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Authors: Mark London Williams

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BOOK: Trail of Bones
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Birdjumper and some of the others come
running in from the outside. They’re wet with snow and ice.

Birdjumper and her mother exchange yelps and
growls. I can make out some of it, but not all. The humans are…

They’re coming right now.
Throat looks at me.
On foot and horse. The one you know is
coming, too.

You can see the figures moving toward

The wolves are sounding a retreat. And then
I understand why: They aren’t the only ones hunting today.

The humans are after


This won’t be a friendly encounter. You can
feel it.

And Eli’s with them.

It’s been so long since I’ve seen him.

Whose side will he be on?





Thea: Canal Street

February 1805


They’ve finally decided I’m well enough to
travel. For months, I’ve been “rehabilitated” at Monticello,
quarantined on Mulberry Row by Mr. Howard while Jefferson President
was away at the capital.

My “fevers and fugues” were to be “sweated
out of me,” until I was “fit to be returned,” in Mr. Howard’s
words, “in working condition.”

So I spent my long days planting and
gathering crops, spinning cloth, sewing, mending, washing, watching
over the slave children and sometimes, if they were outside,
Jefferson’s own grandchildren.

I lived in a shed near Isaac’s, with some
straw on the floor, a couple of blankets, and two servings of food
a day — stews made of greens and the cast-off parts of farm
animals, like cows and chickens. Sometimes there is an allotment of
a pasty substance called cornmeal. And once in a while, I have
received a pudding made of something called a pumpkin.

But what matter my diet? Eli’s soft helmet
was gone, and I had no more visits or visions of the future. I kept
looking for chances to escape, to somehow return to my friends.

There were none.

In spite of living near Isaac and the horse
stables, I had no opportunities to be alone with the horse Soysaa,

But I did see him on the day he was taken

Isaac held him by the reins and brought him
down the row.

“Where is he go?” I asked, in the English I
was using more and more.

“Where troubled horses go, little miss. Now
you best move aside. Don’t spook him.”

Soysaa reared up when Isaac spoke, and it
took more slaves to subdue him.

I don’t know where he was headed.

But my journey has been less mysterious.
After my rehabilitation, and Jefferson President’s return from
Washington, I am being returned to my “owner,” a man named Governor
Claiborne — Claiborne Governor? — in a city named New Orleans, in a
region called Louisiana. During a festival called Mardi Gras.

The festival has started already, and it is
the reason I was given for the repeated explosions of light and
large rumbles of thunder in the sky.

When the light flashes, I remember my
journey through the dimensions and my visit to Eli’s time.


There’s been no one I could tell.


I’ve tried to talk to Sally about it but
don’t want to get her in trouble. Sometimes I feel like light is
exploding inside me, too, looking for a way to come out.

Another boom fills the air. “That one’s not
a firework — that’s from God.” Sally turns to me, her face covered
in feathers. “Maybe you attract lightning, too.” She smiles to let
me know it’s a small joke, but around Monticello, Mr. Howard let it
be known that I was “spooked.” Sally wasn’t allowed to spend much
time alone with me, anyway.

We couldn’t even ride down together in the
same carriage. I was not outside, on the top, as I was that time
with Sally. Instead, I was kept behind a locked carriage door, on a
hard bench across from Mr. Howard, who watched me the whole

Even when we stopped to spend the night at
various inns — or rather, when Jefferson did, since the slaves
slept in barns — Mr. Howard seemed impervious to sleep. Whenever
I’d awaken, he would still be watching me.

I could scarcely exchange words with Sally.
At what point in the journey did she start wearing feathers?

“Sally…” I have so much I want to tell her,
but so little English. Maybe now’s the time to give her some of the

Except then, would she wind up like Sooysaa?
Like me? With the voices cascading in whether she wanted them to or

Even in the shadowy moonlight, my eyes do
the job of my tongue. She sees me looking at her costume.

“Do you like it? It’s for Mardi Gras.” She
turns around to let me see all of her cloth feathers. Facing me
again, she raises the wooden beak off her nose, so I can see her
more clearly in the dark. “I’m an American Eagle.” Then she looks
at me, trying to see what else can be read in my face.

“I know why they brought you back, Thea.
Aren’t they even going to let you wear a disguise? Just for

I gather that costumes, or disguises, are
required for this Mardi Gras — “fat” something, if my sense of the
Latin is correct. But I have only the dress I was wearing at

There is laughter as a group of people walk
down the street near us. They have noisemakers and horns. One
appears to be dressed like an insect; another, like a giant goat;
and another, still, appears to be a type of fool or trickster, with
a mask of exaggerated facial features and outlandish baggy clothes.
The fool laughs. The insect seems to stare at me.

“They’re headed to the river,” Sally says.
“You know, all those articles about you in the
, you’ve
become famous. They even ran that portrait of you. You don’t need
anybody staring at you. Put this on.” She hands me the wooden beak.
She wants me to tie it around my face.

As I do, she explains how it is that I have
become famous, perhaps even infamous, in the last few months.

“Brassy” sightings continued even after I
was at Monticello. These caused Jefferson President a nearly
endless string of political trouble, since Brassy was supposed to
“belong” to Governor Claiborne and should have been returned right
away. As president, Jefferson couldn’t be perceived as taking the
side of a slave in a runaway dispute, especially a slave who was,
according to the rumors, getting ready to lead a slave revolt.

The rumors, and Jefferson’s troubles, grew
as sightings of “Brassy” were reported in far-flung areas: in
Virginia’s own Alexandria; in the capital, Washington; down here in
New Orleans. Each sighting of the “ghost slave” was then reported
in something called the
Weekly Truth

“Jefferson hates that paper. Says he’s not
sure if Tom Paine is behind it or not, but it’s always stirring up

I wonder if the random appearances of
Brassy, or rather me, had to do with my travels through the Fifth
Dimension? Could it be, with Eli’s cap on, that I was somehow
“split” in two? One self not fully appearing in the world of Eli’s
father while another kind of remnant emanation was left behind

Was I at risk of becoming a ghost?

“In any case, Jefferson’s problems just kept
piling up,” Sally says. “He had to agree to come down here and give
a speech — which he hates to do. To try and make it up to the
governor, since it was his slave he lost. Mr. Howard keeps worrying
that the situation isn’t ‘stable enough.’ And you know what? It
turns out, for once, that man may be right.”

Evidently, Brassy had been seen recently in
the New Orleans area, calling for a mass slave escape on Mardi Gras
night. Carnival time. Or so claimed the
Weekly Truth

Consequently, there was a bounty hunter in
the area, looking for Brassy. He was describing her to locals,
saying she was dangerous, saying she might be seen in the company
of “a white boy” and, according to the
, “other
creatures too strange to mention.”

“They decided to let all the Mardi Gras
balls still go on, though,” Sally explains to me, “ to show they
aren’t afraid. Since the president had you all along, they want to
make a big show of handing you back. Except they did add a curfew,
so everyone would have to go home early. Those costumes you saw
were headed to one of the parties: American, French, colored. They
all celebrate separately. Only the Creoles seem to mix it up a


“Native Louisiana people. They’re kind of
like a big stew of different races already — Spanish, French,
sometimes Indian or colored, all in the same blood.”

“But Sally, it
the same blood.
It’s just

“I know that. And you know that. But when
someone keeps slaves, I guess they have to pretend to
know that.”

Brassy, or her ghost, evidently had called
for using the parades and disguises to transport recently escaped
slaves straight out of the city. They could march their way to
freedom under cover, I suppose. It was a good idea, except that
somehow everybody had heard about it.

According to the paper.

That’s why there are armed guardians
patrolling the streets.

That’s why Mr. Howard had me put in leg
braces, sitting in the wagon, with strict orders for the guardians
around me that I was to stay put until everything was ready for me
to be handed over.

Sally looks around, to make sure no masked
insects or armed guardians could hear us. “Since you couldn’t come
into Jefferson’s house, you missed a real nervous visit from this
governor. He’s all worried ’cause a lot of slaves seem to be up and
disappearing outside New Orleans and no one ever sees ’em again,
anywhere. And the governor wants to put a stop to it. Jefferson
felt forced to go along. ‘Politics,’ he called it. ‘Sally,’ he told
me one time, ‘it’s politics that has me thinking the office of
president might have already outlived its usefulness.’

“And then later that same visit, one of the
governor’s slaves whispered to me that it was magic helping the
escapees. Magic that you could find right here in New Orleans, for
a price. Maybe from one of the fortunetellers. I don’t know if I
believe it, but I told Jefferson I wanted to investigate this thing
from the slave side, in case somethin’ bad was happening to

“There were other reasons they couldn’t shut
down Mardi Gras. The French refused to be deprived of their
celebration, the Americans refused to be shown up by the French,
and the Creoles said they were free to do what they pleased. So,
because we still have the masked balls and the parties, I have my
disguise, and I think we should find out what’s happening.”

“Are you running away, too, Sally?”

“I’m too famous to run away, missy. I’m
President Jefferson’s favorite slave.” She isn’t saying it like she
means it as an honor. “But I have to find out about this…”


Show me.

There’s more thunder, and another crack of
light pierces the night, the way the light from Pharos used to with
its great beam. Then I notice light from someplace else: under
Sally’s clothes, her costume, from her feathers. She takes out a
small glass vial with a shifting, glowing mass contained

I recognize the material. It’s

It’s from K’lion’s ship.

“The governor’s slave, her name was
Tomasina, gave this to me at Monticello, when nobody was

Clop clop clop.

“These get passed on to the people fixin’ to
run away to freedom. Helps ’em find the trail, or something. Like a
pathway, or one of those new railroad lines.” She looks over her
shoulders. “I got somethin’ else, too, for when nobody is

Revelers — I see the insect and the goat
running in the opposite direction from which they came — are now
fleeing up the street. Ahead is another small squad of guardians,
armed with long weapons and dressed in their triangle-shaped

The people in costume run ahead of the
soldiers —
clop clop
— who stay in formation and move like a
dreadnought, splitting the seas.

Sally is counting. “Three…two…one…”

And just as the guardians clop by, with
people fleeing ahead of them, the men who watch me begin to fall
out of formation to see what’s happening. There is another roar of
thunder—Sally keeps counting —and then another blaze of lightning,
during which she moves her pretend feathers to cover up her own
swift motion.

“Come on, child.”

She unlocks the leg irons with a key that
suddenly appears in her hand. The braces fall away and drop to the
pavement. Then she grabs me and starts running.

“How did you—?”

“Slaves gotta keep their eyes open for each
other, child.”

“You, there! Halt!”

Two of the soldiers who had momentarily
ventured into the boulevard now turn and come after us.

“Stop, I say!”

We’re running the direction the revelers
came from. Ahead of us, I can see the canal — or I can at least
smell and hear the water.

“Sally! You can’t! You’ll get in

Tied up to one of the moorings near the
water is a small boat. A man stands in it, nervously puffing a
small clay pipe that produces smoke like a steady fire. Sally holds
out the small vial to him. He nods quickly.

“Banglees?” Sally pants.

C’est moi
,” the man agrees. “But I
don’ know if I want the trouble.” He points toward the rushing
soldiers and hurriedly unties the boat. “I may jus’ celebrate this
Mardi Gras by myself!”

“Wait!” I yell.

, but I cannot

“We need to know about this!” I hold up the
plasmechanical orb in Sally’s hand.

BOOK: Trail of Bones
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