As the events of “The Gathering” unfolded, I couldn’t help but yearn for my very own 18th-century Emily Post (MacPost?) to explain the intricacies of Highland etiquette. After all, one misplaced oath could mean your head. (I can’t even begin to imagine the punishment for eating all of the Laird’s biscuits!) Our heroine could have used some customs training as well, seeing as it was Claire’s (understandable) naïvete that put Jamie in mortal peril (and after she spent weeks tending to his wounds).
But let’s start at the beginning. Emboldened by the folk song of last week (you remember—the one about a woman returning home through the stones), Claire’s been busy planning her escape from Castle Leoch, secretly mapping her route through the woods and leaving hair ribbons behind as bread crumbs. With her plan nearly realized, she sets out to shake her two shadows, finding a distraction in the form of a bonny lass to set the pair fighting over. All Claire needs now is a weapon, so she goes to the kitchen to retrieve a knife… where she’s intercepted by Mrs. Fitz. She admonishes Claire for not being gussied up for the oath-taking.
“I assumed a Sassenach wouldn’t be welcome at such an important event,” Claire says. (And, really, that’s not a far-fetched assumption for her to make.) But Mrs. Fitz insists she’s an honored guest, and like the tartan-clad fairy godmother that she is, she dresses Claire for the big night.
Now, if you’ve been waiting for author Diana Gabaldon’s cameo, here it is! And what a sassy turn it is as Iona MacTavish. Mrs. Fitz passes her on the mezzanine, and they have this wonderfully catty exchange:
MacTavish: “I see you have the place looking as bright as a new pin.”
Fitz: “Oh, that lovely dress again. You wore it so well to the last Gathering.”
As the ceremony begins, Dougal is the first to step up and pledge his oath to Colum, with the rest of the MacKenzie men lined up behind him. Save for one noticeable absence: Jamie.
Claire uses the “you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all” excuse to dismiss herself, but Murtaugh follows. He begs her to stay until he “bags a lass for the evening.” All class, that one. Claire takes a swig from a flask hidden inside her dress, offering it to her escort (and clandestinely spitting out the contents as he downs nearly all of the proffered port). “ ‘Tis very strong,” he muses. Little does he know Claire’s secret recipe includes a sedative. (Better than a laxative!)
NEXT: Promises, promises