A warm flickering light filled Cig's eyes when she opened them. A heavy quilt covered her, and her boots had been pulled off. Burning cherry wood filled the room with a warm fragrance.
"Here." The pretty woman whom she had surprised in the summer kitchen helped her sit up and handed her hot cider.
"Thank you." A few gulps reminded her that she hadn't eaten in hours. "I'm sorry to trouble you."
"Don't you recognize me?" The green eyes beckoned.
"No." Cig closed her eyes for a second. "Your voice sounds familiar."
"A hot meal will enliven your wits." The young woman had a small pot warming in the fireplace. She ladled out some porridge into a smooth wooden bowl and cut off a large slice of moist cornbread, placing a big square of fresh home-churned butter next to it.
Cig stood up. Her knees shook and buckled under her.
"Pryor!" The woman quickly put her hands under Cig's armpits and with surprising strength hauled her to her feet. "Here, let me help you to the table." Alarm registered on her even features.
Cig felt like an overlarge toddler as she was assisted to a small, beautifully crafted table. She sank into a graceful, simple chair.
The woman smiled, buttered the slice of cornbread. With trembling hands Cig managed to get the food into her mouth. She felt better.
"This is the most delicious cornbread and butter I've ever tasted."
"Should be. It's your mother's recipe."
"My mother's been dead for years." Cig blinked.
"See there, you remember your mother. A fine woman she was. You and Tom strongly take after her."
Cig ate, needing the sustenance to settle her nerves as much as her body.
"Hunger is the best spice." The woman brought her more food.
Cig wobbled up. "My horse."
The woman gently pushed her back into the finely made wooden chair. "He's in the stable getting acquainted with Helen, Castor, and Pollux. They have much to discuss."
"Thank you." Cig, relieved, reached for the bowl of porridge.
"Once you're yourself again you'll have to tell us where you bought such a handsome animal. That's the finest horse in Virginia, better than Governor Nicholson's or Daniel Boothrod's horses. And you know what popinjays they are."
Cig didn't recognize the governor's name. She let it pass. "I bred him myself."
"Ah--the Deyhle gift with horses. Tom is hoping to breed someday but there's so much to do, and we're shorthanded. Times are changing so, Pryor. Your father brought over two indentured servants and their term soon expires. Slaves are exorbitantly expensive and Tom says they're still heathens."
Cig blinked then chose to ignore what seemed like rant. "I apologize for the trouble I've caused you. I don't know what happened to me. I feel fine--honestly. I can sleep in the stable with Full Throttle. Wouldn't be the first time." She looked out the windows at the night, her smile revealing her dazzling teeth. "If you point me in the right direction I'll be off at first light."
"Off where?" The young woman asked, her brows knitting together.
"This is home."
Cig's lower lip jutted out. "Please, I don't mean to be rude, but my home is upriver in Nelson County."
A flicker of bewilderment crossed the pretty face. "You're at Buckingham." As Cig didn't respond the young woman continued, "The land granted your mother's father in 1619. You're home at Buckingham."
"Buckingham?" Cig's mind spun like a kaleidoscope. Nothing held long enough for her to focus. Cig's mother carried Buckingham blood. "And what is your last name?"
"The same as yours." The young woman wanted to laugh. "Deyhle."
"What is your first name?"
The woman impulsively hugged Pryor. "Poor dear." She patted her on the back then released her. "Things will come back to you. In time. The familiar things will bring you home--really home. My name is Margaret and I married your twin brother June eighth, 1697."
The blood drained from Cig's face. "What year do you think it is?"
"The year of our Lord sixteen hundred and ninety-nine. November third, and just think, Pryor, it will soon be a new century. The eighteenth century. I can scarcely believe it."
Cig could scarcely believe it either. One of them was nutty as a fruitcake.
"1699--Margaret?" She half-whispered.
"Indeed." Margaret shook her head, the glossy curls spilling out from under her mobcap.
"It's 1995," Cig stated firmly.
Margaret appeared solemn for a moment then squeezed Pryor's arm. "You always were one for japes. If it were, what, 1995, I'd be dead and as you can see I am very much alive."
"Maybe I'm dead?" A cold claw of fear tore at Cig's entrails.
Margaret laughed as she thought Cig was joking. "Dead tired is what you are. The voyage from England alone would be enough to make me forget my name. And your ride fatigued you. You'll wake up tomorrow and all will be well."
"He and Bobby are feeding the stock."
"Margaret, I'll sleep in the stable with my horse."
"Nonsense," Margaret replied.
Cig wanted to shake Margaret to make her stop this charade. She counted to ten. Her limbs felt like lead. She meekly followed Margaret upstairs and crawled on the bed. "One more question. Are we rich?"
"Lord, no," Margaret roared.
"At least that's consistent," Cig wryly replied.
"You're home in your own bed now. Sweet dreams."
Cig, eyelids heavy, mumbled, "You don't have a telephone, do you?" She was asleep almost before she finished her sentence.
Margaret blew out the candle, stared at her sleeping sister-in-law then softly left the room, praying under her breath, "Thank you, Lord, for delivering our Pryor to us in this time of need."
Copyright © 1997 by Rita Mae Brown. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.