Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 44

   

She’d called the Hydro Board and asked for a week’s leave in order to deal with a family emergency. News of what had happened at the Loch Errochty dam last night had spread, so there’d been no difficulty, save in deflecting the flood of sympathetic exclamations and curious questions—all of which she’d claimed not to be able to answer, owing to the ongoing police inquiry.

The police . . . they might be of help. Jock had told them about the man at the dam; they’d be following that up. She’d had to tell them about Rob Cameron. And, with some reluctance, she’d told them about his coming into the house and threatening her, since Mandy would likely blow the gaff about that. She told them about his open disgruntlement over having a woman supervisor and his harassing her at work—though that seemed like a paltry motive for kidnapping a child. She hadn’t mentioned most of the physical stuff, the priest’s hole, or Cameron’s assisted escape, though. Just said she’d hit him—first with the letter box, and then with the cricket bat—and he’d run away. She’d gone with Mandy to find Jem, that being obviously more urgent than calling the police. The police didn’t agree with that assessment, but they were British and thus polite about their disapproval.

She’d said Cameron had told her where Jem was. If the police found him, he wasn’t going to be in any position to contradict her. She did hope they picked him up. It might cause complications, but she’d feel safer if he wasn’t wandering around loose. With her rifle. Possibly lurking in her house.

Her hand curled up in the deep pocket of her jacket, fingering the comforting shapes of a dozen shotgun shells.

COGNOSCO TE

THE HEALER ARRIVED in midafternoon. He was a short man but not slight; he looked like an amateur wrestler, with shoulders nearly as broad as Roger’s own. He didn’t introduce himself but nodded politely to Mrs. MacLaren, his eyes flicking round the room in a brief, all-encompassing glance, then focused on Buck, who had fallen into an uneasy sleep and did not wake even to the disturbance caused by the healer’s entrance.

“He says his heart—” Roger began awkwardly. The man glanced sharply sideways at him, then flicked a hand in dismissal and, walking over, peered closely at Buck for a moment. All the MacLarens waited in breathless silence, clearly expecting something spectacular.

The man nodded to himself, removed his coat, and turned back his shirtsleeves, displaying sun-browned forearms corded with muscle.

“Well, then,” he said, sitting down by the bed and laying a hand on Buck’s chest. “Let me—” His face went quite blank and he stiffened, his hand jerking back as though he’d received an electric shock. He gave a quick, hard shake of the head and pulled Buck’s shirt open, plunging both hands into the opening and laying them flat on Buck’s laboring chest.

“Jesu,” he whispered. “Cognosco te!”

Quite suddenly the hairs on Roger’s body lifted, prickling as though a thunderstorm was coming. The man had spoken in Latin, and what he had said was, “I know you!”

THE MACLARENS ALL watched the healer work, with great respect and not a little awe. Roger, who had learned a good bit about the psychology of healing from Claire, was just as impressed. And, to be frank, scared shitless.

The healer had stood motionless for a long moment, hands on Buck’s chest, his head thrown back and eyes closed, his face contorted in an expression of the deepest concentration, as though listening to something far, far off. He had murmured what Roger recognized as the Pater Noster—from the looks on the faces of the MacLarens, it might as well have been the Abracadabra. Then, keeping his hands in place, he had raised one thick forefinger and begun to tap, delicately, in a slow, regular rhythm, his finger rebounding each time as though he were striking a piano key.

Thup . . . thup . . . thup. It went on for a long time, so long that everyone in the room began to draw breath again—even Buck, whose labored gasping began to ease, his lungs filling naturally again. Then it was two fingers, Thup-tup . . . thup-tup . . . thup-tup. Slow. Regular as a metronome. On and on and on and on . . . Soothing. Hypnotic. And Roger realized that the rhythm was that of a beating heart—his own heart. Looking round the room at the wide eyes and slightly open mouths of the adenoidal MacLaren clan, he had the most peculiar sense that all their hearts were beating to precisely the same rhythm.

He knew they were breathing as one; he could hear the susurrus of indrawn breath and the sea-foam rush of exhalation. He knew it—and was helpless to change his own rhythm, to resist the sense of unity that had formed insensibly among all the people in the cabin, from Angus MacLaren down to little Josephine, round-eyed as the rest in her mother’s arms.

All of them were breathing, hearts beating as one—and somehow they were supporting the stricken man, holding him as part of a larger entity, embracing him, bracing him. Buck’s injured heart lay in the palm of Roger’s hand: he realized it quite suddenly and, just as suddenly, realized that it had been there for some time, resting as naturally in the curve of his palm as rounded river rock, smooth and heavy. And . . . beating, in time with the heart in Roger’s chest. What was much stranger was that none of this felt in any way out of the ordinary.

Odd—and impressive—as it was, Roger could have explained this. Mass suggestion, hypnosis, will and willingness. He’d done much the same thing himself any number of times, singing—when the music caught the audience up with him, when he knew they were with him, would follow him anywhere. He’d done it once or twice, preaching; felt the people warm to him and lift him up as he lifted them. It was impressive to see it done so quickly and thoroughly without any sort of warm-up, though—and much more disquieting to feel the effects in his own flesh. What was scaring him, though, was that the healer’s hands were blue.

No doubt about it. It wasn’t a trick of the light—there wasn’t any to speak of, bar the dull glow of the smoored fire. It wasn’t a huge thing; no fiery coruscations or neon. But a soft blue tinge had come up between the healer’s fingers, crept over the backs of his hands—and now spread in a faint haze around his hands, seeming to penetrate Buck’s chest.

Roger glanced to one side, then the other, without moving his head. The MacLarens were paying rapt attention but showed no sign of seeing anything startling. They don’t see it. The hairs on his forearms lifted silently. Why do I see it?

Thup-tup . . . thup-tup . . . thup-tup . . . Tireless, regular—and yet Roger became aware of some subtle change. Not in the healer’s rhythm—that didn’t vary at all. But something had shifted. He glanced down involuntarily into his palm, where he still imagined that Buck’s heart lay, and was now scarcely surprised to see it there, a ghostly round object, transparent but pulsing gently, regularly. On its own.

Thup-tup . . . . . . thup-tup . . . . . . thup-tup. The healer now was following, not leading. Not slowing the beats but pausing for a longer period between them, letting Buck’s heart beat alone between them.

At last, the faint sound stopped, and there was silence in the room for the length of three heartbeats. And then the silence popped like a soap bubble, leaving the onlookers blinking and shaking their heads, as those awakened from dreaming. Roger closed his empty hand.

“He’ll be all right,” the healer said to Mrs. MacLaren, in a matter-of-fact manner. “Let him sleep as long as he can, give him something to eat when he wakes up.”

“Much obliged, sir,” Mrs. MacLaren murmured. She patted Josephine, who had fallen asleep with her mouth open, a glimmering trail of saliva falling from the corner of her mouth to her mother’s shoulder. “Will I make up a pallet for ye by the fire?”

“Ah, no,” the healer said, smiling. He shrugged back into his coat, put on his cloak, and reached for his hat. “I’m staying no great distance away.”

He went out, and Roger waited for a moment, just long enough for people to turn back to their own conversations, and then followed, shutting the door quietly behind him.

THE HEALER WAS a little way down the road; Roger saw the man’s dark figure kneeling in prayer before a tiny shrine, the ends of his cloak fluttering in the wind. Roger came up to him slowly, hanging back so as not to disturb his devotions—and, on impulse, bowed his own head toward the small statue, so weathered as to be faceless. Take care of them, please, he prayed. Help me get back to them—to Bree. That was all he had time for, before the healer rose to his feet—but that was all he had to say, in any case.

The healer hadn’t heard him; he rose and turned, surprised at seeing Roger but recognizing him at once. He smiled, a little wearily, clearly expecting some medical question of a private nature.

Heart thumping, Roger reached out and grasped the healer’s hand. The man’s eyes widened with shock.

“Cognosco te,” Roger said, very softly. I know you.

“WHO ARE YE, then?” Dr. Hector McEwan stood squinting against the wind, his face wary but excited. “The two of ye—who are ye?”

“I think ye maybe ken that better than I do,” Roger told him. “That—the light in your hands . . .”

“You could see it.” It wasn’t a question, and the wary excitement in McEwan’s eyes blazed into life, visible even in the dimming light.

“Aye, I could. Where did ye . . .” Roger groped for the best way to ask, but, after all, how many ways were there? “When did ye come from?”

McEwan glanced involuntarily over his shoulder toward the croft, but the door was shut, smoke pouring from the hole in the roof. It was beginning to rain, a premonitory pattering among the mounded heather near the path. He moved abruptly, taking Roger’s arm.

“Come,” he said. “We canna be standing out here, dreich as it is; we’ll catch our deaths.”

“Dreich” was the word; the rain set to in good earnest and Roger was half soaked in minutes, having come out without hat or cloak. McEwan led the way quickly up a winding path through thickets of dark gorse, emerging onto a stretch of moorland where the remains of a tumbledown croft offered some shelter. The rooftree had been burned, and recently; the smell still lingered. A corner of thatch remained, though, and they huddled inside, close beneath its scanty protection.

“Anno Domini eighteen hundred and forty-one,” McEwan said matter-of-factly, shaking rain from his cloak. He looked up at Roger, one thick brow raised.

“Nineteen hundred and eighty,” Roger replied, heart hammering. He cleared his throat and repeated the date; the cold had affected his throat, and the words emerged in a strangled croak. McEwan leaned close at the sound, peering at him.

“What’s that?” the man asked sharply. “Your voice—it’s broken.”

“It’s noth—” Roger began, but the healer’s fingers were already groping behind his head, undoing his neckcloth in nothing flat. He closed his eyes, not resisting.

McEwan’s broad fingers were cold on his neck; he felt the icy touch delicate on his skin as it traced the line of the rope scar, then firmer as the healer prodded gently round his damaged larynx—it gave him an involuntary choking sensation, and he coughed. McEwan looked surprised.

“Do that again,” he said.

“What, cough?” Roger said, hoarse as a crow.

“Aye, that.” McEwan fitted his hand snugly round Roger’s neck, just under the chin, and nodded. “Once, then wait, then do it again.” Roger hacked obligingly, feeling a slight pain with each expulsion of breath where the healer’s hand pressed. The man’s face brightened with interest, and he removed his hand.

“Do you know what a hyoid bone is?”

“If I had to guess, it’s something in the throat.” Roger cleared his throat hard and rubbed at it, feeling the roughness of the scar under his palm. “Why?” He wasn’t sure whether to be offended at the personal intrusion or—something else. His skin tingled slightly where McEwan had touched it.

“It’s just there,” the healer said, pressing with his thumb, high up under Roger’s chin. “And if it had been here”—he moved the thumb down an inch—“you’d have been dead, sir. It’s a fragile wee bone. Easy to strangle someone by breaking it—with your thumbs or a rope.” He drew back a little, eyes intent on Roger’s; the curiosity was still plain on his face, but the wariness had returned. “Are you and your friend fleeing from . . . something? Someone?”

“No.” Roger felt at once very tired, the strain of everything catching up to him, and looked round for something to sit on. There was nothing but a few dark chunks of rock that had fallen from the cottage’s wall when the burning thatch had been pulled down. He pushed two blocks together and sat on one, knees up round his ears. “I—this—” He touched his throat briefly. “It was a long time ago, nothing to do with what we—we—we’re looking for my son. He’s only nine.”

“Oh, dearie me.” McEwan’s broad face creased in sympathy. “How—”

Roger lifted a hand. “You first,” he said, and cleared his throat again. “I’ll tell ye everything I know, but . . . you first. Please.”

McEwan pursed his lips and glanced aside, thinking, but then shrugged and lowered himself, grunting, to his own rude seat.

“I was a doctor,” he said abruptly. “In Edinburgh. I came up to the Highlands to shoot grouse with a friend. Do folk still do that, a hundred years hence?”

“Aye. Grouse are still tasty,” Roger said dryly. “It was at Craigh na Dun that ye came through, then?”

“Yes, I—” McEwan halted abruptly, realizing what that question implied. “Dear Lord in heaven, do ye mean to be telling me there are other places? Where . . . it happens?”

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