Truth and Love - Part Three (of Four)
They reached Lallybroch shortly after midday. The barking of dogs in the yard was soon overwhelmed by the barking of Jenny, Ian, and others Claire failed to recognize as they poured out of the house first calling to the dogs to quiet themselves and then to the arriving party.
If any of them had been hoping for a warm welcome, they were mistaken. Young Ian tried to approach Claire’s horse to help her down but Jamie nudged him aside with a quiet, “Face yer responsibilities, lad,” said under his breath.
For a moment Claire thought their nephew might stick his tongue out at them, but taking a final deep breath and pulling himself up straight and tall, the lad stepped forward to meet his mother.
Her hand flashed out and caught him upside the head.
“What in the name of the devil possessed ye to run off like that?” she scolded loudly. “Are ye tryin’ to put me in my grave with worry?”
“Mam I––” Before he could answer either question, her other hand shot out and she caught the other side of his head.
“Ye’ll no say a word until I tell ye to,” she ordered.
“But ye asked me a question,” the lad said defensively, already ducking his head and raising his arms so they’d be ready if she moved to strike again.
“I’m no interested in excuses, Ian and I’m no ready to hear yer apology just yet but I advise ye to start working on it now,” she told him. “Into the house with ye and clean yerself up. Ye look a mess.”
Jenny nodded to a young woman who was pressing her lips tight together to keep from smirking––“That’s young Janet,” Jamie whispered in Claire’s ear after setting her on the ground.
Young Ian glanced briefly to his father whose silent frown bespoke pity as well as his own pain. The lad fell into step beside his sister who led him toward the kitchen. “I did wash in the burn this morning,” he muttered defensively. Janet couldn’t contain the squeak of laughter at his declaration but their parents had turned their attention to Jamie and Claire.
“Hello Jenny,” Claire said with a nod to her sister-in-law. Jamie’s hand tightened around hers at her side.
“Ian told me ye were back,” Jenny responded, her face losing the obvious anger it had worn for young Ian and becoming a blank mask instead. “I told him I would believe it when I saw ye with my own eyes.”
“Well… here I am.”
“Here ye are.”
There was a beat of silence before Jamie cleared his throat. “I’m sorry for no sending the lad back to ye right away,” he began.
“What’s done is done,” Ian cut him off before Jamie could begin spinning further apologies and excuses. “He’s home and he’ll be stayin’ here for a long while. If we need to set Janet on him to watch him day and night, he’ll no be sneakin’ off again.”
Jamie shut his mouth and nodded though he knew his nephew would have a few things to say on the subject.
“Would you mind if we came inside for a chance to wash up a bit?” Claire asked meekly. “I’m sure you have questions…”
Jenny’s face softened and a sadness seeped in that brought out the changes of time––more prominent lines around her eyes, mouth, and jaw where the skin had lost some of its elasticity.
“Aye… But none as canna wait till I’ve had a chance to be sure it’s really you.” Jenny stepped forward to embrace Claire warmly. Claire found herself trembling as she let herself feel the lesser pains of those twenty years. The ache of missing Jamie had been great enough to leave her numb to the others but she had missed Jenny and Ian and the feeling of belonging and home she’d had with them at Lallybroch more than she realized.
After a few moments, Jenny released Claire and the two of them laughed awkwardly while they brushed away the tears that had sprung to their eyes.
“Inside with ye now. I’ll have a room readied for the pair of ye while ye have a wee bite to hold yerselves over to supper. Once we’ve talked a spell ye can wash up and rest till then, aye?”
Claire fell into step beside Jenny who proceeded to fill Claire in on her children, their spouses, and grandchildren, throwing names and ages at her without pausing to be sure she caught them. Ian and Jamie looked at each other skeptically before following their wives to the parlor.
“France is where Ian said ye’d fled,” Jenny prompted Claire.
“Yes. I managed to get away. Being an Englishwoman helped when I reached the coast,” Claire responded in stiff and stilted sentences.
“But France is no so far. Why did ye never write to tell us where ye were and that ye lived? We could have found some way to get ye word of Jamie… and if he’d known ye survived…” Jenny kept the harsh, scolding edge of her voice carefully sheathed but they were all aware it was there just beneath the surface.
“I couldn’t find anyone I trusted enough to deliver the message,” Claire rambled. “If it had fallen into the wrong hands… I never would have forgiven myself if you were implicated in anything because of me. I heard enough of what was happening in the Highlands… If the worst of the tales I heard had come to pass here…”
Jenny went pale at some remembered fear or pain and her gaze dropped to her hands in her lap, the mending she’d taken up lying limp as though she couldn’t remember what it was she’d been doing with it.
“Aye, well… what’s passed is past,” Jamie spoke up. He set aside a plate with nothing left but the crumbs of bread and cheese he’d been given. “We must turn our attention to the future though… that isna goin’ to be so easy with my press and a few slugs of type all that’s left of my shop… and… wi’ someone else sniffin’ about the docks and my other enterprises.”
“Are ye planning to stay here at Lallybroch for a spell or do ye mean to be off again soon as ye can?” The edge in Jenny’s voice began to expose itself.
“We haven’t settled on a plan yet,” Claire informed Jenny. “We’ll need to stay for a few days, at the least, while Fergus is sorting things out back in Edinburgh. We could return there and Jamie can find a new space or… we could return to France…”
“There’s much to be decided,” Jamie agreed, “but after the last few days on the road, I think for now I could settle for a shave and a lie down.”
“The room should be ready.” Jenny rose to take them up with Jamie muttering beneath his breath that he kent the way well enough.
“That went well,” Claire remarked quietly after Jenny had pulled the door closed behind her.
“It isna over, Sassenach,” Jamie insisted. He stood at the basin examining the razor that had been left for him. “There wasna nearly so much yelling.” He paused and cocked his head to the side. “Ye can hear her now. Wee Ian’s gone in to see her again now he’s washed and they dinna have an audience. That’s more the reaction I’d have expected from her.”
“Who’s to say she won’t lecture you more later when she gets you alone?” Claire teased. She dropped to the edge of the bed with a humph. “We do need more of a plan about what we’ll do next. Though it seems she wouldn’t mind if we stayed for a time.”
“There isna much for either of us to do here, I’m afraid. We’re no the Laird and Lady anymore,” he lamented. “And the tenants as remember ye so… well… it’s none so easy to face them when they want to treat ye as before and ye both ken it’s no right anymore.”
“So do you want to go back to Edinburgh? Or maybe we can go to another city––Inverness or Glasgow, perhaps––if Edinburgh is too dangerous just now…”
He looked at her in the mirror wiping the last of the mess from his clean-shaven cheeks and smiled. “I suppose now’s as good a time as any to discuss matters.”
“We’ve done an impressive job of avoiding the subject so far,” she agreed.