Drums of Autumn

Author: P Hana

Page 132

   

I sit down amid three flames.

“Three points define a plane, and I am fixed.

Four points box the earth and mine is the fullness thereof.

Five is the number of protection; let no demon hinder me.

My left hand is wreathed in gold

And holds the power of the sun.

My right hand is sheathed in silver

And the moon reigns serene.

“I begin.

Garnets rest in love about my neck.

I will be faithful.”

Brianna sat up, arms wrapped around her knees. She was silent for moment.

“That’s nuts,” she said, finally.

“Being certifiably insane is unfortunately no guarantee that someone is likewise wrong,” Roger said dryly. He stretched, groaning, and sat up crosslegged on the straw.

“Part of it is traditional ritual, I think—given that the tradition is ancient Celt. The bits about the directions; those are the ‘four airts,’ which you’ll find running through Celtic legend for some way back. As for the blade, the altar, and the flames, it’s straight witchcraft.”

“She stabbed her husband through the heart and set him on fire.” She still remembered as well as he did the stink of petrol and burning flesh in the circle of Craigh na Dun, and shivered, though it was warm in the shed.

“I hope we won’t be forced to find someone for a human sacrifice,” Roger said, trying and failing to make a joke of it. “The metal, though, and the gems…were you wearing any jewelry when you came through, Bree?”

She nodded in reply.

“Your bracelet,” she said softly. “And I had my grandmother’s pearl necklace in my pocket. The pearls weren’t hurt, though; they came through fine.”

“Pearls aren’t gemstones,” he reminded her. “They’re organic—like people.” He rubbed a hand across his face; it had been a long day, and his head was starting to throb. “Silver and gold, though; you had the silver bracelet, and the necklace has gold, as well as the pearls. Ah—and your mother; she wore both silver and gold, too, didn’t she? Her wedding rings.”

“Uh-huh. But ‘three points define a plane, Four points box the earth, five is the number of protection…’ ” Brianna murmured under her breath. “Could she mean that you need gemstones to—to do whatever she was trying to do? Are those the ‘points’?”

“Could be. She had drawings of triangles and pentagrams, and lists of different gemstones, with the supposed ‘magickal’ properties listed alongside. She wasn’t laying out her theories in any great detail—didn’t need to, since she was talking to herself—but the general notion seemed to be that there are lines of force—‘ley lines,’ she called them—running through the earth. Every now and again, the lines run close to each other, and sort of curl up into knots; and wherever you get such a knot, you’ve got a place where time essentially doesn’t exist.”

“So if you step into one, you might step out again…anytime.”

“Same place, different time. And if you believe that gemstones have a force of their own, which might warp the lines a bit…”

“Would any gemstone do?”

“God knows,” Roger said. “But it’s the best chance we have, aye?”

“Yes,” Brianna agreed, after a pause. “But where are we going to find any?” She waved an arm toward the town and its harbor. “I haven’t seen anything like that anywhere—in Inverness or here. I think you’d need to go to a large city—London, or maybe Boston or Philadelphia. And then—how much money do you have, Roger? I managed to get twenty pounds, and I still have most of it, but that wouldn’t be nearly enough for—”

“That’s the point,” he interrupted. “I was thinking of that, while you were sleeping. I know—I think I know—where I might lay hands on one stone, at least. The thing is—” He hesitated. “I’ll have to go at once, to find it. The man who has it is in New Bern right now, but he won’t be there for long. If I take a bit of your money, I can get a boat in the morning and be in New Bern by the next day. I think it’s best you stay here, though. Then—”

“I can’t stay here!”

“Why not?” He reached for her, groping in the dark. “I don’t want you with me. Or rather I do,” he corrected himself, “but I think it’s a lot safer for you here.”

“I don’t mean I want to come with you; I mean I can’t stay here,” she repeated, though she grasped his groping hand. She had nearly forgotten, but now all the excitement of discovery flooded back again. “Roger, I found him—I found Jamie Fraser!”

“Fraser? Where? Here?” He turned toward the door, startled.

“No, he’s in Cross Creek, and I know where he’ll be on Monday. I have to go, Roger. Don’t you understand? He’s so close—and I’ve come so far.” She wanted suddenly and irrationally to weep, with the thought of seeing her mother again.

“Aye, I see.” Roger sounded faintly anxious. “But could you not wait a few days? It’s only a day or so by sea to New Bern, the same back—and I think I can manage what I have to do within a day or two.”

“No,” she said. “I can’t. There’s Lizzie.”

“Who’s Lizzie?”

“My maid—you saw her. She was going to hit you with a bottle.” Brianna grinned at the memory. “Lizzie’s very brave.”

“Aye, I daresay,” Roger said dryly. “Be that as it may—”

“But she’s sick,” Brianna interrupted him. “Didn’t you see how pale she is? I think it’s malaria; she has horrible fevers and chills that last for a day or so and then stop—and then a few days later, they’re back again. I have to find my mother as soon as I can. I have to.”

She could feel him struggling, choking back arguments. She reached out in the darkness and stroked his face.

“I have to,” she repeated softly, and felt him surrender.

“All right,” he said. “All right! I’ll come to join you, as soon as may be. Do me the one favor, though, aye? Wear a bloody dress!”

“You don’t like my breeches?” Laughter fizzed up like the bubbles in carbonated soda—then stopped abruptly, as something occurred to her.

“Roger,” she said. “What you’re going to do—are you going to steal this stone?”

“Yes,” he said simply.

She was quiet for a minute, her long thumb rubbing slowly over the palm of his hand.

“Don’t,” she said at last, very quietly. “Don’t do it; Roger.”

“Don’t trouble yourself over the man who’s got it.” Roger reached for her, trying to reassure her. “It’s odds-on he stole it from someone else.”

“It’s not him I’m worried about—it’s you!”

“Oh, I’ll be all right,” he assured her, with casual bravado.

“Roger, they hang people in this time for stealing!”

“I won’t be caught.” His hand sought hers in the darkness, found it, and squeezed. “I’ll be with you before ye know it.”

“But it isn’t—”

“It will be all right,” he said firmly. “I said I would take care of you, aye? I will.”

“But—”

He rose up on one elbow and silenced her with his mouth. Very slowly, he brought her hand toward him, pressed it between his legs.

She swallowed, the hairs on her arms rising suddenly with anticipation.

“Mm?” he murmured, against her mouth, and without waiting for an answer, pulled her down on the straw, and rolled onto her, nudging her legs apart with his knee.

She gasped and bit his shoulder when he took her, but he made no sound.

“D’ye know,” Roger said sleepily, some time later, “I think I’ve just married my great-aunt six times removed? I’ve only just thought.”

“You what?”

“Don’t worry, it’s nowhere close enough to be incest,” he assured her.

“Oh, good,” she said, with a certain amount of sarcasm. “I was really worried about that. How can I be your great-aunt, for heaven’s sake?”

“Well, as I said, I just thought; I hadn’t realized it before. But your father’s uncle was Dougal MacKenzie—and it was him that caused all the trouble by getting a child on Geilie Duncan, aye?”

It was the unsatisfactory method of contraception he had been forced to adopt that had caused him to think of it, in fact, but he thought it more tactful not to mention that. Neither shirt was fit to be worn by now. All things considered, he supposed it was just as well that Dougal MacKenzie hadn’t had his sense of conscientiousness, since that would effectively have prevented Roger’s own existence.

“Well, I don’t think it was all his fault.” Brianna sounded pleasantly drowsy as well. It couldn’t be much off dawn; birds were already making noises outside, and the air had changed, growing fresher as the wind came in off the harbor.

“So if Dougal is my great-uncle, and your six-times great-grandfather…no, you’re wrong. I’m about your sixth or seventh cousin, not your aunt.”

“No, that would be right if we were in the same generation of descent, but we’re not; you’re up about five—on your father’s side, at least.”

Brianna was silent, trying to work this out in her head. Then giving up, she rolled over with a faint groan, nestling her bottom snugly into the hollow of his thighs.

“The hell with it,” she said. “As long as you’re sure it’s not incest.”

He clasped her to his bosom, but his sleepy brain had grasped the point and wouldn’t let it go.

“I really hadn’t thought of it,” he marveled. “You know what it means, though? I’m related to your father, too—in fact, I suppose he’s my only living relation, besides you!” Roger felt thoroughly nonplussed by this discovery, and rather moved. He had long since reconciled himself to having no close family at all—not that a seven-times great-uncle was all that close, but—

“No, he isn’t,” Brianna mumbled.

“What?”

“Not the only one. Jenny, too. And her kids. And grandkids. My aunt Jenny’s your—hm, maybe you’re right, after all. ’Cause if she’s my aunt, she’s your umpty-great aunt, so maybe I’m your…gahh.” She let her head loll back against Roger’s shoulder, the spill of her hair soft against his chest. “Who’d you tell them you were?”

“Who?”

“Jenny and Ian.” She shifted, stretching. “When you went to Lallybroch.”

“Never been there.” He shifted, too, fitting his body to hers. His hand settled in the dip of her waist, and he sank back into drowsiness, giving up the abstract complexities of genealogical calculation for more immediate sensations.

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