Balance. It’s all about balance. At least that’s what I tell myself when Life goes all Black Jack Randall on me. When there are too many bills and responsibilities and too little money and laughter and sleep. And it’s my birthday later this week, and I despise birthdays. Long story. Anyway….
Balance. Yep. And faith. Lots of faith. And perseverance. So. Much. Perserverance.
SPOILERS FOLLOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. NO SERIOUSLY, THERE ARE LOTS OF SPOILERS.
The past week has required quite a bit of faith and perseverance. It’s been enough to make a woman feel a bit like Job…or maybe some other man I’ve read quite a lot about lately who, likewise, seems to have more than his fair share of troubles, namely: Young Ian James Fitzgibbons Fraser Murray (a/k/a Okwaho’kenha, or “Wolf’s Brother”).
Let me start by saying that I adore Young Ian. Adore him. He may be young, but he has an old soul, and Lord knows he has lived more in his young life that many an older man, and his spiritual journey reflects this.
Young Ian first finds blood on his hands in Voyager, not long after Claire and Jamie’s reunion (excuse me while I grab a wee dram…and some Kleenex…plenty of Kleenex). He seeks solace in the pleasures of the flesh as well as the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation. (Not at the same time, of course.) This seems an early hint at the back and forth, the push and pull, that seems to color the wee lad’s life.
In Drums of Autumn, Young Ian is ordered to leave behind his old ways…to leave himself behind.*
“They say that after that I will be Indian, and I must not speak any tongue but the Kahnyen’kehaka; I canna speak again in English, or the Gaelic.”
He is, in effect, being told to shed his identity.** Also, of course, he would have been expected to leave behind the religion that had defined him since birth. How could he possibly make such a sacrifice, to turn his back everything that made him who he was? It’s unthinkable. But the wise and selfless soul finds the words for us….
“Ye said to me once, that my life wasna meant to be wasted,” he said. “It won’t be.” He held out his arms. “I willna forget you, either, Uncle Jamie.”
(Please ignore that noise…it is just the sound of my heart breaking.)
Of course, Young Ian doesn’t forget Jamie. Nor does he forget his religion. It does, however, change over time.
Young Ian struggles with reconciling his Catholic religion and Highland heritage with the things he learned and experienced while living with the Mohawk tribe. We get a glimpse at this struggle when he confides in Brianna at the Mammoth site.
At one point, he mutters under his breath.
“What did you say?” She paused, a half- hulled nut in her fingers.
“Oh, it’s no but a— ” He’d struck once more and caught a spark, glowing like a tiny star on the square of char. Hastily, he touched a wisp of dry grass to it, then another, and as a tendril of smoke rose up, added a bark chip, more grass, a handful of chips, and finally a careful crisscross of pine twigs.
“No but a fire charm,” he finished, grinning at her over the infant blaze that had sprung up before him.
Ian confides in Brianna that he has been thinking about God. She seems taken aback.
“What I am thinking,” he said after a moment, his voice much too controlled, “is this. Was it me?”
“Ian! You mean your fault that the baby died? How could it be?”
“I left,” he said simply, straightening up. “Turned away. Stopped being a Christian, being Scots. They took me to the stream, scrubbed me wi’ sand to take away the white blood. They gave me my name— Okwaho’kenha— and said I was Mohawk. But I wasna, not really.”
* * *
“But I wasna what I had been, either,” he went on, sounding almost matter- of- fact. “I tried to be what they wanted, ken? So I left off praying to God or the Virgin Mother, or Saint Bride. I listened to what Emily said, when she’d tell me about her gods, the spirits that dwell in the trees and all. And when I went to the sweat lodge wi’ the men, or sat by the hearth and heard the stories … they seemed as real to me as Christ and His saints ever had.” He turned his head and looked up at her suddenly, half- bewildered, half- defiant.
“I am the Lord thy God,” he said. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. But I did, no? That’s mortal sin, is it not?”
Over time, bits of beliefs and fragments of faith war for dominance, become intertwined, and finally weave themselves in a tapestry of faith. Like his Uncle Jamie, Ian is faith is complicated and hard-won.
His faith is shaped by this sense of duty and obligation. And, at times, by guilt and forgiveness. Sometimes he is the one to forgive and, other times, well, he is mere flesh and blood (okay, okay, he is fictional, I know)…and, as such, sometimes he is the one desperate for forgiveness. Like when he unknowingly takes the life of Mrs. Bug in An Echo in the Bone:
“It wasn’t your fault,” I said gently.
“I know,” he said, and swallowed. “But I dinna see how I can live.”
He wasn’t dramatic about it at all; his voice was simply bewildered. Rollo licked his hand, and his fingers sank into the dog’s ruff, as though for support.
“What can I do, Auntie?” He looked at me, helpless. “There’s nothing, is there? I canna take it back, or undo it. And yet I keep looking for some way that I can. Something I can do to make things right. But there’s … nothing.”
I sat down in the hay next to him and put an arm round his shoulder, pressing his head toward me. He came, reluctantly, though I felt small constant shudders of exhaustion and grief running through him like a chill.
“I loved her,” he said, so low I could barely hear him. “She was like my grandmother. And I— ”
“She loved you,” I whispered. “She wouldn’t blame you.” I had been holding on to my own emotions like grim death, in order to do what had to be done. But now … Ian was right. There was nothing, and in sheer helplessness, tears began to roll down my face. I wasn’t crying. Grief and shock simply overflowed; I could not contain them. Whether he felt the tears on his skin or only the vibrations of my grief, I couldn’t tell, but quite suddenly Ian gave way as well, and he wept in my arms, shaking.
The thing about actually believing in something, really believing, is that it marks you. Ian’s soul has long been marked by his faith, his heritage, his values…and when he unknowingly violates the code by which he lives, it weighs mightily on him.
At the funeral, he faces Arch Bug with to offer compensation, just as his did before when he offered himself to the Mohawks in place of Roger.
“It was by my hand that this”— Ian swallowed— “that this woman of great worth has died. I didna take her life by malice, or of purpose, and it is sorrow to me. But she died by my hand.”
Rollo whined softly by Ian’s side, feeling his master’s distress, but Ian laid a hand on his head, and he stilled. Ian drew the knife from his belt and laid it on the coffin in front of Arch Bug, then straightened and looked him in the eye.
“Ye swore once to my uncle, in a time of great wrong, and offered life for life, for this woman. I swear by my iron, and I offer the same.” His lips pressed together for an instant, and his throat moved, his eyes dark and sober. “I think ye maybe didna mean it, sir— but I do.”
I found that I was holding my breath, and forced myself to breathe. Was this Jamie’s plan? I wondered. Ian plainly meant what he said. Still, the chances of Arch accepting that offer on the spot and cutting Ian’s throat in front of a dozen witnesses were slim, no matter how exigent his feelings. But if he publicly declined the offer— then the possibility of a more formal and less bloody recompense was opened, yet young Ian would be relieved of at least a measure of his guilt. Bloody Highlander, I thought, glancing up at Jamie— not without a certain admiration.
Wrong made right. Making things square, as best as one can. Reconciliation. Balance. Yes, perhaps that’s it. Balance. Equal parts Catholic and superstitious Highlander and Mohawk…all in perfect balance.
So, yes, it has been a rough week…but I haven’t had to take another’s life, or offer my own as compensation for a wrong, nor have I accidentally killed someone (*knock on wood* the week’s not over yet, and there’s no need to tempt Fate) so, all things considered, I suppose my week could have been worse.
Lesson learned, Young Ian. Lesson learned.
* “He will never come to his house again / his place will know him no more.” Job 7:10.
** Yep. Shed his identity. Never fear, though, he manages to forge a new kick-ass self out of all that suffering. May we all fare so well.