Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 131

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"Dugald, Ewen." Carryck's tone was short. "See him ontae the bed."

"That's more like it," Curiosity said. "You, there. Come over here and take him by the legs."

"Christ," breathed the tallest of them, staring openly at Nathaniel as the twins went to work. "It's aye true. Look at him."

"Lucas," Carryck barked.

The young man's jaw snapped shut, and he came to attention. "Aye, my lord."

"Walter's men are behind this. Send Davie tae take five men and see tae it."

Lucas left reluctantly, with a long look over his shoulder.

Nathaniel groaned as the twins deposited him onto the bed and his eyelids cracked open. "I can sit a horse."

"And ride it straight to the pearly gates while you at it," Curiosity snorted, stanching blood with the corner of the bedsheet. "This shoulder is a sorry sight."

"Nathaniel." Elizabeth leaned over him. "You have lost a great deal of blood. Surely Carryckcastle can wait one more day."

His hand sought out hers, and he grasped it hard. "Bind me up good and tie me to the saddle, if that's what it takes. But let's get out of Dumfries."

"There, ye see," said Carryck, spreading out his arms toward the women, as if to welcome them to his point of view. "If ye willna take my word, then I trust ye'll take his."

"I see, all right," Curiosity said, her brow furled down low as she turned back to tending Nathaniel's shoulder. "I see torn-up flesh and shattered bone. I see a man stubborn as rock."

"Aye," said Carryck, and he smiled for the first time since he had come into the room. "Exactly."

24

It was not the idea of traveling on horseback that bothered Hannah so much as the fact that she had to share a saddle with one of the earl's men. His name was Thomas Ballentyne; he was as large and dark and hairy as a bear, and he had a pistol in one boot and a long knife in the other. He took her up on the saddle before him with a resigned shrug.

"This is Meg." He gestured to his mare with a very horselike toss of his own head. "She's no' verra talkative, and no mair am I."

At least there would be no questions she did not care to answer. And he was a good horseman, as were all of Carryck's men. Hannah counted some twenty of them as they moved along the winding road at a sharp pace with the rest of her family hidden inside their ranks.

Hannah was tired, but she would not let herself be lulled to sleep by Meg's easy gait or the fact that Thomas Ballentyne radiated warmth like a well-laid fire. She must be the one to remember their route along these unmarked roads: Curiosity was preoccupied with Lily, and Elizabeth with Daniel; her father had lost too much blood to stay alert for long. It would take all of his concentration to stay upright in the saddle.

They were barely out of Dumfries when the first shifting light of dawn came up, and she turned her attention to the Scottish countryside, severe but still alive with new light. There were some trees now. Here and there a birch or elm crowded with rooks; a clutch of pines at a turning of the river, and in long misty stretches between the swelling hills. If they could be called hills. They put Hannah more in mind of children sleeping under blankets worn thin with use, crowded close together for warmth, rounded shoulders and hips and elbows jutting up. Nothing like the mountains of the endless forests.

Hannah wished for some quick look at her father, but he was hidden from her. An hour passed, and then another.

As they came around a corner there was a scattering on a far hillside.

"Wild goats." She did not realize she had said it aloud until Thomas Ballentyne grunted.

"Aye." And then, grudgingly: "Ye're sharp-eyed."

After that he began to put names to things, speaking them out over her head for her to take or leave, as she pleased. The Threewater Foot was a tangle of streams where they paused to let the horses drink without dismounting. It was a pretty spot, where guelder roses grew among the elms and willows overhung the stream, full of mossy boulders.

The dark-haired young man who had come into the inn at the earl's whistle stared at her from the other side of the water. Hannah was surprised to find that while she could ignore him, Thomas Ballentyne could not.

"Lucas! Stop oglin' the lass or I'll tell Mary!"

There were shouts of laughter. The younger man turned his horse away, blushing furiously.

"You embarrassed him," Hannah said.

He shrugged. "I canna thole sic impertinent behavior in ma own son."

Hannah craned her neck for another look at Lucas to see if he resembled his father. Instead she caught sight of Elizabeth and Curiosity, horses side by side, their heads together. They seemed preoccupied and worried but not desperate, and that put Hannah at ease, for the moment. Just beyond them her father was a vaguely upright shape. He was very pale, and even from here she could see how it was with him.

"It's a braw mannie wha' can ride shotgun wi'oot complaint," said Thomas Ballentyne, showing a talent for reading thoughts that made Hannah shift uneasily.

They started up the river valley on a narrow road, now in groups of three and four. Low mountains came into sight: Gateshaw Rig, Croft Head, Loch Fell, like a gathering of old men with hunched backs.

"We're on Carryck land now," said Thomas Ballentyne, pointing to a mountaintop. "That's Aidan Rig."

The name meant nothing to Hannah, so she turned her attention to the pastures along the river, full of sheep and cows with heavy thick coats; men working in a field of oats who straightened to raise a hand in greeting. Young women raking hay into ricks, smiling and calling out names. One flipped her skirt in their direction and the others laughed and scolded.

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