Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 150

   

“This man,” he said, with a nod toward Fergus, “and this woman,” with another toward Marsali. “Marry them, Father. Now. Please,” he added, as an obvious afterthought, and stood back a pace, restoring order among the audience by dint of dark glances from side to side.

“Oh, quite. Quite,” Father Fogden repeated, swaying gently. “Quite, quite.” A long pause followed, during which the priest squinted at Marsali.

“Name,” he said abruptly. “I have to have a name. Can’t get married without a name. Just like a cock. Can’t get married without a name; can’t get married without a c—”

“Marsali Jane MacKimmie Joyce!” Marsali spoke up loudly, drowning him out.

“Yes, yes,” he said hurriedly. “Of course it is. Marsali. Mar-sa-lee. Just so. Well, then, do you Mar-sa-lee take this man—even though he’s missing a hand and possibly other parts not visible—to be your lawful husband? To have and to hold, from this day forward, forsaking…” At this point he trailed off, his attention fixed on one of the sheep that had wandered into the light and was chewing industriously on a discarded stocking of striped wool.

“I do!”

Father Fogden blinked, brought back to attention. He made an unsuccessful attempt to stifle another belch, and transferred his bright blue gaze to Fergus.

“You have a name, too? And a cock?”

“Yes,” said Fergus, wisely choosing not to be more specific. “Fergus.”

The priest frowned slightly at this. “Fergus?” he said. “Fergus. Fergus. Yes, Fergus, got that. That’s all? No more name? Need more names, surely.”

“Fergus,” Fergus repeated, with a note of strain in his voice. Fergus was the only name he had ever had—bar his original French name of Claudel. Jamie had given him the name Fergus in Paris, when they had met, twenty years before. But naturally a brothel-born bastard would have no last name to give a wife.

“Fraser,” said a deep, sure voice beside me. Fergus and Marsali both glanced back in surprise, and Jamie nodded. His eyes met Fergus’s, and he smiled faintly.

“Fergus Claudel Fraser,” he said, slowly and clearly. One eyebrow lifted as he looked at Fergus.

Fergus himself looked transfixed. His mouth hung open, eyes wide black pools in the dim light. Then he nodded slightly, and a glow rose in his face, as though he contained a candle that had just been lit.

“Fraser,” he said to the priest. His voice was husky, and he cleared his throat. “Fergus Claudel Fraser.”

Father Fogden had his head tilted back, watching the sky, where a crescent of light floated over the trees, holding the black orb of the moon in its cup. He lowered his head to face Fergus, looking dreamy.

“Well, that’s good,” he said. “Isn’t it?”

A small poke in the ribs from Maitland brought him back to an awareness of his responsibilities.

“Oh! Um. Well. Man and wife. Yes, I pronounce you man—no, that’s not right, you haven’t said whether you’d take her. She has both hands,” he added helpfully.

“I will,” Fergus said. He had been holding Marsali’s hand; now he let go and dug hastily in his pocket, coming out with a small gold ring. He must have bought it in Scotland, I realized, and kept it ever since, not wanting to make the marriage official until it had been blessed. Not by a priest—by Jamie.

The beach was silent as he slid the ring on her finger, all eyes fixed on the small gold circle and the two heads bent close together over it, one bright, one dark.

So she had done it. One fifteen-year-old girl, with nothing but stubbornness as a weapon. “I want him,” she had said. And kept saying it, through her mother’s objections and Jamie’s arguments, through Fergus’s scruples and her own fears, through three thousand miles of homesickness, hardship, ocean storm, and shipwreck.

She raised her face, shining, and found her mirror in Fergus’s eyes. I saw them look at each other, and felt the tears prickle behind my lids.

“I want him.” I had not said that to Jamie at our marriage; I had not wanted him, then. But I had said it since, three times; in two moments of choice at Craigh na Dun, and once again at Lallybroch.

“I want him.” I wanted him still, and nothing whatever could stand between us.

He was looking down at me; I could feel the weight of his gaze, dark blue and tender as the sea at dawn.

“What are ye thinking, mo chridhe?” he asked softly.

I blinked back the tears and smiled at him. His hands were large and warm on mine.

“What I tell you three times is true,” I said. And standing on tiptoe, I kissed him as the sailor’s cheer went up.

PART NINE

Worlds Unknown

53

BAT GUANO

Bat guano is a slimy blackish green when fresh, a powdery light brown when dried. In both states, it emits an eye-watering reek of musk, ammonia, and decay.

“How much of this stuff did you say we’re taking?” I asked, through the cloth I had wrapped about my lower face.

“Ten tons,” Jamie replied, his words similarly muffled. We were standing on the upper deck, watching as the slaves trundled barrowloads of the reeking stuff down the gangplank and over to the open hatchway of the after hold.

Tiny particles of the dried guano blew from the barrows and filled the air around us with a deceptively beautiful cloud of gold, that sparked and glimmered in the late afternoon sun. The men’s bodies were coated with the stuff as well; the runnels of sweat carved dark channels in the dust on their bare torsos, and the constant tears ran down their faces and chests, so that they were striped in black and gold like exotic zebras.

Jamie dabbed at his own streaming eyes as the wind veered slightly toward us. “D’ye ken how to keelhaul someone, Sassenach?”

“No, but if it’s Fergus you have in mind as a candidate, I’m with you. How far is it to Jamaica?” It was Fergus, making inquiries in the marketplace on King’s Street in Bridgetown, who had gained the Artemis her first commission as a trading and hauling vessel; the shipment of ten cubic tons of bat guano from Barbados to Jamaica, for use as fertilizer on the sugar plantation of one Mr. Grey, planter.

Fergus himself was rather self-consciously overseeing the loading of the huge quarried blocks of dried guano, which were tipped from their barrows and handed down one by one into the hold. Marsali, never far from his side, had in this case moved as far as the forecastle, where she sat on a barrel filled with oranges, the lovely new shawl Fergus had bought her in the market wrapped over her face.

“We are meant to be traders, no?” Fergus had argued. “We have an empty hold to fill. Besides,” he had added logically, clinching the argument, “Monsieur Grey will pay us more than adequately.”

“How far, Sassenach?” Jamie squinted at the horizon, as though hoping to see land rising from the sparkling waves. Mr. Willoughby’s magic needles rendered him seaworthy, but he submitted to the process with no real enthusiasm. “Three or four days’ sail, Warren says,” he admitted with a sigh, “and the weather holds fair.”

“Maybe the smell will be better at sea,” I said.

“Oh, yes, milady,” Fergus assured me, overhearing as he passed. “The owner tells me that the stench dissipates itself significantly, once the dried material is removed from the caves where it accumulates.” He leapt into the rigging and went up, climbing like a monkey despite his hook. Reaching the top rigging, Fergus tied the red kerchief that was the signal to hands on shore to come aboard, and slid down again, pausing to say something rude to Ping An, who was perched on the lowest crosstrees, keeping a bright yellow eye on the proceedings below.

“Fergus seems to be taking quite a proprietary interest in this cargo,” I observed.

“Aye, well, he’s a partner,” Jamie said. “I told him if he’d a wife to support, he must think of how to do it. And as it may be some time before we’re in the printing business again, he must turn his hand to what offers. He and Marsali have half the profit on this cargo—against the dowry I promised her,” he added wryly, and I laughed.

“You know,” I said, “I really would like to read the letter Marsali’s sending to her mother. First Fergus, I mean, then Father Fogden and Mamacita, and now a dowry of ten tons of bat shit.”

“I shall never be able to set foot in Scotland again, once Laoghaire reads it,” said Jamie, but he smiled nonetheless. “Have ye thought yet what to do wi’ your new acquisition?”

“Don’t remind me,” I said, a little grimly. “Where is he?”

“Somewhere below,” Jamie said, his attention distracted by a man coming down the wharf toward us. “Murphy’s fed him, and Innes will find a place for him. Your pardon, Sassenach; I think this will be someone looking for me.” He swung down from the rail and went down the gangplank, neatly skipping around a slave coming up with a barrowload of guano.

I watched with interest as he greeted the man, a tall colonial in the dress of a prosperous planter, with a weathered red face that spoke of long years in the islands. He extended a hand toward Jamie, who took it in a firm clasp. Jamie said something, and the man replied, his expression of wariness changing to an instant cordiality.

This must be the result of Jamie’s visit to the Masonic lodge in Bridgetown, where he had gone immediately upon landing the day before, mindful of Jared’s suggestion. He had identified himself as a member of the brotherhood, and spoken to the Master of the lodge, describing Young Ian and asking for any news of either the boy or the ship Bruja. The Master had promised to spread the word among such Freemasons as might have occasion to frequent the slave market and the shipping docks. With luck, this was the fruit of that promise.

I watched eagerly as the planter reached into his coat and withdrew a paper, which he unfolded and showed to Jamie, apparently explaining something. Jamie’s face was intent, his ruddy brows drawn together with concentration, but showed neither exultation nor disappointment. Maybe it was not news of Ian at all. After our visit to the slave market the day before, I was half-inclined to hope not.

Lawrence, Fergus, Marsali, and I had gone to the slave market under the cranky chaperonage of Murphy, while Jamie called on the Masonic Master. The slave market was near the docks, down a dusty road lined with sellers of fruit and coffee, dried fish and coconuts, yams and red cochineal bugs, sold for dye in small, corked glass bottles.

Murphy, with his passion for order and propriety, had insisted that Marsali and I must each have a parasol, and had forced Fergus to buy two from a roadside vendor.

“All the white women in Bridgetown carry parasols,” he said firmly, trying to hand me one.

“I don’t need a parasol,” I said, impatient at talk of something so inconsequential as my complexion, when we might be near to finding Ian at last. “The sun isn’t that hot. Let’s go!”

Murphy glowered at me, scandalized.

“Ye don’t want folk to think ye ain’t respectable, that ye don’t care enough to keep yer skin fine!”

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