Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 20

   

Her mouth turned up just a little, but he could see her laughing at him at the back of her eyes.

“Not in so many words. But I did give thee to understand that, yes. Or at least I meant to.”

“Oh. Well, then,” he said, much happier. “Ye did.” And he pulled her into his one sound arm and kissed her with great fervor. She kissed him back, panting a little, her fists curled in the fabric of his shirt, then broke away, looking mildly dazed. Her lips were swollen, the skin around them pink, scraped by his beard.

“Perhaps,” she said, and swallowed, pushing him away with one hand flat on his chest, “perhaps thee should finish telling me about not being married, before we go further? Who was thy—thy wife—and what happened to her?”

He let go of her reluctantly but would not surrender her hand. It felt like a small live thing, warm in his.

“Her name is Wakyo’teyehsnonhsa,” he said, and felt the accustomed inner shift at the speaking of it, as though the line between his Mohawk self and his white self had momentarily disappeared, leaving him awkwardly suspended somewhere in between. “It means ‘Works With Her Hands.’” He cleared his throat. “I called her Emily. Most of the time.”

Rachel’s small, smooth hand jerked in his.

“Is?” she said, blinking. “Thee said is? Thy wife is alive?”

“She was a year ago,” he said, and, with an effort, didn’t cling to her hand but let her take it back. She folded her hands in her lap, fixed her eyes on him, and swallowed; he saw her throat move.

“All right,” she said, with no more than a faint tremor in her voice. “Tell me about her.”

He took another deep breath, trying to think how to do that, but then abandoned the effort and spoke simply.

“D’ye truly want to know that, Rachel? Or do ye only want to ken whether I loved her—or whether I love her now?”

“Start there,” she said, lifting one brow. “Does thee love her?”

“I—yes,” he said, helpless to speak other than the truth to her. Rollo, sensing some disturbance among his pack, got up from his resting place and padded over to Rachel. He sat down by her foot, making his allegiance in the matter clear, and gave Ian a yellow-eyed wolf look over Rachel’s knee that bore an uncomfortable resemblance to the look in her own eye. “But . . .”

The brow lifted a fraction of an inch higher.

“She . . . was my refuge,” he blurted. “When I left my own family and became a Mohawk, it was as much to be wi’ her as because I had to.”

“Had to . . . what?” She looked baffled, and he saw her eyes drop a little, tracing the tattooed lines across his cheekbones. “Thee had to become a Mohawk? Why?”

He nodded, feeling momentarily on firmer ground. He could tell her this story; it was only what had happened. Her eyes went round when he explained how he and Uncle Jamie had met Roger Wakefield, not realized who he was and thought him to be the man who had raped his cousin Brianna and got her with child, had come close to killing him, but had thought better of the notion—

“Oh, good,” Rachel said, half under her breath. He glanced sidelong at her but couldn’t tell if she meant this ironically or not, so he coughed and went on, telling how they had instead given the man to the Tuscarora, who in turn had sold him as a slave to the Mohawk farther north.

“We didna want to risk him ever comin’ back to trouble Brianna, aye? Only then—” He swallowed, reliving in memory both the terror of his asking Brianna to marry him and the utter horror when cousin Bree had drawn a picture of the man she loved, the man she was waiting for—and the strong dark features of the man they had given to the Mohawk sprang into view.

“You asked thy cousin to marry thee? Did thee want to?” She looked wary; he supposed she must be thinking that he went about proposing to every third or fourth woman he met and hastened to correct this impression.

“Nay, I mean—well, Brianna’s a . . . well, I didna mind, ken, we’d ha’ got on fine, and she—well . . . I mean, no, not exactly,” he added hurriedly, seeing Rachel’s graceful brows draw together. The truth was that he’d been seventeen and Brianna several years older; she’d terrified him, but the thought of bedding her had—He choked that thought off as though it were a venomous snake.

“It was Uncle Jamie’s idea,” he said, with as much an air of casual dismissal as could be assumed on short notice. He lifted one shoulder. “To give the bairn a name, aye? I said I would, for the family honor.”

“The family honor,” she repeated, giving him a fishy look. “To be sure. But then—”

“But then we found it was Roger Mac—he’d taken back his own name of MacKenzie, is why we didna recognize him—that we’d given to the Indians by mistake, and so we went to retrieve him,” he said quickly. By the time he’d finished explaining all the events that had culminated in his volunteering to take the place of a Mohawk killed during Roger’s rescue, the washing of his body in the river, the Mohawk women scrubbing him with sand to remove the last trace of his white blood, the plucking of his hair and the tattoos, he thought his marriage to Emily might seem only one more picturesque detail.

But of course it didn’t.

“I—” He stopped dead, realizing suddenly that the conversation was about to become even stickier than he’d thought. He glanced at her apprehensively, heart beating in his throat and ears. But she was still looking back; the pinkness round her mouth showing more vividly because she’d gone a little pale—but looking, clear and steady.

“I—wasna a virgin when I wed,” he blurted.

The eyebrow went up again.

“Really, I am not quite sure what to ask,” she said, examining him in the way he’d seen his auntie Claire appraise some horrible growth—fascinated rather than repelled, but with a firm air of deciding exactly how best to deal with the offending bit. He hoped fervently she didn’t mean to cut him out of her life like a wart or amputate him like a gangrenous toe.

“I’ll . . . tell ye anything ye want to know,” he said bravely. “Anything.”

“A generous offer,” she said, “and one I shall accept—but I think I must offer thee the same accommodation. Thee does not wish to ask whether I am virgin?”

His mouth fell open, and her shoulders shook briefly.

“Ye’re not?” he croaked.

“No, I am,” she assured him, still quivering with the effort not to laugh. “But why should thee assume it?”

“Why?” He felt the blood rise in his face. “Because—anyone who looked at ye would know ye on the instant for a—a—a virtuous woman!” he concluded, with a sense of relief at having found a reasonable term.

“I might have been raped,” she pointed out. “That would not mean I was not virtuous, would it?”

“I—well. No, I suppose not.” He knew that a good many folk would think a raped woman was not virtuous—and Rachel knew that. He was on the verge of becoming completely confused, and she knew that, too; he could see her taking pains not to laugh. He squared his shoulders and gave a great sigh, then met her eyes directly.

“D’ye want to hear about every woman whose bed I’ve shared? Because I’ll tell ye, if so. I’ve never taken a woman unwilling—though they were mostly whores. I’m no poxed, though,” he assured her. “Ye should ken that.”

She considered that for a moment.

“I think I need not know the details,” she said finally. “But should we ever meet a woman thee has bedded, I wish to know it. Thee does not mean to continue fornicating with prostitutes once we are wed, though, does thee?”

“No!”

“Good,” she said, but rocked back a little on the log, hands linked around her knees, holding his gaze. “I do wish to hear more about thy wife. Emily.”

He could feel the warmth of her leg, her body, close beside him. She hadn’t moved away from him when he’d said about sleeping with whores. The silence grew around them, and a jay called somewhere in the wood beyond.

“We loved each other,” he said at last, softly, eyes on the ground. “And I wanted her. I—could talk to her. Then, at least.”

Rachel drew breath but didn’t say anything. He took his courage in his hands and looked up. Her face was carefully expressionless, her eyes intent on his face.

“I dinna ken how to say it,” he said. “It wasna the same way I want you—but I dinna mean to make it sound as though . . . as though Emily didna matter to me. She did,” he added, very low-voiced, and glanced down again.

“And . . . she does?” Rachel asked quietly, after a long pause. After a longer one, he nodded, swallowing.

“But,” he said, and stopped, searching for the way to go on, because now they were coming to the most perilous part of his confession, the thing that might make Rachel stand up and walk away, dragging his heart behind her through the rocks and brush.

“But?” she said, and her voice was gentle.

“The Mohawk,” he began, and had to stop for a breath. “It’s the woman’s choice, about being married. If a woman should take against her husband for some reason—if he beats her, or he’s a lazy sot, or smells too bad when he farts”—he stole a glance and saw the corner of her mouth twitch, which heartened him a little—“she puts his things out o’ the longhouse, and he has to go back to live wi’ the unmarried men—or find another woman who’ll have him at her fire. Or leave altogether.”

“And Emily put you out?” She sounded both startled and a bit indignant. He gave her a wee smile in return.

“Aye, she did. Not because I beat her, though. Because . . . of the bairns.”

He felt the tears come to his eyes and clenched his hands in frustration on his knees. Damn, he’d sworn to himself that he wouldn’t weep. Either she’d think he made a show of his grief to win her sympathy—or she’d see too deep; he wasn’t ready . . . but he had to tell her, he’d started this on purpose to tell her, she had to know. . . .

“I couldna give her children,” he blurted. “The first—we had a wee daughter, born too early, who died. I called her Iseabaìl.” He wiped the back of his hand viciously under his nose, swallowing his pain. “After that, she—Emily—she got wi’ child again. And again. And when she lost the third . . . her heart toward me died with it.”

Rachel made a small sound, but he didn’t look at her. Couldn’t. Just sat hunched on the log like a toadstool, shoulders drawn up around his ears, and eyes blurred with the tears he couldn’t shed.

A small warm hand settled on his.

“And your heart?” she asked. “Yours died, too?”

He closed his hand on hers and nodded. And then just breathed for a bit, holding on to her hand, until he could speak again without his voice breaking.

“The Mohawk think that the man’s spirit fights wi’ the woman’s, when they . . . lie together. And she willna get with child unless his spirit can conquer hers.”

“Oh, I see,” Rachel said softly. “So she blamed you.”

He shrugged.

“I canna say she was wrong.” He turned a little on the log, to look at her directly. “And I canna say that it would be different—with us. But I did ask Auntie Claire, and she told me about things in the blood . . . well, perhaps ye should ask her to explain it; I wouldna make a decent job of it. But the end of it was that she thought it might be different wi’ another woman. That I maybe could. Give ye bairns, I mean.”

He only realized that Rachel had been holding her breath when she let it out, a sigh that brushed his cheek.

“Do ye—” he began, but she had risen a little, into him, and she kissed him gently on the mouth, then held his head against her breast and took the end of her kerchief and wiped his eyes and then her own.

“Oh, Ian,” she whispered. “I do love thee.”

FREEDOM!

GREY PASSED ANOTHER interminable—though less eventful—day, broken only by watching Colonel Smith write dispatches, which he did at a furious rate, quill scratching with the sound of a scuttling cockroach. This bit of imagery did nothing for Grey’s digestion, which, in the aftermath of intoxication, hadn’t dealt all that well with the cold grease-caked journeycake and burnt-acorn coffee he’d been given for breakfast.

In spite of physical infelicity and an uncertain future, though, he found himself surprisingly cheerful. Jamie Fraser was alive, and he, John, wasn’t married. Given those two marvelous facts, the dubious prospects of escape and the much higher probability of being hanged seemed only mildly concerning. He settled himself to wait with what grace he could, sleeping as much as his head allowed, or singing softly to himself—a practice that caused Smith to hunch his shoulders up around his ears and scratch faster.

Messengers came and went with great frequency. If he hadn’t already known that the Continentals were not only moving but preparing for a fight, it would have been clear to him within an hour. The hot air was burdened with the scent of molten lead and the whine of a sharpening wheel, and the camp had a sense of rising urgency that any soldier would have felt at once.

Smith made no attempt to keep him from hearing what was said by and to the messengers and subalterns; clearly he didn’t expect the information gained to be of any use to Grey. Well . . . neither did Grey, to be honest.

Toward the evening, the tent’s door was darkened by a slender female form, though, and Grey raised himself to a sitting position, careful of his tender head, because his heart had begun to beat strongly again and it made his eye throb.

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