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“Can’t get married without a…”

Copyright 1994 Diana Gabaldon

It was one of the more unusual weddings I had attended. The sun had long sunk into the sea by the time all arrangements were made. To the disgruntlement of Mr. Warren, the ship’s master, Jamie had declared that we would not leave until the next day, so as to allow the newlyweds one night of privacy ashore.

“Damned if I’d care to consummate a marriage in one of those godforsaken pesthole berths,” he told me privately. “If they got coupled in there to start wi’, we’d never pry them out. And the thought of takin’ a maidenhead in a hammock—”

“Quite,” I said. I poured more vinegar on his head, smiling to myself. “Very thoughtful of you.”

Now Jamie stood by me on the beach, smelling rather strongly of vinegar, but handsome and dignified in blue coat, clean stock and linen, and gray serge breeks, with his hair clubbed back and ribboned. The wild red beard was a bit incongruous above the otherwise sober garb, but it had been neatly trimmed and fine-combed with vinegar, and stockinged feet notwithstanding, he made a fine picture as father of the bride.

Murphy, as one chief witness, and Maitland, as the other, were somewhat less prepossessing, though Murphy had washed his hands and Maitland his face. Fergus would have preferred Lawrence Stern as a witness, and Marsali had asked for me, but both were dissuaded; first on consideration that while I was religiously qualified, the fact was unlikely to weigh heavily with Laoghaire, once she found out about it.

“I’ve told Marsali she must write to her mother to say she’s wed,” Jamie murmured to me as we watched the preparations on the beach go forward. “But perhaps I shall suggest she doesna say much more about it than that.”

I saw his point; Laoghaire was not going to be pleased at hearing that her eldest daughter had eloped with a one-handed ex-pickpocket twice her age. Her maternal feelings were unlikely to be assuaged by hearing that the marriage had been performed in the middle of the night on a West Indian beach by a disgraced—if not actually defrocked—priest, witnessed by twenty-five seamen, ten French horses, a small flock of sheep—all gaily beribboned in honor of the occasion—and a King Charles spaniel, who added to the generally festive feeling by attempting to copulate with Murphy’s wooden leg at every opportunity. The only thing that could make things worse, in Laoghaire’s view, would be to hear that I had participated in the ceremony.

Several torches were lit, bound to stakes pounded into the sand, and the flames streamed seaward in tails of red and orange, bright against the black velvet night. The brilliant stars of the Caribbean shone overhead like the lights of heaven. While it was not a church, few brides had had a more beautiful setting for their nuptials.

I didn’t know what prodigies of persuasion had been required on Lawrence’s part, but Father Fogden was there, frail and insubstantial as a ghost, the blue sparks of his eyes the only real signs of life. His skin was gray as his robe, and his hands trembled on the worn leather of his prayer book.

Jamie glanced sharply at him, and appeared to be about to say something, but then merely muttered under his breath in Gaelic and pressed his lips tightly together. The spicy scent of sangria wafted from Father Fogden’s vicinity, but at least he had reached the beach under his own power. He stood swaying between two torches, laboriously trying to turn the pages of his book as the light offshore wind jerked them fluttering from his fingers.

At last he gave up, and dropped the book on the sand with a little plop!

“Um,” he said, and belched. He looked about and gave us a small, saint-like smile. “Dearly beloved of God.”

It was several moments before the throng of shuffling, murmuring spectators realized that the ceremony had started, and began to poke each other and straighten to attention.

“Wilt thou take this woman?” Father Fogden demanded, suddenly rounding ferociously on Murphy.

“No!” said the cook, startled. “I don’t hold wi’ women. Messy things.”

“You don’t?” Father Fogden closed one eye, the remaining orb bright and accusing. He looked at Maitland.

“Do you take this woman?”

“Not me, sir, no. Not that anyone wouldn’t be pleased,” he added hastily. “Him, please.” Maitland pointed at Fergus, who stood next to the cabin boy, glowering at the priest.

“Him? You’re sure? He hasn’t a hand,” Father Fogden said doubtfully. “Won’t she mind?”

“I will not!” Marsali, imperious in one of Ermenegilda’s gowns, blue silk encrusted with gold embroidery along the low, square neckline and puffed sleeves, stood beside Fergus. She looked lovely, with her hair clean and bright as fresh straw, brushed to a gloss and floating loose round her shoulders, as became a maiden. She also looked angry.

“Go on!” She stamped her foot, which made no noise on the sand, but seemed to startle the priest.

‘Oh, yes,” he said nervously, taking one step back. “Well, I don’t suppose it’s an impt—impeddy—impediment, after all. Not as though he’d lost his cock, I mean. He hasn’t, has he?” The priest inquired anxiously, as the possibility occurred to him. “I can’t marry you if he has. It’s not allowed.”

Marsali’s face was already bathed in red by torchlight. The expression on it at this point reminded me strongly of how her mother had looked upon finding me at Lallybroch. A visible tremor ran through Fergus’s shoulders, whether of rage or laughter, I couldn’t tell.

Jamie quelled the incipient riot by striding firmly into the middle of the wedding and placing a hand on the shoulders of Fergus and Marsali.

“This man,” he said, with a nod toward Fergus, “and this woman,” with another toward Marsali. “Marry them, Father. Now. Please,” he added, as an obvious afterthought, and stood back a pace, restoring order among the audience by dint of dark glances from side to side.

“Oh, quite. Quite,” Father Fogden repeated, swaying gently. “Quite, quite.” A long pause followed, during with the priest squinted at Marsali.

“Name,” he said abruptly. “I have to have a name. Can’t get married without a name. Just like a cock. Can’t get married without a name; can’t get married without a c—“

“Marsali Jane MacKimmie Joyce!” Marsali spoke up loudly, drowning him out.

“Yes, yes,” he said hurriedly. “Of course it is. Marsali. Mar-sa-lee. Just so. Well, then, do you Mar-sa-lee take this man—even though he’s missing a hand and possibly other parts not visible—to be your lawful husband? To have and to hold, from this day forward, forsaking…”At this point he trailed off, his attention fixed on one of the sheep that had wandered into the light and was chewing industriously on a discarded stocking of striped wool.

“I do!”

Father Fogden blinked, brought back to attention. He made an unsuccessful attempt to stifle another belch, and transferred his bright blue gaze to Fergus.

“You have a name, too? And a cock?”

“Yes,” said Fergus, wisely choosing not to be more specific. “Fergus.”

The priest frowned slightly at this. “Fergus?” he said. “Fergus. Fergus. Yes, Fergus, got that. That’s all? No more name? Need more names, surely.”

“Fergus,” Fergus repeated, with a note of strain in his voice. Fergus was the only name he had ever had—bar his original French name of Claudel. Jamie had given him the name Fergus in Paris, when they had met, twenty years before. But naturally a brothel-born bastard would have no last name to give a wife.

“Fraser,” said a deep, sure voice beside me. Fergus and Marsali both glanced back in surprise, and Jamie nodded. His eyes met Fergus’s, and he smiled faintly.

“Fergus Claudel Fraser,” he said, slowly and clearly. One eyebrow lifted as he looked at Fergus.

Fergus himself looked transfixed. His mouth hung open, eyes wide black pools in the dim light. Then he nodded slightly, and a glow rose in his face, as though he contained a candle that had just been lit.

“Fraser,” he said to the priest. His voice was husky, and he cleared his throat. “Fergus Claudel Fraser.”

Father Fogden had his head tilted back, watching the sky, where a crescent light floated over the trees, holding the black orb of the moon in its cup. He lowered his head to face Fergus, looking dreamy.

“Well, that’s good,” he said. “Isn’t it?”

A small poke in the ribs from Maitland brought him back to awareness of his responsibilities.

“Oh! Um. Well. Man and wife. Yes, I pronounce you man—no, that’s not right, you haven’t said whether you’d take her. She has both hands,” he said helpfully.

“I will,” Fergus said. He had been holding Marsali’s hand; now he let go and dug hastily in his pocket, coming out with a small gold ring. He must have bought it in Scotland, I realized, and kept it ever since, not wanting to make the marriage official until it had been blessed. Not by a priest—by Jamie.

The beach was silent as he slid the ring on her finger, all eyes fixed on the small gold circle and the two heads bent close together over it, one bright, one dark.

So she had done it. One fifteen-year-old girl, with nothing but stubbornness as a weapon. “I want him,” she had said. And kept saying it, through her mother’s objections and Jamie’s arguments, through Fergus’s scruples and her own fears, through three thousand miles of homesickness, hardship, ocean storm, and shipwreck.

She raised her face, shining, and found her mirror in Fergus’s eyes. I saw them look at each other, and felt the tears prickle behind my lids.

“I want him.” I had not said that to Jamie at our marriage; I had not wanted him, then. But I had said it since, three times; in two moments of choice at Craigh na Dun, and once again at Lallybroch.

“I want him.” I wanted him still, and nothing whatever could stand between us.

He was looking down at me; I could feel the weight of his gaze, dark blue and tender as the sea at dawn.

“What are you thinking, mo chridhe?” he asked softly.

I blinked back the tears and smiled at him. His hands were large and warm on mine.

“What I tell you three times is true,” I said. And standing on tiptoe, I kissed him as the sailors’ cheer went up.

* * *