Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 177

   

The fishermen who discovered the castaway were more interested in his means of salvation than in the slave himself. Breaking open the cask, however, they were shocked and appalled to find inside the body of a man, somewhat imperfectly preserved by the spirits in which he had been soaking.

“I wonder if they drank the crème de menthe anyway,” I murmured, having observed for myself that Mr. Overholt’s assessment of the alcoholic affinities of sailors was largely correct.

“I daresay,” said Geilie, mildly annoyed at having her story interrupted. “In any case, when I heard of it, I named him Ishmael straight off. Because of the floating coffin, aye?”

“Very clever,” I congratulated her. “Er…did they find out who the man in the cask was?”

“I don’t think so.” She shrugged carelessly. “They gave him to the Governor of Jamaica, who had him put in a glass case, wi’ fresh spirits, as a curiosity.”

“What?” I said incredulously.

“Well, not so much the man himself, but some odd fungi that were growing on him,” Geilie explained. “The Governor’s got a passion for such things. The old Governor, I mean; I hear there’s a new one, now.”

“Quite,” I said, feeling a bit queasy. I thought the ex-governor was more likely to qualify as a curiosity than the dead man, on the whole.

Her back was turned, as she pulled out drawers and rummaged through them. I took a deep breath, hoping to keep my voice casual.

“This Ishmael sounds an interesting sort; do you still have him?”

“No,” she said indifferently. “The black bastard ran off. He’s the one who made the zombie poison for me, though. Wouldn’t tell me how, no matter what I did to him,” she added, with a short, humorless laugh, and I had a sudden vivid memory of the weals across Ishmael’s back. “He said it wasn’t proper for women to make medicine, only men could do it. Or the verra auld women, once they’d quit bleeding. Hmph!”

She snorted, and reached into her pocket, pulling out a handful of stones.

“Anyway, that’s not what I brought ye up to show ye.”

Carefully, she laid five of the stones in a rough circle on the countertop. Then she took down from a shelf a thick book, bound in worn leather.

“Can ye read German?” she asked, opening it carefully.

“Not much, no,” I said. I moved closer, to look over her shoulder. Hexenhammer, it said, in a fine, handwritten script.

“Witches’ Hammer?” I asked. I raised one eyebrow. “Spells? Magic?”

The skepticism in my voice must have been obvious, for she glared at me over one shoulder.

“Look, fool,” she said. “Who are ye? Or what, rather?”

“What am I?” I said, startled.

“That’s right.” She turned and leaned against the counter, studying me through narrowed eyes. “What are ye? Or me, come to that? What are we?”

I opened my mouth to reply, then closed it again.

“That’s right,” she said softly, watching. “It’s not everyone can go through the stones, is it? Why us?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “And neither do you, I’ll be bound. It doesn’t mean we’re witches, surely!”

“Doesn’t it?” She lifted one brow, and turned several pages of the book.

“Some people can leave their bodies and travel miles away,” she said, staring meditatively at the page. “Other people see them out wandering, and recognize them, and ye can bloody prove they were really tucked up safe in bed at the time. I’ve seen the records, all the eyewitness testimony. Some people have stigmata ye can see and touch—I’ve seen one. But not everybody. Only certain people.”

She turned another page. “If everyone can do it, it’s science. If only a few can, then it’s witchcraft, or superstition, or whatever you like to call it,” she said. “But it’s real.” She looked up at me, green eyes bright as a snake’s over the crumbling book. “We’re real, Claire—you and me. And special. Have ye never asked yourself why?”

I had. Any number of times. I had never gotten a reasonable answer to the question, though. Evidently, Geilie thought she had one.

She turned back to the stones she had laid on the counter, and pointed at them each in turn. “Stones of protection; amethyst, emerald, turquoise, lapis lazuli, and a male ruby.”

“A male ruby?”

“Pliny says rubies have a sex to them; who am I to argue?” she said impatiently. “The male stones are what ye use, though; the female ones don’t work.”

I suppressed the urge to ask precisely how one distinguished the sex of rubies, in favor of asking, “Work for what?”

“For the travel,” she said, glancing curiously at me. “Through the stones. They protect ye from the…whatever it is, out there.” Her eyes grew slightly shadowed at the thought of the time-passage, and I realized that she was deathly afraid of it. Little wonder; so was I.

“When did ye come? The first time?” Her eyes were intent on mine.

“From 1945,” I said slowly. “I came to 1743, if that’s what you mean.” I was reluctant to tell her too much; still, my own curiosity was overwhelming. She was right about one thing; she and I were different. I might never again have the chance to talk to another person who knew what she did. For that matter, the longer I could keep her talking, the longer Jamie would have to look for Ian.

“Hm.” She grunted in a satisfied manner. “Near enough. It’s two hundred year, in the Highland tales—when folk fall asleep on fairy duns and end up dancing all night wi’ the Auld Folk; it’s usually two hundred year later when they come back to their own place.”

“You didn’t, though. You came from 1968, but you’d been in Cranesmuir several years before I came there.”

“Five years, aye.” She nodded, abstracted. “Aye, well, that was the blood.”

“Blood?”

“The sacrifice,” she said, suddenly impatient. “It gives ye a greater range. And at least a bit of control, so ye have some notion how far ye’re going. How did ye get to and fro three times, without blood?” she demanded.

“I…just came.” The need to find out as much as I could made me add the little else I knew. “I think—I think it has something to do with being able to fix your mind on a certain person who’s in the time you go to.”

Her eyes were nearly round with interest.

“Really,” she said softly. “Think o’ that, now.” She shook her head slowly, thinking. “Hm. That might be so. Still, the stones should work as well; there’s patterns ye make, wi’ the different gems, ye ken.”

She pulled another fistful of shining stones from her pocket and spread them on the wooden surface, pawing through them.

“The protection stones are the points of the pentacle,” she explained, intent on her rummaging, “but inside that, ye lay the pattern wi’ different stones, depending which way ye mean to go, and how far. And ye lay a line of quicksilver between them, and fire it when ye speak the spells. And of course ye draw the pentacle wi’ diamond dust.”

“Of course,” I murmured, fascinated.

“Smell it?” she asked, looking up for a moment and sniffing. “Ye wouldna think stones had a scent, aye? But they do, when ye grind them to powder.”

I inhaled deeply, and did seem to find a faint, unfamiliar scent among the smell of dried herbs. It was a dry scent, pleasant but indescribable—the scent of gemstones.

She held up one stone with a small cry of triumph.

“This one! This is the one I needed; couldna find one anywhere in the islands, and finally I thought o’ the box I’d left in Scotland.” The stone she held was a black crystal of some kind; the light from the window passed through it, and yet it glittered like a piece of jet between her white fingers.

“What is it?”

“An adamant; a black diamond. The auld alchemists used them. The books say that to wear an adamant brings ye the knowledge of the joy in all things.” She laughed, a short, sharp sound, devoid of her usual girlish charm. “If anything can bring knowledge o’ joy in that passage through the stones, I want one!”

Something was beginning to dawn on me, rather belatedly. In defense of my slowness, I can only argue that I was simultaneously listening to Geilie and keeping an ear out for any sign of Jamie returning below.

“You mean to go back, then?” I asked, as casually as I could.

“I might.” A small smile played around the corners of her mouth. “Now that I’ve got the things I need. I tell ye, Claire, I wouldna risk it, without.” She stared at me, shaking her head. “Three times, wi’ no blood,” she murmured. “So it can be done.

“Well, best we go down now,” she said, suddenly brisk, sweeping the stones up and dumping them back into her pocket. “The fox will be back—Fraser is his name, is it no? I thought Clotilda said something else, but the stupid bitch likely got it wrong.”

As we made our way down the long workroom, something small and brown darted across the floor in front of me. Geilie was quick, despite her size; her small foot stamped on the centipede before I could react.

She watched the half-crushed beast wriggling on the floor for a moment, then stooped and slid a sheet of paper under it. Scooping it up, she decanted the thing thriftily into a glass jar.

“Ye dinna want to believe in witches and zombies and things that go bump in the night?” she said, with a small, sly smile at me. She nodded at the centipede, struggling round and round in frenzied, lopsided circles. “Well, legends are many-legged beasties, aye? But they generally have at least one foot on the truth.”

She took down a clear brown-glass jug and poured the liquid into the centipede’s bottle. The pungent scent of alcohol rose in the air. The centipede, washed up by the wave, kicked frantically for a moment, then sank to the bottom of the bottle, legs moving spasmodically. She corked the bottle neatly, and turned to go.

“You asked me why I thought we can pass through the stones,” I said to her back. “Do you know why, Geilie?” She glanced over her shoulder at me.

“Why, to change things,” she said, sounding surprised. “Why else? Come along; I hear your man down there.”

Whatever Jamie had been doing, it had been hard work; his shirt was dampened with sweat, and clung to his shoulders. He swung around as we entered the room, and I saw that he had been looking at the wooden puzzle-box that Geilie had left on the table. It was obvious from his expression that I had been correct in my surmise—it was the box he had found on the silkies’ isle.

“I believe I have succeeded in mending your sugar press, mistress,” he said, bowing politely to Geilie. “A matter of a cracked cylinder, which your overseer and I contrived to stuff with wedges. Still, I fear ye may be needing another soon.”

Geilie quirked her eyebrows, amused.

Loading...