Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 117

   

They ran, stumbling and panting. Roger couldn’t tell where they were; he was following Buck. He dropped the lantern at one point; it fell over with a clank and he heard the oil inside gurgle out of its reservoir. With a soft whoosh, it flowered into brilliant flame.

“Shit!” They ran. It didn’t matter where, what direction. Just away from the burning beacon and the irate voices—more than one now.

Suddenly they were into a scrim of trees—the low, wind-crabbed grove they’d lurked in earlier. But the dogs were on their track, barking eagerly, and they didn’t linger but fought their way through the brush and out again, up a steep hill turfed with heather. Roger’s foot sank through the spongy growth into a puddle, soaking him to the ankle, and he nearly lost his balance. Jerry set his feet and yanked Roger upright, then lost his own balance when his knee gave way; they clung together, wobbling precariously for an instant, then Roger lurched forward again and they were out of it.

He thought his lungs would burst, but they kept going—not running any longer; you couldn’t run up a hill like this—slogging, planting one foot after another, after another . . . Roger began to see bursts of light at the edges of his vision; he tripped, staggered, and fell, and was hauled to his feet by Jerry.

They were all three half sopping and smeared head to foot with mud and heather scratchings when they lurched at last to the crest of the hill and stopped for a moment, swaying and gasping for air.

“Where . . . are we going?” Jerry wheezed, using the end of his scarf to wipe his face.

Roger shook his head, still short of breath—but then caught the faint gleam of water.

“We’re taking you . . . back. To the stones by the lake. Where . . . you came through. Come on!”

They pelted down the far side of the hill, headlong, almost falling, now exhilarated by the speed and the thought of a goal.

“How . . . did you find me?” Jerry gasped, when at last they hit bottom and stopped for breath.

“Found your tags,” Buck said, almost brusque. “Followed their trail back.”

Roger put a hand to his pocket, about to offer them back—but didn’t. It had struck him, like a stone to the middle of his chest, that, having found Jerry MacKenzie against substantial odds, he was about to part from him, likely forever. And that was only if things went well. . . .

His father. Dad? He couldn’t think of this young man, white-faced and lame, nearly twenty years his junior, as his father—not the father he’d imagined all his life.

“Come on.” Buck took Jerry’s arm now, nearly holding him up, and they began to forge their way across the dark fields, losing their way and finding it again, guided by the light of Orion overhead.

Orion, Lepus. Canis major. He found a measure of comfort in the stars, blazing in the cold black sky. Those didn’t change; they’d shine forever—or as close as made no difference—on him and on this man, no matter where each one might end up.

End up. The cold air burned in his lungs. Bree . . .

And then he could see them: squatty pillars, no more than blotches on the night, visible only because they showed dark and immobile against the sheet of moving water stirred by the wind.

“Right,” he said hoarsely, and, swallowing, wiped his face on his sleeve. “This is where we leave you.”

“Ye do?” Jerry panted. “But—but you—”

“When ye came . . . through. Did ye have anything on you? A gemstone, any jewelry?”

“Aye,” Jerry said, bewildered. “I had a raw sapphire in my pocket. But it’s gone. It’s like it—”

“Like it burnt up,” Buck finished for him, grim-voiced. “Aye. Well, so?” This last was clearly addressed to Roger, who hesitated. Bree . . . No more than an instant, though—he stuck a hand into the leather pouch at his waist, pulled out the tiny oilcloth package, fumbled it open, and pressed the garnet pendant into Jerry’s hand. It was faintly warm from his body, and Jerry’s cold hand closed over it in reflex.

“Take this; it’s a good one. When ye go through,” Roger said, and leaned toward him, trying to impress him with the importance of his instructions, “think about your wife, about Marjorie. Think hard; see her in your mind’s eye, and walk straight through. Whatever the hell ye do, though, don’t think about your son. Just your wife.”

“What?” Jerry was gobsmacked. “How the bloody hell do you know my wife’s name? And where’ve ye heard about my son?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Roger said, and turned his head to look back over his shoulder.

“Damn,” said Buck softly. “They’re still coming. There’s a light.”

There was: a single light, bobbing evenly over the ground, as it would if someone carried it. But look as he might, Roger could see no one behind it, and a violent shiver ran over him.

“Thaibhse,” said Buck, under his breath. Roger knew that word well enough—spirit, it meant. And usually an ill-disposed one. A haunt.

“Aye, maybe.” He was beginning to catch his breath. “And maybe not.” He turned again to Jerry. “Either way, ye need to go, man, and now. Remember, think of your wife.”

Jerry swallowed, his hand closing tight around the stone.

“Aye. Aye . . . right. Thanks, then,” he added awkwardly.

Roger couldn’t speak, could give him nothing more than the breath of a smile. Then Buck was beside him, plucking urgently at his sleeve and gesturing at the bobbing light, and they set off, awkward and lumbering after the brief cooldown.

Bree . . . He swallowed, fists clenched. He’d got a stone once, he could do it again. . . . But the greater part of his mind was still with the man they had just left by the lake. He looked over his shoulder and saw Jerry beginning to walk, limping badly but resolute, thin shoulders squared under his pale khaki shirt and the end of his scarf fluttering in the rising wind.

Then it all rose up in him. Seized by an urgency greater than any he’d ever known, he turned and ran. Ran heedless of footing, of dark, of Buck’s startled cry behind him.

Jerry heard his footsteps on the grass and whirled round, startled himself. Roger grabbed him by both hands, squeezed them hard enough to make Jerry gasp, and said fiercely, “I love you!”

That was all there was time for—and all he could possibly say. He let go and turned away fast, his boots making a shoof-shoof noise in the dry lake grass. He glanced up the hill, but the light had vanished. Likely it had been someone from the farmhouse, satisfied now that the intruders were gone.

Buck was waiting, shrouded in his cloak and holding Roger’s; he must have dropped it coming down the hill. Buck shook it out and folded it round Roger’s shoulders; Roger’s fingers shook, trying to fasten the brooch.

“Why did ye tell him a daft thing like that?” Buck asked, doing it for him. Buck’s head was bent, not looking at him.

Roger swallowed hard, and his voice came clear but painful, the words like ice shards in his throat.

“Because he isn’t going to make it back. It’s the only chance I’ll ever have. Come on.”

POSTPARTUM

THE NIGHT SHIVERED. The whole night. The ground and the lake, the sky, the dark, the stars, and every particle of his own body. He was scattered, instantly everywhere and part of everything. And part of them. There was one moment of an exaltation too great for fear and then he vanished, his last thought no more than a faint, I am . . . voiced more in hope than declaration.

Roger came back to a blurred knowledge of himself, flat on his back under a clear black sky whose brilliant stars seemed pinpoints now, desperately far away. He missed them, missed being part of the night. Missed, with a brief rending sense of desolation, the two men who’d shared his soul for that blazing moment.

The sound of Buck throwing up returned him to a sense of his body. He was lying in cold, wet grass, half soaked, smelling of mud and old manure, chilled to the bone, and bruised in a number of uncomfortable places.

Buck said something horrible in Gaelic and retched again. He was on his hands and knees a few feet away, a blot on the darkness.

“You all right?” Roger croaked, rolling onto his side. He’d remembered, suddenly, the trouble with Buck’s heart when they’d made their passage at Craigh na Dun. “If your heart’s giving you bother again—”

“If it was, damn-all ye could do about it, is there?” Buck said. He hawked a glob of something nasty into the grass and sat down heavily, wiping his sleeve across his mouth. “Christ, I hate that! Didna ken we’d feel it, this far away.”

“Mmphm.” Roger sat up slowly. He wondered whether Buck had felt the same thing he had, but it didn’t seem the moment for metaphysical discussion. “He’s gone, then.”

“Want me to go and make sure of it?” Buck said disagreeably. “God, my head!”

Roger rose to his feet, staggering a little, and went and got Buck under one arm, levering him to his feet.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go find the horses. We’ll get away a bit, make a wee camp, get some food into you.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“I bloody am.” In fact, he was ravenous. Buck swayed but appeared able to stand on his own. Roger released him and turned briefly to look back at the distant lake and the standing stones. For an instant, he recaptured the sense of being part of them, and then it was gone; the gleaming water and the stones were no more than part of the craggy landscape.

There was no way of knowing what time it was, but the night was still pitch-dark by the time they’d retrieved the horses, made their way to a sheltered spot under a cliff face, found water, made fire, and toasted some bannocks to eat with their dried salt herring.

They didn’t talk, both exhausted. Roger pushed away the obvious “So now what?” and let his thoughts come randomly as they would; time enough for plans tomorrow.

After a bit, Buck got up abruptly and went off into the dark. He stayed gone for some time, during which time Roger sat gazing into the fire, replaying every moment he’d spent with Jerry MacKenzie in his mind, trying to fix it all. He wished passionately that it had been daylight, that he’d been able to see more of his father’s face than the brief glimpses he’d had in the beam of the dark lantern.

Whatever his regrets, though, and the cold knowledge that Jerry wouldn’t make it back—or not back to where he’d started from, at least (God, what if he ended up lost in yet another strange time? Was that possible?)—there was the one small, warm thing. He’d said it. And wherever his father had gone, he’d carry that with him.

He wrapped himself in his cloak, lay down by the embers of the fire, and carried it with him into sleep.

WHEN ROGER WOKE in the morning, thickheaded but feeling reasonably okay, Buck had already built up the fire and was frying bacon. The smell of it got Roger into a sitting position, rubbing the last of the sleep from his eyes.

Buck blotted a slice of thick bacon out of the pan with a bannock and handed it to him. He seemed to have recovered from the aftereffects of Jerry’s leaving; he was disheveled and unshaven, but clear-eyed, and gave Roger an assessing look.

“Are ye in one piece?” It wasn’t asked as a rhetorical question, and Roger nodded, taking the food. He started to say something in reply, but his throat was constricted, and nothing much came out. He cleared his throat hard, but Buck shook his head, indicating that no effort need be made on his part.

“I’m thinking we’ll head north again,” Buck said, without preamble. “Ye’ll want to keep looking for your lad, I suppose—and I want to go to Cranesmuir.”

So did Roger, though likely for other reasons. He eyed Buck closely, but his ancestor avoided his eye.

“Geillis Duncan?”

“Wouldn’t you?” Buck’s tone was belligerent.

“I just did,” Roger said dryly. “Aye, of course ye do.” This didn’t come as a surprise. He chewed his makeshift butty slowly, wondering just how much to tell Buck about Geillis. “Your mother,” he began, and cleared his throat again.

When Roger had finished, Buck sat in silence for some time, blinking at the last slice of bacon, drying in the pan.

“Jesus,” he said, but not in tones of shock. More a deep interest, Roger thought, with some unease. Buck glanced up at Roger, speculation in his moss-green eyes. “And what d’ye ken about my father, then?”

“More than I can tell ye in a few minutes, and we should be on our way.” Roger got up, brushing crumbs off his knees. “I don’t want to try explaining our presence to any of those hairy buggers. My Old English isn’t what it used to be.”

“‘Sumer is icumen in,’” Buck said, with a glance at the leafless, wind-blasted saplings precariously rooted in the cliff’s crevices. “ ‘Lhude sing cuccu.’ Aye, let’s go.”

SOLSTICE

December 19, 1980

Edinburgh, Scotland

A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR TIME TRAVELERS—PART II

It’s almost time. The winter solstice is day after tomorrow. I keep imagining that I can feel the earth shifting slowly in the dark, tectonic plates moving under my feet and . . . things . . . invisibly lining up. The moon is waxing, nearly a quarter full. Have no idea whether that might be important.

In the morning, we’ll take the train to Inverness. I’ve called Fiona; she’ll meet us at the station, and we’ll eat and change at her house—then she’ll drive us to Craigh na Dun . . . and leave us there. Keep wondering if I should ask her to stay—or at least to come back in an hour, in case one or more of us should still be there, on fire or unconscious. Or dead.

After dithering for an hour, I called Lionel Menzies, too, and asked him to keep an eye on Rob Cameron. Inverness is a small town; there’s always the chance that someone will see us coming off the train, or at Fiona’s. And word spreads fast. If anything’s going to happen, I want warning.

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