Fire Along the Sky

Page 1

Prologue: Jennet

Late Spring, 1812

Carryckcastle, Annandale, Scotland

Set free by the death of a husband she had not wanted nor ever learned to love, Jennet Scott Huntar of Carryckcastle left home for the new world on her twenty-eighth birthday.

Jennet told everyone that she had chosen Montreal for practical reasons, and she ticked them off on her fingers: the family's extensive holdings, the many friends and business associates to look after her, and the fact that Montreal was the closest city to the Bonner cousins in New-York State. These reasons, so rationally presented, fooled no one, not even herself: in a clan of men and women to whom reserve and restraint were as natural as breathing, Jennet was an oddity, unable to hide what she was feeling or even to try.

It was true that she was eager to see the cousins who lived deep in the wilderness of the endless forests in the state of New-York, but the first and most important truth was this: Jennet went to Montreal in pursuit of Luke Bonner, a distant cousin and the man she should have married instead of good-hearted, predictable Ewan Huntar.

It was true that Jennet had not seen Luke Bonner in ten years, but there was another truth, a more important one: in all those years he had never married. A handsome young man from a well-respected family, with a quick laugh and a considerable fortune, all of his own making; he could have married fifty times over, and yet he had not. It was both an invitation and a challenge that Jennet could not ignore.

For a month Jennet did what was expected of her as a widow, shutting herself away in her chamber not in sorrow but because she could not hide her relief. When she announced to her family that she would sail on the Isis it came as no great surprise; her mother only held her gaze for a long moment and then looked away, in resignation or perhaps, Jennet reasoned to herself, understanding.

As it turned out, Jennet got away at the last possible moment; the Isis—a merchantman in her brother's fleet—was barely out of the Solway Firth when they passed a packet on her way in with the unsettling news of a new war. The army of the fledgling and upstart United States had attempted and failed to invade British Canada near Fort Detroit. Jennet found herself headed for the very heart of the conflict. The packet captain waited while she scribbled her first letter to her family.

So was it meant to be, she wrote. And: Send no one after me, for I have no intention of turning back. I can, I will look after myself.

On that same afternoon she learned of the war that waited for her, Jennet met the other passengers.

At first report they seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary: a merchant who traveled with an eye on a hold filled with cognac and armagnac and exotic wines and spirits far too valuable to leave to the care of an agent or factor. He was more than fifty, with gray-blue eyes that slanted at the corners, an elaborate mustache that curled at the ends, and the striking Italian name Alfonso del Giglio. In addition to two old servants who seemed to be completely mute, Signore del Giglio had with him a small and very attentive dog who answered to the name Pip, and a wife, Camille Maria de Rojas Santiago del Giglio. At dinner the captain introduced the ladies.

Everything about the merchant's wife was as odd and beautiful as her name: she wore a silk gown the color of singed corn silk with tiny crystals sewn to the sleeves and hem; around her shoulders was a heavy silk shawl embroidered with symbols Jennet did not recognize. On a fine chain she wore her only jewelry: a dull red stone the size of an acorn, caught in a web of silver filigree.

From the beginning it seemed to Jennet that Camille del Giglio must be half-fey, just as one-half of her hair was a deep blue-black and the other shot with white, just as one side of her face seemed to be almost asleep while the other was always alive with motion. The del Giglios were seldom at rest in any way; they spoke to each other or to Pip as if they were alone in the room, slipping from Spanish to Italian to English to French in the same sentence. Jennet listened, at first confused and then, mustering those three of the four languages that she had studied, intrigued.

When they had finished dining, while captain and merchant talked of maps and winds and war, the merchant's wife leaned across the table and took Jennet's hand in her own. Her fingers were firm and cool and bare of rings, but a tattoo circled her wrist, as delicate as a spider's web. Jennet had never seen a woman with a tattoo, not even her cousin Hannah who was half-Mohawk, but she managed to restrain her curiosity and her gaze.

“You and I must talk,” said Camille del Giglio in a voice like that of any other well-bred Continental lady who had learned English from a governess.

“Certainly,” Jennet said, flustered and excited and barely able to control the trembling in her hand. “About what should we talk, madame?”

“About your destination. Tomorrow morning at ten, you will come to my cabin and we will begin.”

Jennet blinked. “But my destination is Montreal.”

“Tomorrow at ten,” said Camille del Giglio. “That is soon enough.”

Because the Isis belonged to Jennet's younger brother, the fourth Earl of Carryck, she had been given the Great Cabin for her sole use. Along with it came a whole squadron of cabin boys—some of them the same age as her brother the earl—to see to her needs. They wore flat caps with the name of the ship embroidered in scarlet along the rim and fearful expressions. Because, of course, they were all Annandale lads born and raised and they knew of her as she knew each of them, their mothers and fathers and their grandparents.

When she was finally alone in the suite of rooms, Jennet ignored the sleeping chamber with its carved bed and fine linen. Instead she curled up on the enclosed bench beneath the transom windows and pulled the heavy draperies closed to make a cave. It was too dark to see land but she imagined it there, slipping away moment by moment. She might never see Scotland again.

Next›