The Fiery Cross

Author: P Hana

Page 40

   

14

HAPPY THE BRIDE

THE MOON SHINES ON

WE WERE LUCKY. The rain held off, and shredding clouds revealed a silver moon, rising lopsided but luminous over the slope of Black Mountain; suitable illumination for an intimate family wedding.

I had met David Caldwell, though I hadn’t recalled it until I saw him; a small but immensely personable gentleman, very tidy in his dress, despite camping in the open for a week. Jamie knew him, too, and respected him. That didn’t prevent a certain tightness of expression as the minister came into the firelight, his worn prayer book clasped in his hands, but I nudged Jamie warningly, and he at once altered his expression to one of inscrutability.

I saw Roger glance once in our direction, then turn back to Bree. There might have been a slight smile at the corner of his mouth, or it could have been only the effect of the shadows. Jamie exhaled strongly through his nose, and I nudged him again.

“You had your way over the baptism,” I whispered. He lifted his chin slightly. Brianna glanced in our direction, looking slightly anxious.

“I havena said a word, have I?”

“It’s a perfectly respectable Christian marriage.”

“Did I say it was not?”

“Then look happy, damn you!” I hissed. He exhaled once more, and assumed an expression of benevolence one degree short of outright imbecility.

“Better?” he asked, teeth clenched in a genial smile. I saw Duncan Innes turn casually toward us, start, and turn hastily away, murmuring something to Jocasta, who stood near the fire, white hair shining, and a blindfold over her damaged eyes to shield them from the light. Ulysses, standing behind her, had in fact put on his wig in honor of the ceremony; it was all I could see of him in the darkness, hanging apparently disembodied in the air above her shoulder. As I watched, it turned sideways, toward us, and I caught the faint shine of eyes beneath it.

“Who that, Grand-mère?”

Germain, escaped as usual from parental custody, popped up near my feet, pointing curiously at the Reverend Caldwell.

“That’s a minister, darling. Auntie Bree and Uncle Roger are getting married.”

“Ou qu’on va minster?”

I drew a deep breath, but Jamie beat me to it.

“It’s a sort of priest, but not a proper priest.”

“Bad priest?” Germain viewed the Reverend Caldwell with substantially more interest.

“No, no,” I said. “He’s not a bad priest at all. It’s only that . . . well, you see, we’re Catholics, and Catholics have priests, but Uncle Roger is a Presbyterian—”

“That’s a heretic,” Jamie put in helpfully.

“It is not a heretic, darling, Grand-père is being funny—or thinks he is. Presbyterians are . . .”

Germain was paying no attention to my explanation, but instead had tilted his head back, viewing Jamie with fascination.

“Why Grand-père is making faces?”

“We’re verra happy,” Jamie explained, expression still fixed in a rictus of amiability.

“Oh.” Germain at once stretched his own extraordinarily mobile face into a crude facsimile of the same expression—a jack-o’-lantern grin, teeth clenched and eyes popping. “Like this?”

“Yes, darling,” I said, in a marked tone. “Just like that.”

Marsali looked at us, blinked, and tugged at Fergus’s sleeve. He turned, squinting at us.

“Look happy, Papa!” Germain pointed to his gigantic smile. “See?”

Fergus’s mouth twitched, as he glanced from his offspring to Jamie. His face went blank for a moment, then adjusted itself into an enormous smile of white-toothed insincerity. Marsali kicked him in the ankle. He winced, but the smile didn’t waver.

Brianna and Roger were having a last-minute conference with Reverend Caldwell, on the other side of the fire. Brianna turned from this, brushing back her loose hair, saw the phalanx of grinning faces, and stared, her mouth slightly open. Her eyes went to me; I shrugged helplessly.

Her lips pressed tight together, but curved upward irrepressibly. Her shoulders shook with suppressed laughter. I felt Jamie quiver next to me.

Reverend Caldwell stepped forward, a finger in his book at the proper place, put his spectacles on his nose, and smiled genially at the assemblage, blinking only slightly when he encountered the row of leering countenances.

He coughed, and opened his Book of Common Worship.

“Dearly beloved, we are assembled here in the presence of God . . .”

I felt Jamie relax slightly, as the words went on, evidencing unfamiliarity, perhaps, but no great peculiarities. I supposed that he had in fact never taken part in a Protestant ceremony before—unless one counted the impromptu baptism Roger himself had conducted among the Mohawk. I closed my eyes and sent a brief prayer upward for Young Ian, as I did whenever I thought of him.

“Let us therefore reverently remember that God has established and sanctified marriage, for the welfare and happiness of mankind . . .”

Opening them, I saw that all eyes now were focused on Roger and Brianna, who stood facing each other, hands entwined. They were a handsome pair, nearly of a height, she bright and he dark, like a photograph and its negative. Their faces were nothing alike, and yet both had the bold bones and clean curves that were their joint legacy from the clan MacKenzie.

I glanced across the fire to see the same echo of bone and flesh in Jocasta, tall and handsome, her blind face turned in absorption toward the sound of the minister’s voice. As I watched, I saw her hand reach out and rest on Duncan’s arm, the long white fingers gently squeeze. The Reverend Caldwell had kindly offered to perform their marriage as well, but Jocasta had refused, wishing to wait instead for a Catholic ceremony.

“We are in no great hurry, after all, are we, my dear?” she had asked Duncan, turning toward him with an outward exhibition of deference that fooled no one. Still, I thought that Duncan had seemed relieved, rather than disappointed, by the postponement of his own wedding.

“By His apostles, He has instructed those who enter into this relation to cherish a mutual esteem and love . . .”

Duncan had put a hand over Jocasta’s, with a surprising air of tenderness. That marriage would not be one of love, I thought, but mutual esteem—yes, I thought there was that.

“I charge you both, before the great God, the Searcher of all hearts, that if either of you know any reason why ye may not lawfully be joined together in marriage, ye do now confess it. For be ye well assured that if any persons are joined together otherwise than as God’s Word allows, their union is not blessed by Him.”

Reverend Caldwell paused, glancing warningly back and forth between Roger and Brianna. Roger shook his head slightly, his eyes fixed on Bree’s face. She smiled faintly in response, and the Reverend cleared his throat and continued.

The air of muted hilarity around the fire had subsided; there was no sound but the Reverend’s quiet voice and the crackle of the flames.

“Roger Jeremiah, wilt thou have this Woman to be thy wife, and wilt thou pledge thy troth to her, in all love and honor, in all duty and service, in all faith and tenderness, to live with her, and cherish her, according to the ordinance of God, in the holy bond of marriage?”

“I will,” Roger said, his voice deep and husky.

I heard a deep sigh to my right, and saw Marsali lean her head on Fergus’s shoulder, a dreamy look on her face. He turned his head and kissed her brow, then leaned his own dark head against the whiteness of her kerch.

“I will,” Brianna said clearly, lifting her chin and looking up into Roger’s face, in response to the minister’s question.

Mr. Caldwell looked benevolently round the circle, firelight glinting on his spectacles.

“Who giveth this Woman to be married to this Man?”

There was the briefest of pauses, and I felt Jamie jerk slightly, taken by surprise. I squeezed his arm, and saw the firelight gleam on the gold ring on my hand.

“Oh. I do, to be sure!” he said. Brianna turned her head and smiled at him, her eyes dark with love. He gave her back the smile, then blinked, clearing his throat, and squeezed my hand hard.

I felt a slight tightening of the throat myself, as they spoke their vows, remembering both of my own weddings. And Jocasta? I wondered. She had been married three times; what echoes of the past did she hear in these words?

“I, Roger Jeremiah, take thee, Brianna Ellen, to be my wedded wife . . .”

The light of memory shone on most of the faces around the fire. The Bugs stood close together, looking at each other with identical gazes of soft devotion. Mr. Wemyss, standing by his daughter, bowed his head and closed his eyes, a look of mingled joy and sadness on his face, no doubt thinking of his own wife, dead these many years.

“In plenty and in want . . .”

“In joy and in sorrow . . .”

“In sickness and in health . . .”

Lizzie’s face was rapt, eyes wide at the mystery being carried out before her. How soon might it be her turn, to stand before witnesses and make such awesome promises?

Jamie reached across and took my right hand in his, his fingers linking with mine, and the silver of my ring shone red in the glow of the flames. I looked up into his face and saw the promise spoken in his eyes, as it was in mine.

“As long as we both shall live.”

15

THE FLAMES OF

DECLARATION

THE GREAT FIRE BELOW was blazing, damp wood snapping with cracks that rang like pistol shots against the mountainside—a distant gunfire, though, and little noticed through the noise of merrymaking.

While she had elected not to be married by the Reverend Caldwell, Jocasta had nonetheless generously provided a lavish wedding feast in honor of Roger and Brianna’s nuptials. Wine, ale, and whisky flowed like water under the aegis of Ulysses, whose white wig bobbed through the mob round our family campfire, ubiquitous as a moth round a candle flame.

Despite the chill damp and the clouds that had regathered overhead, at least half the Gathering was here, dancing to the music of fiddle and mouth organ, descending locustlike on the groaning tables of delicacies, and drinking the health of the newlyweds—and the eventually-to-be-wed—with so much enthusiasm that if all such wishes were to take effect, Roger, Bree, Jocasta, and Duncan would each live to be a thousand, at least.

I thought I might be good for a hundred years or so, myself. I was feeling no pain; nothing but an encompassing sense of giddy well-being, and a pleasant sense of impending dissolution.

At one side of the fire, Roger was playing a borrowed guitar, serenading Bree before a rapt circle of listeners. Closer, Jamie sat on a log with Duncan and his aunt, talking with friends.

“Madam?” Ulysses materialized at my elbow, tray in hand and resplendent in livery, behaving as though he were in the parlor at River Run, rather than on a soggy mountainside.

“Thank you.” I accepted a pewter cup full of something, and discovered it to be brandy. Fairly good brandy, too. I took a small sip and let it percolate through my sinuses. Before I could absorb much more of it, though, I became conscious of a sudden lull in the surrounding gaiety.

Jamie glanced around the circle, gathering eyes, then stood and held out his arm to me. I was a little surprised, but hastily replaced the cup on Ulysses’s tray, smoothed back my hair, tucked in my kerchief, and went to take my place at his side.

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