Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 187

   

“Faith is as powerful a force as science,” he concluded, voice soft in the darkness, “—but far more dangerous.”

We sat quietly for a time, looking over the bow of the tiny ship, toward the thin slice of darkness that divided the night, darker than the purple glow of the sky, or the silver-gray sea. The black island of Hispaniola, drawing inexorably closer.

“Where did you see the headless fish?” I asked suddenly, and was not surprised to see the faint inclination of his head toward the bow.

“There,” he said. “I have seen a good many odd things among these islands—but perhaps more there than anywhere else. Some places are like that.”

I didn’t speak for several minutes, pondering what might lie ahead—and hoping that Ishmael had been right in saying that it was Ian whom Geillis had taken with her to Abandawe. A thought occurred to me—one that had been lost or pushed aside during the events of the last twenty-four hours.

“Lawrence—the other Scottish boys. Ishmael told us he saw twelve of them, including Ian. When you were searching the plantation…did you find any trace of the others?”

He drew in his breath sharply, but did not answer at once. I could feel him, turning over words in his mind, trying to decide how to say what the chill in my bones had already told me.

The answer, when it came, was not from Lawrence, but from Jamie.

“We found them,” he said softly, from the darkness. His hand rested on my knee, and squeezed gently. “Dinna ask more, Sassenach—for I willna tell ye.”

I understood. Ishmael had to have been right; it must be Ian with Geilie, for Jamie could bear no other possibility. I laid a hand on his head, and he stirred slightly, turning so that his breath touched my hand.

“Blest are they who have not seen,” I whispered under my breath, “but have believed.”

We dropped anchor near dawn, in a small, nameless bay on the northern coast of Hispaniola. There was a narrow beach, faced with cliffs, and through a split in the rock, a narrow, sandy trail was visible, leading into the interior of the island.

Jamie carried me the few steps to shore, set me down, and then turned to Innes, who had splashed ashore with one of the parcels of food.

“I thank ye, a charaid,” he said formally. “We shall part here; with the Virgin’s blessing, we will meet here again in four days’ time.”

Innes’s narrow face contracted in surprised disappointment; then resignation settled on his features.

“Aye,” he said. “I’ll mind the boatie then, ’til ye all come back.”

Jamie saw the expression, and shook his head, smiling.

“Not just you, man; did I need a strong arm, it would be yours I should call on first. No, all of ye shall stay, save my wife and the Jew.”

Resignation was replaced by sheer surprise.

“Stay here? All of us? But will ye not have need of us, Mac Dubh?” He squinted anxiously at the cliffs, with their burden of flowering vines. “It looks a fearsome place to venture into, without friends.”

“I shall count it the act of greatest friendship for ye to wait here, as I say, Duncan,” Jamie said, and I realized with a slight shock that I had never known Innes’s given name.

Innes glanced again at the cliffs, his lean face troubled, then bent his head in acquiescence.

“Well, it’s you as shall say, Mac Dubh. But ye ken we are willing—all of us.”

Jamie nodded, his face turned away.

“Aye, I ken that fine, Duncan,” he said softly. Then he turned back, held out an arm, and Innes embraced him, his one arm awkwardly thumping Jamie’s back.

“If a ship should come,” Jamie said, letting go, “then I wish ye to take heed for yourselves. The Royal Navy will be looking for that pinnace, aye? I doubt they shall come here, looking, but if they should—or if anything else at all should threaten ye—then leave. Sail away at once.”

“And leave ye here? Nay, ye can order me to do a great many things, Mac Dubh, and do them I shall—but not that.”

Jamie frowned and shook his head; the rising sun struck sparks from his hair and the stubble of his beard, wreathing his head in fire.

“It will do me and my wife no good to have ye killed, Duncan. Mind what I say. If a ship comes—go.” He turned aside then, and went to take leave of the other Scots.

Innes sighed deeply, his face etched with disapproval, but he made no further protest.

It was hot and damp in the jungle, and there was little talk among the three of us as we made our way inland. There was nothing to say, after all; Jamie and I could not speak of Brianna before Lawrence, and there were no plans to be made until we reached Abandawe, and saw what was there. I dozed fitfully at night, waking several times to see Jamie, back against a tree near me, eyes fixed sightless on the fire.

At noon of the second day, we reached the place. A steep and rocky hillside of gray limestone rose before us, sprouted over with spiky aloes and a ruffle of coarse grass. And on the crest of the hill, I could see them. Great standing stones, megaliths, in a rough circle about the crown of the hill.

“You didn’t say there was a stone circle,” I said. I felt faint, and not only from the heat and damp.

“Are you quite well, Mrs. Fraser?” Lawrence peered at me in some alarm, his genial face flushed beneath its tan.

“Yes,” I said, but my face must as usual have given me away, for Jamie was there in a moment, taking my arm and steadying me with a hand about my waist.

“For God’s sake, be careful, Sassenach!” he muttered. “Dinna go near those things!”

“We have to know if Geilie’s there, with Ian,” I said. “Come on.” I forced my reluctant feet into motion, and he came with me, still muttering under his breath in Gaelic—I thought it was a prayer.

“They were put up a very long time ago,” Lawrence said, as we came up onto the crest of the hill, within a few feet of the stones. “Not by slaves—by the aboriginal inhabitants of the islands.”

The circle was empty, and innocent-looking. No more than a staggered circle of large stones, set on end, motionless under the sun. Jamie was watching my face anxiously.

“Can ye hear them, Claire?” he said. Lawrence looked startled, but said nothing as I advanced carefully toward the nearest stone.

“I don’t know,” I said. “It isn’t one of the proper days—not a Sun Feast, or a Fire Feast, I mean. It may not be open now; I don’t know.”

Holding tightly to Jamie’s hand, I edged forward, listening. There seemed a faint hum in the air, but it might be no more than the usual sound of the jungle insects. Very gently, I laid the palm of my hand against the nearest stone.

I was dimly conscious of Jamie calling my name. Somewhere, my mind was struggling on a physical level, making the conscious effort to lift and lower my diaphragm, to squeeze and release the chambers of my heart. My ears were filled with a pulsating hum, a vibration too deep for sound, that throbbed in the marrow of my bones. And in some small, still place in the center of the chaos was Geilie Duncan, green eyes smiling into mine.

“Claire!”

I was lying on the ground, Jamie and Lawrence bending over me, faces dark and anxious against the sky. There was dampness on my cheeks, and a trickle of water ran down my neck. I blinked, cautiously moving my extremities, to be sure I still possessed them.

Jamie put down the handkerchief with which he had been bathing my face, and lifted me to a sitting position.

“Are ye all right, Sassenach?”

“Yes,” I said, still mildly confused. “Jamie—she’s here!”

“Who? Mrs. Abernathy?” Lawrence’s heavy eyebrows shot up, and he glanced hastily behind him, as though expecting her to materialize on the spot.

“I heard her—saw her—whatever.” My wits were coming slowly back. “She’s here. Not in the circle; close by.”

“Can ye tell where?” Jamie’s hand was resting on his dirk, as he darted quick glances all around us.

I shook my head, and closed my eyes, trying—reluctantly—to recapture that moment of seeing. There was an impression of darkness, of damp coolness, and the flicker of red torchlight.

“I think she’s in a cave,” I said, amazed. “Is it close by, Lawrence?”

“It is,” he said, watching my face with intense curiosity. “The entrance is not far from here.”

“Take us there.” Jamie was on his feet, lifting me to mine.

“Jamie.” I stopped him with a hand on his arm.

“Aye?”

“Jamie—she knows I’m here, too.”

That stopped him, all right. He paused, and I saw him swallow. Then his jaw tightened, and he nodded.

“A Mhìcheal bheannaichte, dìon sinn bho dheamhainnean,” he said softly, and turned toward the edge of the hill. Blessed Michael, defend us from demons.

The blackness was absolute. I brought my hand to my face; felt my palm brush my nose; but saw nothing. It wasn’t an empty blackness, though. The floor of the passage was uneven, with small sharp particles that crunched underfoot, and the walls in some places grew so close together that I wondered how Geilie had ever managed to squeeze through.

Even in the places where the passage grew wider, and the stone walls were too far away for my outstretched hands to brush against, I could feel them. It was like being in a dark room with another person—someone who kept quite silent, but whose presence I could feel, never more than an arm’s length away.

Jamie’s hand was tight on my shoulder, and I could feel his presence behind me, a warm disturbance in the cool void of the cave.

“Are we headed right?” he asked, when I stopped for a moment to catch my breath. “There are passages to the sides; I feel them as we pass. How can ye tell where we’re going?”

“I can hear. Hear them. It. Don’t you hear?” It was a struggle to speak, to form coherent thoughts. The call here was different; not the beehive sound of Craigh na Dun, but a hum like the vibration of the air following the striking of a great bell. I could feel it ringing in the long bones of my arms, echoing through pectoral girdle and spine.

Jamie gripped my arm hard.

“Stay with me!” he said. “Sassenach—don’t let it take ye; stay!”

I reached blindly out and he caught me tight against his chest. The thump of his heart against my temple was louder than the hum.

“Jamie. Jamie, hold on to me.” I had never been more frightened. “Don’t let me go. If it takes me—Jamie, I can’t come back again. It’s worse every time. It will kill me, Jamie!”

His arms tightened round me ’til I felt my ribs crack, and gasped for breath. After a moment, he let go, and putting me gently aside, moved past me into the passage, taking care to keep his hand always on me.

“I’ll go first,” he said. “Put your hand in my belt, and dinna let go for anything.”

Linked together, we moved slowly down, farther into the dark. Lawrence had wanted to come, but Jamie would not let him. We had left him at the mouth of the cave, waiting. If we should not return, he was to go back to the beach, to keep the rendezvous with Innes and the other Scots.

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