What the Wind Knows (Page 10)

Run on the top of the disheveled tide,

And dance upon the mountains like a flame.”

I clutched the urn to my chest a moment more. Then with a silent prayer to the wind and water to forever keep Eoin’s story on the breeze, I upended it, flinging my arm in a wide arc, gasping as the white ashes melded completely with the wispy tendrils of mist that had begun to settle around me. It was as though the ash became a wall of white fog, billowing and collecting, and suddenly I could not see beyond the end of my boat. There was no shoreline, no sky—even the water was gone.

I put the urn in my bag and sat that way for a while, hidden in the fog and unable to continue. The boat rocked me as Eoin had once done, and I was a child again, cradled in his lap, consumed by grief and loss.

Someone was whistling. I started, the tune instantly recognizable. “Remember Him Still.” Eoin’s favorite. I was out in the middle of the lake, and someone was whistling. The whistling shivered through the mist, a cheerful flute in the eerie white, disembodied and disparate, and I couldn’t tell from which direction it originated. Then the sound waned, as if the whistler moved away, teasing me with his game of hide-and-seek.

“Hello,” I called, lifting my voice into the mist just to make sure I still could. The word didn’t echo but sat flatly in the air, cushioned by moisture and curtailed by my own reluctance to break the stillness. I grasped the oars but didn’t begin rowing, suddenly uncertain of my direction. I didn’t want to come out on the other side of the lake. Best to let the fog lift before attempting to row back to shore.

“Is someone there?” I called. “I think I might be in trouble.”

The bow of a barge slid into view, and I was suddenly staring up at three men, who in turn stared down at me, clearly as shocked by my presence as I was by theirs. They wore the peaked caps of a bygone era, the brims pulled low over their foreheads, over eyes that peered at me with obvious alarm.

I stood slowly, beseeching, suddenly fearful that I would be stuck in the fog forever and that these men would be my only chance at rescue.

It wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done, or maybe it saved my life.

The men stiffened as I rose, as if my standing posed a threat, and the man in the middle, his eyes wide with tension and his lips thin with mistrust, jerked his hand from his pocket and pointed a gun at me. His hand shook, and I swayed. With no warning, no demand, no reason at all, he pulled the trigger. The sound was a muted crack, and the sudden and violent shuddering of my skiff felt wholly separate from his action, as if a great, whistling beast had risen from the depths of Lough Gill beneath my boat and tossed me into the drink.

The frigid water stole my breath and didn’t give it back. I chased it, floundering, and kicked for the surface, sputtering as my face broke free into the heavy white that was almost as wet and thick as the water I’d fallen into.

I couldn’t see anything but white, endless white. No boat. No land. No sky. No men with guns.

I tried to lean back, to force myself to float and stay silent. If I couldn’t see them, they couldn’t see me, I rationalized. I managed to keep my head above water without a great deal of splashing, listening and peering into the white. Beneath the adrenaline and the clawing cold was a burning fire in my side. I continued treading water, trying to avoid the truth; I’d been shot, and I had to find my boat. If I didn’t find my boat, I was going to drown.

I began swimming furiously this way and that, making a wide circle around the area where I’d fallen, trying to find my boat in the mist.

The whistling began again, abruptly, midtune, as if the whistler had been singing whole stanzas in his head while his lips took a ten-minute breather. The sound warbled and broke and came back stronger, and I cried out again, my teeth chattering around my plea, my arms and legs kicking frantically to keep my head above water. If the whistler was one of the men on the barge, I was only alerting them that I was still alive, but somehow the thought did not occur to me at the time.

“Help me! Is someone there?”

The whistling ceased.

“Help! Please! Can you hear me?”

The life vest with the broken strap was gone. My shoes had come free the moment I started kicking my legs. My clothes were heavy, my cable-knit sweater dragging me down even as I tried to swim in the direction of the whistling.

“Is someone there?” I called again, and my panic made my voice shrill, cutting through the dense fog.

A faded red boat, not unlike the one I’d rented from Jim Donnelly, emerged from the mist like a sea serpent and glided toward me. There was a man at the oars, his features obscured by the thick fog, but I heard him curse in surprise. I was too cold to know if I was hallucinating or dying, or maybe both, but the face looking down at me was strangely familiar. I could only pray I wasn’t imagining him.

“Can you grab on? I’ll pull you in,” he urged. I reached for the mirage and felt the sweet answer of solidity. The boat was real, as was the man, but I could only cling to the side, so grateful I began to cry.

“Good God. Where did you come from?” the man asked. His hands gripped mine, encircling my wrists. Then he was pulling me up and into the boat, with no assistance whatsoever from me. I felt the bump and scrape of the side of the boat against my hip and stomach and cried out, drawing his attention to the blood that seeped from my stomach.

“What the hell?” he hissed, and I cried out again. “What happened to you?” The bottom of the boat was a cloud, and I was boneless, so weary I couldn’t pull his face into focus. He pulled my arms from the sopping sweater that had made it so hard for me to swim. His hands worked briskly against my skin, rubbing and bringing warmth back into my limbs, and I forced my eyes open so I could whisper my thanks. His face was so close, framed by a peaked cap like the ones the men in the barge wore and set with a pair of blue eyes as pale as the fog. They widened as they met mine.

“Anne?” he asked, the incredulous lift of his voice and the familiarity with which he said my name as odd as my predicament.

“Yes,” I whispered, forcing the word between wooden lips. My eyes would not stay open. I thought I heard him ask again, more urgently this time, but my tongue was as heavy as my head, and I didn’t respond. I felt hands on my blouse, pulling it from my body and pushing it over my head. I protested by clutching the fabric weakly.

“I need to stop the bleeding, and I need to get you warm,” he insisted, and brushed my hands away. He cursed at what he found.

“You’ve been shot. What the bloody hell!” His brogue was so like Eoin’s, so comforting and welcome, it was as if Eoin himself had found me. I nodded weakly. Yes, I’d been shot. I didn’t understand it either, and I was tired. So tired.

“Look at me, Anne. Don’t go to sleep. Not yet. Keep your eyes open.”

I did as he commanded, letting him hold my gaze. In addition to the cap, he wore a tweed coat over a wool vest and brown slacks, as though he’d set out for Mass and decided to go fishing instead. He shrugged out of his jacket and vest and tore at his dress shirt, buttons popping free in his haste. He pulled me up and propped me against him, my head bobbing against his chest, which was now covered only in a long-sleeved undershirt. He smelled of starch, soap, and chimney smoke. He made me feel safe. Then he was wrapping his white shirt around my midsection, making a bandage by tying off the sleeves. He put his jacket around my shoulders, enveloping me in his body heat.

I’m going to bleed on his clothes, I thought wearily as he made quick work of the buttons. Then he was easing me back down to the bottom of the boat, tucking the coat firmly around me and draping something larger over that. I willed my eyes open again and peered up at him beneath drooping lids.

The man was staring at me with shock stamped on his handsome face. It was a handsome face, I noted. He was square-jawed with a deep groove in his chin that matched the creases in his cheeks and the slash of his brows. I noted once more that he reminded me of someone. I’d seen him before. I tried to place him, but in my state, the familiarity eluded me.

He slid back into his seat, gripped the oars, and began rowing, digging into the soft swells of the lake as if there was a race to be won, and his urgency reassured me. He knew my name, and I’d been found. For now, that was enough.

I must have slept because all at once I was floating again, lost in the water and the fog, and I moaned in distress, certain the rescue had been nothing but a dream. Then it occurred to me that I wasn’t struggling or sinking, and I realized I wasn’t floating but being lifted, hoisted from the boat and onto the dock. I felt the slats against my cheek and the brush of damp, worn wood beneath my palms.

“Eamon!” my rescuer shouted, and I heard him scrabble up the dock, his footsteps retreating briskly, the slats vibrating beneath my ear. “Eamon!” he shouted again, though this time from farther off. Two sets of hurried feet returned, pulling a cart that made a wop-wop sound against the uneven planks. The man who’d found me on the lake crouched beside me, pushing my hair from my face.

“Do you know who this is, Eamon?” my rescuer asked.

“Annie?” a different voice gasped. “Is that Annie?”

My rescuer cursed, as if the man named Eamon had confirmed something he hadn’t quite believed himself.

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