Today, I woke to the sound of the cuckoo. Not the Swiss clock kind, but the real thing. Insistent creature, the cuckoo. On and on he went “cuck-oo”, “cuck-oo” (For once, the onomatopoeic name is a precise repetition of the sound made. In Swedish, we call a cuckoo a “gök”, pronounched “yuck”, so we obviously decided to skip the onomatopoeia in this instance)
In Swedish, we have a saying that a cuckoo that sings from the east is there to comfort you, if you hear a cuckoo to the south, a death awaits you and if you hear if from the west, the best of days lies before you. This morning cuckoo of mine came very much to the west, and comforted (;)) by that I went back to sleep. After all, I had no desire to be up and about a four-thirty in the morning.
So was this the best of days?
What can I say? In Sweden, today is Mother’s Day. In the absence of any children to wake me with songs and bouquets of flowers (they text instead), husband stepped in to fill the gap and woke me with newly made scones. Very nice. We sat in the sun on the terrace that faces the lake and said very little, both of us lost in the view. The sensation of peace that creeps upon me when I am here is addictive. I wander around in sundresses and clogs, inspect my growing lupines, pick myself some lilies-of-the-valley, and it’s all birds and bees, flowers and the drifting scent of lilacs. No cars, no radios, no nothing. Here. I exist in a bubble of timelessness, and it soothes my restless soul.
Other than this being Mother’s Day, I had cause to celebrate. Well, we did that already Friday evening, as my husband broke out the bubbly. One must celebrate one’s successes, right? After all, one never knows how many successes there will be – or how big they will be – so any opportunity for champagne (with strawberries, no less) must be grabbed at with two hands and really, really enjoyed.
So what were we celebrating? Well, dear people, I am proud to announce that The Graham Saga has just been awarded a second B.R.A.G. Medallion, this time for A Newfound Land. A B.R.A.G. Medallion is a bit like a literary ISO 9000 – it guarantees a certain (high) quality in the book so honoured. So bear with me when I do some mad butt-shaking to my favourite disco song “It’s raining men”. (Pause. Pause. Hey, I’m dancing here, okay? There; done)
To adequately share my pride and joy with you, I have posted an excerpt of A Newfound Land below. Brief background: Alex and Matthew Graham have established themselves in 17th century Maryland. Along the way, they’ve created a tentative friendship with the Susquehannock Indians while pissing off the Burley brothers, this when Matthew hindered the brothers from abducting a number of Susquehannock Indians. Since then, the brothers are out to get Matthew, eagerly aided and abetted by the unsavoury Dominic Jones, with whom Matthew has a long history. This particular scene takes place when Matthew has ridden off to serve in the militia. After seeing her husband off, Alex takes a walk through the woods.
Alex meandered her way along the overgrown bridle path that led to Forest Spring, her eyes on the ground, her mind with Matthew and Moses, now well on their way to Leslie’s Crossing and beyond. At least he had a friend with him, she thought, finding some comfort in that. Thomas might be dull and somewhat staid, but he was a competent fighter and a loyal friend. She found a briar rose full of hips and, for the next half-hour, she stripped the thorny bush of the small red fruit.
“Do you recall the first time we picked hips together, you and I?”
Alex jumped at the sound of Ian’s voice.
“Don’t do that!” she scolded. “You scared me half to death. Besides, you’re not picking now, and you weren’t picking all that much that time either.”
“Aye, I was.”
They fell silent, working side by side to fill her apron.
“He’ll be fine,” Ian said, echoing Mrs Parson’s earlier comment.
“I hope so. I don’t like it, Ian; him and Dominic in the same militia…”
“He’s twice the man Jones is.”
“Absolutely, but it doesn’t do to underestimate Dominic Jones.” Alex chewed at her lip. “Men that do end up dead.”
Ian went off to continue with his hunting, and Alex was back to walking alone, humming something under her breath. The wet late October day was quiet, birds a muted background noise no more. She strayed off the path to inspect a stand of mushrooms, but as she didn’t recognise them she chose to leave them standing. She was still squatting when the unexpected sound of male voices made her freeze.
She recognised the horse first, gulped and tried to make herself as invisible as possible. Difficult to do when one was wearing a flowered shawl and a white cap, and with a low whoop Philip Burley brought his horse to a halt.
“Well, well, if it isn’t Mrs Graham.” His mouth stretched itself into a cold smile. “And what may you have in your apron? More of those peppers you so kindly anointed my eyes with last time we met?”
“No.” Alex succeeded in sounding much more relaxed than she felt. “These are hips.”
“Hips, you say?” Philip let his eyes travel up and down Alex.
“She has good ones,” one of his companions piped up, eliciting a snicker from the other two.
Alex looked from one to the other. “Oh my God, it’s actually true. You do have three brothers.”
“Why is that so surprising?”
Alex just shook her head. Dark-haired and light-eyed the lot of them, the youngest not much more than a boy, the other two closer to Philip in age, somewhere in their late twenties. “I was commiserating with your mother. Imagine giving birth to four like you.”
“Seven actually, but the three eldest were girls,” Philip said.
“Lucky her,” Alex muttered.
“Very,” one of the other brothers said. “Four sons to keep her well protected – unlike you, Mrs Graham.” He looked over to Philip. “Is she the wife of the man who stole the Indians from you?”
“Stole? Matthew stopped your creep of a brother from abducting them!” Alex shifted a couple of yards further away from the path, eyeing her surroundings.
“Yes, she is.” Philip rode his horse into the underbrush, and Alex retreated behind a stand of maple saplings. “Think you can run?”
“Run? Why should I? Matthew will be here any minute.”
“Really?” Philip drawled.
“Really,” Alex said, taking yet another step away from him. “What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be in Virginia?”
“Our business is none of your concern,” Philip said.
“Business? Here?” Alex swept her arm at the surrounding wilderness. “What do you do? Sell nuts to the squirrels?”
Philip laughed. “There are always buyers for our goods – and services.” He turned to his brothers. “What do you reckon she’s worth?”
“Worth? Me? Why you—” Alex broke off at his look and backed into the closest bramble.
“She’s quite old,” the youngest of them said.
“Yes,” one of the others agreed. His eyes stuck to Alex’s chest, did a cursory inspection of the rest of her and returned to her chest. He had eyes as light as Philip, eyes that made her knees wobble.
“Just because she’s old it doesn’t mean we can’t sell her,” the third brother said. “Some sort of compensation for the lost Indians.”
“Just because you walk on two legs and can talk, it doesn’t follow you have a brain, does it?” Alex retorted.
“Feisty,” Philip said. “I like that in a woman. Makes it more fun to…” He made a rude gesture and his brothers grinned, eyeing Alex hungrily.
“I just told you. My husband will be here shortly.”
“Now why don’t I believe you, Mrs Graham?” Philip Burley leaned forward over the neck of his horse.
“Because you’re stupid?” Alex said.
“Stupid? I think not, Mrs Graham.” He rode closer. Alex groped for her knife and raised it high. Philip looked at her with a glimmer of admiration in his eyes. He smiled, a slow, dangerous smile further enhanced by the lock of coal-black hair that fell forward over his face. For eternal seconds, she was nailed to the spot by his eyes. The palms of her hands, the insides of her thighs broke out in a cold sweat.
Finally, he wheeled his horse. “I’ll be back,” he threw over his shoulder. “If nothing else to offer my condolences to the recently bereaved widow.”
She couldn’t help it, she gasped, making him laugh.
“We don’t have time to waste. We have a militia to join – coincidentally the same company your husband belongs to.”
“But…” the youngest whined. “I thought we’d—”
“Not today, Will,” Philip cut him off. He smiled at Alex and touched the brim of his hat. “We know where to find her when we want her.” With that he was off, his three brothers in his wake.
Alex sank down to sit where she stood.