An Echo in the Bone

Author: P Hana

Page 92

   

Sorry, I’ve got off the track here. The basic point is that the ability to time-travel may be dependent on a genetic sensitivity to these… convergences? vortices? … of ley lines.

Owing to the peculiar geological history of the British Isles, you find a lot of ley lines here and, likewise, a great number of archaeological sites that seem to be linked by those lines. Your mother and I intend to note, so far as can be done without danger—and make no mistake about this; it is very dangerous—the occurrence of such sites as might be portals. Obviously, there’s no way of knowing for sure whether a specific site is a portal or not.*

*Footnote: Your mother says—well, she said quite a bit, in which I picked out the words “Unified Field Theory,” which I gather is something that doesn’t yet exist, but if it did, it would explain a hell of a lot of things, and among these might be an answer to why a convergence of geomagnetic lines might affect time in the spot where the convergence occurs. All I personally got from this explanation is the notion that space and time are occasionally the same thing, and gravity is somehow involved. This makes as much sense to me as anything else regarding this phenomenon.

Footnote 2:

The observation that sites seem to be “open” on the dates that correspond to the sun feasts and fire feasts of the ancient world (or at least more open than at other times) may—if this hypothesis is right—have something to do with the gravitational pull of the sun and moon. This seems reasonable, given that those bodies really do affect the behavior of the earth with respect to tides, weather, and the like—why not time vortices, too, after all?

“Does that make sense?” Roger asked. “So far, at least?”

“Insofar as anything about it makes sense, yes.” Despite the uneasiness that came over her whenever they discussed it, she couldn’t help smiling at him; he looked so earnest. There was a blotch of ink on his cheek, and his black hair was ruffled up on one side.

“Professoring must be in the blood,” she said, pulling a tissue out of her pocket, licking it in mother-cat fashion, and applying it to his face. “You know, there’s this wonderful modern invention called a ballpoint…”

“Hate them,” he said, closing his eyes and suffering himself to be tidied. “Besides, a fountain pen is a great luxury, compared to a quill.”

“Well, that’s true. Da always looked like an explosion in an ink factory when he’d been writing letters.” Her eyes returned to the page, and she snorted briefly at the first footnote, making Roger smile.

“Is that a decent explanation?”

“Considering that this is meant for the kids, more than adequate,” she assured him, lowering the page. “What goes in Footnote Two?”

“Ah.” He leaned back in his chair, hands linked, looking uneasy. “That.”

“Yes, that,” she said, instantly alerted. “Is there something like an Exhibit A that’s meant to go there?”

“Well, yes,” he said reluctantly, and met her eyes. “Geillis Duncan’s notebooks. Mrs. Graham’s book would be Exhibit B. Your mother’s explanation of planting superstitions is Footnote Four.”

Brianna could feel the blood draining from her head and sat down, just in case.

“You’re sure that’s a good idea?” she asked, tentative. She didn’t herself know where Geillis Duncan’s notebooks were—and didn’t want to. The little book that Fiona Graham, Mrs. Graham’s granddaughter, had given them was safely tucked away in a safe-deposit box in the Royal Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Roger blew out his breath and shook his head.

“No, I’m not,” he said frankly. “But look. We don’t know how old the kids will be when they read this. Which reminds me—we need to make some kind of provision about it. Just in case something happens to us before they’re old enough to be told … everything.”

She felt as though a melting ice cube were sliding slowly down her back. He was right, though. They might both be killed in a car crash, like her mother’s parents. Or the house might burn—

“Well, no,” she said aloud, looking at the window behind Roger, which was set into a stone wall some eighteen inches thick. “I don’t suppose this house will burn down.”

That made him smile.

“No, not too worried about that. But the notebooks—aye, I know what ye mean. And I did think of maybe just going through them myself and sort of straining out the information—she did have quite a bit about which stone circles seemed to be active, and that’s useful. Because reading the rest of it is…” He waved a hand in search of the right word.

“Creepy,” she supplied.

“I was going to say like watching someone go slowly mad in front of you, but ‘creepy’ will do.” He took the pages from her and tapped them together. “It’s just an academic tic, I suppose. I don’t feel right in suppressing an original source.”

She gave a different snort, one indicating what she thought of Geillis Duncan as an original source of anything bar trouble. Still…

“I suppose you’re right,” she said reluctantly. “Maybe you could do a summary, though, and just mention where the notebooks are, in case someone down the line is really curious.”

“Not a bad thought.” He put the papers inside the notebook and rose, closing it as he did so. “I’ll go down and get them, then, maybe when school’s out. I could take Jem and show him the city; he’s old enough to walk the Royal Mile, and he’d love the castle.”

“Do not take him to the Edinburgh Dungeon!” she said at once, and he broke into a broad grin.

“What, ye don’t think wax figures of people being tortured are educational? It’s all historical, aye?”

“It would be a lot less horrible if it wasn’t,” she said, and, turning, caught sight of the wall clock. “Roger! Aren’t you supposed to be doing your Gaelic class at the school at two o’clock?”

He glanced at the clock in disbelief, snatched up the pile of books and papers on his desk, and shot out of the room in a flurry of very eloquent Gaelic.

She went out into the hall to see him hastily kiss Mandy and charge for the door. Mandy stood in the open doorway, waving enthusiastically.

“Bye-bye, Daddy!” she cried. “Bwing me ice cweam!”

“If he forgets, we’ll go into the village after supper and get some,” Brianna promised, bending down to pick her daughter up. She stood there holding Mandy, watching Roger’s ancient orange Morris cough, choke, shudder, and start up with a brief belch of blue smoke. She frowned slightly at the sight, thinking she must get him a set of new spark plugs, but waved as he leaned out at the corner of the drive, smiling back at them.

Mandy snuggled close, murmuring one of Roger’s more picturesque Gaelic phrases, which she was obviously committing to memory, and Bree bent her head, inhaling the sweet scent of Johnson’s baby shampoo and grubby child. No doubt it was the mention of Geillis Duncan that was making her feel still uneasy. The woman was well and truly dead, but after all… she was Roger’s multiple great-grandmother. And perhaps the ability to travel through stone circles was not the only thing to be passed down through the blood.

Though surely some things were diluted by time. Roger, for instance, had nothing in common with William Buccleigh MacKenzie, Geillis’s son by Dougal MacKenzie—and the man responsible for Roger’s being hanged.

“Son of a witch,” she said, under her breath. “I hope you rot in hell.”

“’At’s a bad word, Mummy,” Mandy said reprovingly.

IT WENT BETTER than he could have hoped. The schoolroom was crowded, with lots of kids, a number of parents, and even a few grandparents crammed in round the walls. He had that moment of light-headedness—not quite panic or stage fright, but a sense of looking into some vast canyon that he couldn’t see the bottom of—that he was used to from his days as a performer. He took a deep breath, put down his stack of books and papers, smiled at them, and said, “Feasgar math!”

That’s all it ever took; the first words spoken—or sung—and it was like taking hold of a live wire. A current sprang up between him and the audience, and the next words seemed to come from nowhere, flowing through him like the crash of water through one of Bree’s giant turbines.

After a word or two of introduction, he started with the notion of Gaelic cursing, knowing why most of the kids had come. A few parents’ brows shot up, but small, knowing smiles appeared on the faces of the grandparents.

“We haven’t got bad words in the Gàidhlig, like there are in the English,” he said, and grinned at the feisty-looking towhead in the second row, who had to be the wee Glasscock bugger who’d told Jemmy he was going to hell. “Sorry, Jimmy.

“Which is not to say ye can’t give a good, strong opinion of someone,” he went on, as soon as the laughter subsided. “But Gàidhlig cursing is a matter of art, not crudeness.” That got a ripple of laughter from the old people, too, and several of the kids’ heads turned toward their grandparents, amazed.

“For example, I once heard a farmer whose pig got into the mash tell her that he hoped her intestines would burst through her belly and be eaten by crows.”

An impressed “Oo!” from the kids, and he smiled and went on, giving carefully edited versions of some of the more creative things he’d heard his father-in-law say on occasion. No need to add that, lack of bad words notwithstanding, it is indeed possible to call someone a “daughter of a bitch” when wishing to be seriously nasty. If the kids wanted to know what Jem had really said to Miss Glendenning, they’d have to ask him. If they hadn’t already.

From there, he went to a more serious—but quick—description of the Gaeltacht, that area of Scotland where Gaelic was traditionally spoken, and told a few anecdotes of learning the Gaelic on herring boats in the Minch as a teenager—including the entire speech given by a particular Captain Taylor when a storm scoured out his favorite lobster hole and made away with all his pots (this piece of eloquence having been addressed, with shaken fist, to the sea, the heavens, the crew, and the lobsters). That one had them rolling again, and a couple of the old buggers in the back were grinning and muttering to one another, they having obviously encountered similar situations.

“But the Gàidhlig is a language,” he said, when the laughter had died down once more. “And that means its primary use is for communication—people talking to one another. How many of you have ever heard line singing? Waulking songs?”

Murmurs of interest; some had, some hadn’t. So he explained what waulking was: “The women all working together, pushing and pulling and kneading the wet wool cloth to make it tight and waterproof—because they didn’t have macs or wellies in the auld days, and folk would need to be out of doors day and night, in all kinds of weather, tending their animals or their crofts.” His voice was well warmed by now; he thought he could make it through a brief waulking song and, flipping open the folder, sang them the first verse and refrain, then got them to do it, as well. They got four verses, and then he could feel the strain starting to tell and brought it to a close.

“My gran used to sing that one,” one of the mothers blurted impulsively, then blushed red as a beet as everyone looked at her.

“Is your gran still alive?” Roger asked, and at her abashed nod, said, “Well, then, have her teach it to you, and you can teach it to your kids. That kind of thing shouldn’t be lost, aye?”

A small murmur of half-surprised agreement, and he smiled again and lifted the battered hymnbook he’d brought.

“Right. I mentioned the line singing, too. Ye’ll still hear this of a Sunday in kirk out on the Isles. Go to Stornaway, for instance, and ye’ll hear it. It’s a way of singing the psalms that goes back to when folk hadn’t many books—or maybe not so many of the congregation could read. So there’d be a precentor, whose job it was to sing the psalm, one line at a time, and then the congregation would sing it back to him. This book”—and he raised the hymnal—“belonged to my own father, the Reverend Wakefield; some of you might recall him. But originally it belonged to another clergyman, the Reverend Alexander Carmichael. Now he…” And he went on to tell them about the Reverend Carmichael, who had combed the Highlands and the Isles in the nineteenth century, talking with people, urging them to sing him their songs and tell him their ways, collecting “hymns, charms, and incantations” from the oral tradition wherever he could find them, and had published this great work of scholarship in several volumes, called the Carmina Gadelica.

He’d brought one volume of the Gadelica with him, and while he passed the ancient hymnal round the room, along with a booklet of waulking songs he’d put together, he read them one of the charms of the new moon, the Cud Chewing Charm, the Indigestion Spell, the Poem of the Beetle, and some bits from “The Speech of Birds.”

Columba went out

An early mild morning;

He saw a white swan,

“Guile, guile,”

Down on the strand,

“Guile, guile,”

With a dirge of death,

“Guile, guile.”

A white swan and she wounded, wounded,

A white swan and she bruised, bruised,

The white swan of the two visions,

“Guile, guile,”

The white swan of the two omens,

“Guile, guile,”

Life and death,

“Guile, guile,”

“Guile, guile.”

When thy journey,

Swan of mourning?

Said Columba of love,

“Guile, guile,”

From Erin my swimming,

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