7. The River
Anna followed Sultan through the woods and down to the river bank. Near the dock where
she stood to look out toward the sea not many days before, she saw a boat tied and rocking
softly, the chill night air stirring the tree branches all around them.
From high above she heard a call, the hoot of an owl, hunting in the moonlit woods. She
continued chanting in a low voice, moving her body as though dancing still, but she allowed him
to hand her into the boat and to wrap an oilskin cloak around her shoulders.
She grew quieter and sat very still while he pushed off, drew himself adroitly over the side
and took up the oars. How beautiful it all was, she whispered to herself, watching the sparkling
ripples falling away from the side of the boat in the moonlight. A strong tide was running out
toward the bay in the direction of the sailing ships she could see downriver, their lanterns strung
and bobbing in the masts.
One of the tall ships appeared closer than the others, and she also had more lanterns aloft, in addition to one lighting the cabin. The seagoing vessels would have been visible
even without their lanterns, standing as they did in bold outline against the water and the sky between the densely wooded riverbanks. The bright white glow of the full moon made it nearly as light as day.
Sultan pulled hard, and Anna kept her eyes on the three tall masts of the ship as they drew
nearer. The wind caught a corner of the cloak he had draped around her, lifting it high. She
reached out to recover it.
“Be right cool out here on the water,” he said, taking his hand off the oar for a moment to
draw out a dark colored cap from the pocket of his jacket. He pulled it on, grinned at her, and
returned to hauling mightily on the oars, bringing them nearer the ship. They moved speedily
and easily over the small waves, the boat running with the tide.
Anna sat stone still, staring at him. In an instant the fog lifted from her mind, and she could
see as clearly as though it was high no on and she had just awakened from refreshing sleep.
Every pore of her skin tingled, while her eyes widened in comprehension.
This was the same man who had peered down at her and Esther as they slept. This was
Dabinett’s man, and that was Dabinett’s brightly lighted ship they were heading for out there in
the river harbor, and closing fast.
She sized him up carefully. He was compact and strong, with heavy, thick thighs that would
bolster him when he fought, and his arms would be even better w
eapons. She could not win if she challenged him physically, and she had no illusions about being
able to talk him into turning back. She had to act, and quickly.
She bent down and put her head between her knees.
“Feelin’ pekid,” she said. “Maybe you slow up a little.”
Head bowed, she fumbled with the heavy leather shoe clasps running across the top of her
high instep, succeeded in loosening them, and slipped off her shoes.
He slacked the oars for a moment, and smiled at her as she straightened up again.
“I stand up a little while,” she said, the cloak slipping from her shoulders.
As he shook his head vehemently, forming the protesting “Nooooooooo” with his lips, she
balanced carefully, crouched to spring, raised her arms, and, arcing her body expertly, dove
headfirst into the cold inky water of the York River.
She heard his cry as she plunged, but she was on her way down, as far out and away from him
as the calculated projection of her dive could carry her. Her eyes opened on black underwater
dark, and she knew immediately that her principal challenges in getting away would be
orientation and the strength of the current, and that compared to these, the numbing chill of the
water was minor. But she also realized at once that she was in ocean-deep water, and that she
would have to maintain constant movement so as not to succumb to the frigid temperature. The
cold penetrated clear to the inside of her bones, rocking her with an aching jolt that surprised her
with its strength. She swam deep for a long pull and came up only when her lungs were close to
Breaking the surface, she cleared her eyes and blinked hard to note the position of the ship’s
lights, to be sure she was headed in the opposite direction.
She could not make out the shoreline, and thought she must first adjust her vision to the moonlight dancing in bright white pools on the water before she could orient herself. Too soon and far too near, she heard the splash of oars, and she dove again.
A determination born of desperation, and a kind of exhilaration that drove her to the outer
edge of her daring and courage, moved her forward, even as she felt herself beaten back by the
current one full stroke for her every two. She thought she might be able to find the edge of the
outdriving force, and swerved to swim diagonally for a time from her straight line, always in the
direction of where she thought the shore must be, though she found no abatement in the strength of the current. Soon she knew she would have to remain swimming on the surface to find her landfall, and if her pursuer came too close, she could always simply dive deep and away from