Bree is playing a game, trying to name all the plants she recognizes as they pass by them through the forest. She’s decided that she will keep a list of them, in her head, to tell Mama about when they see her again.
She tells Da about this venture once her list has reached three items.
“The chamomile is Mama’s favorite,” she says, her small hand warm and secure in Da’s as he helps her climb over a large log. “That’s how I knew it. An’ the mushr’ms ‘cause they don’t look like anythin’ else.”
“Just there?” says Da, and then stops their trek to pick a few. His fingers are big and almost crush the soft mushroom caps. Mama’s fingers never crush the caps -- they’re careful like Da’s, but delicate, and slender. They always seem to know where to go in the greenery. Bree misses them – the soft, cool touch of Mama’s hands. But now they have mushrooms. “These’re good tae eat, I think,” Da’s saying. He beckons Bree over, to stand by him where he’s crouched, chin to chin. They inspect the mushrooms together. “No’ ones t’make ye sick,” he decides.
“No,” says Bree. “Mama picks these.”
“Aye,” Da says. He looks up at her, one eye narrowed, considering. There’s a glimmer there even though he’s not quite smiling, the secretive sort that happens just between the two of them. “They’ll need a fire.”
“They’ll need a fire,” Bree agrees. Mushrooms are no good when they’re fresh. Mama thinks they’re just fine; Bree’s always glad to have Da on her side for things like this.
Willie’s not old enough to eat mushrooms yet, but she’ll have him come ‘round, for sure.
“Tomorrow, then,” says Da. “They’ll keep.” He lets her place the mushrooms carefully in the small pouch tied to her waist, one by one. Bree is very careful with them, the way she’s seen Mama do it. Then he tugs at the hems of her sweater a bit to make sure she’s sorted, and tweaks her nose, and pulls her up into his arms before they continue.
“Maybe we can pick some for Mama’s medicine box,” Bree says, as she’s settled against Da’s shoulder. Even through the thick layers of his coat, he’s sturdy, like the big trunks of ash that grew across the courtyard of Lallybroch. Bree doesn’t have many memories of Lallybroch, but the ones she has are mostly good. Sometimes she misses being there. She misses Auntie Jenny, and Maggy and Ian, and how it felt to chase the chickens. Da misses it too, she knows.
“They’ll shrivel up afore we get to her,” Da says, gentle. “We’ve no place t’keep ‘em.” He sounds like he is sorry for more than just that, but Bree doesn’t mind -- they’ll just have to find some more, once Mama is with them again. Mama always knows just where to look.
Still, she spies a comfrey plant, small and bristly and purple at the base of a tree. She adds it to her list.
Da tells her stories before bed, just as he always does. Da has been telling her stories for as long as she can remember. There was only that short little while, after the redcoats came to Lallybroch, that he wasn’t there to do it. But Mama got him back.
It’s colder today -- not rainy or frosting, but cold enough that Bree’s breath comes out in little puffs of white. Da’s nose and cheeks are pink. He says hers are too.
“Ye’ll tell me when yer fingers get cold,” Da says, giving her a stern look. They’ve come out to the edges of the forest, and are walking along a grassy bank. The ground doesn’t have as many ups and downs, so Da hasn’t scooped her up into his arms. Da says it’ll take another week still to get around the moor to the outskirts of Edinburgh. That’s where the boats are.
“I’ll will,” Bree promises, taking her next two steps as a skip. Her fingers aren’t so cold just now -- some are all tucked away under her too-long coat sleeve, and some are enveloped warm and cozy in Da’s big hand -- but just last night they went all tingly and felt funny for a whole hour. Da had made a face, like he was mad only not exactly with Bree. He’d taken off his kerchief and wrapped her hands in it, and then held the whole thing to his mouth for a few moments, until she was warm again. It didn’t take long; everything about Da is warm, Bree’s come to know. She skips again, over a patch of thorny brush. She wishes they could stop a bit and climb some trees -- the ones out here are a bit smaller than the great big things in the middle of the woods -- and Fergus had been teaching her to do it, before they got separated.
Maybe he’ll teach her again, once they get to Edinburgh, where the boats are. Bree’s never been on a boat before. She wonders if it feels anything like climbing a tree. She adds the trees and the thorny little patch she jumped over to her list, the one that’s for telling Mama.
“Can you tell the faerie story, Da?”
“Again, a leannan? Ye willnae be wantin’ a new one?”
“Well,” says Bree practically, “that’s my favorite. But you can tell a different one if you want.”
“Och, so I must tell one either way then, is that it?”
“Mmhmm.” Serene, she skips over another patch of grass. This one has a little blue flower that she doesn’t recognize sprouting right in the middle. “With th’voices, please.”
Da turns ‘round so that he takes his next few steps backwards, one heavy arm swinging out when she tugs on it. He lifts his chin and shakes his nose in the air.
“If I am tae recall,” he says, putting on airs -- that’s what Bree remembers Mama calling it, once, when he was being silly like this -- “last any voices were done, a certain wee lass found her home ‘neath the end of her Mam’s quilt, an’ wouldnae come out fer a good three and twenty minutes.”
“That’s ‘cause y’did the bear, Da,” says Bree, aggrieved. The bear is not featured in the faerie story, and therefore not relevant to Bree’s current request.
Da’s stories are about all sorts of things. Some are about her grandparents, and some are about Auntie Jenny, and some are about giants and red roan stallions and maidens that live in the loch. In her favorite one, there is a faerie who falls from the sky and marries a bonny lad. She thinks this is Da’s favorite one, too.
The big brown bear is not a bad sort, objectively speaking, but when Da told its tale his voice dropped to a growly deep thing and Bree was mightily concerned for the farmer boy’s plight. Da has stopped walking now, and regards Bree’s frown with a gentle set to his brows. His chin is scruffy because they’ve been travelling, and his hair is tied back like it always is when it’s gotten too long. He gives a small tug to her hand, held in his. The corners of his mouth twitch. He says,
“I willnae do the bear any longer, then, mar a tha e gad thoileachadh.”
Bree considers. “No,” she says. “Willie liked it. We c’n do the bear story when he’s around. But I like the faerie one better.”
They begin walking again. The end of Da’s pack thumps against the dirk strapped to his leg, with a light clink clink. “We’ll have a fire tomorrow,” Da says, “once we’re back among the trees. Ye may have yer tale then, m’annsachd.”
“Okay,” says Bree, and skips her next step, over half a bit of twig. She thinks Da is smiling, the sort where he’s pressing his lips together because he doesn’t want someone to see the full thing. Bree smiles, too.
From her perch atop Da’s shoulders Bree feels as though she can see the whole world.
“An’ there, right in front’ve us?”
“Craobh,” Bree recites.
“Good lass. What of the wee singers above us, in th’branches?”
“E-un,” says Bree. Then, “eun.”
“Aye.” She can hear the grin in Da’s voice, and feels the warm thrill of pride in her middle. “An’ their weans?”
“Eòin leanaibh,” says Bree, after a moment of great deliberation. She’s very pleased with herself. Da gives her a little bounce, the sort that makes her belly swoop because she’s so high up. Bree shrieks out loud with excitement and buries her face against the top of his head, where his hair is hidden under its cap. He’s holding her knees tightly where they’re braced on either side of his neck, so there’s no real danger of falling off. But the game is fun -- they used to do it all the time when she was only a bit bigger than Willie. Da says she’s still plenty small enough to ride his shoulders. Donas is too big, he says, eyes twinkling as they do whenever he’s to tell a silly joke -- so he must be a good replacement.
“Ye’ll be runnin’ circles ‘round yer Mam soon. She willnae be able tae ken yer meanin’.”
“Mama’s Gàidhlig sounds funny,” Bree agrees, still giggling from the bounce. Da says the redcoats don’t like the Gàidhlig, so they must only speak it when it’s only them two, and Mama and Willie, and sometimes Uncle Murtagh and Fergus. They mustn’t speak it in company. That’s Mama’s word. Bree is glad they’re in the forest now, with no one else around, so Da can play this game with her; Bree likes naming the things they pass, fast as she is able. It makes them extra special. When she takes her time about it Da makes a tch noise at the back of his tongue and laughs and tweaks her foot, so she remembers the words better. Bree thinks it’s great fun.
She wonders if they’ll be able to do this in Edinburgh, where the boats are.
“We’ll do sums tomorrow,” Da tells her, “when we’ve reached the river.” Mama is very insistent that she start learning sums from now.
“The river,” Bree says, wondering. Even from all the way up here, she can’t see any rivers.
“Aye.” Da’s voice has a laugh in it again. “Ye cannae hear it, a nighean? Ye must sharpen yer ears, then. ‘Tis burblin’ quite close to us, at that.”
“Will the river mean we’re close to boats,” asks Bree, practically.
“Oh, aye,” Da says.
“That’s good then. Da, d’you think Donas’s doing alright?”
Da tilts his head up a bit, so that he might quirk a brow and narrow his eyes at her from below. He looks very funny, Bree thinks.
“Donas?” asks Da. “Ye dinna think the great devil can take care o’ himself?”
“I s’pose,” says Bree.
“Or,” says Da, “och -- perhaps ye fear yer mother’ll bite his ear clean off, t’get him tae behave.”
Donas was Da’s horse, Mama had said once, leaning in the way she did when she was sharing something funny, and so it was anyone’s guess why the big lout had started listening to her. This was a little while ago, just after they’d got Da back from the redcoats. After they’d left Lallybroch.
“Noo,” says Bree now, giggling. “Mama won’t bite his ear off, I think. I mean is he doin’ alright, ‘cause I miss Mama an’ Willie and Fergus an’ Murtagh an’ things, so maybe Donas misses me an’ you.”
“Ah,” says Da. He takes a moment to step over a dip in the underbrush of the forest, where the dead leaves have a hole in the middle. The ground goes crunch snap under his foot. “Donas’ll be jest fine, a leannan. He’ll be mindin’ yer Ma, if he kens what’s best fer him.”
“So his ears don’t get bit off,” says Bree philosophically.
“Aye, jest so,” says Da, laughing again. Da’s laugh is warm as the rest of him, and comes from someplace deep in his chest. When Bree is on his shoulders, or tucked against his arm, she can feel it through her whole self.
She remembers Uncle Murtagh called Da canty once. That he was too cheerful sometimes for his own good.
Bree’s glad for it. It makes their walk through the forest great fun. She thinks going to Edinburgh would be awful if Da didn’t laugh and make jokes so much. Sometimes Da gets very serious, and usually that means that big things have gone wrong, and Bree feels upset in her tummy.
“Are you sure Mama an’ Willie’ll be in Edinburgh with the boats?”
Da is quiet for a moment. Bree waits for him to reply, swaying back and forth on his shoulders as he walks.
“I’ve faith in God,” says Da, finally. “An’ I ken yer Mam’s a head on her shoulders like no other. They’ll be there.”
“Okay,” says Bree, thinking about the river.
“Na biodh eagal ort,” says Da. “Aye?”
“Yes Da.” She rests her chin against his head again. There aren’t many birds out, because of the cold, but she hears something make a noise up in the trees, and a rustle in the underbrush, like a small animal. “Can we have rabbit for supper?”
“Aye,” says Da, “but ye must first tell me what the word for it is.”
“Ummm…coineanach,” says Bree, after a good think.
The underbrush rustles again, like it’s heard them talking.
Bree remembers twice in her life that she’s had a big fright. The first time, she was very little, almost a whole baby. Willie wasn’t even around yet. They’d been at Lallybroch, and things had been just fine until they weren’t, and Mama had said, Fergus, take Brianna and run, a shrill, high note in her voice. Fergus had picked Bree up by the armpits and they’d gone and hidden on the other side of the farmhouse, in a small ditch under the chicken coop that only them and wee Jamie and Maggy knew about.
There had been loud bangs, and someone screaming, and then Mama had reappeared, her face pale and her hands trembling, and held them both to her breast for a very long time. That’s when they left Lallybroch, and when Mama says Donas started minding her.
The second time it was just a bit over two weeks ago, when she and Da came back from looking for bees to find camp a big mess, and Mama and William and Fergus and Murtagh all gone.
Bree had wanted to find bees because she liked their buzzing. Da told her later that bees sleep during the winter, so they wouldn’t have found much. But he’d gone with her anyway. When they got back to camp, she’d watched Da’s face go very pale, and listened to him yell Mama’s name for five minutes, going from one end of the mess to the other. Look, Da had said, after a while. His hands were trembling, just as Mama’s had been the first time, and he pointed to where Mama usually kept her medicine box. It was gone. So was Willie’s rattle, that Uncle Murtagh had made -- and Donas too. And there, they could see footsteps leaving the glade, but not the kind that meant there’d been a scuffle. They’d gone first. The camp had been trashed after.
A good hunter notices these things, Da had told her, letting her follow where his fingers traced the ground, and then the splinters along the edges of the trees. They’d left soon after, taking with them only things they could carry. Mama had tucked away their small bag of special things behind a tree root for them to find -- it had bits of paper and charcoal and Da’s books in it, as well as some coin they’d been given after Mama tended a man’s foot on the road. Once they got far enough away from the camp, to where the trees were tall and the underbrush thick, Da had let them stop.
Then he’d scooped her up, and held her tightly against him, and not said anything for a while.
He and Mama had been talking of Edinburgh, and its boats, he’d told her later. Before -- two nights ago even. So that was where they’d go.
Bree hadn’t been frightened for long, that time, because Da had been there, and held her so tightly. Everything always felt a bit safer in Da’s arms.
“Brianna. Dè tha thu a 'dèanamh, m’annsachd. Ye must let go my hands, so I may tend the fire.”
Obediently, Bree moves her concentration from both hands to only the one. She presses her palm flat against Da’s, and tries to touch all the lines on it with her fingers at once. Mama says that her hands look like his, as most of the rest of her does. Bree doesn’t know how. Everything about Da is so big. Everything about Bree is very little.
Also, Bree’s hands don’t have marks and things on them, except for that spot on her knuckle that got stuck with a splinter when she was a baby and tried to grab the wrong part of the fence to stand up. Da’s hands are full of marks, one of them especially. Bree counts the number of marks on it like they’re the plants she’s keeping track of to tell Mama about. There are long ones and short ones and little scraggly ones, where the skin is white but also pink and pinched together. One of his fingers always sits a little funny because of it, Bree knows.
“Da?” she says.
“I miss Fergus singing.”
Bree is pressed against the front of Da’s chest, so she feels the rumble of quiet laughter behind her.
“Me too, a leannan.”
“An’ he was teachin’ me to climb trees an’ things and everythin’.”
“Ach, now that I dinnae think I miss.”
“I could do it,” Bree says, stubborn.
“Exactly why I dinnae think I miss it,” says Da, into her hair. “Wee rascal. Ye’d get up tae more mischief than I do if I let ye.”
“Psh,” says Bree, like she’s heard Mama do.
“Psh,” says Da back, all silly like. Bree goes back to inspecting his fingers. She tugs on his arm so she can hold the hand up in front of her, in the firelight; Da lets her, moving easily as she directs him. “Have ye found somethin’ interestin’ there, a nighean?”
“No,” Bree hums. “Just lookin’.”
“Alright,” says Da. She feels a deep sigh in his chest, against her back. They haven’t had a fire in a while. It feels good, and makes nice crackling noises. Bree doesn’t get cold so much at night, because Da tucks her into his coat when they sleep. But she figures Da must, at least a little. Mama says the cold isn’t any good for his hand, and sometimes his leg.
Above her, Da starts to make a noise that sounds a bit like humming. Bree looks away from his hands so that she can fall back, thump, against his chest, and look up at him.
“Dinnae look at me like that, ye had me thinkin’ of Fergus’s wee songs.”
“That was Fergus’s songs?”
“Och. I cannae be that bad.”
“Da,” says Bree, unimpressed. She must sound very much like Mama does sometimes, as Da’s eyes twinkle.
“Shall I add th’verses? So ye may learn some French, ken.”
“Da-a.” His hand -- the one she had released, for fire-tending -- sneaks around and finds the most ticklish spot under her ribs. Even through the layers of bundled clothing, Bree falls into bouts of giggles. Da doesn’t seem much concerned by this, and says, over her squirming, in a distinctly long-suffering tone,
“I suppose the Lord didnae bless jest anyone wi’ the ability tae carry a tune.”
“Mama can sing,” says Bree, as severely as she can manage, gasping just a little for breath. Above her, the firelight casts funny shapes on Da’s face. Maybe it’s this that makes his expression melt into something she’s not sure of -- soft and silly and sad all at once. His arms are wrapped around her, heavy but careful, and Bree feels nothing but warm. Everything about Da is warm, she thinks again.
“Aye,” says Da. “That she can. It’s getting late, a leannan. We must rest, so we can keep goin’ tomorrow.”
“Alright,” says Bree. The forest is quiet as they settle for bed and the fire dies down, but it’s a fake sort of quiet. If Bree closes her eyes and concentrates she can hear all sorts of things.
She falls asleep with the silly French songs playing about in her head, and Da’s marked-up hand settled gently against her back.
They arrive at the river, and it is burbling just as loudly and happily as Da said it would be. Bree counts two types of moss and a gorse bush and adds these to her list for Mama.
In the afternoon, when the sun is out and the air is not quite so cold, Da sets to work catching them a fish for supper, while Bree sits on a big, dry rock, and draws with the paper and charcoal they’ve been carrying in their small bag of special things. She’s decided to draw a jay bird they saw earlier that morning, and also William. She’ll give Willie the picture when they see him. He’ll be real happy to have a drawing of himself, Bree decides, even if he is only a bairn.
Da stoops down by her to look over her shoulder when he’s done, on his way to clean the fish.
“Ye’ve caught the true likeness of yer brother’s hair,” he says, solemn, as they both contemplate the dark smudge that is smeared over the round top of Willie’s circular head.
“Mmm,” says Bree.
“If I may request a copy,” says Da, and he leans over to press a kiss to the side of her head, “fer safe keepin’.”
“Only ‘til we get to Willie,” says Bree, watching him walk the next few steps and set about gutting their fish. “It’s for him.”
Da makes a noise at the back of his throat. “Ach, I suppose that’ll have to do. But no matter. I’ve yer best work for meself.”
Bree is not impressed by this. Da’s consideration of her best work is a drawing of Donas he keeps in his sporran, half-smudged and frayed at the edges. She made it almost more than a whole year ago, when she was staying with Mama and Fergus in a strange room far away from Lallybroch, and Da and Uncle Murtagh were away in what Mama called a prison. She was practically a bairn then, and has gotten so much better at drawing and things since. Before she could only draw circles and sticks. She wonders if Donas will be terribly offended if he ever sees it.
“Think what y’please,” says Bree now, putting on some airs. Da laughs, a deep belly thing.
Bree wonders if Edinburgh will be anything like that town with the strange room, and if it will mean Mama’s face will be pale and upset all the time again. If there will be loud shouting, and lots of running in the night, and the red-orange glow of a fire rising above the buildings.
A voice that sounds a bit like Uncle Murtagh’s tells her not to be silly. Most places don’t just have fires. And they’ll all be together, so Mama will have no reason to look pale and upset.
“I miss Mama,” Bree says, without meaning to. The river gurgles happily. The weather isn’t a bad sort of cold, but it’s chilly still, and her nose feels like it does when it’s pink. Da has stilled in cleaning the trout.
“Bree,” he says, in a quiet voice, and then he doesn’t say anything else for a long moment.
“I don’t want her t’be upset,” Bree explains, her paper and charcoal forgotten over her knees, and Da gets up, and comes over, and sits with her on her rock. He pulls her into his lap and presses a kiss to the top of her head. Then he pulls away and holds her face in his hands, like she’s seen Mama do sometimes with him, or Fergus.
“We’ll find her, m’annsachd,” he says, a funny note in his voice. “I promise.”
Bree thinks of the tales Da tells before bed, and the characters in her favorite one. How they always found each other again. “Like the faerie and her lad,” Bree says.
“Aye,” says Da, very quietly. “Just like that.”
“Okay,” says Bree. Da lets her rest her head against his side for the rest of the evening, as he cleans and cooks the fish in careful movements, and they eat their supper together.
The next day they find a shallow spot to wade across the river.
“Almost there,” says Da. Bree is held against his back, with her arms around his neck and shoulders. Her feet hang in the air and dangle a little bit with each step Da takes, sloshing through the running water.
When they get to the other side of the riverbank, a group of men is waiting for them, looking friendly and not friendly at once. Da had put Bree down before he saw them, and now stands very still, one hand hovering close to the back of Bree’s neck and the other someplace in the air at his thigh. Bree hears the river go shh shhh behind them, and feels the cold air in her chest.
“We dinnae want any trouble,” says one of the men. They’re not redcoats, but Da is not smiling like he’d be with friends. “But I cannae help notice ye tae be carryin’ quite a few burdens. Perhaps we can relieve ye of ‘em.”
“We’re bidin’ just fine,” says Da, in a voice colder than the air around them.
“Och, are ye now?”
“Ey, Rob -- look at the lassie’s hair.” Bree takes a step back, closer to Da’s leg. She’s not wearing her cap -- it’s somewhere in Da’s sporran. Da’s been wearing his cap, because it’s cold, but she forgot.
“Ye dinnae happen tae ken any folk passin’ through run afoul o’ his majesty’s crown,” says the first man, in that same easy tone, “would ye? English coin runs deep when it comes tae traitors.”
“Aye, an’ no’ so deep fer th’rest of us,” says another, and spits on the ground.
“I don’t take yer meanin’, no,” says Da. One leg shifts. She can feel it tense under her hand; Da is so still she thinks he might snap in half from the stillness. “I’ll be askin’ ye tae let us pass.”
One of them grunts; the other three laugh.
“No,” he says, “no, I dinnae think we will.”
Bree is not sure who moves first. She thinks it might be the man, and then she thinks it might be Da, and then she thinks it might be everyone. There are loud noises and colours and people yelling; the river goes shh shh and the twigs on the ground crunch when someone falls with their whole body, and Bree can see the flash of a dirk in the pale sunlight before it disappears again. She thinks it might be Da’s. She steps back because a leg kicks at her and almost trips because the ground isn’t where it’s supposed to be, and then something smelly and awful grabs her hair and tugs. It yanks so hard it pulls tears out of her eyes and a loud scream from her throat. When Da’s voice sounds, it comes out like the great brown bear’s, from the story, in a roar.
Her hair is let go. Someone who is not her screams. Bree falls to the ground and covers her ears with her hands and closes her eyes, and thinks about how two twigs are digging into her knee, and waits for things to be quiet again.
Eventually, the only thing she can hear is the shh shh of the river. There is a thump of knees hitting earth in front of her, and big, marked hands that she knows are pulling her to her feet, and smoothing her palms away from her ears.
“Brianna,” says Da, like he will die if he doesn’t say her name. He presses his hands to the top of her head, then her cheek, then her arms and sides and legs. “Brianna, Christ, God, a bheil thu air -- are ye hurt?”
Bree shakes her head no.
“Ye arenae harmed?” She doesn’t like Da’s voice like this. It has cracks in the middle.
“No,” she says, like a whisper.
“Christ,” says Da again. The hands that are holding her shake like the dead leaves on the trees. They’re covered in flecks of red, darker than her hair, darker still than Da’s. There’s some on his cheek, too, and the dirk that’s lying on the ground behind him. “Christ.”
Bree steps forward and wraps her arms around Da’s neck, like something that is not her is pulling at her arms. She doesn’t let go even when he moves to pick their things up, and clean the dirk off, and keep going.
Bree starts trembling once they’ve made it to the edge of a road. Da has pulled her cap over her head and is walking in short bouts, making sure they don’t really come out of the trees. The sun is long gone -- the sky is dark and grey, and looks like it does when it’s going to rain.
When Da realizes, he stops and fumbles with their pack, and where he’s holding her against him, and then drops to his knees against the grass.
“Bree --” he starts, but then stops, because Bree’s shoulders and arms don’t seem to want to hold still. “Shock,” Da mutters, like he’s reciting something. His hands, warm, grip the ends of her elbows. “Iffrin -- ye need food. Yer ice cold, a leannan. Ye said ye’d tell me, no? Ye promised ye’d -- Christ.”
Bree is crying. She’s not sure why. She thinks she might have been frightened. A third big fright, perhaps. “I want Mama,” she says, and her voice sounds funny to her own ears. It comes out like a whine and a cry at once. She seems to have forgotten all the plants on her list, and this is bothering her, because she wants Mama but she hasn’t anything to tell her about. She’s forgotten.
Da was already holding her, but holds her tighter now, tucking her face against his neck and pressing his mouth to the top of her head.
“Bree,” he says, “oh, mo chridhe -- shhh sh sh. Hush now. Tha thu sàbhailte, I have ye. Ye’re safe, a nighean, m’annsachd. I have ye now.” The wool of Da’s coat is rough and soft at once against Bree’s wet cheek. “Forgive me,” Da’s saying. His voice trembles and gets thick. “God, forgive me.”
They sit there for a while, Da rocking back and forth on his knees like Bree has seen Mama do with Willie, or Auntie Jenny with baby Ian when he was born. Da lets her cry all her tears out. When she looks up, Da’s own face is wet, and his eyes puffy along the corners. Bree reaches out a hand and puts it against his cheek, like he did for her before; it’s sticky and scruffy under her fingers. Gently, Da pulls her arm away.
“Food,” he says again. He doesn’t leave her to find supper; instead, they eat the last bits of dried bannock in Da’s sporran, and the two mushrooms Bree is still carrying. They’re not cooked -- no fires -- but Da says, “Ye must eat, Bree,” in a quiet, scratchy voice, and Bree doesn’t have the energy to make faces. She thinks all her tears ran away with it, someplace into Da’s coat.
“We’ll stay here the night,” Da says. And then, “Yer safe now, ye hear me? I willnae let anythin’ happen tae ye, ever. Bree.” He’s said it before, several times.
Even now, with her tears -- Bree knows. Da would never lie to her about anything. She nods a little, and smiles to let him know she believes him. She lets him tuck her away in his coat for bed.
They don’t manage to stay there the whole night, because it starts raining, and not just a drizzly sort of rain. They’re soaked through by the time Da finds an old barnhouse, tucked away far enough from the main road but close enough that they can see dots of firelight in the distance, where more people are.
In Edinburgh, with the boats. That will take them far away someplace, so they won’t ever be apart again. Bree wonders if there will be plants there, for Mama to put in her box. Or if there will be paper and charcoal so she can draw more things for Willie.
Bree is falling asleep against Da’s shoulder but it’s hard to do it properly when her clothes are so heavy and her cap wet against her hair. There are animals chuffing around them, and she can hear the cluck of chickens somewhere -- like at Lallybroch, she thinks. The door to the barn opens and light spills through.
“Almighty protect me! Yer both soaked t’the bone -- an’ she but only a wean -- fer Christ’s sake, why’d ye no’ come tae the door --”
Da has scrambled to his feet, one arm pulling Bree with him, and is holding his free hand up in front of him. In the darkness of the rain and the odd light of the torch, Da’s face looks pale, and sharp, like he’s very tired. Bree is also very tired. His words are careful, measured, even though he stammers over them a bit.
“Mistress, I -- I beg forgiveness, we dinnae want t’wake ye at this hour, an’ I -- ‘tis only t’get out from the wet --”
“Right nonsense!” says the woman at the door. She reminds Bree of Auntie Jenny, if Auntie Jenny was an old woman. “Ye come inside -- ye come inside, I cannae have ye here. Ye need a fire, and a good meal -- what foole in their right meind’d stay here in th’damp on a night such as this --!”
When she sees Da hesitating, she stills, and simply looks at them a moment. Then she says,
“My husband’s long deid, an’ I’ve no more weans in the house t’keep me company. There willnae be anyone but me an’ the cheetie ‘til mornin’. Ye’ll be safe, a balaich. You an’ yer bairn.”
The fire in the house is wonderful. Bree feels her toes curl in on themselves as she is perched on the top of the table and her wet cap and coat removed. Da has one arm reached out to her, the other laying their wet things on the floor by the hearth. He looks a little lost, Bree thinks. It’s an odd look; she doesn’t think she’s ever seen it on Da before.
The old woman pulls out chairs for them and brings a plate of fresh bannocks over for Bree. “An’ I’ve honey for ye too, a nighean, ye sweet thing. Make yourselves comfortable.” She sets the plate down and pauses in stretching out a wet kerchief against the table’s wood to smile at Bree. “My, what a bonny wee scarf ye have,” she says.
“Mama says Da made it for me,” Bree tells her. “When I was in her belly.”
“Och, is that so? Weel, he must love ye verra much then.”
“Ye must sleep now, a leannan,” says Da, coming over. He’s making that face again -- the one that is soft and silly and sad at once. “Say thank ye tae the kind mistress. She dinnae have t’do this fer us.”
“Nonsense,” says the woman again. Bree says thank you anyway.
She’s half asleep already when Da sets her down, gentle, by the fire, but she hears the voices above her.
“Ye’ll have tae be careful on the road tomorrow -- there’s still redcoats about, though no’ as many, praise God.”
“Edinburgh, ye said? An’ yer sure that’s where she’d go?”
“I -- I dinnae ken. I cannae think otherwise.”
“Och -- ye mustn’t fash now. Come mornin’ things will seem brighter. An’ ye may ask auld Tammas when he comes t’help wi’ the animals if he’s kent a lass wi’ a wean to her breast on yer way to town.”
“Aye,” says Da’s voice, rough and soft and cracked and warm at once. “Alright.” But it’s there, beside her, and so Bree falls asleep.
Edinburgh is bigger and busier than anything Bree has seen. They aren’t even in the main streets, and things. Da has gotten them to the edge of the docks in auld Tammas’s cart, and now they’re going from person to person and asking about Mama. Both of them are wearing caps and scarves -- to cover their hair, Da says. Bree wonders if this is because redcoats don’t like anything else being red.
“Ye havenae seen her? A Sassenach, wi’ a bairn in her arms an’ a lad o’ sixteen wi’ her an’ -- ye cannae have missed ‘em --”
Da is holding Bree in his arms, so that he can move about more quickly. So that they can find Mama more quickly. It has stopped raining, but the sky is still grey blue, like the colour of Mama’s favorite dress, and the air is still cool, like the touch of Mama’s hands.
“-- aulder man,” Da is saying, as Bree looks around with wide eyes at the boats and their tall masts. Bree doesn’t like the smells, or the noises. But she likes the boats, she thinks. She’s sure at least one part of them is made of trees. “He’s a bad chest, greying hair. Have ye kent anyone like that seekin’ passage?”
She sees Mama first, and she has to yell for Da to put her down so she can run to her. He doesn’t put her down, but looks over with her. There Mama is, with Willie strapped to her chest, arguing loudly with a man at the dock. Her hair is falling out of its ties, wild and dark and curly, and her face is the same as always, and Bree can see her hands -- gentle, delicate, slender -- resting against Willie’s covered head.
When she sees them, she stops mid argument, her mouth dropping open. Her face changes -- a half frown, then a half smile. Then she cries out, and runs toward them, leaving the poor man she was yelling at behind.
“Claire,” Da says, his voice coming out funny.
Then Mama is there, with them. Bree feels squished between Da’s arms and Mama’s arms and Willie, but she doesn’t mind.
“Oh, God,” Mama is saying, “oh, Christ. You found us, Jamie, you found us.”
“Claire,” says Da again. When he breathes it’s like he and Mama are breathing together. Sometimes they do that, Bree thinks. “I dinnae think -- it was a wild thought, an’ no more, an’ here ye are. Lord preserve us, I found ye.”
“I knew you would,” says Mama. “We’re safe, Jamie, we’re fine. Oh Bree -- oh, darling. My brave girl. You’re alright?”
“I’m alright, Mama,” says Bree. “We found you, like Da promised.”
“Yes,” says Mama, nodding rapidly. “Yes. Oh!”
They move again, like they’re all one person. Then Mama says, “we should get out of this crowd, it’s not safe,” and tells them that Fergus and Uncle Murtagh are a few streets down, hiding in the basement of an inn. No one cares to recognize her, she says. But the rest of them -- Willie gurgles, cutting off the rest of what she wanted to say.
“Willie!” says Bree, remembering. “And my plants -- Mama, I was goin’ t’tell you about the plants -- an’ I drew Willie a picture! Da, y’must let him have it now, ‘cause we said only ‘til we find ‘em again.”
There is a moment where Bree thinks she might have surprised both of her parents, as they only blink at her a little, eyes wide. And then Da laughs, deep from his chest so that Bree feels it all through herself, like he hasn’t laughed in days, even though she sees that his face is wet.
“Later,” he says, mouth warm even through the cap covering her hair. Everything about Da is warm, she remembers. “Later, a leannan. We’ve time, now. We’re together.”