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[Excerpt from GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE, Copyright © 2020 Diana Gabaldon]
I found Young Ian, not in his upper field, but in the woods nearby, rifle in hand.
“Don’t shoot!” I called, spotting him through the brush. “It’s me!“
“I couldna mistake ye for anything save a small bear or a large hog, auntie,” he assured me, as I pawed my way through a clump of dogwood toward him. “And I dinna want either one of those today.”
“Fine. How about a nice, fat pair of gun-runners?”
I explained as well as I could while jog-trotting along behind him as he detoured through the field in order to grab his scythe, which he thrust into my hands.
“I dinna think ye’ll have to use it, auntie,” he said, grinning at the look on my face. “But if ye stand there blocking the trail, it would be a desperate man would try to go through ye.”
When we arrived, we discovered that the trail had already been effectively blocked by the first mule’s burden, which he had succeeded in shedding completely. When Ian and I showed up a little way below the gun-runners, the first mule, enjoying his new lightness of spirit, was nimbly climbing over the pile of bags, boxes and wicker-work toward us, intent on joining his fellow, who was not letting his own pack stop him from browsing a large patch of blackberry brambles that edged the trail just there.
Evidently, we had arrived almost at the same time as Jamie and Tom McLeod, for the two gun-runners had turned to gawk at me and Ian just as Jamie and Tom came into sight on the trail above them.
“Who the devil are you?” one of the men demanded, looking from me to Ian in bewilderment. Ian had tied up his hair in a topknot to keep it out of the way while mowing, and without his shirt, deeply tanned and tattooed, looked very like the Mohawk he was. I didn’t want to think what I must look like, comprehensively disheveled and with my hair full of leaves and coming down, but I gripped my scythe and gave them a stern look.
“I’m Ian Õg Murray,” Ian said mildly, and nodded at me. “And that’s my auntie. Oops.” The first mule was nosing his way determinedly between us, causing us both to step off the path.
“I’m Ian Murray,” Ian repeated, stepping back and bringing his rifle back into a relaxed-but-definitely-ready position across his chest.
“And I,” said a deep voice from above, “am Colonel James Fraser, of Fraser’s Ridge, and that’s my wife.” He moved into sight, broad-shouldered and tall against the light, with Tom behind him, sunlight glinting off his rifle.
“Catch that mule, will ye, Ian? This is my land. And who, may I ask, are you gentlemen?”
The men jerked in surprise and whirled to look upward—though one cast an apprehensive glance over his shoulder, to keep an eye on the threat to the rear.
“Er… we’re… um…” The young man—he couldn’t be much more than twenty—exchanged a panicked look with his older companion. “I am Lieutenant Felix Summers, sir. Of—of His Majesty’s ship, Revenge.”
Tom made a noise that might have been either menace or amusement.
“Who’s your friend, then?” he asked, nodding at the older gentleman, who might have been anything from a town vagrant to a backwoods hunter, but who looked somewhat the worse for drink, his nose and cheeks webbed with broken capillaries.
“I—believe his name is Voules, sir,” the lieutenant said. “He is not my friend.” His face had gone from a shocked white to a prim pink. “I hired him in Salisbury, to assist with—with my baggage.”
“I see,” Jamie said politely. “Are ye perhaps… lost, lieutenant? I believe the nearest ocean is roughly three hundred miles behind you.”
“I am on leave from my ship,” the young man said, regaining his dignity. “I have come to visit… someone.”
“No prize for guessing who,” Tom said to Jamie, and lowered his rifle. “What d’ye want to do with ‘em, Jamie?”
“My wife and I will take the lieutenant and his… man… down to the house for some refreshment,” Jamie said, bowing graciously to Summers. “Would ye maybe help Ian with—” he nodded toward the chaos scattered among the rocks, “—and Ian, once ye’ve got things in hand, go up and bring Captain Cunningham down to join us, will ye?”
Summers picked up the subtle difference between “invite” and “bring” just as well as Ian did, and stiffened, but he had little choice. He did have a pistol and an officer’s dirk in his belt, but I could see that the former wasn’t primed and therefore likely wasn’t loaded, either, and I doubted that he’d ever drawn his dirk with any motive beyond polishing it. Jamie didn’t even glance at the weapons, let alone ask for their surrender.
“I thank you, sir,” Summers said, turned on his heel, and shying only slightly as he passed me and my scythe, started down the trail, back stiff.
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Thank you to Sanda Robson for this delightfully etheal bee photo!
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