May 30, 2016; Memorial Day:
For those of our number who have paid for our freedom with their bodies, their lives, and their souls.
Facebook hashtags: #DailyLines, #BookNine, #MemorialDay2016
"No. Mind," Roger added in fairness, pushing aside a pine branch, thick with a pungent sap that left his palm sticky, "John Adams, Ben Franklin, all the thinkers and talkers—they’re risking their necks as much as you—as we—are."
"Aye." The ground was rising steeply now, and nothing more was said as they climbed, feeling their way over the broken ground of a gravel-fall.
"I’m thinking that maybe I canna die—or lead men to their own deaths—only for the notion of freedom. Not now."
"Not now?" Roger echoed, surprised. "You could have—earlier?"
"Aye. When you and the lass and your weans were… there." Roger caught the brief movement of a hand, flung out toward the distant future. "Because what I did here then would be—it would matter, aye? To all of you—and I can fight for you." His voice grew softer. "It’s what I’m made to do, aye?"
"I understand," Roger said quietly. "But ye’ve always known that, haven’t you?"
Jamie made a sound in his throat, half-surprised.
"Dinna ken when I knew it," he said, a smile in his voice. "Maybe at Leoch, when I found I could get the other lads into mischief—and did. Perhaps I should be confessing that?"
Roger brushed that aside.
"It will matter to Jem and Mandy—and to those of our blood who come after them," he said. Provided Jem and Mandy survive to have children of their own, he added mentally, and felt a cold qualm in the pit of this stomach at the thought.
"How old were you, the first time you saw a man killed?" Roger asked abruptly.
"Eight," Jamie replied without hesitation. "In a fight during my first cattle raid. I wasna much troubled about it."
Jamie stopped quite suddenly, and Roger had to step to the side to avoid running into him.
"Look,"Jamie said, and he did. They were standing at the top of a small rise, where the trees fell away for a moment, and the Ridge and the north side of the cove below it spread before them, a massive chunk of solid black against the indigo of the faded sky. Tiny lights pricked the blackness, though; the windows and sparking chimneys of a dozen cabins.
"It’s not only our wives and our weans, ken?" Jamie said, and nodded toward the lights. "It’s them, as well. All of them." His voice held an odd note; a sort of pride—but rue and resignation, too.
All of them.
Seventy-three households in all, Roger knew. He’d seen the ledgers Jamie kept, written with painful care, noting the economy and welfare of each family who occupied his land—and his mind.
"Now therefore so shalt thou say unto my servant David, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I took thee from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, to be ruler over my people, over Israel." The quote sprang to mind and he’d spoken it aloud before he could think.
Jamie drew a deep, audible breath.
"Aye," he said. "Sheep would be easier." Then, abruptly, "Claire and Brianna say the war is coming to the south. I canna shield them, should it come close." He nodded toward the distant sparks, and it was clear to Roger that by "them," he meant his tenants—his people. He didn’t pause for a reply, but re-settled the creel on his shoulder and started down.
The trail narrowed. Roger’s shoulder brushed Jamie’s, close, and he fell back a step, following his father-in-law. The moon was late in rising tonight, and sliver-thin. It was dark and the air had a bite in it now.
"I’ll help you protect them," he said to Jamie’s back. His voice was gruff.
"I ken that," Jamie said, softly. There was a short pause, as though Jamie was waiting for him to speak further, and he realized that he should.
"With my body," Roger said quietly, into the night. "And with my soul, if that should be necessary."
He saw Jamie in brief silhouette, saw him draw breath deep and his shoulders relax as he let it out. They walked more briskly now; the trail was dark, and they strayed now and then, the brush catching at their bare legs.
At the edge of their own clearing, Jamie paused to let Roger come up with him, and laid a hand on his arm.
"The things that happen in a war—the things that ye do… they mark ye," he said at last, quietly. "I dinna think bein’ a priest will spare you, is what I’m sayin’, and I’m sorry for it."
They’ve marked you. And I’m sorry for it. But he said nothing; only touched Jamie’s hand lightly where it lay upon his arm. Then Jamie took his hand away and they walked home together, silent.
Diana posted this excerpt from Book Nine on her official FaceBook page on Memorial Day, May 30, 2016. Note that to view Diana’s FaceBook page you will need your own Facebook account.
Some of this text from Book Nine was previously posted by Diana on January 2, 2015 as "Mantalk" in the Book Nine list of excerpts.
This page was last updated on Sunday, June 5, 2016 at 3:41 a.m. (PT).