Soon the mountainside was alive with fires. Here and there were smaller, moving flames, as the head of each family or plantation thrust a brand into his fire and brought it down the hill, to add to the blazing pyre at the foot. From our perch high on the mountainside, the figures of the men showed small and dark in silhouette against the huge fire.
A dozen families had declared themselves before Jamie finished his conversation with Gerald Forbes, and rose himself. He handed me the baby, who was sleeping soundly in spite of all the racket around him, and bent to light a brand from our fire. The shouts came from far below, thin but audible on the clear autumn air.
“The MacNeills of Barra are here!”
“The Lachlans of Glen Linnhe are here!”
And after a little, Jamie’s voice, loud and strong on the dark air.
“The Frasers of the Ridge are here!” There was a brief spatter of applause from those around me—whoops and yelps from the tenants who had come with us, just as there had been from the followers of the other heads of families.
I sat quietly, enjoying the feel of the limp, heavy little body in my arms. He slept with the abandonment of total trust, tiny pink mouth half open, his breath warm and humid on the slope of my breast.
Jamie came back smelling of woodsmoke and whisky, and sat down on the log behind me. He took me by the shoulders and I leaned back against him, enjoying the feeling of him behind me. Across the fire, Brianna and Roger were talking earnestly, their heads close together. Their faces shone in the firelight, each reflecting the other.
“Ye dinna suppose they’re going to change his name again, do you?” Jamie said, frowning slightly at them.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “There are other things ministers do besides christenings, you know.”
“It’s well past the third of September,” I said, tilting back my head to look at him. “You did tell her to choose by then.”
“So I did.” A lopsided moon floated low in the sky, shedding a soft light over his face. He leaned forward and kissed my forehead.
Then he reached down and took my free hand in his own.
“And will ye choose, too?” he asked softly. He opened his hand, and I saw the glint of gold. “Do ye want it back?”
I paused, looking up into his face, searching it for doubt. I saw none there, but something else; a waiting, a deep curiosity as to what I might say.
“It was a long time ago,” I said softly.
“And a long time,” he said. “I am a jealous man, but not a vengeful one. I would take you from him, my Sassenach—but I wouldna take him from you.”
He paused for a moment, the fire glinting softly from the ring in his hand. “It was your life, no?”
And he asked again, “Do you want it back?”
I held up my hand in answer and he slid the gold ring on my finger, the metal warm from his body.
From F. to C. with love. Always.
“What did you say?” I asked. He had murmured something in Gaelic above me, too low for me to catch.
“I said, ‘Go in peace,’ ” he answered. “I wasna talking to you, though, Sassenach.”
Across the fire, something winked red. I glanced across in time to see Roger lift Brianna’s hand to his lips; Jamie’s ruby shone dark on her finger, catching the light of moon and fire.
“I see she’s chosen, then,” Jamie said softly.
Brianna smiled, her eyes on Roger’s face, and leaned to kiss him. Then she stood up, brushing sand from her skirts and bent to pick up a brand from the campfire. She turned and held it out to him, speaking in a voice loud enough to carry to us where we sat across the fire.
“Go down,” she said, “and tell them the MacKenzies are here.”