“Oh, he’s here,” I said, smiling. “I don’t know if he’ll come skin your deer for you, though. He’s got a new son and won’t let the baby out of his sight.”
Jamie’s face, rather tired and worn, broke into a grin.
“A son? The blessing of Bride and Michael be on him! A braw lad?”
“Very,” I assured him. “I think he must weigh almost nine pounds.”
“Poor lass,” he said, with a sympathetic grimace. “And her first, too. Wee Rachel’s all right, though?”
“Rather tired and sore, but quite all right,” I assured him. “Shall I bring you some beer, while you take care of the horse?”
“A good wife is prized above rubies,” he said, smiling. “Come to me, mo nighean donn.” He reached out a long arm and drew me in, holding me close against him. I put my arms around him and felt the quiver of his muscles, exhausted, and the sheer hard strength still in him, that would hold him up, no matter how tired he might be. We stood quite still for some time, my cheek against his chest and his face against my hair, drawing strength from each other for whatever might come. Being married.
AMID THE GENERAL rejoicing and fuss over the baby—who was still being called Oggy, his parents being spoiled for choice regarding his name—the butchering of the deer, and the subsequent feasting lasting well into the night, it was late morning of the next day before we found ourselves alone again.
“The only thing lacking last night was cherry bounce,” I remarked. “I never saw so many people drink so much of so many different things.” We were making our way—slowly—up to the house site, carrying several bags of nails, a very expensive small saw, and a plane that Jamie had brought back in addition to the deer.
Jamie made a small amused sound but didn’t reply. He paused for a moment to look up at the site, presumably envisioning the outline of the house-to-be.
“D’ye think it should maybe have a third story?” he asked. “The walls would bear it easily enough. Take careful building of the chimneys, though, Keeping them plumb, I mean.”
“Do we need that much room?” I asked doubtfully. There had certainly been times in the old house when I’d wished we’d had that much room: influxes of visitors, new emigrants, or refugees had often filled the place to the point of explosion—mine. “Providing more space might just encourage guests.”
“Ye make it sound like they’re white ants, Sassenach.”
“Wh—oh, termites. Well, yes, there’s a strong superficial resemblance.”
Arrived at the clearing, I piled the nails conveniently and went to bathe my face and hands in water from the tiny spring that flowed from the rocks a little way up the hill. By the time I came back, Jamie had stripped off his shirt and was knocking together a pair of rough sawhorses. I hadn’t seen him with his shirt off for a long time and paused to enjoy the sight. Beyond the simple pleasure of seeing his body flex and move, whipcord muscles moving easily under his skin, I liked knowing that he felt himself safe here and could ignore his scars.
I sat down on an upturned bucket and watched for a time. The blows of his hammer temporarily silenced the birds, and when he stopped and set the sawhorse on its feet, the air rang empty in my ears.
“I wish you hadn’t felt you had to do it,” I said quietly.
He didn’t reply for a moment but pursed his lips as he squatted and picked up a few stray nails. “When we wed—” he said, not looking at me. “When we wed, I said to ye that I gave ye the protection of my name, my clan—and my body.” He stood up then and looked down at me, serious. “Do ye tell me now that ye no longer want that?”
“I—no,” I said abruptly. “I just—I wish you hadn’t killed him, that’s all. I’d—managed to forgive him. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, but I did it. Not permanently, but I thought I could do it permanently, sooner or later.”
His mouth twitched a little.
“And if ye could forgive him, he needn’t die, ye’re saying? That’s like a judge lettin’ a murderer go free, because his victim’s family forgave him. Or an enemy soldier sent off wi’ all his weapons.”
“I am not a state at war, and you are not my army!”
He began to speak, then stopped short, searching my face, his eyes intent.
“Am I not?” he said quietly.
I opened my mouth to reply but found I couldn’t. The birds had come back, and a gang of house finches chittered at the foot of a big fir that grew at the side of the clearing.
“You are,” I said reluctantly, and, standing up, wrapped my arms around him. He was warm from his work, and the scars on his back were fine as threads under my fingers. “I wish you didn’t have to be.”
“Aye, well,” he said, and held me close. After a bit, we walked hand in hand to the biggest pile of barked timber and sat down. I could feel him thinking but was content to wait until he had formed what he wanted to say. It didn’t take him long. He turned to me and took my hands, formal as a man about to say his wedding vows.
“Ye lost your parents young, mo nighean donn, and wandered about the world, rootless. Ye loved Frank”—his mouth compressed for an instant, but I thought he was unconscious of it—“and of course ye love Brianna and Roger Mac and the weans . . . but, Sassenach—I am the true home of your heart, and I know that.”
He lifted my hands to his mouth and kissed my upturned palms, one and then the other, his breath warm and his beard stubble soft on my fingers.
“I have loved others, and I do love many, Sassenach—but you alone hold all my heart, whole in your hands,” he said softly. “And you know that.”
WE WORKED through the day then, Jamie fitting stones for the foundation, me digging the new garden and foraging through the woods, bringing back pipsissewa and black cohosh, mint and wild ginger to transplant.
Toward late afternoon we stopped to eat; I’d brought cheese and bread and early apples in my basket and had put two stone bottles of ale in the spring to keep cold. We sat on the grass, leaning back against a stack of timber that was shaded by the big fir, tired, eating in companionable silence.
“Ian says he and Rachel will come up tomorrow to help,” Jamie said at last, thriftily eating his apple core. “Are ye going to eat yours, Sassenach?”
“No,” I said, handing it over. “Apple seeds have cyanide in them, you know.”
“Will it kill me?”
“It hasn’t so far.”
“Good.” He pulled off the stem and ate the core. “Have they settled on a name for the wee lad yet?”
I closed my eyes and leaned back into the shade of the big fir, enjoying its sharp, sun-warmed scent.
“Hmm. The last I heard, Rachel was suggesting Fox—for George Fox, you know; he was the founder of the Society of Friends, but naturally they wouldn’t call the baby George, because of the king. Ian said he doesn’t think highly of foxes, though, and what about Wolf, instead?”
Jamie made a meditative Scottish noise.
“Aye, that’s no bad. At least he’s not wanting to call the wean Rollo.”
I laughed, opening my eyes.
“Do you really think that’s what he has in mind? I know people name their children for deceased relatives, but naming one for your deceased dog . . .”
“Aye, well,” Jamie said judiciously. “He was a good dog.”
“Well, yes, but—” A movement down on the far side of the cove caught my eye. People coming up the wagon road. “Look, who’s that?” There were four small moving dots, but at this distance I couldn’t make out much more than that without my glasses.
Jamie shaded his eyes, peering.
“No one I ken,” he said, sounded mildly interested. “It looks like a family, though—they’ve a couple of bairns. Maybe new folk, wanting to settle. They havena got much in the way of goods, though.”
I squinted; they were closer now, and I could make out the disparity of height. Yes, a man and a woman, both wearing broad-brimmed hats, and a boy and girl.
“Look, the lad’s got red hair,” Jamie said, smiling and raising his chin to point. “He minds me of Jem.”
“So he does.” Curious now, I got up and rummaged in my basket, finding the bit of silk in which I kept my spectacles when not wearing them. I put them on and turned, pleased as I always was to see fine details spring suddenly into being. Slightly less pleased to see that what I had thought was a scale of bark on the timber near where I’d been sitting was in fact an enormous centipede, enjoying the shade.
I turned my attention back to the newcomers, though; they’d stopped—the little girl had dropped something. Her dolly—I could see the doll’s hair, a splotch of color on the ground, even redder than the little boy’s. The man was wearing a pack, and the woman had a large bag over one shoulder. She set it down and bent to pick up the doll, brushing it off and handing it back to her daughter.
The woman turned then to speak to her husband, throwing out an arm to point to something—the Higginses’ cabin, I thought. The man put both hands to his mouth and shouted, and the wind carried his words to us, faint but clearly audible, called out in a strong, cracked voice.
“Hello, the house!”
I was on my feet, and Jamie stood and grabbed my hand, hard enough to bruise my fingers.
Movement at the door of the cabin, and a small figure that I recognized as Amy Higgins appeared. The tall woman pulled off her hat and waved it, her long red hair streaming out like a banner in the wind.
“Hello, the house!” she called, laughing.
Then I was flying down the hill, with Jamie just before me, arms flung wide, the two of us flyng together on that same wind.