An Echo in the Bone

Author: P Hana

Page 91

   

“Nothing, nothing. Go back to sleep.” He swung his legs out of bed. “Just… going to the privy.”

“Oh.” Flouncings and mutterings from the floor, a sternly rebuking shush! from Dottie. He found the chamber door by feel, for the shutters had been put up and the room was black as sin, and made his way downstairs by the dim light from the banked fire in the inn’s main room.

The air outside was fresh and cool, scented with something he didn’t recognize but that tugged at his memory. It was a relief to let go the struggle with his obstinate dream and submerge himself in this purely sensory remembrance. It brought back long rides in Virginia, muddy roads, fresh leaves, the sense of a horse beneath him, the kick of a gun, the feel of a deer’s blood spilling hot over his hand… of course, hunting with William.

He felt the immediacy of the wilderness wash over him, that strong, strange sense so peculiar to America: the sense of something waiting among the trees—not inimical, but not welcoming, either. He had loved those few years in Virginia, away from the intrigues of Europe, the constant sociality of London. Valued them mostly, though, for the closeness that had grown between him and his son in those years in the wilderness.

He had not yet seen fireflies on this journey. He glanced into the thick grass as he walked, but it was probably too late; fireflies came out mostly in the early evening. He looked forward to showing them to Dottie. William had been enchanted by his first sight of them when they came to live in Virginia—had caught them in his hand, cupping one gently and exclaiming as it lit the darkened hollow of his palm. Had greeted their return each summer with joy.

Relieved in body and at least superficially soothed in mind, he sat slowly down on the chopping block in the innyard, unwilling to return yet to the frowsy darkness above.

Where was Henry? he wondered. Where did he sleep tonight? Housed in some dungeon? No, the Colonies really had no such thing. Even common houses were remarkably comfortable and airy. Perhaps his nephew was held in a gaol, a barn, some cellar—and yet he had, so far as they knew, survived the winter in spite of what must be a serious wound. He would have had money, though; perhaps he had been able to pay for better housing, perhaps a doctor’s care.

God willing, they would find him soon. They were no more than two days’ ride from Philadelphia. And he had the letters of introduction Franklin had given him—Franklin again! Damn the man and his air-bathing. Though Grey had joined him in this process once, from curiosity, and found it oddly pleasant, if a little unnerving, to be sitting mother-naked in a room equipped with elegant furniture, potted plants in the corners, paintings on the—

No. No, there were no paintings in the solar at Trois Flèches, of course not.

There it was. The tail of his elusive dream, twitching tantalizingly at him from under a rock. He closed his eyes, filled his lungs with the scent of the summer night, and purposely forced his mind to go blank.

Trois Flèches. Three arrows. Who is the third? The words of Hal’s letter appeared on the inside of his eyelids, sufficiently startling that he opened his eyes. Used as he was to Hal’s oblique thought processes, he hadn’t made much of this at the time. Evidently it had taken root in his subconscious, though, only to emerge in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, out of the depths of an absurd dream. Why?

He rubbed gently at the crown of his head, which was sore from his collision with the beam, but not broken. His fingers unconsciously moved down, fingering the spot where Jamie Fraser’s wife had covered the trephine hole in his skull with a silver sixpence hammered flat. She had stitched the skin over it quite cleverly and the hair had grown again, but it was easy to feel the small hard curve under it. He seldom noticed or thought of it save in cold weather, when the metal grew markedly cold and sometimes caused headache and made his nose run.

It had been cold, very cold, when he visited Trois Flèches. The thought floated through his head like a moth.

There were sounds behind the inn. The clop of hooves on packed dirt, the murmur of voices. He sat very still.

The moon was halfway down; it was late, but hours yet ’til dawn. No one should have business at this hour, save it was a dark business. The sort of business he had no desire to witness—let alone to be seen witnessing.

They were coming, though; he couldn’t move without being seen, and instead stilled even his breathing to the barest wisp of air.

Three men, quiet, purposeful, on horseback, one leading a laden mule. They passed no more than two paces from him, but he didn’t move, and the horses, if they sensed him, found him no threat. They turned onto the road that led to Philadelphia. Why this secrecy? he wondered—but didn’t waste time in much wondering. He had noticed it at once upon his return to North Carolina the year before: a morbid excitement, an uneasiness in the air itself. It was more pronounced here; he had been aware of it since they had landed.

People were wary in a way that they hadn’t been. They don’t know who to trust, he thought. And so they trust no one.

The thought of trust conjured an immediate and vivid recollection of Percy Wainwright. If there is anyone in the world I trust less…

And just like that, he had it. The picture of Percy, dark-eyed and smiling, thumb running over the surface of his wineglass as though he stroked Grey’s prick, saying casually, “ I married one of the sisters of the Baron Amandine…”

“One of the sisters,” Grey whispered aloud, and the dream crystallized in his mind, the sense of cold from the stones of Trois Flèches so vivid that he shivered, though the night was not cold at all. Felt the warmth of those two lascivious, vicious bodies pressing on him from either side. And on the wall to one side, disregarded among the careless profusion, a small painting of three children, two girls, one boy, posed with a dog, and the outer wall of Trois Flèches recognizable behind them.

The second sister. The third arrow, whom Hal, with his unerring sense of oddity, had never seen but had noticed nonetheless.

The Beauchamps were a noble, ancient family—and like most such families, they referred often, if casually, to themselves. He had heard during his visit of the doings of cousins, uncles, aunts, distant connections… but never of the second sister.

She might have died in childhood, of course; such things were common. But in that case, why would Percy have said… ?

Now his head was beginning to ache. With a sigh, he rose and went inside. He had no notion where or when—but he was going to have to speak to Percy again. He was appalled to find that the prospect did not alarm him.

LEY LINES

BRIANNA PAUSED BY the fish-viewing chamber. It wasn’t yet the breeding season, when—she’d been told—the great salmon swarmed through the chutes of the fish ladder that allowed them to climb the dam at Pitlochry, but now and then a silvery flash shot into view with heart-stopping suddenness, fighting strongly against the current for a moment before shooting up into the tube that led to the next stage of the ladder. The chamber itself was a small white housing let into the side of the fish ladder, with an algae-clouded window. She’d paused there to gather her thoughts—or, rather, to suppress some of them—before going in to the dam.

It was nonsense to worry about something that had already happened. And she did know that her parents were all right. Or at least, she amended, had made it out of Fort Ticonderoga; there were a good many letters left.

And she could at any moment read those letters, too, and find out. That was what made it so ridiculous. She supposed she wasn’t really worried. Just… preoccupied. The letters were wonderful. But at the same time, she was only too aware of how much even the most complete letter must leave out. And according to Roger’s book, General Burgoyne had left Canada in early June, his plan being to march south and join General Howe’s troops, cutting the Colonies essentially in half. And on July 6, 1777, he had paused to attack Fort Ticonderoga. What—

“Coimhead air sin!” said a voice behind her. She jerked round, startled, to find Rob Cameron standing there, gesturing excitedly at the fish-viewing window. She turned back just in time to see a tremendous silver fish, spotted dark over the back, give a great heave against the current before disappearing up the chute.

“Nach e sin an rud as brèagha a chunnaic thu riamh?”he said, the wonder of it still showing on his face. Is that not the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?

“Cha mhór!” she replied, wary, but unable not to smile in return. Almost.

His own smile remained but became more personal as he focused on her. “Ah, ye do have the Gàidhlig! My cousin said, but I didna quite believe it—you with your prah-pah Bah-ston accent,” he said, drawling the syllables in what he plainly thought was a Boston accent.

“Yeah, pahk yah cah in Hah-vahd Yahd,” she said, in a real—but exaggerated—one. He burst out laughing.

“How d’ye do that? Ye don’t speak Gàidhlig with that sort of accent. I mean—ye’ve got one, but it’s… different. More like ye’d hear on the Isles—Barra, maybe, or Uist.”

“My da was Scots,” she said. “I got it from him.”

That made him look at her afresh, as though she were a novel sort of fish he’d just pulled up on his hook.

“Yeah? From around here? What’s his name?”

“James Fraser,” she replied. Safe enough; there were dozens. “And was. He’s… gone.”

“Ach, too bad,” he said sympathetically, and briefly touched her arm. “Lost my dad last year. Tough, eh?”

“Yes,” she said briefly, and made to go past him. He turned at once and fell into step beside her.

“Ye’ve got wee ones, too, Roger said?” He felt her start of surprise, and smiled sideways at her. “Met him in lodge. Nice guy.”

“Yes, he is,” she said, guarded. Roger hadn’t mentioned meeting Rob, and she did wonder why not. Clearly he’d talked with Rob long enough for Rob to know that Roger was her husband and that they had children. Rob didn’t pursue the reference any further, though, instead stretching and throwing back his head.

“Gahhh… too nice a day to spend in a dam. Wish I could be on the water.” He nodded toward the tumbling river, where half a dozen be-wadered anglers stood among the waves with the predatory intentness of herons. “You or Roger fly-fish at all?”

“I have,” she said, and felt the memory of a casting rod whipping in her hands, sending a small thrill up the nerve endings. “You fish, then?”

“Aye, I’ve got a permission for Rothiemurchus.” He looked proud, as though this was something special, so she made approving noises. He glanced sideways at her, caramel-eyed and smiling. “If ever ye want to come out with your rod, just say the word. Boss.” He grinned suddenly at her, careless and charming, and went ahead of her into the dam office, whistling.

A ley line is an observed alignment between two geographical features of interest, usually an ancient monument or megalith. There are a number of theories about ley lines and considerable controversy as to whether they actually exist as a phenomenon, and not only as an artifact.

By that I mean that if you choose any two points that have interest for humans, there’s very likely to be a path that leads between them, no matter what those points are. There is a major roadway between London and Edinburgh, for instance, because people frequently want to go from one to the other, but this is not normally called a ley line. What people usually have in mind when using this term is an ancient pathway that leads, say, from a standing stone to an ancient abbey, which is itself likely built on a spot of much older worship.

Since there isn’t much objective evidence beyond the obvious existence of such lines, there’s a lot of guff talked about them. Some people think the lines have a magical or mystical significance. I don’t see any grounds for this myself, and neither does your mother, who is a scientist. On the other hand, science changes its mind now and then, and what looks like magic may really have a scientific explanation (NB—put in footnote about Claire and the plant-harvesting).

However, among the theories regarding ley lines, there is one that appears to have at least a possible physical basis. Perhaps you will already know what dowsers are, by the time you come to read this; I will take you out with one as soon as the opportunity occurs. Just in case, though—a dowser is a person who can detect the presence of water or sometimes bodies of metal underground, like the ore in mines. Some of them use a Y-forked stick, a metal rod, or some other object with which to “divine” the water; some merely sense it. The actual basis of this skill is not known; your mother says that Occam’s razor would say that such people just recognize the type of geology that is most likely to harbor underground water. I’ve seen dowsers work, though, and am pretty sure there is more to it than that—especially in view of the theories I’m telling you here.

One theory of how dowsing works is that the water or metal has a magnetic current, to which the dowser is sensitive. Your mother says that the first part of this is true and that, furthermore, there are large bands of geomagnetic force in the earth’s crust, which run in opposing directions all round the globe. Further, she tells me that these bands are detectible by objective measures but are not necessarily permanent; indeed, the earth undergoes occasional (every umpty-million years, I think; she didn’t know the exact frequency) reversals of its geomagnetic force—nobody knows why, but the usual suspect is sunspots—with the poles exchanging places.

Another interesting bit of information is that homing pigeons (and quite possibly other sorts of birds) demonstrably do sense these geomagnetic lines, and use them to navigate by, though no one yet has figured out quite how they do it.

What we suspect—your mother and I—and I must emphasize that we may easily be wrong in this supposition—is that ley lines do exist, that they are (or correlate with) lines of geomagnetic force, and that where they cross or converge you get a spot where this magnetic force is… different, for lack of a better word. We think these convergences—or some of them—may be the places where it is possible for people who are sensitive to such forces (like pigeons, I suppose) to go from one time to another (that would be your mother and me, and you, Jem, and Mandy). If the person reading this is a child (or grandchildren) not yet born, then I don’t know whether you will have this sensitivity, ability, what-you-may-call-it, but I assure you that it is real. Your grandmother speculated that it is a genetic trait, much like the ability to roll one’s tongue; if you haven’t got it, the “how” of it is simply incomprehensible, even though you can observe it in someone who does have the trait. If that’s the case for you, I don’t know whether to apologize or congratulate you, though I suppose it’s no worse than the other things parents give their children, all unknowing, like crooked teeth or shortsightedness. We didn’t do it on purpose, either way, please believe that.

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