Outside Edinburgh, Scotland, 1734
“It isn’t fair!” Fourteen-year-old Aodhagán Dougal’s shout rattled the ancient timbers of the great hall of his home. His wide shoulders and long legs displayed the promise of the man he would become as he paced restlessly before the meager coal fire in the enormous fireplace.
Mairead Dougal, his mother, glanced up from the book she was poring over and shook her head in disapproval. “Learn to control your ill humors, if you please. The rafters cannot tolerate your temper tantrums, my boy.”
Disgruntled, the tall, black-haired lad gazed at the dust sifting from the distant ceiling. He visibly relaxed taut shoulders and took a breath before speaking again, this time more calmly, in the deep voice he’d so recently grown into. “If I cannot go to school with the other boys, then I want to go to India.”
“You are too young to go to India,” she said in the same even tone. “You have books here to study. The vicar will help you with your Latin.”
“My knowing Latin will not repair the roof!” he shouted. This time, the coal in the bucket vibrated. Glaring, he returned to pacing the hearth, and the rattling halted. “Go to India with me. The doctor said warmth is better for your lungs.”
She smiled benignly. “My place is here, and so is yours. The hills provide the coal we need for warmth and the food we need for the table. If you would learn to harness your passion toward more productive purposes, the roof would not crumble so quickly.”
“I do not cause the roof to crumble!” He shook his fist at the ancient timbers. “It is old and decrepit, and the stones need mortar. I cannot dig enough coal to heat this place. I read that in India, there are rubies and emeralds to be found for the looking. I can find them, just like I find the coal. There is an East India ship in port this week. I could book passage with them.”
Mairead’s broad forehead developed a small line of worry. “Your place is here, my son, on this land where your grandmother’s grandmother grew up. It is your heritage. I wish that your grandmother had lived to share her knowledge with you, but I am trying to learn enough to control your gift. Give me time. Learn from my mistakes. You cannot run away from what you are.”
“I am a great clumsy ox with a gift for breaking things,” he cried, storming toward the door. “I am not fit for civilized society.” He repeated what his teacher had said after he’d broken a valuable lamp with his temper. “I am man enough to make my own way in the world.”
He slammed out the timbered door, and the wind sighed down the chimney, shaking the hall’s old stones.
A moment later, the door opened again. “I am sorry, Mama. I will fetch some more coal.” With the calm assurance he’d been taught from a very early age, Aodhagán closed the door more gently this time.
“How can I teach him what he won’t believe?” Mairead muttered to the wind whispering through the tapestries.
A tear of frustration and despair hit the book Mairead was studying. It would do no good to teach her son of his heritage until she could find the woman with whom he needed to share it.
Somerset, England, 1737
“No one else wanted the child, Martha. I believe she was sent to us by God in answer to our prayers.”
Clutching the book in her arms, Morwenna Morgan ducked her nine-year-old head. She couldn’t expect strangers to love her when she was so unlovable that even her own father wouldn’t claim her. The only person who had ever loved her had died so horribly, so suddenly, that she still could not allow her mind to dwell on it. She sniffed back a tear, refusing to let it fall.
“She’s such a lovely child, John!” The plump woman standing in the dark vicarage parlor touched a hand to the wild auburn frizz of Morwenna’s hair. “If we brush out all these curls and braid them, she’ll look like a proper little princess. May we call you Mora, dear?”
Your name is Morwenna. Never forget it. I am here if you need me.
“Mama?” Morwenna lifted her head and looked around, hope and love filling her eyes. “Where are you, Mama?”
The plump woman looked doubtfully at the gray-haired man who’d rescued the orphan in Wales and brought her all the way back to Somerset.
The vicar shook his head. “It was a very rural, superstitious community. They thought her mother was a witch. The fire that killed her may have affected the child’s mind a little, but she’ll be fine once she’s been here a while.”
“I suppose, if Mora resembles her mother. . .”
The vicar finished the thought for her. “She was beautiful, and made herbal remedies, yes. It’s an old and sorry tale of jealousy and superstition. Mora will be better off here with us, where we can give her a good education and upbringing.”
The vicar’s wife nodded in firm agreement and asked sympathetically, “Would you like a big glass of milk and some biscuits, dear?”
“I want my mama,” Morwenna replied, tears finally spilling down her cheeks. “She’s here. I heard her.”
The woman smiled and patted her shoulder. “That’s just your imagination you hear, darling, but your mama will always be in your heart.”
Her mama wasn’t in her heart; she was in her head.
Clutching her mother’s most precious book, Morwenna didn’t want the voice she’d heard to be her imagination. The voice was all she had of her mother besides the book, and she meant to keep it.