November 20, 1748 | Paris, France
“Seas, a bhailach,” Jamie whispered to the beast as he brushed its shining coat. He’d taken quickly to the horses in Mary Hawkins Randall’s stables, but the black sorrel pony had stolen his heart for its similarity in appearance and character to his own Donas.
The horse was still riled after his afternoon jaunt with Faith. The lass had more confidence than experience on horseback, and had led the horse into mischief with a puddle, even under her father’s close supervision.
Jamie had sent Murtagh upstairs to deliver a squirming and filthy Faith to Claire. In fact, it had been quite a while since, and he hoped the man was not dallying his time flirting with Suzette, who had recently come into the Randall estate’s employ.
Dubh, aptly named by Faith, huffed impatiently as Jamie recalled Grey’s promise to release Donas, Brimstone, Thistle, and Blanc within ten miles of Lallybroch.
A week after their arrival in Paris, Jenny had written of Ian’s surprise to open the front door one morn and find all four beasts grazing in the kailyard.
It warmed Jamie’s heart to imagine the sight, and made him long for home all the more.
He hadn’t long to wait, as their parole was nearly complete and they would soon see the shores of Scotland once again. Much as he was willing to sacrifice the sight to see to his family’s safety, he was looking forward to leaving the confines of the city.
Jamie figured it couldn’t come at a better time. While Mistress Randall had welcomed their company in the lonesome and overwhelming time she had found herself, she had recently made a good match. According to Claire’s account, Robert Isaacs made Mary very happy, and the engaged couple were looking forward to staffing their well-established estate.
So long as the bairn arrived safely within the next few weeks, the Fraser family would stay whole and make it back to their homeland. Jamie couldn’t wait to re-introduce his children to Lallybroch, and most of all, watch the years touch Claire…
Jamie’s thoughts were interrupted by the swift re-entry of Murtagh, balancing Faith on his shoulders. While the lass wore a fresh dress, her face had only been wiped quickly, still smudged with streaks of dirt.
Murtagh grinned. “Ye’re needed upstairs, a charaid. The bairn seems to be comin’ quick, and Claire’s asking fer ye.” He bounced Faith once, and she broke into giggles.
Jamie dropped the brush and let it clatter to the stable floor. He wasn’t sure he could keep his jaw from doing the same. “Ah dhia, she’s laboring now?”
“Aye lad, get tae it. Ye don’ want to miss the birth of your son.”
Jamie nodded, clapping his godfather on the shoulder. He felt his eyes mist over as he studied the man that has served his family since before he was born.
“Ye have the bairns? The others?” he asked, stammering, his mind rushing to catch up.
“O’ course, just fetch us when ye’re ready.”
“Thank you, a ghostidh… for everything.”
“Och,” Murtagh exclaimed. “Dinna get soft on me now. Go see yer lady.”
Jamie raced out of the barn, heart hammering. That she be safe, she and the bairn...
“Da!” Fergus called in the corridor, the lad balancing a stack of clean rags from the kitchen. Jamie stopped short to gasp for breath.
The lad had called him such by a slip of the tongue during their first weeks back in Paris – so used to hearing Faith use the precious word – then had immediately blushed scarlet.
Jamie had simply clasped his shoulder and returned with a simple “Aye, mon fils?” as he had called the boy for more than a year.
Fergus had cautiously tested the word ‘Mama’ out on Claire not long after, bringing her to tears as her heart soared.
“You heard about Mama?” Fergus exclaimed, rocking back on his heels in his excitement.
“Aye,” Jamie cracked a smile. “Gi’ those here, I’ll take them on my way. I’d like ye to bide in the barn with Murtagh.”
The lad’s face fell. “But if Mama needs me –”
“Dinna fash about yer mam. Faith needs ye.”
Fergus brightened. “You can count on me, Da.”
Jamie concentrated on the soft weave of the old towels in his hands as he mounted the stairs two at a time, eager to reach his wife. In his hurry, he tripped over the blonde porcelain doll that had been cast aside and forgotten earlier. He shuddered. Annalise had once gifted the toy to his daughter, and its resemblance to the woman herself was that bit frightening.
He burst through their bedroom door, nearly plowing over Mary, who was setting water to boil as if she were lady’s maid to Claire, rather than the other way around.
“Apologies, Mistress,” he murmured, grasping her elbows to keep her upright.
“Jamie!” she exclaimed, squeezing his arm. “You’re just in time.”
He was careful as he squeezed back, unsure of the strength of his grip, especially as his eyes landed on Claire with her face red and scrunched in pain, breathing rhythmically at the gentle direction of Mother Hildegard. Her eyes popped open to meet his, relief swelling in their whisky depths.
Jamie crossed the room in four steps, his hand finding Claire’s naturally as he knelt to kiss the old woman’s wrinkled cheek. “Good afternoon to ye, Mother.” Mary had housed the nun in one of her many guestrooms for the past week, well aware that Claire’s time was quickly approaching.
He brought Claire’s warm, sweaty hand to his lips as he kneeled behind her stool, content for her to use him in any way she wished. He’d missed the birth of their first child, and had since sworn she’d never go through the experience alone again.
Just then, Claire braced her back against Jamie as she wailed in pain. Her short fingernails scored Jamie’s palms as the contraction crested and she breathed out deeply.
“That’s a braw lass, a ghraidh,” Jamie whispered, placing a kiss on her shoulder and caressing the swell of her belly.
Several sharp contractions later, Mother Hildegard continued softly coaching at Claire’s knee. “Keep breathing, my child. I can almost see the head.”
“Jamie,” Claire croaked, short of breath. “If anything happens…” she whispered, just as the powerful force overtook her body once again and she screamed.
“I willna hear that talk, Claire,” he answered sternly, massaging her lower back.
“Push, Claire.” Mother Hildegard’s voice rose above the noise of the room.
Jamie felt Claire inhale deeply once more, then gather her strength from him for the task ahead.
Claire smiled through her tears, admiring the little one cradled in her arms. Mary had bathed the baby as Claire delivered the afterbirth, then passed their blessing swiftly to Jamie, who had admired the sight with flooded eyes until tiny lips had begun rooting around for sustenance.
Their newest child had latched on with impressive speed and skill, inspiring jokes about Jamie’s own appetite.
The man himself eased carefully to Claire’s side, placing a steady arm around her and pressing his face into her neck, just watching her sustain the new life.
Little brown eyes popped open as the meal ended, searching for something familiar in their new surroundings.
“Hello, baby boy,” she cooed. While the lad’s red fuzz stood out starkly from the moment he appeared, she was thrilled to find something of herself in him.
Jamie reached over her shoulder to brush the boy’s diminutive cheek with his broad thumb. “He’s a braw lad, Sassenach.” He kissed her hair. “Thank ye for our son.”
Claire grasped the hand he had left on her shoulder, swaying gently with the baby. “He’s just as much a gift from you to me. We’re so lucky to have him, all of them.”
A gentle knock sounded from the door, followed by Mary peering around the corner, her own wee Denys at her heels. “Ready for some introductions?” she asked softly.
Claire sniffled and wiped her eyes. “Please, bring them in.”
“Mama!” Faith scrambled in, dragging Murtagh behind her. She approached the bedside slowly, trying to catch a glimpse of the bundle in Claire’s lap.
Jamie stood to give her a boost upward, settling their daughter between them easily. “What do ye think, a chuisle?”
“So bonny!” Faith whispered, reaching to grasp Claire’s free hand. “Ye did it all by yerself, Mama?”
Jamie chuckled. “She did, lass. Wasn’t that canny of your mam?”
Claire rolled her eyes. “Da cheered me on.” She squeezed Faith’s hand. “I’m glad you like him, Lovey.”
Murtagh slapped Jamie’s shoulder before leaning over to pat Claire’s. “A wee lad, then?”
“Mmmph,” Jamie replied, grinning widely.
Fergus appeared in the open doorway. “Look who is up from her nap!” Holding tight to his hand was a toddler with red hair already trailing halfway down her back, rubbing her eye with her free hand.
She perked up at the sight of her parents, dashing to the bedside and slamming into Murtagh’s knees. He scooped her up swiftly, depositing her on the mattress knees first. She scrambled closer to Claire’s knee, looming over little brother.
“It’s the bairn?!” she squealed, bouncing in place.
“Gentle, Bree.” Faith scolded. “He’s still wee, see?”
“Sae wee,” Brianna whispered reverently.
Jamie chuckled. “You were this size once too, a nighean ruaidh.”
“And you were even smaller,” Claire added, tickling Faith’s chin.
The girls exchanged dubious looks.
Fergus stopped next to Claire. “How do you feel, Mama?”
Claire’s heart warmed for the son of her heart. He’d offered to wait on her hand and foot these last few weeks, to the point that she’d laughed and told him to take a rest for himself.
Claire leaned her head against him as his arms folded carefully around her neck. “Just fine, my love. Would you like to hold him?”
Fergus nodded, his eyes wide.
Claire eased the baby into his arms, reminding him to be gentle of his head and neck. She welcomed Bree into her arms not a moment later, smoothing hair out of her blue eyes.
Murtagh cleared his throat, ineffectively covering his emotions. “So who do we have here?
Claire met Jamie’s twinkling eye, nodding her approval.
“This is Robert Franklin Murtagh William Fraser.” He swallowed deeply. “Our second son.”
Murtagh’s bushy eyebrow had creased at the second of the boy’s names, but he stood visibly straighter at the third. “’Tis a fine name.”
“That’s so many,” Bree stage-whispered, to the amusement of everyone else.
Faith rolled her eyes dramatically. “No more than you, Brianna Ellen Claire Jan-dit Fraser,” she taunted.
“Alright,” Claire sighed. “The lot of you all have as many names as the others. It’s certainly not a competition.”
Jamie chuckled. “That’s enough o’ that. Stop bouncing. We should let your mam get some rest.”
The children each kissed their mother’s cheek, then let their father herd them out the door as he cradled wee Rob to his chest.
Claire watched them file out the door one by one, each stopping for one more glimpse of her and the baby. She waved at them fondly, blowing kisses. Before Jamie could follow them into the corridor, she caught his hand.
“Stay?” she asked him.
“Aye.” A smile tickled his lips. “I willna go far.”
Claire patted the empty space next to her. “Here.”
He turned, then folded her into his side carefully.
She rested her chin on his shoulder, watching their son sleep until her own eyes drifted shut, a promise of their life together, and their family’s to come.
April 17, 1967 | Oxford, England
Professor Roger MacKenzie Wakefield shuffled through the ever-growing piles of paper crowding his office desk. Amid his lesson plans, papers still to grade, and disorganized files, he’d be surprised if he set off for home in time for supper.
Even still, his curiosity overwhelmed him as he broke the seal on an envelope of research left for him by his colleague. Ever since he was a boy, fascinated by the solemn disappearance of Claire Randall, he had pieced together clues about her whereabouts with the help of his beloved uncle. Her husband’s death last year had only energized his search. Perhaps if he could find answers at long last, it would bring meaning to the most discouraging period of Frank’s life.
More and more, the evidence had begun to point toward something not of this world, much as Mrs. Graham had insisted over the years. He retrieved the file that he had been accumulating for decades, thumbing through what he already knew. The marriage certificate for one James Fraser and Claire Beauchamp, the Deed of Sassine willing the Lallybroch Estate to a James Murray, and a curious pamphlet of medical advice attributed to a C.E.B.R. Fraser.
Roger dumped the new stack of documents on top of the current chaos. The top sheet caught his eye, heart skipping a beat as he read the photocopied print dated from the 1770s, with only the last digit smudged:
"It is with grief that the news is received of the deaths by fire of JAMES MACKENZIE FRASER and his wife, MISTRESS CLAIRE BEAUCHAMP FRASER, in a conflagaration that destroyed several crofts on the estate of Broch Tuarach. Their five children: FERGUS CLAUDEL, FAITH GLENNA, BRIANNA ELLEN, ROBERT FRANKLIN, AND JULIA ELIZABETH, also perished and now lay at rest with them."
Roger shook his head and blinked. Once. Twice. All the hope and warm imaginings he held for the kind woman that he was almost sure he remembered, all for them to be dashed with one headline bearing tragedy.
If there was something, anything, he could do for her and her family, he would in a heartbeat.
He stilled, skin tingling. Christ, but who was to say there wasn’t…