Northside Manor, Yorkshire, Spring 1685
Livia Avery came down the grand staircase of Northside Manor in a tailored black velvet riding habit, her gloved hand lightly on the bannister, the heels of her riding boots clicking on the polished wood. Her husband Sir James, crossing the stone-floored hall, looked up and noted the letter in her hand and the flush in her cheeks.
“So, you finally get your wish,” he said levelly. “You’ve waited most patiently. It’s been five years since you met the duchess, and now she is queen. I thought you had given up.”
She took a little breath. “I never give up.” She showed him the royal seal.
“Is it a royal summons?”
“We can’t speak here!” she ruled and led the way into the library. Large logs smouldered in the hearth; she undid the mother of pearl buttons on her dark riding jacket and pulled at the cascade of fine lace at her throat. He observed her beauty with nothing but weariness. She was like the classical statues she had dotted around his house and gardens—lovely to look at, but meaningless to him.
She sat in the great chair before the fire, leaning slightly forward, her face glowing in the firelight as if posing for a portrait. Her dark hair was shiny, the creamy skin smooth on her cheeks, a few light lines around her dark-lashed eyes. She waited for him to take his seat opposite her before she would speak.
“I’m all ears,” he said ironically.
“I am summoned to court,” she breathed. “James, Duke of York is crowned king, his wife is queen. There is no support for the late king’s bastard. James the Second will inherit without challenge and my dearest friend Mary of Modena will be queen.” She was as exultant as if she had herself persuaded the people of England to crown the unpopular roman catholic brother to the king, instead of the adored protestant bastard son. “She writes that she needs me, she is unwell. I will, of course, obey.”
Still he said nothing.
“You could come with me? I am to be a lady in waiting, we could open Avery House? I could get a place at court for you. This could be a fresh start for us.”
He cleared his throat. “I’m not sure that I want a fresh start. I doubt that I’d want anything you can give me.”
Her dark eyes flashed with irritation. “You cannot expect me to refuse a royal invitation; it’s practically a command.”
He turned his face from her show of temper. “Really? I imagine that you could very well refuse. But I am absolutely certain you have courted her—writing every week, sending little gifts, all your engaging tricks—I imagine you have begged her to invite you. And now: she does.”
“You should be grateful to me . . .”
“You can go.” He had no interest in what she might say. “I will send you in the carriage. I imagine you will live at St James’ Palace while they rebuild Whitehall. I assume you will return here when they go to Windsor in the summer?”
“You agree?” she demanded.
He shrugged. “You may do as you wish. As always. You are aware that the court is famously—” He broke off, searching for the right word. “Extravagant,” he said. “Corrupt,” he added. “Lascivious. But you will not mind that.”
She raised her eyebrows as if in disdain; but her face was pale. “You can hardly think that I—”
“No, I believe that you are quite above weakness. I am quite sure you will lock your bedroom door in London as you do here. Perhaps there, you will have reason.”
“Of course, my reputation will be without stain.”
“And you should be discreet in the practice of your faith.”
She tossed her head. “Her Grace—I should say Her Majesty—and I are proud of our shared faith,” she said. “She will open the royal chapel in St James’ Palace. She is appointing the Benedictine order—”
“London will not tolerate roman catholics practising religion in public,” he told her. “You may attend the queen’s oratory inside the palace, but I advise you not to show off in chapels outside the palace walls. There’s bound to be trouble, perhaps even worse than we’ve had already. Their Majesties should be as discreet, as the late King Charles.”
“We’re not all turncoats!” she flashed.
“I renounced my roman catholic faith to live my life as an English gentleman,” he said steadily. “The Church of England is my faith; not a failing.”
She thought his whole life was a failure: he had changed his faith, he had betrayed his first love, Livia herself had played him for a fool, and trapped him into marriage for his name and fortune.
“I am roman catholic,” she told him proudly. “More so now, than ever. All of England will return to the true faith, and it is you who will be in the wrong.”
He smiled. “I do admire how your devotion increases with the fashion. But you had far better be discreet.”
She looked at the fire, the heavy wooden carving of his coat of arms on the mantelpiece, and then to him, her dark eyes melting, a little smile on her lips. “James, I want to talk to you about my son.”
He settled himself a little deeper into his chair as if he would dig his heels into the Turkey rug.
“Once again, I ask you to adopt him and make him your heir.”
“And once again, I tell you I will not.”
“Now that I am bidden to court—” she began.
“He is no more my son than he was before. And I doubt you were bidden.”
“He has been educated at the best schools in London, he will eat his dinners at the Inns of Court, he is being raised as an English gentleman by the family that you chose for him. You can have nothing against him.”
“I have nothing against him,” he agreed. “I am sure he is being raised well. You left him with a family of high morals and open hearts. He can visit you in London if you wish—but you may not go to the warehouse and see them, his foster family. You may not disturb them or distress them. That was agreed.”
She folded her lips on an angry retort. “I’ve no wish to see them. Why would I go downriver to a dirty wharf? I don’t wish to speak about them, I never even think about them! It is Matteo! We are talking about my son Matteo . . .” She put her hand to her heart.
Unmoved, he watched her dark eyes glisten with tears.
“I have sworn that unless you make him your adopted son and heir, I will conceive no other,” she reminded him. “My door will stay locked as we grow old, childless. I will never disinherit my boy. You will never have a legitimate son if you do not first, give my son your name. You will die without a legitimate son and heir!”
He barely stirred in his chair, though she had raised her voice to him. “You do know that I have rights to your body by law?” he confirmed. “But—as it happens—I do not assert my rights. There was never any need for you to lock your bedroom door. I don’t want to come in.”
“If you want to live like a priest!” she flamed out at him.
“Rather a priest than a fool,” he replied calmly.
She put her hand to the back of her neck, pinning back one of the dark ringlets that fell over her collar. She made her voice warm and silky. “Some would say you are a fool not to desire me . . .”
He looked at the flames of the fire, blind to the seductive gesture. “I was led down that road once,” he said gently. “Not again. And you’re what? Forty-five? I doubt you could give me a son.”
“I’m forty-two,” she snapped. “I could still have a child!”
He shrugged. “If I die without an heir then so be it. I will not give my honourable name to another man’s son. An unknown man at that,” he added.
She gritted her teeth, and he watched her fight her temper. She managed to smile. “Whatever you wish, Husband. But Matteo has to have a place of his own. If he cannot be an Avery of Northside Manor then he has to be da Picci of Somewhere.”
“He can be da Picci of Anywhere; but not here. I have nothing against the boy, and nothing against you, Livia. I acknowledge you as my wife and him as your son. You won my good name when you deceived and married me, but that was my own folly and I have paid for it. Your son will not enter into my estate, but he is free to make his own fortune if he can, or batten off you if he cannot.”
“If you’re still thinking of her and her child . . .”
His face showed no emotion. “I have asked you not to speak of her.”
“But you think of her! Your great love!”
“Every day,” he conceded with a smile as if it made him happy. “I never pray without naming her. I shall think of her until I die. But I promised her that I would not trouble her. And neither will you.”
Boston, New England, Spring 1685
Ned Ferryman stood on the jumble of quays and piers and wharves of Boston harbour, his collar turned against the cold wind, watching his barrels of herbs—dried sassafras, black cohosh roots and ginseng leaves—rolled down the stone quay and up the gangplank to the moored ship. Six barrels were already stowed below decks and Ned squinted through the hatch to make sure that they were lashed tight and covered with an oilskin.
Beside him on the quayside the master of the ship laughed shortly. “Not to worry, Mr Ferryman, they’re safely aboard.” He glanced down at Ned’s worn leather satchel and the small sack of his goods. “Is this all you have for your cabin? No trunks?”
The cabin boy from the ship came running down the gangplank and scooped up the sack. Ned slung the satchel around his shoulder.
“You’ll have heard the king’s dead?” the captain asked. “I was the first ship to bring the news. I shouted it the moment we threw a line to shore. Who’d have thought a king that lived so wild would die in his own bed? God bless King Charles, lived a rogue and died a papist. His brother James will have nipped on the throne by the time we get home.”
“Only if they crown him,” Ned remarked sceptically. “James the papist? And that papist wife alongside him?”
“Eh—I don’t care for him myself—but what choice is there?”
“The Duke of Monmouth, the king’s own son, a man who promises liberty, and freedom to choose your own religion. ”
“Born a bastard. And we can’t send a Stuart king on his travels again. We’ve only just got them back.”
A rare smile crossed Ned’s stern face. “I don’t see why they can’t go again,” he said. “What has any Stuart ever done for a working man?”
“We’ll know when we get there,” the captain summed up. “We sail with the tide, just after midday. There’s a noon gun.”
“Aye, I know Boston,” Ned said shortly.
“You’ve been here a while?” The captain was curious about his quiet passenger, his deeply tanned skin and his shock of grey hair. “It’s a great city for making a fortune, isn’t it?”
Ned shook his head. “I don’t care for a fortune, stolen from natives who gave all they had at first. I make a small living, gathering herbs. But now it’s time for me to go home. I’ll be aboard before noon.”
He turned from the quayside to go back to the inn to settle his slate. Coming from the opposite direction, tied in a line with tarry ropes, were a score of prisoners trailing their way to a ship for the plantations. Ned could tell at once that they were the people of several different Indian nations: the high top-knots and shaven heads of some and others had a sleek bob. Each face showed different tattoos: some high on the cheekbones or some marked straight across the forehead. There were even one or two wearing the proud all-black stain of “warpaint’: the sign that a man was sworn to fight to the death. They were roped in a line, dressed in a muddle of ragged English clothes, shivering in the cold wind, alike in their shuffling pace—hobbled by tight ropes—and in the defeated stoop of their shoulders.
“Netop,” Ned whispered in Pokanoket, as they went past him. “Netop.”
Those who were closest heard the greeting—“Friend’ in their forbidden language—but they did not look up.
“Where they going?” Ned asked the red-faced man who was herding them, his hands in his pockets, a finely carved pipe clamped in the corner of his mouth.
“Sugar Islands.” He turned his head and barked: “Wait!”
Obediently, the line shuddered to a halt.
“God help them,” Ned said.
“He won’t. They’re all pagans.”
Dourly, Ned turned away, spitting out the bitter taste in his mouth, when he half-heard a whisper, as quiet as a leaf falling in the forest:
He turned at the familiar sound of his name in Pokanoket: “Waterman.”
“Who calls me?”
“Webe, pohquotwussinnan wutch matchitut.” A steady black gaze met Ned’s. A youth, beardless and slight. There was no pleading in his face but his lips formed the words: “Nippe Sannup.”
“I need a boy, a servant,” Ned lied. “I’m going to England. I need a lad to serve me on the ship.”
“You don’t have to buy one of these,” the man advised him. “Just shout in the inn yard and half a dozen little white rats will pop up their heads, desperate to get home.”
“No, I want a savage,” Ned improvised rapidly. “I collect Indian herbs, and pagan carvings. Things like your pipe—that’s savage work, isn’t it? My goods’ll sell better with a savage lad to carry them around. I’ll buy one of ’em off you now,” Ned said. He pointed to the youth. “That one.”
“Oh, I couldn’t let that one go,” the man said at once. “He’s going to grow like a weed that one: thicken up, broaden out, going to be strong. I’ll get good money for him.”
“He won’t last three seconds in the fields,” Ned contradicted. “The voyage alone’ll kill him. There’s nowt on him and he’s got that look in his eyes.”
“They die just to disoblige me!” the jailor said irritably. “They don’t take to slavery. Nobody’d buy one, if you could get an African. But a slave’s a slave. You’ve got it for life—however long it lasts. What’ll you give me?”
“Fifty dollars, Spanish dollars,” Ned said, naming a price at random.
“Done,” the man said so quickly that Ned knew it was too much. “Sure you want that one? Another pound buys you this one, he’s bigger.”
“No,” Ned said. “I want a young one, easier to train.”
“You hold the pistol while I untie him,” the jailor said, pulling a pistol from his belt, showing it to the prisoners who turned their heads away as if in disdain. He pressed it into Ned’s hands. “If anyone moves, shoot them in the foot: right?”
“Right,” Ned said, taking the heavy firearm in his hand and pointing it at the huddled crowd.
The jailor took a knife out of his boot and slashed through the ropes on either side of the youth, pushing him, still tied and hobbled, towards Ned. He made the trailing ropes into two rough but serviceable loops and handed them to Ned, like the long reins for a young horse, as he took back his pistol.
Ned opened his satchel and counted out the coins. “Does he have any papers?”
The man laughed. “Do cows have papers?” he demanded. “Do pigs? Of course he don’t. But we can take him to the blacksmith and brand him with your initial on his cheek.”
Ned felt the cords in his hand tighten, as the slim youth braced himself against terror.
“No need,” he said. “We sail in an hour. I’ll load him on board now and lock him in my cabin.”
“Mind he don’t drown himself,” the jailor said. “They do it the moment they get the chance. Someone told me they think they will rise out of the waves on a muskrat.” He laughed loudly, showing his yellow stumps of teeth, rotted by sugar and rum.
“Yes, they do think that . . .” Ned remembered his friend telling him the Pequot legend of the making of the world: a muskrat bringing earth from the sea bed as a gift of life from the animal to the first woman in the world.
“Take a brace?” the jailor gestured. “You can have another for the same price?”
“Nay.” Ned tugged gently on the rope that trailed from the lad’s tied wrists and led the way to the ship. The boy followed with his shuffling walk. Ned did not look back, no white man looks for his slave, and the boy hobbled behind him.
Ned did not speak to the lad, not even when they were on board. He locked him in the windowless cabin and found the loadmaster and paid for another passage, a quarter price as it was a slave. He refused the offer to chain the boy in the cargo hold and pay for him as if he were baggage. He went back to the inn and bought a few shirts and a pair of breeches for the lad, and then he stayed on deck until the captain shouted, the gangway was drawn in, the ropes cast off and the bell towers and roofs of the city got smaller and smaller until the new city of Boston was just a smudge on the horizon, the sun sinking behind it. Ned stretched his aching back and went through the hatch and down the ladder to the tiny cabins below the deck.
The lad was seated on the floor, his head resting on his knees, as if he did not dare to touch the narrow bunk. When the door opened on Ned, carrying a gimballed candlestick in one hand, the bundle of clothes in the other, he rose to his feet, alert as a cornered deer. His breath came a little quicker but he showed no sign of fear. Ned, knowing the extraordinary courage of the Pokanoket, was not surprised. He put down the candle, the counterweight base moving gently with the ship to hold the candle upright.
“You know me,” Ned fumbled to remember the words of the banned language of Pokanoket. “You called me Nippe Sannup.”
The youth nodded stiffly.
“Have you seen me in the wilderness? Have I traded with your people?”
The boy said nothing.
“Have your people traded furs with me? Or gathered herbs for me?”
Still there was no answer.
“What language do you speak?” Ned asked in the forbidden language of the Pokanoket, then he tried again in Mohawk.
“I can speak English,” the youth said slowly.
“What is your people?” Ned demanded.
The boy’s face was expressionless but one tear rose up and rolled down his face. He did not brush it aside, as if the name that might never be spoken was Sorrow. “We are forbidden to say our name,” he said quietly. “I knew you when I was a child. You were Nippe Sannup, the ferryman at Hadley. My people took your ferry when the Quinnehtukqut was in flood.”
Ned felt the familiar sense of longing for that lost time. “Fifteen years ago? When I kept the ferry at Hadley?”
The youth nodded.
“That was a lifetime. You must’ve been a child.”
“Are we at sea? Is the boat at sea?” he suddenly demanded.
“You will not throw me over the side?”
“Why would I do that, fool? I just rescued you! And paid a fortune!”
“You have saved me from Barbados?”
“Aye, we’re going to London.”
The youth gritted his teeth on the terror of another unknown destination. “I thank you.”
Ned grinned. “You don’t look too thankful.”
“I am. You knew my grandmother, her name was Quiet Squirrel. D’you remember her? She made your snowshoes. D’you remember them? And my mother?”
“Quiet Squirrel!” Ned exclaimed. “She did! She did make my snowshoes. And she taught me . . . She taught me every—” He broke off. “Is she . . .”
“She’s gone to the dawn,” the boy said simply. “All my people are gone. All of us in that village are dead. Just a few of us were captured alive. The village is gone. You can’t even see the post holes. They burned us out and they ploughed our ground. They have made us . . .” he sought for the word, “ . . . invisible.”
Ned sat down heavily on the side of the bunk. “Invisible? How can a people become invisible?” He had a sudden, vivid memory of the village of Norwottuck: the houses around the central fire, the children playing, the women grinding corn, the men dragging in a shot deer, or carrying long spears loaded with fresh fish. Impossible to think it was all gone, yet he knew it was impossible that it had survived the three years of bitter warfare. “And you . . .” He looked at the youth. “Were you one of the little lads?”
The youth pressed his lips together as if he would hold in dangerous words, but he forced himself to speak. “I met you when I was a child of six summers. You used to make me laugh when we crossed the river on your ferry. Back then, I was called Red Berries in Rain.”
Ned’s eyes widened; he got to his feet, put his hand under the youth’s chin, turned his face to the light of the candle. “Red Berries in Rain?” he whispered.
There was a day in his mind, long ago, more than fifteen years ago, when the women had been on his ferry and they had been laughing at the little girl who had hidden behind her grandmother and peeped up at him with huge dark eyes. “You’re a lass?” he asked disbelieving. “You’re that little lass?”
She nodded. “Please . . . Please don’t give me to the sailors,” she whispered.
“God’s blood! D’you think I am a beast?”
She flinched from his outrage. “The jailor gave my sister to the sailors.”
“I’d never do such a thing!” he swore. “I’d never—well, you’re not to know. But I have a sister in England! I have a niece! God knows, I’d never . . .”
“I said I was a boy and they gave me a shirt and breeches.”
“Aye, it’s best.” Ned gestured to the patched breeches and old shirts on the bunk. “You’d better stay as a lad till we get to England. We’ll say you’re my serving boy.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I don’t want to be a girl until I am a girl of the Dawnlands again.”
“What’ll we call you?” he asked. “I can’t call you Red Berries in Rain.”
“It was a mosmezi tree,” she offered. “You had one growing by your gate. A slight tree with white flowers in spring, and in autumn: red berries? We use the bark for healing?”
“I remember,” he said. But he did not want the pain of remembering the tree at his gate, and the ferry across the river, and the women who had been his friends, and who had walked with him into the New England village, sure of their welcome, with baskets of food and fish on strings. “It’s a rowan tree,” he told her. “We can call you Rowan. And here . . .” He pushed the clothes towards her. “You’d better get out of those rags, they’re probably lousy. I’ll get the galley to boil them.”
“Can I wash?” she asked.
He hesitated, knowing that at every dawn, her people would wash and pray, facing the rising sun. They were the People of the Dawnlands, they were the people of all the long dark coast that first saw the sun every day. Of all the unknown peoples in all the great forests that stretched to the west far away behind them, they were the first to see the first light.
“Not like you do at home,” he told her. “But I can get you a jug of water and some soap.” He put his hand on the latch of the door.
“Shouldn’t I get it?” she asked him. “As I am your slave? You’re not mine.”
She surprised him into a laugh. “Aye, I’m not. Come then, I’ll show you the way to the galley and the stores, and around the ship. You should really sleep in the hold, but you’ll be safer in my cabin. You can have the bunk, I’ll take the floor.”
“No! No!” she refused at once. “I sleep on the floor.” She looked up at him to see if he would smile again. “I am your slave. You’re not mine.”
“I’d never have a slave,” he told her. “All my life I have believed that men—even women—should be free. I’m going back to England now to help set my countrymen free.”
She nodded, following the rapid words and watching his lips, so she saw his smile when it came. “But you can sleep on the floor.”
“Because you have a niece?” she asked him with a gleam in her dark eyes.
“Because I am old enough to be your grandfather,” he said dourly. “And as stiff in the morning as frozen laundry on a washing line.”
Ned had guessed she would wake before dawn and he was instantly aware of her, awake but silent. “You’ll want to see sunrise,” he said quietly into the pitch darkness.
Outside Ned’s door a ladder led upwards to a battened-down hatch. Ned went first, lifted the hatch and breathed the cold saltiness of the sea air. He put the cover aside, climbed out and turned to help her but she was already up on deck gulping in the clean breeze, her arms thrown wide as if she would have the wind blow through her clothes, blow defeat out of her soul.
The sky was lightening all around them, but the sun was not yet up. Ned raised his hand in acknowledgement to the steersman and led the way fore so that they were facing east, facing England. There was a clean bucket on a frosty rope for sluicing down the deck. Ned lowered it into the sea and felt the speed of the ship through the water tug it in his hands. He hauled it back in and put it at her feet. “Best I can do,” he said, and stepped back.
Rowan looked out along the bowsprit to where the horizon gleamed with a cold pale light. She loosened the shirt at her neck; she did not dare stand naked as the ritual demanded, but she splayed her bare toes on the deck and stood tall, swaying slightly at the roll and dip of the ship through the waters. She took a cupped handful of icy water and poured it over her head, over her neck, another full into the face. She tasted the salt and opened her eyes. She whispered: “Great Spirit, Mother Earth, Grandmother Moon, Grandfather Sun, I thank you. I pray to the four directions . . .”
Carefully she turned to the four points of the compass, looking out over grey rolling waves east then north, south and west until she was facing the brighter horizon once more. “I thank you for all my relations: the winged nation, the creeping and crawling nation, the four-legged nation, the green and growing nation, and all things living in the water. Honouring the clans: the deer—ahtuk, the bear—mosq, the wolf—mukquoshim, the turtle—tunnuppasog, the snipe—sasasō. Keihtanit taubot neanawayean.”
The head of a silvery sun was rising from the grey faraway waters as she murmured the prayer. She bowed her head and poured more water over her head, her face, her neck, her breast, as the sun rose. She looked towards it, as if it might tell her how she should survive this extraordinary transition in her life, from one world to another, from one life to another, from one country to another. She had no fear. She felt the strength in her feet on the scrubbed wooden deck, the powerful beating of her heart, and the limitless confidence of youth.