We’re more than halfway through the third season of Outlander and, in some ways, it feels like we’re only just getting to the main event — the long-teased sea voyage to Jamaica.
With Young Ian kidnapped during last week’s “First Wife” and Cousin Jared’s intel indicating that the offending vessel could be bound for the West Indies, Claire and Jamie finagle positions (Claire the surgeon; Jamie the supercargo) on a different ship sailing in the same direction. As they board, Jamie tells Claire to touch the ship’s good-luck talisman, a horseshoe.
“Women are bad luck on ships, Sassenach,” he says. “Redheads too.”
Claire is dubious but obliges. (You’d think after all this time in the 18th century — plus the fact that she can, you know, travel through stones — she’d be less incredulous about the local lore.)
Jamie and Claire won’t be traveling alone: They’ve brought along a few of Jamie’s men from Ardsmuir, and — surprise! — Fergus has turned up for the journey with Marsali in tow. Apparently the two have been secretly courting and partook in a marriage ceremony earlier that morning. Jamie is none too pleased and asks Fergus if he’s already “bedded” Jamie’s erstwhile stepdaughter. Fergus replies in the negative, much to Jamie’s relief. The marriage is not yet binding. Jamie insists that Fergus bunk with him and Marsali bunk with Claire.
“We’ve been apart 20 years and you want me to room with her?” Claire asks.
“I’m obliged to protect her virtue,” replies Jamie.
“Mine as well, it seems,” Claire harrumphs.
If I were Claire, though, I wouldn’t be too quick to jump into Jamie’s ship bed, considering he gets horribly seasick. They’re not on the ship for long before Jamie begins to heave. Claire, then, is left to dine alone with the ship’s captain, who invited the both of them to sup. No matter, since it’s Claire the captain wants to speak to anyway. He asks her to respect the ship’s superstitions and in turn he won’t force her to make the journey to Jamaica bare-breasted. (Apparently bare breasts calm the seas? I’ll agree that’s one superstition that isn’t a thing.)
While Claire sits awkwardly through dinner above deck, Jamie is below deck being alternately ill and fatherly, giving Fergus advice about his relationship with Marsali. Jamie won’t even think about giving them his blessing until Fergus is honest with Marsali about all the women he’s slept with. (And even after he makes that admission, Jamie still refuses to recognize the union.)
The next morning, Jamie is feeling much better — a condition Claire chalks up to the ginger tea she’s been liberally serving him. But as she’ll soon find out, it’s actually the work of Mr. Willoughby, an acupuncture practitioner and wordsmith, apparently. He tells Claire he’s been writing his life story for years but cannot share it just yet. “A story told is a life lived.”
The days continue to bleed together for Claire and Jamie until the ship, rather abruptly, halts at sea. They have lost the wind. The ship’s crew blame bad luck — they become intent on finding the man (or woman) who didn’t touch the horseshoe before the voyage. Weeks go by, and the search for a Jonah (i.e. someone to throw overboard as a scapegoat) only intensifies. One of Jamie’s men from Ardsmuir is singled out for the position and tormented relentlessly. Drunk and out of sorts, the man climbs the ship’s mast, threatening to jump. Jamie climbs after him and, like some Highland hostage negotiator, starts to talk him down. But, in a plot beat we’ve definitely seen before, the man slips and must grip Jamie’s hand for dear life. After a few moments dangling precariously, the man is finally able to swing himself to the rope ladder and descend safely. Well, not that safely, because his feet hardly hit the timbers before he’s encircled by the crew thirsting to throw him overboard.
It’s then that Mr. Willoughby looks across the horizon and sees a bird sailing through the skies. He knows something we don’t know. He begins to ring the ship’s bell, and with the men’s attention, he tells them his life story. How the Chinese emperor had wanted him for his servant — a great honor — but he would have had to become a eunuch to do it. He loved women too much, so he fled. Fled to an inhospitable country where not even a prostitute will sleep with him. Melancholy, indeed. Mr. Willoughby then climbs up the side of the boat and, in a dramatic gesture, throws his life story into the wind. Yes, the wind. The bird’s flight pattern had indicated a storm was brewing, and Willoughby was biding his time until the wind picked back up and the crew would no longer need a Jonah.
Claire and Jamie celebrate by having sex below deck.
But bad luck continues to haunt the couple. A British man-of-war soon engages the ship. Jamie worries that they’re recruiting and he’ll be forced into service. He makes Claire promise that she’ll continue the search for Young Ian on her own, if need be. She promises. But the British aren’t in need of soldiers — they’re in need of a surgeon. They’ve had an outbreak. Claire, of course, volunteers to help. She deduces from the description of the symptoms (fever, rash, and the “blazing s—s”) that the ship’s crew has fallen ill with typhoid fever, something she’s inoculated against. She boards the ship and begins to administer to the men. The situation is grave, but one she can help with. She tells the captain (who couldn’t be older than 18) that she will stay on board the anchored ship to help organize and mobilize the healthy crew members. But as she’s going about her business, the ship starts moving. The captain needs to get to Jamaica fast, and he’s taking Claire with him.
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