It was the middle of the following day and Jamie was finally beginning to piece it all together.
Sat beneath the newly repaired arbour in the corner of the kitchen garden with a notebook and both Claire’s diary and Lamb’s journal open beside him on the stone bench, he’d been furiously making notes in a bid to try to organise the tumbling thoughts that had kept him awake half the night. So far, he had noted that:
No one thought Alexander was actually capable of hurting Claire but who was this Horrocks?
Samhain marked the next half year, meaning the power of the stones would increase and just so happened to coincide with Claire’s supposed death/disappearance at the end of October
Both Lamb and Raymond wrote about needing a precious stone to make the journey and that it would be easier if she had a reason or a known destination
Jamie has a sneaky suspicion that he was the Red Man the mysterious Raymond had mentioned
Claire would be in Paris until at least the end of September meaning he would have to wait another four months, or there about, until the ripple caused time to catch up again
He needed to convince Claire that he wanted her
That last point broke his heart more than any other.
Claire had put it so herself; how could three-hundred years and a handful of meetings ever amount to anything? But Jamie knew, right within the very depths of his soul, that they would find a way. He could hardly dare hope to believe that she might feel the same, but it was all there in the diary, wasn’t it? The same longing and want and need? Reaching out, he brushed his fingers across the open page of the diary, hearing her voice as he reread the words
‘What if, after all this, Jamie would not want me there? Jesus H Roosevelt Christ! That thought alone is enough to squeeze all the air from my lungs at once. I know he feels something for me, but our meetings have been so few and far between it is difficult to surmise what they might be. I do not think he would have divulged so much if he did not have feelings of some sort…’
It ripped out his guts, knowing that she thought that he did not want her. It would have been so different if their circumstances had been normal (whatever that meant), if she had been here or if he were there, as he would have left her with no doubt. And if he got the chance again now, he vowed that he would tell her all that was in his heart and so much more.
So I get it, Sassenach. I am just as sore as ye about it all.
As to the rest of the list, Jamie had first hit on the notion that time was possibly running parallel back in February but had been too unsettled to think much more on it. But he supposed that it made some sense; after all, a stone taken from a magical time portal and placed within the foundations of Lallybroch where it continued to play havoc with time was a completely acceptable explanation as to what had been going on.
And a quick internet search and several rough calculations of how long it might take a ship to sail from Le Harve to Edinburgh (plus a few days to ride back up to Lallybroch) put Claire being back in Scotland sometime around the beginning of October. Extraordinarily, the timing coincided with the end of his filming commitments in Glasgow, meaning that Jamie would return to Lallybroch at roughly the same time and would be there every day from then on until after Samhain. If this ripple in time idea was correct, Jamie had every hope that Claire could well appear once more and then they could decide together what was to happen next.
It was all he could do to keep breathing.
“What are ye going tae do about them, a bhobain?”
He looked up to find Davina peering at him from over the top of the neat row of vegetables that were ready to harvest; she had insisted on staying to tidy and prune the garden, despite the gardener having done precisely that earlier in the week.
“About whom, seanmhair?” he asked casually, knowing full well what she was getting at.
She clipped the top off an artichoke and threw him a look. “Ye ken I’m meaning the Bugs. Tis no’ a surprise that Murdina turned tae stealing and extortion. She’s always been something of a wee bitch and a nasty piece of work.”
“Really?” Jamie enquired, trying to hide the smile at the look of indignation on his Nana’s face. “How do ye ken the Bugs in the first place?”
“Weel, Murdina and I were both maids here in the sixties, but she was always full of mischief,” Davina explained, moving on from the runner beans to start pulling up the carrots. “She’s always wanted money and has despised anyone who had it. Ye ken, she made a play for Simon once, but he rejected her of course. No’ long afterwards she quit Lallybroch and got marrit tae Arch…now, there are two peas from the same pod if there ever were.”
“And the diary?”
“Och, I found it at the same time as that wee portrait of Claire, lodged in the narrow gap between the wall and the panelling in the room that I used tae sleep in. Murdina and I used tae share the room back then sae I’m sure I would have told her all about it.”
“How come ye did no’ remember it, seanmhair?”
Davina frowned. “I dinna ken. But it came back tae me quite suddenly and when I could no’ find it, I figured it would have been because of Murdina. She coverts things that her no’ hers tae have, ye ken.”
Jamie nodded slowly. “But what about this random gold?”
“Tis nothin’ but hearsay of course,” Davina mused, pausing to fan herself with her hat. “But Murdina reckoned on the diary being a clue. And then ye moved to the village and started asking yer wee questions and she started to put it all together and perhaps, ye’d be willing tae give up the gold in return for her no’ selling the story tae the tabloids. Sae I played her at her own game and reckoned she would no’ be wanting the police tae ken about all the money she and Arch have been fraudulently claiming from the estate all these years. Rather surprisingly, she handed the diary over wi’out much more argument.”
“But the gold…is it real or no’?”
Davina’s dark eyes sparkled mysteriously as she said, “Only one-way tae find out for sure and that is tae ask Claire yerself.”
Jamie was about to say something witty in retort when Ellen Fraser suddenly appeared from the side of the house, carrying a tray of drinks in one hand. She had shown up that morning in search of her absconding mother-in-law (and yet with a chicken casserole in her hand which Davina didn’t appear to be at all surprised to see). Obviously, Jamie hadn’t minded having the company of them both, even if he had rolled his eyes and jokingly commented that the pair were about as suitable as a pile of bricks.
“The post has come,” Ellen called out as she hurried down the cobbled path that outlined the garden. “I thought I’d bring them tae ye, Jamie, seeing as it was hand delivered.”
“One’ll be the Bug woman,” Davina muttered, climbing over the rows of potatoes to help herself to one of the glasses of lemonade. “She’ll no’ want tae face ye now.”
Sure enough, the envelope did contain a rather abrupt and to the point note.
By now you will have learnt that Arch and I have left Broch Mordha with no intention of returning. Please accept this letter as the termination of our employment with the estate and the end of our tenancy.
Your grandsire, Simon, was a miserly old bastard who paid my Arch very little to look after the estate and then uprooted us from our home to live in that poxy cottage with no real means to live. We figured it was our due to skim the money from all those gullible tourists and believe it to be payments for services rendered and shall not be returning it.
As to the diary, I had intended to keep it from you so that you would not know what to expect, for no-one should know the future. The idea of using it against you did not come to me until it became clear that you were to close off Lallybroch and end our meagre income stream. I figured that you would not want such details to be exposed and that you would want something of hers and pay handsomely for it; you would have no need for the gold but it would have set us right. And if there turned out to be no gold after all, we might well have come to some other agreement out it.
It is no matter now; we have enough set aside to disappear. May Lallybroch bring you as much misery as it has done to anyone else associated with it.
Well , he mused with some amusement as he handed the letter over for his Ma and Nana to read, that was that then.
Finally, it was Samhain.
It was still dark as Jamie made his way up the hill, a thick blanket and Thermoses of coffee in hand, as the henge rose up barely visible in the sombre light of pre-dawn. He was far too nervous and excited to feel drowsy, far too eager to be in place to get much sleep. He had left Lallybroch an hour earlier than he had intended, wanting to be at Craigh na Dun in time to see the sunrise as opposed to be there afterwards; it had been four months of agonising waiting to get to this day.
Those four months had passed as slowly as possible. After that weekend at Lallybroch, where all the pieces had started to fall into place, he had returned to Glasgow with a renewed energy that even his annoying co-star could not ruin. He had taken the diary with him, careful to not leave it in a place where it could easily be found. Both Ellen and Davina had questioned his rationale as the information within could still be exploited but Jamie refused to be parted with it; if it was all he was to have of Claire, then it was going with him.
Because of all the delays, the filming schedule had overrun by several weeks and by the time he moved permanently into Lallybroch, it was Halloween week. As each day passed, his growing dismay that he had missed Claire grew until it gnawed at him every second of every day; he had paced up and down the newly polished hardwood floor between the living room and kitchen enough to wonder if he would create a groove. But Claire did not appear and as he was beginning to lose hope, there had come a knock on the door.
The man on the other side had barely reached his elbow, appearing to be barrelled chested and bandy-legged beneath a long coat of worn brown suede. He had a high wide forehead, bulbous black eyes and long thick silver-grey hair that he had tied back, and when he smiled as Jamie greeted, he had noticed that he had very few teeth left.
“Can I help ye?”
“Oui, Monsieur Broch Tuarach,” the man nodded, his voice raspy beneath the heavy French accent. “But I rather think it is I who can help you more. My name is Raymond Grenouille and we have a shared acquaintance, I think. Tell me, do you know one Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp?”
The conversation that followed had been extraordinary. Master Raymond (for it was the same man who had written to Claire and visited Lallybroch in 1743, leaving Jamie momentarily in a state of shock) had travelled forward to deliver the simple message that Jamie needed to be at Craigh na Dun two days hence for the sunrise of Samhain. He refused to tell him much more than that and was gone within ten minutes of his arrival, stating that Claire would explain everything.
So that was why he was there, treading carefully so as not to trip over any exposed tree roots, to wait for what he believed was going to happen. It felt like there were hundreds of tiny butterflies fluttering beneath his skin; he couldn’t catch a breath or hold onto a single thought, his blood practically singing as it thumped along his veins. It was all he could do to lay the blanket down upon a nearby fallen tree trunk that had a clear view on the central cleft stone, and to sit and wait.
What he didn’t expect, as the streak of light on the horizon turned a pale pink, was the arrival of a small crowd of people.
The first one he spotted moved quickly, crunching the loose stones beneath their feet. Soon after, the others came in ones and twos and threes, their giggles and whispers faded as they drew level with the outer stones. It suddenly dawned on Jamie that this must be what Ian had mentioned when he first told him about the stones, that people still came up here to practice the old ways.
He ducked down behind the trunk so as not to be seen or to disturb as the crowd gathered together. He reckoned there were fifteen in all, a mixture of men and women, and varying in age. They were all dressed for the cold of the Highlands, each carrying a bundle under their arms which they took with them behind the stones and nearby trees to emerge several minutes later empty-handed and clad in white robes.
The group then assembled outside the stones and stood in silence, waiting for the pale pink light to grow stronger, and as the sun began to peak over the horizon, they slowly walked about the stones until they all stood in the centre, circling round and round the central stone.
There was clearly a leader and that person suddenly stopped to raise their arms and face toward the easternmost stones, calling out in a voice that echoed about as though it had risen out of the stones themselves. The call was repeated by the crowd of dancers (for dancers they now became) as with arms stretched out towards each other, they bobbed and weaved about, some moving in the opposite direction to the others as they moved at increasing speed.
Jamie rather supposed that it should have all looked ridiculous but as the hair prickled on the back of his neck, he wondered if there was much more to it than that.
All at once, the dancers stopped and turned to face the rising sun as its light flooded between the eastern stones and struck the great cleft stone. They stood frozen in the shadows where the light did not reach, then the leader called out and pivoted to walk through the light as the others fell into step behind, each passing through the cleft to disappear into the silence. For the briefest of moments, Jamie wondered if they actually had. But then he heard the laughing and chatting rise up again and he watched in fascination as the crowd gathered their belongings and headed back down the hill towards where he could now see a row of parked cars. The event was over almost as quickly as it had begun.
At a lost for words, Jamie clambered back onto the blanket and poured himself a cup of coffee from the Thermoses, somewhat grateful that he’d added a generous splash of whisky to it as an afterthought. As the liquid both warmed and calmed him, he sat quietly and tried to process what it was that he had just seen.
But he didn’t have all that long before something else happened.
Roughly an hour later, with the day now dawned and a crisp blue sky above, the wind suddenly picked up, growing into a quickening bluster that shook the branches of the trees as it howled and swirled the fallen leaves about the stones. It buffeted against him as he stood, pulling at the edges of his coat and scarf enough to cause him to take a stumbling step forward, the sudden cold nipping at his cheeks and nose. From somewhere close by came the rumbling sound of thunder and it was as though the earth shook beneath his feet.
For whatever reason, his gaze was suddenly drawn to the cleft stone just in time to see a woman tumble through the gap. She swayed on her feet for a second before she crumbled to the ground in a heap of brown-green tartan and riotous dark curls.
Without hesitation, Jamie bolted forward to land on his knees beside her, his own breathing rapid as he carefully reached out to brush aside the curls with one hand whilst pressing two fingers of the other against the cool skin on her inner wrist in a bid to find a pulse. He saw her all at once, the smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose, the curves of her cheek to the swirl of a bitty ear and skin the colour of ivory.
And the beginnings of a nasty bruise that was blossoming around her right eye, temple and cheek…