An Echo in the Bone
“No, it was you and your mother. Scientific women,” Roger said, shaking his head. “The eighteenth century is lucky to have survived you.”
“Sassenach,” he said, “I said I havena seen ye naked in four months. That means if ye take your shift off now, ye’ll be the best thing I’ve seen in four months. And at my age, I dinna think I remember farther back than that.”
“Fraser was described to me variously as a wine merchant, a Jacobite, a Loyalist, a traitor, a spy, an aristocrat, a farmer, an importer- or a smuggler; the terms are interchangeable- with connections reaching from a convent to the Royal court.”
“For a long time,” he said at last, “when I was small, I pretended to myself that I was the bastard of some great man. All orphans do this, I think,” he added dispassionately. “It makes life easier to bear, to pretend that it will not always be as it is, that someone will come and restore you to your rightful place in the world.”
“Then I grew older, and knew this was not true. No one would come to rescue me. But then-” He turned his head and gave Jamie a smile of surpassing sweetness.
“Then I grew older still, and discovered that, after all, it was true. I am the son of a great man.”
The hook touched Jamie’s hand, hard and capable.
“I wish for nothing more.”
“It’s a dream Sassenach. I could have flutterbys wi’ tartan wings, and I liked.”
“How did you know who I was?”
His smile deepened as he glanced at my head.
“The lieutenant said you’d be the curly-wig giving orders like a sergeant-major.”
“You think I haven’t got anything better to do with my life than trot around after you, sticking pieces back on?”
“Colonel. Your wife and I have been discussing the philosophy of endeavor. What do you say- does a wise man know his limits, or a bold one deny them? And which one do you declare yourself?”
“Have ye ever been in the slightest doubt that I need ye?” he demanded.
It took roughly half a second of thought to answer this.
“No,” I replied promptly. “To the best of my knowledge, you needed me urgently the moment I saw you. And I haven’t had reason to think you’ve got any more self-sufficient since. What on _earth_ happened to your forehead? Those look like tooth–” He lunged across the desk and kissed me before I could finish the observation.
“Thank ye,” he said fervently, and un-lunging, whirled and went out, evidently in the highest of spirits.
“Agreeable as he might be, though, Ian was as capable as Jamie of pursuing a chosen course, come hell, high water, or reasonable suggestions.”
I am further uplifted by Reflection that should Age or Injury prevent my making a Livelihood by means of Sword, Plow, or Printing Press, I might still find useful Employment as a scribbler of Romances.
He gave me a look suggesting that if one of us was indeed odd, he didn’t think it was himself. Gentlemanly instincts suppressed any remark he might have made to this effect, though.
The sort of prophecy I possessed was seldom a welcome gift; in these circumstances, though, I took a rather grim pleasure in telling him.
“To you. The British army, I mean, not you personally. They’ll lose the war, in three years’ time. What price gilded peacocks then, eh?”
“Yes, indeed,” I replied, amiably. “Fuirich agus chi thu.”
“What?” He stared at me.
“Gaelic,” I said, with a small, deep twinge. “It means ‘Wait and see.'”