Saturday, September 21, 2013

Written in My Own Heart's Blood Excerpts (#2) by Diana Gabaldon

As always you can visit Gabaldon's Facebook page by clicking here to see all of her postings.

Posted September 12th

William passed the end of the company, circled to the rear and rode up the other side of the column, looking back over his shoulder at the rank of puzzled faces staring at him, some affronted, some amused. No…no…no…maybe? Would he even recognize the fellow? he wondered. He’d been very drunk. Still, he thought Harkness would recognize _him_…

They were all staring at him by this time, but none with an aspect either of alarm or violence. Their captain reined up a little and called to him.

“Ho, Ellesmere! Lost something, have you?”

He squinted against the sun, and made out the vivid face of Ban Tarleton, red-cheeked and grinning under his flamboyant plumed helmet. He jerked his chin up in invitation, and William wheeled his horse and fell in beside him.

“Not lost, exactly,” he said. “Just looking for a dragoon I met in Philadelphia—named Harkness; you know him?”

Ban pulled a face. 

“Yes. He’s with the 16th. Randy bugger, always after women,”

“And you aren’t?” Ban wasn’t a close friend, but William had been out on the ran-dan with him once or twice in London. He didn’t drink much, but he didn’t need to; he was the sort of man who always seemed a little intoxicated.

Tarleton laughed, face flushed with the heat and red-lipped as a girl.

“Yes. But Harkness doesn’t care about anything _but_ women. Known him have three at once, in a brothel.”

William considered that one for a moment.

“All right. I can see a use for two, maybe…but what’s the third one for?”

Ban, who was maybe four years older than William, gave him the sort of pitying look reserved for virgins and confirmed bachelors, then ducked back, laughing, when William punched him in the arm.

Posted September 14th

“Sassenach, I _had_ to,” he said again, softly. “I’m that sorry.”

“I know,” I said. “I know you did.” My lips were stiff. “I—you—I’m sorry, too.”

I was trying to fasten the dozen tiny buttons that closed the bodice of my gown, but my hands shook so badly that I couldn’t even grasp them. I stopped trying and dug my hair-brush out of the bag he’d brought me from the Chestnut Street house.

He made a small sound in his throat and took it out of my hand. He threw it onto our makeshift couch and put his arms around me, holding me tight with my face buried in his chest. The cloth of his new uniform smelled of fresh indigo, walnut hulls and fuller’s-earth; it felt strange and stiff against my face. I couldn’t stop shaking.

“Talk to me, _a nighean_,” he whispered into my tangled hair. “I’m afraid, and I dinna want to feel so verra much alone just now. Speak to me.”

“Why has it always got to be _you_?” I blurted into his chest.

That made him laugh, a little shakily, and I realized that all the trembling wasn’t coming from me.

“It’s no just me,” he said, and stroked my hair. “There are a thousand other men readying themselves today—more—who dinna want to do it, either.”

“I know,” I said again. My breathing was a little steadier. “I know.” I turned my face to the side in order to breathe, and all of a sudden began to cry, quite without warning.

“I’m sorry,” I gasped. “I don’t mean—I don’t want t-to make it h-harder for you. I—I—oh, Jamie, when I knew you were alive--I wanted so much to go home. To go home with you.”

His arms tightened hard round me. He didn’t speak, and I knew it was because he couldn’t.

“So did I,” he whispered at last. “And we will, _a nighean_. I promise ye.”

Posted September 15th

Dottie bit her lip, but in a way indicating calculation, rather than chagrin.

“If I can contrive to make Denny marry me here, so that we arrived in England as husband and wife already, it would be a simple matter to find a London meeting that would welcome us. Whereas here—“ she flung out a hand toward the hum of the camp around us. “His involvement in the war would always stand in his way, you see?”

“Even after the war is over?”

She gave me a patient look, too old for her face.

“Papa says that wars take three generations to fade from the ground where they’re fought. And from what I’ve seen, Friends have quite long memories as well.”

“He might just have a point.” I rubbed a hand through my hair and braced my back more comfortably against one of the packing crates set against the wall. “All right. Perhaps…a little basic anatomy, to begin with.”

I really had no idea how much—if anything—a nobly born young woman might have been told, or found out by other means, so began with female reproductive anatomy, starting with the womb—for surely she knew what that was—and leading outward, part by part.

“You mean it has a _name_?” she exclaimed, charmed, when I got to the clitoris. “I’d always thought of it as just, you know…”_that_ bit.”” Her tone of voice made it abundantly clear that I needn’t explain what _that_ bit did, and I laughed.

“To the best of my knowledge, it’s the only structure of the human body that appears to have no function whatever save the pleasure of the owner.”

“But men….don’t they…?”

“Well, yes, they do,” I said “And very pleasurable they find theirs, too. But a penis is extremely functional, as well. You, er…do know how it…works? In terms of intercourse?“

“Denzell won’t let me touch his naked member—and I’m _longing_ to see it at my leisure—not just the odd glimpse when he, well, you know.” Her eyes sparkled at the thought. “But I know what it feels like through his breeches. I was amazed, the first time it went stiff under my hand! However does it do that?”

I explained the concept of hydrostatic pressure as simply as possible, already seeing what was coming next.

Posted September 16th

Dottie, having checked Mrs. Peabody’s pulse and breathing, laid a ginger hand on the distended bulge of pregnancy. “Has thee attended a birth before, cousin?” Dottie asked Rachel, being careful of her plain speech.

“Several,” Rachel replied, squatting down by Mrs. Peabody. “This looks somewhat different, though. Has she suffered some injur—oh!” The brewery reek hit her and she reared back and coughed. “I see.”

Mrs. Peabody uttered a loud moan and everyone stiffened. I wiped my hands on my apron, just in case. She relaxed again, though, and after a few moments’ contemplative silence to see if she’d do it again, Dottie took a deep breath.

“Mrs…I mean, Friend Claire was just telling me some very interesting things. Regarding…er…what to expect on one’s wedding night.”

Rachel looked up with interest.

“I should welcome any such instruction myself. I know where the…um…parts go, because I’ve seen them go there fairly frequently but--”

“You have?!?” Dottie gawked at her, and Rachel laughed.

“I have. But Ian assures me that he has more skill than the average bull or billy-goat, and my observations are limited to the animal world, I’m afraid.” A small line showed between her brows. “The woman who cared for me after the death of my parents was…very dutiful in informing me of my womanly obligations, but her instructions consisted largely of “Spread thy legs, grit thy teeth, girl, and let him.””

I sat down on the packing case and stretched to ease my back. God knew how long it might take Ian to find Jamie among the thousands of soldiers in camp. “Pour me another cup of beer, will you? And have some more yourselves. I suspect we may need it.”

Posted September 17th

“Does Uncle Jamie ken where ye are, Auntie?” Ian asked. “He was lookin’ for ye just now. He said he’d put ye somewhere safe to sleep, but ye’d escaped. Again,” he added with a broad grin.

“Oh,” I said. “He’s finished with the generals for the night, then?”

“Aye, he went to make the acquaintance o’ some of the militia captains under him, but most had gone to sleep by then, so he went to join ye at the Chenowyths. Mrs. Chenowyth was a bit taken aback to find ye gone,” he added delicately.

“I just came out for a bit of air,” I said, defensive. “And then--“ I gestured at the patient on the floor, who had now settled down to a rhythmic snore. Her color was looking better; that was heartening. “Er…is Jamie put out, do you think?”

Ian and Rachel both laughed at that.

“No, Auntie,” Ian said. “But he’s dead tired, and he wants ye bad.”

“Did he tell you to say that?”

“Not in precisely those words,” Rachel said, “but his meaning was plain.”

Posted September 18th

He set his teeth, rummaging in the saddle-bag for his shot-pouch. Now that that Scotch bugger had returned from his watery grave, throwing everything and everyone into confusion…why couldn’t he have drowned and never come back?

Never come back.

“_You are a stinking papist, and your baptismal name is James_.” He froze as though shot in the back. He bloody remembered it. The stables at Helwater, the warm smell of horses and mash, and the prickle of straw that worked its way through his stockings. Cold stone floors. He’d been crying…why? All he recalled was a huge wash of desolation, total helplessness. The end of the world. Mac leaving.

He took a long, slow breath and pressed his lips together. Mac. The word didn’t bring back a face; he couldn’t remember what Mac had looked like. He’d been big, that was all. Bigger than Grandfather or any of the footmen or the other grooms. _Safety. A sense of constant happiness like a soft, worn blanket._

“Shit,” he whispered, closing his eyes. And had that happiness been a lie, too? He’d been too little to know the difference between a groom’s deference to the young master and real kindness. But…

“_You are a stinking papist_,” he whispered, and caught his breath on something that might have been a sob. “And your baptismal name is James.”

“_It was the only name I had a right to give ye_.”

He realized that his knuckles were pressed against his chest, against his gorget—but it wasn’t the gorget whose reassurance he sought. It was the little bumps of the plain wooden rosary that he’d worn around his neck for years, hidden under his shirt where no one would see it. The rosary Mac had given him…along with his name.

With a suddenness that shocked him, he felt his eyes swim. _You went away. You left me!_

“Shit!” he said, and punched his fist so hard into the saddlebag that the horse snorted and shied, and a bolt of white-hot pain shot up his arm, obliterating everything.

Posted September 19th

I was groping in my pocket for a ribbon with which to club Jamie’s queue, when a fresh draft swept through the loft, lifting the oil-cloth and fluttering the papers beneath. I turned to see the source of the breeze, and beheld Germain, swinging off the pulley-rope to come in by the shuttered doors through which bales and kegs could be lowered from the loft to wagons below.

“_Bonjour, grand-pere_,” he said, wiping a cobweb off his face as he landed and bowing to Jamie with great formality. He turned and bowed to me, as well. “_Comment ca va, grand-mere_?”

“Fi—“ I began automatically, but was interrupted by Jamie.

“No,” he said definitely. “Ye’re not coming.”

“Please, Grand-da!” Germain’s formality disappeared in an instant, replaced by pleading. “I could be a help to ye!”

“I know,” Jamie said dryly. “And your parents would never forgive me if ye were. I dinna even want to know what your notion of help involves, but—“

“I could carry messages! I can ride, ye ken that, ye taught me yourself! And I’m nearly twelve!”

“Ye ken how dangerous that is? If a British sharp-shooter didna take ye out of the saddle, someone from the militia would club ye over the head to steal the horse. And I can count, ken? Ye’re no even eleven yet, so dinna be tryin’ it on with me.”

Posted September 20th

Possibly it was the wine. Possibly it was the fact that the room had no windows, and Mrs. Chenowyth had thoughtfully closed the door behind her. It was a small room; perhaps ten feet by eight. The air was still and the candle’s flame burned high and steady, pure against the bricks of the wall. Perhaps it was the candle that brought Uncle Lamb to mind, and the day he’d told me about Vestal Virgins, showing me a blue chalcedony carving from the temple of Vesta.

“Should a virgin betray her vows,” he said, waggling his eyebrows at me, “she’d be whipped, then sealed up alive in a small underground tomb, equipped with a table and chair, some water, and a single candle. And there she would die, when the air ran out.”

I’d considered that with a sort of morbid relish—I might have been ten—and then asked with interest just _how_ a Vestal might betray her vows. Which is how I learned what used to be called the Facts of Life, Uncle Lamb not being one to shirk any fact that wandered across his path, or mine. And while Uncle Lamb had assured me that the cult of Vesta had long since ceased operations, I had at that point resolved not to be a virgin, just in case. On the whole, a good resolution, though sleeping with men did have the most peculiar side effects.

Posted September 21st

Now that Grey had both eyes open, he could see that Fraser's outward calm was not quite so impervious as he'd first supposed. There was a pulse beating in Fraser’s temple, and he'd shifted his weight a little, like a man might do in the vicinity of a tavern brawl, not quite ready to commit violence, but readying himself to meet it. Perversely, Grey found this sight steadying.

"What do you bloody _mean_, 'why'?" he said, suddenly irritated. "And why aren't you fucking dead?"

"I often wonder that myself," Fraser replied politely. "I take it ye thought I was?"

"Yes, and so did your wife! Do you have the faintest idea what the knowledge of your death _did_ to her?"

The dark blue eyes narrowed just a trifle.

"Are ye implying that the news of my death deranged her to such an extent that she lost her reason and took ye to her bed by force? Because," he went on, neatly cutting off Grey's heated reply, "unless I've been seriously misled regarding your own nature, it would take substantial force to compel ye to any such action. Or am I wrong?"

The eyes stayed narrow. Grey stared back at them. Then he closed his own eyes briefly and rubbed both hands hard over his face, like a man waking from nightmare. He dropped his hands and opened his eyes again.

"You are not misled," he said, through clenched teeth. "And you are wrong."

Fraser's ruddy eyebrows shot up--in genuine astonishment, he thought.

"Ye went to her because—from _desire_?" His voice rose, too. "And she let ye? I dinna believe it."

The color was creeping up Fraser's tanned neck, vivid as a climbing rose. Grey had seen that happen before, and decided recklessly that the best--the only--defense was to lose his own temper first. It was a relief.

"We thought you were _dead_, you bloody arsehole!" he said, furious. "Both of us! Dead! And we--we--took too much to drink one night--very much too much...we spoke of you...and... Damn you, neither one of us was making love to the other--we were fucking _you_!"

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