(The Landrover made it over the Alps, we’re 6 days in and just outside Modena Italy - MTB’d in the Alps, driven through Switzerland & the Rhone Valley, and had lunch at Wes Andersons Café in Milan today. 40deg heat. Utterly amazing)
The premise: What if Claire had conceived on her wedding night with Jamie?
I received this scene as a prompt a couple of weeks ago from @romancoin… my train of thought derailed and exploded into what is now Metamorphosis. It fits perfectly into Claire’s second week of pregnancy!
A gentle breeze lapped the waters of Loch Ness against the shore. It had been a warm day, by Scottish standards, and hours of hard travel left me flushed, tired, and cross. I had seized the opportunity to wander a little ways from camp as soon I possibly could.
I sighed with unabashed relief as I perched on a wide, flat boulder that jutted out into the water and dipped my toes in. Traveling overland by horse with a dozen men was a cacophonous, pungent endeavor and moments of solitude like these were hard to come by.
If I saw another human being in the next ten minutes, I just might scream.
My eyes burned with fatigue as I slid them shut and tipped my head backwards, letting the breeze cool my face. The setting sun taunted me; boasting that night was close at hand, when I knew it would be hours before I could sleep.
I hadn’t slept well the night before and whether my insomnia was due to sleeping on the hard ground or my new bedmate, I wasn’t sure. A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth as I thought of lying in bed with Jamie. The fact that we hadn’t really even had a bed the last two nights only fueled the unquenchable flames of desire within him.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t attracted to him in turn. I was, and for more than just his looks.
He was one of those people whose soul was just as beautiful, if not more so, than their outward appearance. There was something about him that quietly undid all the protective barriers I had built around myself since arriving here. They came down without hesitation whenever I was with him.
A small splashing noise brought me out of my thoughts and I opened my eyes, looking for the telltale ripples of a jumping fish.
What I saw instead were two giant, amber eyes staring up at me. They bulged out from a long, flat head, which now began to emerge from the water.
A waterhorse. A kelpie. The Loch Ness Monster. A plesiosaur.
Whatever the hell you wanted to call it, it was within touching distance of my feet.
I could have pulled away, but I didn’t. I sat there frozen as a statue and watched it inch closer to me. The initial shock wearing off, I found I wasn’t afraid of it, but felt a strange sort of camaraderie instead. We were both creatures adrift in a time completely different than our own.
It seemed to hover, almost as if it was waiting for a cue from me. I moved my foot slowly towards it and held it still. The beast moved in kind, brushing against the tips of my toes. It was surprisingly warm, more like a crocodile than a snake in texture.
“Goodbye,” I whispered as a short puff of steam rose from its nostrils and it sank back beneath the water, disappearing from view.
Pulling my feet out of the water and drying them on my hem, I caught sight of movement further up the shore. It was one of Dougal’s men. Peter, I thought his name was. He stood trembling with his eyes fixated on the spot where the creature had just been.
“Are you alright?” I asked, noticing he had dropped the bucket he had brought to fetch water with. I stood and started walking towards him until I realized he was backing away from me, arms held up in defense. “What are you doing?”
He flung himself face first onto the ground at my feet, begging at the top of his lungs, “Have mercy, Lady!”
I quickly scanned the tree line, hoping no one had heard this embarrassing outburst. “Stop it,” I hissed and nudged his shoulder with my foot.
The man jerked as if I had kicked him, reeling backwards and hastily crossing himself before fleeing back into the trees.
I stared after him, dumbfounded.
What in hell was that all about?
“Jamie?” I asked as I crawled under the plaid beside him.
His breath tickled my neck as he buried his nose in my hair, “Aye?”
“Do you believe there’s really a giant beast living in Loch Ness?”
I felt him chuckle as he replied, “I’ll no’ be sayin’ tha’ I dinna a stone’s throw away from the loch itself, aye? I may no’ be as steeped in the auld ways as some, Sassenach, but I’m no’ daft.”
I knew this to be true. Even though Jamie, his uncle Dougal, the lawyer Ned Gowan, and his godfather Murtagh were all well learned, they had a certain measure of reverence for the supernatural folklore of the Highlands. They’d show you that they found such things ridiculous, with scoffs and raised brows, but wouldn’t speak a word against the old-fashioned traditions and stories.
“Why? Ye didna see one, did ye?” Jamie asked in jest, the cheeky grin evident in his voice.
I couldn’t have asked for a better lead in if I’d tried.
“Actually, I did.”
Jamie was silent a moment before he rolled me over to face him. “Ye saw the beast?”
“Umhmm,” I nodded, trying not to laugh at his incredulous expression. “I even touched it.”
“I touched it with my foot,” I brushed the toes of my right foot along Jamie’s leg, making him jump.
“Ye didna,” he shook his head in disbelief.
I did laugh then. “Jamie, why would I tell you I saw a supposedly mythological beast if I hadn’t?”
“Oh, aye, I didna mean to say ye were lyin’, Sassenach,” he was quick to add as he mulled the idea over, “‘Tis just tha’ I dinna ken anyone who has seen the beast himself.”
“Well, now you know someone who’s seen it for herself,” I quipped and poked him in the ribs.
“They say ‘tis good luck to see it.” He grinned as he caught hold of my hand, his gaze growing distant, “Wha’ was tha’ auld rhyme Jenny used to sing? ‘I gave my laddie a kiss nigh the Ness an’ now a gift from the beast we’ve been blessed’?”
“You know, that doesn’t really rhyme,” I commented, not able to stop myself from laughing.
“Oh, aye, I ken it doesna rhyme, Sassenach…” He pulled me closer, his lips hovering just above mine. “But ye canna be lettin’ the verse go unheeded, can ye?”
“Mmhmm,” I murmured, tasting the hint of whisky on his lips as I kissed him, “It would be shame to see the beast and not ‘give my laddie a kiss nigh the Ness.’ I’d better make it two, just to be sure.”
Late May 1543; Loch Ashie, Just South of Inverness, Scotland. Claire.
We had left Marcus’ croft equipped with clothing, provisions, and a small purse of coins yesterday morning. Traveling overland by foot was slow going, but Jamie thought we’d reach Inverness within a few hours, well before nightfall. Our plan was to make a few connections within the city, find a decent horse to purchase with our meager gold, and then make our way to Broch Mordha.
I tossed a small pebble into the still waters of the loch, watching the surface ripple and settle back into complacency. It was warm for May and the sun was hot on my back. Lifting the thick plait off my neck, I let the gentle breeze refresh me.
Jamie seized the opportunity to place a kiss at the nape of my neck, his small scruff of a beard tickling the tender skin. I smiled as he murmured something in Gaelic in my ear. “I haven’t the slightest idea of what you just said, you know.”
“‘Tis easier to show ye than translate, Sassenach,” his voice was low as he pulled me onto his lap.
Movement on the loch caught my eye, and I spotted a distant boat. It was a small, rickety sort of thing. Two boys were fishing aboard it and one pointed in our direction.
“We have an audience,” I warned, not really wanting him to stop.
“Oh, aye,” he nibbled at my ear, apparently of the same mind. “Maybe we can teach them a trick or two.”
My lips found his as a giant splash sounded from the waters in front of us. One of the boys had gone overboard, judging by the solo voice taunting his friend. I paid them little heed and brought my arms around Jamie’s neck.
He suddenly tensed and pulled away as the voice’s tone changed from that of teasing to one of alarm. The boy was speaking in Gaelic, but a cry for help was universal. Jamie eased me off his lap, going to stand by the edge of the water.
A concerned question came from my husband and the answer made him hurriedly shed his kilt and boots.
“He can’t swim?” I asked as I stood and came beside him.
Jamie didn’t answer but plunged into the water. It was cold, judging by his reaction. The skiff was a good distance from the shore and it took Jamie longer than I liked for him to reach it.
What’s the fool doing on a boat in the middle of the loch if he couldn’t swim?
The boy had fallen off the far side of the boat and was hidden from view. Jamie rounded the bow of it, the sound of his movements masking those of the floundering boy’s. A few terse words were exchanged, presumably as they tried to decide if they could get the boy into the boat or if Jamie would need to swim back with him. An attempt was made to hoist the boy back into the boat, but it resulted in the other boy joining Jamie in the water and the boat flipping over on top of the trio.
A cry of concern escaped my lips. What if the other boy couldn’t swim as well? Jamie couldn’t possibly haul the both of them back to shore without drowning himself.
The thought had me tearing off my shoes and wading into the water as three heads came into view, this side of the boat. One was Jamie’s. I mentally let out a sigh with relief as I propelled myself towards them, hip deep in the freezing water.
Jesus H Roosevelt Christ, it was cold.
Considerably taller than the Other Boy, Jamie’s feet hit the bottom of the loch first as they made their way towards me. He lifted The Boy into a better position and I could tell he was unconscious. Jamie’s eyes met mine, alarm shouting at me across the water.
Finally within reach, I grabbed hold of the Other Boy, shoving him towards the shore. Jamie was wading now and had The Boy cradled in his arms. His head hung limp, eyes wide and unseeing.
I raced to keep up with Jamie’s long strides, my sodden layers of skirts weighing me down.
“Lay him down on the shore, Jamie.” I instructed, just behind him.
He did so as Other Boy and I crowded around him. My fingers searched for a pulse in The Boy’s neck. It was there, weak and thready, but he wasn’t breathing. I tilted his chin up and forced my own breath into his lungs. I lurched back, hoping for an immediate response and not wanting to be in the way of the flow of his stomach contents.
He remained still and lifeless.
Again and again I repeated the action.
“Breathe, damn it.” I muttered under my breath.
With a jerk, The Boy came to life. I turned him onto his side as he vomited and coughed.
Other Boy pulled him into a sitting position and hugged him fiercely.
“We need to get him warm,” I turned to Jamie, who was panting beside me.
He nodded, squeezing my hand as he was unable to speak just yet. His eyes communicated his words as loudly as though he had spoken them aloud.
Well done, Sassenach.
I could catch snippets of the boys’ conversation as Jamie set about to make a fire, my Gaelic rudimentary at best.
So, the two were brothers. Now that they were in front of me, I could see the resemblance. The older of the two, Other Boy as I had dubbed him, was apparently Alexander and the younger, Willie.
Willie was getting an earful as to what his mother would have done to Alexander if something should have happened to him. That much was clear and needed no translation.
Jamie returned and spoke to the boys in Gaelic, urging the two to sit near the fire.
He guided me to my feet and gathered me into his arms.
“Christ, Sassenach, yer hands are as cold as ice!” he exclaimed after I reached up to brush a wet curl out of his eyes.
My teeth clattered as I retorted, “You aren’t any warmer.”
He pulled me towards the now raging fire and started to unfasten my skirts. I grabbed at his hands, looking around him towards the boys who were definitely watching this interplay. They’re eyes were huge and mouths slightly agape.
Jamie followed my gaze and gave the boys an order. The two grinned, but eventually turned around, their backs towards us.
He cocked an eyebrow, nodding towards my sodden skirts. I rolled my eyes heavenward and grabbed my airisaid off the pile of packs and discarded clothing beside me. Offering it to my husband, I stammered, “H-hold this up.”
Dutifully obliging, he held did so as I tried to undress with trembling fingers.
“Having trouble, mo chridhe?” Jamie’s eyes twinkled as he peeked over my privacy screen. I glared at him and dropped my wool skirt to the ground with a loud squish. He nodded towards my pack, asking “Can ye reach yer other dress or should I move?”
“If you so much as move an inch, James Fraser,” I muttered, my lips thawed enough to speak coherently, “I just might throw you back into the loch.”
Marcus had given me his wife’s clothing, having been carefully packed away in a wooden chest after her death. They were too large about the waist, but were a decent fit.
They won’t be for long, I thought wryly. My layers of skirts and petticoats hid the small bump of our growing child, but soon it would be evident to all. Come autumn, the gifted wardrobe would be too small.
Jamie lowered the airisaid as I tied my bodice into place, leaning over to give me a kiss on the cheek. I took his face in my hands and kissed him right back. “Go sit by the fire, mo nighean donn. Yer still freezing,” he grinned.
I lowered myself onto a fallen log near the fire and basked in its warmth. Willie and Alexander turned to look at me, their eyes wary but filled with curiosity.
“Feeling better?” I asked Willie, smiling at him.
He returned the smile, glancing at Jamie and then back at me.
“He’s my husband.” I explained, not sure why I felt I needed to. “I’m Claire, by the way, what are your names?”
I already knew the answer to the question, having eavesdropped, but felt it was a good place to start a conversation.
The boys just stared at me.
Jamie spoke to them from where he was getting dressed. It was a question and both boys shook their heads.
“They dinna ken English, Sassenach,” he explained.
He shrugged, “The further we get into the Highlands, the more it will be so.”
“Any idea who they are?” I asked and sighed with fatigue.
Jamie made, what sounded like, a round of introductions. I caught the words bean-chèile, which I knew meant wife, and my name, followed by his.
It was the surname we had agreed to go with. We were on Fraser lands, after all.
The name lit a torch of recognition in the boy’s eyes and I felt my heartbeat quicken. They hastily introduced themselves, Alexander and William. The name Fraser was tossed around between all three of them and finally Jamie turned to me in astonishment.