How does it work out for some and not for others? Finding the love of your life, I mean. Some get lucky, like Claire and Jamie. They lose and find each other over and over again! But what happens when it doesn’t work out? Can you bury the love you feel for someone you’ve loved and lost? The love of your life? One Highlander tries, but through the grace of human frailty, offers up a wee keek into his personal heartache. There’s not much to go on, but that makes the possibilities worth exploring. Who am I talking about? The one, the only, Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser.
The love of Murtagh’s life was Ellen MacKenzie. Yes, that MacKenzie – sister to Colum and Dougal. We learn of Murtagh’s love for her via snippets that come and go so quickly they’re easy to miss. You have to be on your toes, observant, and tuned in to Murtagh’s facial expressions, guarded as they may be. He keeps his love and heartbreak for her hidden safely beneath that gruff exterior. So, let’s see what bits we can find and where they take us.
Before Jamie and Claire are married, Jamie asks Murtagh what he thinks of her (Mistress Beauchamp). Murtagh replies simply, “She’ll do.” But those two words carry huge emotional weight. Murtagh’s endorsement of Claire as a wife to Jamie (and a glimpse of Murtagh’s enduring love for Ellen) comes when he holds Jamie’s brooch in his hand and says, “Your mother had the sweetest smile. Would warm a man to the backbone just to see it. Claire’s smile is just as sweet.” Ellen is still on Murtagh’s mind and in his heart. You see that pang of love and loss in Murtagh’s eyes as his emotions come to the surface and disappear just as quickly. So many years have passed, and it still hurts. Broken hearts never really heal. You bandage them as best you can and carry on.
Why did Ellen choose Brian Fraser over Murtagh? Perhaps Murtagh didn’t tell Ellen of his feelings for her. Haven’t we all been there? Admiring from afar, wondering if it’s even possible for “that someone” to feel the same way about you as you do for them? Was he afraid Ellen would reject him? Would could he do to win her heart?
During the MacKenzie gathering, Murtagh kills a wounded boar with just a dagger to prove his bravery to Ellen, “to prove myself worthy of her – be the kind of man she desired.” An amazing feat, news of which would surely have reached Ellen’s ears. But it wasn’t enough to win her heart. The clan gave Murtagh the tusks, he had them made into bracelets, and gave them to Ellen as a wedding present. Murtagh’s heart must have been shattered. He gave it all he had, and it wasn’t enough. Painful as it might have been to watch, I would have loved to witness the exchange.
In “The Watch,” Jenny gives the bracelets to Claire and tells her, “Someone gave them to Mother as a wedding gift, but she would never say who. My father used to tease her now and then about her admirer, but she wouldna tell him, either, just smiled like a cat that’s had cream for its supper.”
Is it possible that Ellen had a warm spot in her heart for Murtagh? If he knew, would it have given him any comfort? If he saw her wearing them, might she be thinking of him? He gave it all he had, and it wasn’t enough. He has no choice but to carry on and hide his feelings from those who might whisper, wonder, and pry. Is the surly, gruff exterior we see in Murtagh a cloak to cover his pain and vulnerability? Is it a protection mechanism he uses to ward off future emotional attachments? It’s easier to make yourself unavailable than to risk further damage to an already broken heart. Force yourself to focus elsewhere and pretend it doesn’t matter.
Another sliver of love shows itself when Murtagh lets down his guard to Claire when they stop for the night in their search for Jamie, who’s been captured by the Redcoats. She makes the mistake of accusing Murtagh of never losing someone he’s loved. Murtagh rails against Claire and during their heated exchange, he reveals his love for Ellen (although he never speaks her name). Claire realizes who Murtagh is referring to when he tells her the story of the boar and the tusk bracelets, which she has with her). “I lost someone at the MacKenzie gathering, many years ago,” he confides to Claire. Time passes, but the pain is slow to ease, and, in some cases, never does.