Drums of Autumn

Author: P Hana

Page 55

   

I was fascinated by this. I was also pleased to hear that the Mohawk territory was a good long way away from us.

“Why did the Mohawk want to adopt the Tuscarora, then?” Jamie asked, lifting one brow. “It doesna seem they’d be needing allies, and they so fierce as ye say.”

Myers’s hazel eyes had gone to dreamy half-slits under the influence of good whisky.

“Oh, they’re fierce, all right—but they’re mortal,” he said, “Indians are men o’ blood, and none more than the Mohawk. They’re men of honor, mind”—he raised a thick finger in admonition—“but there’s a sight of things they’ll kill for, some reasonable, some not. They raid, d’ye see, amongst themselves, and they’ll kill for revenge—ain’t nothin’ will stop a Mohawk bent on revenge, save you kill him. And even then, his brother or his son or his nephew will come after you.”

He licked his lips in slow meditation, savoring the slick of whisky on his skin.

“Sometimes Indians don’t kill for any reason a man would say mattered; specially when liquor’s involved.”

“Sounds very much like the Scots,” I murmured to Jamie, who gave me a cold look in return.

Myers picked up the whisky bottle and rolled it slowly between his palms.

“Any man might take a drop too much and be the worse in his actions for it, but with the Indians, the first drop’s too much. I’ve heard of more than one massacre that might not have been, save for the men bein’ mad with drink.”

He shook his head, recalling himself to his subject.

“Be so as it may, it’s a hard life, and a bloody one. Some tribes are wiped out altogether, and none have men to spare. So they adopt folk into the tribe, to replace those as are killed or die of sickness. They take prisoners, sometimes—take ’em into a family, treat ’em as their own. That’s what they’ll do with Mrs. Polly, there.” He nodded at Pollyanne, who sat quietly by the fire, paying no attention to his speech.

“So happen back fifty years, the Mohawk took and adopted the whole tribe of the Tuscarora. Don’t many tribes speak exactly the same language,” Myers explained. “But some are closer than others. Tuscarora’s more like the Mohawk than ’tis like the Creek or the Cherokee.”

“Can ye speak Mohawk yourself, Mr. Myers?” Ian’s ears had been flapping all through the explanation. Fascinated by every rock, tree, and bird on our journey, Ian was still more fascinated by any mention of Indians.

“Oh, a good bit.” Myers shrugged modestly. “Any trader picks up a few words here and there. Shoo, dawg.” Rollo, who had inched his nose within sniffing distance of Myers’s last trout, twitched his ears at the admonition but didn’t withdraw the nose.

“Will it be the Tuscarora ye mean to take Mistress Polly to?” Jamie asked, crumbling a corn dodger into edible chunks.

Myers nodded, chewing carefully; with as few natural teeth as he had left, even fresh corn dodgers were a hazardous undertaking.

“Aye. Be four, five days ride still,” he explained. He turned to me and gave me a reassuring smile. “I’ll see her settled fine, Mrs. Claire, you’ll not be worried for her.”

“What will the Indians think of her, I wonder?” Ian asked. He glanced at Pollyanne, interested. “Will they have seen a black woman before?”

Myers laughed at that.

“Lad, there’s a many of the Tuscarora ain’t seen a white person before. Mrs. Polly won’t come as any more a shock than your auntie might.” Myers took a vast swig of water and swished it around his mouth, eyeing Pollyanne thoughtfully. She felt his eyes on her, and returned his stare, unblinking.

“I should say they’d find her handsome, though; they do like a woman as is sweetly plump.” It was moderately obvious that Myers shared this admiration; his eyes drifted over Pollyanne with an appreciation touched with innocent lasciviousness.

She saw it, and an extraordinary change came over her. She seemed scarcely to move, and yet all at once, her whole person was focused on Myers. No white showed around her eyes; they were black and fathomless, shining in the firelight. She was still short and heavy, but with only the slightest change of posture, depth of bosom and width of hip were emphasized, suddenly curved in a promise of lewd abundance.

Myers swallowed, audibly.

I glanced away from this little byplay to see Jamie watching, too, with an expression somewhere between amusement and concern. I poked him unobtrusively, and squinted hard, in an expression that said as explicitly as I could manage—“Do something!”

He narrowed one eye.

I widened both mine and gave him a good stare, which translated to, “I don’t know, but do something!”

“Mmphm.”

Jamie cleared his throat, leaned forward, and laid a hand on Myers’s arm, jarring the mountain man out of his momentary trance.

“I shouldna like to think the woman will be misused in any way,” he said, politely, but with an edge of Scottish innuendo on “misused” that implied the possibility of unlimited impropriety. He squeezed a little. “Will ye undertake to guarantee her safety, Mr. Myers?”

Myers shot him a look of incomprehension, which slowly cleared, cognizance coming into the bloodshot hazel eyes. The mountain man slowly pulled his arm free, then picked up his cup, gulped the last mouthful of whisky, coughed and wiped his mouth. He might have been blushing, but it was impossible to tell behind the beard.

“Oh, yes. That is, I mean to say, oh, no. No, indeed. The Mohawk and the Tuscarora both, their women choose who they bed with, even who they marry. No such thing as rape among ’em. Oh, no. No, sir; she won’t be misused, I can promise that.”

“Well, and I’m glad to hear it.” Jamie sat back, at ease, and gave me an I-trust-you’re-satisfied glare out of the corner of his eye. I smiled demurely.

Ian might be not quite sixteen, but he was far too observant to have missed all these exchanges. He coughed, in a meaningful Scottish manner.

“Uncle, Mr. Myers has been kind enough to invite me to go with him and Mrs. Polly, to see the Indian village. I shall be sure to see that she finds good treatment there.”

“You—” Jamie started, then broke off. He gave his nephew a long, hard look across the fire. I could see the thoughts racing through his mind.

Ian hadn’t asked permission to go; he’d announced he was going. If Jamie forbade him, he must give grounds—and he could scarcely say that it was too dangerous, as this would mean admitting both that he was willing to send the slave woman into danger and that he didn’t trust Myers and his relations with the local Indians. Jamie was trapped, and very neatly too.

He breathed in strongly through his nose. Ian grinned.

I looked back across the fire. Pollyanne was still sitting as she had been, not moving. Her eyes were still fixed on Myers, but a slight smile curved her lips in invitation. One hand rose slowly, cupping a massive breast, almost absently.

Myers was staring back, dazed as a deer with a hunter’s light in its eyes.

And would I do differently? I thought later, listening to the discreet rustling noises and small groans from the direction of Myers’s blankets. If I knew that my life depended on a man? Would I not do anything I could to ensure he would protect me, in the face of unknown danger?

There was a snapping and crackling in the bushes, not far away. It was loud, and I stiffened. So did Jamie. He slid his hand out from under my shirt, reaching for his dirk, then relaxing, as the reassuring scent of skunk reached our nostrils.

He put his hand back under my shirt, squeezed my breast and fell back asleep, his breath warm on my neck.

No great difference at all, perhaps. Was my future any more certain than hers? And did I not depend for my life upon a man bound to me—at least in part—by desire of my body?

A faint wind breathed through the trees, and I hitched the blanket higher on my shoulder. The fire had burned to embers, and so high in the mountains, it was cool at night. The moon had set, but it was very clear; the stars blazed close, a net of light cast over the mountains’ peaks.

No, there were differences. However unknown my future, it would be shared, and the bond between my man and me went much deeper than the flesh. Beyond all this was the one great difference, though—I had chosen to be there.

15

NOBLE SAVAGES

We took our leave of the others in the morning, Jamie and Myers taking pains over the arrangement for a rendezvous in ten days time. Looking around me at the bewildering immensity of forest and mountain, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could be sure of finding a specific place again; I could only trust in Jamie’s sense of navigation.

They turned to the north, we to the southwest, making our way along the course of the stream we had camped by. It seemed very quiet at first, and strangely lonely, with only the two of us. Within a short time, though, I had grown accustomed to the solitude and began to relax, taking a keen interest in our surroundings. This might, after all, be our home.

The thought was a rather daunting one; it was a place of amazing beauty and richness, but so wild, it hardly seemed that people could live in it. I didn’t voice this thought, however; only followed Jamie’s horse as he led us deeper and deeper into the mountains, stopping finally in the late afternoon to make a small camp and catch fish for dinner.

The light faded slowly, retreating through the trees. The thick mossy trunks grew dense with shadow, edges still rimmed with a fugitive light that hid among the leaves, green shadows shifting with the sunset breeze.

A tiny glow lit suddenly in the grass a few feet away, cool and bright. I saw another, and another, and then the edge of the wood was full of them, lazily falling, then blinking out, cold sparks drifting in the growing dark.

“You know, I never saw fireflies until I came to live in Boston,” I said, filled with pleasure at sight of them, glowing emerald and topaz in the grass. “They don’t have fireflies in Scotland, do they?”

Jamie shook his head, reclining lazily on the grass, one arm hooked behind his head.

“Bonny wee things,” he observed, and sighed with content. “This is my favorite time of the day, I think. When I lived in the cave, after Culloden, I would come out near evening, and sit on a stone, waiting for the dark.”

His eyes were half closed, watching the fireflies. The shadows faded upward as night rose from the earth to the sky. A moment before, light through the oak leaves had mottled him like a fawn; now the brightness had faded, so he lay in a sort of dim green glow, the lines of his body at once solid and insubstantial.

“All the wee bugs come out just now—the moths and the midges; all the bittie things that hang about in clouds over the water. Ye see the swallows come for them, and then the bats, swooping down. And the salmon, rising to the evening hatch and making rings on the water.”

His eyes were open now, fixed on the waving sea of grass on the hillside, but I knew he saw instead the surface of the tiny loch near Lallybroch, alive with fleeting ripples.

“It’s only a moment, but ye feel as though it will last forever. Strange, is it no?” he said thoughtfully. “Ye can almost see the light go as ye watch—and yet there’s no time ye can look and say ‘Now! Now it’s night.’ ” He gestured at the opening between the oak trees, and the valley below, its hollows filling with dark.

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