Drums of Autumn

Author: P Hana

Page 165

   

She couldn’t stop hearing him, seeing him. His face, congested with rage, sharp-edged as a devil’s mask. His voice, rough with fury and contempt, reproaching her—reproaching her!—for the loss of his bloody honor!

“Your honor?” she had said incredulously. “Your honor? Your f**king notion of honor is what’s caused all the trouble in the first place!”

“Ye willna use that sort of language to me! Though if it’s f**king we’re speaking of—”

“I’ll f**king well say anything I want!” she bellowed, and slammed a fist on the table, rattling the dishes.

She had, too. So had he. Her mother had tried once or twice to stop them—Brianna flinched at the belated memory of the distress in Claire’s deep golden eyes—but neither of them had paid a moment’s notice, too intent on the savagery of their mutual betrayal.

Her mother had told her once that she had a Scottish temper—slow-fused, but long-burning. Now she knew where it came from, but the knowing didn’t help.

She put her folded arms against the tomb and rested her face on them, breathing in the faint sheep-smell of the wool. It reminded her of the hand-knit sweaters her father—her real father, she thought, with a fresh burst of desolation—had liked to wear.

“Why did you have to die?” she whispered to the hollow of damp wool. “Oh, why?” If Frank Randall hadn’t died, none of this would have happened. He and Claire would still be there, in the house in Boston, her family and her life would be intact.

But her father was gone, replaced by a violent stranger; a man who had her face, but could not understand her heart, a man who had taken both family and home from her, and not satisfied with that, had taken love and safety, too, leaving her bereft in this strange, harsh land.

She pulled the shawl closer around her shoulders, shivering at the wind that cut through the loose weave. She should have brought a cloak. She had kissed her white-lipped mother goodbye and then left, running through the dead garden, not looking at him. She’d wait here until she was sure they were gone, no matter if she froze.

She heard a step on the brick path above her and stiffened, though she didn’t turn around. Perhaps it was a servant, or Jocasta come to persuade her inside.

But it was a stride too long and a footfall too strong for any but one man. She blinked hard, and gritted her teeth. She wouldn’t turn around, she wouldn’t.

“Brianna,” he said quietly behind her. She didn’t answer, didn’t move.

He made a small snorting noise—anger, impatience?

“I have a thing to say to ye.”

“Say it,” she said, and the words hurt her throat, as though she’d swallowed some jagged object.

It was beginning to rain again; fresh spatters slicked the marble in front of her, and she could feel the icy pat! of drops that struck through her hair.

“I will bring him home to you,” Jamie Fraser said, still quiet, “or I will not come back myself.”

She couldn’t bring herself to turn around. There was a small sound, a click on the pavement behind her, and then the sound of his footsteps, going away. Before her tear-blurred eyes, the drops on the marble roses gathered weight and began to fall.

When at last she turned around, the brick-lined walk was empty. At her feet was a folded paper, damp with rain, weighted with a stone. She picked it up, and held it crumpled in her hand, afraid to open it.

February 1770

In spite of worry and anger, she found herself easily absorbed into the flow of daily life at River Run. Her great-aunt, delighted at her company, encouraged her to find distraction; finding that she had some skill in drawing, Jocasta had brought out her own painting equipment, urging Brianna to make use of it.

By comparison with the cabin on the ridge, life at River Run was so luxurious as to be almost decadent. Still, Brianna woke at dawn, out of habit. She stretched langourously, wallowing in the physical delight of a feather bed that embraced and yielded to her every move—a definite contrast to lumpy quilts spread over a chilly straw tick.

There was a fire burning on the hearth, and a large copper can on the washstand, its burnished sides glowing. Hot water for washing; she could see the tiny shimmers of heat wavering over the metal. There was still a chill in the room, and the light outside was winter-blue with cold; the servant who had come and gone in silence must have risen in the black predawn and broken ice to get the water.

She ought to feel guilty at being waited on by slaves, she thought drowsily. She must remember to, later. There were a lot of things she didn’t mean to think about until later; one more wouldn’t hurt.

For now, she was warm. Far away, she could hear small noises in the house; a comforting scuffle of domesticity. The room itself was wrapped in silence, the occasional pop of kindling from the fire the only sound.

She rolled onto her back and, mind still half afloat in sleep, began to reacquaint herself with her body. This was a morning ritual; something she had begun to do half consciously as a teenager, and found necessary to do on purpose now—to find and make peace with the small changes of the night, lest she look suddenly during the day and find herself a stranger in her own body.

One stranger in her body was enough, she thought. She pushed the bedclothes down, running her hands slowly over the dormant swell of her stomach. A tiny ripple ran across her flesh as the inhabitant stretched, turning slowly as she had turned in the bed a few minutes before, enclosed and embraced.

“Hi, there,” she said softly. The bulge flexed briefly against her hand and then fell still, the occupant returned to its mysterious dreams.

Slowly, she ruffled up the nightgown—it was Jocasta’s, warm soft flannel—registering the smooth long muscle at the top of each thigh, the soft hollow curving in at the top. Then up and down and over, bare skin to bare skin, palms to legs and belly and br**sts. Smooth and soft, round and hard; muscle and bone…but now not all her muscle and bone.

Her skin felt different in the morning, like a snake’s skin, newly shed, all tender and light-lucent. Later, when she rose, when the air got at it, it would be harder, a duller but more serviceable envelope.

She lay back against the pillow, watching the light fill the room. The house was awake beyond her. She could hear the myriad faint noises of people at work, and felt soothed. When she was small, she would wake on summer mornings to hear the chatter of her father’s lawnmower underneath her window; his voice calling out in greeting to a neighbor. She had felt safe, protected, knowing he was there.

More recently, she had waked at dawn and heard Jamie Fraser’s voice, speaking in soft Gaelic to his horses outside, and had felt that same feeling return with a rush. No more, though.

It had been true, what her mother said. She was removed, changed, altered without consent or knowledge, learning only after the fact. She threw aside the quilts and got up. She couldn’t lie in bed mourning what was lost; it was no longer anyone’s job to protect her. The job of protector was hers, now.

The baby was a constant presence—and, oddly enough, a constant reassurance. For the first time she felt blessing in it, and an odd reconciliation; her body had known this long before her mind. So that was true, too—her mother had said it often—“Listen to your body.”

She leaned against the window frame, looking out on the patchy snow that lay on the kitchen garden. A slave, muffled in cloak and scarf, was kneeling on the path, digging overwintered carrots from one of the beds. Tall elms bordered the walled garden; somewhere beyond those stark bare branches lay the mountains.

She stayed still, listening to the rhythms of her body. The intruder in her flesh stirred a little, the tides of its movement merging with the pulsing of her blood—their blood. In the beating of her heart, she thought she heard the echo of that other, smaller heart, and in the sound found at last the courage to think clearly, with the assurance that if the worst happened—she pressed hard against the window frame, and felt it creak under the force of her urgency—if the worst happened, still she would not be totally alone.

53

BLAME

Jamie spoke barely a word to anyone, between our departure from Fraser’s Ridge, and our arrival at the Tuscaroran village of Tennago. I rode in a state of misery, torn between guilt at leaving Brianna, fear for Roger, and pain at Jamie’s silence. He was short with Ian, and had said no more than absolutely necessary to Jocasta at Cross Creek. To me, he said nothing.

Plainly, he blamed me for not telling him at once about Stephen Bonnet. In retrospect, I blamed myself bitterly, seeing what had come of it. He had kept the gold ring I had thrown at him; I had no idea what he had done with it.

The weather was intermittently bad, the clouds hanging so low to the mountains that on the higher ridges, we traveled for days on end through a thick, cold fog, water droplets condensing on the horses’ coats, so that a constant rain dripped from their manes and moisture shone on their flanks. We slept at night in whatever shelter we could find, each rolled in a damp cocoon of blankets, lying separately around a smoldering fire.

Some of the Indians who had known us at Anna Ooka made us welcome when we reached Tennago. I saw several men eye the casks of whisky as we unloaded our pack mules, but no one made any move to molest them. There were two mule-loads of whisky; a dozen small casks, all of the Fraser share of the year’s distilling—most of our income for the year. A king’s ransom, in terms of trade. Enough to ransom one young Scotsman, I hoped.

It was the best—and the only—thing we had to trade with, but it was also a dangerous one. Jamie presented one cask to the sachem of the village, and he and Ian disappeared into one of the longhouses to confer. Ian had given Roger to some of his friends among the Tuscarora, but did not know where they had taken him. I hoped against hope that it was Tennago. If so, we could be back at River Run within a month.

This was a faint hope, though. In the midst of the bitter quarrel with Brianna, Jamie had admitted telling Ian to make sure that Roger didn’t come back again. Tennago was about ten days journey from the Ridge; much too close for the purposes of an enraged father.

I wanted to ask the women who entertained me about Roger, but no one in the house had any French or English, and I had only enough words of Tuscaroran to allow for basic politeness. Better to let Ian and Jamie handle the diplomatic negotiations. Jamie, with his gift for languages, was competent in Tuscaroran; Ian, who spent half his time hunting with the Indians, was thoroughly fluent.

One of the women offered me a platter containing steaming mounds of grain cooked with fish. I leaned to scoop up a bit with the flat piece of wood provided for the purpose, and felt the amulet swing forward under my shirt, its small weight both a reminder of grief and a comfort to it.

I had brought both Nayawenne’s amulet, and the carved opal I had found under the red cedar tree. I had brought the former, intending to give it back—to whom, I had no idea. The latter might augment the whisky, if additional bargaining power was needed. For the same reason, Jamie had brought every small valuable he possessed—not many—with the exception of his father’s ruby ring, which Brianna had brought to him from Scotland.

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