Tulach Ard

From the Fiery Cross

Jamie was stand­ing at the edge of the spring in noth­ing but his shirt.
I stopped dead, hid­den by a scrub­by growth of ever­greens.
It wasn’t his state of undress that halt­ed me, but rather some­thing in the look of him. He looked tired, but that was only rea­son­able, since he had been up and gone so ear­ly.
The ragged breeks he wore for rid­ing lay pud­dled on the ground near­by, his belt and its imped­i­men­ta neat­ly coiled beside them. My eye caught a dark blotch of col­or, half-hid­den in the grass beyond; the blue and brown cloth of his hunt­ing kilt. As I watched, he pulled the shirt over his head and dropped it, then knelt down naked by the spring and splashed water over his arms and face.
His clothes were mud-streaked from rid­ing, but he wasn’t filthy, by any means. A sim­ple hand-and-face wash would have suf­ficed, I thought—and could have been accom­plished in much greater com­fort by the kitchen hearth.
He stood up, though, and tak­ing the small buck­et from the edge of the spring, scooped up cold water and poured it delib­er­ate­ly over him­self, clos­ing his eyes and grit­ting his teeth as it streamed down his chest and legs. I could see his balls draw up tight against his body, look­ing for shel­ter as the icy water sluiced through the auburn bush of his pubic hair and dripped off his cock.
“Your grand­fa­ther has lost his bloody mind,” I whis­pered to Jem­my, who stirred and gri­maced in his sleep, but took no note of ances­tral idio­syn­crasies.
I knew Jamie wasn’t total­ly imper­vi­ous to cold; I could see him gasp and shud­der from where I stood in the shel­ter of the rock, and I shiv­ered in sym­pa­thy. A High­lander born and bred, he sim­ply didn’t regard cold, hunger, or gen­er­al dis­com­fort as any­thing to take account of. 

Even so, this seemed to be tak­ing clean­li­ness to an extreme.
He took a deep, gasp­ing breath, and poured water over him­self a sec­ond time. When he bent to scoop up the third buck­et­ful, it began to dawn on me what he was doing.
A sur­geon scrubs before oper­at­ing for the sake of clean­li­ness, of course, but that isn’t all there is to it. The rit­u­al of soap­ing the hands, scrub­bing the nails, rins­ing the skin, repeat­ed and repeat­ed to the point of pain, is as much a men­tal activ­i­ty as a phys­i­cal one. The act of wash­ing one­self in this obses­sive way serves to focus the mind and pre­pare the spir­it; one is wash­ing away exter­nal pre­oc­cu­pa­tion, slough­ing pet­ty dis­trac­tion, just as sure­ly as one scrubs away germs and dead skin.
I had done it often enough to rec­og­nize this par­tic­u­lar rit­u­al when I saw it. Jamie was not mere­ly wash­ing; he was cleans­ing him­self, using the cold water not only as sol­vent but as mor­ti­fi­ca­tion. He was prepar­ing him­self for some­thing, and the notion made a small, cold trick­le run down my own spine, chilly as the spring water.
Sure enough, after the third buck­et­ful, he set it down and shook him­self, droplets fly­ing from the wet ends of his hair into the dry grass like a spat­ter of rain. No more than half-dry, he pulled the shirt back over his head, and turned to the west, where the sun lay low between the moun­tains. He stood still for a moment—very still.
The light streamed through the leaf­less trees, bright enough that from where I stood, I could see him now only in sil­hou­ette, light glow­ing through the damp linen of his shirt, the dark­ness of his body a shad­ow with­in. He stood with his head lift­ed, shoul­ders up, a man lis­ten­ing.
For what? I tried to still my own breath­ing, and pressed the baby’s capped head gen­tly into my shoul­der, to keep him from wak­ing. I lis­tened, too.
I could hear the sound of the woods, a con­stant soft sigh of nee­dle and branch. There was lit­tle wind, and I could hear the water of the spring near­by, a mut­ed rush past stone and root. I heard quite clear­ly the beat­ing of my own heart, and Jemmy’s breath against my neck, and sud­den­ly I felt afraid, as though the sounds were too loud, as though they might draw the atten­tion of some­thing dan­ger­ous to us.

I froze, not mov­ing at all, try­ing not to breathe, and like a rab­bit under a bush, to become part of the wood around me. Jemmy’s pulse beat blue, a ten­der vein across his tem­ple, and I bent my head over him, to hide it.
Jamie said some­thing aloud in Gael­ic. It sound­ed like a challenge—or per­haps a greet­ing. The words seemed vague­ly familiar—but there was no one there; the clear­ing was emp­ty. The air felt sud­den­ly cold­er, as though the light had dimmed; a cloud cross­ing the face of the sun, I thought, and looked up—but there were no clouds; the sky was clear. Jem­my moved sud­den­ly in my arms, star­tled, and I clutched him tighter, will­ing him to make no sound.
Then the air stirred, the cold fad­ed, and my sense of appre­hen­sion passed. Jamie hadn’t moved. Now the ten­sion went out of him, and his shoul­ders relaxed. He moved just a lit­tle, and the set­ting sun lit his shirt in a nim­bus of gold, and caught his hair in a blaze of sud­den fire.
He took his dirk from its dis­card­ed sheath, and with no hes­i­ta­tion, drew the edge across the fin­gers of his right hand. I could see the thin dark line across his fin­ger­tips, and bit my lips. He wait­ed a moment for the blood to well up, then shook his hand with a sud­den hard flick of the wrist, so that droplets of blood flew from his fin­gers and struck the stand­ing stone at the head of the pool.
He laid the dirk beneath the stone, and crossed him­self with the blood-streaked fin­gers of his right hand. He knelt then, very slow­ly, and bowed his head over fold­ed hands.
I’d seen him pray now and then, of course, but always in pub­lic, or at least with the knowl­edge that I was there. Now he plain­ly thought him­self alone, and to watch him kneel­ing so, stained with blood and his soul giv­en over, made me feel that I spied on an act more pri­vate than any inti­ma­cy of the body. I would have moved or spo­ken, and yet to inter­rupt seemed a sort of des­e­cra­tion. I kept silent, but found I was no longer a spec­ta­tor; my own mind had turned to prayer unintended.Oh, Lord, the words formed them­selves in my mind, with­out con­scious thought, I com­mend to you the soul of your ser­vant James. Help him, please. And dim­ly thought, but help him with what? Then he crossed him­self, and rose, and time start­ed again, with­out my hav­ing noticed it had stopped. 

.…some time later… 

“Was it God you were call­ing on to help you? When I saw you ear­li­er?”
“Och, no,” he said. He looked away for a sec­ond, then met my eyes with a sud­den queer glance. “I was call­ing Dou­gal MacKen­zie.”
I felt a deep and sud­den qualm go through me. Dou­gal was long dead; he had died in Jamie’s arms on the eve of Culloden—died with Jamie’s dirk in his throat. I swal­lowed, and my eyes flicked invol­un­tar­i­ly to the knife at his belt.
“I made my peace wi’ Dou­gal long ago,” he said soft­ly, see­ing the direc­tion of my glance. He touched the hilt of the knife, with its knurl of gold, that had once been Hec­tor Cameron’s. “He was a chief­tain, Dou­gal. He will know that I did then as I must—for my men, for you—and that I will do it now again.”
I real­ized now what it was he had said, stand­ing tall, fac­ing the west—the direc­tion to which the souls of the dead fly home. It had been nei­ther prayer nor plea. I knew the words—though it was many years since I had heard them. He had shout­ed “Tulach Ard!”—the war cry of clan MacKenzie.

All rights for the Pic­ture from Out­lander go to the right­ful own­er Starz/Sony
Quote and Excerpt by Diana Gabal­don from “TFC”
I own noth­ing but the editing

All rights for the Pic­ture from Out­lander go to the right­ful own­er Starz/Sony
Quote and Excerpt by Diana Gabal­don from “The Fiery Cross”
I own noth­ing but the editing

Heike Ginger Ba Written by:

|Human|Woman|Mother|Wife|Friend| Photographer| Blogger| |TV-Junkie|Photoshop-Beginner|Art-Lover|Cologne-based|Outlander-addict |Sherlockian |TWD-devoted


  1. Mc
    January 26, 2020

    He looks younger in that pho­to than in the first year. Like a surfer kid on the beach. I wish I nev­er age!

  2. Jan Bowling Moutz
    January 27, 2020

    Beau­ti­ful! Such a won­der­ful passage!

    • Heike Ginger Ba
      February 2, 2020

      it is…cant wait to see the whole scene on screen…

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