She turned back the bedding; he moved the children back to the bed, and she covered them and kissed their dreaming faces, kissing Esmeralda for good measure before tucking her into Mandy’s arm. Roger turned toward the closed door to the surgery and looked back at Bree over his shoulder, smiling. She could see the shadow of his body through the linen shirt, against the glow of the hearth.
To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more . . .
You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side.
“Wilt bed with me, lass?” he said softly, and put out a hand to her.
“Oh, yes,” she said, and came to him.
THE SURGERY WAS cold, after the humid heat of the bedroom, and they came to each other at once, warm limbs and warm lips seeking. The fire in this room had gone out, and they didn’t trouble to rebuild it.
Roger had kissed her the moment he saw her on the ground in the fort, grabbing her and lifting her into an embrace that crushed her ribs and nearly bruised her lips. She’d had no objections whatever. But now his mouth was soft and tender and the scruff of his beard light on her skin.
“Fast?” he murmured against her mouth. “Slow?”
“Horizontal,” she murmured back, clutching his bottom. “Speed irrelevant.” She was standing on one leg, the bad foot elegantly—she hoped—extended behind her. Dr. McEwan’s ministrations had eased the throbbing quite a bit, but she still couldn’t put weight on it for more than the briefest second.
He laughed—quietly, with a guilty look toward the bedroom door—and, bending suddenly, scooped her up and staggered across the room to the coat rack, where she snagged the hanging cloaks and tossed them onto the floor by the table, that being the cleanest open space visible. He squatted, back creaking audibly and manfully suppressing a groan as he lowered her gently onto the heap.
“Be careful!” she whispered, and not jokingly. “You could put your back out, and then what?”
“Then ye’d get to be on top,” he whispered back, and ran a hand up her thigh, her shift rippling up with it. “But I haven’t, so ye don’t.” Then he pulled up his shirt, spread her legs, and came to her with an incoherent noise of deep satisfaction.
“I hope ye meant it about the speed being irrelevant,” he said in her ear, a few minutes later.
“Oh. Yes,” she said vaguely, and wrapped her arms round his body. “You . . . just . . . stay put.” When she could, she let him go, cradling his head and kissing the smooth warm flesh at the side of his neck. She felt the rope scar and gently drew the tip of her tongue along it, making gooseflesh erupt all over his back and shoulders.
“Are you asleep?” he inquired some moments later, suspicious.
She opened one eye halfway. He’d gone back into the bedroom for quilts and was kneeling beside her, spreading one over her. It smelled faintly musty, with a tang of mice, but she didn’t care.
“No,” she said, and rolled onto her back, feeling wonderful, despite the hard floor, her sprained ankle, and the dawning realization that Dr. McEwan must do operations and amputations on the table. There was a dark stain on the underside, above her head. “Just . . . limp.” She stretched out a slow hand to Roger, urging him under the quilt with her. “You?”
“I’m not asleep,” he assured her, sliding down close beside her. “And if ye think I’m going to say ‘limp,’ think again.”
She laughed—quietly, with a glance at the door—rolled over, and rested her forehead against his chest.
“I thought I might never see you again,” she whispered.
“Aye,” he said softly, and his hand stroked her long hair and her back. “Me, too.” They were silent for a long moment, each listening to the other’s breath—his came easier than it had, she thought, without the small catches—and then he finally said, “Tell me.”
She did, baldly and with as little emotion as she could manage. She thought he might be emotional enough for both of them.
He couldn’t shout or curse, because of the sleeping children. She could feel the rage in him; he was shaking with it, his fists clenched like solid knobs of bone.
“I’ll kill him,” he said, in a voice barely pitched above silence, and his eyes met hers, savage and so dark that they seemed black in the dim light.
“It’s okay,” she said softly, and, sitting up, took both his hands in hers, lifting one and then the other to her lips. “It’s okay. We’re all right, all of us. And we’re here.”
He looked away and took a deep breath, then looked back, his hands tightening on hers.
“Here,” he repeated, his voice bleak, still hoarse with fury. “In 1739. If I’d—”
“You had to,” she said firmly, squeezing back hard. Besides,” she added, a little diffidently, “I sort of thought we wouldn’t stay. Unless you’ve taken a great liking to some of the denizens?”
Expressions flickered across his face, from anger to rue to reluctant acceptance . . . and an even more reluctant humor, as he got a grip of himself. He cleared his throat.
“Aye, well,” he said dryly. “There’s Hector McEwan, to be sure. But there are a good many other people, too—Geillis Duncan, for one.”
A small jolt went through her at the name.
“Geillis Duncan? Well . . . yes, I suppose she would be here at this point, wouldn’t she? Did you—did you meet her?”
A truly extraordinary expression went over Roger’s face at that question.
“I did,” he said, avoiding her questioning glance. He turned and waved a hand at the surgery window that looked out onto the square. “She lives just across the way.”
“Really?” Brianna got to her feet, clutching a quilt to her bosom, forgot about her bad foot, and stumbled. Roger leapt up and caught her by the arm.
“You don’t want to meet her,” he said, with emphasis. “Sit down, aye? Ye’re going to fall.”
Brianna eyed him, but allowed him to ease her back down to their nest and to pull a quilt up over her shoulders. It was bloody cold in the surgery, now that the warmth of their efforts had faded.
“All right,” she said, and shook her hair down to cover her ears and neck. “Tell me why I don’t want to meet Geillis Duncan.”
To her surprise, he flushed deeply, visible even in the shadows of the surgery. Roger had neither the skin nor the temperament to blush easily, but when he did describe—briefly, but vividly—what had happened (or possibly not happened) with Buck, Dr. McEwan, and Geillis, she understood it.
“Holy moly,” she said, with a glance over her shoulder at the window. “Er . . . when Dr. McEwan said he’d find a bed with a friend . . . ?”
Buck had gone off, saying that he’d take a bed at the ordinary at the foot of the High Street and would see them in the morning. Presumably he’d meant it, but . . .
“She is married,” Roger said tersely. “Presumably her husband would notice were she inviting strange men to spend the night.”
“Oh, I don’t know so much,” she said, half-teasing. “She’s an herbalist, remember? Mama does a good sleeping potion; I imagine Geillis could, too.”
The color washed up Roger’s face again, and she knew, as clearly as if he’d said so, that he was envisioning Geillis Duncan doing something disgraceful with one or another of her lovers whilst lying beside her snoring husband.
“God,” he said.
“You, um, do remember what’s going to happen to her poor husband, don’t you?” Bree said delicately. The color vanished instantly from Roger’s face, and she knew he hadn’t.
“That’s one of the reasons we can’t stay here,” she said, gently but firmly. “There are too many things we know. And we don’t know what trying to interfere might do, but it’s a good bet that it’s dangerous.”
“Yes, but—” he began, but broke off at the look on her face. “Lallybroch. Is that why ye wouldna go there?” For he’d tried to take her down the hill to the house when he’d rescued her from the fort. She’d insisted that they must go to the village for help instead, even though it meant an awkward and painful three-hour ride.
She nodded and felt a small lump come into her throat. It stayed there as she told him about meeting Brian in the burying ground.
“It’s not just that I’m afraid what meeting them might do to . . . later,” she said, and the lump dissolved into tears. “It’s . . . oh, Roger, the look on his face when he saw me and thought I was Ellen!
“I—he—he’s going to die in a year or two. That beautiful, sweet man . . . and there isn’t any-anything we can do to stop it.” She gulped and swiped at her eyes. “He—he thinks he’s seen his wife and his son, that they’re w-waiting for him. And the—oh, God, the joy on his face. I couldn’t take that away from him, I just couldn’t.”
He took her in his arms and rubbed her back gently as she sobbed.
“No, of course ye couldn’t,” he whispered to her. “Dinna fash, Bree. Ye did right.”
She sniffed and groped among the cloaks for something to blow her nose on, settling at last for a stained cloth from Dr. McEwan’s table. It smelled of some pungent medicine, thank God, not blood.
“But there’s Da, too,” she said, taking a deep, tremulous breath. “What will happen to him . . . the scars on his back . . . I—can’t stand to think about that and us doing nothing, but we—”
“We can’t,” Roger agreed quietly. “We daren’t. God only knows what I may have done already, finding Jerry and sending him—wherever I did send him.” Taking the cloth, he dipped it in the water bucket and wiped her face, the cold of it soothing on her hot cheeks, though it made her shiver.
“Come lie down,” he said, putting an arm round her shoulders. “Ye need rest, mo chridhe. It’s been a terrible day.”
“No,” she murmured, easing down and laying her head in the curve of his shoulder, feeling the strength and warmth of his body. “It’s been a wonderful day. I have you back.”
THE SOUNDS THAT MAKE UP SILENCE
ROGER FELT HER begin to relax, and quite suddenly she let go her stubborn hold on consciousness and fell asleep like someone breathing ether. He held her and listened to the tiny sounds that made up silence: the distant hiss of the peat fire in the bedroom, a cold wind rattling at the window, the rustling and breathing of the sleeping kids, the slow beating of Brianna’s valiant heart.
Thank you, he said silently to God.
He had expected to fall asleep himself at once; tiredness covered him like a lead blanket. But the day was still with him, and he lay for some time looking up into the dark.
He was at peace, too tired to think coherently of anything. All the possibilities drifted round him in a slow, distant swirl, too far away to be troublesome. Where they might go . . . and how. What Buck might have said to Dougal MacKenzie. What Bree had brought in her bag, heavy as lead. Whether there would be porridge for breakfast—Mandy liked porridge.
The thought of Mandy made him ease out of the quilts to check on the children. To reassure himself that they were really there.
They were, and he stood by the bed for a long time, watching their faces in wordless gratitude, breathing the warm childish smell of them—still tinged with a slight tang of goat.
At last he turned, shivering, to make his way back to his warm wife and the beckoning bliss of sleep. But as he reentered the surgery, he glanced through the window into the night outside.
Cranesmuir slept, and mist lay in her streets, the cobbles beneath gleaming with wet in the half-light of a drowning moon. On the far side of the square, though, a light showed in the attic window of Arthur Duncan’s house.
And in the shadow of the square below, a small movement betrayed the presence of a man. Waiting.
Roger closed his eyes, cold rising from his bare feet up his body, seeing in his mind the sudden vision of a green-eyed woman, lazy in the arms of a fair-haired lover . . . and a look of surprise and then of horror on her face as the man vanished from her side. And an invisible blue glow rose in her womb.
With his eyes tight shut, he put a hand on the icy windowpane, and said a prayer to be going on with.
Before I Go Hence
A DISTANT MASSACRE
September 5, 1778
IFOLDED THE CLOTH into a tidy square and used the tongs to dip it in the steaming cauldron, then stood waving it gently to and fro until the compress should cool enough for me to wring it out and use it. Joanie sighed, fidgeting on her stool.
“Don’t rub your eye,” I said automatically, seeing her curled fist steal toward the large pink sty on her right eyelid. “Don’t fret; it won’t take long.”
“Yes, it does take long,” she said crossly. “It takes forever!”
“Dinna be giving your grannie sauce,” Marsali told her, pausing in her stride on the way from kitchen to printshop, a cheese roll for Fergus in her hand. “Hauld your wheesht and be grateful.”
Joanie groaned and writhed, and stuck her tongue out after her departing mother, but whipped it back into her mouth again and looked rather shame-faced when she caught sight of my raised brow.
“I know,” I said, with some sympathy. Holding a warm compress on a sty for ten minutes did feel like forever. Particularly if you’d been doing it six times a day for the last two days. “Maybe you can think of something to pass the time. You could recite me the multiplication tables while I grind valerian root.”
“Oh, Grannie!” she said, exasperated, and I laughed.
“Here you go,” I said, handing her the warm poultice. “Do you know any good songs?”
She exhaled moodily, small nostrils flaring.