“Keep an eye on the horizon, darling.”
Jamie tried to do as his mother said, but it was hard to do, since the horizon was nothing but water, as far as the eye could see. And if he looked too hard at the water, the waves would start to make his wame churn again.
He didn’t like being on a ship. At first, it had seemed like a grand adventure. Da called it charting a new path . Jamie didn’t quite know what that meant, but it had sounded wonderful to him.
It wasn’t wonderful anymore, though. The ship taking them from Scotland to America was smelly and rocked back and forth nonstop. At first the rocking wasn’t so bad, it reminded him of being in a wagon, but after a couple of days, it made him queasy and miserable.
“I want tae go home,” he said, not meaning to whine, but he was already starting to miss Lallybroch, and his dogs, and his friend, Ian.
“We are going home,” his mam said, bouncing his wee brother Robby on her hip. “Our new home is going to be in North Carolina.”
That wasn’t what he meant, but he knew that she knew that, so he didn’t say anything more.
“I canna wait tae get tae America,” his older sister, Jenny said, but then, she always agreed with whatever Mam and Da said, just to be their favorite.
“Chin up, laddie,” Da said, chucking Jamie’s chin with his knuckle. “You’ll see, this will be the start of something new and exciting.”
Jamie smiled, hoping Da was right. He was excited to see America. All his life he’d barely ever even left the farm. Well, Da said he did visit his uncles once, but that was when he was wee like Robby, and Jamie didn’t remember.
Turning away from the horizon , Jamie wandered off, his boredom slowly overcoming his upset belly.
Most of the men on the ship ignored him, but he was used to that. No one ever paid attention to bairns, but Jamie was hardly a bairn anymore. No, he was five years old...nearly six...in eleven months. Maybe soon he’d grow tall like his older brother. People would pay more attention to him, then.
He found Willie among some of the cabin boys, playing a game with dice.
“Can I play?” Jamie asked.
The cabin boy playing with Willie frowned at him. “Awa’ wi’ ye!”
“Leave him be!” Willie snapped. “Come here, now Sawny. Blow on my dice for me, will ye?”
Jamie didn’t know what he needed to do that for, but Willie asked it of him, so when he held out his hand with the two dice in it, Jamie puffed out his cheeks and blew.
Willie threw the dice down on the deck. Jamie didn’t have time to count the dots before some of the boys were cheering, while others moaned. What mattered though, was it seemed like Willie had won.
“Ye did, Sawny! We won!”
Jamie grinned, puffing out his chest, happy to have helped.
“William!” came the sudden deep rumble of their father’s voice.
William winced, and turned around. “Aye, Da?”
Da grabbed Willie by the shoulder. “Just what th’ devil d’ye think ye’re doing? Gambling? While ye’re brother watches?”
“It was naught but for pennies, Da,” Willie said. “Just tae pass th’ time. Jamie was my good luck charm!”
Da scowled. “Weel, no more! I’ll not have ye behaving so. Now come, it’s time tae go to supper. Ye let me catch ye at this again, I’ll have ye over the rail wi’ a strap tae your hind quarters, ye hear me?”
“Aye, Da,” Willie said.
Da released him, and Willie flexed his shoulders, grinning at Jamie. “Come on, we best no’ keep Mam waiting.”
Jamie frowned at the thought of food, but followed regardless.
“Your wame still upset?” Willie asked. He squinted up at the sky. “Dinna think it’s going tae feel much better soon, look at those clouds. T’will be a storm.”
“A storm?” Jamie asked. “Will it hit us?”
“Nay,” Willie said, cuffing him playfully. “And even if it does, this ship is big and strong, we’ll be fine.”
The clouds did look scary, but Willie wouldn’t lie to him. Willie was eleven, and knew everything.
When the storm came, everything went to hell...as Da would say.
Jamie was in his bunk with Willie, trying to sleep despite the tossing and turning of the ship. Then suddenly Da was picking him up and Jamie rubbed the sleep out of his eyes to see that the floor was all water.
They rushed up the stairs, Mam carrying Robby, Da carrying Jamie, while Willie and Jenny held hands. Jamie wanted to be on his feet like his older siblings, because he wasn’t a babe, but Da wouldn’t let him go.
Everyone was yelling, the ship rocking so much it felt like it was spinning. Da almost fell twice, so Jamie stopped trying to get down, and held on tight instead.
Through all the screaming, Jamie heard someone yell “to the boats!” But they were already on a boat...what did that mean?
“It’s sinking!” Mam cried, sounding more scared than Jamie had ever heard her. “Brian...what do we do?”
“You’ll get on the lifeboat,” Da said, kissing her forehead. “Wi’ the children.”
“What?! Without you ?!”
“The women and children go first, my love,” Da said. “Go, it’ll be alright!”
“No! Not without you!”
“Da!” Willie screamed. “Let me stay with you!”
“Go wi’ your mother, Willie, take care o’ them, aye?”
“Ellen,” he said softly, kissing her mouth, then Robby’s head, then Jamie’s. “Go.”
They ran to where little boats were being lowered into the angry-looking ocean. But that didn’t seem like a good idea...Willie said the ship was big and strong. Those boats looked like the wee ones Willie took him fishing on sometimes. Everyone was screaming and pushing, fighting to get on one of the wee boats, but Da was taller than most everyone, and pushed all them forward, and suddenly Jamie was being almost tossed into one of the boats.
“It’ll be alright, Jamie,” Da said, kissing Jenny’s cheek and lowering her into the boat beside him.
Da made Willie get in next, and after that should have been Mam and Robby, but people kept pushing, and screaming, and cursing.
The boat, which was hanging over the side of the ship by two ropes, started rocking even worse than the ship itself. A man, a big fat man, shoved at Mam as she tried to get in the boat, and suddenly Mam and Robby were falling, down into the dark water where Jamie couldn’t see.
“MAM!” Willie screamed, in a way that scared Jamie almost more than anything.
“ELLEN!” Da cried, leaping off the ship and down into the inky water with Mam.
They started lowering the boat down into the water, and Jamie’s heart raced. He didn’t want to go down there...it was dark, and cold, and sounded angry, but that was where Mam and Da were.
The big, fat man who pushed Mam jumped over the railing like Da, only he landed in their boat. He must have been too heavy, because one of the ropes broke, making the wee boat point downward, the big man tumbling out.
Jenny screamed, and Jamie grabbed her hand, bracing his feet against the seat so that they didn’t fall out too.
Willie climbed to the other end, yanked on the rope there, trying to get it to finish lowering them down.
“It’s stuck!” he cried, grunting. He looked back at Jamie, his face scrunched in fear, but also the same determined look like when he won the game of dice.
“Take care o’ each other,” Willie said, climbing up the rope, and all Jamie could see was the flash of the dagger Da had given him, then suddenly the boat was falling, landing with a crash in the water.
Jamie and Jenny called for Da, and Mam, and Willie, but they didn’t come. The water tossed their little boat around like a toy in a bathtub. They couldn’t even scream, because the water kept pouring into their faces.
Finally the boat turned over, and everything was dark. He’d been holding Jenny’s hand, but then she was gone, and Jamie waved his arms and legs, trying to find which way was up.
But he didn’t know where up was. Everything was just dark. And he was alone.
Jamie took in a deep breath, regretting it when all it got him was a mouthful of sand.
He sat up, feeling sleepy and thirsty, his wame still churning even though he wasn’t on the ship anymore.
Where was he? And where was everyone else?
He was on a beach, but not like any beach he’d ever seen before. There were pieces of wood all along the sand, he wondered if they’d come from the ship. But he didn’t see any people.
Past the beach were trees, but those didn’t look like any trees he’d seen before either! They were long and skinny, with pointy leaves only at the very tops.
Was this America? It didn’t look like the America Mam had shown him pictures of in books.
“Mam?” he called. “Da?”
He walked toward the trees, hoping to at least find someone who would help him find his family.
Jamie was used to playing in the woods, but these woods were strange, and scary. It was noisier than the woods back home, and the noises were so odd.
Jamie walked and walked, his mouth sticky and dry, his arms and legs heavy. He wanted nothing more than to lie down and take a nap, which was silly because it was daytime and he was too big for naps.
So he kept on, but then he felt a funny feeling, like when Ian would sneak up behind him while they played.
When he turned around though, there was no one there. But then...he heard a growl…
Jamie looked up, and on a branch in the tree was an animal he’d never seen before. Like a cat...not a lion or a tiger, but certainly as big as one.
This cat bared huge fangs at Jamie, let out a yowl, then leapt at him.
Jamie turned tail and ran as fast as he could, weaving around the trees. But his legs were already so tired, and he couldn’t run as fast as Willie. He tripped over something and fell, skinning his knees, and he rolled over, trying to scoot away.
The big cat slowed, and Jamie watched as it approached. He started to cry.
But then a big black blur appeared, and there was a roar, a scuffle, and then just as fast as it had appeared, the cat was gone.
The big black blur was still there, however, and it was bigger even than the cat.
This animal, though, turned to Jamie and looked at him with kind, almost human-like eyes.
Jamie thought he’d seen something like it in a book before, but not quite. It snuffled over him curiously, and Jamie might have been afraid, if he hadn’t been so tired .
Jamie hadn’t realized he’d fallen asleep until he woke up. For a moment he thought he was on the ship again, but the rocking this time was gentle and soothing, not upsetting to his wame at all.
He was in a nice, furry bed that smelled strong, like a barn.
When he opened his eyes, he found that he was not in a bed at all, but cradled like a babe in the animal’s arm.
There were more of them now, in all sizes and shapes, all looking at him with the same curiosity.
The one who carried him, Jamie thought she was a girl, put him gently down beside a stream.
Jamie almost dove into the water, cupping it in both hands and drinking greedily.
One of the animals, one no bigger than Jamie himself, was sitting beside him, watching him. He then tried to copy Jamie by scooping up the water in his hands, but after a moment gave up, and simply stuck his face into the water.
Chuckling, Jamie decided to copy him instead, and found he got a lot more water that way anyway.
There was a loud grunting noise, and they all looked up.
One of them, the biggest one, bigger than a horse, made the sound again and beat his chest. It must have been an order, because everyone started to move.
Was Jamie supposed to follow? He needed to find his Mam and Da, and Willie and Jenny and Robby, but more than anything he was scared of being alone, especially with things like that big cat roaming around.
So he followed, and the nice one, the girl one, took his arm and hoisted him up onto her back. When Jamie looked around, he saw all the smaller ones did the same thing.
Her back was broad, and soft, softer than a horse. Jamie could lay down on his belly and not feel like he was going to fall, so he closed his eyes to rest. At least for now, he was safe.
Chapter 2: The Ape-Man
Claire and Uncle Lamb arrive in Africa, and hear a remarkable story about a half-man, half-ape.
“Claire? Claire? Are you listening?”
I looked up at the bemused, bespectacled face of my uncle, and grinned sheepishly. “I’m sorry, what were you saying, Uncle Lamb?”
Lamb chuckled. “Away with the fairies again?”
I shook my head. “Not quite, just a good book.”
“Ah, but am I correct in assuming its not a fairytale, or a romance?”
Grinning again, I held up the cover so he could see.
Lamb smiled. “A medical journal. Of course.”
“Oh, but this one is quite romantic. It describes the proper treatment for illness caused by…” I cleared my throat. “Amorous pursuits.”
“Dr. Beauchamp,” our guide said, sounding most scandalized. “Is that sort of thing really proper for a young lady to read?”
Uncle Lamb snorted. “I’d like to see you try to get it away from her.”
I narrowed my eyes at our guide, daring him to do just that, but as I expected, he just huffed and went back to banking the fire in our large, well-stocked campsite.
Uncle Lamb and I were on a partial holiday in Africa. I called it partial because technically we were still researching, but this time the research was purely for pleasure, and not related to archeology, my uncle’s profession.
Since he was young, Lamb had always longed to see Africa, particularly its animals. Particularly the gorilla. We were here in hopes of seeing them in their natural habitat and proving a few theories the scientific community had about them, and in the process, visit a long-time friend of Lamb’s.
Uncle Lamb had been my guardian since I was five, when
my parents were killed in a carriage accident. He could have foisted me off to some boarding school, and perhaps that would have been the appropriate thing to do, but instead he’d simply taken me with him on his expeditions, and we never looked back.
I had no particular passion for archeology like he did, though I relished the explorations, and the cultures, and the animals. I’d seen more of the world by the time I was ten than most people ever did in their whole lives, and for that I would be forever grateful.
I was also grateful that my uncle like to encourage any interest I had, even if it was a rather odd one for a woman, such as medicine. I was currently fascinated with herbology, especially the ways different countries and cultures used herbs for medicine.
But for this trip, Lamb and I were both excited at the prospect of seeing animals we’d never seen outside a zoo, so we’d hired a guide, and away we went.
Frank was an English-born man, likely why Lamb chose him, but he appeared quite knowledgeable of the area, and was able to translate the local language for us.
He was handsome, in a conventional way, and rather charming. But he was also rather stiff, and had rigid ideas of how a lady should behave. I didn’t much care for that at all. That didn’t stop Lamb from trying to be a shameless matchmaker.
At twenty-seven, perhaps I was a little past the point most women got married, but it was increasingly difficult to find a good man who didn’t want to immediately tie me down to one place. Sure, putting down roots would be nice one day, but not just yet.
At least Frank was obviously well-traveled. Maybe once he got the rod out of his arse, there could be something.
In the meantime, I would simply amuse myself by shocking him at every turn by just how unladylike I could be.
Njeyaardhi was a small Swahili village, almost completely isolated near the coast. I wondered how they would treat outsiders, but I needn’t have worried, as we were welcomed with open arms.
“Lambert!” an older, broad-chested man with a jovial face exclaimed, hurrying to embrace my uncle. I had never met him, but I’d always loved hearing stories of their adventures when they were young.
“Badru,” Lamb said, squeezing the other man’s shoulders. “You are truly a sight for these old, sore eyes.”
Badru shook his head, grinning. “Just look at you, old friend, your hair has gone white!”
“As has yours, and you’ve put on a pound or two, as well!” Lamb patted Badru’s rotund belly, and both men laughed.
Badru turned to me then, his grin broadening. “And this must be the famous Claire Elizabeth. Your letters did not do her beauty justice, my friend!”
“Now now,” Lamb said, winking at me and patting his friend’s shoulder. “You’re forty years her senior.”
“A man can dream, can he not?!”
I laughed, enjoying seeing these two grown men behaving like a pair of teenagers, even at my expense.
“It’s so nice to finally meet you, Badru,” I said, extending my hand.
Bypassing my hand entirely, Badru pulled me into a bear hug. “Welcome, Claire!”
“You’ve met Mr. Randall?” Lamb asked, gesturing toward Frank.
Badru’s cheerful expression waned, though it remained carefully polite. “Of course. Welcome, Mr. Randall.”
Frank nodded briskly, then took my bag and walked away. I arched a brow, wondering what it was Badru had against our guide, and resolved to ask later.
Badru invited us to a celebratory dinner held under the stars in honor of our visit. Children surrounded me, seeming fascinated by my hair and pale skin. I couldn’t understand a word they were saying. I could speak fluent French, Spanish, Italian, and understood much of German, and of course what Latin I’d learned from my medical textbooks, but the Bantu languages escaped me entirely.
But everyone was cheerful and friendly, lending a homey atmosphere to the place. Since I was little, my only family had been Lamb, and I’d wanted for nothing...not love, attention, adventure, material possessions…but I’d grown up enthralled with the idea of a big, loving family. It didn’t have to be blood, but just seeing this tiny community of people, no matter that I was on the outside looking in, it reminded me of what I longed for.
I looked over at Frank, surprised to see him smiling at a pair of teenage boys, carefully showing them his antique dagger. He caught me looking and met my eyes, his smile broadening.
He really was handsome, I thought. Especially when he smiled, which made him look younger and carefree. He just needed to relax more.
Badru stood up near the fire, and everyone stilled at once, prepared to listen.
“A story,” he said without preamble. “For our English guests.”
“Tarzan!” the little girl beside me exclaimed. “Tarzan! Tarzan!”
The other children followed suit, all chanting the same strange phrase.
“Tarzan?” Lamb asked. “I don’t believe I know that word.”
Badru chuckled. “It is not a word, my friend. It is a name. The name of the King of the Jungle.”
“I thought the king of the jungle was a lion,” I pointed out.
Badru shook his head. “No, not a lion. Listen, as I tell you of a creature unlike any other. A creature who commands the animals, who is as strong as the great ape, but as intelligent as you and I. Not an ape, not a man...but something in between…”
I sat, as rapt as the children, as Badru’s soothing voice wove a fantastic tale of, for lack of a better term, a missing link between man and ape, who protected the jungle and the animals within.
“Any man who ventures into the jungle, looking for ill-gain, risks the wrath of Tarzan, who will fall upon you with fire in his eyes, will command the animals to leave nothing but bones behind.”
“And what of those of us who have no bad intentions?” I asked.
“Honestly, Miss Beauchamp,” Frank scoffed. “Tell me that you don’t believe this fairytale.”
I didn’t, not really, but I scowled at Frank for trying to ruin the fun.
“Oh, he is real, Mr. Randall,” Badru said scoldingly. “Is he a man? Is he a spirit? We do not know, but he is real. I have seen him.”
“Truly?” Lamb asked. “You saw him? This...Tarzan?”
Badru nodded. “I saw him, swinging through the trees on vines, like the monkeys do. Bigger than any natural human being, with hair like fire.”
Lamb looked at me. “What if this creature is some sort of next stage in evolution?”
I gave him a wry look. “Now, Uncle Lamb, we’re here to look for gorillas, not Bigfoot.”
He grinned. “But wouldn’t that be a sight to see?”
I thought, trying to imagine it, but only coming up with something that looked like red-haired Sasquach, and laughed. “Oh yes, quite a sight.
We set off again the following morning, armed with food, wine, and I’d been given a beautiful sarong stitched with tiny flowers in red and yellow, which I wore around my waist over my chemise. Unsurprisingly, I’d gotten quite an appalled look from Frank, but it was hot damn it, and I’d worn considerably less when I was in India.
We walked for hours, catching fleeting sights of colorful birds and small reptiles, but no sign of gorillas, or anything primate for that matter.
While the men bickered over our map and which way to go, I began to wander, captivated by the peaceful, beautiful jungle.
I stared up at the trees, listening to the cacophony of birds. There were so many, it was like looking into a kaleidoscope.
I walked for a time, probably farther than I should have, but it was just so relaxing, being alone for a moment. As much as I adored Lamb, our life of travel meant we seldom had any alone time. It made for some particularly awkward times when I went through puberty, especially. We always had separate tents or accommodations of course, but more often than not we were in the middle of nowhere, or being hosted by a family. Those had always been some of my favorite times, although the close living conditions of varying cultures meant I’d received an interesting education at a young age, including the fact that Lamb preferred the company of men, to women.
I smiled, remembering our host family in Spain when I was seventeen, and the eighteen-year-old son who managed to spirit me away from under the nose of my ever-watchful uncle for an education of an entirely new sort.
I was drawn from my daydreaming by the sound of rushing water, realizing I had reached a river. I froze in uncertainty, wondering just how far I’d gone and whether I remembered the way back, but then my attention was caught again, by an unusual, vividly red flower growing in a shrub near the bank. I picked my way down, sitting beside the shrub and resisting the urge to touch the flower before I could identify what it was.
I unearthed my well-worn book of African flora and settled in to read.
“Hmm,” I hummed to myself, finally finding an image that seemed to match the wide, pointy bloom. “Protea cynaroides,” I read. “Commonly referred to as king sugar bush, or honeypot,” chuckling, I reached out to lightly brush my finger across the petals. “Honeypot, hm?”
I plucked one of the older blooms, and wrapped it in a handkerchief before tucking it between the pages of my book.
Sighing, I stretched my back, chagrined to find that the sun had risen high into the sky. I’d been gone for far too long.
But when I made to stand up, a shadow fell over me, and I turned slowly, heart in my throat, only to find myself facing enormous, gaping maw.
I froze, my mind trying to match a word to the creature, my limbs refusing to move...until in snapped his massive jaws a mere foot from where I stood and the word and the action finally hit home.
I started to do just that, but slipped on the slick pebbles and fell back on my arse instead, just as something was landing on the hippo’s head, causing the beast to toss about, emitting a sound that I quite frankly wouldn’t have expect it to make.
My body finally cooperating fully, I jumped up and ran, back into the jungle. I could hear the sounds of fighting behind me, but I kept running headlong, not looking where I was going, and then the ground was disappearing from underneath me and I was falling, sliding down a muddy bank, and directly into the river I’d fled from and apparently looped back to.
I broke the frigid surface with a gasp, trying to paddle to the edge of the river, but the current was strong. I didn’t want to waste my breath screaming, but fought with every muscle to get to shore. I could hear the roar of the water increase, knowing I was headed for rapids…
...or a waterfall.
It was a struggle to keep my head above water. There were tree branches above, but I couldn’t reach any of them. I clawed at rocks as I passed them, but my fingers slid ineffectually off them
Vision rising and falling from the surface of the water, I thought I could see something...someone...in the trees above. I reached, far as I could, and someone took my hand.
I was pulled out of the water as effortlessly as if I were a child, finding myself in the arms of...a man?
I rubbed the water out of my eyes, wondering if I was seeing things, or if I was dead. But he was there, staring at me in complete astonishment that was entirely mutual.
But then I heard a sound, a sound I now recognized. The hippo was there, and they couldn’t leap out of the water, could they? No, but they could grab a hanging branch in their powerful jaws and pull the entire limb into the river.
We fell in the water together, but this time when I opened my eyes underwater, I saw the hippo swimming toward us at a speed that shouldn’t have been possible for an animal its size.
Arms wrapped around my middle, a foot kicked at the animal’s head, and we launched out of the water like we were flying, standing on the hippo’s back!
I couldn’t help it anymore; I screamed, but the man didn’t let go of me, and carried me with him when he leapt into the air, hopping off two rocks before landing easily on the ground.
I thought for only a second that perhaps we were safe, but the infuriated hippo simply followed us out of the water and Christ ! They were fast on land too!
I couldn’t even see the man anymore, held like a ragdoll faced away from him. It was like I weighed nothing to him as he ran effortlessly around the trees, then he tossed me like a sack of grain over his shoulder before scaling right up a tree.
All I could do was hold on for dear life as he leapt from tree to tree, swinging from branch to branch, one word making it through the haze of my breathless terror... Tarzan .
After what felt like forever, he stopped, and he set me down.
The hippo was long gone, and all was still and quiet again. It would have been wonderful, except we were a hundred feet up a tree.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I muttered, scuttling back until my back was against the tree trunk.
I closed my eyes, breathing deeply through my nose, trying to let my head stop spinning. When I opened them again, I let out an involuntary yelp, because the... man’s face was an inch from mine.
“Hello…” I said softly.
The first thing I became aware of was the color of his eyes. They were surely the bluest I’d ever seen, and so intense and focused, currently trained on me like he’d never seen anything like me.
The second thing I became aware of, was that he was completely naked.
He leaned in closer, and I would have leaned away, had I anywhere else to go. Curiously enough, he actually started sniffing me. He snuffled over me like a dog, and I held still, not feeling particularly threatened. He didn’t seem like he wanted to hurt me, he just seemed curious.
But then his curious nose drifted downward, and before I knew what was happening, he was planting it right between my thighs and I gave a strangled cry, kicking him squarely in the jaw.
He leapt back, finally giving me space, and giving me a rather insulted look that might have made me laugh if I wasn’t so worried.
But then, he acted like we was going to leave, and I reached for him in panic. “No! Wait, please don’t go!”
He stopped, turning back to me, and I saw how he held himself, all hunched over, with his knuckles on the branch.
He certainly didn’t look like any sasquatch. His hair was red, true. A vibrant, flaming red that flowed down his back in knotted whorls. His beard was just as red, and full, which suggested he was grown. But it was cut, and clumsily so, like he’d tried to keep it trimmed but didn’t know how, or didn’t have the tools.
He was tanned a deep golden, but it was clear that he was a white man. His body was muscled and strong, devoid of much hair except for his chest, stomach...and…downward.
“Who are you?” I breathed.
He tilted his head to one side, eyeing my lips so intensely I wondered if he could hear at all.
“Do you have a name?” I asked, making sure I formed the words carefully with my mouth.
He let out a grunt in response, but touched his own mouth, as if trying to figure out how to make it work.
“I’m Claire,” I said, touching my chest. “Do you have a name? I have a hard time believing it’s Tarzan.”
He blinked hard when I said Tarzan , so perhaps that was his name?
We both jumped, and he tensed up, moving closer to me. Almost...protectively?
“Claire?! Where are you?!”
“That’s my uncle,” I said, pointing downward. “My...my family . Do you understand? They’re looking for me.”
He looked at me, then away, and back again, and I could practically hear the gears in his head working. When he turned his body away, I saw that his back was criss-crossed in terrible looking scars, like someone had tried to rip his skin clean away.
“Please,” I continued. I didn’t know if he understood a word, but hopefully I could make him see that I needed help. “I can’t get down.”
He stood up then to his full height, mindless of the fact that he was standing on a tree limb and one wrong move would mean certain death.
I averted my eyes, face burning. It wasn’t as if I’d never seen a naked man, but there was something unnerving about his sheer lack of awareness that he was nude at all...or the fact that he was partially aroused. He was truly a large man...Badru hadn’t been wrong about that. And that fact applied to all of him.
He held out his hand for me, making a sound that was a mixture of clearing his throat and a wordless mumble. Resolutely ignoring his lower anatomy, I took his hand, and let him pull me to my feet.
I wobbled dizzily, and all but fell into him, wrapping my arms securely around his neck.
He patted my back in a sweet, awkward gesture of comfort, and pulled me closer. He had a strong animal smell, but it was surprisingly inoffensive. Nothing like Uncle Lamb when he wasn’t able to bathe for a few days.
I watched as he reached for a vine, and my arms tightened around him. “Wait…” i began. “Aren’t we just going to...to climb down?”
He didn’t answer of course, and simply kicked off from the limb, swinging down from the tree like a child on a playground.
Trusting me to hold on, (and hold on I did,) he used both hands to swing from vine to vine. Once I worked my stomach back down to where it belonged, I marveled at how he was able to so effortlessly find the next vine without missing. If given time, I might would have even ventured to say it was fun .
The ride ended quickly, however, when he placed me safely on the ground.
Uncle Lamb and Frank were closer now, and Tarzan tensed. I thought if he’d had fur on his back, it’d be standing on end like a cat’s.
“It’s alright,” I tried to say, but he was already back away, toward the shelter of the trees. “Wait!”
“Over here!” I called, turning in Lamb’s direction for only a split second, but it was a split second too long, because when I turned back, he was gone.
“Oh God, Claire!” Uncle Lamb cried, nearly tripping on a root in his hurry to get to me, enveloping me in a hug. “Where in God’s name did you go?!”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, resting my head on his shoulder. “I was just walking and I went too far, and there was a hippopotamus.”
“You saw a hippo?” Uncle Lamb asked, taking my shoulders and holding me away from him so he could look at me. “How marvelous!”
“There was nothing marvelous about it,” I said. “It was horrible!”
“Hippos are some of the most dangerous animals in Africa,” Frank said, scanning our surroundings with his rifle at the ready.”
“It’s long gone now,” I sighed. “And so is he.”
“He?” Lamb asked. “He who?”
I smiled, the incredulousness of the whole thing catching up to me. “ Him, Uncle Lamb! The one in Badru’s story...the ape man!”
“Tarzan?” He asked, eyes lighting up. “You saw him?”
Frank shook his head, shouldering his rifle. “She’s delirious, Mr. Beauchamp. We should get her back to the village.”
“I’m not delirious!” I snapped. “He was real, but he wasn’t an animal at all. He was simply a man! He didn’t speak, and...and the way he swung through the trees…”
No, he wasn’t simply a man. He was truly a remarkable man, but I was under no illusion that he wasn’t completely human.
We returned to camp, with Lamb chattering on excitedly about my adventure, Frank acting as if we were to be attacked at any moment, and I keeping my eyes trained to the trees, hoping to catch a flash of red.
Chapter 3: Oo Oo, Sassenach
Claire gets a late night visitor
TITLE OF THIS CHAPTER (as well as the fic) is all the fault of @SassenachPetals over on Twitter. Blame her. xD
I lay awake all night, thinking about the man in the tree. I couldn’t think of him as Tarzan. That was a fanciful, nonsensical name the village children had invented, and it didn’t suit him in the least.
How did he get here? Why couldn’t he speak? Had he been injured somehow? I knew that head injuries could cause mental difficianties, but he didn’t seem unintelligent. On the contrary, his eyes held an intelligence that went beyond words.
Perhaps he’d been traumatized. He’d been covered in scars, not only the ones on his back, but those certainly could have occurred in the jungle.
The only other explanation was that he’d always lived there, but that was impossible. No child could survive alone in the wilderness.
I longed to go and try to find him, but Uncle Lamb and Frank were keeping a closer eye on me now, and I wasn’t fool enough to sneak out alone at night.
But I couldn’t get him out of my head, nor the million questions that surrounded his existence.
It was good that I was awake though, because then I could see the shadow fall upon my tent, in the obvious shape of a man.
For a heart-stopping moment I thought it was Frank. He’d seemed an honorable man so far, but I’d been in the world long enough to know to never let my guard down completely with any man that wasn’t Lamb.
But he was far too big to be Frank, and it sounded like he was sniffing at the tent.
A grin made its way across my face, and I threw off my blanket, quietly crawling out of my tent.
He was staring at the campsite in awe, running a knuckle across the fabric of the tent.
“Hello,” I whispered.
He looked up at me, unsurprised. So he’d known I was standing there, but was just so absorbed in my tent.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, for lack of anything better to say.
He stood up and walked over to me in a strange, lunging gate. He clearly had no reservations about invading other peoples’ personal space, and stopped only inches from me, touching my hair with the same fascinated reverence that he did the tent.
I looked over at my uncle’s and Frank’s tents, and bit my lip. He might not like it if I tried to take him into my tent, so I took his hand, and pulled him into the jungle.
It was a full moon, so there was plenty of light to see by. I could almost pretend I was taking a stroll with a regular man, if I could ignore his lack of clothing.
I stopped near an overturned log and sat down, and he crouched by my feet. Thankfully the deep shadows of the night hid the view that would have otherwise afforded me.
“Tarzan the Ape Man,” I said leaning forward with my hands braced on the log. “I bet you have no idea the stories they tell of you. I wonder how old you are.”
He watched me intently, showing no sign he understood, but leaned up, bringing his face closer to mine.
I was prepared this time, and didn’t pull away, though my heart rate increased. He reached up, slowly, watching my face as if to make sure I wasn’t frightened. He touched my hair again, eyes growing soft as his fingers ran through the curls.
I smiled. “Have you never seen a woman before?”
I watched his hand move down my neck and shoulder to my chest. His knuckles were oversized and heavily calloused, the fingers unnaturally elongated while the thumbs remained normal size, but curled inward. I wondered if it was painful, though he seemed not to struggle with dexterity.
He ran his hand lightly over my left breast, and I gasped, but I sensed no intent from him, only childlike curiosity. He then pressed his palm right between my breasts, and I realized he was feeling my heartbeat...and granted it was going like a racehorse just then.
I covered his hand with mine, and he started, then pulled back a little, only so that our hands were palm-to-palm. While I marveled at how his managed to dwarf mine, he just looked...incredulous.
“Who are you?” I whispered.
For the first time, I thought his eyes flickered with understanding, but not that he knew the answer.
“Perhaps you just don’t know English?” I ventured, trying to calm my nerves with talking. “ Unazungumza Kingereza ?” I asked him the only thing I knew in Swahili, to no reaction.
“ Parlez vous français?”
Now he had a ghost of a smile on his lips, his head tilting to one side, one eyebrow raised.
“I’m getting colder, aren’t I?” I asked, propping my chin on my hand.
The sound of his voice took me by surprise; deeper than I thought it would be, rough and quiet from disuse.
“You can speak!” I exclaimed. “Sass...knack? Christ, what language is that?”
He scrunched his face up in thought, as if he were just as surprised as I was that he’d spoken. He seemed to be trying to remember. Could he have forgotten how to speak? Was that possible?”
“Say it again,” I told him. Even if the word meant nothing, perhaps continuing to say it would jog something. “Sass-knack?”
“Sassenach,” he said, shaking his head, almost ruefully
“Is...is that your name? Should I call you Sass-knack?”
He snorted, face scrunched up in a way that I took as a resounding no . He jabbed me in the chest with a finger. “ Sassenach .”
“Oh! So I’m Sassenach, then? Well, what is that supposed to mean?”
He started breathing hard through his nose, and I worried that if he grew too frustrated, he might leave.
“Shh, it’s alright,” I said in what I hoped was a calming manner. “It’s alright,” I touched my chest. “I’m Claire. Can you say that? Claire.”
He narrowed his eyes in focus. “Cl-aire…” he said slowly, drawing out each letter carefully, even rolling the R slightly. Did he have an accent?
“That’s it,” I whispered, smiling, keeping my hand on my chest. “Claire,” I reached across, and rested my palm against his chest. “What is your name?”
Suddenly, his head whipped around, gazing intently into the darkness, and I tensed. “Is something there?”
He backed away and started heading into the jungle and I tried to reach for him. “No, wait! Don’t go!”
He looked back at me, but it was clear that our visit was over.
“Will you come back?” I asked.
To my surprise, he nodded, and started to leave again, but then he hesitated once more, and I heard his voice, a little clearer than before.
“What did you say?”
He looked back at me again. “Jamie.”
The breath caught in my throat, but before I could respond, he was gone.
I returned to my tent, but sleep was the farthest thing from my mind. So he did have a name, and it wasn’t Tarzan .
The name Jamie seemed so sweetly normal. So unlike the almost mythical being he was, and yet it suited him.
And he knew and understood English, but seemed to have gone so long without speaking that he’d all but forgotten how. It made my heart ache, imagining the level of isolation he must have been enduring for so long.
But “Sassenach”, what on earth did that mean? I tried to think of other words that sounded like it, that he was possibly confusing, but was coming up short.
And then, suddenly, as I was drifting off to sleep, I remembered. Just the year prior, Uncle Lamb and I had been in Scotland, examining some ancient runes up in the Highlands, and while in a pub, the barkeep had teasingly called us Sassenachs . It hadn’t sounded like an entirely complimentary name, but had been followed by an extra round of whisky so it couldn’t have been terrible.
So, he had a name. And I was beginning to think he had a birthplace.
Chapter 4: Snare
Claire, Lamb, and Frank track the gorillas, and find more than they bargained for.
“Miss Beauchamp, really,” Frank was saying as he cleaned his rifle.
“It’s true!” I exclaimed, resisting the childish urge to stamp my foot. “He was here! I spoke to him.”
“Just imagine,” Uncle Lamb said dreamily. “If we can communicate with him, think of what we could learn from him!”
“You’re not honestly taking this seriously?” Frank asked Lamb.
I whirled around on him. “What? You think I’m lying ?”
He gave me a patient look. “No, but I do think you had a very vivid and very imaginative dream. It’s happened to me before, it can be very difficult to remember what is or isn’t real.”
I scowled at his condescending tone. “I didn’t dream it,” I said lowly. “He’s real, and his name is Jamie.”
Frank chuckled. “Unusual name for a man-beast living in the wilds of Africa.”
“He isn’t a man-beast at all, he’s simply a man. I don’t know how he came to be here or why he is the way he is, but I’m certain that there’s nothing else out of the ordinary about him than that.”
“Just that he walks naked through the jungle like an animal.”
I shook my head, seeing that I wasn’t about to convince him. We prepared for another trek to hopefully find the gorillas. I couldn’t help but wonder if the same ones we’d been tracking had Jamie living among them. I wanted to see him again so badly, not to prove to Frank that he existed...but just...to see him.
“Don’t lag behind, Miss Beauchamp,” Frank warned. “We don’t want you getting lost again.”
I gave in to one of my childish urges by sticking my tongue out at him from behind his back, shamed when Uncle Lamb caught me.
“Pay him no mind, Claire,” he said, chuckling. “It’s his responsibility to look after you, and he’s right besides. The jungle is a dangerous place, and you shouldn’t go off alone.”
“I know,” I said. “I just wish he didn’t have to be so patronizing about it.”
“I think he means well,” Lamb said quietly so that our guide couldn’t hear. “I do believe he is taken with you, my dear.”
I wrinkled my nose. “He has an interesting way of showing it.”
“Remember, Claire, people from our world weren’t brought up the way you were. There are strict rules in England to live by. Certain behaviors that are expected of upstanding men and women.”
“Well, then he certainly shouldn’t want me. I’m not upstanding.”
Lamb’s eyes twinkled as he looked at me. “You’re the most upstanding person I know. It’s my fault, I suppose, for not providing you the proper education in ways of men, and women.”
“I know the ways,” I said. “I’ve learned a hundred different ways between men and women, thanks to the way you raised me. Surely there are other men out there more like you, who don’t expect me to be nothing but...but meek, and obedient.”
Lamb chuckled. “I do hope so, child. Not even when you were a child were you the meek and obedient type. I just hope you don’t wait forever. I’m not getting any younger, after all…”
“Stop that,” I scolded. “There is to be no talk of you dying, is that clear? You’re healthy as a horse.”
He chuckled again. “That may be, but no one can see the future, my dear, and the fact is I won’t be around forever. I know that you’re independent, so perhaps I shouldn’t worry, but I can’t help it. I’d like to see you settled down and provided for, and most of all happy before I go.”
“I am happy, Uncle Lamb,” I said softly. “And I can take care of myself.”
“That I know, child. And I thank the Lord for it. Just promise me that when a man does come around that doesn’t repel you on sight, you’ll give him a chance?”
I laughed. “I promise. The first man I meet who doesn’t give me the immediate urge to hit him, I’ll marry him. Happy?”
He smiled and shook his head. “For now.”
“Dr. Beauchamp!” Frank called, and we hurried forward, finding him paused before a clearing.
“Look,” I said, pointing. “They look like nests !”
And indeed, spread out across the hearing were around twelve or more round beds of grass and branches, all far too big to be the work of birds, or really anything smaller than…
“It’s the gorillas!” Uncle Lamb cried. “It has to be! We already know that they migrate, but it must also be as what was suggested in that article…”
“Yes,” I agreed. “That they travel in family groups! This is incredible!”
“They can’t have gotten very far,” Frank said, running a hand across one of the nests. “If we hurry, we can catch them.”
I frowned at his tone of voice. He hadn’t displayed half as much enthusiasm until now, and it set me on edge for some reason, although it could have just been the fact that we actually were close.
“Now, hold on Mr. Randall,” I said. “You’re the one who’s been all about erring on the side of caution. We’re looking at what could be more than a dozen gorillas. I don’t think it would be wise just catching up to them. We need to be careful.”
“Of course we’ll be careful,” he said. “But you want to see them, don’t you? That’s why we’re here. If any of them were to attack, that’s what this is for,” he hefted his rifle in demonstration. Uncle Lamb carried one too, of course, but his had remained hanging behind his back, not at the ready like Frank’s.
“In an emergency only!” I said firmly. “Taking every precaution in approaching them has as much to do with their safety as it does ours! Uncle Lamb and I don’t want any gorillas hurt, is that understood?”
“My niece is quite right,” Uncle Lamb said. “And I believe I made that abundantly clear when I hired you.”
“Of course ,” Frank said with a bit of a sigh. “I wouldn’t dream of shooting unless it were between our lives and theirs. But the fact is these are dangerous creatures. Any single one of them, even the small ones, could kill any of us without a thought,” he looked right at me. “You need not to forget that. Now, do you want to see them, or don’t you?”
Uncle Lamb nodded, and we continued on, though I was unsure. Spying on a couple of gorillas in their natural habitat was what I’d imagined, not confronting an entire herd of them. But I did want to see them, and more than that, I hoped to see Jamie.
We kept on, silently weaving through the trees, the humidity making me feel like I was melting and I wished I were in trousers, like Frank and Lamb.
After another hour or so of walking, we heard a sudden rustling sound, and panicking grunting.
Frank aimed his rifle, and even Lamb swung his around to hold at the ready. We followed the sound to the river, and there, among the brush, was a gorilla.
My excitement lasting only a second before I realized that its panicked sounds and trashing were because its foot was caught in a wire snare.
“It's caught in a trap!” I cried, approaching the frightened animal cautiously.
“Miss Beauchamp!” Frank snapped. “Are you mad, woman?! Stay back!”
“We can’t leave her like this!” I hissed back at him.
“Mr. Randall is right Claire,” Lamb said nervously. “It isn’t safe. The others are probably nearby. We can go back to the village, they should have some tranquilizer guns, and we can come back and help her safely!”
I looked back at the gorilla, and was fixed by a pair of intelligent, and terrified brown eyes. I shook my head. “That would take hours, if not days. She could get entangled more and kill herself,” I took a few more careful steps, kneeling down and making a point to not look her in the eyes again. “It’s alright, sweetheart, I don’t want to hurt you.”
The gorilla stopped fighting, and watched me approach suspiciously. I thought if I could just cut the wire, she would probably be able to loosen it and get it off her foot herself eventually. I could tell she’d been trying, but all her moving around had gotten the wire wrapped around the branches, and were pulling her leg at an odd angle, and I could also see the blood matting her fur. Her teeth, even as huge and sharp as they were, couldn’t bite through the thick wire. It made me wonder if my knife would be any match for it.
I sat near enough that she could have swiped at me if she wanted to, but she just sat and stared while I started trying to saw at the wire. From the corner of my eye I could see Lamb and Frank, both guns aimed right at the gorilla’s head, and I prayed that she just stayed still.
“This isn’t going to work,” I said, keeping my voice level and soft for the gorilla’s sake. “It won’t cut.”
I eyed her leg, then slowly inched my hand toward it, keeping an eye on her body language to ready myself to jump away at a moment’s notice.
“Claire!” Lamb hissed. “Stop!”
I touched her foot, and she growled, but remained still. I chanced a look at her face, and saw only curiosity there, so I took a breath and wedged my fingers between the wire and her ankle.
I felt her flinch in pain, but she remained motionless while I yanked hard on the wire, trying to get it to loosen. “Almost got it,” I whispered, starting to forget that I was talking to a gorilla. “There!”
She pulled her leg free the second I got the loop loosened enough, and I scooted back out of her way. She didn’t immediately flee like I thought she would, but stopped and stared at me, and I could almost imagine that she was smiling.
“You’re welcome,” I said, smiling back.
“Incredible,” Lamb whispered.
I looked back and found my uncle and Lamb both staring at me with awed expressions, though I couldn’t quite fathom why. I’d only loosened a snare.
But then I saw a shadow rise above them, and my jaw dropped, the air leaving me. I tried to shout a warning, but I was cut off by a deafening roar as Uncle Lamb was shoved aside like a rag doll by an enormous Silverback gorilla.
I scrambled to my feet as he rose up to his full height, towering high above me, and forgot to avoid eye contact.
He roared again, beating his chest before falling back on all fours and lunging toward me. There was a gunshot, but it missed by a mile, and I dove out of the way of the angry gorilla’s charge.
Frank was reloading, taking aim again, and I all but tackled him. “No!” I shouted, shoving the barrel of the gun down.
“Are you out of your mind?!” Frank yelled.
Maybe it had been foolish, but this male gorilla was clearly just defending the female. He didn’t know that we were only trying to help. I ran to Uncle Lamb, who was getting to his feet, looking winded, but unhurt. “We have to run!” I cried.
The male had been examining his mate, but now he was turned back to us, preparing for another charge.
But before he could, he was being pinned to the ground by a flash of red hair and tanned skin.
“Jamie,” I gasped, watching in astonishment as the man, not even half the size of the gorilla, managed to successfully wrestle the animal down.
Jamie’s eyes met mine, pleading with me to run, so I grabbed Lamb’s hand to do just that, but Frank was aiming his gun again, this time at the quickly moving mass of Jamie and the gorilla.
The gorilla got a hold of Jamie’s arm, and flung him away, where he hit the trunk of a tree with a sickening thump.
Frank cocked his rifle, and I saw the moment that Jamie recognized what was about to happen, and he leapt up, tackling the gorilla again just as the shot rang out.
The gorilla rolled to his feet, staring down at Jamie, and the breath caught in my throat at the sight of the blood on the man’s chest. “Oh God…” I whimpered.
Completely heedless of the animals, I ran to Jamie’s side, tearing off a piece of my skirt in the process to hold against the wound.
The male gorilla, seeming to be finished fighting, turned to go, but the female stood frozen, still staring at Jamie. The male tugged on her arm, but it was abundantly clear that she didn’t want to leave him. The male grunted, and pulled her again, and they were gone.
The bullet would was on Jamie’s shoulder, not chest, and nowhere near his heart, so I had hope that he could be saved.
“Uncle Lamb!” I cried. “We have to get him back to camp!”
Lamb hurried to my side. “My word,” he whispered. “He’s real.”
“He’s hurt !” I exclaimed. “We have to save him!”
“Mr. Randall!” Lamb ordered gruffly. “Don’t just stand there, man! Help me lift him!”
Uncle Lamb and Frank built a crude sledge while I held pressure on the wound. I’d done my share of nursing over the years in various villages around the world, learning from everyone from shamans to doctors, and had often imagined what it would be like to become a doctor myself, but cleaning small wounds and helping apply stitches was nothing compared to the possibility of needing to save a human life on my own. Uncle Lamb was a doctor...but a doctor of archeology, not medicine.
“We should get him to the village,” Lamb said as they carefully maneuvered Jamie onto the sledge. “It’s a little farther, but Badru should be able to help him.”
I nodded. “He’s still losing so much blood...hold on,” I ran down to the river, scooping up a handful of mud, then brought it back up to pack over the wound with some of the river weeds. “Let’s go. Hurry!”
“I suppose even legends can be hurt,” Badru murmured as some of the men carried Jamie into one of the huts.
“Can you help him?” I pleaded.
The men laid Jamie on the bed, and I stood by his head, frowning at the paleness of his face.
“He has lost a lot of blood,” Badru said. “And that bullet must be removed. He is in luck, though. My nephew has come to the village, he is trained as a doctor. I have sent for him. Go and get some rest, Claire.”
I shook my head, running my hand across Jamie’s clammy forehead. “No, I want to help. I have a little medical experience.”
Another man entered the hut, one who certainly bore a family resemblance to Badru, except where Badru was big and broad, this gentleman was tall but slim. But he had a kind face like Badru, which was comforting. He smiled at me as he checked Jamie’s pulse. “I could use the help, so long as you don’t plan on fainting at the sight of blood.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “You do know that women tend to see blood on a more regular basis than men, don’t you?”
He grinned. “Oh, I like you. Name’s Joseph.”
I smiled back, despite myself. “Not Dr.?”
“I only make stuffy old white men call me Dr. Abernathy. You can call me Joe.”
“Claire,” I replied. “Just tell me what to do, Joe.”
Joe pulled back the mud pack, and though a little blood oozed out, it had thankfully slowed. “You do this?”
“Yes,” I said. “An Indian woman in Colorado showed me how.”
“Well done,” he said. “You probably saved his life. Now, take this bottle of alcohol and start cleaning the instruments. You know what their names are?”
I bit my lip and shook my head.
“Well, you’re about to learn. Now pay attention, because we have to work fast.”
Chapter 5: Strangers Like Me
As Jamie heals from his injury, Claire begins showing him the human world.
Thank you for all the words of encouragement for his fic! Tarzan!Jamie is really a fun one to write!
A hand rested on my shoulder, making me jump.
“You should go get some sleep, Lady Jane. You won’t be doing this boy any favors by keeling over from exhaustion.”
I looked first at the hand I was holding, and then the face of the person it was attached to. Jamie seemed to be resting peacefully, but he was still so pale. I’d been sitting at his side for hours, ever since Joe removed the bullet from his shoulder and bandaged the wound. “I’m fine,” I told Joe. “I want to watch him, make sure he doesn’t start running a fever.”
“ I’ll watch him,” Joe said. “And I promise I’ll take good care of him. Now you go get some sleep. Doctor’s orders.”
I blinked sleepily up at him. “Where are you from, Joe? Your accent isn’t at all like the others here.”
He quirked a smile and sat down in the chair next to mine. “Well, I’m from America.”
I frowned in thought. “You became a doctor...in America?”
He chuckled. “It’s alright, Lady Jane, you can ask the question you really mean. How did a black man become a doctor? Well, it wasn’t easy, I’ll tell you that. My daddy was born a slave, but my mother was captured and brought there as one. Even after they were freed, life wasn’t easy for black folk. Especially when they were in need of doctoring. Not many white doctors will treat black people, even still. I became a doctor so that I could help them. Then when my mother died, I realized I had an entire heritage that I knew nothing about. So I wrote to her brother, Badru, and found out that people here are hurting for doctors as much as black folk in America.”
“That’s quite incredible,” I said. “I’ve often thought of becoming a doctor, but men have about the same opinion of women practicing medicine as they do black men.”
Joe shrugged. “Didn’t stop me, did it?”
I smiled. “Why did you call me Lady Jane?”
He chuckled. “It’s your accent. All prim and proper. I hope you didn’t take offense.”
“No,” I said, looking back at Jamie, and smoothing back his hair. “Just like I didn’t mind when he called me Sassenach.”
“So he can talk,” Joe said. “They led me to believe that he was a complete savage.”
“No,” I said firmly. “He’s not. A savage wouldn’t have saved my life the way he did.”
Joe nodded, then patted my shoulder. “I promise I’ll watch over him, and I’ll fetch you the minute he wakes. Now, please go get some sleep.”
“Yes, Doctor,” I said with a smile, giving Jamie’s hand one more squeeze before rising.
When I got outside, I scowled when the first thing I saw, was Frank.
“You son of bitch,” I hissed, storming down the steps of the hut toward him.
“I beg your pardon?”
Once I reached him, I swung my hand back, and slapped him. “This is your fault! If you hadn’t been so trigger happy, Jamie wouldn’t be in there fighting for his life!”
“How dare you!” Frank exclaimed, cradling his cheek. “I was protecting you!”
“No, he was protecting me! You were being a careless fool!”
“Claire,” Lamb said, taking me by the shoulders. “Come now, child, Mr. Randall didn’t mean for the boy to be hurt. You’re exhausted. Why don’t you…”
Suddenly, there was a crash, a sharp curse from Joe, and I was stumbling over my skirt to get back into the hut.
Jamie was crouched in the corner of the hut, eyes wide and wild, his teeth bared. Joe was in the opposite corner, his hands held up in defense.
“He woke up and went nuts!” Joe exclaimed.
“Jamie,” I said softly, hurrying to kneel in front of him. For a moment he didn’t look at me, instead looked all around madly. But I kept speaking in soothing tones, and he eventually focused on me, his shoulders relaxing.
“Sassenach,” he whispered.
“It’s alright,” I said, cupping his whiskered cheek in my palm, then spoke over my shoulder. “Everyone else, out.”
“But Claire…” Lamb said worriedly.
“Go,” I said firmly. “He’s terrified and confused. But he won’t hurt me.”
Lamb nodded and left, then Joe grabbed Frank’s arm and pull him out as well.
“There,” I said to Jamie. “Do not be afraid...it’s just the two of us now.”
Jamie visibly relaxed, but was still clearly very frightened.
“You’re in the village,” I said, and judging by his expression, he knew what that meant. “It’s alright, though. They won’t hurt you. You got...shot, accidentally. With a gun. Do you know what that means?”
He looked at his shoulder, and winced when he tried to flex it, then nodded.
“You’re going to be alright,” I said. “But you must stay here for a couple of days, until you’re healed.”
Even if I’d wanted to, nothing could have made me say no to his helpless face.
“Yes,” I said, nodding. “I’ll stay right here, and I won’t leave you. Alright? Now get back into bed, I’ll be right here.”
Jamie stood and let me guide him back to the bed. He looked panicked when I made to pull away, so I sat with my back against the wall by his head, and closed my eyes to rest.
When I woke again, it was because I was burning up. I instinctively tried to escape the source of the heat, but I quickly became aware that it was practically wrapped around me.
At some point in his sleep, Jamie had pulled me down to lay beside him, under the covers, and I could feel his manhood pressed intimately against my thigh where my skirt had gotten bunched up.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ…”
“Well, I guess it’s just as well that I found you and not your uncle, or mine,” Joe said, and I looked up to find him standing in the doorway with his arms crossed and a shit-eating grin on his face. “Or poor Jamie there might have ended up with another bullet-wound in him. Comfortable, Lady Jane?”
“Oh shut up,” I groaned, struggling to get out of Jamie’s grasp, when I became aware just why I’d been so hot. “Oh my God, Joe, he’s burning up!”
Joe hurried forward to help me untangle myself from Jamie, and to his credit he didn’t even glance at the way my skirts were practically at my waist.
“He’s fevered alright,” Joe said, lifting the bandage to examine the wound. “Damn. Alright, go outside and have one of the kids fetch some cold water from the river. We’ll need to bathe him. I’ve got some quinine, should help bring it down.”
I rushed to do as Joe asked, and when I returned, he had Jamie laying flat on his back, with the covers off. Before, I’d really only seen Jamie’s body at night. In the light of day, I was struck by just how scarred he was, and it tore at my heart. When the boy brought the water in, Joe made to take it.
“I can do it,” I said.
Joe looked skeptical. “We have to get his temperature down fast. Pulse points, Lady Jane. Wrists, neck, and groin. You apply the cold water there to get him cooled off faster. Can you do that?”
I stuck my chin up. “Oh, I’ve been around him all this time without him wearing a stitch. I’m not worried about his nakedness.”
Joe shrugged. “Alright. Get to it, then. I wanna see about shaving off his beard. It’s filthy anyway, and not doing him any favors, temperature wise.”
While Joe saw to that, I went about methodically washing him, starting with his wrists, before working my way down.
Regardless of my bravado, I felt my face flame as I applied the cool water around his groin, carefully trying to avoid actually touching him there.
But as I bathed him, I more closely saw his scars. There were marks that looked like bite wounds, as well as a long, deep gash that had gone down his thigh and looked as thought it must have been incredibly painful. His torso was covered in new bruises and scratches from his fight with the gorilla, and I wondered how many of his marks came from him.
“He sure has been through the wringer,” Joe said, catching my line of sight.”
“He sure has,” I agreed. “His back is worse.”
“How do you think he got out here? Living like he does?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. But I think it’s been since he was a child. He has some speech, but it’s like he’s forgotten.”
“He isn’t very old,” Joe said. “Younger than you, even. I’d guess around twenty-one, or twenty-two.”
“That young? How can you tell?”
“It’s just a guess, mind you. But a person’s body continues to develop and grow in certain ways throughout their lives, no matter how that life is lived. He’s more’n a boy, that’s for sure, but not by much.”
Jamie moaned, his eyes flickering open. I hurried to get into his line of sight, touching his now smooth cheek.
Joe was right. Without his beard, Jamie looked years younger...and he was so beautiful, it near to broke my heart.
“Shh…” I hushed him, brushing the hair out of his eyes. “It’s alright.”
He whimpered, getting a handful of my skirt, and trying to pull me closer.
“Doesn’t look like you’re going anywhere anytime soon,” Joe said, with a twinkle in his eyes.
“He’s just confused and scared,” I said, not sure why I felt like I needed to defend him, or myself.
“Claire? I...oh, my…”
Uncle Lamb was staring with wide eyes, and I became aware that I was being held in a firm grasp by a naked man, my hand still holding the washcloth was resting on his thigh.
Lamb blinked a moment, taking in the scene, before looking back at me. “Joe? Shouldn’t we leave them alone?”
“Uncle Lamb!” I exclaimed, shushing Jamie again when he flinched.
I sat with him through the night, even after Joe retired to another hut to sleep. He’d set up a cot in the corner for me, but Jamie didn’t let me stray that far.
It was awkward, and terribly improper, but far more comfortable to simply lay beside him, with my hand on his chest feeling his heartbeat and breathing and the temperature of his body.
Although I wasn’t ignorant of being with a man, I’d never actually slept beside one before, and it was a novel experience to say the least.
His fever broke sometime in the night, and then he rested peacefully beneath my cheek as it in turn rested on his chest. His arm curled protectively around me, and I shouldn’t have been as comfortable as I was...but...well...I was.
Jamie’s peaceful rest was disturbed though, when he began whimpering and turning in his sleep.
“Shh,” I hushed, stroking his cheek.
“Willie…” he cried, his face scrunched up in fear. “Jen…”
I tried to gently rouse him, but he was very deep in whatever nightmare he was having.
“Jamie, wake up, darling, it’s alright…”
He jolted upright, looking all around in terror, breathing heavily.
“Jamie! It’s me, Jamie, Sassenach…”
His eyes focused down on me, and he relaxed.
“Who are Willie and Jen?” I asked. Perhaps it was cruel to try and remind him of his nightmare, but I had a feeling that whoever those people were, it told a lot about who he was.
But Jamie didn’t answer, though he slumped tiredly against the pillows.
“Whatever am I going to do with you?” I asked, resting my chin on my hand, and my elbow on his chest.
“Jamie...go home?” he asked.
“Where’s home? In the jungle? With the gorillas?”
“What about that big one? Who attacked us?”
Jamie grimaced, closing his eyes. “Kerchak.”
“Kerchak. Is he the leader?”
“And the little one? The female?”
He opened his eyes again and looked at me. “M-Mother.”
A small gasp left my mouth. “That was your…” It all clicked into place then, and left me feeling astonished. Jamie didn’t just live among the gorillas, he’d been raised by them. “Your mother…”
He nodded, then turned partially on his side, curling into me. I wrapped my arms around him as best I could, stroking his hair as he drifted back off to sleep. I was even more glad than before that I’d saved that gorilla, for to have raised this sweet young man, she must truly have been a remarkable animal.
When Jamie awoke the next morning, he was like a whole new person. Though he still favored his shoulder, he immediately began exploring the moment he opened his eyes.
“Alright now,” I said, getting his attention from where he was holding up my boot, examining the heel. “I’m going to need that back, sir, and you need to get into this tub.
Joe’d had a pair of wide-eyed boys bring in a large wooden bathtub and filled it with hot water. Joe then left me with the task of getting Jamie bathed since Jamie still seemed very wary of anyone but me.
Jamie eyed the tub distrustfully.
“Come on, the water is nice and warm, you’ll like it.”
Jamie stood and crept over to the tub, sniffing delicately at it before wrinkling his nose in distaste. “No.”
I propped my hands on my hips. “Excuse me? No? Jamie it’s a bath, not a torture device. You’re covered in filth and blood, and you need a bath. Now, I won’t ask again. Get into the tub.”
I realized that I was speaking to him like a child, but if I didn’t scold him, I’d be laughing at the petulant look on his face. Finally, I grabbed his good arm and pulled him to the tub and almost pushed him in.
He sat down with a snarl, his knees almost up to his ears. He recoiled violently from the bar of soap, his nose wrinkling, and I had to admit it didn’t smell very good, so I went to my bag and found my own soap which smelt light and flowery. He seemed to like that much better, and how nice that a man his size didn’t care about smelling “womanly.”
I set to work with the soap and a soft scrub brush, and worked away years of grime from his skin. He relaxed under my touch, particularly when I went to work on his hair, scratching his scalp with my nails. He practically melted then, his eyes closing in bliss.
“Good, then maybe you’ll hold still for a haircut,” I said, picking up the pair of scissors that Joe had left. Jamie glared at them, but he was too relaxed to fight much as I began to snip away the matted tangles of his hair until it was shorn up to his ears.
Once that was done, he stood patiently while I dried him off, but then balked when I approached him with a pair of linen pants.
“Now come on ! You can’t go running around the village in the nude.”
Jamie snorted. “No.”
“It’s just pants and a shirt. Just be grateful you needn’t dress in skirts and undergarments and everything like me. I don’t always like it, but do I run around naked?”
He gave my attire a slow up and down look, and I could almost swear his expression was that he just assumed that I did . But surely that was my imagination.
He snatched the clothes away from me, and tried to get them on, but first he tried to put the pants on backward, and once we got that straightened out, he got tangled up in the shirt.
“Hold on,” I laughed, trying to sort him out. “Just...Jamie! Just be still!”
Jamie grunted and growled as I fought him into the shirt like a disgruntled toddler. But once he was finally dressed, I took a step back to look him over.
If I hadn’t watched the transformation myself, I likely would never have recognized Jamie from the wild man I found in the Jungle. His hair, now that it was clean, was a beautiful shade of red-orange, like a sunset, and hung in soft curls around his face.
Shaved and scrubbed of dirt, I could see now that he had truly handsome features. High, Viking-like cheekbones, a strong chin, but most of all his piercing blue eyes.
“We-hell now,” Joe said, entering the hut and making Jamie jump. “Wow, what a difference.”
I grinned with pride, though I had no real reason to feel that way. “Isn’t it though? Doesn’t he look handsome?”
Joe looked at me with a twinkle in his eye. “I’m thinking you might not want to let him out, Lady Jane. Those women are going to be all over him.”
I scowled, not liking the sound of that . It would frighten Jamie, was all. “I hope you explained to everyone not to overwhelm him.”
He chuckled. “They know. They’re very curious though, and who can blame them. I am too.”
“Me too,” I admitted, then turned to Jamie, who’d lost interest in our conversation and had my soap again and was smelling it, looking as though he were considering trying to eat it. “Jamie? Would you like to go out and explore the village?”
Jamie put down the soap and walked over to me, grimacing and tugging at his clothes in discomfort.
“You’ll get used to it,” I chuckled, holding out my hand. “Come on.”
Jamie gave my hand a look, then surprised me by leaning down and licking it.
I let out a surprised squeak and yanked my hand back, and he gave me a rather distressed look.
“I’m sorry,” I said to him, shooting Joe a glare as he laughed. “You just took me by surprise, is all. Give me your hand, Jamie.”
Understanding now, Jamie took my hand and let me lead him outside.
“How often has he licked you, Lady Jane?” Joe murmured under his breath, still laughing.
I hissed at him to shut up, then put my free hand on Jamie’s arm, pulling him protectively close to me when the villagers began flocking around curiously.
“Well, don’t you look strapping, my boy!” Uncle Lamb exclaimed.
“Jamie,” I said. “This is my uncle, Lambert.”
“Lam-bert,” Jamie parroted.
“Delightful!” Lamb cried.
I guided Jamie to Badru. “This is Joe’s uncle, and the leader of the tribe here. Badru.”
Badru was staring at Jamie in awe, shaking his head. “All these years, and he really is just a man.”
“I wouldn’t say just a man,” I said, despite my earlier insistences that he was. “He was raised by the gorillas. He survived out here for most of his life with them.”
Jamie broke away from me, but I watched him like a hawk as he started poking around, picking things up and discarding them once something more interesting caught his eye.
He picked up speed, and soon I couldn’t keep up as he darted around the village, looking at everything. The people smiled as he approached, offering up pots and pans and instruments for his examination. When one man gave him a toothy grin, Jamie flinched back in fear, but blinked as his expression cleared, and smiled back.
“A smile like that would look like the baring of teeth to a gorilla,” Lamb said, coming up behind me. “A sign of aggression. But Jamie does seem to understand the difference.”
“He does know human ways,” I said. “He wasn’t raised by the gorillas from infancy. He fought against a bath, but not, I think, because he didn’t understand it, but because he didn’t want it, like any little boy.”
Lamb gave me a sideways look. “In case you haven’t noticed my dear, he isn’t a little boy. If you haven’t notice, I do worry for you.”
I gave him a light smack on the arm and laughed. “Stop it. Yes, I know. But think about it, if he was a boy when he was abandoned here, with little to no contact with humans, he will have missed a few steps in maturity, wouldn’t he?”
“Abandoned?” Lamb asked. “Do you think he was deliberately abandoned ?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I can’t imagine anyone purposely leaving a little boy in the African jungle to fend for himself. He had a nightmare last night, and in his sleep he said the names “Willie,” and “Jen.”
“His parents, you think?”
I shook my head. “He wouldn’t have called to them by their names, I don’t think. But I do think it’s a clue.”
Lamb nodded. “Keep trying to get him to talk. Perhaps we can piece this mystery together and get him home.”
A group of children, who’d been shyly hanging back from Jamie, were finally starting to approach him, seeming enthralled by his red hair, both on his head and his arms. Jamie was crouched in the midst of them, looking perfectly content to be there. When he caught me watching though, his face lit up into a beaming smile, one that did very unusual things to my heart.
Chapter 6: Hills of Heather
Jamie continues to explore the village, and Claire decides to teach him to read.
During Jamie’s convalescence, Uncle Lamb, Mr. Randall, and I had taken up temporary residence in the village. I was given a hut to myself, but until that night I had been staying with Jamie. Now that Jamie was on the mend though, I moved my belongings out of the medical clinic and into my borrowed home.
Jamie followed as I did so, seeming agitated by it, though when I struggled to lift my trunk on my own, he picked it up as if it weighed no more than a feather and carried it into the other hut for me.
“Thank you,” I said. “You’ll stay in the same one as before, where Joe can still keep an eye on you. I know you may be anxious to return to your family, but I’d like it if you stayed a little longer. I still worry about that bullet wound getting infected.
Jamie tilted his head at me, and I smiled ruefully. “I’m sorry. You probably don’t understand half of anything I say do you?”
He did seem to understand a great deal, more than he was able to communicate himself, and I had no intention to speak down to him like he was unintelligent. But I thought I probably should at least try to slow down.
Jamie moved past me to the trunk, fiddling with the clasp for a moment before opening it. I tensed in embarrassment, as several of my underthings were resting on top, but he only pushed them out of the way disinterestedly, and I reminded myself that Jamie had no notion of shame, and I wondered what it was like to be that free.
Instead, he focused his attention on my books. I had only a few with me, but no matter how much they weighed my trunk down, I couldn’t stand to be without. I had my book of herbalogy, a book of African animals, my journal, and to my embarrassment that I tried to stamp down...a romance novel.
Naturally that would be what Jamie picked up first, and he opened it to find the illustration inside that depicted a man and woman in passionate embrace.
He looked up at me, curiosity alight in his eyes.
“That’s erm...I’m not sure why I even brought that one…” I chuckled awkwardly, then knelt beside him to pick up the field guide of animals. “Wouldn’t you rather look at this one?”
Jamie took the other book in his free hand, then back at the novel, then discarded the animal book in favor of flipping through Hills of Heather .
“Do you like books?” I asked him. When he nodded, I took it as an opportunity to try and delve deeper. “Did your parents read to you when you were a boy?”
He gave me a peculiar look, one I couldn’t read, and didn’t answer. Instead, he handed the book to me. I thought that it meant that he would turn his attention to something else, but instead he sidled up beside me, and I realized that he wanted a story.
“Of course you’d want me to read this to you,” I muttered, resting my back against the trunk. “Well all right, most of it is harmless anyway.”
“Emilia Hastings was a woman like no other...” I read, figuring the sentimental tale would likely bore Jamie soon, but indeed he remained rapt as I told the beginnings of the tumultuous affair between Emilia Hastings and Laird Allistair MacKenzie. Jamie went back and forth between staring at the words, and watching me as I spoke.
“I think that’s enough for tonight,” I said, just before Emilia and Allistair shared their first kiss. “It’s late.”
“Again?” Jamie asked.
I nodded. “Yes, I’ll read more tomorrow. Though I think I’ll ask Joe or Badru if there are any books here that I could teach you to read with. Would you like that?”
Jamie nodded enthusiastically, and I grinned. “Well, then that’s what we shall do. Now go on, you’ve had a big day and you need to rest that shoulder.”
I led Jamie out toward the medical clinic, but frowned when we were approached by Frank. Jamie tensed at the sight of him, taking a step closer to me. At first I thought it was in fear, but what I looked at his face he didn’t look afraid, he just looked very suspicious.
“Have you gotten him to tell you where the gorillas are?” Frank asked.
“What? No...why would I have asked him that?”
Frank looked at me as if I were stupid. “Why? Because that’s why you and your uncle are here , isn’t it? And he’s one of them, surely he knows how to find them.”
As much as I hated to admit it, Frank had a point. Jamie could easily lead us to the gorillas I was sure, and more than that, he could probably help us to see them without any danger to them or us. In truth though, since Jamie’s injury, I’d forgotten all about my and Lamb’s intention of seeing the gorillas.
“I’m not sure Jamie would take us to them, even if he knew what I was asking,” I said, not bothering to tell Frank that Jamie was perfectly capable of understanding. “You didn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence in him that we mean the gorillas no harm.”
“That gorilla attacked you , Claire,” Frank said. “For God’s sake, your wild man here attacked the damn thing himself.”
“That was different. Jamie restrained the gorilla, you tried to kill him.”
“To protect you! ” Frank exclaimed, making a wide gesture with his hand.
All of a sudden, Jamie was in front of me, snarling animalistically.
Frank leapt back. “By God!”
“Jamie!’ I exclaimed, grabbing his arm. Until that moment I wouldn’t have thought a human capable of making a sound like that. “It’s alright!”
Jamie glanced briefly at me before fixing his glare back at Frank.
“He is a savage,” Frank snapped. “No better than an animal!”
“Stop it!” I yelled, keeping a firm grip on Jamie’s arm. “You raised your voice and made a gesture that he took as threatening. He’s defending me.”
Frank snorted. “But when I protect you from a legitimate threat, you get angry.”
Shaking my head, I tugged on Jamie, leading him away. “Ignore him,” I said when we were far enough away. “He just has a rod stuck too far up his arse.”
Jamie made a questioning sound and looked at me askance, making me laugh.
The sound of something falling over and hitting the ground jolted me awake from a deep sleep. I flipped over and sat up, my heart racing. But it was only Jamie, standing sheepishly in the doorway, the stack of books I’d left on my trunk now scattered across the rug.
“Jamie,” I sighed, rubbing an eye. “What are you doing here?”
It had taken several attempts to explain to him that he needed to sleep in the medical clinic, and that I would be in my own hut only a few yards away, but I’d thought he had finally understood.
“It’s late. Go back to bed, Jamie.”
Jamie clumsily gathered up the books and returned them to the trunk, all except for Hills of Heather , which he carried over to me.
“I’m too tired, Jamie,” I said. “I’ll read to you tomorrow.”
Jamie ignored me, and simply crawled into bed beside me, leaning back against the pillow to flip through the book.
“Jamie, no ,” I pushed at his shoulder. “You can’t sleep here. It was one thing when you were ill, but I don’t think my uncle would approve of it now.”
He gave me an innocent look, which was quite frankly a bit too innocent, and rather made me believe that he understood exactly what I was saying, and just didn’t care.
I was too tired to argue, but the sudden fright had woken me up too much to go right back to sleep, so I snatched the book away from Jamie with a touch of annoyance and rolled over to light my lamp.
“One chapter,” I said firmly, turning to a page at random. “But tomorrow we’re going to find a much more appropriate book for you to learn from.”
I piled some more pillows behind me to sit up, and Jamie scooted over until we were sitting with our sides flush together.
“At least you aren’t naked anymore,” I mumbled before starting to read.
“Allistair was known across the Highlands as a fair, but ruthless leader…”
“No,” Jamie said, nudging my side. “Not that.”
“Not…” I arched a brow at him, then rolled my eyes. “Oh. I’m at the wrong place, is that it? Figures. Fine . If I read from where we left off, will you go to sleep?”
“Mmhm,” he made a sound that was partly one of agreement, partly the clearing of his throat, from the sounds of it.
I flipped back to the chapter I’d stopped at earlier that day, feeling my cheeks warm.
“Allistair cradled Emilia’s face in his large palms, and her heart fluttered nervously like a flock of wild birds…” I sighed, grimacing. Somehow the prose sounded a lot sillier when read aloud. “He pulled her face to his own, his mouth descending to hers in a passionate kiss…”
“Kiss?” Jamie asked.
I smiled. “Yes, kiss. Surely you know what that is, don’t you?” I leaned over, pressing a quick kiss to his temple with a loud smack. “Like that...more or less, anyway.”
“Why? Well, it’s a sign of affection. I gave you a kiss because you’re my friend, and I care about you. I give my Uncle Lamb kisses because he’s my uncle, and I love him. It’s different in this story, of course. Because it’s a man and woman and they…” I blushed. “Well, they’re...mates…do you understand?”
He nodded. “Yes. Like Mother, and Kerchak?”
“Yes, like your mother and Kerchak. Now, would you like me to finish, or not?”
He nodded, curls flopping endearingly into his eyes, so I continued.
“Allistair pulled Emilia tightly to him, molding the hard planes of his body to her soft, feminine curves. His tongue, hot and demand…” I shook my head and closed my eyes. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t read that with a man sitting in my bed. Especially while he looked up at me with wide, curious eyes. “H...he kissed and kissed her, and she was very happy. Then he released her, thanking her for the kiss, and asked if she would take a walk with him tomorrow. Emilia accepted, and went home to excitedly prepare for her evening with Allistair.”
I snapped the book closed, giving Jamie a look. “There. Now, time for sleep.”
Jamie’s brow was furrowed, like he didn’t quite believe that I’d been reading the story right, but he scooted down until he was lying beside me, underneath the covers.
“Just for tonight,” I murmured, putting out the lamp and curling up beside him. “Goodnight, Jamie.”
After a few moments of silence, Jamie spoke very quietly. “Sassenach?”
“Yes, Jamie?” I said without opening my eyes.
I felt his breath on my face just seconds before I felt the warmth of lips lightly touching the corner of my own.
“Th...thank...you,” he said.
Losing my fight against smiling, I nestled more closely into his side, and drifted off to sleep.
“Come in, Uncle Lamb.”
Lamb pushed the curtain aside and entered the hut. “Ah. Joe didn’t know where our friend had gone off to. I figured I’d probably find him here.”
I was seated cross-legged on the floor, with a mirror propped up on my trunk. I’d been going about my morning toilet while Jamie still slept, but he awoken and watched curiously. (Thankfully I’d already given myself a hurried wash.) Now he sat behind me, either attempting to fix my hair, or grooming me, I wasn’t sure.
“Well, I’ve been told before that I really ought to get you a lady’s maid,” Lamb joked, gesturing to Jamie.
“Uncle Lamb,” I playfully scolded. “He’s just curious.”
I didn’t think I needed to tell my uncle that the feeling of Jamie’s fingers raking through my hair was pure bliss, and that I’d been sat letting Jamie do as he pleased for the better part of an hour.
“He’s curious all right,” Lamb said, giving me a look. I schooled my features, wondering if my face betrayed my pleasure. “I just hope you’re careful, Claire. He’s very strong, and doesn’t understand boundaries. If he were to get it into his mind to...well...erm, take advantage of you…”
I whirled on Lamb, startling Jamie. “He wouldn’t hurt me!”
“Of course not,” Lamb said kindly. “Not intentionally. But…”
“No,” I said stubbornly. “No buts.”
“But how do you know, darling? You’ve only known him a couple of days.”
I frowned, supposing he was right. I guessed I couldn’t know, and yet somehow, I just did.
His interest shifting, Jamie approached Lamb, sniffing at him before rising up to his full height, which towered well over Lamb, and leaned in close to his face.
“Oh my,” Lamb laughed. “It seems I’m to be his new fascination!”
I giggled at the way Lamb awkwardly tried to back away, but Jamie only followed him obliviously. “I think it’s your glasses,” I said.
Lamb removed his glasses and handed them to Jamie. “Be careful,” he warned.
Jamie snatched the glasses and returned to my side, staring at them in wonder, and then through them, before yanking them back away from his face with a grimace.
Lamb laughed at him, then turned back to me. “Joe said to tell you that he’s been teaching some of the village children over near the stream. He thought you could bring Jamie, and see if he could perhaps learn with them.”
“That’s a wonderful idea,” I said, thinking how Jamie had been more comfortable with the children than he had with most of the others, and he seemed to like Joe just fine. “What do you think, Jamie? Would like to go to school?”
Jamie gave me an unsure look, but when I started to walk out of the hut, he was right beside me.
It was, quite honestly, a hilarious sight.
The over six foot red headed giant sitting in the middle of a group of small children had me biting my lip to keep from smiling.
At first, Jamie listened carefully as Joe taught the children their multiplication tables, but before long his attention wandered, and when I stepped away to relieve myself, I returned to find him coming after me.
Having no desire to sit through primary school with him all day, I borrowed one of the children’s books that Joe had and led Jamie a little away from the village, to a quiet, shady spot beneath the trees.
Jamie was vastly different when he was alone with me, relaxed and calmer. I’d also begun to notice that he never even tried to speak if anyone else was around.
I sat down on a log, and patted the space next to me. “As promised, how would you like to learn how to read?”
Jamie nodded and sat beside me, watching with interest as I opened the primer to the first two pages, that only showed the alphabet.
“A,” I said, pointing to the letter. “Ah. A for…” I smiled. “Ape. B, buh. B for bird. C, cuh. C for…”
“Claire,” Jamie said, grinning up at me.
I laughed. “That’s right. C for Claire. I think you already know this, don’t you?”
In answer, he pointed at the next letter. “D, duh.”
Shaking my head, I flipped forward a few pages. “You’ve been holding out on me. Alright, let’s try this, then.”
It took a while, but before long, it started coming back to him, and Jamie was slowly reading the simple stories in the primer.
“Jamie?” I said when he’d finished his fourth story. “Do you remember how old you were when you came here? When you went to live with the gorillas?”
Jamie thought a moment, then shook his head.
I bit my lip, thinking, then down the hill, I caught sight of a woman returning from the river with a basket of fish, and a toddler running alongside her. “Were you little? Like that boy down there?”
Jamie peered down at the child, then shook his head.
“What about that boy from the school that sat next to you? Lekan? He’s around twelve.”
Again, Jamie shook his head. “No. Lekan like Willie.”
I blinked in surprise. “Willie? Is Willie your...brother?”
“Okay...so Willie was older. But you can’t remember how big you were?”
Jamie exhaled through his nose and stood up. “Not big enough,” he said lowly.
I watched as he walked away, beginning to wonder if Jamie’s gaps in memory weren't entirely due to time and age. I wondered if there was something much worse.
I didn’t see Jamie again until that night, and I’d begun to worry, until I finally found him at the edge of the village, behind my hut.
“There you are,” I said, sighing in relief. “Where have you been?”
He didn’t answer, but looked out at the jungle. “I go.”
“What?! No!” I grabbed his hand, panic twisting in my chest. “Please, I’m sorry for pressing you. I won’t anymore. Please don’t go!”
Jamie’s expression warmed, and he smiled at me. “Dinna fash.”
“Dinna... what ?”
He touched my cheek with his knuckle. “I...have not...saw my family. Need to go. See them well.”
“Oh,” I said, relaxing. “I understand. But you’ll come back?”
He nodded, still smiling. “Yes, Sassenach.”
He tugged at his shirt, grimacing. “They will not like it,” he said, starting to unbutton his pants.
“I suppose it’s just as well we keep them here, then,” I said, holding out my hands for them. “I’ll have them ready for you when you return.”
He struggled with the buttons of his shirt, so I batted his hands away and did it myself.
Jamie turned to go, but paused, looking back and giving me a crooked smile before darting in and kissing me.
It was nothing but a quick and loud smack, but it left me feeling awfully flustered.
“Thank you,” he said, before fleeing into the night. I didn’t even bother trying to not look at his arse as he did.
I stood there for a moment, already missing him, damn me. When I turned to return to the village, I found Frank standing just behind me.
“Have you no shame at all?” he said with disdain.
I rolled my eyes. “He couldn’t wear the clothes around the gorillas,” I said. “His undressing was hardly salacious. I’m so used to it, I don’t even notice anymore.” That last part was a bald-faced lie, but Frank didn’t need to know that.
Frank shook his head. “That isn’t what I meant and you know it.
Suddenly he gasped, and looked in the direction Jamie had gone. “He’s gone back to them? We could follow him!”
“He’s long gone,” I said impatiently. “And besides, he would not appreciate you stalking him.”
“You’re right,” Frank said, to my surprise. “He’ll return, and the gorillas will become accustomed to his coming and going with the smell of man about him, and then you can convince him to take us to them.”
I took a step away from Frank, holding Jamie’s clothes to my chest. “Why do you care so much?”
Frank frowned at me. “Because I was paid to show you gorillas, Miss Beauchamp. I’ll not get any more customers if I cannot deliver. Besides, your uncle has been chomping at the bit. He’s anxious to see not just them, but Jamie being among them.”
Unfortunately, Frank was right. Lamb was anxious to set back out on our search, especially considering we only had about two weeks left before returning to England...something I tried not to give too much thought to.
“Fine,” I said at last. “I’ll talk to Jamie and see how he feels about taking us. But I will not pressure him about it, and neither will you, understand?”
“Agreed,” Frank said, sounding downright cordial. “You’re quite a wonder, do you know that? The way you were with that trapped gorilla, and with Jamie. It’s truly remarkable. You are remarkable, Claire.”
I was taken rather aback, having never heard him sound so complimentary . Once, I might have been charmed by it, but now I only felt vaguely suspicious.
“Thank you,” I said politely. “But there’s nothing remarkable about me, Mr. Randal. If you’ll excuse me, it’s late, and I’m very tired.”
“Of course,” he said, standing aside at once. “Goodnight, Miss Beauchamp.”
I slept poorly that night, tossing and turning and wondering if Jamie was okay. It was absurd, of course. He’d lived more than a decade alone in the jungle, and had done just fine, but I couldn’t help but worry.
What was more, though, was as I curled around my pillow, trying to get comfortable, I found that I was missing his arms around me.
Chapter 7: Cathedrals
Jamie returns on a hot night after days of being away.
The days waiting for Jamie to return seemed to stretch on forever. I was starting to fear that he wouldn’t even come back before Uncle Lamb and I were forced to sail back to England.
Women in the village tended to do their bathing in the river during the evenings, while the men bathed in the mornings. It was a hot night, I hadn’t had anything better than a quick scrub in a hip bath in days, and a dip in the cool river sounded like just what the doctor ordered.
I walked down with the women, but broke off on my own, since I didn’t speak enough of their language to really get on with them, besides I was sort of wanting a little time to myself.
I found a secluded area of the river, sheltered by trees, to strip down and wade into the chilly water.
It had been some time since I’d last been able to fully submerge myself in water, and I leaned back, letting myself float, my face turned up into the pale light of the moon.
I thought about what waited for me in England. A grand house, fancy parties, endless suitors. For some girls it was a dream. For me, it felt like a sentence I needed to resign myself to. But Uncle Lamb had been very clear...once last excursion, and then we both settle down. I was no longer a girl, and I couldn’t get away with running about like a wild child forever. In fact even though I didn’t feel very old, at twenty-five I was well past my prime marrying years, as far as society in England was concerned.
I thought of Joe, and all he’d gone through to become a doctor. I knew that it wasn’t impossible for a woman to be a doctor, but it was very, very challenging. I wondered if I was even half as strong as Joe, to even consider such a thing.
I heard a rustle in the leaves, and then some childish giggling, and sighed. “Get out of here!” I snapped, covering my chest with my arms and peering into the dark to see whatever nosy little boys were spying.
Then there was more rustling, a snarl, and the squeals of small children as they went fleeing back to the village. I waded closer to the shore, curious and a little worried, only to see Jamie, scowling in the direction that the boys had gone.
“It’s you,” I sighed in relief. “Wait...just how long have you been watching me?!’
Jamie looked back at me with utmost innocence, then tilted his head curiously. When he started wading into the water, I ducked down. “Wait, stop!”
Jamie did, watching me worriedly, and I became aware of two things. One, Jamie was clearly aroused by whatever he’d managed to see, and two, Uncle Lamb was clearly wrong about Jamie not stopping when I asked him.
After a moment, Jamie continued on cautiously into the water, picking my bar of soap up on the way, but kept a respectable distance from me. I watched, chin-deep in the water, as he scrubbed himself clean of whatever grime he’d picked up in the few days he’d been gone. Once he was done, he turned to me with a grin, obviously seeking praise for bathing without being forced.
“Well done,” I said obligingly, relaxing. “Now do you mind? I’m not decent, here.”
“What dee-cent?” he asked.
I bit my lower lip to keep from laughing. “I don’t have clothes on, but you’re very aware of that, aren’t you?” I glanced down at where his waist was just covered with water. “I suppose I don’t blame you for being curious, but this is just a little too much for me, Jamie. Could you please go back to shore and wait for me?”
Nodding at once, Jamie waded back, but then he turned to watch me as I followed.
“No...turn around! Don’t look, not until I tell you.”
It was dark, so I couldn’t be sure, but I actually thought Jamie rolled his eyes as he gave me his back.
I scampered onto shore and hurriedly dried off before pulling on my chemise, eyeing Jamie the whole time to make sure he didn’t peek. Once I was more or less decent, I opened my mouth to tell him it was alright, but I paused, struck by the way the scars on his back seemed even more pronounced in the deep shadows of the night.
I approached him slowly, gently laying a hand on one of the longer scars. He flinched slightly, but didn’t pull away.
“How did these happen?” I asked, running a finger lightly down the mark.
Jamie craned his head around to look, and I wondered if he even knew they were there.
“Cat,” he said.
“A cat ? Wait…” I thought of my animal field guide, and what sort of big cats lived in the area. It was too far from the savanna to be a lion. “A jaguar?”
He shrugged one shoulder.
I took his arm to turn him around. “You’ve had a hell of a life, haven’t you?”
He shrugged again, looking a little uncomfortable with my questioning.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to keep interrogating you. I just want to understand…”
I trailed off when I saw that his face was crumpling, and pulled him into my arms without hesitation.
He didn’t cry, but held onto me like a lifeline...so tightly it hurt, but I didn’t even consider telling him so. I cupped the back of his head, pressing his face to my shoulder, and he nuzzled me there like an affectionate cat.
“Oh, you dear, sweet man,” I whispered, stroking his hair. “Whatever am I going to do with you?”
After a long, quiet moment, I remembered that Jamie was still unclothed and still very...interested in the state of my undress, so I pulled away, stroking his bristly chin with my thumb.
“Come on, your clothes are in my hut. Let’s get you into them, hm?”
He nodded. “Yes, Sassenach.”
I paused another moment, hesitating, then stood up on tiptoe to kiss his cheek, glad when it made him grin.
“Thank you,” he said happily.
“You’re welcome. Now come on, Tarzan.”
I pulled Jamie by the arm back to my hut, passing a group of young women on their way to the river. They looked him up and down, giggling as they went, and he smiled at them in return.
Rolling my eyes I yanked him along.
“Better be careful,” I muttered to him. “I’ve seen the way a couple of those girls are with the men. I’m not sure that’s an education you’re ready for.”
Jamie looked at me cluelessly, but I didn’t offer a better explanation, unsettled by the unnecessary surge of anger I’d felt when those women ogled him.
Jamie’s attention was drawn anyway, by the steady drumbeat coming from somewhere further in the village.
“Sounds like someone is playing music,” I said, leading him inside. “Come on, we’ll get you dressed and we can go investigate.”
I didn’t miss the way Jamie wrinkled his nose. He hated the constrictive nature of clothes, and I had to say I couldn’t blame him. They could be rather stifling at times, especially as hot as it was.
I opened my trunk, first finding my own skirt and blouse, and Jamie scooted up next to me, taking the skirt and holding it up to himself.
I chuckled and snatched it away. “Sorry, I don’t think that would fit you.”
Unfazed, he found instead the rust-colored sari that one of the women had given me, and he rubbed the soft fabric between his fingers. Suddenly, I had an idea.
“Hand that here,” I said, taking the sari and wrapping it around his waist and tying it in a knot on the side. I didn’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before; it wasn’t very unlike how some of the men in the village dressed, but Uncle Lamb and I had just automatically put Jamie in the clothes of a white man. “There, how is that? Better than the trousers?”
I giggled at the way Jamie twisted his hips from side to side, testing his range of movement, but he seemed satisfied. The sounds of music outside was growing, and he was chomping at the bit to investigate so I hurried and pulled my other sari out of my trunk and tied it around my own waist, over my chemise.
“Alright!” I said, laughing at the way Jamie was already scooting toward the doorway, but was still waiting for me. “Let’s go!”
There was a fire going in the center of the village, and men and women were playing lively music with drums, kalimbas, shakers and more. The younger people were dancing around the fire, and I marveled at the way they moved their bodies to the beat with none of the structure of European dances, but with far more feeling .
Jamie was crouched at my side, watching with his mouth gaped open in delight.
“Claire!” Uncle Lamb exclaimed, joining us. He had small shaker in one hand, and a cup of something that smelled strongly alcoholic in the other. “Jamie, my boy! Why don’t you two join them?”
“Oh no,” I laughed. “I’d need a few of whatever you’re drinking before that.”
With a shrug, Lamb handed over his cup and returned to Badru.
I wasn’t sure what it was, but it was delicious , and indeed very strong. Jamie watched me with a tilt to his head.
“Here,” I said, handing him the cup. “Small sip, don’t try to gulp it.”
Jamie ignored my instruction and drained the cup, which caused him to cough and splutter.
“I tried to warn you,” I said, laughing.
Jamie narrowed his eyes at me, but wasn’t able to hold the expression long before he was smiling again, and rising to his full height to take my hand.
“No, Jamie,” I said when he tried to pull me toward the dancers. “I can’t do what they’re doing!”
“Me...either,” he said, yanking me forward.
Jamie grabbed both my hands and spun me around, clumsily copying what the others were doing. As they began to notice, they laughed, but I felt that it was the laughter of the simple joy that Jamie exuded, and not mocking.
Regardless I blushed, but didn’t fight him, because that boundless joy of his was contagious. We spun and laughed, and were handed more drinks until I was dizzy...but whether it was from the dancing or drink, I couldn’t be sure.
I finally pulled away from Jamie, trying to catch my breath, but I watched him as he continued to dance. The firelight cast a warm orange glow on his skin and his already fiery hair. I could barely take my eyes off of him as he moved, watching the other dancers, trying to copy them, but his own eyes still sought me out every few seconds, squinting in mirth as he grinned.
Finally tiring out, Jamie rejoined me, bumping me in the shoulder with his head.
“Having fun?” I asked him.
He nodded. “Yes.”
“What do you normally do for fun?” I wondered. “Out there, I mean.”
Jamie tilted his head in thought, then smiled. “Show Sassenach?”
My answering smile was slow, and I peeked over at where Uncle Lamb was probably three more cups in, and I didn’t see Mr. Randall at all.
“Yes,” I said, slapping my hand into his. “Show me.”
The night was dark and quiet, only scarcely lit by the crescent moon. Jamie led me much farther than he had that first night, but I felt no fear, trusting him to know the way, to be aware of danger, to protect me.
He scuffled ahead of me on all fours, and I marveled at how easily he could move that way, that a human body was even capable of developing that way.
There, far out in the jungle, the trees were bigger, older. Vines wound all around them and tangled together, so that the trees were joined, creating a sort of cathedral more beautiful than any I’d seen in England, or France.
Jamie made a sound to catch my attention, and I found him at the base of one of the trees, holding a hand out for me.
“Oh,” I said, feeling my eyes widen. “You want...to take me up there?”
Jamie smiled, and motioned for me again.
Gulping, and feeling my heart begin to race in anxiousness, I went to Jamie and took his hand, letting him maneuver me until I was clinging to his back.
He scaled the tree as easily as if he’d been born to it, and before I could even catch my breath, we were far above the ground, perched on a wide branch.
I released Jamie’s neck but he turned around to wrap his arms securely around me, keeping me feeling steady, and safe. My hands were pressed to his chest, and I let my fingers run over the copper colored hair there.
My heart started to race again, but I wasn’t so sure that it was the height anymore.
“Now what?” I asked him.
Jamie grinned, then reached up and grabbed hold of one of the vines, tugging firmly on it to test it.
I wrapped my arms around his neck again, expecting him to take me with him like he did before, but he shook his head and pulled back, then handed me the vine.
“What, you want me to...oh no, OHHH no…” I made to step away, but there was nowhere else to go. “Jamie, I can’t...I’m not…” I peered down over the edge of the limb, seeing how far down the ground was.
“I not let you fall,” Jamie said, softly.
I took a deep breath. “Screw your courage to the sticking place, Beauchamp,” I muttered to myself.
I took a tight hold of the vine and leaned out. Nothing but my absolute trust in Jamie would have allowed me to kick my feet off the limb the way I did. Somehow, in the scant week I’d known him, I’d developed more faith in this wild man than I had in anyone. And that was precisely what it was, simple and pure faith.
I felt myself fly through the air like a bird, nothing but the wind on my skin, billowing through my chemise and sari. I kept my eyes screwed tightly shut until I felt something near me, and opened them to find Jamie pushing me along before grabbing hold of my vine and joining me, wrapping around me the way the trees did, a cathedral created with just the two of us.
I looked up at his sweet, open face, feeling my breath stutter. His arm wound around my waist, preventing me from the possibility of falling.
But damn me, I was falling, and I didn’t know how to stop it.
I pulled myself up, close enough to that I could press my lips to his.
Jamie tightened his hold on me, pulled me closer.
“Thank you,” he said.
Chapter 8: Honor of the Hunt
Claire and Jamie accompany men from the village on a hunt, while Claire struggles to tell Jamie of her imminent departure.
When I awoke the following morning, Jamie was missing from the foot of my bed, where he’d spent the night. Worried that he might have vanished into the jungle again, I jumped up to go in search of him.
Relieved, I found him just outside, watching some men prepare for a hunt.
“Jamie,” I called. “I was worried you’d gone. Listen...there’s something I need to...Jamie?”
But he wasn’t listening, his eyes narrowed in on the bows and arrows that the men were readying.
“They have to hunt, Jamie,” I said, taking his hand. “They have to feed their families.”
“I know,” he said. “But why not kill with hands and teeth? Those...not…”
“Fair?” I supplied. “Maybe not, but men aren’t like animals, Jamie. They can’t kill large beasts with hands and...wait...are you saying you can ?”
I tried to imagine Jamie taking down a wildebeest with his teeth, then decided I didn’t want to.
Badru saw us watching, and approached us. “Good morning, Claire, Tarzan. Would you care to join us today?”
Jamie looked at him in askance, not answering, so I answered for him.
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” I said. “He’s having a hard time coming to terms with your...methods.”
“Exactly,” Badru said. “Come with us, see our ways.”
“He has a point, Jamie,” I said.
Jamie gave me a long look, then nodded at Badru. When I started to follow, however, Badru stopped me.
“Women do not hunt here, Claire, I’m sorry.”
Before I could retort, Jamie gave a low growl. “In my world, females hunt better. ”
Badru, too surprised by Jamie’s sudden and perfect speech, didn’t argue, and I grinned smugly at him as we passed.
The other men didn’t seemed perturbed by Jamie’s presence, but gave me funny looks until they caught a glare from Jamie, and said not a word.
Lamb and Joe were invited along too, which made me glad, but so was Mr. Randal, which made me less so. I couldn’t help but smile though, when Frank was forced by Badru to leave his gun behind.
A young man by the name of Azizi offered Jamie a bow, which was staunchly refused. Jamie did, however, accept a fairly large knife, which he stuck into the side of his sari. He then chose a smaller knife with a serrated edge, and handed that one to me.
“Thanks,” I said, eyeing it dubiously. “But I don’t really plan on cutting up any animals.”
“Sassenach should protect yourself,” he said firmly, grabbing my hand and placing the handle of the knife in it, then smiled. “Teeth not sharp enough.”
“I like him,” Lamb said, happening by.
Rolling my eyes, I tucked the knife away and trotted after Jamie.
The men chatted companionably for the first several several miles, but as we made our way deeper into the jungle, they grew quiet, on alert.
“What exactly are we hunting?” I wondered aloud.
“Whatever they can find, I think,” Joe said.
“We will go to the plains, where the antelope are,” Badru said, then turned to Jamie. “We seek only what we need, to feed our families, to keep them warm.”
After a time, we arrived in the open plain, looking down from the hillside at miles of beautiful open grasslands.
Sure enough, there was a small herd of antelope, grazing near a pond.
The hunters all made plans in Swahili, so I could only guess what they were planning to do.
“They are too far,” Badru explained to the rest of us. “Azizi will lead some of the men around, and we will wait here. When the time is right, we will startle the herd, push them toward the others.”
“How will we do that?” Joe asked.
One of the other young men said something, causing them all to laugh.
When the rest of us looked at Badru questioningly, he laughed and winked at me. “He said, we send Mr. Randall down the hill in a jaguar costume.”
“Hilarious,” Frank drolled.
“Oh, they’re only teasing, old boy,” Lamb said, nudging him. “Lighten up!”
“Now is the time,” Badru said, when a small plume of smoke made its way above the trees. “Azizi is ready. We will…”
Badru was cut off by a sudden, piercing lion-like roar that echoed through the plains.
We all turned as one to Jamie, who had somehow made the sound.
But before anyone could wonder too much about that, the herd was on the move, and Badru and the remaining men were racing down the hill.
I lagged behind with Lamb, Joe, and Frank, not particularly relishing the idea of seeing antelope get shot, but Jamie ran ahead with the other men
“This would be a lot simpler with guns,” Frank said.
“It isn’t their way,” Joe snapped. “They’ve lived this way for hundreds of years.”
Frank rolled his eyes. “And what of providence, hm? Without that, you’d be running around the jungle with them, not being an educated doctor.”
“Providence didn’t kidnap and enslave my mother and bring her to America, Mr. Randall,” Joe said simply, not bothering to look at him. “A group of white slave-traders did. My becoming a doctor was because of me .”
Frank had nothing to say to that, so wisely kept his mouth shut.
We reached where the hunters were standing over their kills, and I became aware that they were singing.
Badru was standing next to Jamie, explaining the song to him. “They sing their thanks to the animals. For the meat that provides life, for the hide that provides warmth, for the bones that provide tools that we may continue to build and thrive.”
I took Jamie’s hand, wondering what was going through his head, but his expression was blank. Contemplative.
The three antelope that the men had taken slowed the party down quite a bit, so it was growing dark before we reached the village. Jamie and I lagged a little ways behind the rest, where the men’s torch light didn’t reach. But I could almost swear that by the way Jamie’s eyes scanned the area, that he could actually see in the dark the way an animal could.
Despite the deep shadows, I could see the strain on his face. I thought at first it was the hunt, but he was slowing down, and it dawned on me that walking upright was causing him discomfort.
“No need to stand on ceremony for my sake,” I said, keeping my tone light so as not to upset him. When he frowned at me in incomprehension, I gestured to his legs. “If it’s easier for you to walk like a gorilla, why don’t you?”
“Jamie not gorilla,” he said.
“I know that, but they raised you. Did they want you to act like them, or it just happened that way?”
Jamie thought on it a moment. “Apes do not like man,” he said. “Made apes angry when Jamie walked, talked like man. Made Kerchak angry.”
I hummed, imagining how frightening that enormous gorilla must have been to a small boy. I certainly knew how much he frightened me . “I suppose it was a matter of survival,” I said. “And that’s why you forgot how to speak? Did you never try to go to the village to find help?”
“No,” he said. “Man is bad. Well...I think maybe not all man. Lamb not bad. Joe not bad. Badru not bad. Sassenach very not bad.”
I chuckled. “Why, thank you,” I bit my lip in hesitation, glancing to make sure the rest of the party was far enough ahead to be well out of earshot. I couldn’t resist seeing the reaction I could get out of him. “And Frank?”
Jamie grunted and glared at me in affront. “Frank bad.”
“Why do you think that? Is there a reason?”
I certainly didn’t care for Mr. Randall on a personal basis myself, but nothing I’d seen of the man thus far had been bad necessarily. Just...boorish, perhaps.
Jamie looked like he was trying to come up with a sensible answer, but couldn’t. In the end he just shrugged, and we continued on our way.
“He and Lamb are determined to see the gorillas,” I said. “They’re going to try and get you to take us to them. I just don’t want you to feel pressured to do so.”
Jamie made a face. “Kerchak wouldn’t like it.”
“That’s what I figured. I...Jamie? Something wrong?”
Jamie had stopped suddenly, frozen, his nose in the air like a hound dog. For a moment I tensed in fear, considering calling out for the men to stop, but then a slow smile spread across Jamie’s face and he turned to face the other direction, dropping down to all fours.
“What is it?” I asked him, staring back the way we’d come.
His eyes cut over to me. “Listen.”
I did, straining my ears, and sure enough, I could hear something moving through the trees. “What’s out there?” I whispered.
“Dinna fash, Sassenach.”
“If you say so…”
The forest path we’d come from was an inky black hole, but I stared, thinking at first that the darkness was playing tricks on my eyes, as it seemed like the very dark itself was alive .
Then, the shadows took shape, one after the other, moving with a silence completely at odds with their size.
I looked to Jamie again, worried, but he only smiled softly, his entire body relaxed, so I forced mine to relax as well.
The herd of elephants made their unhurried way through the jungle, straight toward us. I felt my breath catch in my throat at the sight.
I’d seen elephants before, of course, had even ridden one. But those had been tamed elephants under the watchful gaze of their handler. Not like this.
The one leading the herd stopped just before us, gazing down with remarkably intelligent eyes.
“Do not be afraid,” Jamie said. “She is my friend.”
As proof of that, the elephant lifted her trunk, laying it heavily on Jamie’s shoulder. He made quiet, whispering sounds to her, and i realized with a start that he was talking to her.
“You can communicate with animals who aren’t gorillas?” I asked him.
Jamie shrugged one shoulder. “Elephant is easy. She understands you, too, in a way.”
She looked at me then, using her trunk to sniff delicately around me. I raised my hand slowly, and she touched it with her trunk. I imagined that it was an elephant’s way of shaking hands.
“It’s very nice to meet you,” I said. “They’re so beautiful, Jamie.”
Jamie nodded. “Elephant is…” he furrowed his brow in thought, trying to think of the right word. “...wise. Jungle respects Elephant.”
“Do you know her name?”
He smiled. “To them she is called…Day.”
“Day,” I echoed, stroking her trunk. I felt a sudden tug on my sari, and i looked down to find a baby elephant, trying to stick his trunk where it really didn’t belong.
“Hold on there,” I laughed, gently moving his trunk away. “You’re as bad as Jamie was when we first met. Oh, look, Jamie! Is he not the most precious thing?”
Jamie chuckled. “Day’s grandson.”
Day made a low trumpet sound, her eyes flicking up above our heads. I turned to look, and saw that the rest of the party had come back, but were standing a distance away, watching with interest. Lamb and Joe’s mouths were agape.
I turned back to the herd, which was starting to move away, back the other direction, away from the men. The little one tugged once more on my sari, then trotted off after his grandmother.
“Jamie…” I began, watching an older elephant go by. A bull, missing both of his tusks. “What happened to that one?”
Jamie’s expression darkened. “Hunters,” he said simply. “Old one lucky. Most do not live when Hunters take their tusks. Hunters kill and leave bodies, do not even eat them. There is honor in killing for food, or protection of family. There is no honor in what those men do. No respect.”
“You’re very right about that,” I said sadly, taking Jamie’s hand. “But what you’re describing is a poacher, not just a hunter.”
“She is right,” Badru said, appearing beside us. “As are you, Tarzan. There is no honor in killing for money, or sport.”
Jamie breathed deep, then released it through his nose. “No,” he agreed.
“Now, you listen here, Emilia, he said sternly. You may think that can do as you please, but you will obey me…”
I looked sideways at Jamie, holding my place in the book with my finger. “You know, for the record, women don’t typically like it when a man speaks to them this way.”
Jamie wrinkled his nose. “Frank does.”
“Yes, well, I don’t want you following his example. If I were you, I’d look more closely at men like Badru, or Joe. Lamb, well, he’s as sweet as can be, but I think you’d be a bit more outspoken than him, once you get used to talking again. Now, would you like to try and read this next sentence?”
He nodded and leaned over my shoulder, closer than was strictly necessary, but I couldn’t find it in me to mind.
“I...ah...am nnnot...the oh...ob…”
“He can read ?!”
Jamie and my heads snapped up, knocking into one another in the process.
“Jesus H. Christ,” I hissed, clutching my forehead as Jamie did the same.
Joe was standing in the doorway to my hut, his arms crossed, a look on his face like a cat who caught the canary.
“Damn, Lady Jane,” he said. “You said he talked to you, and I saw him talk to elephants, but you didn’t mention that you’d managed to teach the man to read already!”
“He already knew the basics,” I admitted. “I’ve been having him practice, mostly to help his vocabulary.”
His eyes squinting, Joe walked over to where Jamie and I sat on the floor against the foot of the bed, and tilted the cover of the book up so he could see. “Hills of Heather? Really?”
“What?” I asked defensively, pulling the book to my chest. “It’s a romance. So what?”
He chuckled. “So what she says. I’ve read that book, and, well, it sure ain’t what I’d teach a body to read with. Then again...I guess I’m not a woman trying to give her man a proper education.”
I gasped in affront. “THAT’S NOT...wait...you’ve read this?”
This time, it was Joe that was caught, but after a pause he simply shrugged it off. “So what? It’s a good story. Alright, lover boy, get up so I can check on that shoulder.”
Jamie stood and Joe pulled off the dingy bandage, probing the sight of the wound. “Healing pretty nicely, especially considering you live in the jungle. You must have an immune system of steel. Does it pain you much?”
Jamie answered by shaking his head, and stretching his arm in demonstration.
“Oh come on,” Joe sighed. “I just heard you reading a book. You can’t talk to me?”
I chuckled. “Leave him alone, Joe. I think he’s a little self-conscious.”
Joe shook his head. “You only like Claire, is that it?”
“No,” Jamie said, the scowled when Joe crowed and pointed at his face.
“Gotcha! So, Lady Jane, have you given any more thought about what you’re going to do with him when you and Lamb go back to England on Monday?”
“What?” Jamie asked at the same time I hissed Joe’s name.
Jamie turned to me, eyes wide. “Sassenach...going to England?”
I bit my lip and sent another glare in Joe’s direction. I’d planned on trying to gently explain to Jamie about my imminent departure in four days, but I just hadn’t found the words yet. Thanks to Joe, the cat was out of the bag.
“Well, yes, Jamie. Lamb and I will be going home in a few days, when the ship returns to the port.”
Jamie nodded thoughtfully, thinking it over. “Go to England...and come right back?”
Feeling like my heart was breaking, I reached out and grabbed his hand. “Listen, Jamie, the journey from here to England is many many days. And it...well...see...it would be difficult to come back...possibly...ever.”
“ Ever ?”
The confusion and devastation on Jamie’s face was unbearable, but I honestly didn’t know how to fix it. I tried to pull him into a hug, but he resisted. “Jamie, Uncle Lamb and I...we don’t belong here. We live in England. We…”
Jamie snatched his hand out of mine, and disappeared out of the hut before I could stop him.
“Jamie! Please, wait!”
I stopped to glare at Joe, who’d jumped out of Jamie’s path of escape, and he answered it with a look of contrition. “Shit, Claire...I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”
I deflated, my anger evaporating. “It’s not your fault. I shouldn’t have procrastinated so long in telling him.”
“You mean you’re not going to take him with you?”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Jamie? In London ?”
“Well...yeah, or maybe Scotland. You said you think that’s where he’s from, right?”
I sighed. “Yes, but...what if he doesn’t want to go?”
Joe shrugged. “All you can do is ask.”
Jamie didn’t know when words left him, and he was barely aware of their return. Somehow, Claire had brought them back, and he wasn’t always sure if he was happy about that, or not.
The words were in his mind again now, but he still struggled sometimes to get them to come out. Not with Claire...his Sassenach. With her, finding the words was becoming easier and easier. With everyone else however, they tended to shrivel up on his tongue.
He guessed he had known all along that Claire wasn’t going to stay there forever. But he hoped it would be longer . And, yes, a part of him hoped that she would learn to love the Jungle like he did, and want to stay. Stay with him.
Now, he didn’t know what to do. When she told him about her leaving, he didn’t want to hear her explain. He wanted to get away. He wanted to run to the trees...but no...going away now would just be even less time he got to be with her, so he slowed his steps the closer he got to the edge of the village.
“Tarzan, what troubles you?” Badru asked, sitting on the steps of one of the huts. He stood up, coming to stand beside him.
“C...Claire is leaving,” Jamie said miserably. Though he’d avoided the village his whole life at the urging of his family, he could see now that it had been simple fear on their part. Badru was a kind man, Jamie could tell. He respected the Jungle, and the animals within.
Badru looked surprised for a moment, perhaps because Jamie had spoken directly to him, but then he frowned in sympathy and patted Jamie’s shoulder. “I am sorry, my friend. I know you care for her. Will you not go with her? Return to where you come from?”
Jamie scowled in confusion. “I come from here.”
Badru thought a moment, then hummed. “Well, know this, my boy; you are always welcome here, in our village.”
Jamie nodded in thanks, and turned to walk back to Claire’s hut, so that he could say he was sorry for running off.
His path was blocked by Frank though, and Jamie felt the hair on his neck rise.
“I couldn’t help but overhear,” Frank said. “Sorry to see you so distraught, old chap.”
Jamie didn’t know what distraught or chap meant, but if they were Frank’s words, he didn’t really care.
Jamie didn’t know what it was about Frank that he didn’t trust, but whenever he was around the man, he got the same feeling he got around a venomous snake.
“It’s only too bad that Mr. Beauchamp wasn’t able to see the gorillas,” he continued. “Perhaps if he’d had more luck, he’d have been inspired to stay longer.”
Frank walked away without another word, and Jamie rolled his eyes. However...Frank did make him think. He didn’t know if seeing the gorillas would actually make Lamb want to stay, but if Claire was leaving soon, forever, Jamie wanted her to see his world, his family. Really see it.
His mind made up, he started making a plan