Saturday, October 5, 2013

Written In My Own Heart's Blood Excerpts (#3) by Diana Gabaldon

The Outlander Fan Page on Facebook ran a poll to officially name the Outlander Fan Club and the name that got the most votes is:




Another peak into Written In My Own Heart's Blood:


Posted on September 22nd:

“Can ye club up my hair for me? I canna be reviewing my troops like this.” His hair was tied back carelessly with a leather thong, damp stray wisps sticking to his face.

“Of course. How many of them are you reviewing? And when?” I sat him down on the stool and set to work with the brush. “Have you been burrowing through the countryside head-first? You have fox-tails and leaves in your hair, and those winged things that elders make. Oo! To say nothing of _this_.” I carefully removed a tiny green caterpillar that had become entangled in his tresses and showed it to him, perched inquisitively on my forefinger.

“[Gaelic – Go with God],” he said to the caterpillar. _Go with God_. And taking it carefully onto his own finger, took it to the tent-flap and loosed it into the grass.

“All of them, Sassenach,” he said, returning and sitting down again. “My last two companies came in this morning; they’ll have been fed now and rested a bit. I meant to ask—“ he added, twisting round to look up at me, “—would ye come with me, Sassenach, and have a look at them? To see if any should be left back from the fighting, or tend any that might need the odd bit o’ repair.”

“Yes, of course. When?”

“Come to the parade ground in an hour, if ye would.” He passed a hand over the neatly gleaming auburn queue, doubled on itself and ribboned in a club at his nape. “Aye, that’s grand. Am I decent otherwise?”

He stood up and brushed bits of discarded leaf from his sleeve. The crown of his head brushed the tent, and he was glowing--with sun, energy and the suppressed excitement of impending action.

“You look like bloody Mars, god of war,” I said dryly, handing him his waistcoat. “Try not to scare your men.”

His mouth quirked as he shrugged into the waistcoat, but he spoke seriously, eyes on mine.

“Oh, I want them frightened of me, Sassenach. It’s the only way I’ll have a chance of bringing them out of it alive.”



Posted September 24th:

Darkness came upon us a few miles from Coryell’s Ferry, but the glow of the camp was faintly visible against the sky, and we made our way cautiously in, being stopped every quarter-mile or so by sentries who popped unnervingly out of the dark, muskets at the ready.

“Friend or foe?” the sixth of these demanded dramatically, peering at us in the beam of a dark-lantern held high.

“General Fraser and his lady.” Jamie said, shielding his eyes with his hand and glaring down at the sentry. “Is that friendly enough for ye?” 

I muffled a smile in my shawl; he’d refused to stop to find food along the way, and I’d refused to let him consume uncooked bacon, no matter how well smoked. Jenny’s four apples hadn’t gone far, we’d found no food since the night before, and he was starving. An empty stomach generally woke the fiend that slept within, and this was clearly in evidence at the moment.

“Er…yes, sir, General, I only--” The lantern’s beam of light shifted to rest on Rollo, catching him full in the face and turning his eyes to a eerie green flash. The sentry made a strangled noise, and Ian leaned down from his horse, his own face—Mohawk tattoos and all—appearing suddenly in the beam.

“Dinna mind us,” he said genially to the sentry. “We’re friendly, too.”

Posted September 25th:

Ian turned a little away, from politeness, and spied two figures coming round the far corner. “Och! There’s your brother now, and lookin’ gae fine for a Quaker, too.”

Denzell was dressed in the uniform of a Continental soldier, and looked self-conscious as a hunting dog with a bow tied round its neck. Ian suppressed his amusement, though, merely nodding as his future brother-in-law drew to a stop before them. Denny’s betrothed had no such compunctions.

“Is he not _beautiful_?” Dottie crowed, standing back a little to admire him. Denzell coughed and pushed his spectacles up his nose. He was a tidy man, not over-tall, but broad in the shoulder and strong in the forearm. He did look fine in the uniform, Ian thought, and said so.

“I will try not to let my appearance engorge my vanity,” Denzell said dryly. “Is thee not also to be a soldier, Ian?”

Ian shook his head, smiling.

“Nay, Denny. I shouldna be any kind of soldier—but I’m a decent scout.” He saw Denzell’s eyes fix on his face, tracing the double line of tattooed dots that looped across both cheekbones.

“I expect thee would be.” A certain tenseness in Denny’s shoulders relaxed. “Scouts are not required to kill the enemy, are they?”

“No, we’ve our choice about it,” Ian assured him, straight-faced. “We can kill them if we like—but just for the fun of it, ken. It doesna really count.”

Posted September 26th:

“Can you tell when Jem’s at school?”

“Yes. He goes on da bus.” Mandy bounced a little on her booster seat, leaning to peer out the window. She was wearing the Halloween mask Bree had helped her make, this being a Mouse Princess: a mouse-face drawn with crayons on a paper plate, with holes pierced for eyes and at either side for pink yarn ties, more pink yarn glued on for whiskers, and a precarious small crown made with cardboard, more glue and most of a bottle of gold glitter. 

Scots celebrated Samhain with hollowed-out turnips with candles in them, but Brianna had wanted a slightly more festive tradition for her half-American children. The whole front seat sparkled as though the car had been sprinkled with pixie dust. 

She smiled, despite her worry.

“I meant, if you played warmer/colder with Jem, could you do it if he wasn’t answering you out loud? Would you know if he was closer or farther away?”

Mandy kicked the back of the seat in meditative fashion.

“Maybe.”

“Can you try?” They were headed toward Inverness. That was where Jem had been supposed to be, spending the night with Rob Cameron’s nephew.

“OK,” Mandy said agreeably. She hadn’t asked where Rob Cameron was. Brianna spared a thought as to the fate of her prisoner. She really _would_ shoot him through the ankles, elbows, knees, or anything else necessary to find out where Jem was—but if there were quieter ways of interrogation, it would be better all round. It wouldn’t be good for Jem and Mandy to have their mother sent to prison for life, particularly if Roger-- She choked that thought off and stepped harder on the gas.

“Colder,” Mandy announced, so suddenly that Brianna nearly stalled the car.

“What? Do you mean we’re getting farther away from where Jemmy is?”

“Uh-huh.”

Brianna took a deep breath and made a U-turn, narrowly avoiding an oncoming panel truck, which hooted at them in annoyance.

“Right,” she said, gripping the wheel with sweaty hands. “We’ll go the other way.”

Posted September 27th:

Buck came out of the bushes, and sat down again by the fire. He sat with his knees pulled up, arms locked round them.

“What did ye mean by that?” he asked abruptly. “Did I ken my father, and that.”

Roger took in a deep breath of dried heather, woodsmoke, and blood.

“I mean ye werena born to the house ye grew up in. Did ye ken that?”

Buck looked wary, and slightly bewildered.

“Aye,” he said slowly. “Or—not kent it straight out, I mean. My parents didna have any bairns beside me, so I thought there was maybe—well, I thought I was likely a bastard born to my father’s sister. She died, they said, about the time I was born, and she wasna marrit, so…” He shrugged, one-shouldered. “So, no.” He turned his head and looked at Roger, expressionless. “How d’ye come to know, yourself?”

“Brianna’s mother.” He felt a sharp, sudden longing for Claire, and was surprised at it. “She was a traveler. But she was at Leoch, about that time. And she told us what happened.” He had the hollow-bellied feel of one about to jump off a precipice into water of unknown depth, but there was no way to stop now.

Posted September 28th:

“Does thee think perhaps thee should write to thy mother?” I heard Rachel ask seriously. The girls were behind Denny and me, sitting in the bed of the wagon and keeping things from bouncing out when we hit ruts and mud-bogs.

“No. Why?” Dottie’s tone was wary—not quite hostile, but very reserved. I knew she had written to tell her mother that she intended to wed Denzell Hunter, but she hadn’t received a reply. Given the difficulties of correspondence with England, though, there was no assurance that Minerva Grey had ever read the letter.

“It _is_ a war, Dottie,” Rachel said. “Unexpected things may happen. And thee would not wish thy mother to…well…to discover that thee had perished without some assurance that she was in thy heart.”

“Hm!” said Dottie, clearly taken aback. Beside me, I felt Denzell shift his weight, bending a little forward as he took a fresh grip on the reins. He glanced aside at me, and his mouth turned up in an expression that was as much grimace as smile, acknowledging that he’d been listening to the girls’ talk, too.

“She worries for me,” he said very quietly. “Never for herself.” He let go the reins with one hand to rub a knuckle under his nose. “She has as much courage as her father and brothers.”

“As much pig-headedness, you mean,” I said under my breath, and he grinned, despite himself. 

“Yes,” he said. He glanced over his shoulder and so did I, but the girls had moved to the tail-board and were talking over it to Clarence. “Does thee think it a familial lack of imagination? For in the case of the men of her family, it cannot be ignorance of the possibilities.”

Posted September 29th:

He slid off, and led the way down to the creek’s edge, careful of loose stones and boggy earth—the creekbank here was mostly soft mud, edged with mats of duckweed and small reedbeds. A glimpse of red caught his eye and he tensed, but it was a British soldier, face-down in the mud and clearly dead, his legs swaying in the current. 

He shucked his moccasions and edged out into the water himself; the creek was fairly wide here, and only a couple of feet deep, with a silty bottom; his feet sank in ankle-deep. He edged out again and led the horse farther up the ravine, looking for better footing, though the gelding was nearly desperate for the water, pushing Ian with his head; he wouldn’t wait long.

The sounds of the skirmish had faded; he could hear men up above and some way off, but nothing in the ravine itself anymore.

There, that would do. He let the horse’s reins fall, and it lunged for the creek, stood with its forefeet sunk in mud but its hind feet solid on a patch of gravel, blissfully gulping water. He felt the pull of the water nearly as much, and sank to his knees, feeling the blissful chill as it soaked his clothes, that sensation fading instantly to nothingness as he cupped his hands and drank, and cupped and drank again and again, choking now and then in the effort to drink faster than he could swallow.

At last he stopped—reluctantly—and dashed water over his face and chest; it was cooling, though the bear-grease in his paint made the water bead and run off his skin.

“Come on,” he said to the horse. “Ye’ll burst and ye keep on like that, amadan.” It took some struggle, but he got the horse’s nose out of the creek, water and bits of green weed sloshing out of the loose-lipped mouth as the horse snorted and shook his head. It was while hauling the horse’s head round in order to lead him up the bank that he saw the other British soldier.

Posted September 30th:

Clarence was showing a strong urge to go join Denny’s mules in cropping grass among the headstones, jerking his head against the pull of his tether and uttering loud cries of annoyance.

“All right, all right, all _right_,” I said, hurrying to undo the packing straps and lift his burdens off. “Hold your—oh, dear.”

A man was staggering toward me, giving at the knees with every step and lurching dizzily. The side of his face was black, and there was blood down the facing of his uniform. I dropped the bundle of tenting and poles and rushed to catch him by the arm before he should trip over a headstone and fall face-first into the dirt.

“Sit down,” I said. He looked dazed and appeared not to hear me, but as I was pulling on his arm, he did go down, letting his knees relax abruptly and nearly taking me with him as he landed on a substantial stone commemorating one Gilbert Tennent.

My patient was swaying as though about to fall over, and yet a hasty check showed me no significant wounds; the blood on his coat was from his face, where the blackened skin had blistered and split. It wasn’t just the soot of black powder—the skin had actually been burnt to a crisp, the underlying flesh seared, and my patient smelled appallingly like a pork roast. I took a firm grip on my lurching stomach and stopped breathing through my nose.

He didn’t respond to my questions, but stared hard at my mouth, and he seemed lucid, despite his continued swaying. The penny finally dropped.

“Ex…plos..sion?” I mouthed with exaggerated care, and he nodded vigorously, then stopped abruptly, swaying so far that I had to grasp him by the sleeve and pull him upright.

Artilleryman, from his uniform. So, something big had exploded near him—a mortar, a cannon?—and not only burned his face nearly to the bone, but had likely burst both his eardrums and disturbed the balance of his inner ear. I nodded, and set his hands to grip the stone he sat on, to keep him in place while I hastily finished unloading Clarence—who was making the welkin ring with frustration; I should have realized at once that the artilleryman was deaf, as he was taking no notice of the racket—hobbled him and set him loose to join Denny’s mules in the shade. I dug what I needed out of the packs and set about to do what little I could for the injured man, this consisting mostly of soaking a towel in saline and applying it to his face like a poultice, to remove as much soot as I could without scrubbing.

Posted October 1st:

There had been a couple of dozen men from Jamie’s companies that I rejected by reason of disfirmity—crippled, asthmatic, collapsed with age—and perhaps three dozen more who were essentially sound but sporting some injury requiring attention; these mostly the result of fist-fights or falling down while under the influence of drink. Several of them were _still_ under the influence of drink, and had been sent off under guard to sleep it off. 

I did wonder for a moment how many men normally went into battle drunk. In all honesty, I’d be strongly tempted to do it myself, were I required to do what these men were about to do.

There was still a tremendous bustle, but the earlier sense of exhilaration had transmuted into something more concentrated, more focused and sober. Preparations were being made in earnest.

I’d finished my own, or hoped I had. A small tent for shelter from the blazing sun, packs of medical supplies, surgical kits, each equipped with a jar of wet sutures, a wad of lint for mopping up blood, a bottle of dilute alcohol—I’d run out of salt and couldn’t summon the will to badger or beg more from the commissary officer; perhaps I could make up some saline solution in the morning. And the emergency kit that I carried over my shoulder, no matter what.

I sat close to the fire, but despite that and in spite of the heavy warmth of the night itself, I began to feel chilled and heavy, as though I were slowly ossifying, and only then realized how tired I was. The camp hadn’t gone to sleep entirely—there was still talk around the fires, and the occasional rasp of a scythe or a sword being sharpened, but the volume had dropped. The atmosphere had settled with the sinking of the moon, even those souls most excited at the prospect of imminent battle succumbing to sleep.

“Come and lie down,” I said softly to Jamie, and rose from my seat with a muffled groan. “It won’t be for long, but you need _some_ rest—and so do I.”

Posted October 2nd:

Jamie strode toward his waiting companies, loosely assembled near the river. The breath of the water and the mist rising from it comforted him, keeping him wrapped for a little while longer in the peace of the night, and the deep sense of his kin, there at his shoulder. 

He’d need the strength of his dead. Three hundred men, and he’d known them for less than three days. Always before, when he’d taken men into battle, they were men of his blood, of his clan; men who knew him, trusted him—as he knew and trusted them. These men were strangers to him, and yet their lives were in his hands.

He wasn’t worried by their lack of training; they were rough and undisciplined, a mere rabble by contrast with the Continental regulars who’d drilled all winter under von Steuben—the thought of the little barrel-shaped Prussian made him smile —but his troops had always been this kind of men: farmers and hunters, pulled from their daily occupations, armed with scythes and hoes as often as with muskets or swords. They’d fight like fiends for him—with him-- if they trusted him.

“How is it, then, Reverend?” he said softly to the minister, who had just blessed his flock of volunteers and was hunched among them in his black coat like a scarecrow protecting his misty field at dawn. The man’s face, always rather stern in aspect, lightened upon seeing him, and he realized that the sky itself had begun to glow.

“All well, sir,” Woodsworth said gruffly. “We are ready.”

Posted October 3rd:

William wished he could stop reaching for things that weren’t there. A dozen times today—oftener!—he’d reached for the dagger that should have been on his belt. Once or twice, for one of his pistols. Slapped an impotent hand against his hip, missing his sword, missing the small, solid weight of his shot-pouch, the swing of his cartridge-box.

And now he lay sweating naked on his cot, hand slapped flat on his chest where he’d reached without thinking for the wooden rosary. The rosary that, if he’d had it, would no longer be the comfort it had been for so many years. The rosary that, if he’d had it, no longer said “_Mac_” to him. If he _did_ still have it, he’d have snatched it off and thrown it into the nearest fire. That’s likely what James Fraser had done with it after William had thrown the rosary in the bastard’s face. But then, Fraser wasn’t the bastard here, was he?

He muttered “_Scheisse_!” and flung himself irritably over. Three feet away, Evans stirred and farted in his sleep, a sudden, muffled sound like distant cannon. On his other side, Merbling went on snoring.

_Tomorrow_. He’d gone to bed late after an exhausting day, and would be up in an hour, maybe, but he lay wide awake, eyes so adapted to the dark that he could see the pale blur of the tent canvas overhead. No chance of sleep, he knew. Even if he’d see no action himself—and he wouldn’t—the proximity of battle had him so keyed up that he could have leapt from bed and gone straight for the enemy right now, sword in hand.

Posted October 4th:

“Sounds like fun.” The racket of the camp had died down considerably, but the thick air still held the vibrations of many men, awake or uneasily asleep. I thought I could feel that same expectant vibration pass through Jamie, in spite of his obvious tiredness. “You need sleep, then.”

His arm tightened round me and his free hand traveled slowly down my back. I’d left Denny’s apron in the tent, and my cloak was over my arm; the thin muslin of my shift might as well have not existed.

“Oh, God,” he said, and his big, warm hand cupped my buttock with a sudden urgency. “I need _you_, Sassenach. I need ye bad.”

The shift was just as thin in front as in back.; I could feel his waistcoat buttons through it—and a few other things. He did want me bad. 

“Do you mind doing it in a crypt that smells of wee?” I asked, thinking of the Chenowyth’s back bedroom.

“I’ve taken ye in worse places, Sassenach.”

Before I could say “Name three,” the tent-flap opened to disgorge a small procession, this consisting of Denzell, Dottie, Rachel and Ian, each couple carrying one end of a canvas sheet on which lay the recumbent form of Mrs. Peabody. Mr. Peabody led the way, lantern held high.

We were standing in shadow, and they passed without noticing us, the girls giggling at the occasional stumble, the young men grunting with effort and Mr. Peabody calling out encouragement as they made their laborious way through the darkness, presumably heading for the Peabody abode.

The tent stood before us, dark and invitingly empty.

“Aye?”

“Oh, yes.”

Enjoy!!

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