Reblogging last year’s Secret Santa fiction…. just for fun.
She stood in the woods just behind the Castle and surveyed the Scots Pine trees in the copse. They certainly didn’t resemble the trees she remembered from her time, but they would have to do. Finding one little enough that she and young Thomas Baxter could manage to cut and carry on their own would be the hard part. Finally, after traipsing around for an hour she heard Thomas shout, “Mistress Fraser!” and she followed the sound of his voice to where he was standing. The tree was as tall as she was, but not too big around. It was beautiful, and full enough.
She laid a hand on his shoulder and smiled at him. “It’s perfect, Thomas. Exactly what I was hoping for.”
Thomas grinned up at her and shook his head. “I still don’t understand what you mean to do, Mistress, but if you give me the saw I’ll crawl under and cut it down for you.”
After a lecture about safety and careful direction on what she wanted, she relinquished the saw. In no time the tree toppled over and he stood up, dirty kneed, disheveled, with pine needles in his hair and a grin on his face. Grabbing the tree from tip to trunk they carried it back to the Castle.
“The tricky part is getting in unseen,” Thomas said from the edge of the forest. “Follow me, Mistress. It’s likely to be dark and dirty where we’re going.” Having grown up around the Castle he knew all it’s secrets. So when she found herself climbing a narrow, spiral staircase with a heavy tree she bit her tongue when tempted to complain. Popping out a small door, she found Thomas had led them to right outside her and Jamie’s chamber.
“Well done, Thomas!” she exclaimed. “Wait a minute…just let me check for Mr. Fraser first,” and she cautiously opened the door. The room was empty so she grabbed her end of the tree and they carried it inside. Leaning the tree against the wall she said, “Now, Thomas, I’ll need some water in a bucket. Can you manage?”
“Yes, Mistress!” and off he went down the corridor, dirty and happy to be on a secret mission.
Jamie would not understand. How could he? Just days before they’d managed to reach an understanding in their marriage. Her ways vs. his ways. But, if she was stuck in this godforsaken century she would at least celebrate Christmas the way she wanted. Looking around the room Claire knew what she had to do. She moved a table, a chair, and cleared the spot in the corner by her side of the bed, quite far from the fireplace. When Thomas returned, she placed the bucket in the corner and they lifted the tree together and placed the trunk in it. “What’s that for, Mistress?”, Thomas asked.
“The tree needs to stay hydrated, Thomas. Otherwise it will get too dry and the needles will fall off.”
“No, not the water Mistress. Why bring a tree inside at all?”
“Well, where I’m from, it’s what we do. We decorate it with ribbons and such. And place our gifts for each other under it. It’s kind of a tradition.”
Thomas gave her a pointed look, glanced over at the tree again and said, “Begging your pardon, Mistress Fraser, but Oxfordshire ways are a wee bit strange”. Claire laughed, thanked her young friend again, and sent him on his way.
Down in her surgery Claire rummaged around. She found a roll of linen that she used for bandages and ripped it into one inch strips. In Mrs. Fitz’s sewing room she gathered up some unused fabric. Entering the kitchen, she grabbed some shortbread biscuits, and any berries she could find. Wandering outside, she used her shears to cut away some holly with its bright red berries. Stuffing all these things into her basket, she made her way back to her chambers again and set to work.
When Jamie returned to the Castle he headed to the surgery first to look for his wife. Not finding her, he headed to the kitchen. No sign of Claire among the bustling servants. Reaching their room he was just about to open the door when he heard signs of a struggle inside. A shout, a scream and a loud bang had Jamie bursting through the door, dirk drawn and ready for action. What he found was Claire on the floor, in nothing but her shift, an overturned chair and a great bloody tree in his bedchamber.
“Claire!” Rushing around the bed to help her up he said, “Sassenach! Are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Really. I lost my balance trying to put the ribbon on top of the tree.”
“Mo gradh,” Jamie said slowly. “What the hell is a tree doing in our bedchamber? Covered in bandages and baubles?”
Claire glanced at his face and laughed. “It’s a Chris…I mean, a Yule tree!” At his puzzled look she continued, “It’s what we do in Oxfordshire. We decorate it. Then, we place gifts for each other underneath it. It symbolizes life…because it’s evergreen.”
Hands on hips, feet spread wide, Jamie continued to survey the corner. He had to admit, it smelled good. He loved the smell of pine. The shortbread biscuits were dangling from the branches by bits of ribbon. And Claire’s linen bandages had been tied to the ends of the boughs in little bows. There was a huge ribbon atop the tree, probably the one that knocked her off balance and on her fine arse. Berries strung into garland, and holly sprigs here and there. It really did look festive. “And you put gifts under it. For the tree.”
“No, silly!” she giggled. “I put a gift under there for you! And you put one under there for me. And on Yuletide morning, we open them.”
A hint of a smile lifted the corner of Jamie’s mouth, but he quickly pulled his face back into a look of consternation. Nodding slowly, he looked over at his wife. And noticed her shift. And her tousled hair. And flushed face. “Is it usual? This custom? To dress only in your shift for the decorating? Or was this meant as a way to soften your husband into accepting this….” he gestured toward the tree but kept his eyes narrowed on Claire.
She had the grace to look a little embarrassed when she said, “Well, no. It wasn’t comfortable to move and reach up high in my corset. So, I took it off.”
“Hmmmph”, he said, and moved closer to his wife. Taking a finger he gently brushed a stray hair from her forehead. Slowly, trailing his hand down her neck and across her shoulder he gently grabbed the fabric and brought it up over her bare shoulder. Then, he slid his big hand down her back and brought her closer into his embrace. Brushing a soft kiss against her temple he brought is head down and whispered into her ear, “I don’t understand it, Sassenach. Not one bit. But does it make you happy?”
Wrapping her arms around his waist she leaned into him and whispered back, “Yes, Jamie. It does.”
With a finger under her chin he brought her face up for a kiss. And fumbling in his sporran for a bit, he brought out a small package. Wrapped in paper and tied with string. Looking deep into her eyes, he smiled, turned, and placed it under the tree. “Like this, then?”
“Yes,” she said. “Just like that.” Eyeing the tiny, odd-shaped package she said, “Jamie, what is it?”
“Ach”, he said taking off his vest and belt, “You’ll have to wait until Yuletide to find out, no?” He gave his wife a look and pulled his shirt over his head. “But come to bed, Sassenach, and maybe you’ll be able to get an answer out of me somehow, aye?” And his kilt fell to the floor.
There was an incredible tangle of bare branches at the lower levels in the forest, and it was quite impossible to fly through them. Even birds much smaller than Algy had to hop from twig to twig if they wanted to make their way through the dense trees. But it was calm and peaceful, and when the sun managed to filter through to the forest floor is was positively pleasant. Algy relaxed on his deep cushion of moss, dozing on and off…
Because I was facing a 10 hour drive home from Surrey yesterday, I made a point of stocking up on general outdoorsy goodness early this morning before I set off. And where better to do so than the largest National Nature Reserve in southeast England, Chobham Common.
Lowland Heath probably has equal ranking with caledonian forests as my favourite UK habitat, oddly reminiscent of Scotland with its heather, scots pine, birch and large vistas. Surrey has more than its fair share of heath, and is in fact the most wooded county in England at almost 25% of its area forested. Heaths like this, right on London’s doorstep, are havens for adders, grass snakes, common and sand lizards, nightjars and the elusive Dartford Warbler. :) Amazing place…..though a shame about the M3 thundering through the middle of it :(
First Light by Iain MacDiarmid Via Flickr: It was grey and very windy this morning in Glen Affric, but the sun managed to find a way through to splash some light on the snow covered peaks to the north of Loch Affric