Drums of Autumn

Author: P Hana

Page 11

   

He grunted slightly with amusement.

“So there will be Scots in America, then? That’s good.”

I ignored him and went on, staring into the wavering shadows as though I could conjure the burgeoning cities that would one day rise there.

“There will be a lot of everyone in America, then. All the land will be settled, from here to the far west coast, to a place called California. But for now”—I shivered slightly, in spite of the warm, humid air—“it’s three thousand miles of wilderness. There’s nothing there at all.”

“Aye, well, nothing save thousands of bloodthirsty savages,” he said practically. “And the odd vicious beast, to be sure.”

“Well, yes,” I agreed. “I suppose they are.” The thought was unsettling; I had of course known, in a vague, academic way, that the woods were inhabited by Indians, bears, and other forest denizens, but this general notion had suddenly been replaced by a particular and most acute awareness that we might easily—and unexpectedly—meet any one of these denizens, face-to-face.

“What happens to them? To the wild Indians?” Jamie asked curiously, peering into the dark as I was, as though trying to divine the future among the shifting shadows. “They’ll be defeated and driven back, will they?”

Another small shiver passed over me, and my toes curled.

“Yes, they will,” I said. “Killed, a lot of them. A good many taken prisoner, locked up.”

“Well, that’s good.”

“I expect that depends a lot on your point of view,” I said, rather dryly. “I don’t suppose the Indians will think so.”

“I daresay,” he said. “But when a bloody fiend’s tryin’ his best to chop off the top of my head, I’m no so much concerned with his point of view, Sassenach.”

“Well, you can’t really blame them,” I protested.

“I most certainly can,” he assured me. “If one of the brutes scalps ye, I shall blame him a great deal.”

“Ah…hmm,” I said. I cleared my throat and had another stab at it. “Well, what if a bunch of strangers came round and tried to kill you and shove you off the land you’d always lived on?”

“They have,” he said, very dryly indeed. “If they hadna, I should still be in Scotland, aye?”

“Well…” I said, floundering. “But all I mean is—you’d fight, too, under those circumstances, wouldn’t you?”

He drew a deep breath and exhaled strongly through his nose.

“If an English dragoon came round to my house and began to worry me,” he said precisely, “I should certainly fight him. I would also have not the slightest hesitation in killing him. I would not cut off his hair and wave it about, and I wouldna be eating his private parts, either. I am not a savage, Sassenach.”

“I didn’t say you were,” I protested. “All I said was—”

“Besides,” he added with inexorable logic, “I dinna mean to be killing any Indians. If they keep to themselves, I shallna be worrying them a bit.”

“I’m sure they’ll be relieved to know that,” I murmured, giving up for the present.

We lay cradled close together in the hollow of the rock, lightly glued with sweat, watching the stars. I felt at once shatteringly happy and mildly apprehensive. Could this state of exaltation possibly last? Once I had taken “forever” for granted between us, but I was younger, then.

Soon, God willing, we would settle; find a place to make a home and a life. I wanted nothing more, and yet at the same time, I worried. We had known each other only a few months since my return. Each touch, each word was still at once tinged with memory and new with rediscovery. What would happen when we were thoroughly accustomed to each other, living day by day in a routine of mundane tasks?

“Will ye grow tired of me, do ye think?” he murmured. “Once we’re settled?”

“I was just wondering the same thing about you.”

“No,” he said, and I could hear the smile in his voice. “That I willna, Sassenach.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“I didn’t,” he pointed out. “Before. We were wed three years, and I wanted ye as much on the last day as the first. More, maybe,” he added softly, thinking, as I was, of the last time we had made love before he sent me through the stones.

I leaned down and kissed him. He tasted clean and fresh, faintly scented with the pungency of sex.

“I did, too.”

“Then dinna trouble yourself about it, Sassenach, and neither will I.” He stroked my hair, smoothing damp curls off my forehead. “I could know ye all my life, I think, and always love you. And often as I’ve lain wi’ you, ye still surprise me mightily sometimes, like ye did tonight.”

“I do? Why, what have I done?” I stared down at him, surprised myself.

“Oh…well. I didna mean…that is—”

He sounded suddenly shy, and there was an unaccustomed stiffness in his body.

“Mm?” I kissed the tip of his ear.

“Ah…when I came upon you…what ye were doing…I mean—were ye doing what I thought?”

I smiled against his shoulder in the darkness.

“I suppose that depends what you thought, doesn’t it?”

He lifted up on one elbow, his skin coming away from mine with a small sucking noise. The damp spot where he had adhered was suddenly cool. He rolled onto his side and grinned at me.

“Ye ken verra well what I thought, Sassenach.”

I touched his chin, shadowed with sprouting whiskers.

“I do. And you know perfectly well what I was doing, too, so why are you asking?”

“Well, I—I didna think women did that, is all.”

The moon was bright enough for me to see his half-cocked eyebrow.

“Well, men do,” I pointed out. “Or you do, at least. You told me so—when you were in prison, you said you—”

“That was different!” I could see his mouth twist as he tried to decide what to say. “I—that is to say, there wasna any help for it then. After all, I couldna be—”

“Haven’t you done it other times?” I sat up and fluffed out my damp hair, glancing sidelong at him over my shoulder. A blush didn’t show in the moonlight, but I thought he had gone pink.

“Aye, well,” he muttered. “I suppose I have, yes.” A sudden thought struck him and his eyes widened, looking at me. “Do you—have ye done that—often?” The last word emerged in a croak, and he was obliged to stop and clear his throat.

“I suppose it depends on what you mean by ‘often,’ ” I said, allowing a bit of acerbity to creep into my tone. “I was widowed for two years, you know.”

He rubbed a knuckle over his lips, eyeing me with interest.

“Aye, that’s so. It’s only—well, I hadna thought of women doing such a thing, is all.” Growing fascination was overcoming his surprise. “You can—finish? Without a man, I mean?”

That made me laugh out loud, and soft reverberations sounded from the trees around us, echoed by the stream.

“Yes, but it’s much nicer with a man,” I assured him. I reached out and touched his chest. I could see the goose bumps ripple over his chest and shoulders, and he shivered slightly as I drew a fingertip in a gentle circle round one nipple. “Much,” I said softly.

“Oh,” he said, sounding happy. “Well, that’s good, aye?”

He was hot—even hotter than the liquid air—and my first instinct was to draw back, but I didn’t follow it. Sweat sprang up at once where his hands rested on my skin, and trickles of sweat ran down my neck.

“I’ve never made love to ye before like this,” he said. “Like eels, aye? Wi’ your body sliding through my hands, all slippery as seaweed.” Both hands passed slowly down my back, his thumbs pressing the groove of my spine, making the tiny hairs at the base of my neck prickle with pleasure.

“Mm. That’s because it’s too cold in Scotland to sweat like pigs,” I said. “Though come to that, do pigs really sweat? I’ve always wondered.”

“I couldna say; I’ve never made love to a pig.” His head ducked down and his tongue touched my breast. “But ye do taste a bit like a trout, Sassenach.”

“I taste like a what?”

“Fresh and sweet, wi’ a bit of salt,” he explained, lifting his head for a moment. He put it back down, and resumed his downward course.

“That tickles,” I said, quivering under his tongue, but making no effort to escape.

“Well, I mean it to,” he answered, lifting his wet face for a breath before returning to his work. “I shouldna like to think ye could do without me entirely.”

“I can’t,” I assured him. “Oh!”

“Ah?” came a thick interrogative. I lay back on the rock, my back arching as the stars spun dizzily overhead.

“I said…‘oh,’ ” I said faintly. And then didn’t say anything coherent for some time, until he lay panting, chin resting lightly on my pubic bone. I reached down and stroked the sweat-drenched hair away from his face, and he turned his head to kiss my palm.

“I feel like Eve,” I said softly, watching the moon set behind him, over the dark of the forest. “Just on the edge of the Garden of Eden.”

There was a small snort of laughter from the vicinity of my navel.

“Aye, and I suppose I’m Adam,” Jamie said. “In the gateway to Paradise.” He turned his head to look wistfully across the creek toward the vast unknown, resting his cheek on the slope of my belly. “I only wish I knew was I coming in, or going out?”

I laughed myself, startling him. I took him by both ears then, urging him gently up across the slippery expanse of my nak*d flesh.

“In,” I said. “I don’t see an angel with a fiery sword, after all.”

He lowered himself upon me, his own flesh heated as with fever, and I shivered under him.

“No?” he murmured. “Aye, well, you’ll no be looking close enough, I suppose.”

Then the fiery sword severed me from consciousness and set fire to my body. We blazed up together, bright as stars in the summer night, and then sank back burnt and limbless, ashes dissolved in a primordial sea of warm salt, stirring with the nascent throbbings of life.

PART TWO

Past Imperfect

3

THE MINISTER’S CAT

Boston, Massachusetts, June 1969

Brianna?”

“Ha?” She sat bolt upright, heart pounding, the sound of her name ringing in her ear. “Who—wha’?”

“You were asleep. Damn, I knew I’d got the time wrong! Sorry, shall I ring off?”

It was the faint hint of a burr in his voice that belatedly made the scrambled connections of her nervous system fall into place. Phone. Ringing phone. She’d snatched it by reflex, deep in her dream.

“Roger!” The rush of adrenaline from being startled awake was fading, but her heart was still beating fast. “No, don’t hang up! It’s all right, I’m awake.” She scrubbed a hand over her face, trying at once to disentangle the phone cord and straighten the rumpled bedclothes.

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