Drums of Autumn

Author: P Hana

Page 146

   

“Roger knew—knows—how,” she corrected herself. “Geillis Duncan’s book said you could use gems to travel—for protection and navigation.”

“But you and Roger are both only guessing!” I argued. “And so was bloody Geilie Duncan! You might not need either gemstones or a strong attachment. In the old fairy tales, when people go inside a fairy’s dun and then return, it’s always two hundred years. If that’s the usual pattern, then—”

“Would you risk finding out it’s not? And it’s not—Geilie Duncan went far-ther than two hundred years.”

It occurred to me, a little belatedly, that she had thought all this out herself. Nothing I was saying came as any surprise. And that meant she had also reached her own conclusion—which did not involve taking ship back to Scotland.

I rubbed a hand between my brows, making an effort to match her calmness. The mention of Geillis had called to mind another memory—though one I had tried to forget.

“There’s another way,” I said, fighting for calm. “Another passage, I mean. It’s on Haiti—they call it Hispaniola now. In the jungle, there are standing stones on a hill, but the crack, the passage, is underneath, in a cave.”

The forest air was cool, but it wasn’t the shadows that made my skin ripple into gooseflesh. I rubbed my forearms, trying to erase the chill. I would willingly have erased all memory of the cave of Abandawe as well—I’d tried—but it wasn’t a place easily forgotten.

“You’ve been there?” She leaned forward, intent.

“Yes. It’s a horrible place. But the Indies are a good deal closer than Scotland is, and ships sail between Charleston and Jamaica nearly all year.” I took a deep breath, feeling a little better. “It wouldn’t be easy to go through the jungle—but it would give you a little longer—long enough for us to find Roger.” If he could still be found, I thought, but didn’t say so. That particular fear could be dealt with later.

One of the chestnut leaves spiraled down onto Brianna’s lap, vivid yellow against the soft brown homespun, and she picked it off, smoothing the waxy surface absently with her thumb. She looked at me, blue eyes intent.

“Does this place work like the other one?”

“I don’t know how any of them work! It sounded different, a bell sound instead of a buzzing noise. But it was a passage, all right.”

“You’ve been there,” she said slowly, looking at me under her brows.

“Why? Did you want to go back? After you’d found—him?” There was still a slight hesitation in her voice; she couldn’t quite bring herself to refer to Jamie as “my father.”

“No. It was to do with Geillis Duncan. She found it.”

Brianna’s eyes sprang wide.

“She’s here?”

“No. She’s dead.”

I took a deep breath, feeling the remembered shock and tingle of an ax blow run up my arm. Sometimes I thought of her, of Geillis, when I was alone in the forest. Sometimes I thought I heard her voice behind me, and turned around swiftly, but saw no more than the hemlock branches, soughing in the wind. But now and then I felt her eyes on me, green and bright as the springtime wood.

“Quite dead,” I said firmly, and changed the subject. “How did this happen, anyway?”

There wasn’t any pretence of not knowing what I was talking about. She gave me a straight look, one eyebrow raised.

“You’re the doctor. How many ways are there?”

I gave her back the look, with interest.

“Didn’t you even think of taking any precautions?”

She glowered, thick brows drawn down.

“I wasn’t planning to have sex here!”

I clutched my head, digging my fingers into my scalp in exasperation.

“You think people plan it? Good God, how many times did I come to that school of yours and give talks about—”

“All the time! Every year! My mother the sex encyclopedia! Do you have any idea how mortifying it is to have your own mother standing up in front of everybody, drawing pictures of penises?”

Her face went the color of the scarlet maples, flushed with the memory.

“I must not have done it all that well,” I said tartly, “since you seem not to have recognized one when you saw it.”

Her face jerked toward me, blood in her eye, but then relaxed when she saw that I was joking—or trying to.

“Right,” she said. “Well, they look different in 3-D.”

Taken unawares, I laughed. After a moment’s hesitation, she joined me, a hesitant giggle.

“You know what I mean. I gave you that prescription before I left.”

She looked down her long, straight nose at me.

“Yes, and I was never so shocked in my life! You thought I’d run right out and have sex with everybody in sight the minute you left?”

“You’re implying that it was only my presence stopping you?” The corner of her wide mouth twitched.

“Well, not only that,” she conceded. “But you had something to do with it, you and Daddy. I mean, I—I wouldn’t have wanted to disappoint you.” The twitch had turned to a quiver in an instant, and I hugged her hard, her smooth bright hair against my cheek.

“You couldn’t, baby,” I murmured, rocking her slightly. “We’d never be disappointed in you, never.”

I felt both tension and worry ebb as I held her. Finally, she took a deep breath and let go of me.

“Maybe not you or Daddy,” she said. “But what about—?” She tilted her head toward the now invisible house.

“He won’t—” I began, but then stopped. The truth was that I didn’t know what Jamie would do. On the one hand, he was strongly inclined to think that Brianna hung the moon. On the other hand, he had opinions regarding sexual honor that could only be described—for obvious reasons—as old-fashioned, and no inhibitions at all about expressing them.

He was worldly, well educated, tolerant, and compassionate. This did not in any way, shape, or form mean that he shared or understood modern sensibilities; I knew quite well he didn’t. And I couldn’t think that his attitude toward Roger would be tolerant in the slightest.

“Well,” I said dubiously, “I shouldn’t wonder if he didn’t want to punch Roger in the nose or something. But don’t worry,” I added, seeing her look of alarm. “He loves you,” I said, and smoothed the tumbled hair off her flushed face. “He won’t stop.”

I got up, brushing yellow leaves from my skirt.

“We’ll have a bit of time, then, but none to waste. Jamie can send word downriver, to keep an eye out for Roger. Speaking of Roger…” I hesitated, picking a bit of dried fern from my sleeve. “I don’t suppose he knows about this, does he?”

Brianna took a deep breath, and her fist closed tight on the leaf in her hand, crushing it.

“Well, see, there’s a problem about that,” she said. She looked up at me, and suddenly she was my little girl again. “It isn’t Roger’s.”

“What?” I said stupidly.

“It. Isn’t. Roger’s. Baby,” she said, between clenched teeth.

I sank down beside her once more. Her worry over Roger suddenly took on new dimensions.

“Who?” I said. “Here, or there?” Even as I spoke, I was calculating—it had to be someone here, in the past. If it had been a man in her own time, she’d be farther along than two months. Not only in the past, then, but here, in the Colonies.

I wasn’t planning to have sex, she’d said. No, of course not. She hadn’t told Roger, for fear he would follow her—he was her anchor, her key to the future. But in that case—

“Here,” she said, confirming my calculations. She dug in the pocket of her skirt, and came out with something. She reached toward me, and I held out my hand automatically.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.” The worn gold wedding band sparked in the sun, and my hand closed reflexively over it. It was warm from being carried next to her skin, but I felt a deep coldness seep into my fingers.

“Bonnet?” I said. “Stephen Bonnet?”

Her throat moved convulsively, and she swallowed, head jerking in a brief nod.

“I wasn’t going to tell you—I couldn’t; not after Ian told me about what happened on the river. At first I didn’t know what Da would do; I was afraid he’d blame me. And then when I knew him a little better—I knew he’d try to find Bonnet—that’s what Daddy would have done. I couldn’t let him do that. You met that man, you know what he’s like.” She was sitting in the sun, but a shudder passed over her, and she rubbed her arms as though she was cold.

“I do,” I said. My lips were stiff. Her words were ringing in my ears.

I wasn’t planning to have sex. I couldn’t tell…I was afraid he’d blame me.

“What did he do to you?” I asked, and was surprised that my voice sounded calm. “Did he hurt you, baby?”

She grimaced, and pulled her knees up to her chest, hugging them against herself.

“Don’t call me that, okay? Not right now.”

I reached to touch her, but she huddled closer into herself, and I dropped my hand.

“Do you want to tell me?” I didn’t want to know; I wanted to pretend it hadn’t happened, too.

She looked up at me, lips tightened to a straight white line.

“No,” she said. “No, I don’t want to. But I think I’d better.”

She had stepped aboard the Gloriana in broad daylight, cautious, but feeling safe by reason of the number of people around; loaders, seamen, merchants, servants—the docks bustled with life. She had told a seaman on the deck what she wanted; he had vanished into the recesses of the ship, and a moment later, Stephen Bonnet had appeared.

He had on the same clothes as the night before; in the daylight, she could see that they were of fine quality, but stained and badly crumpled. Greasy candle wax had dripped on the silk cuff of his coat, and his jabot had crumbs in it.

Bonnet himself showed fewer marks of wear than did his clothes; he was fresh-shaven, and his green eyes were pale and alert. They passed over her quickly, lighting with interest.

“I did think ye comely last night by candlelight,” he said, taking her hand and raising it to his lips. “But a-many seem so when the drink is flowin’. It’s a good deal more rare to find a woman fairer in the sun than she is by the moon.”

Brianna tried to extract her hand from his grasp, giving him a polite smile.

“Thank you. Do you still have the ring?” Her heart beat fast in her throat. He could still tell her about the ring—about her mother—even if he had lost it gambling. But she wanted very badly to have it in her hands. She suppressed the fear that had haunted her all night; that the ring might be all that was left of her mother. It couldn’t be, not if the newspaper clipping was right, but—

“Oh, indeed. The luck of Danu herself was with me the night—and still is, by the looks of it.” He gave her a charming smile, still keeping hold of her hand.

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