From Friday, November 24, 2017 (The Day After Thanksgiving):
I finished carving and scavenging the turkey carcass around 1:30 a.m. last night. (Not that I was working all the time up to then. <g> The festivities wound down around 5:30 p.m., and everyone subsided into a digestive meditation, emerging periodically for a piece of pie or a handful of Moose Munch. Everybody fell asleep around 9 p.m., including me and the dogs.)
Below is a new Excerpt (“Daily Lines”) from GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE, nicknamed “BEES,” the ninth book in my Outlander series of major novels. I am currently writing and doing research for BEES.
Please note that the Excerpt below may contain SPOILERS…
Social Media Hashtags: #DailyLines, #ForThanksgiving, #FamilyAndFood, #NoFootball, #BriannaAndJamie, #AHuntingWeWillGo
It was a steep climb, and she found herself puffing, sweat starting to purl behind her ears in spite of the cool day. Her father climbed, as ever, like a mountain goat, without the slightest appearance of strain, but—to her chagrin—noticed her struggling and beckoned her aside, onto a small ledge.
“We’re in nay hurry, a nighean,” he said, smiling at her. “There’s water here.” He reached out, with an obvious tentativeness, and touched her flushed cheek, quickly taking back his hand.
“Sorry, lass,” he said, and smiled. “I’m no used yet to the notion that ye’re real.”
“I know what you mean,” she said softly, and swallowing, reached out and touched his face, warm and clean-shaven, slanted eyes deep blue as hers.
“Och,” he said under his breath, and gently brought her into his arms. She hugged him tight and they stood that way, not speaking, listening to the cry of ravens circling overhead and the trickling of water on rock.
“[Come and drink, a nighean, [Gaelic]]” he said, letting go as gently as he’d grasped her, and turning her toward a tiny freshet that ran down a crevice between two rocks. Come and drink.
The water was icy and tasted of granite and the faint turpentine tang of pine needles.
She’d slaked her thirst and was splashing water on her flushed cheeks when she felt her father make a sudden movement. She froze at once, cutting her eyes at him. He also stood frozen, but lifted both eyes and chin a little, signaling to the slope above them.
She saw—and heard—it then, a slow crumble of falling dirt that broke loose and hit the ledge beside her foot with a tiny rattle of pebbles. This was followed by silence, except for the calling of the ravens. That was louder, she thought, as though the birds were nearer. They see something, she thought.
They were nearer. A raven swooped suddenly, flashing unnervingly near her head, and another screamed from above.
A sudden boom from the outcrop overhead nearly made her lose her footing, and she grabbed a handful of sapling sticking out of the rock-face by reflex. Just in time, too, for there was a thump and a slithering noise above and at what seemed the same instant, something huge fell past in a shower of dirt and gravel, bouncing off the ledge next to her in an explosion of breath, blood and impact before landing with a crash in the bushes below.
“Blessed Michael defend us,” said her father in Gaelic, crossing himself. He peered down into the thrashing brush below—Jesus, whatever it was, was still alive—then up.
“[Mohawk!]” said an impassioned male voice from above. She didn’t recognize the word, but she did know the voice and joy burst over her.
“Ian!” she called. There was total silence from above, save for the ravens, who were getting steadily more upset.
“Blessed Michael defend us,” said a startled voice in Gaelic, and an instant later, her cousin Ian had dropped onto their narrow ledge, where he balanced with no apparent difficulty.
“It is you!” she said. “Oh, Ian!”
“[Cousin!]” He grabbed her and squeezed tight, laughing in disbelief. “God, it’s you!” He drew back for an instant for a good look to confirm it, laughed again in delight, kissed her solidly and re-squeezed. He smelled like buckskin, porridge and gunpowder and she could feel his heart thumping against her own chest.
She vaguely heard a scrabbling noise and as they let go of each other, realized that her father had dropped off the ledge and was half-sliding down the scree below it, toward the brush where the deer—it must have been a deer—had fallen.
He halted for a moment at the edge of the brushy growth—the bushes were still thrashing, but the movements of the wounded deer were growing less violent—then drew his dirk and with a muttered remark in Gaelic, waded gingerly into the brush.
“It’s all rose-briers down there,” Ian said, peering over her shoulder. “But I think he’ll make it in time to cut the throat. A Dhia, it was a bad shot and I was afraid I—but what the dev—I mean, how is it ye’re here?” He stood back a little, his eyes running over her, the corner of his mouth turning up slightly as he noted her breeches and leather hiking shoes, this fading as his eyes returned to her face, worried now. “Is your man not with you? And the bairns?”
“Yes, they are,” she assured him. “Roger’s hammering things and Jem’s helping him and Mandy’s getting in the way. As for what we’re doing here…” The day and the joy of reunion had let her ignore the recent past, but the ultimate need of explanation brought the enormity of it all suddenly crashing in upon her.
“Dinna fash, cousin,” Ian said swiftly, seeing her face. “It’ll bide. D’ye think ye recall how to shoot a turkey? There’s a band o’ them struttin’ to and fro like folk dancing Strip the Willow at a ceilidh, not a quarter-mile from here.”
“Oh, I might.” She’d propped the fowling piece against the cliff-face while she drank; the deer’s fall had knocked it over and she picked it up, checking; the fall had knocked the flint askew, and she re-seated it. The thrashing below had stopped, and she could hear her father’s voice, in snatches above the wind, saying the gralloch prayer.
“Hadn’t we better help Da with the deer, though?”
“Ach, it’s no but a yearling buck, he’ll have it done before ye can blink.” Ian leaned out from the ledge, calling down. “I’m takin’ Bree to shoot turkeys, a mathair-braither…!”
Dead silence from below, and then a lot of rustling and Jamie’s disheveled head poked suddenly up above the rose-briers. His hair was loose and tangled, his face was deeply flushed and bleeding in several places, as were his arms and hands, and he looked displeased.
“Ian,” he said, in measured tones, but in a voice loud enough to be easily heard above the forest sounds. “Mac Ian…mac Ian…!”
“We’ll be back to help carry the meat!” Ian called back. He waved cheerily, and grabbing the fowling piece, caught Bree’s eye and jerked his chin upward. She glanced down, but her father had disappeared, leaving the bushes swaying in agitation.
She’d lost much of her eye for the wilderness, she found; the cliff looked impassible to her, but Ian scrambled up as easily as a baboon, and after a moment’s hesitation, she followed, much more slowly, slipping now and then in small showers of dirt as she groped for the holds her cousin had used.
“Ian mac Ian mac Ian?” she asked, reaching the top and pausing to empty the dirt out of her shoes. Her heart was beating unpleasantly hard. “Is that like me calling Jem Jeremiah [what are his middle names?] MacKenzie when I’m annoyed with him?”
“Something like,” Ian said, shrugging. “Ian, son of Ian, son of Ian… the notion is to point out ye’re a disgrace to your forefathers, aye?” He was wearing a ragged, filthy calico shirt, but the sleeves had been torn off, and she saw a large white scar in the shape of a four-pointed star on the curve of his bare brown shoulder.
“What was that?” she said, nodding at it. He glanced at it, and made a dismissive gesture, turning to lead her across the small ridge.
“Ach, no much,” he said. “An Abenaki bastard shot me wi’ an arrow, at Monmouth. Denny cut it out for me a few days after—that’s Denzell Hunter,” he added, seeing her blank look. “Rachel’s brother. He’s a doctor, like your mam.”
“Rachel!” she exclaimed. “Da said you got married—Rachel’s your wife?”
A huge grin spread across his face.
“She is,” he said simply. “Taing do Dhia…” Then looked quickly at her to see if she’d understood.
“I remember ‘Thanks be to God,’” she assured him. “And quite a bit more. Roger spent most of the voyage from Scotland refreshing our Gaidhlig. Did Da also tell me Rachel’s a Quaker?” she asked, stretching to step across the stones in a tiny brook.
“Aye, she is.” Ian’s eyes were fixed on the stones, but she thought he spoke with a bit less joy and pride than he’d had a moment before. She left it alone, though; if there was a conflict—and she couldn’t quite see how there wouldn’t be, given what she knew about her cousin and what she thought she knew about Quakers—this wasn’t the time to ask questions.
Not that such considerations stopped Ian.
“From Scotland?” he said, turning his head to look back at her over his shoulder. “When?” Then his face changed suddenly, as he realized the ambiguity of “when,” and he made an apologetic gesture, dismissing the question.
“We left Edinburgh in late June,” she said, taking the simplest answer for now. “I’ll tell you the rest later.”
He nodded, and for a time they walked, sometimes together, sometimes with Ian leading, finding deer trails or cutting upward to go around a thick growth of bush. She was happy to follow him, so she could look at him without embarrassing him with her scrutiny.
He’d changed—no great wonder there—still tall and very lean, but hardened, a man grown fully into himself, the long muscles of his arms clear-cut under his skin. His brown hair was darker, plaited and tied with a leather thong, and adorned with what looked like very fresh turkey feathers bound into the braid. For good luck? She wondered. He’d picked up the bow and quiver he’d left at the top of the cliff, and the quiver swung gently now against his back.
But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face, she thought, entertained. It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists, It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees, dress does not hide him. The poem had always summoned Roger for her, but now it encompassed Ian and her father as well, different as the three of them were.
As they rose higher and the timber opened out, the breeze rose and freshened, and Ian halted, beckoning her with a small movement of his fingers.
“D’ye hear them?” he breathed in her ear.
She did, and the hairs rippled pleasantly down her backbone. Small, harsh yelps, almost like a barking dog. And farther off, a sort of intermittent purr, something between a large cat and a small motor.
“Best take off your stockings and rub your legs wi’ dirt,” Ian whispered, motioning toward her woolen stockings. “Your hands and face as well.”
She nodded, set the gun against a tree, and scratched dry leaves away from a patch of soil, moist enough to rub on her skin. Ian, his own skin nearly the color of his buckskins, needed no such camouflage. He moved silently away while she was anointing her hands and face, and when she looked up, she couldn’t see him for a moment.
Then there was a series of sounds like a rusty door hinge swinging to and fro, and suddenly she saw him, standing stock still behind a [tree] some fifty feet away.
The forest seemed to go dead for an instant, the soft scratchings and leaf-murmurs ceasing. Then there was an angry gobble and she turned her head as slowly as she could, to see a tom turkey poke his pale blue head out of the grass and look sharp from side to side, wattles bright red and swinging, looking for the challenger.
She cut her eyes at Ian, his hands cupped at his mouth, but he didn’t move or make a sound. She held her breath and looked back at the turkey, who emitted another loud gobble—this one echoed by another tom at a distance. The turkey she was watching glanced back toward that sound, lifted his head and yelped, listened for a moment, and then ducked back into the grass. She glanced at Ian; he caught her movement and shook his head, very slightly.
They waited for the space of sixteen slow breaths—she counted—and then Ian gobbled again. The tom popped out of the grass and strode across a patch of open, leaf-packed ground, blood in his eye, breast feathers puffed and tail fanned out to a fare-thee-well. He paused for a moment to allow the woods to admire his magnificence, then commenced strutting slowly to and fro, uttering harsh, aggressive cries.
Moving only her eyeballs, she glanced back and forth between the strutting tom and Ian, who timed his movements to those of the strutting turkey, sliding the bow from his shoulder, freezing, bringing an arrow to hand, freezing, and finally nocking the arrow as the bird made its final turn.
Or what should have been its final turn. Ian bent his bow and in the same movement, released his arrow and uttered a startled, all-too-human yelp as a large, dark object dropped from the tree above him. He jerked back and the turkey barely missed landing on his head. She could see it now, a hen, feathers fluffed in fright, running with neck outstretched across the open ground toward the equally startled tom, who had deflated in shock.
By reflex, she seized her shotgun, brought it to bear and fired. She missed, and both turkeys disappeared into a patch of ferns, making noises that sounded like a small hammer striking a wood block.
The echoes died away and the leaves of the trees settled back into their murmur. She looked at her cousin, who glanced at his bow, then across the open ground to where his arrow was sticking absurdly out from between two rocks. He looked at her, and they both burst into laughter.
“Aye, well,” he said philosophically. “That’s what we get for leavin’ Uncle Jamie to pick roses by himself.”
Return to my official BEES webpage for more “Daily Lines” (aka “Excerpts”) and other information about Book Nine!
Image captions: Relaxing with my grandson and two of our family’s dogs. And then a photo that I took of a big old Cottonwood tree in Santa Fe.
This excerpt was first posted on my official Facebook page on Friday, November 24, 2017, then posted as one of my blog entries on December 5, 2017, which also has blog comments from readers and selected comments from Facebook.