Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Chapter 29 - More Honesty

I know many of you look to these little commentary snippets for entertainment, but to me, this chapter felt more like a Scottish Hallmark card than a chapter in an adventure novel. To feel the human side of these wearied souls and to learn the troubles they've seen, it is refreshing to see them laugh and reminisce of happier times. Even if those times involve being beat to within an inch of life itself.

It's fun to see the interplay between Ian and Jamie, learning how they grew up together and got into equal amounts of trouble with each other's fathers. The bonds of the families seemed stronger in that period. Maybe it's just a romanticized view of life, but it seems that people bonded closely in the rural, agrarian lifestyle of the Highlands.

It makes me think wistfully of my own childhood, as I grew up in a rural area, surrounded by working farms, but not living on one. Maybe it's just the golden tinges of reminiscence, but it seems we were more in tune with the seasons and with nature in general than the suburban lifestyle I've now become accustomed to. As kids we also spent time with neighbors and friends, "exploring" the surrounding meadows and hills, and getting into our fair share of trouble, as well.
Interesting how Rockwell pictures the woman
providing the discipline...or attempting to.

In the context of this chapter, I can recall the shared punishments of neighbor fathers, as the three of us who were the same age would manage to get into equivalent measures of mischief. Looking back as an adult with my own children now, I can only imagine how those dads must have struggled with the pugnacious male adolescents who were quickly draining their patience and longsuffering.

Hearing of Jenny's encounter with Randall must have been difficult for Jamie to endure. Ian was rightfully indignant and hurt to learn of the raw emotion and vulgar brutality of Jenny's experience. I can only hope that this would be a shared moment that strengthens their relationship in a wider context.

As Jamie relates to Claire his own regret regarding his relationship with his father, it made me think of how the death of a loved one can simply magnify their life. Everything they said takes on more meaning and import, and many times we can feel as if their life somehow becomes larger than it was, more meaningful in ways that we neglected to recognize during their time with us; or rather, our time with them. We should always be sure to share openly and honestly with those who are close to us so that, when the inevitable happens, we can truly enjoy and savor the memories of those fleeting moments.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Chapter 28 - Kisses and Drawers

It's nice to see Claire feeling that she is fitting in to the routine of the estate.
...surrounded by the peaceful house and grounds of Lallybroch and the cheerful company of Jenny, Ian, and small Jamie, I felt as though I had come home at last.
The six months or so since she arrived in this time and place, Claire appears to have finally come to grips with the reality of her situation. I'm pleased to see the clarity she exhibits in her thoughts about how things are. Yet there is a bit of anxiety, belayed, in the notion of heading to Beauly, "the seat of clan Fraser" where Jamies grandfather may be able to help with passage to France in a few short weeks.

Clan politics aside, thoughts of leaving are interrupted by the work at hand: Ian mentioned to Jamie that the wheel at the mill has stopped turning. As Claire and Jamie head in that direction, they discuss their pasts and youthful experimentation with love; well, kisses, at least.

Arriving at the mill, Jamie determines that there is indeed something stuck in the wheel mechanism under the water. The early fall weather and cold water almost dissuades him, however, it must be done. As he is undressing, Claire notices the unusual and ill-fitted flannel drawers that hang from Jamies waist.
“Your grandfather’s?” I guessed, making a highly unsuccessful effort to suppress my giggling. “Or your grandmother’s?” “My father’s,” he said coldly, looking down his nose at me. “Ye dinna expect me to be swimming bare as an egg before my wife and my tenants, do ye?”
However, several attempts at diving under the mill provide no immediate solution.

The Cedar Grist Mill, Amboy WA. Not far from where we live.
(Although I never dove beneath it in my underwear.)
With Jamie's continued attempts to clear the wheel mechanism, Claire meets a local woman, Grannie MacNab. Grannie shares with Claire how she had wanted to ask Jamie if her grandson Robbie could serve as the stable lad at the estate to escape his father's unwarranted beatings.

Their conversation is interrupted by the visit of a local troop of redcoats, looking for a sack of meal from the mill. Unaware of Jamie's presence underwater, the women try their best to distract the soldiers from determining the most wanted man lurking in the freezing waters nearby.

Not sure the Frasers feel the same way about this...

As one of the soldiers determines to find the cause of the mill's inactivity, the tension builds about how soon Jamie will be found out. As dramatically as it starts, the mill's wheel starts underway again, albeit with a bit of additional cloth coming over the top in one of the wheel scoops: Jamie's father's drawers.

Satisfied the condition is rectified, the redcoats leave with their flannel souvenier "to polish tack, at least". A now-frozen Jamie emerges after they depart, with Grannie MacNab firing her request for her grandson to Jamie.
“Grannie MacNab,” Jamie interrupted, advancing a menacing half-step through the water, “whatever your wish is, I’ll do it. Provided only that ye’ll give me back my shirt before my parts fall off wi’ cold.”
C'mon, give 'em a break. Those redcoats were only trying to be helpful...

Monday, February 9, 2015

Chapter 27 - The Last Reason

I'm liking the mood that is set at Lallybroch: the resident Laird returning home to an estate that has been functioning with precision since he left. Jenny has been keeping things running at a smooth pitch, and creating a warmth of family as hers continues to grow.

I also enjoyed the way Jenny and Claire are getting to know each other, going about the business of the day and having a discussion with the "real" conversation going on just below the surface:
“You’ve run the house here alone since your mother died?”
“Oh, aye. Since I was ten.”
I had the nurturing and the loving of him as a boy. What will you do with the man I helped make?“Jamie says as you’re a rare fine healer.”
“I mended his shoulder for him when we first met.”
Yes, I am capable, and kind. I will care for him.“I hear ye married very quickly.”
Did you wed my brother for his land and money?“Yes, it was quick. I didn’t even know Jamie’s true surname until just before the ceremony.”
I didn’t know he was laird of this place; I can only have married him for himself.
Women don't really do that, do they? (Yes. That was a joke).

I was interested to know that the house, built in 1702, had all the most modern conveniences, like a porcelain stove and a brick oven for bread baking. I found it especially noteworthy that there were paintings of the children on the walls; how we take for granted the modern art of photography. And yet, the paintings held special memories for Jamie and Jenny, much like our photos do today.

Yes, yes, I know, it is exciting to find out that Jamie married for love, not just out of duty. Seriously, we needed to hear him say it? Finally, it's one of the most personal things he's shared; no wonder Claire felt shocked when he said it.

You know what else I like, is the way Diana takes a phrase and turns it into a vivid picture, much like the paintings hanging on the wall of the home. Speaking of the busy-ness of the estate, Claire thinks:
For the first time, I understood the stern Scotch strictures against idleness that had seemed like mere quaintness before—or after, as the case might be. Idleness would have seemed not only a sign of moral decay, but an affront to the natural order of things.
Then Diana brings out her paintbrush, and expertly places just a few sentences, like descriptive little jewels nestled within the folds a ruffled velvet backdrop:
There were moments, of course. Those small spaces of time, too soon gone, when everything seems to stand still, and existence is balanced on a perfect point, like the moment of change between the dark and the light, when both and neither surround you.
There it is. Just the slightest of flourish within the larger surface description of the passage that brings depth and beauty to the moment.

I know, I'm supposed to be liking all the battle scenes and guy stuff. But I guess what I really appreciate is the vivid artistry of it all; seeing someone who can effortlessly turn a well-chosen phrase into a novella of expression just as easily as explain the historical facts of herbal medicine, or describe the panic and adrenaline of hand-to-hand combat. This, to me, is what true storytelling is all about.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Chapter 26 - The Laird's Return

It's interesting to see where this storyline will go now; now that Jamie knows Claire's from the future, and Geilie, too. Not much of that is explored just yet, though, as the focus on this chapter is Jamie's return to Lallybroch.

As the two encounter Jock Graham on their travel back to Jamie's home, we find a bit of the honor afforded to the Laird of Broch Tuarach. I especially liked the descriptions of the two of them, rag-tag as they were from their travels.

His hair had grown long enough in the last months to reach his shoulders. Usually clubbed into a queue or laced back, it was free now, thick and unruly, with small bits of leaf and stick caught in the disordered coppery locks. Face burned a deep ruddy bronze, boots cracked from walking, dirk and sword thrust through his belt, he looked a wild Highlander indeed.
I was hardly better. Covered modestly enough in the billows of Jamie’s best shirt and the remnants of my shirt, barefoot, and shawled in his plaid, I looked a right ragamuffin. Encouraged by the misty dampness and lacking any restraint in the form of comb or brush, my hair rioted all over my head. It had grown as well during my sojourn at the Castle, and floated in clouds and tangles about my shoulders, drifting into my eyes whenever the wind was behind us, as it was now.

I'm sure this was the condition of most average folks in the Highlands, a fact of hygiene that most of us in this day and age take for granted. I am ever thankful for electricity and indoor plumbing.

As the weary travelers approach the estate, they are greeted by the master's dogs. Again, another aspect of extreme rural living that I take for granted: having several faithful dogs makes for a great security team.
An Aussie Staghound - Not a bad
protector to have around the estate.
I was also relieved to hear the background story of Jamie's sister Jenny, and how Randall had never had his way with her.

The brother-sister arguing and bickering was classic family fare, with the classic Scottish tempers to boot. Like Claire's character, I appreciate people who are straight-forward and unpretentious in their demeanor, and passionate about everything that's important to them. I can think of no greater loss than going through life without forming a valid opinion about anything of significance, or worse yet, holding a strong and valid position and not having the confidence or passion to reveal it to others.

Ian Murray, Jenny's husband, appears to be a good off-set to Claire, as far as in-laws go, at least. A good-natured man who seems to understand the Fraser brother and sister better than they understand themselves. It's a nice picture to see that Jenny and Ian have begun a family and are growing the clan. I am hopeful that Claire and Jamie have an opportunity to form their own identity in their time away from the Castle Leoch.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Chapter 25 - Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live

What an amazing chapter! I was absolutely drawn in from the opening scene until the unbelievable ending.

Starting with Geilie and Claire being tossed in the Thieves' hole, I was off-base as to where I thought that whole mob scene was going. I thought for sure that Geilie had just set Claire up, and she was going to get off scot-free (if you'll pardon the pun). Nope, not happenin'. As the girls "share" just because of the close quarters, Geilie ultimately reveals she is pregnant by Dougal.

As it turns out, Arthur Duncan had suspected all along that he was being poisoned by his wife, and the last straw came when he had seen her undressed...and six months pregnant. A whole other side of Geilie is revealed: the scheming power monger who we now find out is a Jacobite raising money for the war effort. It's small wonder she and Dougal hooked up. One of my favorite comments came as Claire offers to summarize Geilie's lack of regret:
“Whatever happens with the examiners, I have no regrets, Claire.”
“I regret only that I have but one life to give for my country?” I asked ironically.
“That’s nicely put,” she said.
“Isn’t it, just?”
And now being accused as a witch seems to be the least of Geilie's problems.

Within a few days, the ecclesiastical examiners arrive in town and set up the formal "hearing" for evidence against the accused witches. I can only imagine how every woman reading this next section cringed at the idea of being in a similar situation, having those same false charges read against themselves with ultimate guilt hanging in the balance. Diana does a great job recreating an historical "witch hunt", complete with mob scene and dramatic "eyewitness" accounts.

One of the scariest things to me was how she conveyed the skewed perception of how the priest relates his encounter with Claire after the dog attack at the castle:
“At noonday on a Tuesday, two weeks past, I met this woman in the gardens of Castle Leoch. Using unnatural powers, she called down a pack of hounds upon me, such that I fell before them, and was in mortal peril. Bein’ wounded grievously in the leg, I made to leave her presence. The woman tried to lure me wi’ her sinfulness, to go awa’ in private with her, and when I resisted her wiles, she cast a curse upon me.”
That, unfortunately, has the ring of historic authenticity. I'm sure many an innocent woman was condemned on twisted testimony such as this. And sadder yet, the eyewitness may well believe the truth of their own biased perspective.

I was happy to see that a least one of Claire's acquaintances was prepared to stand in the gap for her: Ned Gowan. While his true-to-form lawyering was long-winded and drawn out, he succeeded in causing the blood lust of the crowd to die down; a perfect ploy. He also managed to have Claire's case considered separately from Geilies; another win. Although, as it turns out, even a good lawyer can't take the place of a bold and committed husband.
Testing the "innocence" of a woman accused of witchcraft.
From a woodcut of the Hartford, Conn. witch trials of 1647.
As the expected does-a-witch-float scenario begins to play out at that Loch, Claire figures she has little, if anything, to lose. She decides to resist with every last ounce of rebellion in her, which succeeds in getting her nothing more than stripped and flogged. In rushes Jamie to rescue her against the odds and the mob (not the mafia, the frenzied crowd, I mean). Standing fiercely agains the crowd and her accusers, Jamie is given some wonderful lines:
The judge blinked once or twice, as though unable to credit this behavior, then surged to the attack once more.“You have no place in the workings o’ this court, sir! I’ll demand that ye surrender the prisoner at once. Your own behavior will be dealt with presently!”...
“As to that, sir, I swore an oath before the altar of God to protect this woman. And if you’re tellin’ me that ye consider your own authority to be greater than that of the Almighty, then I must inform ye that I’m no of that opinion, myself.”
That is a great quote.

Surprisingly, even Geilie rises to the occasion to create enough of a diversion to allow the couple to get away. At this point in the story, I'm not sure whether to hate her or like her. She's opportunistic, yes, but also demonstrates concern as well. Just like at the Fairy Mountain with the changeling, she was trying to protect Claire from interfering (and it did indeed come back to bite Claire at the sentencing).

Jamie's showmanship culminates with him tossing a rosary made of jet onto Claire's neck, demonstrating that she's not a witch. Nope, no "Exorcist" moments here. Just pure, unadulterated love and guts. What every true marriage should be made of, right? In the diversion created by Geilie, the couple forces their way through the crowd and escapes.

Okay, now this is where this chapter gets unhinged. With Claire in such a fragile state, physically beaten and still in shock, Jamie seeks to protect her, but questions her directly: is she really a witch?

This is where Claire loses it, and spills out all of it: the time travel, the future, everything; I did NOT see this coming. Jamie, while initially frightened (or at least on edge) listens patiently as she raves and gushes and pours out everything about Frank, her past (future?) life, and the stones at Craigh na Dun that made it possible. Then, my favorite lines from the whole chapter:
Do you really believe me, Jamie?”
He sighed, and smiled ruefully down at me.
“Aye, I believe ye, Sassenach. But it would ha’ been a good deal easier if you’d only been a witch.”
To make things more unimaginable, Jamie takes her back to Craigh na Dun! He wants to see first-hand some of the mysterious happenings there. Sure enough, for Claire, the stones still have the ability to take her away (although to who-knows-where) as she partially starts the process, but then Jamie pulls her away at the last second.

Resigned to the reality of it all, Jamie commits to letting her go back. Claire, now with the freedom to do what she has wanted to do all along for the past several months...sits and thinks about it! I thought maybe at this point she would go back to Frank, and then the story would start going between both timelines with Claire in the future and Jamie moving on; or Claire going back and forth between both times. But no, after all of her efforts to go back, she decides to stay.

And then, to top it off, Claire describes how she had seen on Geilie's arm the same scar she has on hers: a smallpox vaccine! She's not the only one! And now Jamie knows Claire's real past! I feel relieved (for her) that now she has a new base from which to operate in this time, and that there are many more things she needs to learn about the process that took her there. And how is Jamie going to process all of this information, now that she has told him about how the Jacobite uprising ends?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Chapter 24 (part 3)

As Claire decides to head to Colum's study to borrow a book, she overhears a conversation between Colum and Dougal regarding  the Duke possibly helping Jamie regain his freedom. She maneuvers her way in by bearing a tray that Mrs. Fitz had sent by Laoghaire, who ran frightened when she dropped a cup. I couldn't help chuckling at the image that popped into my head when Claire said she had to hide behind the curtains on the landing as Laoghaire approached, and all that was sticking out was her feet. All I could think of was Mary Poppins, and those horrendously pointed boots she wears.
These are all I could imagine sticking out
below the curtain where Claire was hiding...
In the process of actually being in the room and rummaging for books of interest, Claire glances out the window and witnesses Hamish attempt to jump a low wall with the horse Cobham, who stumbles and topples over onto the young boy, knocking the wind out of him. Claire notices the concern that Colum has for the young lad, "as if he were your own." "Yes," is all Colum replies. This is like the fifth time that a reference is made to who's son Hamish is...for crying out loud, Diana, just tell us plainly!

At dinner that evening, Claire recounts the physical features of the characters seated around the dinner table. These descriptions belie Diana's astute knowledge of physiology, and of tribal traits among the various indigenous people. During the dinner, Jamie recounts his past encounter with the Duke of Sandringham. His explanations of the Duke's unusual fetish for young boys, and Jamie in particular, set the group laughing with ribald comments.

The next day, Alec and Jamie rush in and enlist Claire's assisitance in helping one of the fillies give birth, as the foal had turned. This required Claire to reach inside and physically turn the foal so the delivery could proceed. As Diana describes the process, I had the impression this is something she had either done first hand, or had researched thoroughly enough to make it seem as though she had. For me, not being raised on a farm or tending to livestock, this simply demonstrates the commitment a good "husbandman" (farmer) has to those entrusted to his care. I'm sure my arm would not be long enough. Yup, I'm sure of it.

Geilie invites Claire to gather moss in the foothills out away from the village, and in the process of their harvest they come across a small baby left to die on a "mountain of the fairies". The legend of the changeling was that the Wee Folk would come and replace the sick child with the human child they had previously stolen. Claire will have none of it, but Geilie actually points out a bit of "wisdom" (or is it a set-up?) before she leaves to head back to the village:
“Claire,” she said urgently, shaking me by the arms. “Listen to me. If ye go near that child and it dies—and it will, believe me, I’ve seen them like that—then the family will blame you for it. Do ye no see the danger of it? Don’t ye know what they say about you in the village?”
Claire decides to risk being counted a witch for the sake of saving the child, but it's too late. Alone in the dusk, Jamie, concerned for her welfare, comes to her aid to help her return to the castle. While Jamie admits he doesn't believe the fairie stories, he imparts a statement that struck me about our lives in general, and why people are prone to believe "fairie stories" in the first place:
“They’ve ne’er been more than a day’s walk from the place they were born, except for a great thing like a clan Gathering, and that might happen twice in a lifetime. They live among the glens and the lochs, and they hear no more of the world than what Father Bain tells them in kirk of a Sunday. That and the old stories.”
How true that is for our own lives, as well. We fall into our routines and conduct "business as usual" all the while life is passing us by.  As John Lennon said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." In that context, the "fairie stories" of our lives are what provide a deeper meaning to the callous and bitter world that we can sometimes experience in the process of making a living and raising a family.

Upon returning to the castle they find the Duke has arrived. For all that was said about the man, Claire finds him a boisterous character and takes pleasingly to him.

As Geilie had promised, she makes good on her offer to Claire to help her discover who left the ill-wish in their bed. At least that's what she says. In the process of the "summoning", she actually drugs Claire with opium to find out what secrets she might be hiding about where she comes from.
“Who sent you here?”
“I came.”
“Why did you come?”
“I can’t tell.”
“Why can’t you tell?”
“Because no one will believe me.”
The voice in my head grew still more soothing, friendly, beguiling.
“I will believe you. Believe me. Who are you?”
 At least now we know for sure why everyone says she is a witch.

"Really, I'm not a bad witch. Wait, I guess
that does start with a "b" and and with "itch".
But you have to admit I look stunning in this bodice..."
True to form, this bears out when Geile's husband is overcome at the banquet hall, gasping and dies on the floor, despite Claire's  best efforts to save him. Witch, indeed. This long chapter ends on the portent of only further harm for Claire from Geilie, as she arrives at Geilie's under false pretenses, and the threat of being named a witch herself.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Chapter 24 (part 2)

As Claire  starts to settle back in to her routine at the Castle, she busies herself with her duties in the surgery: hunting for herbs, grinding and sorting them into their bottles and generally keeping things in order. In the course of all this busy-ness, she begins to wax phoilosophic:
The apothecary’s cabinet had been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, and now held stores of dried leaves, roots, and fungi, neatly packed in cotton-gauze bags. I took a deep breath of the sharp, spicy odors of my sanctum and let it out in a sigh of contentment. Then I stopped pounding and set the pestle down. I was contented, I realized with a shock. Despite the myriad uncertainties of life here, despite the unpleasantness of the ill-wish, despite the small, constant ache of missing Frank, I was in fact not unhappy. Quite the contrary.
Certainly, as she has been in one new adventure after another, any sort of routine that has a ring of familiarity to it would be welcome. I think this is just human nature.

For me, driving in Portland is always an adventure. We live in a quiet suburb about 20 minutes away from "the city", and any time I have to go "downtown" for a meeting for work, I always feel like a cat in a bathtub. (Well, at least how I think a cat in a bathtub would feel; i.e., GET ME OUTTA HERE!). Pedestrians don't watch traffic signals; they just walk out into the street whenever they want; streetcars drive on tracks on the same road where I'm driving. (Something about driving across tracks sends a signal to my brain that says, "trains drive on tracks, therefore, you should not be anywhere near them when you're driving a vehicle!") Mazes of one-way streets take me everywhere but the direction I want to go. Then, when I do find the place I want to be, that section of street is under construction, and I have to loop around another five blocks, dodge more pedestrians and streetcars to get back to the overpriced parking garage where I need to be.

But then, blessed relief, when I am done with my meeting I can head back out of the city environs and onto more familiar roads back to my humble abode in the 'burbs.

Familiarity, thou art my friend.

All of this digression to make the simple point of how familiar surroundings and routine can be comforting in the most unpleasant of situations, which is where Claire finds herself now.

What about Frank? Her guilt kicks in with the inevitable realization that Frank must be beside himself with not knowing her fate:
How could I bring myself to be happy, when Frank must be demented with worry? Assuming that time was in fact continuing without me—and I couldn’t see why it wouldn’t—I must have gone missing for upwards of four months. I imagined him searching the Scottish countryside, calling the police, waiting for some sign, some word of me. By now, he must nearly have given up hope and be waiting, instead, for word that my body had been found.
Her thoughts are interrupted by the arrival of Jamie, leaning on the sturdy shoulder of Old Alec, the stablemaster. Jamie was wincing because of a swollen ankle from having been thrown off of the (demon) horse Donas (please see my previous post for my misgivings about anything to do with demon horses). Nailed it.

The next day, as Jamie is "laid up" while his ankle heals, he and Claire steal away to the roof of the castle during a rainstorm and dream about heading out to Lallybroch, away from the craziness of the castle and clan politics. When the topic of the Duke of Sandringham comes up, Claire tries to hide how she knows about him, but is relieved to find out that Jamie knows about him also. However, later on we find out just how much Jamie knows about the Duke and his, um, preferences.

Their trip back down from the roof is interrupted by a visit from the village priest, Father Bain, who is attacked by the mongrel pack that wanders around the castle. As Jamie chases the dogs away, Claire offers to assist the priest with some rather obvious wounds, to which the priest replies:
“What, a man o’ God to expose his pairsonal parts to the handling of a wumman? Weel, I’ll tell ye, madam, I’ve no notion what sorts of immorality are practiced in the circles you’re accustomed to move in, but I’ll have ye to ken that such’ll no be tolerated here—not sae long as I’ve the cure of the souls in this parish!” With that, he turned and stumped off, limping rather badly and trying unsuccessfully to hold up the torn side of his robe.
I don't blame him. I gotta say, seeing a woman doctor about anything to do with, um, privates, is a bit unnerving. When I had my vasectomy, there was a woman doctor "observing" the procedure. I remember the doctor (a male) asking me if I would be okay if she came in for training. Of course, I think he purposely waited until after the drugs had kicked in to ask me. In my drugged haze, I didn't see a problem with it. As an afterthought, though, the idea of a woman staring at my privates with my legs spread wide still makes me wonder how every woman who's ever had a baby deals with the casual nature of people just wandering in and out of the room while she's essentially in the same vulnerable state! You ladies rock!

Afterwards, Alec comes in to Claire's surgery seeking relief from his "rheumatism". I really enjoyed this scene and getting to know a little bit more in the background of Alec. As Claire works through the knots in the tired body of this old war-horse, she encourages him to relax a little:
“A good slug of whisky and a deep massage is the best I can recommend. Tansy tea will do only so much.” He laughed, shawls slipping off his shoulder. “Whisky, eh? I had my doubts, lassie, but I see ye’ve the makings of a fine physician.”
During the massage, he relates a little more insight into the background of Jamie's mom and dad. Learning some more of this mysterious past comes with it's own bit of scandal. Alec relates the legend of the "silkie": how seals were thought to come ashore and assume the forms of men, forsaking their former lives. He alludes to the mysterious  nature of Jamie's dad, Brian, and how they only came to know of him at the games. More intriguing still is that Alec appeared to know both parents very well. Claire tucks this info away for further reference which I'm sure will come to light in the not too distant future.

More to come... (Hey, I can't help it if Diana writes super-long chapters).