Dragonfly in Amber(2)

By: Diana Gabaldon


"Were?"

"My husband died two years ago," Claire explained. "You knew him, I think—Frank Randall."

"Frank Randall! Of course!" Roger smacked himself on the forehead, and felt his cheeks grow hot at Brianna's giggle. "You're going to think me a complete fool, but I've only just realized who you are."

The name explained a lot; Frank Randall had been an eminent historian, and a good friend of the Reverend's; they had exchanged bits of Jacobite arcana for years, though it was at least ten years since Frank Randall had last visited the manse.

"So—you'll be visiting the historical sites near Inverness?" Roger hazarded. "Have you been to Culloden yet?"

"Not yet," Brianna answered. "We thought we'd go later this week." Her answering smile was polite, but nothing more.

"We're booked for a trip down Loch Ness this afternoon," Claire explained. "And perhaps we'll drive down to Fort William tomorrow, or just poke about in Inverness; the place has grown a lot since I was last here."

"When was that?" Roger wondered whether he ought to volunteer his services as tour guide. He really shouldn't take the time, but the Randalls had been good friends of the Reverend's. Besides, a car trip to Fort William in company with two attractive women seemed a much more appealing prospect than cleaning out the garage, which was next on his list.

"Oh, more than twenty years ago. It's been a long time." There was an odd note in Claire's voice that made Roger glance at her, but she met his eyes with a smile.

"Well," he ventured, "if there's anything I can do for you, while you're in the Highlands…"

Claire was still smiling, but something in her face changed. He could almost think she had been waiting for an opening. She glanced at Brianna, then back to Roger.

"Since you mention it," she said, her smile broadening.

"Oh, Mother!" Brianna said, sitting up in her chair. "You don't want to bother Mr. Wakefield! Look at all he's got to do!" She waved a hand at the crowded study, with its overflowing cartons and endless stacks of books.

"Oh, no bother at all!" Roger protested. "Er… what is it?"

Claire shot her daughter a quelling look. "I wasn't planning to knock him on the head and drag him off," she said tartly. "But he might well know someone who could help. It's a small historical project," she explained to Roger. "I need someone who's fairly well versed in the eighteenth-century Jacobites—Bonnie Prince Charlie and all that lot."

Roger leaned forward, interested. "Jacobites?" he said. "That period's not one of my specialties, but I do know a bit—hard not to, living so close to Culloden. That's where the final battle was, you know," he explained to Brianna. "Where the Bonnie Prince's lot ran up against the Duke of Cumberland and got slaughtered for their pains."

"Right," said Claire. "And that, in fact, has to do with what I want to find out." She reached into her handbag and drew out a folded paper.

Roger opened it and scanned the contents quickly. It was a list of names—maybe thirty, all men. At the top of the sheet was a heading: "Jacobite rising, 1745—Culloden"

"Oh, the '45?" Roger said. "These men fought at Culloden, did they?"

"They did," Claire replied. "What I want to find out is—how many of the men on this list survived that battle?"

Roger rubbed his chin as he perused the list. "That's a simple question," he said, "but the answer might be hard to find. So many of the Highland clansmen who followed Prince Charles were killed on Culloden Field that they weren't buried individually. They were put into mass graves, with no more than a single stone bearing the clan name as a marker."

"I know," Claire said. "Brianna hasn't been there, but I have—a long time ago." He thought he saw a fleeting shadow in her eyes, though it was quickly hidden as she reached into her handbag. No wonder if there was, he thought. Culloden Field was an affecting place; it brought tears to his own eyes, to look out over that expanse of moorland and remember the gallantry and courage of the Scottish Highlanders who lay slaughtered beneath the grass.

She unfolded several more typed sheets and handed them to him. A long white finger ran down the margin of one sheet. Beautiful hands, Roger noted; delicately molded, carefully kept, with a single ring on each hand. The silver one on her right hand was especially striking; a wide Jacobean band in the Highland interlace pattern, embellished with thistle blossoms.

"These are the names of the wives, so far as I know them. I thought that might help, since if the husbands were killed at Culloden, you'd likely find these women remarrying or emigrating afterward. Those records would surely be in the parish register? They're all from the same parish; the church was in Broch Mordha—it's a good bit south of here."

"That's a very helpful idea," Roger said, mildly surprised. "It's the sort of thing an historian would think of."

"I'm hardly an historian," Claire Randall said dryly. "On the other hand, when you live with one, you do pick up the occasional odd thought."

"Of course." A thought struck Roger, and he rose from his chair. "I'm being a terrible host; please, let me get you a drink, and then you can tell me a bit more about this. Perhaps I could help you with it myself."

Despite the disorder, he knew where the decanters were kept, and quickly had his guests supplied with whisky. He'd put quite a lot of soda in Brianna's, but noticed that she sipped at it as though her glass contained ant spray, rather than the best Glenfiddich single malt. Claire, who took her whisky neat by request, seemed to enjoy it much more.

"Well." Roger resumed his seat and picked up the paper again. "It's an interesting problem, in terms of historical research. You said these men came from the same parish? I suppose they came from a single clan or sept—I see a number of them were named Fraser."

Claire nodded, hands folded in her lap. "They came from the same estate; a small Highland farm called Broch Tuarach—it was known locally as Lallybroch. They were part of clan Fraser, though they never gave a formal allegiance to Lord Lovat as chief. These men joined the Rising early; they fought in the Battle of Prestonpans—while Lovat's men didn't come until just before Culloden."

"Really? That's interesting." Under normal eighteenth-century conditions, such small tenant-farmers would have died where they lived, and be filed tidily away in the village churchyard, neatly docketed in the parish register. However, Bonnie Prince Charlie's attempt to regain the throne of Scotland in 1745 had disrupted the normal course of things in no uncertain terms.

In the famine after the disaster of Culloden, many Highlanders had emigrated to the New World; others had drifted from the glens and moors toward the cities, in search of food and employment. A few stayed on, stubbornly clinging to their land and traditions.

"It would make a fascinating article," Roger said, thinking aloud. "Follow the fate of a number of individuals, see what happened to them all. Less interesting if they all were killed at Culloden, but chances were that a few made it out." He would be inclined to take on the project as a welcome break even were it not Claire Randall who asked.

"Yes, I think I can help you with this," he said, and was gratified at the warm smile she bestowed on him.

"Would you really? That's wonderful!" she said.

"My pleasure," Roger said. He folded the paper and laid it on the table. "I'll start in on it directly. But tell me, how did you enjoy your drive up from London?"

The conversation became general as the Randalls regaled him with tales of their transatlantic journey, and the drive from London. Roger's attention drifted slightly, as he began to plan the research for this project. He felt mildly guilty about taking it on; he really shouldn't take the time. On the other hand, it was an interesting question. And it was possible that he could combine the project with some of the necessary clearing-up of the Reverend's material; he knew for a fact that there were forty-eight cartons in the garage, all labeled Jacobites, miscellaneous. The thought of it was enough to make him feel faint.

With a wrench, he tore his mind away from the garage, to find that the conversation had made an abrupt change of subject.

"Druids?" Roger felt dazed. He peered suspiciously into his glass, checking to see that he really had added soda.

"You hadn't heard about them?" Claire looked slightly disappointed. "Your father—the Reverend—he knew about them, though only unofficially. Perhaps he didn't think it worth telling you; he thought it something of a joke."

Roger scratched his head, ruffling the thick black hair. "No, I really don't recall. But you're right, he may not have thought it anything serious."

"Well, I don't know that it is." She crossed her legs at the knee. A streak of sunlight gleamed down the shin of her stockings, emphasizing the delicacy of the long bone beneath.

"When I was here last with Frank—God, that was twenty-three years ago!—the Reverend told him that there was a local group of—well, modern Druids, I suppose you'd call them. I've no idea how authentic they might be; most likely not very." Brianna was leaning forward now, interested, the glass of whisky forgotten between her hands.