Jamie and Brianna came back in late afternoon, with two brace of squirrels, fourteen doves, and a large piece of stained and tattered canvas that, unwrapped, revealed something that looked like the remnants of a particularly grisly murder.
“Supper?” I asked, gingerly poking at a shattered bone sticking out of the mass of hair and slick flesh. The smell was iron-raw and butcherous, with a rank note that seemed familiar, but decay hadn’t yet set in to any noticeable degree.
“Aye, if ye can manage, Sassenach.” Jamie came and peered down at the bloody shambles, frowning a little. “I’ll tidy it up for ye. I need a bit o’ whisky first, though.”
Given the bloodstains on his shirt and breeks, I hadn’t noticed the equally stained rag tied round his leg, but now saw that he was limping. Raising a brow, I went to the large basket of food, small tools, and minor medical supplies that I lugged up to the house site every morning.
“From what’s left of it, I presume that is—or was—a deer. Did you actually tear it apart with your bare hands?”
“No, but the bear did,” Bree said, straight-faced. She exchanged complicit glances with her father, who hummed in his throat.
“Bear,” I said, and took a deep breath. I gestured at his shirt. “Right. How much of that blood is yours?”
“No much,” he said tranquilly, sitting down on the Big Log. “Whisky?”
I looked sharply at Brianna, but she seemed to be intact. Filthy, and with green-gray bird droppings streaked down her shirt, but intact. Her face glowed with sun and happiness, and I smiled.
“There’s whisky in the tin canteen hanging over there,” I said, nodding toward the big spruce at the far side of the clearing. “Do you want to fetch it for your father while I see what’s left of his leg?”
“Sure. Where are Mandy and Jem?”
“When last seen, they were playing by the creek with Aidan and his brothers. Don’t worry,” I added, seeing her lower lip suck suddenly in. “It’s very shallow there and Fanny said she’d go and keep an eye on Mandy while she’s collecting leeches. Fanny’s very dependable.”
“Mm-hm.” Bree still looked dubious, but I could see her fighting down her maternal impulse to go scoop Mandy out of the creek immediately. “I know I met her last night, but I’m not sure I remember Fanny. Where does she live?”
“With us,” Jamie said matter-of-factly. “Ow!”
“Hold still,” I said, spreading the puncture wound in his leg open with two fingers while I poured saline solution into it. “You don’t want to die of tetanus, do you?”
“And what would ye do if I said yes, Sassenach?”
“The same thing I’m doing right now. I don’t care if you want to or not; I’m not having it.”
“Well, why did ye ask me, then?“ He leaned back on his palms, both legs stretched out, and looked up at Bree. “Fanny’s a wee orphan lass. Your brother took her under his protection.”
Bree’s face went almost comically blank. “My brother. Willie?” she asked, tentative.
“Unless your mother kens otherwise, he’s the only brother ye’ve got,” Jamie assured her. “Aye, William. Jesus, Sassenach, ye’re worse than the bear!”
He closed his eyes, whether to avoid looking at what I was doing to his leg—enlarging and debriding the wound with a lancet; the injury wasn’t serious in itself, but the puncture wound in his calf was deep, and I was in fact not being rhetorical about the risk of tetanus—or to give Bree a moment to recover her countenance.
She looked at him, head cocked to one side.
“So,” she said slowly. “That means . . . he knows that you’re his father?”
Jamie grimaced, not opening his eyes.
“Not that happy about it?” One side of her mouth curled up, but both her eyes and her voice were sympathetic.
“Yet,” I murmured, rinsing blood down his long shinbone. He snorted. Bree made a more feminine version of the same noise and went to fetch the whisky. Jamie heard her go and opened his eyes.
“Are ye not done yet, Sassenach?” I saw the slight vibration of his wrists and realized that he was bracing himself on his palms in order to hide the fact that he was trembling with exhaustion.
“I’m through hurting you,” I assured him. I put my hand next to his on the log as I rose, touching his fingers lightly. “I’ll put a bandage on it, and then you should lie down for a bit with your foot propped up.”
“Don’t fall asleep, Da.” Brianna’s shadow fell over him, and she leaned down to hand him the canteen. “Ian says he’s bringing Rachel and his mother down to have supper with us.” She leaned in further and kissed him on the forehead.
“Don’t worry about Willie,” she said. “He’ll figure things out.”
”Aye. I hope he doesna wait ’til I’m dead.” He gave her a lopsided smile to indicate that this was meant to be a joke, and lifted the canteen in salute.
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Excerpt from GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE, copyright © Diana Gabaldon 2021. 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 Amy Talarico for the lovely bee photo!