“It’s a monster!” Ruthie screamed. “One of those Scottish monsters, Miss Mercy, just like the stories we heard.”
“It’s nothing of the sort, Ruthie,” Mercy Rutherford said, trying to calm herself and, by extension, her maid.
Ruthie, however, was having none of it. She grabbed Mercy’s right arm with both hands and was practically atop her, straining to see out the window on the left side of the carriage.
It might not be a monster, but it was one of the oddest things she’d ever seen. A boat with wheels and a tail hanging from a massive sail. The most surprising and alarming thing was that the contraption was aloft like a giant misshapen bird and was now headed straight for them.
“I knew it, Miss Mercy. I knew it. Didn’t I tell you when I saw those three magpies that something terrible would happen?”
Ruthie saw omens in everything.
“If it isn’t a monster, Miss Mercy, then what is it?”
Mercy didn’t know. She’d never seen anything like it.
“Is it a dragon?”
That was as good a name as any.
“It’s going to hit us, Miss Mercy.”
It certainly appeared that way. Ruthie wasn’t the only one becoming agitated. The horses were screaming and the coachman Mercy had hired in Inverness was shouting, trying to control them.
She wanted to close her eyes and pretend to be asleep. In a moment she would awaken because the maid was at her bedside with the morning tray, complete with coffee, toast, and a rosebud from their greenhouse in a vase.
Her day would be like a thousand other days. “The jeweler is here with some new designs for you to see, Miss Mercy.” Or: “There’s a final fitting for your ball gown, Miss Mercy.” Or: “The cook has prepared some sweets for you. Shall I fetch them?”
Inconsequential details marking her life, one crafted to be without a care. One from which she’d escaped weeks ago.
Was she going to die because she wanted her freedom?
The carriage stopped, then lurched forward as the horses panicked. She truly couldn’t blame them, especially after she looked out the window again. The dragon was getting closer. At another time she might’ve marveled that something that looked nothing like a balloon was somehow managing to stay up in the air, but not right now when it was a very real danger.
If the horses continued to be uncontrollable they could end up off the road entirely and over one of those cliffs they’d passed earlier. Below them was a lake, or what the Scots called a loch. She didn’t think Ruthie could swim and she didn’t know about Mr. McAdams.
If screaming would do any good, she would join her voice to the horses and now Ruthie. It wouldn’t do for everyone to lose their minds. Someone had to remain calm.
The dragon was lower and closer now, directed by a man seated in the boat-like part of the craft.
“Turn,” she said. Of course he couldn’t hear her, but perhaps God could. “Make him turn.”
The man was still headed directly toward them.
Would anyone be able to convey the information that she’d perished to her parents? She’d written them a letter explaining this forbidden journey, but if she failed to return home would they be able to find out what had happened to her?
How odd that she’d never thought to die in Scotland.
Lennox Caitheart swore as he pulled one of the ropes controlling the tail of his airship. There wasn’t supposed to be a carriage in the road. There was never a carriage on this road.
The road was the unofficial boundary between his land and the Macrorys’ and he was careful never to venture on the other side of it.
Ben Uaine didn’t count. The mountain belonged to Scotland, not the Macrorys, although they’d claimed dominion over everything they saw.
No, the carriage shouldn’t have been there and now he was heading directly for it. The wind gusts had been exactly what he planned. He’d kept the air sock and pennant in place for weeks now, measuring the difference in the wind between the morning, afternoon, and evening.
One simple errant carriage might be the difference between his first true success and utter disaster.
If he tried to avoid them he would head straight for the loch, which wouldn’t be bad from a landing point of view, but he wouldn’t be able to retrieve his Cayley replica if he landed in the water. He aimed for the glen, just as he’d planned, and it would’ve been almost successful if the blasted carriage hadn’t been between him and his landing site.
Mercy began to pray. That’s what people did in the midst of a crisis, wasn’t it?
She wasn’t Roman Catholic like Ruthie. Nor did she have a rosary, but she no doubt sounded as panicked to the Almighty.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have embarked on such a foolish errand, God. But it was born out of compassion. Does that excuse me?
Probably not. Doing the right thing for the wrong reason was almost as bad as doing the wrong thing for the right reason. Either way, she didn’t doubt that God preferred two positives to a positive paired with a negative.
It truly had been an errand of compassion for her aunt and grandmother. They’d lived in North Carolina during the Civil War. Granted, she and her family had experienced war as well, but not as personally since they lived in New York. Their home hadn’t been razed. Their crops hadn’t been burned. They hadn’t been nearly starved for the past year.
When her father’s messenger returned from North Carolina with news that her grandmother and aunt were no longer there, Mercy thought her mother’s heart would break. The valise, filled with greenbacks, hadn’t been a lifeline after all. The messenger had reached North Carolina after her grandmother and aunt had left. They’d gone to Scotland where her grandmother had been born.
Mercy had decided to bring the money to Scotland, to ensure that her mother’s family was provided for just as her mother had intended. In all honesty, she would have found any reason to escape, but she never thought to be sitting in a carriage waiting for a man-made dragon to land on her.
He was almost atop them now, his descent muted beneath the sound of the screaming horses and Ruthie praying in her ear.
Suddenly, the roof of the carriage sounded as if it was being torn off. This time she did close her eyes, pulling her arm free of Ruthie’s grip to embrace the other woman. The maid had been with her since Mercy was seventeen, nearly eleven years now. If she must die in a strange land, then at least Ruthie was with her.
Scant comfort for both their families.
She hoped her mother would forgive her and that her father would understand.
The carriage lurched to the side as Ruthie prayed in her ear. She didn’t understand half of what the maid was saying because it seemed to be in Latin, but Ruthie never missed Mass. Perhaps God would look upon both of them favorably because of that. Mercy went to church every Sunday as well, but Presbyterians didn’t seem nearly as fervent.
With her left hand she reached up and grabbed the strap over the window, her right arm still around Ruthie. A horrible groaning noise was the last thing she heard before the carriage overturned.