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[This excerpt is from GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE, Copyright © 2021 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.]
[ . . . ] had volunteered to rise early—very early—and make the gallons of brose and parritch to feed the militia. The warm, creamy smell crept up the stairs and eased me into wakefulness like a soft hand on my cheek. I stretched luxuriously in the warm bed and rolled over, enjoying the picture of Jamie, long-legged as a stork and stark naked, bent over the washstand to peer into the looking-glass as he shaved by candlelight. Dawn was no more yet than a fading of the stars outside the dark window.
“Getting all spruced up for the gang?” I asked. “Are you doing something formal with them this morning?”
He drew the razor over his pulled-down upper lip, then flicked the foam to the side of the basin.
“Aye, horse drills. It’ll just be the mounted men today. With the Tall Tree, we’ll have twenty-one.” He grinned at me in the mirror, his teeth as white as the shaving soap. “Enough for a decent cattle raid.”
“Can Cyrus ride?” I was surprised at that; the Crombies, Wilsons, MacReadys and Geohagens were all fisherfolk who had come—by God knew what circuitous and difficult means—to us from Thurso. They were, for the most part, openly afraid of horses, and almost none of them could ride.
Jamie drew the blade up his neck, craned his head to evaluate the results, and shrugged.
“We’ll find out.”
He rinsed the razor, dried it on the worn linen towel, then used the towel to wipe his face.
“If I mean them to take it seriously, Sassenach, they’d best think I do.”
The sky was lightening, but it was still dark on the ground and only a few of the men had gathered when Cyrus Crombie came down out of the trees. The men glanced at him in surprise, but when Jamie greeted him, they all nodded and muttered “Madainn math,” or grunted in acknowledgement.
“Here, lad,” Jamie said, thrusting a wooden cup of hot brose into the Tall Tree’s hand. “Warm your belly, and come meet Matilda. She belongs to Frances, but the lass says she’ willing to lend ye the mare until we can find ye a horse of your own.”
“Frances? Oh. I-I thank her.” The Tall Tree glowed a bit and glanced shyly at the house, and then at the horse. Matilda was a big mare, stout and broad-backed, and with a gentle, accommodating manner.
Young Ian had come down now, in buckskins and jacket, his hair plaited and hanging loose down his back. He glanced round the group of men, nodding, then came for his own brose, lifting a brow in the direction of Cyrus.
“[Tall Tree] will be joining us,” Jamie said casually. “Will ye show him the way of it, to saddle and bridle Matilda, while I tell the men what we’re about?”
“Aye,” Ian said, swallowing hot barley broth and exhaling a cloud of white steam. “And what are we about?”
“Cavalry drills.” That made Ian raise both brows and glance over his shoulder at the group of men, who looked like what they were—farmers. They all owned horses, and could ride from the Ridge to Salem without falling off, but beyond that…
“Simple cavalry drills,” Jamie clarified. “Riding slowly.”
Young Ian looked thoughtfully at Cyrus, standing at eager attention.
“Aye,” he said, and crossed himself.
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Many thanks to Alison Hawkworth for the lovely photo of bees in a magnolia blossom!
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