There was a palpable energy within the camp. Our trek to Hillsborough had just started, but the fear of battle was evident everywhere. The men, of all ages, were ready- or so they hoped. Jamie hoped so, too.
The fireside conversation had reminded me of nearly twenty years before. I could hear Jamie’s Gaelic commands in the back of my mind like it was yesterday. I could hear the sound of the bombs going off like I was back in France during a war that Jamie couldn’t even begin to comprehend.
We had retired for the night, the exhaustion of the day settling within us. We weren’t as young as we once had been. Our tent was settled towards the back of the camp. Jamie had done that on purpose I think- a way for him to make me feel safe. We had two dozen well armed men all around us. Stubborn Scot didn’t understand all I needed was him to make me feel protected.
I watched him take off his jacket and slip off his boots. He smiled at me and walked over towards my vicinity, tossing his dirk and gun onto our pillow.
“Come here,” I heard his voice as his hand touched the small of my back. “I’ll undo yer stays.”
Instead of pulling off my jacket to allow him the access he was seeking, I quickly turned to face him, hastily wrapping my arms around his waist and squeezed him tight. Instinctively my husband returned the sentiment and put his arms around me. I must have been holding onto him harder than I realized because I felt Jamie’s chest tighten even more.
“Christ, Sassenach,” He let out. “Are ye ill?”
I could feel the tears rising to the surface, my emotions overcoming me. It hit me like a tidal wave, the memories coming back to me like a flash flood.The love and loss. Starvation. Echoes of gunfire. Moans of the injured and the mix of sweat and blood dripping down my face.
I had seen war and lived through it. I knew the turmoil that soldiers brought home. I also knew first hand how deep the trauma of loss ran within a person. It wasn’t just the heartache nor the physical consequences one could suffer. I knew all too well the abyss that loss could create. It had consumed me for nearly twenty years. I had once been a black hole of emptiness, trying to bring myself piece by piece back together.
I felt Jamie’s thumb wiping the tear from my eye.
“It’s alright…” I stammered. Whether it was to convince him or myself, I wasn’t entirely sure. “I’m alright…. I’m alright.”
“I ken well enough not tae argue wi’ a physician but Claire…” I could hear the edge in the way he said my name, something he seldom did, “Yer shaking.”
I could feel the heaviness in my chest yet I was breathless. As my surroundings started to come back to me, I recognized what was happening.
“Yes… Yes…” I squeezed myself even tighter around him, steadying myself, tethering myself to my earthly anchor. “I am just having a panic attack. Give me a minute, just hold me.”
“I canna argue wi’ the doctor.”
He stood there, his arms encompassing me, keeping me on this plane of reality. We stayed there for either minutes or an hour, I didn’t know nor did I care, and I looked up to find his blue eyes fixated on mine. His face held a tenderness and warmth within it, a look I had only ever seen on his face in moments when I caught him staring at me from across the way. It was one of those moments that when I saw it, my strength had been restored, for I knew deep within the very marrow of my bones, with Jamie, I held no fear of my past and no fear for what might happen in my - no our - future.
“I’m sorry.” I finally said. “It hasn’t happened since….”
“Before Prestonpans, no?”
Jamie always had an uncanny knack for remembering almost everything, but I had tried to forget our time before Culloden. And if I had tried to forget, I had been convinced he had surely tried to forget certain things.
“Yes, I am surprised you remembered.” I tried to put on brave front but knew he saw right through it.
“Sassenach, I remember everything ye’ve ever told me about yer past.” It was at that moment I loved him more than I did before.
“I… Just. Tonight, sitting by the fire, it almost felt like when we were with Dougal and them, out on the road…”
“Collecting the rent or should I say raising money for the Jacobites.” He half gave a laugh and a small smile, something about that time was making him happy. I knew it wasn’t the use of his back as a decoy, though.
“Yes.” I smiled, while there were always the bad things remembered, there had also been so much good within those times as well.
“Ye always looked so bonny wi’ the firelight… I can remember those nights spent under the stars before we were wed,” He pushed a curl out of my face. “I prayed for many nights for the Lord to make ye mine.”
“Well it seems like the Lord listened.” I kissed the base of his jaw. “I just, we never want to go to war…. And somehow it seems like it always follows us.”
“I ken, mo chridhe.” He titled my head up and kissed me softly. “We do what must be done, nay more and nay less. Wi’ ye by my side, I am forgiven of all my sins.”
“May the Lord forgive us both then.” I laughed into his smile. We were inches apart, our noses touching, eyes closed, embracing our history and shaking the fear for whatever the future held.
For whatever was to come, so long as we were one, nothing else mattered.