There was no sound save the crackling of the fire. Ishmael stood transfixed, staring at the woman beside me. Then she spoke again, in Brianna’s soft, husky tones.
“I love you, Daddy. You too, Mama.” She leaned toward me, and I smelled the fresh blood. Then her lips touched mine, and I screamed.
I was not conscious of leaping to my feet, or of crossing the clearing. All I knew was that I was clinging to Jamie, my face buried in the cloth of his coat, shaking.
His heart was pounding under my cheek, and I thought that he was shaking, too. I felt his hand trace the sign of the cross upon my back, and his arm lock tight about my shoulders.
“It’s all right,” he said, and I could feel his ribs swell and brace with the effort of keeping his voice steady. “She’s gone.”
I didn’t want to look, but forced myself to turn my head toward the fire.
It was a peaceful scene. Margaret Campbell sat quietly on her bench, humming to herself, twiddling a long black tailfeather upon her knee. Ishmael stood behind her, one hand smoothing her hair in what looked like tenderness. He murmured something to her in a low, liquid tongue—a question—and she smiled placidly.
“Oh, I’m not a scrap tired!” she assured him, turning to look fondly up into the scarred face that hovered in the darkness above her. “Such a nice party, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, bébé,” he said gently. “But you rest now, eh?” He turned and clicked his tongue loudly. Suddenly two of the turbaned women materialized out of the night; they must have been waiting, just within call. Ishmael said something to them, and they came at once to tend Margaret, lifting her to her feet and leading her away between them, murmuring soft endearments in African and French.
Ishmael remained, watching us across the fire. He was still as one of Geilie’s idols, carved out of night.
“I did not come alone,” Jamie said. He gestured casually over his shoulder toward the cane field behind him, implying armed regiments.
“Oh, you be alone, mon,” Ishmael said, with a slight smile. “No matter. The loa speak to you; you be safe from me.” He glanced back and forth between us, appraising.
“Huh,” he said, in a tone of interest. “Never did hear a loa speak to buckra.” He shook his head then, dismissing the matter.
“You be going now,” he said, quietly but with considerable authority.
“Not yet.” Jamie’s arm dropped from my shoulder, and he straightened up beside me. “I have come for the boy Ian; I will not go without him.”
Ishmael’s brows went up, compressing the three vertical scars between them.
“Huh,” he said again. “You forget that boy; he be gone.”
“Gone where?” Jamie asked sharply.
The narrow head tilted to one side, as Ishmael looked him over carefully.
“Gone with the Maggot, mon,” he said. “And where she go, you don’ be going. That boy gone, mon,” he said again, with finality. “You leave too, you a wise man.” He paused, listening. A drum was talking, somewhere far away, the pulse of it little more than a disturbance of the night air.
“The rest be comin’ soon,” he remarked. “You safe from me, mon, not from them.”
“Who are the rest?” I asked. The terror of the encounter with the loa was ebbing, and I was able to talk once more, though my spine still rippled with fear of the dark cane field at my back.
“Maroons, I expect,” Jamie said. He raised a brow at Ishmael. “Or ye will be?”
The priest nodded, one formal bob of the head.
“That be true,” he said. “You hear Bouassa speak? His loa bless us, we go.” He gestured toward the huts and the dark hills behind them. “The drum callin’ them down from the hills, those strong enough to go.”
He turned away, the conversation obviously at an end.
“Wait!” Jamie said. “Tell us where she has gone—Mrs. Abernathy and the boy!”
Ishmael turned back, shoulders mantled in the crocodile’s blood.
“To Abandawe,” he said.
“And where’s that?” Jamie demanded impatiently. I put a hand on his arm.
“I know where it is,” I said, and Ishmael’s eyes widened in astonishment. “At least—I know it’s on Hispaniola. Lawrence told me. That was what Geilie wanted from him—to find out where it was.”
“What is it? A town, a village? Where?” I could feel Jamie’s arm tense under my hand, vibrating with the urgency to be gone.
“It’s a cave,” I said, feeling cold in spite of the balmy air and the nearness of the fire. “An old cave.”
“Abandawe a magic place,” Ishmael put in, deep voice soft, as though he feared to speak of it out loud. He looked at me hard, reassessing. “Clotilda say the Maggot take you to the room upstairs. You maybe be knowin’ what she do there?”
“A little.” My mouth felt dry. I remembered Geilie’s hands, soft and plump and white, laying out the gems in their patterns, talking lightly of blood.
As though he caught the echo of this thought, Ishmael took a sudden step toward me.
“I ask you, woman—you still bleed?”
Jamie jerked under my hand, but I squeezed his arm to be still.
“Yes,” I said. “Why? What has that to do with it?”
The oniseegun was plainly uneasy; he glanced from me back toward the huts. A stir was perceptible in the dark behind him; many bodies were moving to and fro, with a mutter of voices like the whisper of the cane fields. They were getting ready to go.
“A woman bleeds, she kill magic. You bleed, got your woman-power, the magic don’t work for you. It the old women do magic; witch someone, call the loas, make sick, make well.” He gave me a long, appraising look, and shook his head.
“You ain’ gone do the magic, what the Maggot do. That magic kill her, sure, but it kill you, too.” He gestured behind him, toward the empty bench. “You hear Bouassa speak? He say the Maggot die, three days. She taken the boy, he die. You go follow them, mon, you die, too, sure.”
He stared at Jamie, and raised his hands in front of him, wrists crossed as though bound together. “I tell you, amiki,” he said. He let his hands fall, jerking them apart, breaking the invisible bond. He turned abruptly, and vanished into the darkness, where the shuffle of feet was growing louder, punctuated with bumps as heavy objects were shifted.
“Holy Michael defend us,” muttered Jamie. He ran a hand hard through his hair, making fiery wisps stand out in the flickering light. The fire was dying fast, with no one left to tend it.
“D’ye ken this place, Sassenach? Where Geillis has gone wi’ Ian?”
“No, all I know is that it’s somewhere up in the far hills on Hispaniola, and that a stream runs through it.”
“Then we must take Stern,” he said with decision. “Come on; the lads are by the river wi’ the boat.”
I turned to follow him, but paused on the edge of the cane field to look back.
“Jamie! Look!” Behind us lay the embers of the egungun’s fire, and the shadowy ring of slave huts. Farther away, the bulk of Rose Hall made a light patch against the hillside. But farther still, beyond the shoulder of the hill, the sky glowed faintly red.
“That will be Howe’s place, burning,” he said. He sounded oddly calm, without emotion. He pointed to the left, toward the flank of the mountain, where a small orange dot glowed, no more at this distance than a pinprick of light. “And that will be Twelvetrees, I expect.”
The drum-voice whispered through the night, up and down the river. What had Ishmael said? The drum callin’ them down from the hills—those strong enough to go.
A small line of slaves was coming down from the huts, women carrying babies and bundles, cooking pots slung over their shoulders, heads turbaned in white. Next to one young woman, who held her arm with careful respect, walked Margaret Campbell, likewise turbaned.
Jamie saw her, and stepped forward.
“Miss Campbell!” he said sharply. “Margaret!”
Margaret and her attendant stopped; the young woman moved as though to step between her charge and Jamie, but he held up both hands as he came, to show he meant no harm, and she reluctantly stepped back.
“Margaret,” he said. “Margaret, do ye not know me?”
She stared vacantly at him. Very slowly, he touched her, holding her face between his hands.
“Margaret,” he said to her, low-voiced, urgent. “Margaret, hear me! D’ye ken me, Margaret?”
She blinked once, then twice, and the smooth round face melted and thawed into life. It was not like the sudden possession of the loas; this was a slow, tentative coming, of something shy and fearful.
“Aye, I ken ye, Jamie,” she said at last. Her voice was rich and pure, a young girl’s voice. Her lips curled up, and her eyes came alive once more, her face still held in the hollow of his hands.
“It’s been lang since I saw ye, Jamie,” she said, looking up into his eyes. “Will ye have word of Ewan, then? Is he well?”
He stood very still for a minute, his face that careful blank mask that hid strong feeling.
“He is well,” he whispered at last. “Verra well, Margaret. He gave me this, to keep until I saw ye.” He bent his head and kissed her gently.
Several of the women had stopped, standing silently by to watch. At this, they moved and began to murmur, glancing uneasily at each other. When he released Margaret Campbell and stepped back, they closed in around her, protective and wary, nodding him back.
Margaret seemed oblivious; her eyes were still on Jamie’s face, the smile on her lips.
“I thank ye, Jamie!” she called, as her attendant took her arm and began to urge her away. “Tell Ewan I’ll be with him soon!” The little band of white-clothed women moved away, disappearing like ghosts into the darkness by the cane field.
Jamie made an impulsive move in their direction, but I stopped him with a hand on his arm.
“Let her go,” I whispered, mindful of what lay on the floor in the salon of the plantation house. “Jamie, let her go. You can’t stop her; she’s better with them.”
He closed his eyes briefly, then nodded.
“Aye, you’re right.” He turned, then stopped suddenly, and I whirled about to see what he had seen. There were lights in Rose Hall now. Torchlight, flickering behind the windows, upstairs and down. As we watched, a surly glow began to swell in the windows of the secret workroom on the second floor.
“It’s past time to go,” Jamie said. He seized my hand and we went quickly, diving into the dark rustle of the canes, fleeing through air suddenly thick with the smell of burning sugar.
“You can take the Governor’s pinnace; that’s small, but it’s seaworthy.” Grey fumbled through the drawer of his desk. “I’ll write an order for the dockers to hand it over to you.”
“Aye, we’ll need the boat—I canna risk the Artemis; as she’s Jared’s—but I think we’d best steal it, John.” Jamie’s brows were drawn together in a frown. “I wouldna have ye be involved wi’ me in any visible way, aye? You’ll be having trouble enough with things, without that.”