Drums of Autumn

Author: P Hana

Page 185

   

At last Roger turned and gave the child to Jamie.

“Who is your Lord and Savior?”

“Jesus Christ,” he answered without hesitation, and the baby was handed on to me.

“Do you trust in him?”

I looked down into the face of innocence, and answered for it. “I do.”

He took the cradleboard, gave it to the grandmother, then dipping a sprig of juniper into the bowl of water, sprinkled water on the baby’s head.

“I baptize you—” he began, and stopped, with a sudden panicked glance at me.

“It’s a girl,” I murmured, and he nodded, lifting the sprig of juniper again.

“I baptize you, Alexandra, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.”

After the small band of Christians had left, there were no more visitors. A warrior brought us wood for the fire, and some food, but he ignored Jamie’s questions and left, saying nothing.

“Do you think they’ll kill us?” Roger asked suddenly, after a period of silence. His mouth twitched in an attempted smile. “Kill me, I suppose I mean. Presumably the two of you are safe.”

He didn’t sound worried. Looking at the deep shadows and lines in his face, I thought that he was simply too exhausted to be afraid anymore.

“They won’t kill us,” I said, and pushed a hand through the tangle of my hair. I dimly realized that I, too, was exhausted; I had been without sleep for more than thirty-six hours.

“I started out to tell you. I spent last night in Tewaktenyonh’s house. The Council of Mothers met there.”

They hadn’t told me everything; they never would. But at the end of the long hours of ceremony and discussion, the girl who spoke English had told me as much as they wanted me to know, before they sent me back to Jamie.

“Some of the young men found the whisky cache,” I said. “They brought it back to the village yesterday, and started to drink. The women thought they didn’t mean anything dishonest, that they thought the bargain was already made. But then some argument started among them, just before they lit the fire to—to execute the priest. A fight broke out, and some of the men ran into the crowd, and—one thing led to another.” I rubbed a hand hard over my face, trying to keep my thoughts clear enough to speak.

“A man was killed in the fighting.” I glanced at Roger. “They think you killed him; did you?”

He shook his head, shoulders slumping with tiredness.

“I don’t know. I—probably. What will they do about it?”

“Well, it took them a long time to decide, and it isn’t settled yet; they’ve sent word to the main Council, but the sachem hasn’t made a decision yet.” I took a deep breath.

“They won’t kill you, because the whisky was taken, and that was offered as the price of your life. But since they’ve decided not to kill us in revenge for their dead, what they usually do instead is to adopt an enemy into the tribe, in replacement of the dead man.”

That shook Roger out of his numbness.

“Adopt me? They want to keep me?”

“One of us. One of you. I don’t suppose I’d be a suitable replacement, since I’m not a man.” I tried to smile, but failed completely. All the muscles of my face had gone numb.

“Then it must be me,” Jamie said quietly.

Roger’s head jerked up, startled.

“You’ve said yourself; if the past canna be changed, then nothing will happen to me. Leave me, and as soon as it can be managed, I will escape and come home.”

He laid a hand on my arm before I could protest.

“You and Ian will take MacKenzie back to Brianna.” He looked at Roger, his face inscrutable. “After all,” he said quietly, “it’s the two of you she needs.”

Roger started in at once to argue, but I butted in.

“May the Lord deliver me from stubborn Scotsmen!” I said. I glared at the two of them. “They haven’t decided yet. That’s only what the Council of Mothers says. So there’s no sense in arguing about it until we know for sure. And speaking of knowing things for sure,” I said, in hopes of distracting them, “where’s Ian?”

Jamie stared at me.

“I don’t know,” he said, and I saw his throat ripple as he swallowed. “But I hope to God he’s safe in that girl’s bed.”

No one came. The night passed quietly, though none of us slept well. I dozed fitfully, through sheer exhaustion, waking every time there was a sound outside, my dreams a vivid crazy-quilt of blood and fire and water.

It was midday before we heard the sound of voices approaching. My heart leapt as I recognized one of them, and Jamie was on his feet before the door flap lifted.

“Ian? Is that you?”

“Aye, Uncle. It’s me.”

His voice sounded odd; breathless and uncertain. He stepped into the light from the smokehole and I gasped, feeling as though I had been punched in the stomach.

The hair had been plucked from the sides of his skull; what was left stood up in a thick crest from his scalp, a long tail hanging down his back. One ear had been freshly pierced and sported a silver earring.

His face had been tattooed. Double crescent lines of small dark spots, most still scabbed with dried blood, ran across each cheekbone, to meet at the bridge of his nose.

“I—canna stay long, Uncle,” Ian said. He looked pale, under the lines of tattooing, but stood erect. “I said they must let me come to say goodbye.”

Jamie had gone white to the lips.

“Jesus, Ian,” he whispered.

“The naming ceremony is tonight,” Ian said, trying not to look at us. “They say that after that I will be Indian, and I must not speak any tongue but the Kahnyen’kehaka; I canna speak again in English, or the Gaelic.” He smiled painfully. “And I ken ye didna have much Mohawk.”

“Ian, ye canna be doing this!”

“I’ve done it, Uncle Jamie,” Ian said softly. He looked at me then.

“Auntie. Will ye say to my mother that I willna forget her? My Da will know, I think.”

“Oh, Ian!” I hugged him hard, and his arms went gently around me.

“Ye can leave in the morning,” he said to Jamie. “They willna prevent ye.”

I let him go, and he crossed the hut to where Roger stood, looking stunned. Ian offered him a hand.

“I am sorry for what we did to ye,” he said quietly. “Ye’ll take good care of my cousin and the bairn?”

Roger took his hand and shook it. He cleared his throat and found his voice.

“I will,” he said. “I promise.”

Then Ian turned to Jamie.

“No, Ian,” he said. “God, no, lad. Let it be me!”

Ian smiled, though his eyes were full of tears. “Ye said to me once, that my life wasna meant to be wasted,” he said. “It won’t be.” He held out his arms. “I willna forget you, either, Uncle Jamie.”

They took Ian to the bank of the river, just before sunset. He stripped and waded into the freezing water, accompanied by three women, who ducked and pummeled him, laughing and scrubbing him with handfuls of sand. Rollo ran up and down the bank, barking madly, then plunged into the river and joined in what he plainly saw as fun and games, coming close to drowning Ian in the process.

All of the spectators who lined the bank found it hilarious—save the three whites.

Once the white blood had been thus ceremonially scrubbed from Ian’s body, more women dried him, dressed him in fresh clothing, and took him to the Council longhouse for the naming ceremony.

Everyone crowded inside; all of the village was there. Jamie, Roger, and I stood silently in a corner, watching as the sachem sang and spoke over him, as the drums beat, as the pipe was lit and passed from hand to hand. The girl he called Emily stood near him, eyes shining as she looked at him. I saw him look back at her, and the light that sprang up in his own eyes did a little to ease the soreness of my heart.

They called him Wolf’s Brother. His brother wolf sat panting at Jamie’s feet, viewing the proceedings with interest.

At the end of the ceremony a small hush fell on the crowd, and at that moment Jamie stepped out of the corner. All heads turned as he crossed to Ian, and I saw more than one warrior tense in disapproval.

He unpinned the brooch from his plaid, unbelted it, and laid the length of bloodstained crimson tartan across his nephew’s shoulder.

“Cuimhnich,” he said softly, and stepped back. Remember.

All of us were quiet as we made our way down the narrow trail that led away from the village next morning. Ian had taken a formal, white-faced farewell of us as he stood with his new family. I hadn’t been so stalwart, though, and seeing my tears made Ian bite his lip to hold back his own emotion. Jamie had embraced him, kissed his mouth and left him, without speaking a word.

Jamie went about the business of setting camp that night with his usual efficiency, but I could tell that his mind was somewhere else. And no wonder if it was; my own was divided in worry between Ian behind us and Brianna ahead of us, with very little attention to spare for present circumstances.

Roger dumped an armload of wood beside the fire and sat down next to me.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said quietly. “About Brianna.”

“Have you? So have I.” I was so tired, I thought I might tumble headfirst into the flames before I got the water boiling.

“You said there was another circle—opening, whatever it is—in the Indies?”

“Yes.” I thought briefly of telling him all about Geilie Duncan and the cave at Abandawe, and dismissed it. I hadn’t the energy. Another time. Then I jerked out of my mental fog, catching what he was saying.

“Another one? Here?” I looked wildly around, as though expecting to see a menhir standing menacingly at my back.

“Not here,” he said. “Somewhere between here and Fraser’s Ridge, though.”

“Oh.” I tried to gather my scattered thoughts. “Yes, I know there is, but—” Then it penetrated, and I grabbed his arm. “You mean you know where it is?”

“You knew about it?” He stared at me in astonishment.

“Yes, I—here, look…” I scrabbled in my pouch and came up with the opal. He grabbed it from me before I could explain.

“Look! It’s the same; this same symbol—it’s carved on the rock in the circle. Where the hell did you get this?”

“It’s a long story,” I said. “I’ll tell you later. But for now—do you know where this circle is? You’ve actually seen it?”

Jamie, attracted by our excitement, had come to see what was going on.

“A circle?”

“A time-circle, an opening, a—a—”

“I’ve been there,” Roger said, interrupting my stuttering explanations. “I found it by accident while I was trying to escape.”

“Could you find it again? How far is it from River Run?” My mind was making frantic calculations. A little more than seven months. If it took six weeks to return, Brianna would be eight and a half months gone. Could we possibly take her into the mountains in time? And if we could—what would be the greater risk, to travel through a time-passage on the verge of delivery, or to stay in the past permanently?

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