Aug 6 2014 11:00am
A Beginner’s Guide to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander
If you're just jumping into the fandom, welcome! Let us be your guide to the series with an intro by H&H's Megan Frampton, a list of the books in reading order, a roundup of H&H's coverage of both the books and the Starz TV show, and—best of all—an excerpt from Book 1 (the better to compare how Jamie and Claire's first meeting played out on the page versus in the show!). But wait, there's more! Stick around 'til the very end of the post to learn more about our Outlander Beginner's Guide comment sweepstakes!
It wasn’t a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance.
Outlander’s opening line could also refer to the success of the series as a whole—it’s not a very likely series for huge success, at least at first glance. It’s a time-travel book shifting between Scotland in 1945 and 1743, a romance between a married older woman and a virgin man. So there’s time travel, eighteenth-century Scotland, dialect, close to 900 pages in length, long descriptions of medicinal herbs, violence, and infidelity.
And yet—and yet there is something about the series that is utterly and entirely compelling, whether you’re intrigued by Jamie and Claire’s passionate romance, the politics, the details of what life was like back before cars and penicillin, or any of the myriad things Gabaldon has infused into her series over the course of eight books.
Outlander started it all. The first novel in the series (which is still ongoing) introduces us to Claire Randall, Word War II nurse and wife to Frank Randall; Jamie Fraser, a fierce fighter in eighteenth-century Scotland; Frank Randall, Claire’s husband and Black Jack Randall’s descendant; and Black Jack himself, a smart, villainous captain who has his own goals.
And now, here's everything you need to get started with the series...
Diana Gabaldon's Outlander Series in Reading Order:
|2. Dragonfly in Amber|
|4. Drums of Autumn|
|5. The Fiery Cross|
|6. A Breath of Snow and Ashes|
|7. An Echo in the Bone|
|8. Written in My Own Heart’s Blood|
A roundup of some of H&H's most popular Outlander posts—so far
- Outlander-ish Dialogue: Jamie Fraser's Jamie-isms by Charli Mac
- Outlander's “Just a Bodice-Ripper”? Really, Vanity Fair?! by Megan Frampton
- Romance's Most Hated: In Defense of Outlander's Laoghaire by Rachel Hyland
- First Impressions of Outlander Episode 1, “Sassenach”: Wait 'n' See by Elizabeth Poteet
- Anticipating Starz's Outlander: 5 Things the Series Shouldn't Change by Kate Nagy
- Friday Beefcake: Claire's Choice—Jamie Fraser and Frank Randall by Team H&H
- Time Travel, Highlanders, History, and More: What to Read After Diana Gabaldon's Outlander by Megan Frampton
- A Love Letter to Diana Gabaldon's Outlander by Aniko Eva Nagy
- Romantic Couple: Jamie and Claire from Diana Gabaldon's Outlander by Charli Mac
Coming soon:Weekly Outlander episode recaps by Anna Bowling
Now, get a taste of the first book in the series, Outlander, with an excerpt from Chapter 3, featuring Claire and Jamie's first meeting. Happy reading!
The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon—when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord . . . 1743.
Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life . . . and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire . . . and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
The Man in the Wood
The men were some distance away when I saw them. Two or three, dressed in kilts, running like the dickens across a small clearing. There was a far-off banging noise that I rather dazedly identified as gunshots.
I was quite sure I was still hallucinating when the sound of shots was followed by the appearance of five or six men dressed in red coats and knee breeches, waving muskets. I blinked and stared. I moved my hand before my face and held up two fingers. I saw two fingers, all present and correct. No blurring of vision. I sniffed the air cautiously The pungent odor of trees in spring and a faint whiff of clover from a clump near my feet. No olfactory delusions.
I felt my head. No soreness anywhere. Concussion unlikely then. Pulse a little fast, but steady.
The sound of distant yelling changed abruptly. There was a thunder of hooves, and several horses came charging in my direction, kilted Scots atop them, yodeling in Gaelic. I dodged out of the way with an : gility that seemed to prove I had not been physically damaged, whatever my mental state.
And then it came to me, as one of the redcoats, knocked flat by a fleeing Scot, rose and shook his fist theatrically after the horses. Of course. A film! I shook my head at my own slowness. They were shooting a costume drama of some sort, that was all. One of those Bonnie-Prince-in-the-heather sorts of things, no doubt.
Well. Regardless of artistic merit, the film crew wouldn't thank me for introducing a note of historic inauthenticity into their shots. I doubled back into the wood, meaning to make a wide circle around the clearing and come out on the road where I had left the car. The going was more difficult than I had expected, though. The wood was a young one, and dense with underbrush that snagged my clothes. I had to go carefully through the spindly saplings, disen tangling my skirts from the brambles as I went.
Had he been a snake, I would have stepped on him. He stood so quietly among the saplings :s almost to have been one of them, and I did not see him until a hand shot out and gripped me by the arm.
Its companion clapped over my mouth as I was cragged baclnvard into the oak grove, thrashing wildly in panic. My captor, whoever he was, seemed not much taller than I, but rather noticeably strong in the forearms. I smelled a faint flowery scent, as of lavender water, and something more spicy, mingled
with the sharper reck of male perspiration. As the leaves whipped back into place in the path of our passage, though, I noticed something familiar about the hand and forearm clasped about my waist.
I shook my head free of the restraint over my mouth.
“Frank!” I burst out. “What in heaven's name arc you playing at?” I was torn between relief at finding him here and irritation at the horseplay. Unsettled as I was by my experience among the stones, I was in no mood for rough games.
The hands released me, but even as I turned to him, I sensed something wrong. It was not only the unfamiliar cologne, but something more subtle. I stood stock-stili, feeling the hair prickle on my neck.
“You aren't Frank,” I whispered .
“I am not,” he agreed, surveying me with considerable interest. “Though I've a cousin of that name. I doubt, though, that it's he you have confused me with, madam. We do not resemble one another greatly.”
Whatever this man's cousin looked like, the man himself might have been
Frank's brother. There was the same lithe, spare build and fine-drawn bones; the same chiseled lines of the face; the level brows and wide hazel eyes; and the same dark hair, curved smooth across the brow.
But this man's hair was long, tied back from his face with a leather thong. And the gypsy skin showed the deep-baked tan of months, no, years, of expo sure to the weather, not the light golden color Frank's had attained during our Scottish holiday.
“Just who arc you?” I demanded, feeling most uneasy. While Frank had numerous relatives and connections, I thought I knew all the British branch of the family. Certainly, there was no one who looked like this man among them. And surely Frank would have mentioned any ncar relative living in the High lands? Not only mentioned him but insisted upon visiting him as well, armed with the usual collection of genealogical charts and notebooks, eager for any tidbits of family history about the famous Black Jack Randall.
The stranger raised his brows at my question.
“Who am I? I might ask the same question, madam, and with considerably more justification.” His eyes raked me slowly from head to toe, traveling with a sort of insolent appreciation over the thin peony-sprigged cotton dress I wore, and lingering with an odd look of amusement on my legs. I did not at all understand the look, but it made me extremely nervous, and I backed up a step or two, until I was brought up sharp by bumping into a tree.
The man finally removed his gaze and turned aside. It was as though he had taken a constraining hand off me, and I let out my breath in relief, not realizing until then that I had been holding it.
He had turned to pick up his coat, thrown across the lowest branch of an oak sapling. He brushed some scattered leaves from it and began to put it on.
I must have gasped, because he looked up again. The coat was a deep scarlet, long-tailed and without lapels, frogged down the front. The buff linings
of the turned-back cuffs extended a good six inches up the sleeve, and a small coil of gold braid gleamed from one epaulet. It was a dragoon's coat, an officer's coat. Then it occurred to me-of course, he was an actor, from the company I had seen on the other side of the wood. Though the short sword he proceeded to strap on seemed remarkably more realistic than any prop I had ever seen.
I pressed myself against the bark of the tree behind me, and found it reassuringly solid. I crossed my arms protectively in front of me.
“Who the bloody hell are you?” I demanded again. The question this time came out in a croak that sounded frightened even to my ears.
As though not hearing me, he ignored the question, taking his time in the fastening of the frogs down the fi·ont of his coat. Only when he finished did he turn his attention to me once more. He bowed sardonically, hand over his heart.
“I am, madam, Jonathan Randall, Esquire, Captain of His Majesty's Eighth Dragoons. At your service, madam.”
I broke and ran. My breath rasped in my chest as I tore through the screen of oak and alder, ignoring brambles, nettles, stones, fallen logs, everything in my path. I heard a shout behind me, but was much too panicked to determine its direction.
I fled blindly, branches scratching my face and arms, ankles turning as I stepped in holes and stumbled on rocks. I had no room in my mind for any form of rational thought; I wanted only to get away from him .
A heavy weight struck me hard in the lower back and I pitched forward at hill length, landing with a thud that knocked the wind out of me. Rough h<mds flipped me onto my back, and Captain Jonathan Randall rose to his knees above me. He was breathing heavily and had lost his sword in the chase. He looked disheveled, dirty, and thoroughly annoyed.
“What the devil do you mean by runni ng away like that?” he demanded. A thick lock of dark-brown hair had come loose and curved across his brow, making him look even more disconcertingly like Frank.
He leaned down and grasped me by the arms. Still gasping for breath, I struggled to get free, but succeeded only in dragging him down on top of me.
He lost his balance and collapsed at full length on me, flattening me once more. Surprisingly enough, this seemed to make his annoyance vanish.
“Oh, like that, is it?” he said, with a chuckle. “Well, I'd be most willing to oblige you, Chuckie, but it happens you've chosen a rather inopportune mo ment.” His weight pressed my hips to the ground, and a small rock was digging painfully into the small of my back. I squirmed to dislodge it. He ground his hips hard against mine, and his hands pinned my shoulders to the earth. My mouth fell open in outrage.
“What do you…”I began, but he ducked his head and kissed me, cutting short my expostulations. His tongue thrust into my mouth and explored me with a bold familiarity, roving and plunging, retreating and lunging again. Then, just as suddenly as he had begun, he pulled back.
He patted my cheek. ”Quite nice, Chuck. Perhaps later, when I've the leisure to attend to you properly.“
I had by this time recovered my breath, and I used it. I screamed directly into his earhole, and he jerked as though I had run a hot wire into it. I took advantage of the movement to get my knee up, and jabbed it into his exposed side, sending him sprawling into the leaf mold .
I scrambled awkwardly to my feet. He rolled expertly, and came up along side me. I glanced wildly around, looking for a way out, but we were flush up against the foot of one of those towering granite cliffs that jut so abruptly from the soil of the Scottish Highlands. He had caught me at a point where the rock tace broke inward, forming a shallow stony box. He blocked the entrance to the declivity, arms spread and braced between the rock walls, an expression of min gled anger and curiosity on his handsome dark face.
”Who were you with?“ he demanded. ”Frank, whoever he is? I've no man by that name among my company. Or is it some man who lives nearby?“ He smiled derisively. ”You haven't the smell of dung on your skin, so you haven 't been with a cottar. For that matter, you look a bit more expensive than the local farmers could afford .“
I clenched my fists and set my chin. Whatever this joker had in mind, I was having none of it.
”I haven't the faintest idea what you are talking about, and I'll thank you to let me pass at once!“ I said, adopting my vety best ward-sister's tone. This generally had a good effect on recalcitrant orderlies and young interns, but appeared merely to amuse Captain Randall. I was resolutely repressing the feel ings of fear and disorientation that were flapping under my ribs like a panicked flock of hens.
He shook his head slowly, examining me once more in detail.
”Not just at present, Chuckie. I'm asking myself,“ he said, conversation ally, ”just why a whore abroad in her shift would be wearing her shoes? And quite fine ones, at that,“ he added, glancing at my plain brown loafers.
”A what!“ I exclaimed.
He ignored me completely. His gaze had returned to my face, and he suddenly stepped forward and gripped my chin in his hand. I grabbed his wrist and yanked.
”Let go of me!“ He had fingers like steel. Disregarding my efforts to free myselfhe turned my face from one side to the Gther, so the fading afternoon light shone on it.
”The skin of a lady, I'll swear,“ he murmured to himself. He leaned forward and sniffed. ”And a French scent in your hair.“ He let go then, and I rubbed my jaw indignantly, as though to erase the touch I still felt on my skin.
”The rest might be managed with money from your patron,“ he mused, ”but you've the speech of a lady too.“
”Thanks so much!“ I snapped. ”Get out of my way. My husband is expecting me; if I'm not back in ten minutes, he'll come looking for me.“
”Oh, your husband?“ The derisively admiring expression retreated some what, but did not disappear completely. ”And what is your husband's name, pray? Where is he? And why does he allow his wife to wander alone through deserted woods in a state of undress?“
I had been throttling that part of my brain that was beating itself to pieces trying to make sense of the whole afternoon. It now managed to break through long enough to tell me that however absurd I thought its conjectures, giving this man Frank's name, the same as his own, was only likely to lead to further trouble. Disdaining therefore to answer him, I made to push past him. He blocked my passage with a muscular arm, and reached for me with his other hand.
There was a sudden whoosh from above, followed immediately by a blur before my eyes and a dull thud. Captain Randall was on the ground at my feet, under a heaving mass that looked like a bundle of old plaid rags. A brown, rocklike fist rose out of the mass and descended with considerable force, meet ing decisively with some bony protuberance, by the sound of the resultant crack. The Captain's struggling legs, shiny in tall brown boots, relaxed quite suddenly.
I found myself staring into a pair of sharp black eyes. The sinewy hand that had temporarily distracted the Captain's unwelcome attentions was attached like a limpet to my forearm.
”And who the hell are you?“ I said in astonishment. My rescuer, if I cared to call him that, was some inches shorter than I and sparely built, but the bare arms protruding from the ragged shirt were knotted with muscle and his whole frame gave the impression of being made of some resilient material such as bedsprings. No beauty, either, with a pockmarked skin, low brow, and narrow jaw.
”This way.“ He jerked on my arm, and I, stupefied by the rush of recent events, obediently followed.
My new companion pushed his way rapidly through a scrim of alder, made an abrupt turn around a large rock, and suddenly we were on a path. Over grown with gorse and heather, and zigzagging so that it was never visible for more than six feet ahead, it was still unmistakably a path, leading steeply up toward the crest of a hill.
Not until we were picking our way cautiously down the far side of the hill did I gather breath and wit enough to ask where we were going. Receiving no answer from my companion, I repeated ”Where on earth are we going?“ in a louder tone.
To my considerable surprise, he rounded on me, face contorted, and pushed me off the path. As I opened my mouth to protest, he clapped a hand over it and dragged me to the ground, rolling on top of me.
Not again! I thought, and was heaving desperately to and fro to free myself when I heard what he had heard, and suddenly lay still. Voices called back and forth, accompanied by trampling and splashing sounds. They were unmistakably English voices. I struggled violently to get my mouth free. I sank my teeth into his hand, and had time only to register the fact that he had been eating pickled herring with his fingers, before something crashed against the back of my skull, and everything went dark.
The stone cottage loomed up suddenly through a haze of night mist. The shutters were bolted tight, showing no more than a thread of light. Having no idea how long I had been unconscious, I couldn't tell how far this place was fi-om the hill of Craigh na Dun or the town of Inverness. We were on horse back, myself mounted before my captor, with hands tied to the pommel, but there was no road, so progress was still rather slow.
I thought I had not been out for long; I showed no symptoms of concus sion or other ill effects from the blow, save a sore patch on the base of my skull. My captor, a man of few words, had responded to my questions, demands and acerbic remarks alike with the all-purpose Scottish noise which can best be rendered phonetically as ”Mmmmphm.“ Had I been in any doubt as to his nationality, that sound alone would have been sufficient to remove it.
My eyes had gradually adapted to the dwindling light outside as the horse stumbled through the stones and gorse, so it was a shock to step from near-dark into what seemed a blaze of light inside. As the dazzle receded, I could sec that in fact the single room was lit only by a fire, several candlesticks, and a dangerously old-fashioned-looking oil lamp.
”What is it ye have there, Murtagh ?“
The weasel-faced man grabbed me by the arm and urged me blinking into the firelight.
”A Sassenach wench, Dougal, by her speech.“ There were several men in the room, all apparently staring at me, some in curiosity, some with unmistak able leers. My dress had been torn in various spots during the afternoon's activi ties, and I hastily took stock of the damage. Looking down, I could see the curve of one breast clearly through a rip, and I was sure the assembled men could too. I decided that making an attempt to pull the torn edges together would only draw further attention to the prospect; instead I chose a face at random and stared boldly at him, in hopes of distracting either the man or myself.
”Eh, a bonny one, Sassenach or no,“ said the man, a fat, greasy-looking sort, seated by the fire. He was holding a chunk of bread and didn't bother to set it down as he rose and came over to me. He pushed my chin up with the back of his hand, shoving the hair out of my face. A few breadcrumbs fell down the neck of my dress. The other men clustered close around, a mass of plaid and whiskers, smelling strongly of sweat and alcohol. It was only then that I saw they were all kilted-odd, even for this part of the Highlands. Had I stumbled into the meeting of a clan society, or perhaps a regimental reunion?
”C'merc, lass.“ A large, dark-bearded man remained seated at the table by the window as he beckoned me. By his air of command, he seemed to be the leader of this pack. The men parted reluctantly as Murtagh pulled me forward, apparently respecting his rights as captor.
The dark man looked me over carefully, no expression on his face. He was good-looking, I thought, and not unfriendly. There were lines of strain between his brows, though, and it wasn't a face one would willingly cross.
”What's your name, lass?“ His voice was light for a man of his size, not the deep bass I would have expected from the barrel chest.
”Claire ... Claire Beauchamp,'' I said, deciding on the spur of the mo ment to use my maiden name. If it were ransom they had in mind, I didn't want to help them by giving a name that could lead to Frank. And I wasn't sure I wanted these rough-looking men to know who I was, before I found out who they were. “And just what do you think you're-” The dark man ignored me, establishing a pattern that I was to grow tired of very quickly.
“Beauchamp?” The heavy brows lifted and the general company stirred in surprise. “A French name, it is, surely?” He had in fact pronounced the name in correct French, though I had given it the common English pronunciation of “Beecham.”
“Yes, that's right,” I answered, in some surprise.
“Where did ye find this lass?” Dougal demanded, swinging round on Murtagh, who was refreshing himself from a leather flask.
The swarthy little man shrugged. “At the foot o' Craigh na Dun. She was havin' words with a certain captain of dragoons wi' whom I chanced to be acquent',” he added, with a significant lift of his eyebrows. “There seemed to be some question as to whether the lady was or was not a whore.”
Dougal looked me over carefully once more, taking in every detail of cotton print dress and walking shoes.
“I see. And what was the lady's position in this discussion?” he inquired, with a sarcastic emphasis on the word “lady” that I didn't particularly care for. I noticed that while his Scots was less pronounced than that of the man called Murtagh, his accent was still broad enough that the word was almost, though not quite, “Ieddy.”
Murtagh seemed grimly amused; at least one corner of the thin mouth turned up. “She said she wasna. The captain himself appeared to be of two minds on the matter, but inclined to put the question to the test.”
“We could do the same, come to that.” The fat, black-bearded man stepped toward me grinning, hands tugging at his belt. I backed up hastily as far as I could, which was not nearly far enough, given the dimensions of the cottage. “That will do, Rupert.” Dougal was still scowling at me, but his voice held the ring of authority, and Rupert stopped his advances, making a comical face of disappointment.
“I don't hold wi' rape, and we've not the time for it, anyway.” I was pleased to hear this statement of policy, dubious as its moral underpinning might be, but remained a bit nervous in the face of the openly lascivious looks on some of the other faces. I felt absurdly as though I had appeared in public in my under garments. And while I had no idea who or what these Highland bandits were up to, they seemed bloody dangerous. I bit my tongue, repressing a number of more or less injudicious remarks that were bubbling toward the surface.
“What d'ye say, Murtagh?” Dougal demanded of my captor. “She doesna appear to care for Rupert, at least.”
“That's no proof,” objected a short, balding man. “He didna offer her any siller. Ye canna expect any woman to take on something like Rupert without substantial payment-in advance,” he added, to the considerable hilarity of his companions. Dougal stilled the racket with an abrupt gesture, though, and jerked his head toward the door. The balding man, still grinning, obediently slid out into the da rkness.
Murtagh, who had not joined in the laughter, was frowning as he looked me over. He shook his head, making the lank fringe across his forehead sway. “Nay,” he said definitely. “I've no idea what she might be-or who-but I'll stake my best shirt she's no a whore.” I hoped in that case that his best was not the one he was wearing, which scarcely looked worth the wagering. “Wee!, ye'd know, Murtagh, ye've seen enough o' them,” gibed Rupert, but was gruffly hushed by Dougal.
“We'll puzzle it out later,” said Dougal brusquely. “We've a good distance to go tonight, and we mun' do something for Jamie first; he canna ride like that.”
I shrank back into the shadows near the fireplace, hoping to avoid notice. The man called Murtagh had untied my hands before leading me in here. Per haps I could slip away while they were busy elsewhere. The men's attention had shifted to a young man crouched on a stool in the corner. He had barely looked up through my appearance and interrogation, but kept his head bent, hand clutching the opposite shoulder, rocking slightly back and forth in pain .
Dougal gently pushed the clutching hand away. One of the men pulled back the young man's plaid, revealing a dirt-smeared linen shirt blotched with blood. A small man with a thick mustache came up behind the lad with a single bladed knife, and holding the shirt at the collar, slit it across the breast and down the sleeve, so that it fell away from the shoulder.
I gasped, as did several of the men. The shoulder had been wounded; there was a deep ragged furrow across the top, and blood was running freely down the young man's breast. But more shocking was the shoulder joint itself. A dreadful hump rose on that side, and the arm hung at an impossible angle.
Dougal grunted. “Mmph. Out o' joint, poor bugger.” The young man looked up for the first time. Though drawn with pain and stubbled with red bea rd, it was a strong, good-humored face.
“Fell wi' my hand out, when the musket ball knocked me off my saddle. I landed with all my weight on the hand, and crunch!, there it went.”
“Crunch is right.” The mustached man, a Scot , and educated, to judge by his accent, was probing the shoulder, making the lad grimace in pain. “The wound's no trouble. The ball went right through, and it's clean-the blood's runnin' free enough.” The man picked up a wad of grimy cloth from the table and used it to blot the blood. “I don't know quite what to do about the dis jointure, though. We'd need a chirurgeon to put it back in place properly. You canna ride with it that way, can you, Jamie lad?”
Musket ball? I thought blankly. ChirWI;geon?
The young man shook his head, white-faced. “Hurts bad enough sitting still. I couldna manage a horse.” He squeezed his eyes shut and set his teeth hard in his lower lip.
Murtagh spoke impatiently. “Well, we canna leave him behind noo, can we? The lobsterbacks are no great shakes trackin' in the da rk, but they'll find this place sooner or later, shutters or no. And Jamie can hardly pass for an innocent cottar, wi ' yon great hole in 'im. ”
“Dinna worrit yourself,” Dougal said shortly. “I don't mean to be leaving him behind.”
The mustached man sighed. “No help for it, then. We'll have to try and force the joint back. Murtagh, you and Rupert hold him; I'll give it a try.”
I watched in sympathy as he picked up the young man's arm by wrist and elbow and began forcing it upward. The angle was quite wrong; it must be causing agonizing pain. Sweat poured down the young man's face, but he made no sound beyond a soft groan. Suddenly he slumped forward , kept from falling on the floor only by the grip of the men holding him.
One unstoppered a leather flask and pressed it to his lips. The reek of the raw spirit reached me where I stood. The young man coughed and gagged, but swallowed nonetheless, dribbling the amber liquid onto the remains of his shirt. “All right for another go, lad?” the bald man asked. “Or maybe Rupert should have a try,” he suggested, turning to the squat, black-bearded ruffian.
Rupert, so invited, flexed his hands as though about to toss a caber, and picked up the young man's wrist, plainly intending to put the joint back by main force; an operation, it was clear, which was likely to snap the arm like a broom stick.
“Don't you dare to do that!” All thought of escape submerged in profes sional outrage, I started fotward, oblivious to the startled looks of the men around me.
“What do you mean?” snapped the bald man, clearly irritated by my intrusion.
“I mean that you'll break his arm if you do it like that,” I snapped back. “Stand out of the way, please.” I elbowed Rupert back and took hold of the patient's wrist myself. The patient looked as surprised as the rest, but didn't resist. His skin was very warm, but not feverish, I judged.
“You have to get the bone of the upper arm at the proper angle before it will slip back into its joint,” I said, grunting as I pulled the wrist up and the elbow in. The young man was sizable; his arm was heavy as lead.
“This is the worst part,” I warned the patient. I cupped the elbow, ready to whip it upward and in.
His mouth twitched, not quite a smile. “It canna hurt much worse than it does. Get on wi' it.” Sweat was popping out on my own face by now. Resetting a shoulder joint is hard work at the best of times. Done on a large man who had gone hours since the dislocation, his muscles now swollen and pulling on the joint, the job was taking all the strength I had. The fire was dangerously close; I hoped we wouldn't both topple in, if the joint went back with a jerk.
Suddenly the shoulder gave a soft crunching pop! and the joint was back in place. The patient looked amazed. He put an unbelieving hand up to explore.
“It doesna hurt anymore!” A broad grin of delighted relief spread across his face, and the men broke out in exclamations and applause.
“It will.” I was sweating from the exertion, but smugly pleased with the results. “It will be tender for several days. You mustn't extend the joint at all for two or three days; when you do use it again, go very slowly at first. Stop at once if it begins to hurt, and use warm compresses on it daily. ”
I became aware, in the midst of this advice, that while the patient was listening respectfully, the other men were eyeing me with looks ranging from wonder to outright suspicion.
“I'm a nurse, you see,” I explained, feeling somehow defensive.
Dougal's eyes, and Rupert's as well, dropped to my bosom and fastened there with a sort of horrified fascination. They exchanged glances, then Dougal looked back at my face.
“Be that as it may,” he said, raising his brows at me. “For a wetnurse, you'd seem to have some skill at healing. Can ye stanch the lad's wound, well enough for him to sit a horse?”
“I can dress the wound, yes,” I said with considerable asperity. “Provided you've anything to dress it with. But just what do you mean 'wetnurse'? And why do you suppose I'd want to help you, anyway?”
I was ignored as Dougal turned and spoke in a tongue I dimly recognized as Gaelic to a woman who cowered in the corner. Surrounded by the mass of men, I had not noticed her before. She was dressed oddly, I thought, in a long, ragged skirt and a long-sleeved blouse half-covered by a sort of bodice or jerkin. Evetything was rather on the grubby side, including her face. Glancing around, though, I could see that the cottage lacked not only electrification but also indoor plumbing; perhaps there was some excuse for the dirt.
The woman bobbed a quick curtsy, and scuttling past Rupert and Murtagh, she began digging in a painted wooden chest by the hearth, emerging finally with a pile of ratty cloths.
“No, that won't do,” I said, fingering them gingerly. “The wound needs to be disinfected first, then bandaged with a clean cloth, if there are no sterile bandages.”
Eyebrows rose all around. “Disinfected?” said the small man, carefully. “Yes, indeed,” I said firmly, thinking him a bit simpleminded, in spite of his educated accent. ''All dirt must be removed from the wound and it must be treated with a compound to discourage germs and promote healing.“
”Such as iodine,“ I said. Seeing no comprehension on the faces before me, I tried again. ”Merthiolate? Dilute carbolic?“ I suggested. ”Or perhaps even just alcohol?“ Looks of relief. At last I had found a word they appeared to recognize. Murtagh thrust the leather flask into my hands. I sighed with impatience. I knew the Highlands were primitive, but this was nearly unbelievable.
”Look,“ I said, as patiently as I could. ”Why don't you just take him down into the town? It can't be far, and I'm sure there's a doctor there who could see to him.“
The woman gawped at me. ”What town?“
The big man called Dougal was ignoring this discussion, peering cautiously into the darkness around the curtain's edge. He let it fall back into place and stepped quietly to the door. The men tdl quiet as he vanished into the night.
In a moment he was back, bringing the bald man and the cold sharp scent of dark pines with him. He shook his head in answer to the men's questioning looks.
”Nay, nothing close. We'll go at once, while it's safe.“
Catching sight of me, he stopped for a moment, thinking. Suddenly he nodded at me, decision made.
”She'll come with us,“ he said. He rummaged in the pile of cloths on the table and came up with a tattered rag; it looked like a neckcloth that had seen better days.
The mustached man seemed disinclined to have me along, wherever they were going.
”Why do ye no just leave her here?“
Dougal cast him an impatient glance, but left it to Murtagh to explain. ”Wherever the redcoats are now, they'll be here by dawn, which is no so far off, considering. If this woman's an English spy, we canna risk leaving her here to tell them which way we've gone. And if she should not be on good terms wi' them“—he looked dubiously at me—”we certainly canna leave a lone woman here in her shift.“ He brightened a bit, fingering the fabric of my skirt. ”She might be worth a bit in the way of ransom, at that; little as she has on, it's fine stuff.“
”Besides,“ Dougal added, interrupting, ”she may be useful on the way; she seems to know a bit about doctoring. But we've no time tor that now. I'm afraid yc'll have to go without bcin' 'disinfected,' Jamie,“ he said, clapping the younger man on the back. ”Can ye ride one-handed?“
”Good lad. Here,“ he said, tossing the greasy rag at me. ”Bind up his wound, quickly. We'll be leaving directly. Do you two get the horses,“ he said, turning to weasel-face and the fat one called Rupert.
I turned the rag around distastefully.
”I can't use this,“ I complained. ”It's filthy.“
Without seeing him move, I found the big man gripping my shoulder, his dark eyes an inch from mine. ”Do it,“ he said .
Freeing me with a push, he strode to the door and disappeared after his two henchmen. Feeling more than a little shaken, I turned to the task of bandaging the bullet wound as best I could. The thought of using the grimy ncckrag was something my medical training wouldn't let me contemplate. I tried to bury my confusion and terror in the task of trying to find something more suitable, and, after a quick and futile search through the pile of rags, finally settled on strips of rayon torn from the hem of my slip. While hardly sterile, it was by far the cleanest material at hand.
The linen of my patient's shirt was old and worn, but still surprisingly tough. With a bit of a struggle, I ripped the rest of the sleeve open and used it to improvise a sling. I stepped back to survey the results of my impromptu field dressing, and backed straight into the big man, who had come in quietly to watch.
He looked approvingly at my handiwork. ”Good job, lass. Come on, we're ready.“
Dougal handed a coin to the woman and hustled me out of the cottage, followed more slowly by Jamie, still a bit white-faced. Unfolded from the low stool, my patient proved to be quite tall; he stood several inches over Dougal, himself a tall man.
The black-bearded Rupert and Murtagh were holding six horses outside, muttering soft Gaelic endearments to them in the dark. It was a moonless night, but the starlight caught the metal bits of the harness in flashes of quicksilver. I looked up and almost gasped in wonder; the night sky was thick with a glory of stars such as I had never seen. Glancing round at the surrounding forest, I understood. With no nearby city to veil the sky with light, the stars here held undisputed dominion over the night.
And then I stopped dead, feeling much colder than the night chill justified. No ciry lights. ”What town?“ the woman inside had asked. Accustomed as I was to blackouts and air raids from the war years, the lack of light had not at first disturbed me. But this was peacetime, and the lights of Inverness should have been visible for miles.
The men were shapeless masses in the dark. I thought of trying to slip away into the trees, but Dougal, apparently divining my thought, grabbed my elbow and pulled me toward the horses.
”Jamie, get yourself up,“ he called. ”The lass will ride wi' you.“ He squeezed my elbow. “You can hold the reins, if Jamie canna manage one handed, but do ye take care to keep close wi ' the rest of us. Should ye try anythin' else, I shall cut your throat. D'ye understand me?”
I nodded, throat too dry to answer. His voice was not particularly threatening, but I believed every word. I was the less tempted to “try anythin',” in that I had no idea what to try. I didn't know where I was, who my companions were, why we were leaving with such urgency, or where we were going, but I lacked any reasonable alternatives to going with them. I was worried about Frank, who must long since have started looking for me, but this didn't seem the time to mention him.
Dougal must have sensed my nod, for he let go of my arm and stooped suddenly beside me. I stood stupidly staring down at him until he hissed, “Your foot, lass! Give me your foot! Your left foot,” he added disgustedly. I hastily took my misplaced right foot out of his hand and stepped up with my left. With a slight grunt, he boosted me into the saddle in front of Jamie, who gathered me in closely with his good arm.
In spite of the general awkwardness of my situation, I was grateful for the young Scot's warmth. He smelt strongly of woodsmoke, blood, and unwashed male, but the night chill bit through my thin dress and I was happy enough to lean back against him.
With no more than a faint chinking of bridles, we moved off into the starlit night. There was no conversation among the men, only a general wary watchful ness. The horses broke into a trot as soon as we reached the road, and I was jostled too uncomfortably to want to talk myself, even assuming that anyone was willing to listen.
My companion seemed to be having little trouble, in spite of being unable to usc his right hand. I could feel his thighs behind mine, shifting and pressing occasionally to guide the horse. I clutched the edge of the short saddle in order to stay seated; I had been on horses before, but was by no means the horseman this Jamie was.
After a time, we reached a crossroads, where we stopped a moment while the bald man and the leader conferred in low tones. Jamie dropped the reins over the horse's neck and let it wander to the verge to crop grass, while he began twisting and turning behind me.
“Careful!” I said. ”Don't twist like that, or your dressing will come off! What are you trying to do?"
''Get my plaid loose to cover you,” he replied. “You're shivering. But I canna do it one-handed. Can ye reach the clasp of my brooch for me?”
With a good deal of tugging and awkward shifting, we got the plaid loos ened. With a surprisingly dexterous swirl, he twirled the cloth out and let it settle, shawllike, around his shoulders. He then put the ends over my shoulders and tucked them neatly under the saddle edge, so that we were both warmly wrapped.
“There!” he said. “We dinna want yc to freeze before we get there.”
“Thank you,” I said, grateful for the shelter. “But where are we going?”
I couldn't see his face, behind and above me, but he paused a moment before answering.
At last he laughed shortly. “Tell ye the truth, lassie, I don't know. Reckon we'll both find out when we get there, eh?”
Something seemed faintly familiar about the section of countryside
through which we were passing. Surely I knew that large rock formation ahead, the one shaped like a rooster's tail?
“Cocknammon Rock!” I exclaimed.
“Aye, reckon,” said my escort, unexcited by this revelation.
“Didn't the English usc it for ambushes?” I asked, trying to remember the dreary details of local history Frank had spent hours regaling me with over the last week. “If there is an English patrol in the neighborhood...” I hesitated. If there was an English patrol in the neighborhood, perhaps I was wrong to draw attention to it. And yet, in case of an ambush, I would be quite indistin guishable from my companion, shrouded as we were in one plaid. And I thought again of Captain Jonathan Randall, and shuddered involuntarily. Ev erything I had seen since I had stepped through the cleft stone pointed toward the completely irrational conclusion that the man I had met in the wood was in fact Frank's six-times-great-grandfather. I fought stubbornly against this conclu sion, but was unable to formulate another that met the facts.
I had at first imagined that I was merely dreaming more vividly than usual, but Randall's kiss, rudely familiar and immediately physical, had dispelled that impression. Neither did I imagine that I had dreamed being knocked on the head by Murtagh; the soreness on my scalp was being matched by a chafing of my inner thighs against the saddle, which seemed most undreamlike. And the blood; yes, I was familiar enough with blood to have dreamed of it before. But never had I dreamed the scent of blood; that warm, coppery tang that I could still smell on the man behind me.
“Tck.” He clucked to our horse and urged it up alongside the leader's, engaging the burly shadow in quiet Gaelic conversation. The horses slowed to a walk.
At a signal from the leader, Jamie, Murtagh, and the small bald man dropped back, while the other two spurred up and galloped toward the rock, a quarter mile ahead to the right. A half-moon had come up, and the light was bright enough to pick out the leaves of the mallow plants growing on the roadside, but the shadows in the clefts of the rock could hide anything.
Just as the galloping shapes passed the rock, a flash of musket fire sparked from a hollow. There was a bloodcurdling shriek from directly behind me, and the horse leaped forward as though jabbed with a sharp stick. We were suddenly racing toward the rock across the heather, Murtagh and the other ma n along side, hair-raising screams and bellows splitting the night air.
I hung onto the pommel for dear life. Suddenly reining up next to a large gorse bush, Jamie grabbed me round the waist and unceremoniously dumped me into it. The horse whirled sharply and sprinted off again, circling the rock to come along the south side. I could see the rider crouching low in the saddle as the horse vanished into the rock's shadow. When it emerged, still galloping, the saddle was empty.
The rock surfaces were cratered with shadow; I could hear shouts and occasional musket shots, but couldn't tell if the movements I saw were those of men, or only the shades of the stunted oaks that sprouted from cracks in the rock.
I extricated myself from the bush with some difficulty, picking bits of prickly gorse from my skirt and hair. I licked a scratch on my hand, wondering what on earth I was to do now. I could wait for the battle at the rock to be decided. If the Scots won, or at least survived, I supposed they would come back looking for me. If they did not, I could approach the English, who might well assume that ifi were traveling with the Scots I was in league with them. In league to do what, I had no idea, but it was quite plain from the men's behavior at the cottage that they were up to something which they expected the English strongly to disapprove of.
Perhaps it would be better to avoid both sides in this conflict. After all, now that I knew where I was, I stood some chance of getting back to a town or village that I knew, even if I had to walk all the way. I set off with decision toward the road, tripping over innumerable lumps of granite, the bastard off. spring of Cocknammon Rock.
The moonlight made walking deceptive; though I could see every detail of the ground, I had no depth perception; flat plants and jagged stones looked the same height, causing me to lift my feet absurdly high over nonexistent obstacles and stub my toes on protruding rocks. I walked as fast as I could, listening for sounds of pursuit behind me.
The noises of battle had faded by the time I reached the road. I realized that I was too visible on the road itself, but I needed to follow it, if I were to find my way to a town. I had no sense of direction in the dark, and had never learned from Frank his trick of navigation by the stars. Thinking of Frank made me want to cry, so I tried to distract myself by trying to make sense of the afternoon's events.
It seemed inconceivable, but all appearances pointed to my being some place where the customs and politics of the late eighteenth century still held sway. I would have thought the whole thing a fancy-dress show of some type, had it not been for the injuries of the young man they called Jamie. That wound had indeed been made by something very like a musket ball, judging from the evidence it left behind. The behavior of the men in the cottage was not consis tent with any sort of play-acting, either. They were serious men, and the dirks and swords were real.
Could it be some secluded enclave, perhaps, where the villagers reenacted part of their history periodically? I had heard of such things in Germany, though never in Scotland. You've never heard of the actors shooting each other with muskets either, have you? jeered the uncomfortably rational part of my mind.
I looked back at the rock to check my position, then ahead to the skyline, and my blood ran cold. There was nothing there but the feathered needles of pine trees, impenetrably black against the spread of stars. Where were the lights of Inverness? If that was Cocknammon Rock behind me, as I knew it was, then Inverness must be less than three miles to the southwest. At this distance, I should be able to see the glow of the town against the sky. If it was there.
I shook myself irritably, hugging my elbows against the chill. Even admitting for a moment the completely implausible idea that I was in another time than my own, Inverness had stood in its present location for some six hundred years. It was there. But, apparently, it had no lights. Under the circumstances, this strongly suggested that there were no electric lights to be had. Yet another piece of evidence, if I needed it. But evidence of what, exactly?
A shape stepped out of the dark so close in front of me that I nearly bumped into it. Stifling a scream, I turned to run, but a large hand gripped my arm, preventing escape.
“Dinna worry, lass. 'Tis me.”
“That's what I was afraid of,” I said crossly, though in fact I was relieved that it was Jamie. I was not so afraid of him as of the other men, though he looked just as dangerous. Still, he was young, even younger than I, I judged. And it was difficult for me to be afraid of someone I had so recently treated as a patient.
“I hope you haven't been misusing that shoulder,” I said in the rebuking voice of a hospital Matron. If I could establish a sufficient tone of authority, perhaps I could persuade him into letting me go.
“Yon wee stramash didna do it any good,” he admitted, massaging the shoulder with his free hand.
Just then, he moved into a patch of moonlight, and I saw the huge spread of blood on his shirt front. Arterial bleeding, I thought at once; but then, why is he still standing?
“You're hurt!” I exclaimed. “Have you broken open your shoulder wound, or is it fresh? Sit down and let me see!” I pushed him toward a pile of boulders, rapidly reviewing procedures for emergency field treatment. No supplies to hand, save what Iwas wearing. Iwas reaching for the remains of my slip, intending to use it to stanch the flow, when he laughed.
“Nay, pay it no mind, lass. This lot isna my blood. Not much of it, any way,” he added, plucking the soaked fabric gingerly away from his body.
I swallowed, feeling a bit queasy. “Oh,” I said weakly.
“Dougal and the others will be waiting by the road. Let's go.” He took me by the arm, less as a gallant gesture than a means of forcing me to accompany him. I decided to take a chance and dug in my heels.
“No! I'm not going with you!”
He stopped, surprised at my resistance. “Yes, you are.” He didn't seem upset by my refi.1sal; in fact, he seemed slightly amused that I had any objection to being kidnapped again.
“And what if Iwon't? Are you going to cut my throat? ” I demanded, forcing the issue. He considered the alternatives and answered calmly.
“Why, no. You don't look heavy. If ye won't walk, I shall pick you up and sling ye over my shoulder. Do ye want me to do that?” He took a step toward me, and I hastily retreated. I hadn't the slightest doubt he would do it, injury or no.
“No! You can't do that; you'll damage your shoulder again.”
His features were indistinct, but the moonlight caught the gleam of teeth as he grinned.
“Well then, since ye don't want me to hurt myself, I suppose that means as you're comin' with me?” I struggled for an answer, but failed to find one in time. He took my arm again, firmly, and we set off toward the road.
Jamie kept a tight hold on my arm, hauling me upright when I stumbled over rocks and plants. He himself walked as though the stubbled heath were a paved road in broad daylight. He has cat blood, I reflected sourly, no doubt that was how he managed to sneak up on me in the darkness.
The other men were, as advertised, waiting with the horses at no great distance; apparently there had been no losses or injuries, for they were all pres ent. Scrambling up in an undignified scuffle, I plopped down in the saddle again. My head gave Jamie's bad shoulder an uniPtentional thump, and he drew in his breath with a hiss.
I tried to cover my resentment at being recaptured and my remorse at having hurt him with an air of bullying officiousness.
“Serves you right, brawling round the countryside and chasing through bushes and rocks. I told you not to move that joint; now you've probably got torn muscles as well as bruises.”
He seemed amused by my scolding. “Well, it wasna much of a choice. If I'd not moved my shoulder, I wouldna have ever moved anything else again. I can handle a single redcoat wi' one hand-maybe even two of them,” he said, a bit boastfully, “but not three.”
“Besides,” he said, drawing me against his blood-encmsted shirt, “ye can fix it for me again when we get where we're going.”
“That's what you think,” I said coldly, squirming away from the sticky fabric. He clucked to the horse, and we set off again. The men were in ferocious good spirits after the fight, and there was a good deal of laughter and joking. My minor part in thwarting the ambush was much praised, and toasts were dnmk in my honor from the flasks that several of the men carried.
I was offered some of the contents, but declined at first on grounds that I found it hard enough to stay in the saddle sober. From the men 's discussion, I gathered it had been a small patrol of some ten English soldiers, armed with muskets and sabers.
Someone passed a flask to Jamie, and I could smell the hot, burnt-smelling liquor as he drank. I wasn't at all thirsty, but the faint scent of honey reminded me that I was starving, and had been for some time. My stomach gave an embarrassingly loud growl, protesting my neglect.
“Hey, then, Jamic-lad! Hungry, are ye? Or have yea set of bagpipes with ye?” shouted Rupert, mistaking the source of the noise.
“Hungry enough to eat a set of pipes, I reckon,” called Jamie, gallantly assuming the blame. A moment later, a hand with a flask came around in front of me again .
“Better have a wee nip,” he whispered to me. “It willna fill your belly, but it will make ye forget you're hungry.”
And a number of other things as well, I hoped. I tilted the flask and swallowed.
My escort had been correct; the whisky built a small warm fire that burned comfortably in my stomach, obscuring the hunger pangs. We managed without incident for several miles, taking turns with both reins and whisky flask. Ncar a mined cottage, though, the breathing of my escort gradually changed to a ragged gasping. Our precarious balance, heretofore contained in a staid wobble, suddenly became much more erratic. I was confi.1sed; if I wasn't dnmk, it seemed rather unlikely that he was.
“Stop! Help!” I yelled. “He's going over!” I remembered my last un rehearsed descent and had no inclination to repeat it.
Dark shapes swirled and crowded around us, with a confused muttering of voices. Jamie slid off headfirst like a sack of stones, luckily landing in somcone's anns. The rest of the men were off their horses and had him laid in a field by the time I had scrambled down.
“He's breathin',” said one.
“Well, how very helpful,” I snapped, groping frantically for a pulse in the blackness. I found one at last, rapid but fairly strong. Putting a hand on his chest and an ear to his mouth, I could feel a regular rise and fall, with less of that gasping note. I straightened up.
''I think he's just fainted,“ I said. ”Put a saddle-bag under his feet and if there's water, bring me some.“ I was surprised to find that my orders were instantly obeyed. Apparently the young man was important to them. He groaned and opened his eyes, black holes in the starlight. In the faint light his face looked like a skull , white skin stretched tight over the angled bones around the orbits.
”I'm all right,“ he said, trying to sit up. ”Just a bit di zzy is all.“ I put a hand on his chest and pushed him flat.
”Lie still,“ I ordered. I carried out a rapid inspection by touch, then rose on my knees and turned to a looming shape that I deduced from its size to be the leader, Dougal.
”The gunshot wound has been bleeding again, and the idiot's been knifed as well. I think it's not serious, but he's lost quite a lot of blood. His shirt is soaked through, but I don't know how much of it is his. He needs rest and quiet; we should camp here at least until morning.“ The shape made a negative motion.
”Nay. We're farther than the garrison will venture, but there's still the Watch to be mindful of. We've a good fifteen miles yet to go.“ The featureless head tilted back, gauging the movement of the stars.
”Five hours, at the least, and more likely seven. We can stay long enough for ye to stop the bleeding and dress the wound again; no much more than that.“
I set to work, muttering to myself, while Dougal, with a soft word, dis patched one of the other shadows to stand guard with the horses by the road. The other men relaxed for the moment, drinking from flasks and chatting in low voices. The ferret-faced Murtagh helped me, tearing strips of linen, fetching more water, and lifting the patient up to have the dressing tied on, Jamie being strictly forbidden to move himself, despite his grumbling that he was perfectly all right.
”You are not all right, and it's no wonder,“ I snapped, venting my fear and irritation. ”What sort of idiot gets himself knifed and doesn't even stop to take care of it? Couldn't you tell how badly you were bleeding? You're lucky you're not dead, tearing around the countryside all night, brawling and fighting and throwing yourself off horses ...hold still, you bloody fool.“ The rayon and linen strips I was working with were irritatingly elusive in the dark. They slipped away, eluding my grasp, like fish darting away into the depths with a mocking flash of white bellies. Despite the chill, sweat sprang out on my neck. I hnally finished tying one end and reached for another, which persisted in slithering away behind the patient's back. ”Come back here, you ...oh, you god-damned bloody bastard!'' Jamie had moved and the original end had come untied.
There was a moment of shocked silence. “Christ,” said the fat man named
Rupert. “I've ne'er heard a woman use such language in me lite.”
“Then ye've ne'er met my auntie Grise!,” said another voice, to laughter. “Your husband should tan ye, woman,” said an austere voice from the blackness under a tree. “St. Paul says 'Let a woman be silent, and-'”
“You can mind your own bloody business,” I snarled, sweat dripping be hind my ears, “and so can St. Paul.” I wiped my forehead with my sleeve. “Turn him to the left. And if you,” addressing my patient, “move so much as one single muscle while I'm tying this bandage, I'll throttle you.”
“Och, aye,” he answered meekly.
I pulled too hard on the last bandage, and the entire dressing scooted off. “Goddamn it all to hell!” I bellowed, striking my hand on the ground in frustration. There was a moment of shocked silence, then, as I fumbled in the dark for the loose ends of the bandages, further comment on my unwomanly language.
“Perhaps we should send her to Ste. Anne, Dougal,” offered one of the blank-faced figures squatting by the road. “I've not heard Jamie swear once since we left the coast, and he used to have a mouth on him would put a sailor to shame. Four months in a monastery must have had some effect. You do not even take the name of the Lord in vain anymore, do ye, lad? ”
“You wouldna do so either, if you'd been made to do penance for it by lying for three hours at midnight on the stone floor of a chapel in February, wearing nothin' but your shirt,” answered my patient.
The men all laughed, as he continued. “The penance was only for two hours, but it took another to get myself up off the floor afterward; I thought my...er, I thought I'd frozen to the flags, but it turned out just to be stiffness.”
Apparently he was feeling better. I smiled, despite myself, but spoke firmly nonetheless. “You be quiet,” I said, “or I'll hurt you.” He gingerly touched the dressing, and I slapped his hand away.
“Oh, threats, is it?” he asked impudently. “And after I shared my drink with ye too!”
The flask completed the circle of men. Kneeling down next to me, Dougal tilted it carefully for the patient to drink. The pungent, burnt smell of very raw whisky floated up, and I put a restraining hand on the flask.
“No more spirits,” I said. “He needs tea, or at worst, water. Not alcohol.” Dougal pulled the flask from my hand, completely disregarding me, and poured a sizable slug of the hot-smelling liquid down the throat of my patient, making him cough. Waiting only long enough for the man on the ground to catch his breath, he reapplied the flask.
“Stop that!” I reached for the whisky again. “Do you want him so drunk he can't stand up?”
I was rudely elbowed aside.
“Feisty wee bitch, is she no?” said my patient, sounding amused.
“Tend to your business, woman,” Dougal ordered. “We've a good way to go yet tonight, and he'll need whatever strength the drink can give him.”
The instant the bandages were tied, the patient tried to sit up. I pushed him flat and put a knee on his chest to keep him there. “You are not to move,” I said fiercely. I grabbed the hem of Dougal's kilt and jerked it roughly, urging him back down on his knees next to me.
“Look at that,” I ordered, in my best ward-sister voice. I plopped the sopping mass of the discarded shirt into his hand. He dropped it with an excla mation of disgust.
I took his hand and put it on the patient's shoulder. “And look there. He's
had a blade of some kind right through the trapezius muscle.” “A bayonet,” put in the patient helpfully.
“A bayonet!” I exclaimed. “And why didn't you tell me?”
He shrugged, and stopped short with a mild grunt of pain. “I felt it go in, but I couldna tell how bad it was; it didna hurt that much.”
“Is it hurting now?”
“It is,” he said, shortly.
“Good,” I said, completely provoked. “You deserve it. Maybe that will teach you to go haring round the countryside kidnapping young women and k-killing people, and...”I felt myself ridiculously close to tears and stopped, fighting for control.
Dougal was growing impatient with this conversation. “Well, can ye keep one foot on each side of the horse, man?”
“He can't go anywhere!” I protested indignantly. “He ought to be in hospi—tal! Certainly he can't-”
My protests, as usual, went completely ignored. “Can ye ride?” Dougal repeated.
“Aye, if ye'll take the lassie off my chest and fetch me a clean shirt .”
Copyright © 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. Reprinted by permission.
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Diana Gabaldon is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the wildly popular Outlander novels—Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, A Breath of Snow and Ashes (for which she won a Quill Award and the Corine International Book Prize), An Echo in the Bone, and Written in My Own Heart’s Blood—as well as the related Lord John Grey books Lord John and the Private Matter, Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, Lord John and the Hand of Devils, and The Scottish Prisoner; one work of nonfiction, The Outlandish Companion; and the Outlander graphic novel The Exile. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with her husband.