Drums of Autumn

Author: P Hana

Page 109

   

“Och, get on wi’ ye.” She made an impatient gesture, dismissing him. She sat back on her heels, rubbing her chin as she thought.

“I’m thinking, Rog—what it said in her book, about there maybe being some protection, if ye had a gemstone with ye. There were the wee jewels in your Mam’s locket, no?” He could hear her swallow. “Maybe—if ye hadn’t had that—ye might not have lived. She told about the folk who didn’t. They were burned—and your burn’s where the locket was.”

“Yes. It could be.” Roger was beginning to feel more like himself. He glanced curiously at Fiona.

“You always say ‘her.’ Why do you never say her name?”

Fiona’s curls lifted in the dawn wind as she turned to look at him. It was light enough now to see her face clearly, with its expression of disconcerting directness.

“Ye dinna call something unless ye want it to come,” she said. “Surely ye know that, and your father a minister?”

The hairs on his forearms prickled, despite the covering of shirt and coat.

“Now that you mention it,” he said, trying for a joking tone, and failing utterly. “I wasn’t quite calling my father’s name, but perhaps…Dr. Randall said she thought of her husband, when she came back.”

Fiona nodded, frowning. He could see her face clearly, and realized with a start that the light was growing. It was near dawn; the sky to the east was the shimmered color of a salmon’s scales.

“Christ, it’s almost morning! I’ve got to go!”

“Go?” Fiona’s eyes went round with horror. “You’re no going to try it again?”

“I am. I’ve got to.” The lining of his mouth was cotton-dry, and he regretted that Fiona had used all the coffee extinguishing him. He fought down the hollow-bellied feeling and made it to his feet. His knees were wobbly, but he could walk.

“Are you mad, Rog? It’ll kill ye, sure!”

He shook his head, eyes fixed on the tall cleft stone.

“No,” he said, and hoped to hell he was right. “No, I know what went wrong. It won’t happen again.”

“You can’t know, not for sure!”

“Aye, I do.” He took her hand from his sleeve and held it between his own; it was small and cold. He smiled at her, though his face felt strangely numb. “I hope Ernie’s not come home; he’ll have the police looking for you. You’d best hurry back.”

She shrugged, impatient.

“Och, he’s at the fishin’ with his cousin Neil; he’ll no be back till Tuesday. What d’ye mean, it won’t happen again—why won’t it?”

This was the thing that was harder to explain than the rest of it. He owed it to her to try, though.

“When I said I was thinking of my father, I was thinking of him from what I knew of him—the pictures of him in his airman’s kit, or with my mother. The thing is…I was born by that time. Do you see?” He searched her small, round face, and saw her blink slowly, comprehending. Her breath left her in a small sigh, of fear and wonder mingled.

“Ye didna only meet your Da, then, did ye?” she asked quietly.

He shook his head, wordless. No sight, no sound or smell or touch. There were no images at all to convey what it had been like to meet himself.

“I have to go,” he repeated softly. He squeezed her hand. “Fiona, I cannot say enough to thank you.”

She stared at him for a moment, her soft bottom lip thrust out, eyes glistening. Then she pulled loose, and twisting off her engagement ring, put it into his hand.

“It’s a wee stone, but it’s a real diamond,” she said. “It’ll maybe help.”

“I can’t take this!” He reached to give it back, but she took a step backward, and put her hands behind her back.

“Dinna worry, it’s insured,” she said. “Ernie’s a great one for the insurance.” She tried to smile at him, though the tears were running down her face now. “So am I.”

There was nothing more to say. He put the ring in the side pocket of his coat, and glanced at the great cleft stone, its black sides starting to glimmer as bits of mica and threads of quartz picked up the dawning light. He could hear the hum, still, though now it felt more like the pulsing of his blood; something inside him.

No words, and no need. He touched her face once lightly in farewell, and walked toward the stone, staggering slightly. He stepped into the cleft.

Fiona heard nothing, but the still, clear air of Midsummer’s Day shimmered with an echoed name.

She waited for a long time, until the sun rested on top of the stone.

“Slan leat, a charaid chòir,” she said, softly. “Luck to you, dear friend.” She went slowly down the hill, and didn’t look back.

34

LALLYBROCH

Scotland, June 1769

The sorrel horse’s name was Brutus, but luckily it didn’t seem indicative of character so far. More plodder than plotter, he was strong and faithful—or if not faithful, at least resigned. He had carried her through the summer-green glens and rock-lined gorges without a slip, taking her higher and higher along the good roads made by the English general Wade fifty years before, and the bad roads beyond the General’s reach, splashing through brushy burns and climbing up to the places where the roads dwindled away to nothing more than a red deer’s track across the moor.

Brianna let the reins lie on Brutus’s neck, letting him rest after the last climb, and sat still, surveying the small valley below. The big white-harled farmhouse sat serenely in the middle of pale green fields of oats and barley, its windows and chimneys edged in gray stone, the walled kailyard and the numerous outbuildings clustering around it like chicks round a big white hen.

She had never seen it before, but she was sure. She had heard her mother’s descriptions of Lallybroch often enough. And besides, it was the only substantial house for miles; she had seen nothing else in the last three days but the tiny stone-walled crofters’ cottages, many deserted and tumbled down, some no more than fire-black ruins.

Smoke was rising from a chimney below; someone was home. It was nearly midday; perhaps everyone was inside, eating dinner.

She swallowed, dry-mouthed with excitement and apprehension. Who would it be? Whom would she see first? Ian? Jenny? And how would they take her appearance, and her declaration?

She had decided simply to tell the truth, as far as who she was, and what she was doing there. Her mother had said how much she looked like her father; she would have to count on that resemblance to convince them. The Highlanders she had met so far were wary of her looks and strange speech; perhaps the Murrays wouldn’t believe her. Then she remembered and touched the pocket of her coat; no, they’d believe her; she had proof, after all.

A sudden thought hollowed her breastbone. Could they possibly be here now? Jamie Fraser and her mother? The thought hadn’t occurred to her before. She had been so convinced that they were in America—but that wasn’t necessarily so. She only knew they would be in America in 1776; there was no telling where they were right now.

Brutus flung up his head and whinnied loudly. An answering neigh came from behind them, and Brianna drew up the reins as Brutus swung around. He lifted his head and nickered, nostrils flaring with interest as a handsome bay horse came round the bend of the road, carrying a tall man in brown.

The man pulled up his horse for a moment when he saw them, then twitched a heel against the bay’s side and came on, slowly. He was young, she saw, and deeply tanned despite his hat; he must spend a good deal of time outdoors. The skirt of his coat was rumpled and his stockings were covered with dust and foxtails.

He came up to her warily, nodding as he came within speaking distance. Then she saw him stiffen in surprise, and smiled to herself.

He had just noticed that she was a woman. The men’s clothes she wore would fool no one up close; “boyish” was the last word one would use to describe her figure. They served their purpose well enough, though—they were comfortable for riding and, given her height, made her look like a man on horseback at a distance.

The man swept off his hat and bowed to her, surprise plain on his face. He wasn’t strictly good-looking, but had a pleasant, strong sort of face, with feathery brows—presently raised high—and soft brown eyes under a thick cap of curly hair, black and glossy with good health.

“Madame,” he said. “Might I assist ye?”

She took off her own hat and smiled at him.

“I hope so,” she said. “Is this place Lallybroch?”

He nodded, wariness now added to his surprise as he heard her odd accent.

“It is, so. Will ye be having some business here?”

“Yes,” she said firmly. “I will.” She drew herself up straight in the saddle and took a deep breath. “I’m Brianna…Fraser.” It felt odd to say it aloud; she had never used the name before. It seemed strangely right, though.

The wariness on his face diminished, but the puzzlement didn’t. He nodded cautiously.

“Your servant, ma’am. Jamie Fraser Murray,” he added formally, bowing, “of Broch Tuarach.”

“Young Jamie!” she exclaimed, startling him with her eagerness. “You’re Young Jamie!”

“My family calls me so,” he said stiffly, managing to give her the impression that he objected to having the name used wantonly by strange women in unsuitable clothes.

“Pleased to meet you,” she said, undaunted. She extended a hand to him, leaning from her saddle. “I’m your cousin.”

The brows, which had come down during the introductions, popped back up. He looked at her extended hand, then, incredulously, at her face.

“Jamie Fraser is my father,” she said.

His jaw dropped, and he simply goggled at her for a moment. He looked her over minutely, head to toe, peered closely at her face, and then a wide, slow smile spread across his own.

“Damned if he isn’t!” he said. He seized her hand and squeezed it tight enough to grind the bones together. “Christ, you’ve the look of him!”

He laughed, humor transforming his face.

“Jesus!” he said. “My mother will have kittens!”

The great rose brier that overhung the door was newly in leaf, hundreds of tiny green buds just forming. Brianna looked up at it as she followed Young Jamie, and caught sight of the lintel over the door.

Fraser, 1716 was carved into the weathered wood. She felt a small thrill at the sight, and stood staring up at the name for a moment, the sunwarm wood of the jamb solid under her hand.

“All right, Cousin?” Young Jamie had turned to look back at her inquiringly.

“Fine.” She hurried into the house after him, automatically ducking her head, though there was no need.

“We’re mostly tall, save my Mam and wee Kitty,” Young Jamie said with a smile, seeing her duck. “My grandsire—your grandsire, too—built this house for his wife, who was a verra tall woman herself. It’s the only house in the Highlands where ye can go through a doorway without ducking or bashing your head, I expect.”

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