On March 6th, 1988, I started writing a book for practice. That turned out to be OUTLANDER, and now look where we are….! So in honor of the occasion <cough>, here is (what I think will be) Roger’s first scene from BEES…
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Sheer exhaustion made Roger sleep like the dead, in spite of the fact that the MacKenzies’ bed consisted of two ragged quilts that Amy Higgins had hastily dragged out of her piecework bag, these laid over a week’s worth of the Higginses’ dirty laundry, and the MacKenzies’ outer clothing as blankets. It was a warm bed, though, with the heat of the smoored fire on one side, and the body heat of two children and a snuggly wife on the other, and he fell into sleep like a man falling down a well, with time for no more than the briefest prayer—though a profound one-—of gratitude.
We made it. Thanks.
He woke to darkness and the smell of burnt wood and a freshly-used chamber-pot, feeling a sudden chill behind him. He had lain down with his back to the fire, but had rolled over during the night, and now saw the sullen glow of the last embers a couple of feet from his face, faint crimson veins in a bank of charcoal and gray ash. He put a hand behind him; Brianna was gone. There was a vague heap that must be Jem and Mandy at the far side of the quilt and the rest of the cabin was still somnolent, the air thick with heavy breathing.
“Bree?” he whispered, raising himself on one elbow. She was close—a solid shadow with her bottom braced against the wall by the hearth, one foot raised as she pulled on a stocking.
She put down the foot and crouched beside him, fingers brushing his face.
“I’m going hunting with Da,” she whispered, bending close. “Mama will watch the kids, if you have things to do today.”
“Aye. Where did ye get—” he ran a hand down the side of her hip; she was wearing a thick hunting shirt and loose breeches, much patched; he could feel the roughness of the stitching under his palm.
“They’re Da’s,” she said, and kissed him, the tinge of ember-light glisking in her hair. “Go back to sleep. It won’t be dawn for another hour.”
He watched her step lightly through the bodies on the floor, boots in her hand, and a cold draft snaked through the room as the door opened and closed soundlessly behind her. Bobby Higgins said something in a sleep-slurred voice, and one of the little boys sat up, said “What?” in a clear, startled voice and then flopped back into his quilt, dormant once more.
The fresh air vanished into the comfortable fug and the cabin slept. Roger didn’t. He lay on his back, feeling peace, relief, excitement and trepidation in roughly equal proportions.
They really had made it.
All of them. He kept counting them, compulsively. All four of them. Here, and safe.
Fragmented memories and sensations jostled through his mind; he let them flow through him, not trying to stay them or catch more than an image here and there: The feel of a small gold bar in his sweaty hand, the lurch of his stomach when he’d dropped it and it slid out of his reach across the tilting deck. The warm steam of parritch with whisky on it, fortification against a freezing Scottish morning. Brianna hopping carefully down a flight of stairs on one foot, the bandaged one lifted and the words of “My Dame Hath a Lame, Tame Crane” coming irresistibly to his mind. The smell of Buck’s hair, acrid and unwashed, as they embraced each other on the edge of a dock and a final farewell. Cold, endless days and nights in the lurching hold of the Constance on their way to Charles Town, the four of them huddled in a corner, deafened by the smash of water against the hull, too seasick to be hungry, too exhausted anymore even to be terrified, hypnotized instead by the rising water in the hold, watching it inch higher, splashing them with each sickening roll, trying to share their pitiful store of body heat to keep the kids alive…
He let out the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, put his hands on the solid wooden floor to either side, closed his eyes and let it all drain away.
No looking back. They’d made their decision, and they’d made it here. To sanctuary.
So now, what?
He’d lived in this cabin once, for a long time. Now he supposed he’d build a new one; Jamie had told him last night that the land Jamie had given him was still his, registered in his name.
A small glow of anticipation rose in his heart. The day lay before him; what should he do first?
“Daddy!” a voice with a lot of spit whispered loudly in his ear. “Daddy, I haveta go potty!”
He sat up smiling, pushing tangled cloaks and shirts out of the way. Mandy was hopping from foot to foot in agitation, a small black chickadee, solid against the shadows.
“Aye, sweetheart,” he whispered back, and took her hand, warm and sticky. “I’ll take ye to the privy. Try not to step on anybody.”
[And many thanks to Sue Gunston for the lovely bee photo!]
Click to visit my official webpage for GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE for links to information and more Daily Lines (excerpts).
I first posted this excerpt (Daily Lines) on my official Facebook page and my official Twitter feed on Wednesday, March 7, 2018. You may share the URL (link above) to this excerpt, but please do not copy and paste the entire text and post it elsewhere. Thank you. -Diana
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