Copyright 1994 Diana Gabaldon
MAY 2 , 1968
Of course he’s dead!’’ Claire’s voice was sharp with agitation; it rang loudly in the half-empty study, echoing among the rifled bookshelves. She stood against the cork-lined wall like a prisoner awaiting a firing squad, staring from her daughter to Roger Wakefield and back again.
‘‘I don’t think so.’’ Roger felt terribly tired. He rubbed a hand over his face, then picked up the folder from the desk; the one containing all the research he’d done since Claire and her daughter had first come to him, three weeks before, and asked his help. He opened the folder and thumbed slowly through the contents. The Jacobites of Culloden. The Rising of the ’45. The gallant Scots who had rallied to the banner of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and cut through Scotland like a blazing sword—only to come to ruin and defeat against the Duke of Cumberland on the gray moor at Culloden. ‘‘Here,’’ he said, plucking out several sheets clipped together. The archaic writing looked odd, rendered in the black crispness of a photocopy. ‘‘This is the muster roll of the Master of Lovat’s regiment.’’
He thrust the thin sheaf of papers at Claire, but it was her daughter, Brianna, who took the sheets from him and began to turn the pages, a slight frown between her reddish brows.
‘‘Read the top sheet,’’ Roger said. ‘‘Where it says ‘Officers.’ ’’
‘‘All right. ‘Officers,’ ’’ she read aloud, ‘‘ ‘Simon, Master of Lovat’ . . .’’
‘‘The Young Fox,’’ Roger interrupted. ‘‘Lovat’s son. And five more names, right?’’
Brianna cocked one brow at him, but went on reading.
‘‘ ‘William Chisholm Fraser, Lieutenant; George D’Amerd Fraser Shaw, Captain; Duncan Joseph Fraser, Lieutenant; Bayard Murray Fraser, Major,’’ she paused, swallowing, before reading the last name, ‘‘ ‘. . . James Alexander
Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Captain.’ ’’ She lowered the papers, looking a little pale. ‘‘My father.’’
Claire moved quickly to her daughter’s side, squeezing the girl’s arm. She was pale, too.
‘‘Yes,’’ she said to Roger. ‘‘I know he went to Culloden. When he left me . . . there at the stone circle . . . he meant to go back to Culloden Field, to rescue his men who were with Charles Stuart. And we know he did’’—she nodded at the folder on the desk, its manila surface blank and innocent in the lamplight—‘‘you found their names. But . . . but . . . Jamie . . .’’
Speaking the name aloud seemed to rattle her, and she clamped her lips tight.
Now it was Brianna’s turn to support her mother.
‘‘He meant to go back, you said.’’ Her eyes, dark blue and encouraging, were intent on her mother’s face. ‘‘He meant to take his men away from the field, and then go back to the battle.’’ Claire nodded, recovering herself slightly.
‘‘He knew he hadn’t much chance of getting away; if the English caught him . . . he said he’d rather die in battle. That’s what he meant to do.’’ She turned to Roger, her gaze an unsettling amber. Her eyes always reminded him of hawk’s eyes, as though she could see a good deal farther than most people. ‘‘I can’t believe he didn’t die there—so many men did, and he meant to!’’
Almost half the Highland army had died at Culloden, cut down in a blast of cannonfire and searing musketry. But not Jamie Fraser. ‘‘No,’’ Roger said doggedly. ‘‘That bit I read you from Linklater’s book—’’ He reached to pick it up, a white volume, entitled The Prince in the Heather.
‘‘Following the battle,’’ he read, ‘‘eighteen wounded Jacobite officers took refuge in the farmhouse near the moor. Here they lay in pain, their wounds untended, for two days. At the end of that time, they were taken out and shot. One man, a Fraser of the Master of Lovat’s regiment, escaped the slaughter. The rest are buried at the edge of the domestic park.
‘‘See?’’ he said, laying the book down and looking earnestly at the two women over its pages. ‘‘An officer, of the Master of Lovat’s regiment.’’ He grabbed up the sheets of the muster roll. ‘‘And here they are! Just six of them. Now, we know the man in the farmhouse can’t have been Young Simon; he’s a well-known historical figure, and we know very well what happened to him. He retreated from the field— unwounded, mind you—with a group of his men, and fought his way north, eventually making it back to Beaufort Castle, near here.’’ He waved vaguely at the full-length window, through which the nighttime lights of Inverness twinkled faintly.
‘‘Nor was the man who escaped Leanach farmhouse any of the other four officers—William, George, Duncan, or Bayard,’’ Roger said. ‘‘Why?’’ He snatched another paper out of the folder and brandished it, almost triumphantly. ‘‘Because they all did die at Culloden! All four of them were killed on the field—I found their names listed on a plaque in the church at Beauly.’’
Claire let out a long breath, then eased herself down into the old leather swivel chair behind the desk.
‘‘Jesus H. Christ,’’ she said. She closed her eyes and leaned forward, elbows on the desk, and her head against her hands, the thick, curly brown hair spilling forward to hide her face. Brianna laid a hand on Claire’s back, face troubled as she bent over her mother. She was a tall girl, with large, fine bones, and her long red hair glowed in the warm light of the desk lamp.
‘‘If he didn’t die . . .’’ she began tentatively.
Claire’s head snapped up. ‘‘But he is dead!’’ she said. Her face was strained, and small lines were visible around her eyes. ‘‘For God’s sake, it’s two hundred years; whether he died at Culloden or not, he’s dead now!’’
Brianna stepped back from her mother’s vehemence, and lowered her head, so the red hair—her father’s red hair—swung down beside her cheek.
‘‘I guess so,’’ she whispered. Roger could see she was fighting back tears. And no wonder, he thought. To find out in short order that first, the man you had loved and called ‘‘Father’’ all your life really wasn’t your father, secondly, that your real father was a Highland Scot who had lived two hundred years ago, and thirdly, to realize that he had likely perished in some horrid fashion, unthinkably far from the wife and child he had sacrificed himself to save . . . enough to rattle one, Roger thought.
He crossed to Brianna and touched her arm. She gave him a brief, distracted glance, and tried to smile. He put his arms around her, even in his pity for her distress thinking how marvelous she felt, all warm and soft and springy at once.
Claire still sat at the desk, motionless. The yellow hawk’s eyes had gone a softer color now, remote with memory. They rested sightlessly on the east wall of the study, still covered from floor to ceiling with the notes and memorabilia left by the Reverend Wakefield, Roger’s late adoptive father. Looking at the wall himself, Roger saw the annual meeting notice sent by the Society of the White Rose—those enthusiastic, eccentric souls who still championed the cause of Scottish independence, meeting in nostalgic tribute to Charles Stuart, and the Highland heroes who had followed him.
Roger cleared his throat slightly.
‘‘Er . . . if Jamie Fraser didn’t die at Culloden . . .’’ he said.
‘‘Then he likely died soon afterward.’’ Claire’s eyes met Roger’s, straight on, the cool look back in the yellow-brown depths. ‘‘You have no idea how it was,’’ she said. ‘‘There was a famine in the Highlands—none of the men had eaten for days before the battle. He was wounded—we know that. Even if he escaped, there would have been . . . no one to care for him.’’ Her voice caught slightly at that; she was a doctor now, had been a healer even then, twenty years before, when she had stepped through a circle of standing stones, and met destiny with James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Roger was conscious of them both; the tall, shaking girl he held in his arms, and the woman at the desk, so still, so poised. She had traveled through the stones, through time; been suspected as a spy, arrested as a witch, snatched by an unimaginable quirk of circumstance from the arms of her first husband, Frank Randall. And three years later, her second husband, James Fraser, had sent her back through the stones, pregnant, in a desperate effort to save her and the unborn child from the onrushing disaster that would soon engulf him.
Surely, he thought to himself, she’s been through enough? But Roger was a historian. He had a scholar’s insatiable, amoral curiosity, too powerful to be constrained by simple compassion. More than that, he was oddly conscious of the third figure in the family tragedy in which he found himself involved—Jamie Fraser.
‘If he didn’t die at Culloden,’’ he began again, more firmly, ‘‘then perhaps I can find out what did happen to him. Do you want me to try?’’ He waited, breathless, feeling Brianna’s warm breath through his shirt. Jamie Fraser had had a life, and a death. Roger felt obscurely that it was his duty to find out all the truth; that Jamie Fraser’s women deserved to know all they could of him. For Brianna, such knowledge was all she would ever have of the father she had never known. And for Claire—behind the question he had asked was the thought that had plainly not yet struck her, stunned with shock as she was: she had crossed the barrier of time twice before. She could, just possibly, do it again. And if Jamie Fraser had not died at Culloden . . .
He saw awareness flicker in the clouded amber of her eyes, as the thought came to her. She was normally pale; now her face blanched white as the ivory handle of the letter opener before her on the desk. Her fingers closed around it, clenching so the knuckles stood out in knobs of bone. She didn’t speak for a long time. Her gaze fixed on Brianna and lingered there for a moment, then returned to Roger’s face. ‘‘Yes,’’ she said, in a whisper so soft he could barely hear her. ‘‘Yes. Find out for me. Please. Find out.’’