And yet. Yet when I had begun to pass into the realm of chaos this time, I had been thinking of Frank. And I had felt him, I was sure of it. Somewhere in the void had been a tiny pinprick of light, and he was in it. I knew. I knew also that there had been another point of light, one that sat still beside me, staring at the stone, cheeks gleaming with sweat in spite of the chill of the day.
At last he turned to me and grasped both my hands. He raised them to his lips and kissed each one formally.
“My lady,” he said softly. “My…Claire. It’s no use in waiting. I must part wi’ ye now.”
My lips were too stiff to speak, but the expression on my face must have been as easily readable as usual.
“Claire,” he said urgently, “it’s your own time on the other side of…that thing. You’ve a home there, a place. The things that you’re used to. And…and Frank.”
“Yes,” I said, “there’s Frank.”
Jamie caught me by the shoulders, pulling me to my feet and shaking me gently in supplication.
“There’s nothing for ye on this side, lass! Nothing save violence and danger. Go!” He pushed me slightly, turning me toward the stone circle. I turned back to him, catching his hands.
“Is there really nothing for me here, Jamie?” I held his eyes, not letting him turn away from me.
He pulled himself gently from my grasp without answering and stood back, suddenly a figure from another time, seen in relief upon a background of hazy hills, the life in his face a trick of the shadowing rock, as if flattened beneath layers of paint, an artist’s reminiscence of forgotten places and passions turned to dust.
I looked into his eyes, filled with pain and yearning, and he was flesh again, real and immediate, lover, husband, man.
The anguish I felt must have been reflected in my face, for he hesitated, then turned to the east and pointed down the slope. “Do ye see behind the small clump of oak down there? About halfway.”
I saw the clump, and saw what he was pointing at, the half-ruined crofter’s cottage, abandoned on the haunted hill.
“I shall go down to the house, and I shall stay there ’til the evening. To make sure—to be sure that you’re safe.” He looked at me, but made no move to touch me. He closed his eyes, as though he could no longer bear to look at me.
“Goodbye,” he said, and turned to go.
“Aye,” he said quietly, so quietly I could hardly hear him, beneath the whining of the wind. “Aye, I hear.” He dropped my hand.
“Go wi’ God…mo duinne.”He stepped off the ledge and made his way down the steep incline, bracing his feet against tufts of grass, catching at branches to keep his balance, not looking back. I watched him until he disappeared into the oak clump, walking slowly, like a man wounded, who knows he must keep moving, but feels his life ebbing slowly away through the fingers he has clenched over the wound.
Rationality did not appear to be helping much. I turned to emotion, and began, shrinking from the task, to reconstruct the details of my married lives—first with Frank, then with Jamie. The only result of this was to leave me shattered and weeping, the tears forming icy trails on my face.
Well, if not reason nor emotion, what of duty? I had given Frank a wedding vow, and had meant it with all my heart. I had given Jamie the same, meaning to betray it as soon as possible. And which of them would I betray now?
Be First to Comment