The Fiery Cross

Author: P Hana

Page 247

   

“Look,” he said softly, turning the book toward me and pointing to one line. Written in Latin like the others, but there were unfamiliar words mixed into the text—long, strange-looking words.

“Mohawk?” Jamie said. He looked up, into Ian’s face. “That is a word in an Indian tongue, surely. One of the Algonquian tongues, no?”

“Rains Hard,” said Ian, quietly. “It is the Kahnyen’kehaka—the Mohawk tongue, Uncle. Rains Hard is someone’s name. And the others written there, too—Strong Walker, Six Turtles, and Talks With Spirits.”

“I thought the Mohawk have no written language,” Jamie said, one ruddy eyebrow lifted. Ian shook his head.

“Nor they do, Uncle Jamie. But someone wrote that”—he nodded at the page,—“and if ye work out the sound of the words . . .” He shrugged. “They are Mohawk names. I’m sure of it.”

Jamie looked at him for a long moment, then without comment bent his head and resumed his translation.

“I had one of the sapphires, Rains Hard the other. Talks With Spirits had a ruby, Strong Walker took the diamond, and Six Turtles had the emerald. We were not sure of the diagram—whether it should be four points, for the directions of the compass, or five, in a pentacle. But there were the five of us, sworn by blood to this deed, so we laid the circle with five points.”

There was a small gap between this sentence and the next, and the writing changed, becoming now firm and even, as though the writer had paused, then taken up his story at a later point.

“I have gone back to look. There is no sign of the circle—but I see no reason why there should be, after all. I think I must have been unconscious for some time; we laid the circle just inside the mouth of the crevice, but there are no marks in the earth there to show how I crawled or rolled to the spot where I woke, and yet there are marks in the dust, made by rain. My clothes are damp, but I cannot tell if this is from rain, from morning dew, or sweat from lying in the sun; it was near midday when I woke, for the sun was overhead, and it was hot. I am thirsty. Did I crawl away from the crevice, and then collapse? Or was I thrown some distance by the force of the transition?”

I had the most curious sense, hearing this, that the words were echoing, somewhere inside my head. It wasn’t that I had heard it before, and yet the words had a dreadful familiarity. I shook my head, to clear it, and looked up to find Ian’s eyes on me, soft brown and full of speculation.

“Yes,” I said baldly, in answer to his look. “I am. Brianna and Roger, too.” Jamie, who had paused to disentangle a phrase, looked up. He saw Ian’s face, and mine, and reached to put his hand on mine.

“How much could ye read, lad?” he asked quietly.

“Quite a lot, Uncle,” Ian answered, but his eyes didn’t leave my face. “Not everything”—a brief smile touched his lips—“and I’m sure I havena got the grammar right—but I think I understand it. Do you?”

It wasn’t clear whether he addressed the question to me or Jamie; both of us hesitated, exchanged a glance—then I turned back to Ian and nodded, and so did Jamie. Jamie’s hand tightened on mine.

“Mmphm,” Ian said, and his face lighted with an expression of profound satisfaction. “I knew ye weren’t a fairy, Auntie Claire!”

UNABLE TO STAY AWAKE much longer, Ian had finally retired, yawning, though pausing in his flight toward bed to seize Rollo by the scruff of the neck and immobilize him while I removed Adso from the cupboard, fluffed to twice his normal size and hissing like a snake. Holding the cat by his own scruff to avoid being disemboweled, I had carried him out of harm’s way, up to our bedroom, where I dumped him unceremoniously on the bed, turning at once to Jamie.

“What happened next?” I demanded.

He was already lighting a fresh candle. Unfastening his shirt with one hand and thumbing the book open with the other, he sank down onto the bed, still absorbed in the reading.

“He couldna find any of his friends. He searched the countryside nearby for two days, calling, but there was no trace. He was verra much distraught, but at last he thought he must go on; he was in need of food, and had nothing but a knife and a bit of salt with him. He must hunt, or find people.”

Ian said that Tewaktenyonh had given him the book, enjoining him to bring it to me. It had belonged to a man named Otter-Tooth, she said—a member of my family.

An icy finger had touched my spine at that—and hadn’t gone away. Little ripples of unease kept tickling over my skin like the touch of ghostly fingers. My family, indeed.

I had told her that Otter-Tooth was perhaps one of “my family,” unable to describe the peculiar kinship of time-travelers in any other way. I had never met Otter-Tooth—at least not in the flesh—but if he was the man I thought he was, then his was the head buried in our small burying-ground—complete with silver fillings.

Perhaps I was at last going to learn who he had really been—and how on earth he had come to meet such a startling end.

“He wasna much of a hunter,” Jamie said critically, frowning at the page. “Couldna catch so much as a ground-squirrel with a snare, and in the middle of summer, forbye!”

Fortunately for Otter-Tooth—if it was indeed he—he had been familiar with a number of edible plants, and seemed extremely pleased with himself for recognizing pawpaw and persimmon.

“Recognizing a persimmon is no great feat, for God’s sake,” I said. “They look like orange baseballs!”

“And they taste like the bottom of a chamber pot,” Jamie added, he not caring at all for persimmons. “Still, he was hungry by that time, and if ye’re hungry enough . . .” He trailed off, lips moving silently as he continued his translation.

The man had wandered through the wilderness for some time—though “wandering” seemed not quite right; he had chosen a specific direction, guided by the sun and stars. That seemed odd—what had he been looking for?

Whatever it was, he had eventually found a village. He didn’t speak the language of the inhabitants—“Why ought he to think he should?” Jamie wondered aloud—but had become extraordinarily distraught, according to his writing, at the discovery that the women were using iron kettles to cook with.

“Tewaktenyonh said that!” I interrupted. “When she was telling me about him—if it’s the same man,” I added, pro forma, “she said he carried on all the time about the cooking pots, and the knives and guns. He said the Indians were . . . How did she put it?—they needed to ‘return to the ways of their ancestors,’ or the white man would eat them alive.”

“A verra excitable fellow,” Jamie muttered, still riveted to the book. “And with a taste for rhetoric, too.”

Within a page or two, though, the source of Otter-Tooth’s strange preoccupation with cooking pots became somewhat clearer.

“I have failed,” Jamie read. “I am too late.” He straightened his back, and glanced at me, then went on.

“I do not know exactly when I am, nor can I find out—these people will not reckon years by any scale I know, even had I enough of their tongue to ask. But I know I am too late.

Had I arrived when I meant to, before 1650, there would be no iron in a village so far inland. To find it here in such casual use means that I am at least fifty years too late—perhaps more!”

Otter-Tooth was cast into great gloom by this discovery, and spent several days in utmost despair. But then he pulled himself together, determining that there was nothing to be done but to go on. And so he had set out alone, though, with the gift of some food from the villagers—heading north.

“I’ve no idea what the man thought he was doing,” Jamie observed. “But I will say he shows courage. His friends are dead or gone, and he’s nothing with him, no notion where he is—and yet he goes on.”

“Yes—though in all honesty, I don’t suppose he could think of anything else to do,” I said. I touched the book again, gently, remembering the first few days after my own passage through the stones.

The difference, of course, was that this man had chosen to come through the stones on purpose. Exactly why he had done it—and how—was not revealed just yet.

Traveling alone through the wilderness, with nothing but this small book for company, Otter-Tooth had—he said—decided that he would occupy his mind with setting down an account of his journey, with its motives and intents.

“Perhaps I will not succeed in my attempt—our attempt. In fact, it seems likely at the moment that I will simply perish here in the wilderness. But if that is so, then the thought that some record of our noble endeavor remains will be some consolation—and it is all the memorial I can provide for those who were my brothers; my companions in this adventure.”

Jamie stopped and rubbed his eyes. The candle had burned far down; my own eyes were watering so much from yawning that I could scarcely see the page in the flickering light, and I felt light-headed from fatigue.

“Let’s stop,” I said, and laid my head on Jamie’s shoulder, taking comfort from its warm solidness. “I can’t stay awake any longer, I really can’t—and it doesn’t seem right to rush through his story. Besides”—I stopped, interrupted by a jaw-cracking yawn that left me swaying and blinking—“perhaps Bree and Roger should hear this, too.”

Jamie caught my yawn and gaped hugely, then shook his head violently, blinking like a large red owl shaken rudely out of its tree.

“Aye, ye’re right, Sassenach.” He closed the book, and laid it gently on the table by the bed.

I didn’t bother with any sort of bedtime toilette, merely removing my outer clothes, brushing my teeth, and crawling into bed in my shift. Adso, who had been snoozing happily on the pillow, was disgruntled at our appropriation of his space, but grumpily moved at Jamie’s insistence, making his way to the foot of the bed, where he collapsed on my feet like a large, furry rug.

After a few moments, though, he abandoned his pique, kneaded the bedclothes—and my feet—gently with his claws, and began to purr in a somnolent fashion.

I found his presence almost as soothing as Jamie’s soft, regular snoring. For the most part, I felt at home, secure in the place I had made for myself in this world, happy to be with Jamie, whatever the circumstances. But now and then, I saw suddenly and clearly the magnitude of the gulf I had crossed—the dizzying loss of the world I had been born to—and felt very much alone. And afraid.

Hearing this man’s words, his panic and desperation, had brought back to me the memory of all the terror and doubts of my journeys through the stones.

I cuddled close to my sleeping husband, warmed and anchored, and heard Otter-Tooth’s words, as though they were spoken in my inner ear—a cry of desolation that echoed through the barriers of time and language.

Toward the foot of that one page, the tiny Latin writing had grown increasingly hasty, some of the letters no more than dots of ink, the endings of words swallowed in a frantic spider’s dance. And then the last lines, done in English, the writer’s Latin dissolved in desperation.

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