“In the light of eternity, time casts no shadow.”
[Excerpt from WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD, to be published June 10th.]
It was perhaps four o’clock ack emma. Or before sparrow-fart, as the British armed forces of my own time used to put it. That sense of temporal dislocation was back again, memories of another war coming like a sudden fog between me and my work, then disappearing in an instant, leaving the present sharp and vivid as Kodachrome. The army was moving.
No fog obscured Jamie. He was big and solid, his outlines clearly visible against the shredding night. I was awake and alert, dressed and ready, but the chill of sleep still lay upon me, making my fingers clumsy. I could feel his warmth, and drew close to him, as I might to a campfire. He was leading Clarence, who was even warmer, though much less alert, ears sagging in sleepy annoyance.
“You’ll have Clarence,” Jamie told me, putting the mule’s rein in my hand. “And these, to make sure ye keep him, if ye should find yourself on your own.” “These” were a heavy pair of horse pistols, holstered and strung on a thick leather belt that also held a shot-bag and powder-horn.
“Thank you,” I said, swallowing as I wrapped the reins around a sapling in order to belt the pistols on. The guns were amazingly heavy—but I wouldn’t deny that the weight of them on my hips was amazingly comforting, too.
“All right,” I said, glancing toward the tent. “What about—“
“I’ve seen to that,” he said, cutting me off. “Gather the rest of your things, Sassenach; I’ve nay more than a quarter-hour, at most, and I need ye with me when we go.”
I watched him stride off into the melee, tall and resolute, and wondered—as I had so often before—_Will it be today? Will this be the last sight I remember of him_? I stood very still, watching as hard as I could.
When I’d lost him the first time, before Culloden, I’d remembered. Every moment of our last night together. Tiny things would come back to me through the years: the taste of salt on his temple and the curve of his skull as I cupped his head, the soft fine hair at the base of his neck thick and damp in my fingers…the sudden, magical well of his blood in dawning light when I’d cut his hand and marked him forever as my own. Those things had kept him by me.
And when I’d lost him this time to the sea, I’d remembered the sense of him beside me, warm and solid in my bed, and the rhythm of his breathing. The light across the bones of his face in moonlight and the flush of his skin in the rising sun. I could hear him breathe, when I lay in bed alone in my room at Chestnut Street—slow, regular, never stopping—even though I knew it _had_ stopped. The sound would comfort me, then drive me mad with the knowledge of loss, so I pulled the pillow hard over my head in a futile attempt to shut it out—only to emerge into the night of the room, thick with woodsmoke and candlewax and vanished light, and be comforted to hear it once more.
If this time…but he had turned, quite suddenly, as though I’d called his name. He came swiftly up to me, grasped me by the arms and said in a low, strong voice, “It willna be today, either.”
Then he put his arms around me and drew me up on tiptoe into a deep, soft kiss. I heard brief cheers from a few of the men nearby, but it didn’t matter. Even if it should be today, I would remember.