Jenny had told her she should sit, but she insisted on standing despite her swollen ankles and aching back. John’s arm was firmly around her shoulder, and she leaned on him for support. Over the last six months he’d been her anchor, keeping her from drifting away in the storm that had tried to swallow them. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and tried to focus on what the priest was saying.
The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul;
As the coffin was slowly lowered into the grave in front of them, Jenny let out a sob. Claire reached out and gripped her hand, keeping her steady. Her head throbbed and her vision went blurry. She took deep breaths and tried to steady herself; she had to be strong.
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
At the end of the ceremony, the Frasers and Murrays all lined up to place a stone next to the headstone, building a small cairn, one by one. When Claire saw young Jamie hold his little sister’s hand as they both placed tiny stones in the pile, a sound escaped from her throat before she could swallow it back down.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
When it was her own turn, John helped her lower herself down and place her own rock. He pulled her up and she took a moment to steady herself. She kissed her hand, and placed it on the headstone, whispering quietly, “Goodbye.”
There were a few moments in Jamie’s life that he would remember forever; moments that he could close his eyes and conjure the image of immediately. Most were those he wished he could forget - the panic of waking up to his house in Scotland engulfed in flames, the farming accident that took Ian’s leg – but the moment he saw Claire standing inside the doorway of the church, the sunlight from the open door forming a halo behind her, that image dimmed all the others.
He swallowed hard as Ian put a hand on his shoulder to steady him. Her hair, which she had taken to straightening over the last year, was piled on top of her head in a mass of curls; she knew he preferred her hair wild. Her white dress showed off the tan she had been working on diligently over the last few weeks, and the veil surrounding her tresses floated down over her back. The dress was off-the-shoulder , as Claire had described it to him, and ridiculously puffy. “ When am I ever going to have a chance to look like a princess again? ” she’d said, shrugging her shoulders when he had laughed at the description of the lengths of tulle and the pattern of fallen leaves embedded in the lace overlay.
He wasn’t laughing now.
As she walked toward him on her Uncle Lamb’s arm, he smiled at her, his entire body trembling. She smiled back and winked at him, the small gesture sending a shockwave through his entire body. How could she be so calm, even playful while he was barely holding it together. It seemed to take forever for her to reach him, but finally Lamb was handing her off to him, and she was taking his hands, squeezing to steady them.
“Hi,” she whispered, as they faced each other.
“Ye look so bonny, Claire,” he whispered back, his voice catching in his throat as he saw his mother's pearls fastened around her beautiful neck. He was fighting with everything he had not to start crying; once he started, he would not be able to stop. He tried to focus on the priest who had already started speaking.
“Who blesses the matrimony of this man and woman today?” Claire had insisted on this change to the traditional giving away part of the ceremony. “It’s absolutely barbaric!” she’d said. “Nobody owns me now, so why would they have to give me away?” But Jamie had wanted a traditional ceremony, so they’d compromised and come up with their own version.
“I do,” Uncle Lamb said before taking his seat.
“And I do,” Brian Fraser added.
They stood facing each other throughout the ceremony. He tried to listen to the readings, carefully selected by Jenny and John, but his mind could not focus; he’d ask them for copies later. A feeling of dread came over him as the time for the vows approached. Will I even be able to speak?
Rather than write their own, they had opted to use both the traditional and Scottish vows in their ceremony. As he spoke the first part, the dam finally broke, and he was sure his voice was barely recognizable. Looking in Claire’s eyes though, he could tell that she knew he meant every word of them.
I, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, take you, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do we part. This is my solemn vow.
If you looked at it from a cynical point of view, the words were merely a formality. He’d cherished her from the moment he met her, and taken her to the emergency room on their first night together. When she’d gotten the flu last winter, he’d called Jenny in a panic, asking for her chicken soup recipe. None of this was new for them, but the making of a vow, a solemn oath in front of all their family and friends, that was the difference; that was what made it real.
Claire was crying too, as she echoed his words back, and he reached out and gently brushed a tear away from her cheek with his thumb. She would be so mad if her makeup got messed up.
Then, they spoke the traditional Celtic vows, whose words encompassed their entire relationship in a way that neither of them could have expressed so eloquently on their own:
You cannot possess me, for I belong to myself
But while we both wish it, I give you that which is mine to give.
You cannot command me, for I am a free person,
But I shall serve you in those ways you require.
And the honeycomb will taste sweeter coming from my hand.
I pledge to you that yours will be the name I cry aloud at night.
And the eyes into which I smile in the morning.
I pledge to you the first bite from my meat,
And the first drink from my cup.
I pledge to you my living and dying, equally in your care,
And will tell no strangers our grievances.
This is my wedding vow to you.
This is a marriage of equals.
By the time they were done, neither of them could control or hide their tears. With shaking hands, they lit the unity candle, with Brian at Jamie’s side, Lamb at Claire’s, and pictures of Ellen, Julia, and Henry placed carefully on the table along with the candles.
They returned to the altar and exchanged rings. Hers was a wide, white gold band in the Highland interlace style, a small and delicate Jacobean thistle bloom carved in the center of each link. On the inside, he’d had the words Di mi basia mille engraved; he would have to show her later. Claire’s hand reached out to him, fingers trembling. He slipped the cool metal over her knuckles until it rested snug at the base of her finger. Before he let go, he lifted her hand to his mouth, as he had so many times before, and kissed her knuckles.
She slipped the ring she had chosen for him on his finger next. His was also white gold and interlace style. Instead of the thistle bloom, though, she had chosen strawberry vines, with a small strawberry at each link. He’d told her once that strawberries were part of the Fraser crest and she’d remembered. He wondered if she’d had anything engraved on the inside.
Finally, the long ceremony was over. “I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.” He smiled at her and met her lips with his, chastely at first. He started to pull away, but she pulled him closer, taking his lips in hers in a way that would make Jesus blush. “Christ,” he whispered as she pulled away, biting the bottom of his lip.
When they got to the back of the church, they had just a few moments to themselves, hidden away in her dressing room. As soon as the door was closed, he put his hands on her waist and pushed her toward the wall, pressing against her. The excitement, the nerves, and that kiss had given him an epic hard on. He knew there was no time, nor any way to find his wife’s warm center under all that fabric, but he wanted to feel her against him all the same.
“Mo nighean donn, ” he whispered in her ear. “Mo bhean. God, I love ye so much.”
She smiled at him, thrusting her hips against him. “Are you happy, Mr. Fraser?” she asked, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him.
“Aye, I am, Mrs . Fraser.”
Claire cleared her throat and reminded him, “It’s Mrs. Beauchamp Fraser, and don’t you forget it.”
“How could I?” he responded. “Ye are perfect just the way ye are, and I’m honored that ye’d let me add my name to yours, because ye dinna need tae.”
“You are a part of me, James Fraser. Since the day I met you, I’ve never been the same.” She kissed him again and he was starting to consider that maybe they could find a way to consummate their marriage sooner rather than later, when Gillian burst through the door.
“Come on, you two! There’ll be plenty of time for doing that later. You have to do the receiving line and then we have pictures. Let’s go!” She was taking her job as maid of honor very seriously, despite having threatened to quit when Claire had shown her the red color that the bridesmaids would be wearing.
“All right, Mr. Fraser,” Claire said to him. “We’re under strict orders right now.”
“Aye,” he said, kissing her one more time, “but tonight ye’ll be mine and I plan tae take my time servin’ ye well.”
She blushed and smiled at him before they walked out to celebrate the rest of the day.
Claire’s hands were shaking as she stood at the back of the church, her arm looped in Uncle Lamb’s. The rest of the procession had already walked down the aisle. Little Maggie, carrying a basket of flowers in her red dress, completely forgot to do anything with the flowers as she made her debut down the aisle. Young Jamie carried the ring, so adorable in his little kilt and suit coat, so careful not to drop it. Then her bridesmaids and Jamie’s groomsmen, in pairs - Gillian and Ian, Jenny and John, Isobel and Rupert, Mary and Angus. The men all wore kilts in the Fraser colors while the bridesmaid’s dresses were red to match the kilts.
They made a stunning picture standing in a line at the altar, but nothing could compare to the centerpiece of the tableau. Jamie stood tall in his formal tartan, his red curls tied back – Oh my god, had he shaved? He had! - His face was as smooth as a baby’s bottom. And his smile. The smile that told her how much happiness she brought him. She couldn’t see anything but him.
As they started their walk down the aisle, and Jamie’s face came more in focus, she wondered how he could look so calm and steady – she felt like she would lose it any moment and ruin her makeup. When she reached him, his hands were strong around hers. She locked eyes with him, and she used them as a focal point to keep her anchored.
Somehow, she managed to make it through the ceremony without fainting, though her legs were trembling terribly the entire time. After, they’d managed to get about thirty seconds of alone time before being whisked away to the reception line and the pictures. She’d stupidly thought that the pictures would be quick; now she’d been standing out in the hot July sun for forty-five minutes, starving and thirsty; all those appetizers she had painstakingly picked out for the cocktail hour were probably gone.
Finally, the photographer sent the wedding party back to the reception and it was just her and Jamie left. They’d already had a ton of shots of just the two of them taken, so Claire couldn’t see why the photographer would need them any longer. “Are ye alright?” Jamie asked, kissing her gently, careful not to mess up her makeup or hair.
“Yes, I’m just hot and tired, and I want to be inside enjoying this wedding I spent so much time planning.” She put her arms around his waist and her head against his chest. He bent and kissed the top of her head and held her closely.
“Perfect!” the photographer said. “I think I have everything I need now.” Those candid pictures, capturing that perfect moment between the two of them, would be the photos she displayed proudly on her mantle.
She didn’t know it then, but later, she would box them carefully for every move, wrapping them carefully and padding them well before placing them in a moving box. She would keep them from the grubby fingers of children until they were old enough to be careful with them. She would scan them onto her computer and email them to her family on their anniversary.
They were treasured mementos of their life before , of the absolutely perfect love that existed between them before everything changed.