Despite the distance — of miles, and to a lesser extent, days and weeks — Jamie is a man haunted. His rapist, Captain Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall, figures prominently in his nightmares, in which the fiend’s countenance takes the place of sweet, loving wife Claire. And there seems to be nothing either Jamie or Claire can do about it.
“He’s alive in my head. I can’t get him out,” says Jamie after a particularly disturbing dream.
“You will, in time, I promise,” Claire soothes. “Black Jack Randall is dead.”
But it’s clear from her actions that Claire herself isn’t entirely convinced that Jamie can shake off Black Jack’s shadow. The next morning she seeks solace from a local apothecary. (Sidenote: Though I often find voiceover tedious, I really liked the historical perspective our heroine’s musings about the upcoming French Revolution and the still-to-be-built Eiffel Tower added here.) Anyway, she finds one Master Raymond — a quirky herbalist/snake-oil salesman, who quickly sizes up Claire and realizes she’s not one to be trifled with. In fact, her reputation proceeds her: He’s heard about her encounter with the Comte St. Germain. And seeing as the Comte is Master Raymond and Claire’s shared rival, they must be friends with each other. In agreement, Master Raymond gives Claire a concoction that will help Jamie sleep soundly.
But for now, Jamie and Murtaugh are retraining Jamie’s left hand after Black Jack nearly crippled it. Their swordplay draws a crowd of onlookers (after all, dueling is outlawed in France — a detail you’ll want to store in your memory bank for later). Murtagh shoos away the gawkers, and the pair begin their scheming for how exactly they’ll thwart the impending rebellion. Murtagh suggests squelching the source (i.e. killing Bonnie Prince Charlie). Jamie demurs: He’s no assassin!
The two don’t have to wonder too long how they’ll infiltrate the Jacobites’ inner circle — an invitation, arranged by Jared, arrives from Charles. He wants an audience with Jamie… at a brothel.
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And if there were any lingering doubts about the the nature of this establishment, the madame — prop in hand — tries to upsell the patrons with dildos. To buy or rent! In between such scandalous interludes, Charles inquires after the clans in Scotland. Will they unite in one purpose, in support of the rightful heir? Jamie is honest with him: Those men can’t even agree on what color the sky is. The news miffs Charles, but Jamie reminds him that he asked for an honest answer — sycophants need not apply. Eventually, Jamie’s candid nature wins over the Prince, and he enlists Jamie to be his envoy of sorts. You see, since the Prince is “unofficially” in France, he’s not allowed to attend court. But Jamie can, on his behalf and petition the French Minister of Finance for funds. Because what Charles really needs to make his cause successful is money.
Of course, this is the opening Claire and Jamie need, and they intend to make sure the Prince’s war chest remains empty.
NEXT: “To rid yourself of such a lovely forest…”[pagebreak]
Master Raymond isn’t the only acquaintance Claire has made in France. She’s also struck up a friendship with a woman named Louise, who invites her over for a visit while she gets… groomed. Louise is in the middle of having essentially her entire bottom half waxed when she summons a house guest to join the women: a young English girl named Mary Hawkins, who’s in Paris to be set up with a much-older widower of means. Claire is sure she’s heard of Mary before, but she just can’t place where. Claire will have plenty more time to consider Mary, though, as the two have been invited to court by Louise.
Later that evening, Jamie learns just what sort of influence the French life has had on Claire. She seductively slips into bed, allowing for Jamie to discover what she’s been up to that day.
“Your honeypot is bare!” Jamie exclaims. “To rid yourself of such a lovely forest…”
“I thought you’d be intrigued,” Claire responds. “Something different.”
“What does it look like?”
“Why don’t you see for yourself,” Claire suggests.
As the two start getting amorous, Jamie descends into one of his Black Jack fugue states again. Claire assures Jamie it’s all right and suggests they just go to bed.
Fast-forward two weeks and the big day is here: Versailles! Claire has had a dress special made for her, and, well, Jamie thinks the stunning scarlet frock is untoward.
“Are you a mad woman?” he exclaims. “You can see every inch of you down to your third rib.”
Claire won’t relent though — she’ll just cover herself with a fan.
“You’ll need a larger fan,” Jamie muses.
And, as it turns out, Claire and Jamie aren’t as much of outsiders at court as they had initially thought. In fact, they’ve only just walked in when Jamie is accosted by Annalise, an old romantic conquest of his. (Let’s just say she is the reason Jamie is familiar with dueling practices in France.) Claire cocks her brow, but allows Jamie to be ushered away by Annalise in service of meeting the King. Or, as Murtagh says, “Only in France does the King need an audience to shat.” Jamie nonetheless uses the inauspicious opening to introduce himself by way of recommending porridge as a method to ensure regularity.
Meanwhile, Claire finds an audience of her own with the Minister of Finance, Monsieur Duverney. Although, I’d call it less an audience and more a harassment.
“Your prayers have been answered,” he says lasciviously when he finds Claire sitting alone outside in the darkened courtyard. He starts kissing her feet and begins journeying north when he’s finally interrupted by an enraged Jamie, who hurls him into a nearby body of water. “I told you that dress would bring us grief,” Jamie says.
Once inside, it’s Duverney who’s apologetic, ashamed of the overtures he made toward Claire. The Minister and Jamie agree to a conciliatory game of chess. But before they can match wits, Murtagh notices someone. (Someone besides the woman whose nipples are on full display in a swan dress. That looks kind of painful, right?) No, it’s the Duke of Sandringham — you’ll remember him as the man who was supposed to help Jamie get his pardon — and the trio go gunning for him. After the Duke blames his failure on Black Jack, Claire excuses Jamie and Murtagh so that she can have a private conversation with the Duke. A few revelations come from this tête–à–tête:
–The mystery man Claire spied chatting up Mary Hawkins earlier during the party is the Duke’s secretary and none other than Alex Randall. Yep, the brother of Black Jack! (This introduction of Alex plays out differently in the book, and when Diana Gabaldon makes reference to how closely he resembles Jonathan, I sincerely worried that Tobias Menzies would have to play that role, as well! Thankfully, they recruited a younger actor who does, in fact, boast a passing resemblance to Menzies.)
–When the Duke introduces Claire to Alex as someone who has a history with Jonathan, his response stuns Claire: “I will have to tell Jonathan that I’ve met you.” Yes, despite injuries incurred during last season’s Great Bovine Breakout at Wentworth Prison, Black Jack is not, as assumed, dead. “I suppose I heard a false rumor of his demise,” Claire manages to spit out, before staggering back to her husband’s side for a grand firework display.
What (and when) will Claire tell Jamie of Black Jack’s true fate? Intrigue.