He knew they would be there, had no doubts whatsoever that milord would come for him and that Marsali would be right by his side. Still, it was a relief to catch sight of her blonde tresses and milord’s ruddy curls pressed together sharing a conspiratorial whisper as they waited for his case to be called. The room was packed tight, he was definitely today’s main attraction-- or, rather, the crowd had come to see what Jamie Fraser had to say, how he might react.
Milord’s story-- pardoned Jacobite prisoner and claimholder of thousands of prime North Carolina acreage was well known in these parts. As was the tacit understanding that Deputy Berowne was in cahoots with Sergeant Murchison, an old foe of Jamie’s from Ardsmuir. Together, the two officials of the crown conspired to drum up false charges of assault and tax evasion against him hoping to cause trouble for Jamie during the busy harvest season. But he trusted milord to handle it and seeing the knowing gleam when their eyes met, he relaxed and prepared to enjoy the spectacle like everyone else.
Glancing towards Marsali at milord’s side, he saw she was giving him one of her melty, doe-eyed looks. He cleared his throat at the yearning he read in her expression. Her heart-shaped face, so dear to him that when she smiled, he couldn’t help returning it. It was hot in the stuffy room. He looked at the window longingly, maybe they would open it soon? Just then his attention was diverted by someone reaching around Marsali to touch Jamie’s arm.
Fergus watched milord’s face as he leaned over to speak to her. There was an unutterable tenderness around his eyes, something of wonder in his features that surprised him. He followed the line of that arm, across his wife’s middle-- his eyes narrowing at the imperceptible thickness he thought he detected there-- and he looked up… and up… and up until he saw her. The woman’s hair was bound in a tight chignon but the color of it was unmistakable, as were those sharp cheekbones and slanted, piercing blue eyes. Mon Dieu! It was milord’s petite étoile -- his little star-- it had to be!
Fergus’s gaze shot back to Jamie just as the realization dawned and a silent question and answer volleyed between them. Jamie’s look of pride and the small private smile of confirmation was enough. Fergus’ face flushed pink with pleasure. A puff of amused breath came from Marsali whose cocked, raised brow and small flick of her eyes left and right made him chuckle, too. His wife’s sense of humor was still intact and she was quite right--- bookended between those red-headed giants, she looked more like a small child.
From that point until he emerged from Jocasta’s bathing chamber, freshly washed and in clean clothes at last, the afternoon had been a blur. They’d had all charges dismissed, of course. Fergus hadn’t doubted Jamie’s abilities on this front and he’d thanked Ian for his fast riding to get an official copy of the grant of lands from the governor in time. He’d snuggled up with Germain as Marsali was putting him down for a nap and had time to reassure his wife in private. They’d exchanged a little gossip about the girl, Brianna, who had turned up so unexpectedly yesterday afternoon. Now, finally, he came face to face with Jamie’s daughter.
“ Mademoiselle ,” he bowed low. Up close, he saw her eyes really were the exact replica of her father’s. Fergus offered her his arm and then walked with her down to the riverbank. “Your mother must be so happy that her letter reached you in time.” He felt her startle at his words.
“Her letter?” Her brows rose up in puzzlement.
“ Oui , when we realized the Artemis had landed in the Colonies, well, you can just imagine how excited we all were that providence had flung us upon the very shores where she had raised milord’s long lost daughter.” Fergus looked sideways at her.
“Oh. Well yes, I was raised in Boston, but when she decided to go… back to find Jamie, I wasn’t able… that is w-we decided that it would be too difficult a trip for me to make with her not knowing exactly what she would find, if it was even him… A. Malcolm. So I stayed… behind.” Brianna told him. “I, uhm, actually was in Scotland when I found out my father was stateside… er in the colonies. Aunt Jenny told me where to find him and I came as soon as I could. My mother doesn’t even know I’m here yet.” She told him, looking away under the scrutiny of Fergus’ soft brown eyes.
Her hair, he couldn’t help but notice, had been restyled in a looser, less formal way and he could see every shade of red, glinting in the sun.
“When Marsali asked when we could expect your arrival, Claire became upset and so we-- Ian and I, you have met him? Milord’s nephew?” Brianna nodded toward the long whipcord thin teen sitting on the veranda. “Ah, well, we thought maybe there was something -- some kind of ailment that you were suffering from? But I can see for myself you are hale and whole. Then milord explained that milady was upset because you were bound for France and they thought perhaps you had left already and she wouldn’t be able to send for you in time. Such a sad turn of events. And now, here you are, la petite étoile !”
“The little star?” Brianna’s high school French was good enough for simple translations.
“ Oui .” Fergus gave her a genuine grin of warmth and love. “Do you know much about his life after Culloden?” Bree shook her head. “That is just as well for it was not much of a life. He was ill for months after and then lived in a cave for many years.”
“I have seen the cave.” Brianna blurted out. “When my mother left, we arranged for me to live with friends for a few months and then go to… France.” She said hesitantly, feeling her way through her story. Fergus waited patiently, observing that she did not share her mother’s glass face for he was uncertain how much of the tale was true and how much she was making up on the fly. “But it felt so wrong, her being back with Jam— Da, I mean, and me so far away that I — I set sail after she left, hoping to find her. I was too late to catch you in Edinburgh, but I made it to Lallybroch and met everyone there. They told me a bit about him… Da.” She spoke, shly, in that strange accent of hers and he could tell she wasn’t practiced at calling Jamie “Da” for the word sounded new on the tongue.
“Then you know a little of what it was like for him. The confinement and isolation?” Fergus asked and when Brianna nodded again, continued. “I was the link between him and Lallybroch, transporting game he caught to them and books and fresh greens to him. You know, the only time I heard Jamie speak your mother’s name after Culloden was when I would bring him a basket from Mistress Murray’s garden?” Brianna shook her head, suddenly the Dunbonnet wasn’t a story in a book. “Claire told him he would keep his teeth in his head so long as he scrubbed them everyday and ate his greens. I would make the trip at dusk so the redcoats wouldn’t find the path and follow me. Sometimes we would sit on top of that mountain just outside the cave after it was dark and look up at the sky. Milord would find the brightest star and pray for you and your mother. Many, many times I would overhear him talking to the two of you. He called you his wee bairn in fever dreams when he didn’t know I was with him. But other times, when we sat together at night, he always called you his petite étoile as he looked for you to appear in the evening sky,” he told her. “We thought you were both dead.” He added softly, “And there were times I truly thought the pain of it would kill him.”
Brianna looked stricken, a shudder of recognition went through her. His brows rose up inviting her to answer his unspoken question. She smiled a little. “I thought Daddy-- uhm, the man who raised me?-- was my father. I didn’t know she’d been married before but sometimes when we went camp-- uhm-- travelling... my mother would stargaze and she would get this peaceful look on her face. I don’t think she ever forgot him, Da, I mean.” Brianna’s face was flushed a little. Ah, more like her mother than he thought, or maybe she had yet to learn how to wear her mask as well as milord.
“Well, no, how could she have? For that matter how could he have forgotten her? And now that they are together once again, the two of them are like newlyweds-- for all that they just celebrated their twenty-fourth wedding anniversary! Theirs is a rare kind of love, so wonderful to see them back together after all these years!” Brianna’s confused expression finally registered.
Fergus could’ve kicked himself, how would she know what her mother was like with milord? He realized to his surprise just how few people there were that had known what they’d been like in the time before… before Culloden. Then, again she’d been spared the sight of them in the depths of despair when they both thought all was lost between them.
Fergus’ memories of Paris came fully to his mind. How lost milady was after Faith, how desperate and raw milord seemed upon his arrival at Fontainbleau. Brianna didn’t know Jamie well enough to understand the depth of his feelings for his family… for the child he just met or for Claire. On top of that, he’d unwittingly insulted the marriage between Claire and her second husband, a man whom Brianna had clearly loved very much.
“Oh, pardonne-moi , I am usually not so gauche.” But she smiled at him, he was relieved to see.
“It’s okay,” she said, using an expression Fergus had never heard. Ohkay - he committed it to memory. “So you come from Paris?”
“ Oui .”
“How did you meet my father?” she asked.
“Ah, at the brothel, when I was picking milord’s pocket.” Fergus laughed and noticed Brianna smiling awkwardly. Milady was so worldly, Fergus hadn’t been mindful of the fact that she would have raised Jamie’s child to be modest, a lady. “Not that milord was there for that !” He rushed to reassure her. Thank God, Brianna hadn’t found them in Edinburgh, what would she have said upon finding Jamie had moved her mother into his apartment at Madam Jeanne’s? “His job took him there in the company of Tearlach , whose tastes were rather more… base.” Fergus added.
“Can you tell me about my mother and Da, what were they like, then?” Her eyes were alight with interest.
“ Oui ! Your mother was the most unusual lady in Paris! She was a rare healer-- feared and loved in equal measure. They called her La Dame Blanche and your father knew everyone who was anyone in the city. He was welcome at Versailles. Imagine it if you will-- he was on intimate terms with the pretender to the Scottish throne and King Louis! He had a camel, in his gardens, did you know?” Fergus was off and running and he knew he sounded exactly like the little orphan Jamie had rescued from the streets in Paris, but he didn’t care.
Gone was his customary air of sophistication and calm, warming to his subject. He was hoping maybe he could smooth the way between Jamie and his daughter as a small measure of repayment for the life he had been given. So he told her, not caring whether he sounded like a babbling fool, not worrying whether she could see through his soul to the lost, scared child he had been.
They were his parents, in a way, too and he wanted her to understand a little of their hearts, a bit about the Frasers of Paris and Lallybroch and he didn’t think there was anyone else who would tell her these things, who could tell her these things.
How her father looked in a puce velvet suit with a sword and dirk tucked into his belt walking around the streets of the city like he owned them; or milady in the most shocking red silk dress Paris had ever seen, wandering the shops looking for rare curatives, speaking like a native born. He was the only one left who had see milady’s strong, capable hands ruling the infirmary after a fight, or milord side by side on the battlefield with Murtagh. No one else had walked in the dark and light with them as he had.
He’d been the one who had tried to care for milady when her heart and child had been ripped from her body. It was he who changed milord’s bandages and begged him to live one more day, just one more, after all had been lost. So he told her, everything he could think of in that one short afternoon as they walked along the river. He held her as she cried for her sister, Faith, and for the time they had all lost.
When she was done, Fergus stroked the hair back from her face and smiled at her, for he was also the only one who had loved them unconditionally in the time before and the present time, who watched every moment of shattering heartbreak reversed in a second upon miladys arrival at the printshop mere months before.
“Your parents, Brianna, they are the best people I have ever known. Both have the gift of treating people with kindness and dignity--- be they beggar or royalty--- it makes no difference to them, and yet they are fiercely protective of those they love. To them, words like honor and duty, loyalty and family have true meaning. Your father would sacrifice everything again to know you were safe and loved and happy. Now that you are here, you will come to know him, as he knows you.”
“How can he know me?” Brianna asked.
“Because he was with you every single night of your life, Brianna. He looked to the heavens waiting until he saw his petite étoile . You have always been his guiding light.”