Read Trail of Bones Online

Authors: Mark London Williams

Trail of Bones (6 page)

BOOK: Trail of Bones
13.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

York shows me a small gold coin with Thomas
Jefferson’s head on it. “This is supposed to be a peace offerin’,
to let ‘em know who the big white chief in Washington is.”

“Why would they care about that?” I ask.
“Don’t they have their own chiefs?”

York laughs. “I guess we all get chiefs we
don’t necessarily choose.”

We set the barrel in the keelboat, and go to
lift another of the wooden crates. I want to keep talking, in order
to take my mind off how cold and damp I am.

“What are you bringing, Mr. York?”

“Aw, you ain’t really ought to call me
Mister. I am bringin’ my own rifle, though, which we ain’t supposed
to have as slaves. But out here, Mr. Clark allows it. Mostly, I’m
just glad to be goin’ someplace where nobody will know who’s a
slave and who ain’t.”

“York, you’re talkin’ that young fella’s ear
off, and he’s liable to melt clean away afore your eyes in this


It’s Floyd, with a big grin on his face,
holding up a buckskin jacket and one of those wide floppy hats.
“You’ll need these to keep dry.”

“Dry” is more of an idea than an actual
possibility at this point, since the jacket and hat are dripping
water. But I take them, and put them on. Besides blending in
better, I am a lot warmer.

And I probably look like Huck Finn or Tom

“So which of you layabouts is ready to get

I turn to see Clark, standing up in a
pirogue. He smiles, too, like Kentuck, but more with his eyes.
Maybe that’s why Jefferson matched him up with Lewis — like being a
team manager in Barnstormers and picking a line-up — they each have
opposite strengths, like the moon and the sun: One keeps things in
shadows, so you can’t tell how they’ll turn out, the other warms
you up and tells you everything will be all right.

“I’m with you, sir!” Floyd says.

“You actually askin’ me for an opinion, Mr.
Clark?” York means it as a joke, but it runs a little deeper than

“I’m actually telling you men that someone
else will beat us to the Pacific unless we get going!” Clark means
it as a joke, too, but it also helps him avoid an answer.

Floyd and York and I load the last of the
crates into the keelboat. I look around through the gray sleet and
notice we’re the last three men on the docks.

York helps me into the square boat. The man
paddling Clark’s pirogue pulls it alongside.

“Ride with me, Master Sands,” Clark says.
“It would be my privilege.”

I look around. I’m not sure what I’m waiting
for, maybe someone to nod that it’s okay, as I try to step
carefully from the keelboat — which is still tied up to the dock —
into the dugout canoe. I slip on the wet wood again and fall in,
landing by Clark’s boots and banging my head.

be careful with that

It’s Howard. He’s reemerged from the mist
and stands there, the same mixture of sweat and rain covering his
body. He should be shivering. He should be really cold. But it just
looks like he’s on fire.

“You must keep him alive!”

Howard is pointing and hopping around on the
small dock. He’s going to fall in the river if he’s not

“Are you all right?” Clark asks.

I rub my forehead. There’s a bump already
forming. But I’ll be okay.

“I think so. I’ve had worse.” I don’t want
to get left behind now.

“Welcome to the Corps of Discovery.” Clark
has his hand out and I take it.

The keelboat with York, Floyd, and Lewis has
shoved off, and the oarsman in our pirogue begins paddling, taking
us into the river.

We’re moving.

“Remember! The president has ordered you to
come back alive!” Howard is shouting as we leave, like he can
change the will of the universe all by himself.

Meanwhile, I’m rubbing my head, and trying
to remember enough of my history to know whether any of us actually
make it back— or not.





Chapter Six

Thea: East

May 1804


“He won’t beat you. He won’t whip you. I’ll
tell him to keep you in the house with me. He’s tolerable, for a
master. He even took me to Paris once.”

“Paris? Is where?”

Sally and I are shouting out words to each
other because we are riding on top of the carriage taking Mr.
Thomas President Jefferson back to his palace. Or wherever it is he
dwells. He calls it Monticello.

Perhaps I should refer to him as Mr.
Jefferson President, instead. I am still not sure of the correct
way to arrange the title, though I know this does seem to be an
early form of the same government Eli lived under, much like the
Romans had during their republic phase.

Jefferson is a leader here, a kind of regent
— and a man of import. Sally is his slave. And now, apparently, I
am too. Or rather, I am in his custody until I can be “returned.”
Where? To whom?

And how much farther from Eli will I be

I helped minister to him when he was still
gripped by fever. Perhaps our displacement in time has a cumulative
effect, becoming harder and harder on us each time.

I wasn’t able to question Eli when his fever
broke. I was already back in the slave tent. And then Eli was gone,
dispatched on some kind of mission by this same Jefferson

History and chance are ever interfering with
a growing friendship.

At the moment, the peculiarities of this
juncture in history — everyone’s reaction to skin pigment and
heritage—force me to be counted a slave. And so I must remain until
I can plan an escape.

According to Sally, she is lent a certain
dignity not given to others forced into servitude. Jefferson even
invited her to ride inside the wagon with him, but she declined,
preferring to stay outside, on the bench, with Mr. Howard. She
makes him uncomfortable. Occasionally she even takes the reins of
the horses from him, holding them like she did when I first laid
eyes on her.

“Paris?” I repeat. I am still wearing
K’lion’s lingo-spot. Indeed, it seems to be changing into a
permanent feature of my physiology. I still rely on it here, in
spite of my worries that when I hear a word a split second before
it’s spoken or thought of, the lingo-spot may be exerting a mind of
its own.

But I have yet to fully master the “English”
that Sally, Jefferson President, Eli, and all the others use,
though I have picked up a few words and phrases.

Until I can give some of the lingo-spot to
Sally, those few words are all I have to communicate with. Aside
from whatever Latin Sally remembers. Between the two tongues, we
cobble together more conversation.

“Yes, dear. Paris. In France. That’s not
where you’re from, is it?”

“Alexandria,” I tell her again, practicing
English. “No slave.” I hope she understands.

“You poor lost thing. How can you be from a
town in Virginia and not be a slave? Maybe you are Brassy, and
you’ve just lost your mind.” She lowers her voice so that Mr.
Howard, who is studiously pretending to ignore us, will definitely
not be able to hear. “They’ll eventually have to return you to New
Orleans, you know.”

I have to let her know I can’t go to New
Orleans, either. I have to let her know who I really am. In order
to fully explain everything. Perhaps, if I take advantage of the
carriage bumps, I can dab some lingo-spot on her and make it look

“We’ll have to teach you better English,”
Sally says. “Jefferson will help. Wants his slaves to be educated.
He discusses science and philosophy with me all the time, tells me
how he still misses Martha, his late wife. He talks to me just like
a free person. Yet he turns around and says it wouldn’t be fair to
let his own slaves go. Says we been raised like children and
couldn’t make our way in the world.” She shakes her head. “This
coming from the same man who tried to put a passage about ending
slavery into the Declaration of Independence, ‘til they made him
take it out. I think slavery’s got white people all mixed up
inside. I think, really, it’s worse on the spirits of the people
who own the slaves, compared to the people who are the slaves. Some
of them, anyway.”

She doesn’t keep her voice low for that last
observation. I wonder if Jefferson President could hear her, too,
inside the carriage?

“Martha died almost twenty years ago… And
I’ve lived at Monticello, or traveled with that man, ever since.
But he still won’t let me call him Thomas. He says we can’t be
friends in public. But I won’t call him Mister either, and
certainly not Master, if he’s going to be that way. So I just call
him ‘Jefferson.’”

Then Sally closes her eyes and leans into
the rushing air. She looks serene. “So many mysteries. Starting
with people’s hearts.”

Show me.

That voice again.

Show me.

It’s not Sally who’s talking…


It’s the lingo-spot.

The lingo-spot is exerting a will of its own
now. Asking, or letting the thought be known, that it wants to be
shown —given— to someone else. The way Eli gave some to me, back in
Alexandria. The way I did, at Peenemunde, with the escaping


I reach behind my ear, feeling the spongy
area where the lingo-spot melds into my skin. What does it want? To
help us? And why is the organic/mechanical mass that makes up the
lingo-spot suddenly exerting a will of its own, the way Clyne’s
time-vessel did? What is happening to the Saurian technology?

I look at my fingertips and touch the
pulsing, glistening ointment there.


I look at it again.

…it wants to spread because it wants to

For reasons I can’t explain, I feel my
cheeks flushing.

But yes…reproduce, spread like a…


It’s Sally, leaning over, almost
off-balance, touching my face. “You’re turning all red, child.”

Mr. Howard doesn’t like her moving around.
“You crazy girl! Sit down, now!”

I’m no child, but Sally’s a grown woman. Why
does he call her “girl?”

She looks at Mr. Howard, then stands up a
little higher. “We all burn with fever! We burn with the life force
of the universe! It surrounds us all and
us! “

!” Mr. Howard isn’t watching
the road at all.

Sally stands even taller, spreading her arms
against the wind.

No one
is a slave!” She’s yelling
into the wind. Then she turns to me. “Not in their souls.”


We hit some holes and ruts. One of the
horses stumbles.

Mr. Howard jerks the reins in reaction—too

Sally’s thrown forward. Without thinking, I
reach out, grabbing just enough of her garment to break her fall.
She twists and clutches the seat railing, as Mr. Howard struggles
to regain control of the horses before we spill over.

But I spill over, anyway, from catching
Sally. And there is nobody to catch me. I hear screams.

What a silly death, so far from home, before
I was able even to…


My face flushes again. I will die with
crimson cheeks…


…trampled by…


…the horses— I’m tangled up with the horses,
the still-moving horses…

Sooysaa! Sooysaa! Sooysaa!

I scream out the word for “horse” that
groomers and trainers in the palace stables used in Alexandria.

Holding on to the straps around one horse’s
neck, I pull myself up —“
!” —on the running animal’s

Everything is still a blur. I grip the
horse, trying to hold on.

Without realizing it, I press the lingo-spot
substance into the base of the horse’s skull. “Sooysaa…” I repeat,
over and over.

The first horse slows as I keep talking, and
as its panic recedes, the other horse follows, until finally, at
last, the carriage is brought to a stop.

“Sooysaa…,” I stroke its neck, still
clutching. “Thank you.”

The horse’s eyes bulge. For a moment, I
think it might bolt again.

And then I realize…the lingo-spot. The
. I’ve put the lingo-spot on the horse.

Show me.

Maybe the horse understands—and in
understanding, has grown terrified.


It’s a male voice. But the name’s not

“Are you all right?”

I stroke the horse’s mane. I won’t answer to
a slave name.


There’s more dignity talking to a horse.




Chapter Seven

Clyne: North Wind Comes

February 1804


Snow is falling again, covering up the ice
lenses I made, and, with them, any hope of continuing my research
here in the field. A warm lab would be nice. But until I find one,
I content myself with eating a new food which comes, once again, in
surprising colors, while taking in the news that I have been
mistaken for some sort of mystical being and that my life is in

It is another bracing day here on Earth

The new food is called maize. I believe it
is the forebear of the grain known as corn, which I read about in
some discarded nutritional guides — cookbooks — that I encountered
while foraging for sustenance in Eli’s time. That was when I was an
“outlaw,” and the security forces in his world were looking for me.
I seem to be back in Eli’s world once again, though in a time
before policing was so widespread.

“Look. In the distance there. Coming toward
us.” I point for the benefit of my friend, whose eyesight is, after
all, only mammalian. “Two buffalo.”

“Yes. We should leave before they get here,”
he tells me. “Buffalo leave tracks. The hunters who are coming for
you could follow those tracks. We should take you back to your den.
You need to stay hidden.”

BOOK: Trail of Bones
13.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

2 Death Rejoices by A.J. Aalto
Deep and Silent Waters by Charlotte Lamb
Angels in My Hair by Lorna Byrne
Steal Me Away by Cerise Deland
Every Happy Family by Dede Crane
Secrets (Codey #1) by Elena Moreno
The Prince's Resistant Lover by Elizabeth Lennox
Galatea by Madeline Miller
Spice & Wolf IV by Hasekura Isuna
Rock Me Deep by Nora Flite