“Well, now, where shall I start?” He put his rather large feet up on the stool and crossed them at the ankles. With some amusement, I recognized the Highlander settling back for a leisurely dissection of that tangle of family and clan relationships which forms the background of almost any event of significance in the Scottish Highlands. Frank and I had spent one evening in the village pub, enthralled by a conversation between two old codgers, in which the responsibility for the recent destruction of an ancient barn was traced back through the intricacies of a local feud dating, so far as I could tell, from about 1790. With the sort of minor shock to which I was becoming accustomed, I realized that that particular feud, whose origins I had thought shrouded in the mists of time, had not yet begun. Suppressing the mental turmoil this realization caused, I forced my attention to what Jamie was saying.
“My father was a Fraser, of course; a younger half-brother to the present Master of Lovat. My mother was a MacKenzie, though. Ye’ll know that Dougal and Colum are my uncles?” I nodded. The resemblance was clear enough, despite the difference in coloring. The broad cheekbones and long, straight, knife edged nose were plainly a MacKenzie inheritance.
“Aye, well, my mother was their sister, and there were two more sisters, besides. My auntie Janet is dead, like my mother, but my auntie Jocasta married a cousin of Rupert’s, and lives up near the edge of Loch Eilean. Auntie Janet had six children, four boys and two girls, Auntie Jocasta has three, all girls, Dougal’s got the four girls, Colum has little Hamish only, and my parents had me and my sister, who’s named for my Auntie Janet, but we called her Jenny always.”
“Rupert’s a MacKenzie, too?” I asked, already struggling to keep everyone straight.
“Aye. He’s—” Jamie paused a moment considering, “he’s Dougal, Colum, and Jocasta’s first cousin, which makes him my second cousin. Rupert’s father and my grandfather Jacob were brothers, along with—”
“Wait a minute. Don’t let’s go back any farther than we have to, or I shall be getting hopelessly muddled. We haven’t even got to the Frasers yet, and I’ve already lost track of your cousins.”
He rubbed his chin, calculating. “Hmm. Well, on the Fraser side it’s a bit more complicated, because my grandfather Simon married three times, so my father had two sets of half-brothers and half-sisters. Let’s leave it for now that I’ve six Fraser uncles and three aunts still living, and we’ll leave out all the cousins from that lot.”
“Yes, let’s.” I leaned forward and poured another glass of wine for each of us.
The clan territories of MacKenzie and Fraser, it turned out, adjoined each other for some distance along their inner borders, running side by side from the seacoast past the lower end of Loch Ness. This shared border, as borders tend to be, was an unmapped and most uncertain line, shifting to and fro in accordance with time, custom and alliance. Along this border, at the southern end of the Fraser clan lands, lay the small estate of Broch Tuarach, the property of Brian Fraser, Jamie’s father.
“It’s a fairly rich bit of ground, and there’s decent fishing and a good patch of forest for hunting. It maybe supports sixty crofts, and the small village—Broch Mordha, it’s called. Then there’s the manor house, of course—that’s modern,” he said, with some pride, “and the old broch that we use now for the beasts and the grain.
“Dougal and Colum were not at all pleased to have their sister marrying a Fraser, and they insisted that she not be a tenant on Fraser land, but live on a freehold. So, Lallybroch—that’s what the folk that live there call it—was deeded to my father, but there was a clause in the deed stating that the land was to pass to my mother, Ellen’s, issue only. If she died without children, the land would go back to Lord Lovat after my father’s death, whether Father had children by another wife or no. But he didn’t remarry, and I am my mother’s son. So Lallybroch’s mine, for what that’s worth.”
“I thought you were telling me yesterday that you didn’t have any property.” I sipped the wine, finding it rather good; it seemed to be getting better, the more I drank of it. I thought perhaps I had better stop soon.
Jamie wagged his head from side to side. “Well, it belongs to me, right enough. The thing is, though, it doesna do me much good at present, as I can’t go there.” He looked apologetic. “There’s the minor matter of the price on my head, ye see.”
After his escape from Fort William, he had been taken to Dougal’s house, Beannachd (means “Blessed,” he explained), to recover from his wounds and the consequent fever. From there, he had gone to France, where he had spent two years fighting with the French army, around the Spanish border.
“You spent two years in the French army and stayed a virgin?” I blurted out incredulously. I had had a number of Frenchmen in my care, and I doubted very much that the Gallic attitude toward women had changed appreciably in two hundred years.
One corner of Jamie’s mouth twitched, and he looked down at me sideways.
“If ye had seen the harlots that service the French army, Sassenach, ye’d wonder I’ve the nerve even to touch a woman, let alone bed one.”
I choked, spluttering wine and coughing until he was obliged to pound me on the back. I subsided, breathless and red-faced, and urged him to go on with his story.
He had returned to Scotland a year or so ago, and spent six months alone or with a gang of “broken men”—men without clans—living hand to mouth in the forest, or raiding cattle from the borderlands.
“And then, someone hit me in the head wi’ an ax or something o’ the sort,” he said, shrugging. “And I’ve to take Dougal’s word for what happened during the next two months, as I wasna taking much notice of things myself.”
Dougal had been on a nearby estate at the time of the attack. Summoned by Jamie’s friends, he had somehow managed to transport his nephew to France.
“Why France?” I asked. “Surely it was taking a frightful risk to move you so far.”
“More of a risk to leave me where I was. There were English patrols all over the district—we’d been fairly active thereabouts, ye see, me and the lads—and I suppose Dougal didna want them to find me lying senseless in some cottar’s hut.”
“Or in his own house?” I said, a little cynically.
“I imagine he’d ha’ taken me there, but for two things,” Jamie replied. “For one, he’d an English visitor at the time. For the second, he thought from the look of me I was going to die in any case, so he sent me to the abbey.”
The Abbey of Ste. Anne de Beaupré, on the French coast, was the domain, it seemed, of the erstwhile Alexander Fraser, now abbot of that sanctuary of learning and worship. One of Jamie’s six Fraser uncles.
“He and Dougal do not get on, particularly,” Jamie explained, “but Dougal could see there was little to be done for me here, while if there was aught to help me, it might be found there.”
And it was. Assisted by the monks’ medical knowledge and his own strong constitution, Jamie had survived and gradually mended, under the care of the holy brothers of St. Dominic.
“Once I was well again, I came back,” he explained. “Dougal and his men met me at the coast, and we were headed for the MacKenzie lands when we, er, met with you.”
“Captain Randall said you were stealing cattle,” I said.
He smiled, undisturbed by the accusation. “Well, Dougal isna the man to overlook an opportunity of turning a bit of a profit,” he observed. “We came on a nice bunch of beasts, grazing in a field, and no one about. So…” He shrugged, with a fatalistic acceptance of the inevitabilities of life.
Apparently I had come upon the end of the confrontation between Dougal’s men and Randall’s dragoons. Spotting the English bearing down on them, Dougal had sent half his men around a thicket, driving the cattle before them, while the rest of the Scots had hidden among the saplings, ready to ambush the English as they came by.
“Worked verra well too,” Jamie said in approval. “We popped out at them and rode straight through them, yelling. They took after us, of course, and we led them a canty chase uphill and through burns and over rocks and such; and all the while the rest of Dougal’s men were making off over the border wi’ the kine. We lost the lobsterbacks, then, and denned up at the cottage where I first saw ye, waiting for darkness to slip out.”
“I see,” I said. “Why did you come back to Scotland in the first place, though? I should have thought you’d be much safer in France.”
He opened his mouth to reply, then reconsidered, sipping wine. Apparently I was getting near the edge of his own area of secrecy.
“Well, that’s a long story, Sassenach,” he said, avoiding the issue. “I’ll tell it ye later, but for now, what about you? Will ye tell me about your own family? If ye feel ye can, of course,” he added hastily.
I thought for a moment, but there really seemed little risk in telling him about my parents and Uncle Lamb. There was, after all, some advantage to Uncle Lamb’s choice of profession. A scholar of antiquities made as much—or as little—sense in the eighteenth century as in the twentieth.
So I told him, omitting only such minor details as automobiles and airplanes, and of course, the war. As I talked, he listened intently, asking questions now and then, expressing sympathy at my parents’ death, and interest in Uncle Lamb and his discoveries.
“And then I met Frank,” I finished up. I paused, not sure how much more I could say, without getting into dangerous territory. Luckily Jamie saved me.
“And ye’d as soon not talk about him right now,” he said understandingly. I nodded, wordless, my vision blurring a little. Jamie let go of the hand he had been holding, and putting an arm around me, pulled my head gently down on his shoulder.
“It’s all right,” he said, softly stroking my hair. “Are ye tired, lass? Shall I leave ye to your sleep?”
I was tempted for a moment to say yes, but I felt that that would be both unfair and cowardly. I cleared my throat and sat up, shaking my head.
“No,” I said, taking a deep breath. He smelled faintly of soap and wine. “I’m all right. Tell me—tell me what games you used to play, when you were a boy.
The room was furnished with a thick twelve-hour candle, rings of dark wax marking the hours. We talked through three of the rings, only letting go of each other’s hands to pour wine or get up to visit the privy stool behind the curtain in the corner. Returning from one of these trips, Jamie yawned and stretched.
“It is awfully late,” I said, getting up too. “Maybe we should go to bed.”
“All right,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “To bed? Or to sleep?” He cocked a quizzical eyebrow and the corner of his mouth twitched.
In truth, I had been feeling so comfortable with him that I had almost forgotten why we were there. At his words, I suddenly felt a hollow panic. “Well—” I said, faintly.
“Either way, you’re no intending to sleep in your gown, are ye?” he asked, in his usual practical manner.
“Well, no, I suppose not.” In fact, during the rush of events, I had not even thought about a sleeping garment—which I did not possess, in any case. I had been sleeping in my chemise or nothing, depending on the weather.
Jamie had nothing but the clothes he wore; he was plainly going to sleep in his shirt or nak*d, a state of affairs which was likely to bring matters rapidly to a head.
“Well, then, come here and I’ll help ye wi’ the laces and such.”
His hands did in fact tremble briefly as he began to undress me. He lost some of his self-consciousness, though, in the struggle with the dozens of tiny hooks that attached the bodice.
“Ha!” he said in triumph as the last one came loose, and we laughed together.
“Now let me do you,” I said, deciding that there was no point in further delay. I reached up and unfastened his shirt, sliding my hands inside and across his shoulders. I brought my palms slowly down across his chest, feeling the springy hair and the soft indentations around his n**ples. He stood still, hardly breathing, as I knelt down to unbuckle the studded belt around his hips.
If it must be sometime, it may as well be now, I thought, and deliberately ran my hands up the length of his thighs, hard and lean under his kilt. Though by this time I knew perfectly well what most Scotsmen wore beneath their kilts—nothing—it was still something of a shock to find only Jamie.
He lifted me to my feet then, and bent his head to kiss me. It went on a long while, and his hands roamed downward, finding the fastening of my petticoat. It fell to the floor in a billow of starched flounces, leaving me in my chemise.
“Where did you learn to kiss like that?” I said, a little breathless. He grinned and pulled me close again.
“I said I was a virgin, not a monk,” he said, kissing me again. “If I find I need guidance, I’ll ask.”
He pressed me firmly to him, and I could feel that he was more than ready to get on with the business at hand. With some surprise, I realized that I was ready too. In fact, whether it was the result of the late hour, the wine, his own attractiveness, or simple deprivation, I wanted him quite badly.
I pulled his shirt loose at the waist and ran my hands up over his chest, circling his n**ples with my thumbs. They grew hard in a second, and he crushed me suddenly against his chest.
“Oof!” I said, struggling for breath. He let go, apologizing.
“No, don’t worry; kiss me again.” He did, this time slipping the straps of the chemise down over my shoulders. He drew back slightly, cupping my br**sts and rubbing my n**ples as I had done his. I fumbled with the buckle that held his kilt; his fingers guided mine and the clasp sprang free.
Suddenly he lifted me in his arms and sat down on the bed, holding me on his lap. He spoke a little hoarsely.
“Tell me if I’m too rough, or tell me to stop altogether, if ye wish. Anytime until we are joined; I dinna think I can stop after that.”
In answer, I put my hands behind his neck and pulled him down on top of me. I guided him to the slippery cleft between my legs.
“Holy God,” said James Fraser, who never took the name of his Lord in vain.
“Don’t stop now,” I said.
Lying together afterward, it seemed natural for him to cradle my head on his chest. We fitted well together, and most of our original constraint was gone, lost in shared excitement and the novelty of exploring each other. “Was it like you thought it would be?” I asked curiously. He chuckled, making a deep rumble under my ear.
“Almost; I had thought—nay, never mind.”
“No, tell me. What did you think?”
“I’m no goin’ to tell ye; ye’ll laugh at me.”
“I promise not to laugh. Tell me.” He caressed my hair, smoothing the curls back from my ear.
“Oh, all right. I didna realize that ye did it face to face. I thought ye must do it the back way, like; like horses, ye know.”
It was a struggle to keep my promise, but I didn’t laugh.
“I know that sounds silly,” he said defensively. “It’s just…well, ye know how you get ideas in your head when you’re young, and then somehow they just stick there?”
“You’ve never seen people make love?” I was surprised at this, having seen the crofters’ cottages, where the whole family shared a single room. Granted that Jamie’s family were not crofters, still it must be the rare Scottish child who had never waked to find his elders coupling nearby.
“Of course I have, but generally under the bedclothes, ye know. I couldna tell anything except the man was on top. That much I knew.”
“Mm. I noticed.”
“Did I squash you?” he asked, a little anxiously.
“Not much. Really, though, is that what you thought?” I didn’t laugh, but couldn’t help grinning broadly. He turned slightly pink around the ears.
“Aye. I saw a man take a woman plain, once, out in the open. But that…well, it was a rape, was what it was, and he took her from the back. It made some impression on me, and as I say, it’s just the idea stuck.”
He continued to hold me, using his horse-gentling techniques again. These gradually changed, though, to a more determined exploration.
“I want to ask ye something,” he said, running a hand down the length of my back.
“Did ye like it?” he said, a little shyly.
“Yes, I did,” I said, quite honestly.
“Oh. I thought ye did, though Murtagh told me that women generally do not care for it, so I should finish as soon as I could.”
“What would Murtagh know about it?” I said indignantly. “The slower the better, as far as most women are concerned.” Jamie chuckled again.
“Well, you’d know better than Murtagh. I had considerable good advice offered me on the subject last night, from Murtagh and Rupert and Ned. A good bit of it sounded verra unlikely to me, though, so I thought I’d best use my own judgment.”
“It hasn’t led you wrong yet,” I said, curling one of his chest hairs around my finger. “What other sage bits of advice did they give you?” His skin was a ruddy gold in the candlelight; to my amusement, it grew still redder in embarrassment.
“I could no repeat most of it. As I said, I think it’s likely wrong, anyway. I’ve seen a good many kinds of animals mate with each other, and most seem to manage it without any advice at all. I would suppose people could do the same.”
I was privately entertained by the notion of someone picking up pointers on sexual technique from barnyard and forest, rather than locker rooms and dirty magazines.
“What kinds of animals have you seen mating?”
“Oh, all kinds. Our farm was near the forest, ye see, and I spent a good deal of time there, hunting, or seeking cows as had got out and suchlike. I’ve seen horses and cows, of course, pigs, chickens, doves, dogs, cats, red deer, squirrels, rabbits, wild boar, oh, and once even a pair of snakes.”
“Aye. Did ye know that snakes have two cocks?—male snakes, I mean.”
“No, I didn’t. Are you sure about that?”
“Aye, and both of ’em forked, like this.” He spread his second and third fingers apart in illustration.