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“Mountain Meadow”

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Urquhart-Castle-2“Bear? Oh, is that what ye’re up to. Claire wondered.” Jenny loosed the eager goats and they dived headfirst into the thick grass like ducks in a millpond.

“Did she, then.” He kept his voice casual.

“She didna say so,” his sister said frankly. “But she saw your gun was gone, while we were makin’ breakfast, and she stopped dead, only for an instant.”

His heart squeezed a little. He hadn’t wanted to waken Claire when he left in the dark, but he should have told her last night that he meant to see if he could get upon the trail of the bear Jo Beardsley had seen. There’d been little time for hunting while they worked to get a roof raised before winter—they needed the meat and grease badly. And a good bear-rug would be a comfort to Claire in the deep cold nights; she felt the cold more now than the last time they’d spent a winter on the Ridge.

“She’s all right,” his sister said, and he felt her interested gaze on his own face. “She only wondered, ken.”

He nodded, wordless. It might be a wee while yet, before Claire could wake to find him gone out with a gun, and think nothing of it.

He took a breath, and saw it wisp out white, vanishing instantly, though the new sun was already warm on his shoulders.

“Aye, and what are ye doing up here, yourself? It’s a far piece to walk for forage.” One of the goats had come up for air and was nosing the hanging end of his leather belt in an interested manner. He tucked it up out of reach and kneed the goat gently away.

“I’m fattening them to stand the winter,” she said, nodding at the nosy nanny. “Maybe breed them, if they’re ready. They like the grass better than the forage in the woods, and it’s easier to keep an eye on them.”

“Ye ken well enough Jem and Germain and Fanny would mind them for ye. Is wee Oggy drivin’ ye mad?” The baby was teething again, and had vigorous lungs. You could hear him at the Big House when the wind was right. “Or are ye drivin’ Rachel mad yourself?”

“I like goats,” she said, ignoring his question and shoving aside a pair of questing lips nibbling after the fringe of her shawl. [“Shoo, goat.” - Gaelic] Sheep are good-hearted things, when they’re not tryin’ to knock ye over, but they’re no bright. A goat has a mind of its own.”

“Aye, and so do you. Ian always said ye liked the goats because they’re just as stubborn as you are.”

She gave him a long, level look.

“Pot,” she said succinctly.

“Kettle,” he replied, flicking a plucked grass-stem toward her nose. She grabbed it out of his hand and fed it to the goat.

“Mphm,” she said. “Well, if ye must know, I come up here to think, now and then,” she said. “And pray.”

“Oh, aye?” he said, but she pressed her lips together for a moment and then turned to look across the meadow, shading her eyes against the slant of the morning sun.

Well enough, he thought. She’ll say whatever it is when she’s ready.

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This excerpt from GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE is Copyright © 2018 by Diana Gabaldon, all rights reserved. It was also posted on my official Facebook page on November 8, 2018.

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