor—yes, again!—who

    1. re-re-reads it
    2. checks that all the copy-editor’s queries have been answered, and sends it to
  8. The Typesetter (aka Compositor, these days), who sets the manuscript in type, according to the format laid out by
  9. 2021-03-29-the-end

  10. The Book-Designer, who

    1. decides on the layout of the pages (margins, gutters, headers or footers, page-number placement)
    2. chooses a suitable and attractive typeface
    3. decides on the size of the font, leading and kerning
    4. chooses or commissions any incidental artwork (endpapers, maps, dingbats—these are the little gizmos that divide chunks of text, but that aren’t chapter or section headings)—or, for something like the OC II, a ton of miscellaneous illustrations, photographs, etc. that decorate or punctuate the text.
    5. Designs chapter and Section headings, with artwork, and consults with the

      (NB: People always want to know how many pages the book will be. This depends entirely on the Book Designer’s decisions, so there’s no telling ahead of time. The font, leading, kerning (leading and kerning are, respectively, the amount of space between lines and between letters) and page layout will all affect how many words fit on a page.)

  11. Cover Artist, who (reasonably enough) designs or draws or paints or PhotoShops the cover art (this often happens earlier in the process, but I put it here for convenience), which is then sent to
  12. The Printer, who prints the dust-jackets—which include not only the cover art and the author’s photograph and bio, but also "flap copy," which may be written by either the editor or the author (I usually write my own), but is then usually messed about with by
  13. The Marketing Department, whose thankless task is to try to figure out how best to sell a book that can’t reasonably be described in terms of any known genre <g>, to which end, they

    1. try to provide seductive and appealing cover copy to the book (which the author normally approves. I usually insist on writing it myself).
    2. compose advertisements for the book (author usually sees and approves these—or at least I normally do).
    3. decide where such advertisements might be most effective (periodicals, newspapers, book-review sections, radio, TV, Facebook, Web)
    4. try to think up novel and entertaining means of promotion, such as having the author appear on a cooking show to demonstrate recipes for unusual foods mentioned in the book.
    5. kill a pigeon in Times Square and examine the entrails in order to determine the most advantageous publishing date for the book.
  14. OK. The manuscript itself comes back from the typesetter, is looked at (again) by the editor, and sent back to the author (again!), who anxiously proof-reads the galleys (these are the typeset sheets of the book; they look just like the printed book’s pages, but are not bound. (NB: of recent years, galleys are often provided in electronic form)), because this is the very last chance to change anything. Meanwhile

    (Somewhere in here, recording begins on the audiobook, which is normally released at the same time as the hardcover. Ideally, the narrator is given a version of the manuscript that’s pretty close to the ultimate printed form, but they may get earlier or partial versions from which to prepare their performance (choosing accents and pacing for different characters, for instance).)

  15. A number of copies of the galley-proofs are bound—in very cheap plain covers—and sent to (NB: This is SOP, but we haven’t been doing it for the last few books, owing to the fact that the book itself is coming out on the heels of Production; there’s no time to distribute ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies).) (NB: These days, it’s often PDFs, though paper ARCs are still used, too.))
  16. The Reviewers, i.e., the bound galleys (or PDFs) are sent (by the marketing people, the editor, and/or the author) to the book editors of all major newspapers and periodicals, blogs, websites, and to any specialty publication to whom this book might possibly appeal, in hopes of getting preliminary reviews, from which cover quotes can be culled, and/or drumming up name recognition and excitement prior to publication. Frankly, they don’t always bother with this step with my books, because they are in a rush to get them into the bookstores, and it takes several months’ lead-time to get reviews sufficiently prior to publication that they can be quoted on the cover.
  17. With luck, the author finds 99.99% of all errors in the galleys (you’re never going to find all of them; the process is asymptotic—vide the typo in the very last line of MOBY…), and returns the corrected manuscript (for the last time, [pant, puff, gasp, wheeze]) to the editor, who sends it to

    (The ebook coding happens somewhere in here.)

  18. The Printer, who prints lots of copies (“the print-run” means how many copies) of the “guts” of the book—the actual inside text—are printed. These are then shipped to
  19. The Bindery, where the guts are bound into their covers, equipped with dust-jackets, and shipped to
  20. The Distributors. There are a number of companies—Amazon is the largest, but there are a number of smaller ones, and the large publishing houses have their own warehouse facilities, too—whose business is shipping, distributing, and warehousing books. The publisher also ships directly to

(1. Arrangements are made in this phase for ebook distribution through retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.)

  21. Bookstores, but bookstores can only house a limited number of books. Therefore, they draw on distributors’ warehouses to resupply a title that’s selling briskly, because it takes much longer to order directly from the publisher. And at this point, [sigh]… the book finally reaches
  22. You, the reader.

And we do hope you like it when you get it—because we sure-God went to a lot of trouble to make it for you. <g>

Click here to visit my Writer’s Corner (What I Do) webpage…

Images are by Diana Gabaldon. The top image shows printed book manuscripts. The bottom image shows a screen from her word processing software.

This blog post includes an updated version of “What Finished Means To An Author,” an essay that I have posted several times in the past. This new version was also posted on my official Facebook page on Monday, March 29, 2021.

BEES: “Beetles” and “Horse Drills”

Two new bits of BEES…



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[ This excerpt is from GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE. Copyright © 2021 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.]

William found Moira, the cook, in the kitchen garden, pulling spring onions. She was talking to Amaranthus, who had evidently been gathering as well; she carried a trug that held a large mound of grapes and a few pears from the small tree that grew near the cook-house. With an eye for the fruit, he strode up and bade the women good morning. Amaranthus gave him an up and down glance, inhaled as though trying to judge his state of intoxication from his aroma, and with a faint shake of the head, handed him a ripe pear.

“Coffee?” he said hopefully to Moira.

“Well, I’ll not be saying there isn’t,” she said dubiously. “It’s left from yesterday, though, and strong enough to take the shine off your teeth.”

“Perfect,” he assured her, and bit into the pear, closing his eyes as the luscious juice flooded his mouth. He opened them to find Amaranthus, back turned to him, stooping to look at something on the ground among the radishes. She was wearing a thin wrapper over her shift, and the fabric stretched neatly over her very round bottom.

She stood up suddenly, turning round and he at once bent toward the ground she’d been looking at, saying, “What is that?”, though he personally saw nothing but dirt and a lot of radish tops.

2021-02-01-BEES-Beetles3“It’s a dung beetle,” she said, looking at him closely. “Very good for the soil. They roll up small balls of ordure and trundle them away.”

“What do they do with them? The, um, balls of ordure, I mean.”

“Eat them,” she said, with a slight shrug. “They bury the balls for safekeeping, and then eat them as need requires—or sometimes they breed inside the larger ones.”

“How… cozy. Have you had any breakfast?” William asked, raising one brow.

“No, it isn’t ready yet.”

“Neither have I,” he said, getting to his feet. “Though I’m not quite as hungry as I was before you told me that.” He glanced down at his waistcoat. “Have I any dung beetles in this noble assemblage?”

That made her laugh.

“No, you haven’t,” she said. “Not nearly colorful enough.”

Amaranthus was suddenly standing quite close to him, though he was sure he hadn’t seen her move. She had the odd trick of seeming to apparate suddenly out of thin air; it was disconcerting, but rather intriguing.

“That bright green one,” she said, pointing a long, delicate finger at his middle, “is a Dogbane Leaf Beetle, Chrisosuchus auratus.”

“Is it, really?”

“Yes, and this lovely creature with the long nose is a Billbug.”

“A pillbug?” William squinted down his chest.

“No, a Billbug,” she said, tapping the bug in question. “It’s a sort of weevil, but it eats cat-tails. And young corn.”

“Rather a varied diet.”

“Well, unless you’re a dung beetle, you do have some choice in what you eat,” she said, smiling. She touched another of the beetles, and William felt a faint but noticeable jolt at the base of his spine. “Now here,” she said, with small, distinct taps of her finger, “we have an Emerald Ash Borer, a Festive Tiger Beetle, and the False Potato Beetle.”

“What does a true Potato Beetle look like?”

“Very much the same. This one’s called a False Potato Beetle because while it will eat potatoes in a pinch, it really prefers horse nettles.”

“Ah.” He thought he should express interest in the rest of the little things ornamenting his waistcoat, in hopes that she’d go on tapping them. He was opening his mouth to inquire about a large cream-colored thing with horns, when she stepped back in order to look up into his face.

“I heard my father-in-law talking to Lord John about you,” she said.

“Oh? Good. I hope they’d a fine day for it,” he said, not really caring.

“Speaking of False Potato Beetles, I mean,” she said. He closed his eyes briefly, then opened one and looked at her. She was perfectly solid, not wavering in the slightest.

“I know I’m a trifle the worse for drink,” he said politely. “But I don’t think I resemble any sort of Potato Beetle, regardless of my uncle’s opinion.”


“Horse Drills”

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[This excerpt is also from GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE, Copyright © 2021 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.]

[ . . . ] had volunteered to rise early—very early—and make the gallons of brose and parritch to feed the militia. The warm, creamy smell crept up the stairs and eased me into wakefulness like a soft hand on my cheek. I stretched luxuriously in the warm bed and rolled over, enjoying the picture of Jamie, long-legged as a stork and stark naked, bent over the washstand to peer into the looking-glass as he shaved by candlelight. Dawn was no more yet than a fading of the stars outside the dark window.

“Getting all spruced up for the gang?” I asked. “Are you doing something formal with them this morning?”

He drew the razor over his pulled-down upper lip, then flicked the foam to the side of the basin.

“Aye, horse drills. It’ll just be the mounted men today. With the Tall Tree, we’ll have twenty-one.” He grinned at me in the mirror, his teeth as white as the shaving soap. “Enough for a decent cattle raid.”

“Can Cyrus ride?” I was surprised at that; the Crombies, Wilsons, MacReadys and Geohagens were all fisherfolk who had come—by God knew what circuitous and difficult means—to us from Thurso. They were, for the most part, openly afraid of horses, and almost none of them could ride.

Jamie drew the blade up his neck, craned his head to evaluate the results, and shrugged.

“We’ll find out.”

He rinsed the razor, dried it on the worn linen towel, then used the towel to wipe his face.

“If I mean them to take it seriously, Sassenach, they’d best think I do.”

[end section]

The sky was lightening, but it was still dark on the ground and only a few of the men had gathered when Cyrus Crombie came down out of the trees. The men glanced at him in surprise, but when Jamie greeted him, they all nodded and muttered “Madainn math,” or grunted in acknowledgement.

“Here, lad,” Jamie said, thrusting a wooden cup of hot brose into the Tall Tree’s hand. “Warm your belly, and come meet Matilda. She belongs to Frances, but the lass says she’ willing to lend ye the mare until we can find ye a horse of your own.”

2021-02-01-BEES-Beetles1“Frances? Oh. I-I thank her.” The Tall Tree glowed a bit and glanced shyly at the house, and then at the horse. Matilda was a big mare, stout and broad-backed, and with a gentle, accommodating manner.

Young Ian had come down now, in buckskins and jacket, his hair plaited and hanging loose down his back. He glanced round the group of men, nodding, then came for his own brose, lifting a brow in the direction of Cyrus.

“[Tall Tree] will be joining us,” Jamie said casually. “Will ye show him the way of it, to saddle and bridle Matilda, while I tell the men what we’re about?”

“Aye,” Ian said, swallowing hot barley broth and exhaling a cloud of white steam. “And what are we about?”

“Cavalry drills.” That made Ian raise both brows and glance over his shoulder at the group of men, who looked like what they were—farmers. They all owned horses, and could ride from the Ridge to Salem without falling off, but beyond that…

“Simple cavalry drills,” Jamie clarified. “Riding slowly.”

Young Ian looked thoughtfully at Cyrus, standing at eager attention.

“Aye,” he said, and crossed himself.

[end section]

Please visit my official webpage for GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE, where more excerpts (aka “Daily Lines”) and other information about book nine in my OUTLANDER series of major novels.

2021-02-01-BEES-Beetles4HUGE thanks to Yolande Torjman for the lovely multiple images of bees on lemon blossoms, and to Alison Hawkworth for the lovely photo of a bunch of bees in a magnolia bloom!

These excerpts were also posted on my official Facebook page on Monday, February 1, 2021 and Monday, February 8, 2021.

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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…”

Social Media Hashtags: #DailyLines #HappyHogmanay

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?”


“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!

Social Media Hashtags: #MERRY #CHRISTMAS! #noBEESisNOTfinished #IllTELLyouwhenitis #goplaywithyourjingtinklers #eatsomeroastbeef

[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?”


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.