Water Off A Ducks Back
Mandy sat at the table beside her grandmother with a piece of slate and chalk, doing her best to draw something that seemed to be a little beyond her young skills, judging from the frustrated grunts that interrupted Claire’s own pursuits.
Finally, concentration thoroughly broken, Claire sighed and put down the book she had been pouring over looking for information on a particular genus of mushroom she had discovered growing by the river which she had not seen before.
“What’s wrong sweetheart?”
Mandy looked up at her grandmother, her brow creased in a rather severe frown.
“I can’t draw my friend!”
She huffed and slapped the nub of chalk down in disgust. Claire smiled and turned the slate to face her. Mandy had managed, with no small degree of skill for a five year old, to outline a face, possibly male, with a large nose and a lot of what Claire had to believe was hair.
“Oh I think that’s very good indeed! Who is it?”
“My friend Duv, but it’s not good. His hair is all wrong.”
The little girl pouted and slumped back against the chair in exasperation.
“Well let me try,”
Claire offered, picking up the chalk and looking at Mandy for instruction.
“What sort of hair does he have?”
“It’s black and long. Like this …”
Mandy pulled her hair into a fist at the nape of her neck holding it back from her face and watched patiently as her grandmother tried to emulate it on the slate.
“He looks a bit like Grandda too, but shorter.”
Claire gave her granddaughter a look of surprise and Mandy patted her hand.
“He won’t come to tea and eat all the cakes like Grandda, don’t worry.”
“Is he as old as Grandda?”
Mandy looked blankly at Claire
“I don’t know Grannie, Mama says it’s rude to ask.”
“Oh. Yes, I suppose that is rather true.”
Images of strange clansmen lurking in the woods flooded Claire’s imagination and she ignored a slight sense of panic that rose in her chest. Mandy peered at Claire’s attempt at the drawing and sighed.
“He sometimes sits with me in the garden but sometimes he comes and sits by my window… Your drawing isn’t very good Grandma.”
Claire felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up but smiled at Mandy encouragingly.
The door flew open and Jamie and Roger staggered in under the weight of several large blocks of firewood.
Jamie smiled and bowed, dropping the wood beside the fireplace and unwrapping the scarf from around his neck.
He crossed to the table and kissed Claire’s cheek as she rose to get the men some tea. Roger swept Mandy up and dangled her by her ankles, making her shriek with delight.
“Hello wee selkie!”
He beamed, righting her and letting her wrap her arms around his neck, clinging to him like a monkey.
“Daddy, your hair is all wet!”
She informed him, patting at the droplets clinging to his crown.
“Aye, it’s a dismal day. Luckily we have lots of wood and lots of tea.”
Claire put a cup down in front of him at the table before handing the other to Jamie.
“What’s amiss Sassenach?”
He asked, looking at her with concern written across his features, which she knew must be a mirror of her own face. Claire smiled brightly at Mandy and Roger before tugging Jamie towards the kitchen.
“Mandy asked me to draw her ‘friend’. She says there is a man who sits with her in the garden and sometimes sits by her window.”
She whispered and Jamie’s brows knitted together in a frown.
“Weel I daresay it is a pretend friend. Ye ken how Jem had one too when he was a wean?”
Claire nodded and felt foolish for bringing it up but something about it just niggled at her.
“I know but… she said he looks like you and his name is Duv. It’s not the sort of imaginary friend I would expect.“
Jamie nodded to himself
“And ye think we may have a clansman prowling the woods?”
Claire shrugged and shook her head
“I don’t know Jamie, I doubt it but …”
Jamie pulled her close and kissed the top of her head. It was to be expected that Claire would be concerned; too much had happened over the years, too many predators near their family for her not to fret over the merest possibility of danger.
“I dinna think that a man could get sae close to the house wi’out the dogs letting us ken about it, and I dinna think ye or Bree leave Mandy on her own long enough for a stranger to sit wi’ her, but let’s have a chat wi’ the lass and see, aye?”
He smiled warmly at Claire and she tiptoed to kiss his cheek.
“Thank you, I know I’m being foolish but so many things have happened …”
“Aye, I ken. Come, we’ll see what she says.”
Jamie made his way back to the table where Mandy was happily perched on her father’s lap combing his hair out, lips pursed in concentration to avoid pulling on the tangles.
“Grannie says ye were doing a drawing a leannan.”
Jamie smiled, sitting opposite Roger and his granddaughter.
Mandy nodded but didn’t take her eyes from her task.
“Ye were drawing a friend who visits ye?”
Jamie kept his voice level but his eyes met with Roger’s over the top of Mandy’s head and held him steady as alarm momentarily flashed across his face.
Mandy mumbled and Roger pulled gently back to look down at his daughter.
“Who’s this then sweetie? Ye havena told me or Mama about a friend.”
Mandy shook her head
She smiled and twisted to look at her Grandfather
“But you know him, Grandda.”
Jamie leant forward and peered at the drawing, it was a face but beyond that he hadn’t a clue.
“It’s not verra definitive Sassenach.”
Claire rolled her eyes and looked at the slate dispassionately
“No, Mandy already informed me of that.”
Jamie grinned at her and turned back to Mandy.
“What did ye say your friend’s name was?”
Mandy creased her brow and looked at her grandfather uncertainly.
“Do ye mean ‘Dubh’?”
Jamie asked, pronouncing the Gaelic word for black with a natural inflection that Mandy couldn’t manage on her own.
Mandy shrieked, clapping her hands delightedly and as if it jogged her memory she stared at her grandfather and gasped
Jamie’s mouth dropped open and he crossed himself discreetly as Claire drew a sharp breath causing Mandy to look at her in concern.
“What’s wrong Grannie?”
“Nothing sweetheart, I just … I wonder if maybe you might have heard Grandda talk about Brian before?”
Mandy thought for a moment and then shook her head
“No but he talks about Grandda … and Great Aunt Jenny,”
Mandy reached out and patted Jamie’s knee
“He thinks you look like a lion with that blasted beard.”
Jamie smiled weakly at her and nodded.
“Aye, he’s likely right.”
Claire reached out and took Jamie’s hand in hers. Most families would dismiss such things as the active imagination of a child but the Fraser/Mackenzie clan were not exactly normal in their dealings with other worldly powers and she could see the hairs on Jamie’s arm standing up.
Roger had not said anything but now he lifted Mandy off of his lap and smiled at her
“Do ye have any other friends, like Brian?”
“No, but I tried to be friends with a raccoon until Grannie shooed him away.”
Mandy said, shooting Claire an accusatory look.
Roger kissed her head and laughed
“I think ye have enough wee beasts to look after, but next time ye see Brian ye can tell him that Grandda and Jenny are well and that they send their love. Can ye remember that?”
Mandy nodded happily and Roger stood up
He looked at Jamie who was still a little pale
“Is that alright, mo charaid?”
“Aye, thank ye man. I … ah …”
Claire squeezed her husband’s hand and smiled at Roger
“It can’t do any harm.”
Jamie nodded in agreement but sensing that they may need a minute Roger turned to Mandy
“I need to use the privy and dinna want to be going back and forth in the rain, do ye need to go?”
Mandy thought about it and then nodded, whether she needed to go or not it was an excuse to go outside and splash in puddles.
“Right, get ye boots.”
Mandy dashed out of the room to retrieve her shoes and Jamie let out the breath he’d been holding.
“Do ye really think…?”
Claire puffed out her cheeks and let out a slow release of breath.
“I have no idea. I think it is more likely she has overheard us mention your father but who knows?”
Roger nodded thoughtfully
“Aye, I ken Mandy has a connection wi’ Jem, can sense him if he is far away and the like, which may have something to do wi’ the stones but this is…different.”
“Are you alright?”
Claire asked Jamie and he ducked his head in acknowledgement.
“I’m fine Sassenach, a wee bit startled is all. At least we ken it’s no’ a prowler.”
Mandy came back into the room with her shoes on and took Roger’s hand towing him towards the door.
“Je suis prest, Daddy. See you in a minute Mac Duv and Sorcha!”
She trilled happily, oblivious to the start that gave both her grandparents.
As soon as the door clicked shut behind them Jamie stood and brought the whiskey bottle from the shelf above the fireplace. He took down one glass and raised his eyebrows at Claire in question.
“A little early perhaps but under the circumstances…”
Claire laughed and Jamie grinned ruefully
“Aye weel it’s no’ every day I find out my granddaughter may be a seer and my father’s ghost may be following me around criticising my facial hair!”
Claire laughed and accepted the dram, clinking her glass gently against Jamie’s.
“Do ye believe it Sassenach?”
Claire spread her hands wide and looked at the silver wedding band on her finger, placed by a man she had met two hundred years out of her own time and then she had left to bear his child in safety only to cross time and space again to be reunited twenty years later… Would she have believed it if she had not lived it?
“I believe that more is possible than I ever knew and more perhaps than I can ever hope to know. If your father is with you still in some small way, then I think it should be a comfort.”
Jamie nodded and looked into his drink,
“It gives me a comfort to think it possible Sassenach. That if I had to leave ye all, I might still watch and be near ye.”
Claire smiled and stood up, smoothing away the furrows in his brow with her thumb.
“All the same, don’t you dare go anywhere just yet Jamie Fraser.”
“I dinna intend to lass.”
He smiled back at her and cocked his head to listen; he could hear Roger shouting to Mandy to get away from puddles and then her excited laughter as he chased her toward the door.
“Turas math dhuibh, athair.”
Jamie smiled and raised his glass before draining it and setting the glass on the table, throwing the door open to snatch his giggling granddaughter up into his arms.
Claire raised her own glass to the father-in-law she had never met, offering a silent prayer, and then plucked Mandy out of Jamie’s arms.
“You’re soaked! Come on, we’ll get you changed before your mother gets home.”
Taking Mandy by the hand and leading her to her bedroom, leaving the men to stoke the fire.
Revelations of spirits and ghosts were apparently like water off a ducks back to her family and by the time Bree and Jem returned with a clutch of rabbits for the evening stew, everything had returned to normal, or at least as normal as it ever was.