As promised, this week I have an excerpt from The Flowers of Time for you. Set in the 1780s, in England and Northern India, the main characters are Jones, a non-binary archaeologist who has lived in the mountains for most of her life, and Edith, who is a botanical illustrator.
If Pater hadn’t made Jones promises to leave straight after the funeral, she wouldn’t have gone at all.
“You promise?” he’d asked, again and again as his strength waned in the flicker of the butter-lamps. “You promise you’ll go, Frank? You need to get away. Take the green-bound book and go.”
“Yes, Pater,” she had reiterated again and again. “I promise. I’ll go. I’ll go straight down to Bombay, to John and Richard. And I’ll take ship as soon as I can. You’ve already written to Aunt Caroline, I sent the letter myself. I’m ready.”
She had been sniveling to herself as she spoke, hoping he wouldn’t notice how distressed she was in the dim light. She didn’t want to be having this conversation at all. He looked yellow-faced and sunken-cheeked even in the daylight and in the flickering light of the dim lamps at night it was worse. He was already corpse-like.
He moved a thin, clawed hand to cover hers. “My dear, I love you so much. I have perhaps done you a disservice by not sending you home to Caro before now, when you were younger.”
“I didn’t want to go,” she said, roughly. “It’s all right, Pater. I’m all right. I’ll go, as soon as is possible.”
“I should never have kept you out here, once I realized that the book has some truth behind it,” he said. He had been rambling a little about his books in the last week or so, as he had become weaker. “You must take it back with you. And put it in the library at Stamford Hall. That’s where it came from. Put it in the library, up high, on one of the top shelves to the left of the arched window. Use the ladders. And then it will be safe.” He drew a rattling breath. “Promise me, Frank.”
She turned her hand over beneath the fragile skin of his own on the counterpane and clasped it carefully. “I promise, Pater.”
“And don’t do what I did,” he added in a harsh whisper. “Don’t search for the source. All these years,” he said, “All these years I have been following the trail, looking for the source. And now, here we are. And it’s not a source for good, my child. It’s not a source for good at all.” He was lapsing in to rambling again. “I want you away, Frank. I want you and the book safe.” Finally he slipped in to the restless sleep that was consuming more and more of his time. She bent her head over his hand as she clutched it. He was the only family she had ever known and she was terrified to lose him.
“It won’t be long now.” The soft voice of one of the older monastery healers came from behind her in the slow Bhoti they used with her. “But you know that.”
She turned slowly on her stool, not letting go of her father’s hand, and nodded. “Yes. I know. Thank you, Jamyang. I do appreciate everything you are doing for us.” Kalsang was behind him, she noticed, his apprentice and shadow. “Thank you for helping him wash earlier, Kalsang.”
“You are most welcome, Jones.” Kalsang nodded with all the formality a teenager could muster.
“He wants me to go home. To England. To my aunt.” She swallowed and looked up. “It’s all arranged. He’s written. Sonam will take me down to Bombay.” She heard Kalsang’s indrawn breath of shock. Bombay was months of travel away. She had only been once herself, about fifteen years ago, when Pater had made the trip to take some artifacts down to send home.
“Will you come back?” Jamyang’s voice was unchanged, still calm and unshocked.
She met his gaze. “Yes. Yes. He wants me to stay in England a year. So I can learn where I come from.” She disengaged her hand gently, not waking her father, and stood. “He’s right, in a way. I should know. But my home is here. And my work is here. His work. It’s so important the people at home in England learn about the wonderful things here in the mountains. There are buildings and people here that people in England never even imagine. Things so old, so precious! I want to keep documenting it all, keep exploring.”
Jamyang watched her, with a small smile and then patted her arm. “You are a good person, Jones,” he said. “You are your father’s child. Franklin has been my friend for decades now, since you first came here when you were a tiny child after your mother died.” He stepped forward and took her hand. “We will welcome you back when you come, child. You will always have a home here with us. But do as your father wishes, now. Take the book he speaks of back to England. And leave it there. He has protected you from it for this long. Now, your protection must rest on your own shoulders.”
Next week, my monthly ‘what I’ve been reading in July’ roundup!