The sun still set quickly, so early in the spring. Jamie knew to expect it but it still came up on him suddenly; dusk and the quick retreat of the warmth that the air had held through the day. His hunting expedition was not as fruitful as he’d hoped it would be, but he still made his way back to camp with two large hares.
His first thought had been how pleased Mrs. Crook would be with him, she might even give him an extra large slice of her amazing meat pie for his efforts. Just as quickly, he shook the thought loose from his mind. He wouldn’t be back there anytime soon, regardless of how his plan worked out. Father always told him that if he wanted to be treated like a grown man, he had to act like one. His self-sufficiency was how he planned to prove how much of a man he’d become.
The camp was only illuminated by a small amount of moonlight, and Jamie was thankful he was able to see just enough to get a fire started. He started stacking the kindling he’d collected earlier, feeling the grip of a cold chill run up his spine at the eerie silence. Jenny would tell him that someone had just stepped upon his grave, and the feeling was unsettling enough to make him believe it.
There was no rustle at the edge of the camp, no telltale sound of breathing and the cold chill began to seep from the base of his spine, deep into his belly. He was alone. Ruaidhri was gone.
Jamie rushed to the tree where he'd tied the horse up, shocked to discover that the lead line was gone. Ruaidhri was young and had never been on his own before. If he had broken loose he was sure to run into trouble with another animal, or hurt himself on the dangerous terrain with a halter still wrapped about his head. If he had been taken, Jamie was sure to never see him again. He’d yet to be branded, nothing tied the colt to Lallybroch.
He couldn't lose Ruaidhri - he’d already lost so much. Willie was gone, Mam was gone, he was about to be shipped away from the only family he had left and now his most beloved friend, whom he had told all of his deepest feelings to for the last two years, was gone. It was too dark to venture out looking, he’d have to wait until morning to find him.
Defeated, Jamie collapsed to the ground in a pile of rotting leaves, ignoring the damp spreading against his bottom. He wanted to cry, he wanted to yell, he wanted to hit something but most of all he wanted his father. Da would know what to do. He would tell him a story from his own past of a similar situation to arm him with all the knowledge he would need to fix the situation. He would be out looking for the colt in the pitch black, moving easily across the land for he had the stars and the moon for a guide and the confidence of knowing every square inch of this estate.
He was lucky, Jamie realized, to have the father that he did. Brian Fraser was a great man - compassionate and caring while still firm and fair. At times, Jamie found his father to be more strict than the fathers of other lads his age, but he had never let him down, never led him astray, never put him in harm’s way. He would be a great man someday because he was the son of a great man.
With a heavy sigh, Jamie wiped his nose on the cuff of his jacket, doing his best to keep his emotions at bay. He was a complete fool. Not just because he’d managed to lose his horse, not just because his grand adventure to prove his manhood hadn’t even lasted a full night, but because he didn't trust his father to make the right decision on his behalf. He'd come out to the woods to show how grown up he was, but he realized that his choices had merely proven he was still just a silly lad. The way to show his maturity was to go to his uncle’s with his back straight and head held high and then come back the same way.
One more swipe to dry the moisture from his face and he stood. The house was in the distance, he could barely make out the lights. He had to find his horse and make things right and there was only one way to do it. Standing tall, he pushed out his chest and lifted his chin.
“Be a man,” he told himself, before turning for home.