[Excerpt from Untitled Book Ten, Copyright © 2023 Diana Gabaldon]
Notes: This is NOT the beginning of the book. And (historical footnote), the word “camouflage” didn’t exist until the early 19th century, which is why William doesn’t know it. I don’t think there are really any spoilers in this, but use your own judgment.
Rather to William’s surprise, Fraser appeared for departure clad in a faded plaid with a ragged edge, this worn with a hunting shirt shadowed with ancient bloodstains, and a belt from which depended an assortment of weaponry and a small goatskin bag whose purpose was a mystery. Homespun stockings and a cartridge box hung from a strap over his shoulder completed the ensemble.
“Camouflage,” Fraser said with a shrug, answering William’s look.
“Oh.” Fraser was evidently taken aback for a moment, and his face reflected an extraordinarily rapid series of uninterpretable thoughts. “It’s, ah… from the French, I think. Camouflet, ye ken that one?”
“I don’t, no. What does it mean?”
“Aye, well—camouflet is a whiff of smoke that ye blow in someone’s face. Camouflage just means ye want folk not to notice what ye are or ask what ye’re up to.”
“And…that is camouflage, is it?” William asked skeptically, gesturing at Fraser’s kilt. “You look like a bandit.”
“Aye. And what would ye do, if ye met a bandit on the road? Stop and ask him his business?”
“I take your point.”
As he spoke the words, he had a sudden odd qualm and a coldness down his jaw.
Fraser’s smile changed to a look of mild concern.
“What is it, lad, are ye taken queer?”
“I—no,” William said abruptly. “I”m fine. And what, may I ask, am I meant to be, if you’re taken for a bandit? Your accomplice?”
“If necessary,” Fraser said, “but I suppose ye could be my prisoner, in case of need. There’s a bit o’ rope in my saddlebags.”
“Jesus,” William muttered, and Fraser laughed. The man was in bloody high spirits, for someone snatched away from hearth and home to go off on what anyone might legitimately call a crackbrained venture.
On the other hand, he reflected, maybe he’s glad to get away from his tenants…
Mother Claire appeared at this point, with several packages in her arms, and Frances behind her, similarly burdened.
“Food for the day,” Mother Claire said, handing her husband a cloth bag that smelled pleasantly of cheese, cold meat and dried fruit. “Food for tomorrow,” and she handed William a similar bag. “And after that, you’re on your own for nourishment.”
“What’s this?” William asked, as she handed him a cloth-wrapped bundle that didn’t smell of food.
“Bandages,” she replied succinctly, and handed him a small wooden box. “And medicines for diarrhea and constipation.”
“Ah. I’m sure those will be helpful,” he said, gingerly stuffing the medical items in his haversack.
“I really hope not,” she said, giving him a bleak look. “But I’ve known your father far too long to have illusions.”
“What about drink?” Fraser interrupted, with what even William could see was mock innocence.
“Just here,” Frances said, with modest triumph, and handed over two similar bags, these clinking and sloshing as they moved. She met William’s eye with a tranquil face—no trace of what had happened in the stable half an hour before.
The qualm fluttered through him once again, but this time he knew what it was. Jane. Standing just behind his shoulder.
“I take your point,” he’d said to her, once.
“Well, that’s a novelty,” she’d replied. “It’s usually the other way round.”
“Goodbye, Frances,” he said abruptly, and turned to mount his horse, consciously not looking as Fraser took farewell of his wife.
Click to visit my Book Ten webpage for information on this book, and to read more excerpts from it.
Photo is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0.
This excerpt was also posted on my official Facebook page on Wednesday, September 20, 2023.