Outlander Book Club — “Castle Leoch”

This week in Outlander Book Club we are talking Part 2 of Outlander: “Castle Leoch”. The amount of expository information in this section is unbelievable, and I’m here to unpack it all for you! So pull up a chair and come on a journey with me as I talk about all the things we learned–and didn’t learn–in this week’s reading!

Chapter 6: Colum’s Hall

By far, the biggest takeaway from this chapter is Jamie taking the beating for Laoghaire at Hall. I, like so many other readers–and characters–found it extremely hard to believe Jamie would let someone wail on him just for the hell of it, and I think this scene definitely gets the average reader’s wheels turning. Are Jamie and Laoghaire involved? Is he the boy that she got in trouble with? Who can say? Although, I tend to think he wasn’t, given how formal he seems around her in the next few scenes.

Romantic attachments aside, if Jamie and Laoghaire weren’t involved, him taking the beating for her tells us a lot about this young red-haired lad. He’s brave. He’s selfless. And quite frankly, he’s one tough cookie. He’s also apparently a glutton for punishment, but that’s beside the point…

I think his motives become a little more clear when Claire is patching him up once again, and he explains that it’s easier for him to take a beating man to man, than it would be for her to be lashed publicly for her mistakes. There’s no shame in it for him, where as her reputation is on the line. People don’t easily forget something like that, and Jamie more than anyone understands this, and being the kind soul that he is, is willing to shoulder a bit of the burden to save someone else unnecessary pain and strife.


Photo Credit: Outlander-Online

EXCERPT #1

“What did you do that for?” I asked curiously.

“What?” he said, straightening up and wiping his face on his sleeve. He felt the split lip gingerly, wincing slightly.

“Offer to take that girl’s punishment for her. Do you know her?” I felt a certain diffidence about asking, but I really wanted to know what lay behind that quixotic gesture.

“I ken who she is. Havena spoken to her, though.”

“Then why did you do it?”

He shrugged, a movement that also made him wince.

“It would have shamed the lass, to be beaten in Hall. Easier for me.”

“Easier?” I echoed incredulously, looking at his smashed face. He was probing his bruised ribs experimentally with his free hand, but looked up and gave me a one-sided grin.

“Aye. She’s verra young. She would ha’ been shamed before everyone as knows her, and it would take a long time to get over it. I’m sore, but no really damaged; I’ll get over it in a day or two.”

“But why you?” I asked. He looked as though he thought this an odd question.

“Why not me?” he said.

Why not? I wanted to say. Because you didn’t know her, she was nothing to you. Because you were already hurt. Because it takes something rather special in the way of guts to stand up in front of a crowd and let someone hit you in the face, no matter what your motive.

[Excerpt from OUTLANDER, Copyright 1991 Diana Gabaldon]


Chapter 7: Davie Beaton’s Closet

Castle Leoch is down a healer, and Claire is drafted for the position. This is a natural progression for our heroine, and it’s something she’s not forced into in the books. She takes to it like a duck to water because at least she is putting her skills to use. She feels useful for the first time since she fell through the stones. She’s also getting an education a la Mrs. Fitz on 18th century medicine; ground orris root, leeches, and willow bark are just a few things that come to mind.

I think 18th century medicine gets a bad wrap in the grand scheme of things. Clearly they hadn’t made the medical progress we enjoy today. However, there is something to be said about herbal remedies and taking what nature offers. It wasn’t all useless, and in fact, if used for the right ailments it could be very beneficial. The conversation between Mrs. Fitz and Claire about the use of leeches in Chapter 6 was a great example of this!

Once Claire gets up to the stables, I feel like we are getting a crash course on Jamie. He’s a wanted criminal with a price on his head, a fact to which Colum and Dougal are both privy. Someone also attempted to murder our favorite red head sometime in the recent past. In fact, he was on his way back home from France where he recovered in the monastery of St. Anne de Beaupré, when he and the men found Claire. Claire’s best guess based on the scar is that someone tried to brain him with an axe.

IRONY ALERT: his skull is so thick the axe didn’t penetrate… Beware of men with thick skulls Claire… just saying.

Photo Credit: Outlander-Online

EXCERPT #2

“I’m an outlaw,” he said, as though surprised that I didn’t know. “The English have a price of ten pounds sterling on my head. Not quite so much as a highwayman,” he said, deprecatingly, “but a bit more than a pickpocket.”

“Just for obstruction?” I said, unbelievingly. Ten pounds sterling here was half the yearly income of a small farm; I couldn’t imagine a single escaped prisoner was worth that much to the English government. 

“Och, no. Murder.” I choked on a mouthful of bread-and-pickle. Jamie pounded me helpfully on the back until I could speak again.

Eyes water, I asked, “Wh-who did you k-kill?”

He shrugged. “Well, it’s a bit odd. I didna actually kill the man whose murder I’m outlawed for. Mind ye, I’ve done for a few other redcoats along the way, so I suppose it’s not unjust.”

[Excerpt from OUTLANDER, Copyright 1991 Diana Gabaldon]


Jamie doesn’t have any memory of the attack, but he is still living with the ramifications of it. He was blind for a month from the blow, he still has killer migraines and little bit of trouble with his eyesight when he’s tired…poor thing. More details to come on this one, but man…. This 18th century whodunit is a doozy!

The plot thickens when we hear the conversation between Jamie and Alec while they think Claire is sleeping. Jamie is in some way related to the two most powerful men in the clan, but how? We are certainly led to believe it’s a close connection, but no specific term has been put to it.

The Gathering is coming and while we have no freakin’ clue what a “Gathering” is yet, it certainly sounds important. In fact, it would appear to be a make or break event for our Jamie ________. And I leave that blank with the greatest of fondness because while we don’t officially know his last name yet, he’s at least admitted that his last name isn’t McTavish. One thing is remarkably clear about this, he has been given the choice to become a MacKenzie, and he’s not sure he wants that either…

Ooooohhhh it’s getting juicy. I’m sensing some family drama coming down the pipe…

Photo Credit: Outlander-Online

EXCERPT #3

“It’s no but a week ‘til the Gathering, laddie,” Alec was saying. “Have ye made up your mind what you’ll do then?”

There was a long sigh from Jamie. “No, Alec, that I havena. Sometimes I think one way, sometimes the other. Granted that it’s good here, working wi’ the beasts and with you.” There was a smile somewhere in the young man’s voice, which disappeared as he went on. “And Colum’s promised me to… well, you’ll not know about that. But kiss the iron and change my name to MacKenzie, and forswear all I’m born to? Nay, I canna make up my mind to it.”

“Stubborn as your Da, ye are,” remarked Alec, though the words held a tone of grudging approval. “You’ve the look of him about ye sometimes, for all you’re tall and fair as your mother’s folk.”

“Knew him, did ye?” Jamie sounded interested.

“Oh, a bit. And heard more. I’ve been here at Leoch since before your parents wed, ye ken. And to hear Dougal and Colum speak of Black Brian, ye’d think he was the de’il himself, if not worse. And your ma the Virgin Mary, swept awa’ to the Bad Place by him.”

[Excerpt from OUTLANDER, Copyright 1991 Diana Gabaldon]


Chapter 8: An Evening’s Entertainment

Colum MacKenzie is one smooth talker. He and his brother make quite the pair don’t they? They are both extremely manipulative and intelligent, but I think Colum is the more calculating of the two. He has to be. Not only is he the clan leader, but he doesn’t have a body with which to defend himself. He has to be twice as calculating to come up with the same result as his younger brother. So when Claire enters the picture, it’s only natural that he’s going to be suspicious of her. Tensions are high between the English and the Scots. English people don’t just wander into Scotland on a Sunday drive–if they are in Scotland, especially the Highlands, it’s for a reason, and that is precisely what Colum is trying to get out of Claire.

Claire has a high tolerance for alcohol, which even Jamie finds impressive, but I think that kind of threw a wrench in the works for Colum. No doubt, he was hoping to get her sloshed so she would spill all of her secrets, and I rather think Claire was a bit reckless when it came to her wine consumption, but then again, there weren’t a whole lot of choices when it came to drinking. It was either wine or water, and you can’t exactly turn down The MacKenzie when he offers you his prized Rhenish… now can you? And why would you want to… I’m honestly a bit curious about this 18th century “pink drink”.

The residents of Castle Leoch are ready for a night of entertainment and Gwyllyn the Bard is the headliner. I find the evolution of entertainment over the centuries extremely interesting. Regardless of how we consume it: orally or through the newest streaming service, we still enjoy the same things; singing and storytelling. What catches Claire’s attention is the story of a woman who travels through stone to a time 200 years from now. Knowing Claire’s predicament, it certainly makes one wonder how many times, exactly, this has happened. Are time travelers a regular occurrence in the Scottish Highlands? It certainly sounds like it. After all, most legends are based in fact and then embellished for the benefit of those hearing the tale.

Photo Credit: Outlander-Online

EXCERPT #4:

It’s always two hundred years in Highland stories, said the Reverend Wakefield’s voice in memory. The same thing as “Once upon a time,” you know.

And women trapped in the rocks of fairy duns, traveling far and arriving exhausted, who knew not where they had been, nor how they had come there.

I could feel the hair rising on my forearms, as though with cold, and rubbed them uneasily. Two hundred years. From 1945 to 1743; yes, near enough. And women who traveled through the rocks. Was it always women? I wondered suddenly.

Something else occurred to me. The women came back. Holy water, spell, or knife, they came back. So perhaps, just perhaps, it was possible. I must get back to the standing stones on Craigh na Dun.

[Excerpt from OUTLANDER, Copyright 1991 Diana Gabaldon]


I’m not going to lie, the first time I read the scene where Claire sees Jamie and Laoghaire canoodling in the alcove, I smiled to myself. The way Jamie just gives Claire an ironic little “oops you caught me smile” says more than actual words. He really views Claire as a friend, and he trusts her not to say anything–which I adore. However on a second, clairvoyant read, I’m banging my head against my desk. Jamie, Jamie, Jamie… *deep breath….

Let’s be honest, all young people have their fun, it’s part of the maturation process in a lot of cases, and Jamie–for all his good looks and charm–is a penniless outlaw. He’s not much of a prospect for a wife, so he’s probably of the mind that he’ll take what he can get in the way of affection. I also feel like it’s worth noting that SPOILER ALERT: there’s no way he could have predicted what would happen with Claire or that Laoghaire would turn out to be a complete nutter. The boy has bad luck… what can I say??

Chapter 9: The Gathering

Geilis Duncan. Fiscal’s Wife. Local Herbalist. Possible Witch. Lord knows she doesn’t help herself by saying “Hi, I’m Geilis Duncan. I’m the town abortionist!”  Smooth Geilis… SMOOTH. I mean, in all honestly, that fact alone puts her right on par with “witch” in the eyes of the 18th century contingent… Despite all of that, Claire finds Geilis refreshing. She’s wry and cynical, meaning she’s more Claire’s speed than the girls in the castle. So naturally Claire gravitates toward this strange woman.

Geilis also appears to be the Chief Gossip of Cranesmuir, and it takes no time to enlighten Claire with an interesting little tale about the parentage of sweet little Hamish MacKenzie. By now we know that Colum has a condition known as Toulouse-Lautrec syndrome which along with weakened bones, and wrinkly/callused skin causes infertility and impotence… sooooo there’s an EXTREMELY high chance that Hamish is not Colum’s biological son–we’re talking nearly impossible folks. This leads us to conclude that our dear Latitia has been rolling in the sack with someone else: Claire’s new bestie Jamie being the favorite horse in this race.

 Man, I feel like we need to hire Maury Povich. “Colum MacKenzie you are NOT the father.” Meanwhile, I’m just going to sit here, twiddle my thumbs, and pretend I don’t know what’s happening… *whistling as I stare at the ceiling…

Photo Credit: Outlander-Online

EXCERPT #5:

People are gregarious by necessity. Since the days of the first cave dwellers, humans–hairless, weak, and helpless save for cunning–have survived by joining together in groups; knowing, as so many other edible creatures have found, that there is protection in numbers. And that knowledge, bred in the bone, is what lies behind mob rule. Because to step outside the group, let alone stand against it, was for uncounted thousands of years death to the creature who dared it. To stand against a crowd would take something more than ordinary courage; something that went beyond human instinct. And I feared I did not have it, and fearing, was ashamed.

[Excerpt from OUTLANDER, Copyright 1991 Diana Gabaldon]


Claire’s thoughts here REALLY stood out to me. She’s speaks of the mob mentality and how humans are biologically engineered to stick together as a group. It’s part of our survival instincts. But she is also fighting her calling to stick up for this poor boy who is facing harsh punishment for a minor crime. It’s an interesting juxtaposition. She wants to do something, but fears the consequences. Raise your hand if you know the feeling…

When she finds a kindred spirit in Jamie, they bring out the best in each other. He, like her, believes in kindness and generosity, and while he may not act alone, he would, and does, come to Claire’s aid when she decides to intercede. This act of rebellion unites them, and with the boy freed, Jamie and Claire find a burgeoning friendship in his wake. Helping him was a risk that they both willingly assumed, despite the dangers to themselves, and it created a bond between them that will only grow with time.

Photo Credit: Outlander-Online

EXCERPT #6:

Mounted once more in front of him, my own horse led by the rein, I tried to thank him for his help.

“No trouble, lass,” he said, dismissing my thanks.

“But it was a risk to you,” I said, persisting. “I didn’t realize you’d be in danger when I asked you.”

“Ah,” he said, noncommittally. And a moment later, with a hint of amusement. “Ye wouldna expect me to be less bold than a wee Sassenach lassie, now would ye?”

He urged the horses into a trot as the shadows of dusk gathered by the roadside. We did not speak much on the rest of the journey home. And when we reached the castle, he left me at the gate with no more than a softly mocking, “Good e’en, Mistress Sassenach.” But I felt as though a friendship had been begun that ran a bit deeper than shared gossip under the apple trees.

[Excerpt from OUTLANDER, Copyright 1991 Diana Gabaldon]


Chapter 10: The Oath-Taking

GOOD JOB, Claire… That is pretty much all I have to say about Claire’s little escape attempt. That’s just about the way of it though, isn’t it? Claire makes a decision. Jamie pays the consequences. I know it’s not ALWAYS this way, but I really feel bad for him in this particular instance. He was just trying to do the right thing and get Claire safely back to the castle when WHAM! There’s Rupert, hell bent on making him swear fealty to Colum. What. The. Hell.

Silver Lining: this gives us another opportunity to see how freaking amazing Jamie is… and I think I’m okay with that…

Jamie’s rather good tempered about it all, despite being put in a life threatening position, which does make me question his sanity just a teensy bit. I’m pretty sure I’d be FLIPPING OUT. The boy was in a lose, lose situation, it seemed like and somehow he managed to squeak through by the skin of his teeth and appease everyone.

Jeez… maybe I need to take lessons in diplomacy from this guy.  And in the midst of all this drama, we did learn a little something, something about Jamie Not-McTavish. His clan motto is “Je Suis Prest” — for the non-French-speakers in the room, that translates to “I Am Ready”. I suppose he was kind of laying it all out there in this moment. If Claire had any knowledge of the Highland clans at all, the cat would have been out of the bag right then and there, but she didn’t, and the kitty is still safely tucked away. For now.

Jamie handles the moment of decision with such grace, it blows me away. I mean, this kid is 22 years old. I’m not sure what I was doing at 22, but it definitely wasn’t standing in front of a room full of people, trying to find the right words to say so as not to be run through by several hundred angry clansmen… yikes. All the kudos to you, Jamie boy.

Photo Credit: Outlander-Online

EXCERPT #7:

He went gracefully to one knee and bowed deeply before Colum. But instead of drawing his knife for the oath, he rose to his feet and looked Colum in the face. Fully erect, he stood head and shoulders over most of the men in the hall, and he topped Colum on his rostrum by several inches. I glanced at the girl Laoghaire. She had gone pale when he rose to his feet, and I saw that she also had her fists clenched tight.

Every eye in the hall was on him, but he spoke as though to Colum alone. His voice was as deep as Colum’s, and every word was clearly audible.

“Colum MacKenzie, I come to you as kinsman and as ally. I give ye no vow, for my oath is pledged to the name that I bear.” There was a low, ominous growl from the crowd, but he ignored it and went on. “But I give ye freely the things that I have; my help and my goodwill, wherever ye should find need of them. I give ye my obedience, as kinsman and as laird, and I hold myself bound by your word, so long as my feet rest on the lands of clan MacKenzie.”

He stopped speaking and stood, tall and erect, hands relaxed at his sides. Ball now in Colum’s court, I thought. One word from him, one sign, and they’d be scrubbing the young man’s blood off the flags come morning.

Colum stood unmoving for a moment, then smiled and held out his hands. After an instant’s hesitation, Jamie placed his own  hands lightly on Colum’s palms.

“We are honored by your offer of friendship and goodwill,” said Colum clearly. “We accept your obedience and hold you in good faith as an ally of clan MacKenzie.”

[Excerpt from OUTLANDER, Copyright 1991 Diana Gabaldon]

Claire’s encounter with the Clansmen was… distasteful at best. I think it’s easy for us to look at historical fiction works like Outlander from the comfort of our 21st century bubble and groan at yet another instance of sexual assault / rape, but I can also see why it was so extremely common back in the 18th century and beyond. Women were viewed as property, pleasure objects, and baby making machines. They weren’t appreciated as human beings in a lot of cases. So, when you think about it in that context, it makes sense that men wouldn’t think twice about taking advantage of a young lady all on her own in a dark castle corridor.

That’s not to say that I condone, support, or agree with what happened. It’s disgusting, and men need to respect boundaries, but there it is. Dougal’s behavior was just another mark against a man I already can’t stand. He’s one of those people that has the pretense of civility and charm, but really is just an egotistical narcissist who can’t see past his own arrogance to do the right thing–ever. Yeah, I don’t like the guy okay? I’ll get off my soap box now. Nevertheless, Claire needs to make a positive impression on this guy to earn her freedom… talk about being between a rock and a hard place…

She goes a little ways toward earning Dougal’s respect, if not his trust, on the boar tynchal when his old pal Geordie is mortally wounded. While this scene isn’t quite the heart wrenching scene we get in the television series, it is still an extremely important plot point for one reason. When Claire responds to Geordie in a calm and professional manner, Dougal realizes whoever this lass is, she has seen violence, and she has had to perform under pressure and in crisis. It gives him pause because this is not something women of the 18th century are often called upon to do.

Claire is unique in this way, and Dougal realizes he may have underestimated this Englishwoman from Oxfordshire. These qualities she possesses must come from somewhere, and who would be better placed to identify this young women with these uncommon skills than the Garrison Commander at Fort William? And if one of his men gets injured or takes ill along the way, well, won’t it just be convenient for them to have a healer on the road with them?

So that’s where we’ll leave it for another week! Next time I’ll be discussing Part Three of Outlander: “On The Road”. Keep up with what I’m reading via my nightly Instagram Story Read Along. Also make sure to head over to the Dictionary for all kinds of interesting terms Diana has used in our reading thus far along with their definitions!

Until next time, Cheers!!

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