Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 36

   

“Right, then.” Buck buttoned his coat and settled the knitted comforter round his neck against the wind. “Three days, maybe, to Inverness and time to search the town, two or three back. I’ll meet ye here in six days’ time. If ye’re not here, I follow on to Lallybroch.”

Roger nodded. “And if I’ve not found them but I’ve heard some word of them, I’ll leave a message at Lallybroch. If . . .” He hesitated, but it had to be said. “If ye find your wife, and things fall out—”

Buck’s lips tightened.

“They’ve already fallen,” he said. “But, aye. If. I’ll still come back.”

“Aye, right.” Roger hunched his shoulders, anxious to go, and awkward with it. Buck was already turning away but suddenly about-faced and gripped Roger’s hand, hard.

“We’ll find him,” Buck said, and looked into Roger’s eyes, with those bright-moss eyes that were the same as his. “Good luck.” He gave Roger’s hand one sharp, hard shake and then was off, arms outstretched for balance as he picked his way down through the rocks and gorse. He didn’t look back.

WARMER, COLDER

“CAN YOU TELL when Jem’s at school?”

“Yes. He goes on da bus.” Mandy bounced a little on her booster seat, leaning to peer out the window. She was wearing the Halloween mask Bree had helped her make, this being a mouse princess: a mouse face drawn with crayons on a paper plate, with holes pierced for eyes and at either side for pink yarn ties, pink pipe cleaners glued on for whiskers, and a precarious small crown made with cardboard, more glue, and most of a bottle of gold glitter.

Scots celebrated Samhain with hollowed-out turnips with candles in them, but Brianna had wanted a slightly more festive tradition for her half-American children. The whole seat sparkled as though the car had been sprinkled with pixie dust.

She smiled, despite her worry.

“I meant, if you played warmer, colder with Jem, could you do it if he wasn’t answering you out loud? Would you know if he was closer or farther away?”

Mandy kicked the back of the seat in meditative fashion.

“Maybe.”

“Can you try?” They were headed toward Inverness. That was where Jem was supposed to be, spending the night with Rob Cameron’s nephew.

“Okay,” Mandy said agreeably. She hadn’t asked where Rob Cameron was. Brianna spared a thought as to the fate of her prisoner. She really would shoot him through the ankles, elbows, knees, or anything else necessary to find out where Jem was—but if there were quieter ways of interrogation, it would be better all round. It wouldn’t be good for Jem and Mandy to have their mother sent to prison for life, particularly if Roger—She choked that thought off and stepped harder on the gas.

“Colder,” Mandy announced, so suddenly that Brianna nearly stalled the car.

“What? Do you mean we’re getting farther away from where Jemmy is?”

“Uh-huh.”

Brianna took a deep breath and made a U-turn, narrowly avoiding an oncoming panel truck, which hooted at them in annoyance.

“Right,” she said, gripping the wheel with sweaty hands. “We’ll go the other way.”

THE DOOR WASN’T locked. Jem opened it, heart pounding in relief, and then it pounded harder, as he realized the lights weren’t on in the turbine chamber, either.

There was some light. The little windows up at the top of the huge space, up where the engineers’ room was: there was light coming from there. Just enough so he could see the monsters in the huge room.

“They’re just machines,” he muttered, pressing his back hard against the wall beside the open door. “Justmachinesjustmachinesjustmachines!” He knew the names of them, the giant pulley hoists that ran overhead with the big hooks dangling, and the turbines, Mam had told him. But he’d been up there then, where the light was, and it had been daylight.

The floor under his feet vibrated, and he could feel the knobs on his backbone knocking against the wall as it shook from the weight of the water rushing through the dam under him. Tons of water, Mummy said. Tons and tons and tons of black dark water, all around him, under him . . . If the wall or the floor broke, it—

“Shut up, baby!” he said fiercely to himself, and rubbed his hand hard over his face and wiped it on his jeans. “You got to move. Go!”

There were stairs; there had to be stairs. And they were somewhere in here, among the big black humps of the turbines that poked up. They stood higher than the big stones on the hill where Mr. Cameron had taken him. That thought calmed him down some; he was lots more scared of the stones. Even with the deep roaring noise the turbines made—that was making his bones twitch, but it didn’t really get inside his bones.

The only thing that kept him from going right back into the tunnel and hoping for someone to find him in the morning was the . . . thing in there. He didn’t want to be anywhere near that.

He couldn’t hear his heart anymore. It was too noisy in the turbine chamber to hear anything. He sure couldn’t hear himself think, but the stairs had to be near the windows, and he wobbled that way, keeping as far as he could from the huge black double humps sticking up through the floor.

It was only when he finally found the door, yanked it open, and fell into the lighted staircase that it occurred to him to wonder whether Mr. Cameron was maybe up there, waiting for him.

RETURN TO LALLYBROCH

ROGER HAULED HIS WAY laboriously toward the summit of the mountain pass, muttering under his breath (as he had been doing for the last several miles):

“If you had seen this road before it was made,

You would lift up your hands and bless General Wade.”

The Irish General Wade had spent twelve years building barracks, bridges, and roads all over Scotland, and if that bit of admiring verse was not in fact carved into a stone on one of the general’s roads, it ought to have been, Roger thought. He had picked up one of the general’s roads near Craigh na Dun, and it had carried him as swiftly as he could walk to within a few miles of Lallybroch.

These last few miles, though, had not had the benefit of Wade’s attention. A rocky trail, pitted with small mud bogs and thickly overgrown with heather and gorse, led up through the steep pass that overlooked—and protected—Lallybroch. The lower slopes were forested with beeches, alders, and stout Caledonian pines, but up this high there was neither shade nor shelter, and a strong, cold wind battered him as he climbed.

Could Jem have come this far by himself, if he’d escaped? Roger and Buck had cast round in the vicinity of Craigh na Dun, hoping that perhaps Cameron had stopped to rest after the strain of the passage, but there had been no sign—not so much as the print of a size-4 trainer in a muddy patch of ground. Roger had come on then by himself, as fast as he could, pausing to knock at the door of any croft he came to—and there weren’t many along this way—but he’d made good time.

His heart was pounding, and not only from the exertion of the climb. Cameron had maybe a two-day lead, at the most. If Jem hadn’t got away and run for home, though . . . Cameron wouldn’t come to Lallybroch, surely. But where would he go? Follow the good road, left now ten miles behind, and head west, maybe, into the MacKenzies’ territory—but why?

“Jem!” He shouted now and then as he went, though the moors and mountains were empty save for the rustling of rabbits and stoats and silent but for the calling of ravens and the occasional shriek of a seagull winging high overhead, evidence of the distant sea.

“Jem!” he called, as though he could compel an answer by sheer need, and in that need imagined sometimes that he heard a faint cry in response. But when he stopped to listen, it was the wind. Only the wind, whining in his ears, numbing him. He could walk within ten feet of Jem and never see him, and he knew that.

His heart rose, in spite of his anxiety, when he came to the top of the pass and saw Lallybroch below him, its white-harled buildings glowing in the fading light. Everything lay peaceful before him: late cabbages and turnips in orderly rows within the kailyard walls, safe from grazing sheep—there was a small flock in the far meadow, already bedding for the night, like so many woolly eggs in a nest of green grass, like a kid’s Easter basket.

The thought caught at his throat, with memories of the horrible cellophane grass that got everywhere, Mandy with her face—and everything else within six feet of her—smeared with chocolate, Jem carefully writing Dad on a hard-boiled egg with a white crayon, then frowning over the array of dye cups, trying to decide whether blue or purple was more Dad-like.

“Lord, let him be here!” he muttered under his breath, and hurried down the rutted trail, half sliding on loose rocks.

The dooryard was tidy, the big yellow rose brier trimmed back for the winter, and the step swept clean. He had the sudden notion that if he were simply to open the door and walk in, he would find himself in his own lobby, Mandy’s tiny red galoshes flung helter-skelter under the hall tree where Brianna’s disreputable duffel coat hung, crusty with dried mud and smelling of its wearer, soap and musk and the faint smell of her motherhood: sour milk, fresh bread, and peanut butter.

“Bloody hell,” he muttered, “be weeping on the step, next thing.” He hammered at the door, and a huge dog came galloping round the corner of the house, baying like the bloody hound of the Baskervilles. It slid to a stop in front of him but went on barking, weaving its huge head to and fro like a snake, ears cocked in case he might make a false move that would let it devour him with a clear conscience.

He wasn’t risking any moves; he’d plastered himself against the door when the dog appeared and now shouted, “Help! Come call your beast!”

He heard footsteps within, and an instant later the door opened, nearly decanting him into the hall.

“Hauld your wheesht, dog,” a tall, dark man said in a tolerant tone. “Come ben, sir, and dinna be minding him. He wouldna eat you; he’s had his dinner.”

“I’m pleased to hear it, sir, and thank ye kindly.” Roger pulled off his hat and followed the man into the shadows of the hall. It was his own familiar hall, the slates of the floor just the same, though not nearly as worn, the dark-wood paneling shining with beeswax and polishing. There was a hall tree in the corner, though of course different to his; this one was a sturdy affair of wrought iron, and a good thing, too, as it was supporting a massive burden of jackets, shawls, cloaks, and hats, which would have crumpled a flimsier piece of furniture.

He smiled at it, nonetheless, and then stopped dead, feeling as though he’d been punched in the chest.

The wood paneling behind the hall tree shone serene, unblemished. No sign of the saber slashes left by frustrated redcoat soldiers searching for the outlawed laird of Lallybroch after Culloden. Those slashes had been carefully preserved for centuries, were still there, darkened by age but still distinct, when he had owned—would own, he corrected mechanically—this place.

“We keep it so for the children,” Bree had quoted her uncle Ian as saying. “We tell them, ‘This is what the English are.’”

He had no time to deal with the shock; the dark man had shut the door with a firm Gaelic adjuration to the dog and now turned to him, smiling.

“Welcome, sir. Ye’ll sup wi’ us? The lass has it nearly ready.”

“Aye, I will, and thanks to ye,” Roger bowed slightly, groping for his eighteenth-century manners. “I—my name is Roger MacKenzie. Of Kyle of Lochalsh,” he added, for no respectable man would omit to note his origins, and Lochalsh was far enough away that the chances of this man—who was he? He hadn’t the bearing of a servant—knowing its inhabitants in any detail was remote.

He’d hoped that the immediate response would be, “MacKenzie? Why, you must be the father of wee Jem!” It wasn’t, though; the man returned his bow and offered his hand.

“Brian Fraser of Lallybroch, your servant, sir.”

ROGER FELT ABSOLUTELY nothing for a moment. There was a faint clicking that reminded him of the noise a car’s starter makes when the battery is dead, and for a disoriented moment he assumed it was being made by his brain. Then his eyes focused on the dog, which, prevented from eating him, had come into the house and was walking down the passage, its toenails clicking on the parquet floor.

Oh. So that’s what left those scratches on the kitchen door, he thought, dazed, as the beast reared up and heaved its weight at the swinging door at the end of the passage, then shot through as it opened.

“Are ye quite well, sir?” Brian Fraser was looking at him, thick black brows drawn down in concern. He reached out a hand. “Come into my study and sit. I’ll maybe fetch ye a dram?”

“I—thank you,” Roger said abruptly. He thought his knees might give way at any second, but he managed to follow the master of Lallybroch into the speak-a-word room, the laird’s office and study. His own study.

The shelves were the same, and behind his host’s head was the same row of farm ledgers that he’d often thumbed through, conjuring up from their faded entries the phantom life of an earlier Lallybroch. Now the ledgers were new, and Roger felt himself the phantom. He didn’t like the feeling at all.

Brian Fraser handed him a small, thick, flat-bottomed glass half full of spirit. Whisky, and very decent whisky, too. The smell of it began to bring him out of his shock, and the warm burn of it down his gullet loosened the tightness in his throat.

How was he to ask what he so desperately needed to know? When?! He glanced over the desk, but there was no half-finished letter, conveniently dated, no planting almanac that he might glance casually through. None of the books on the shelf were of help; the only one he recognized was Defoe’s THE LIFE AND STRANGE SURPRIZING ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE, OF YORK, MARINER, and that had been published in 1719. He knew he must be later than that; the house itself hadn’t yet been built in 1719.

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