Drums of Autumn

Author: P Hana

Page 199

   

These things all helped, but the general atmosphere of drowsy well-being owed more to the night before than to the events of the morning.

It had been a perfect moon-drenched night. Jamie had put out the candle and gone to bolt the door, but instead he stood, arms braced on the doorframe, looking down the valley.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he said softly. “Come and see.”

Everything seemed to be floating, deprived of depth by the eerie light. Far off, the spurt of the falls seemed frozen, suspended in air. The wind was toward us, though, and I could hear the faint rumble of tons of falling water.

The night air was scented with grass and water, and the breath of pine and spruce blew down cool from the mountaintops. I shivered in my shift, and drew closer to him for warmth. His shirttails were split at the side, open nearly to his waist. I slid my hand inside the opening nearest me, and cupped one round, warm buttock. The muscles tensed under my grip, then flexed as he turned.

He hadn’t pulled away; only stepped back in order to yank the shirt off over his head. He stood on the porch nak*d, and held out a hand to me.

He was furred with silver and the moonlight carved his body from the night. I could see every small detail of him, long toes to flowing hair, clear as the clean black canes of the blackberry bushes at the bottom of the yard. Yet like them he was dimensionless; he might have been within hand’s touch or a mile away.

I shrugged the shift from my shoulders and let it fall from my body, left it puddled by the door and took his hand. Without a word we had floated through the grass, walked wet-legged and cool-skinned into the forest, turned wordless toward each other’s warmth and stepped together into the empty air beyond the ridge.

We had wakened in the dark after moonset, leaf-spattered, twig-strewn, bug-bitten, and stiff with cold. We had said not a word to each other, but laughing and staggering drunkenly, stumbling over roots and stones, had helped each other through the moonless wood and made our way back to bed for an hour’s brief sleep before dawn.

I leaned over his shoulder now and deposited a bowl of oatmeal in front of him, pausing to pluck an oak leaf from his hair. I laid it on the table beside his bowl.

He turned his head, a smile hiding in his eyes, caught my hand and kissed it lightly. He let me go, and went back to his parritch. I touched the back of his neck, and saw the smile spread to his mouth.

I looked up, smiling myself, and found Brianna watching. One corner of her mouth turned up, and her eyes were warm with understanding. Then I saw her gaze shift to Roger, who was spooning in his parritch in a absentminded sort of way, his gaze intent on her.

This picture of domestic bliss was broken by the stentorian tones of Clarence, announcing a visitor. I missed Rollo, I reflected, going to the door to see, but at least Clarence didn’t leap on visitors and knock them flat or chase them round the dooryard.

The visitor was Duncan Innes, who had come bearing an invitation.

“Your aunt asks if perhaps ye will be coming to the Gathering at Mount Helicon this autumn. She says ye did give her your word, twa year past.”

Jamie shoved the platter of eggs in front of Duncan.

“I hadna thought of it,” he said, frowning a little. “There’s the devil of a lot to do, and I’m to have a roof on this place before snowfall.” He gestured upward with his chin, indicating the slats and branches that were temporarily shielding us from the vagaries of weather.

“There’s a priest coming, down from Baltimore,” Duncan said, carefully avoiding looking at Roger or Brianna. “Miss Jo did think as how ye might be wishing to have the wean baptized.”

“Oh.” Jamie sat back, lips pursed in thought. “Aye, that’s a thought. Perhaps we will go, then, Duncan.”

“That’s fine; your auntie will be pleased.” Something appeared to be caught in Duncan’s throat; he was turning slowly red as I watched. Jamie squinted at him and pushed a jug of cider in his direction.

“Ye’ve something in your throat, man?”

“Ah…no.” Everyone had stopped eating by now, viewing the changes to Duncan’s complexion in fascination. He had gone a sort of puce by the time he managed to squeeze out the next words.

“I—errr—wish to ask your consent, an fhearr Mac Dubh, to the marriage of Mistress Jocasta Cameron and…and—”

“And who?” Jamie asked, the corner of his mouth twitching. “The governor of the colony?”

“And myself?” Duncan seized the cup of cider and buried his face in it with the relief of a drowning man seeing a life raft float past.

Jamie burst out laughing, which seemed to be no great solace to Duncan’s embarrassment.

“My consent? D’ye not think my aunt’s of an age, Duncan? Or you, come to that?”

Duncan was breathing a little easier now, though the purple tinge hadn’t yet begun to fade from his cheeks.

“I thought it only proper,” he said, a little stiffly. “Seeing as how ye’re her nearest kinsman.” He swallowed, and unbent a bit. “And…it didna seem entirely right, Mac Dubh, that I should be takin’ what might be yours.”

Jamie smiled and shook his head.

“I’ve no claim on any of my aunt’s property, Duncan—and wouldna take it when she offered. You’ll be married at the Gathering? Tell her we’ll come, then, and dance at the wedding.”

69

JEREMIAH

October 1770

Roger rode with Claire and Fergus, close to the wagon. Jamie, not trusting Brianna to drive a vehicle containing his grandson, insisted on driving, with Lizzie and Marsali in the wagon bed and Brianna on the seat beside him.

From his saddle Roger caught snatches of the discussion that had been going on ever since his arrival.

“John, for sure,” Brianna was saying, frowning down at her son, who was burrowing energetically under her shawl. “But I don’t know if it should be his first name. And if it was—should it maybe be Ian? That’s ‘John’ in Gaelic—and I’d like to name him that, but would it be too confusing, with Uncle Ian and our Ian, too?”

“Since neither one of them is here, I think it wouldna be too troublesome,” Marsali put in. She glanced up at her stepfather’s back. “Did ye not say ye wanted to use one of Da’s names, as well?”

“Yes, but which one?” Brianna twisted around to talk to Marsali. “Not James, that would be confusing. And I don’t think I like Malcolm much. He’ll already have MacKenzie, of course, so maybe—” She caught Roger’s eye and smiled up at him.

“What about Jeremiah?”

“John Jeremiah Alexander Fraser MacKenzie?” Marsali frowned, saying the names over to taste them.

“I rather like Jeremiah,” Claire chipped in. “Very Old Testament. It’s one of your names, isn’t it, Roger?” She smiled at him and drew closer to the wagon, leaning over to talk to Brianna.

“Besides, if Jeremiah seems too formal, you can call him Jemmy,” she said. “Or is that too much like Jamie?”

Roger felt a small chill prickle down his spine, at the sudden recollection of another child whose mother had called him Jemmy—a child whose father was fair-haired, with eyes as green as Roger’s own.

He waited until Brianna had turned to rummage through her bag for a fresh diaper, handing the fussing baby to Lizzie to mind. He kneed his horse, urging it up close to Claire’s mare.

“Do you recall something?” he asked in a low voice. “When you first came to call on me in Inverness, with Brianna—you’d had my genealogy researched beforehand.”

“Yes?” She quirked a brow at him.

“It’s been some time, and you likely wouldn’t have noticed in any case…” He hesitated, but he had to know, if it could be known. “You pointed out the place on my family tree where the substitution was made; where Geilie Duncan’s child by Dougal was adopted in place of another child who’d died, and given his name.”

“William Buccleigh MacKenzie,” she said promptly, and smiled at his look of surprise. “I went over that genealogy at some length,” she said dryly. “I could probably tell you every name on it.”

He took a deep breath, uneasiness curling at the back of his neck.

“Can you? What I’m wondering—do you know the name of the changeling’s wife—my six-times great-grandmother? Her name wasn’t listed on my own family tree; only William Buccleigh.”

Soft lashes dropped over the golden eyes as she thought, lips pursed.

“Yes,” she said at last, and looked at him. “Morag. Her name was Morag Gunn. Why?”

He only shook his head, too shaken to reply. He glanced at Brianna; the baby lay half nak*d in her lap, the soggy diaper in a heap on the seat beside her—and remembered the smooth damp skin and soggy clout of the little boy named Jemmy.

“And their son’s name was Jeremiah,” he said at last, so softly that Claire had to lean close to hear it.

“Yes.” She watched him curiously, then turned her head to look down the twisting road ahead, disappearing between the dark pines.

“I asked Geilie,” Claire said suddenly. “I asked her why. Why we can do it.”

“And did she have an answer?” Roger stared at a deerfly on his wrist without seeing it.

“She said—‘To change things.’ ” Claire smiled at him, her mouth curled wryly. “I don’t know whether that’s an answer or not.”

70

THE GATHERING

It had been nearly thirty years since the last Gathering I had seen; the Gathering at Leoch, and the oath-taking of clan MacKenzie. Colum MacKenzie was dead now, and his brother Dougal—and all the clans with them. Leoch lay in ruins, and there would be no more Gatherings of the clans in Scotland.

Yet here were the plaids and the pipes, and the remnants of the Highlanders themselves, undiminished in fierce pride, among the the new mountains they claimed for their own. MacNeills and Campbells, Buchanans and Lindseys, MacLeods and MacDonalds; families, slaves and servants, indentured men and lairds.

I looked out over the stir and bustle of the dozens of encampments to see if I could find Jamie, and spotted instead a familiar tall form, striding loose-jointed through the scattered throng. I stood up and waved, calling out to him.

“Myers! Mr. Myers!”

John Quincy Myers spotted me and, beaming, made his way up the slope to our encampment.

“Mrs. Claire!” he exclaimed, sweeping off his disreputable hat and bowing over my hand with his usual courtliness. “I’m right uplifted to see ye.”

“The feeling is mutual,” I assured him, smiling. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Oh, I usually reckon to come to a Gathering,” he said, straightening up and beaming down at me. “If I’m down from the mountains in time. Fine place to sell my hides; any little bits of things I have to get rid of. Speakin’ of which…” He began a slow, methodical rummage through the contents of his big buckskin pouch.

“Will you have been far to the north, Mr. Myers?”

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