Love at the Start - Chapter 3 (from the archives)
I have previously posted links to this story on Tumblr but I am now posting the text of each chapter in its entirety for those who don’t want to follow links. However, if you are so inclined, you can view the entire story (to date) on AO3 and Fanfiction.net. Enjoy!
Chapter 3: The Gathering
The castle was abuzz with preparations for the gathering. People were already starting to show up at the castle and it was filling up rapidly. Jamie knew that there would be an oath-taking during the first night of the gathering. He badly needed not to be there. His position was delicate. His life was in danger, no matter what he did. If he gave his oath to Collum, he would be in line to succeed him. Dougal would have none of that. He’d be dead by the next morning. On the other hand, he couldn’t insult the Laird by not giving his oath. The clansmen would have his head if he were to do so. He thought it best to just stay hidden and out of the way until the ceremony was over.
Over the last few weeks at Leoch, he spoke to Claire as often as he could. She visited him every day in the stables, bringing lunch and fresh bandages for him. They got to know each other even better in those quiet moments together. Jamie looked forward to seeing her, whether it be in the stables, glimpsing her in the garden, or simply gazing at her across the great hall. He caught her looking at him too, apparently searching him out as he was searching for her. They took advantage of short moments during the day to connect in some way. A hurried kiss in a dark alcove or a quick embrace in the stables. There never seemed to be quite enough time to be truly alone.
Tonight would be different. Tonight was the oath-taking and Jamie would be sequestered in the stables, in a corner room, hidden behind Donas’ pen. It was the perfect place to hide. It was very small, with only a rough pallet laying on top of a bed of straw. He had a small table and a couple of hooks on the wall. He had a hearth of sorts made out of a pile of stones, only big enough to take the chill off while he slept. It wasn’t ideal, but it was a far cry better than what awaited him in the castle this night.
He had arranged for Claire to meet him here in the stables as soon as she could sneak away. She had to make an appearance as the guest of the Mackenzie, but once she was seen, she would quickly move through the hidden passages that he had shown her and make her way out to the stables. He was so excited to have some alone time with her. He was a bit nervous too. They would be alone. He wasn’t sure he trusted himself to be alone with her, but he was a gentleman, despite his wish to be otherwise in this circumstance. He wanted her badly, but he would not taint their future marriage by succumbing to lustful actions.
Claire had just left the great hall, having slipped away unnoticed by her protectors. She had told Mrs. Fitz that she wanted to retire for the night and would be in her room all night. She asked that she not be disturbed, then bid her goodbye. She quickly made her way to her surgery to get her cloak and a small basket of food for her and Jamie to share.
She was getting very nervous. What was she doing? A secret rendezvous with Jamie? It seemed so soon. Was she thinking clearly? Was this a smart thing to do? All she knew was that she wanted him. Really wanted him. And even more, she loved to be near him. He had such charm and intelligence besides the devastatingly handsome hero thing. It wouldn’t hurt to explore this relationship, she told herself, would it? With that, she slipped out of the surgery, locking the door behind her, and went down the hall towards the hidden passages to the outside.
Claire surreptitiously creeped across the castle grounds to the stable yard. Once inside the stables she moved toward Donas’ pen and called out, “Jamie? Where are you?”
“I’m here Sassenach,” a voice called out just behind her. She turned around to see him looking at her with a sly smile. “Shall I show you to my humble abode?”
“Of course. I’ve brought us some supper.”
He took her hand and led her behind Donas, very carefully as not to spook him, and through a small door at the back of the pen. Suddenly they were in close quarters, alone in his temporary makeshift room.
Jamie sat down on his pallet and motioned Claire to join him. “I’m sorry that it isna the best place to meet, but at least it is safe.”
Claire said, “That is really the important thing, isn’t it? Besides, it doesn’t matter to me as long as we are together.”
Jamie smiled warmly at her and patted her hand in acknowledgement. Claire began opening up the basket of food that she had brought. “Hungry?”
She smiled and laid out the food in front of them, pulling out a wine bottle in the process. “Allow me, Claire,” Jamie said as he took the bottle, opened it, and poured two cups of the fragrant liquid. He handed her a cup and she took a sip.
He watched her as they ate, talking of this and that, castle politics, horses, and herbs. After they ate, he sat down his cup on the small stool beside the pallet and took hers as well. He reached over to her, taking both her hands in his. They looked at each other intently.
“Claire, I must ask you something.”
“You can ask me anything, Jamie.”
“I know we’ve only known each other a few weeks, but in that time I think that we’ve got on very well and have become…very close. And of course we have kissed and such, and I, well, just wanted to ask you if…if…you would allow me the pleasure of courting you, properly.” He gulped, nervousness apparent on his face. He looked at her with those hopeful blue eyes.
“Jamie, I….,” she started. “I want to make sure I understand what you’re asking. Are you saying you want to marry me someday?”
“Weel, uh….yes. When you are ready. Claire, you have been in my heart since the moment we met. I just want to show you that I’m worthy of you. Worthy to be your husband.”
Claire thought for a minute. Was this really happening? Was this beautiful, sensitive, perfect man saying he wanted to be with her? To marry her?