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Authors: Anna Belfrage

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Romance, #General, #Time Travel

Like Chaff in the Wind

BOOK: Like Chaff in the Wind
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Introduction

On a muggy August day in 2002, Alexandra Lind was unexpectedly thrown backwards in time, landing in the year of Our Lord 1658. Catapulted into an unfamiliar and frightening new existence, Alex could do nothing but adapt. After all, while time travelling itself is a most rare occurrence, time travelling with a return ticket is even rarer.

This is the second book about Alex, her husband Matthew and their continued adventures in the second half of the seventeenth century.

Other titles in The Graham Saga:

A Rip in the Veil

The Prodigal Son

A Newfound Land

Serpents in the Garden

Coming Soon:

Revenge and Retribution

Wither Thou Goest

To Catch a Falling Star

Like Chaff in the Wind

Dedication

To Johan, for always being there when I need you

Chapter 1

Matthew Graham congratulated himself yet again on not having brought his wife Alex or wee Mark along to Edinburgh. Not a welcoming city at its best, Edinburgh was cold and dreary in the icy January winds, the tall tenement buildings hunching under clouds the colour of pewter.

The city swarmed with people; in every window, in every narrow close, spectators crowded together, and for all that Matthew was both tall and broad he had to constantly use elbows and feet to avoid being trodden on. He shivered and pressed his hat down harder on his head in a feeble attempt to keep his ears from falling off with cold. His brother-in-law, Simon Melville, laughed and mock punched him.

“It sticks in your craw, doesn’t it? To be obliged to witness the proud occasion of the laying to rest of the Marquis of Montrose.”

Matthew didn’t reply. He had nothing against James Graham, a noble man and a warrior of great talent and bravery, and he had not liked it that he was hanged several years ago, victim to the double dealing of Charles the Second. He did, however, resent being forced to pay his dues at this mockery of a burial where the Marquis, ten years after his death, was brought to lie in state at Holyrood Palace, at the say so of the king who had so cruelly betrayed him.

He shifted on his feet in a vain attempt to escape the pressure of the sharp stone ledge digging into his back. Slowly, the sumptuous coffin made its way down from the direction of St Giles, preceded by banners and blaring trumpets as if it were indeed a whole man lying there, instead of all the bits and pieces that had been brought back to be interred together. The bleached skull had been lifted off its spike on the Tolbooth only this morning, and Matthew doubted if anybody knew whether the body parts now lumped together did in fact belong to the same man.

“Do you think he cares?” Simon asked him.

“Who?”

“Montrose. Do you think it matters to him, all this?”

Matthew pursed his lips. “He might be laughing some. But nay, I don’t think it much matters to him how he’s buried.” He indicated the procession with his head. “It may matter to his wife, though. And his son.”

Matthew smiled at the thought of his own son, safe at Hillview – a lad who with every day grew more and more like his sire, from his hazel eyes to the dark hair that fell in soft wisps to frame his face. He stretched as well as he could in his cramped space, and closed his eyes, seeing first Mark as he had seen him last, fast asleep in his trundle bed, then his wife.

His wife; just thinking of Alex sent spurts of heat rippling through him. He had woken her in the dark pre-dawn the day he set out, and she had been a sinuous warmth under him. When he got out of bed, she had propped herself up on one elbow to look at him, hair escaping in curls from her thick night braid. His woman, his heart…

“Look!” Simon hissed.

Matthew opened his eyes only to meet those of his brother. Wearing a splendid fur-lined cloak, Luke Graham sat astride a fiery chestnut mare. The rings on his hands, the golden collar round his neck, and the royal badge decorating his hat, screamed to the world that this was a man high in the king’s favour, an impression further underlined by the fact that he was riding side by side with the Governor. Where Matthew had expected to see a disfigured nose, he saw instead an elegant silver covering that elicited surprised murmurs from the crowd.

Luke set a finger to the gleaming metal, letting Matthew know that he well remembered who it was that had so damaged him and had not forgiven, nor ever would. He narrowed his eyes, made a slitting motion over his throat, and spurred his horse on, all the while turning to stare at Matthew who stood unmoving until horse and rider disappeared.

“The sooner we leave the better,” Simon muttered as they hurried away from the crowds. They took a sharp left, having to lean backwards so as not to topple down the slippery, steep close that led into Cowgate. Matthew agreed, still shaken by the naked hatred that shone out of Luke’s eyes.

“I want you to do something for me.”

Simon looked at him with a certain caution but nodded.

“I want you to draw up a document, today, that makes you the guardian of Mark should anything happen to me.”

“Nothing will happen to you.”

“Mayhap not,” Matthew shrugged. “But unless I draw up such a deed, then both Mark and Alex may find themselves in the not so tender care of my brother. After all, Luke’s my closest male relative – unfortunately.” Matthew’s gut twisted at the thought and it was apparent wee Simon agreed, an uncharacteristic scowl settling on his round face.

“I’ll do it when we get back to our room, and you can sign it and have it witnessed by the landlord.”

When Matthew prepared to leave for the evening, Simon frowned.

“Should you go abroad alone? What with Luke being here…”

“I’m invited to dine with Minister Crombie and his brother,” Matthew said. “I don’t think I’ll be in any danger there.”

Simon grunted. “Not there, no. But in the going and the coming you might be.”

Matthew strapped on his sword. “I’ll be careful.” And damn if his brother was going to stop him from partaking of the company of men he respected and liked.

It was a long evening, an evening of discussion and far too much wine, and Matthew felt comfortably mellow when he made his way back to the inn. Tomorrow he’d be on his way home, rid of this damp, dark and teeming city, and soon he’d be at Hillview, with wife and bairn around him.

Something clattered against the cobbles and he threw a look over his shoulder, squinting through the dark. He frowned and blinded his lantern, standing very still as he listened. Soft rustling noises and a cat ran across the narrow close.

Matthew wanted to laugh out loud with relief. Still, he chose to not unblind his lantern and increased his pace. His skin prickled, his pulse thudded loudly. You’re being fanciful, he berated himself, it was just a cat, aye? There was a sound behind him and he wheeled, a hand on his sword. He never managed to pull it free. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something and then his head exploded with pain.

*

Alex woke with a gasp, convinced that something had happened to Mark. From his trundle bed came snuffling noises, and she sank back against the pillows, trying to bring her heart rate under control. For some reason she was still agitated, and after an hour of turning in bed she gave up on sleep. It was just some silly dream, she told herself, running a hand over Matthew’s pillow before rising to pace up and down the room. She stood by the window and stared out into the dark, arms coming up to cross her chest. Something was very wrong and she had no idea what it was, but her whole body was clanging with alarms.

“Bad night?” Joan, her sister-in-law, asked next morning.

Alex yawned and handed over Mark into Joan’s waiting arms. “I couldn’t sleep.” She nodded a good morning to their housekeeper, Mrs Gordon, but shook her head at the bowl of porridge. Her insides were clenched tight around a pebble of nagging concern, and just the thought of food made her queasy.

With each passing day, Alex grew more nervous, making both Joan and Mrs Gordon jumpy as well. He should be back by now, and Alex spent far too many hours with her eyes glued to the lane. When she finally heard the sound of horses, she dropped the basket she was carrying, bunched up her skirts, and flew up the lane to meet him.

She saw Samson riderless and turned, bewildered, to Simon. Her heart came to a screeching halt before it started up again, and she moved towards the horse, her hands stretched out to touch the man who wasn’t there.

“Matthew?” Her eyes nailed themselves to Simon’s and the expression she saw in them turned the air in her lungs to lead, a dragging weight that threatened to suffocate her. He was dead, her Matthew was dead, and oh my God, how was she to go on without him? “Matthew?” she repeated, hoping that there was another explanation for the haunted look on Simon’s face.

“Ah, Alex,” Simon said in a choked voice. “I’m so sorry, lass.”

She shook her head; she didn’t want him to be sorry, please don’t let him be sorry. The household congregated around them; Joan and Mrs Gordon, Rosie with Mark in arms as well as Sam, Gavin and Robbie. She didn’t see them, she saw only the empty saddle where Matthew should have been, and all she wanted was to die.

“What?” She cleared her thickening throat. “What has happened to him, where is he?” Simon dismounted and Alex flew at him.

“Answer me! Where’s my husband? Why isn’t he here, with you?”

“He’s gone,” Simon said, grabbing at her flailing arms. “Dearest Lord, he’s gone.” He began to cry. Alex was taken over by a slow seeping cold, a thickening of her blood that began at her feet and worked itself upwards.

“No!” She tore herself free from Simon’s hands. “No! No!” She wheeled and fled, because maybe if she ran fast enough and far enough, none of this would be true.

*

It was dark when she came back. Without a word, she swept a fretting Mark into her arms and shushed him to sleep. She sat in silence for a long time before meeting Simon’s eyes.

“Tell me. What happened? And why have you not brought him back? He would want to lie here, you know that.” She closed her eyes and opened them slowly again. She’d been doing that all afternoon, hoping that next time she opened her eyes it would be to a reality where Matthew still existed. Belatedly, she noticed that Simon hadn’t replied to her question, instead he was regarding her with so much pity she wanted to punch him.

“He isn’t dead,” he said.

Alex did yet another exaggerated blink; apparently it did help.

“But mayhap it would be better if he were.”

“He’s alive?” Alex said, latching on to the single relevant piece of information. “He’s not dead?”

Simon shook his head. No, he told her, as far as he knew Matthew wasn’t dead. “He was assaulted on the street returning to the inn.” Simon went on to describe how the innkeeper had come to wake him, gabbling on about how Mr Graham had been struck down just at the corner and dragged away.

Simon had rushed out half-dressed, and in the company of the innkeeper’s lad he had walked up and down the darkened closes, searching for Matthew, but not finding as much as a hair. Finally, at the coming of dawn, he had stumbled across a baker’s lad who’d told him how he’d seen two men load a protesting third into a cart.

“They clobbered him to shut him up,” Simon said. “Then they drove off in the direction of the port.”

Simon had never run so fast in all his life, his legs like lark wings as he rushed to fetch his horse and ride hell for leather to Leith. Too late he had stormed out onto the quays, only to see the high stern of a ship disappear into the fog, and he knew, beyond any doubt, that his friend was aboard. He’d gone to the harbourmaster and found out the ship was bound for Plymouth, there to wait for some weeks before setting off across the sea.

“But then Matthew can just get off in Plymouth, right?” Alex said, feeling her shoulders relax. Alive; he was alive!

Simon shook his head. “He’s been indentured.”

Alex was confused. Indentured people were criminals, convicted of crimes. Simon sighed and rubbed his hands hard across his face.

“He’s been set up. The harbourmaster admitted that he had thought it strange that a lone man should be loaded so late, but the captain of the
Henriette Marie
insisted that he was waiting for one more.”

“But he can tell them,” Alex said. “He just has to talk to someone in authority and they can verify that he’s an innocent man.”

“They won’t let him off the boat. He’ll be kept under lock and key until there is no chance of him escaping.”

“How do you know?”

“I found the go-between,” Simon said, caressing his bruised knuckles. “And I beat it out of him. He’s been sold into slavery by that misbegotten cur, his brother, and according to the go-between the amount that changed hands was substantial enough to ensure Matthew didn’t set foot on land this side of the Atlantic.” Simon crouched down and stroked Mark over his head. “Poor wee lad, no father.”

“He has a father,” Alex said, slapping his hand away. “And now you’re going to explain exactly what all this means so that I can decide what to do.” She handed Mark to Joan and glared at Simon. “If nothing else, once he gets to where he’s going he can tell them.”

“They won’t care,” Joan said. “They will have no reason to believe him.”

Alex looked from one to the other, hating them both for already having given up. “And what will happen to him?”

“They’ll sell him off upon arrival and then he’ll be set to work, a slave that is owned by the man who holds his indenture. They will work him to the bone, and if he dies, well, then so be it.” Simon sounded very bleak, and Alex felt the ice cold numbness of before return. She twisted her hands around each other, trying hard to think.

“I’m going after him,” she declared a few minutes later. “I’ll find him and somehow get him home.”

“You can’t do that!” Simon said.

“Watch me.” Alex gnawed at her lip and threw a discreet look in the direction of the kitchen hearth. Not that they were in any way rich, but if she sold everything they had hidden, it should be enough to finance both the passage and whatever she might need to buy him free. And they wouldn’t charge her for Mark, he could sleep in her berth, not taking up any room of his own.

“And Mark?” Joan asked.

Alex raised her brows. “I’ll take him with me.”

“A wee lad? Nay, I think not. He might sicken and die.” Simon sounded very disapproving.

“He’s my son, so if I’m going so is he.”

“Nay, he’s not. I can’t let you take him and risk his life,” Simon said.

“You can’t stop me!” She was on her feet, nose only inches from his.

“Aye I can. Matthew has appointed me guardian of the lad.”

“I’m his guardian! I’m his mother, for God’s sake!”

“You’re a woman. You can’t be responsible for a child’s welfare.” Simon blocked the enraged slap and took a firm hold of Alex’s hands. “I can stop you from going as well, but that I won’t do. The lad, however, stays here. He’s the new master of Hillview should Matthew not return. If Mark dies Hillview comes to Luke. Do you think Matthew would want that?”

BOOK: Like Chaff in the Wind
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