Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade

Page 33

Which meant two things: whoever had shot his father had known him well enough to be aware that he kept a journal and where it was—and whoever had done it was sufficiently well-known to the household that he had been able to enter the library and abstract the journal.

“Do you think he took it…before?” Percy asked. “Might that be why, do you think? That the murderer read the journal, saw that he was exposed—or about to be—and thus…”

Grey rubbed a hand over his face, the bristles of his sprouting beard rasping his palm, but shook his head.

“Even assuming that my father was foolish enough to write down such suspicions in plain language—and I assure you he was not—how could someone have read it? No one looked at his journals—not even my mother; she teased him about them—and he didn’t leave them lying about.”

Restless, he got out of bed and stood by the window, trying to remember. He was trying to reconstruct in his mind the library at their country house. They called it “the library” more by way of jest than anything else; it was a tiny, book-lined closet, lacking even a hearth, with barely room for a chair and a small writing desk. Not the sort of room in which his father would have entertained visitors.

“I do agree that it’s more likely that the man took the journal after the murder.” Percy rubbed absently at his shoulders, cold in spite of his woolen banyan. “A visitor—coming to leave his condolences? Might he not have found opportunity to abstract it then?”

Grey grappled with the notion. He was unwilling to relive the horrible days following his father’s death, but obliged perforce to recall them. The quiet, hurried arrangements, the low-voiced conversations, always suspended when he came in sight.

There had been a few visitors, friends who came to support the duchess in her grief, and a few of Hal’s particular friends—Harry, Harry Quarry had come, he recalled that. Who else? Robert Walpole, of course. He remembered the First Lord, gray-faced and ponderous, coming slowly up the walk, leaning on his secretary for support, the shadow of his own approaching death clear upon his face.

He closed his eyes, fingers pressed against the lids, trying to think. Faces flitted past, some with names, some strangers, all fractured by remembered shock. Bar Harry and Walpole, the only people he could recall with any clarity from that dreadful week were—

He dropped his hand, opening his eyes.

“It might not have been a visitor,” he said slowly.

Percy blinked, and pursed his lips.

“A servant?” he said, shocked at the idea. “Oh, no.”

Grey felt a coldness at the heart at the thought himself. The servants had all been with his parents for years, were trusted implicitly. To consider that one of them, someone who had shared the family’s house, the intimacies of its daily life, might all the while…

He shook himself, dismissing the idea.

“I can’t think anymore,” he said. “I can’t.” Tiredness pressed on his shoulders, and his neck ached with the weight of recalled sorrow and anger. His eyes were burning, and he leaned his forehead against the frozen windowpane, welcoming the cold pressure of it on his face. Dawn was coming up in the east; the ice-blurred glass glowed with a faint yellow light.

There was a rustle of bedclothes, and he felt Percy’s hands, warm on his shoulders. He resisted for a moment, but then let Percy pull him away from the window, hold him close, body to body.

“Don’t be sorry that you told me.” Percy spoke quietly in his ear. “Please.”

“No,” he murmured, not sure whether he was sorry or not. At the moment, he wished he had kept silent, only because to speak of it was to be forced to think of it again. He’d kept the secret buried for so long—he hadn’t realized that he had kept it buried in his own flesh, as well as his mind. His joints ached as though he was being slowly pulled apart.

“You’re cold; you’ll make yourself ill. Come to bed.”

He suffered Percy to put him to bed and draw the blankets up under his chin. He closed his eyes obediently when told to, and listened to the sounds of Percy stirring up the fire, adding wood, using the pot. Then opened them again when he heard Percy break the ice in the ewer and splash water into the tin he used to heat his shaving water.

“Where are you going?” he demanded. Percy turned from the hearth and smiled at him, hair standing on end, his face darkly rakish with its bristling beard.

“Some of us must work for a living, my dear,” he said. “And I have it on good authority that I shall be cashiered and broken—if not actually strung up by the thumbs and flogged—should I not appear promptly on the square with my companies in good order by nine of the clock.”

“That’s right—am I not inspecting your companies at nine o’clock?” Grey sat up, but Percy waved him back into the pillows.

“Given that the bells have just rung half six, and that you have nothing to do save shave, dress, and stroll in a leisurely fashion to the parade ground, I think you may take your ease for a bit.” Percy picked up his shaving mug and bent to peer into the tiny square of his looking glass, mouth half open in concentration as he applied the lather.

Grey lay slowly back, and watched him go about the business of shaving and dressing, neat and quick. A little of Percy’s warmth remained in the bedclothes; it thawed him, slowly, and he felt a great lassitude steal over him. His mind felt soggy, and tender, like a bruised fruit.

The room was still dark, dawn some way off. He could see Percy’s breath as he bent to pull on his boots, fastened the hooks of his coat.

Wig in place, Percy paused by the bedside, looking down at him.

“Do you think she knew? Who it was?”

“I’m sure she did not,” Grey said, with what firmness he could muster.

Percy nodded and bending, kissed him on the forehead.

“Try to sleep,” he said. “The bells will wake you.”

He left, closing the door gently behind him.

The warmth now enclosed Grey in a snug pocket, though the end of his nose was as cold as if he still pressed it against the windowpane. He was heavy-limbed, blanketed with the fatigue of a long day and a sleepless night—but he knew he would not sleep, bells or no.

He was going to have to talk to Jamie Fraser again.

Chapter 20

Ye Jacobites by Name


The Lake District

He spent as little time as politeness required with the Dunsanys, before discovering that he had left something he required in his saddlebag.

“No, no—I’ll fetch it. Won’t take a moment.” He stopped Lady Dunsany, her hand on the bell rope, and was out of the library before she could protest.

His heart beat faster as he approached the stable, but for once, it had little to do with the physical presence of Jamie Fraser.

Dinner had been served; the stable was filled with the peaceful sounds of chewing and the smell of fresh-broken hay. One or two of the horses lifted a head to look at him, wisps of hay straggling from the champing jaws, but for the most part, they ignored him, noses firmly planted in the mangers.

Fraser was at the far end of the stable, mucking out. The huge door there had been slid aside, and he was silhouetted against the pale light of the fading spring sky. He must have heard Grey’s footsteps on the brick floor, but didn’t break the rhythm of his work.

He stopped, though, and straightened when Grey came up to him. It was cold in the stable, but there was a sheen of moisture across his jaw, and the linen shirt clung to his shoulders. He smelled of clean sweat.

“Leaks,” Grey said abruptly. “You said ‘leaks.’”

Fraser rested the manure fork on its tines, wiped his face with a sleeve, and regarded him quizzically.

“I dinna recall having done so, Major, but I suppose it’s possible—I do ken the word.”

“When you spoke of the Stuart court at our last meeting,” Grey amplified. “You said, and I quote, ‘The Stuart court leaks like a sieve.’ I am convinced that you understand the niceties of English grammar sufficiently as to use the present tense correctly, Mr. Fraser.”

Fraser raised one thick red brow, though no expression of concern showed on his face. Grey sighed.

“It leaks like a sieve,” he repeated. “How do you know that it does, unless you are presently in contact with someone there?”

Fraser rubbed a finger under his nose, regarding him, then turned back to his work, shaking his head.

“Your brain’s like to burst, Major, and ye dinna give over thinking so much,” he said, not unkindly. He shoved the pitchfork under a mound of manure-matted straw and heaved the muck out through the open door. “Ye ken well enough that the terms of my parole dinna permit any such thing.”

That was quite true; Grey had written those terms, and Fraser had signed them. He recalled the occasion vividly; it was the first—but not the last—occasion on which he had been sure that only the presence of armed guards kept Fraser from breaking his neck.

It was apparent from the Scot’s ironic expression that he recalled the occasion, too.

“And if I wasna sufficiently honorable as to abide by those terms, Major,” he added evenly, “I should have been in France a week after setting foot in this place.”

Grey forbore to take issue with the notion of someone of Fraser’s striking appearance being able to travel the roads without being noticed, or to cross fifty miles of open fell on foot, without cloak, food, or shelter—not least because he was convinced that the man quite possibly could have done so.

“I would never suggest a breach of honor on your part, Mr. Fraser,” Grey said, and was mildly surprised to find that true. “I apologize if my question might have implied any such suggestion.”

Fraser blinked.

“Accepted, Major,” he said, a little gruffly. He paused, gripping the fork as though about to return to his work, but then the muscles of his shoulders relaxed.

“I said that the Stuart court leaks like a sieve, Major, because both King James and his son are still alive, and the same men still surround them. So far as I am in a position to know,” he added, with a glint of dry humor.

“You don’t think they’ve given up?” Grey asked curiously, choosing not to notice that “King James.” “Surely they have no hope—”

“No, they have nay hope, and no, they’ve not given up,” Fraser interrupted him, the dry note more pronounced. “They’re Scots, for all they live their lives in the shadow of St. Peter’s. They’ll cease plotting when they’re dead.”

“I see.” He did. Eighteen months as governor of Ardsmuir was enough to have given him a useful estimation of the Scottish character. The Emperor Hadrian had known what he was about, he thought; pity later rulers of England had been less prudent.

With that thought in mind, he chose his words carefully.

“May I ask you a question, Mr. Fraser?”

“I see no way to stop ye, Major.” But there was no rancor in Fraser’s voice, and the light in his eye was the same that appeared when they played chess. Wariness, interest—and readiness.

“If I were to release you explicitly from that provision of your parole—and were to forward any letter you cared to send, wherever you chose to send it, without question—would you be able to contact someone who would know the names of prominent Jacobites in England? It would have been someone active in 1741.”

He’d never seen Fraser drop-jawed, and didn’t now, but the Scot plainly couldn’t have been more taken aback had Grey suddenly kissed him on the mouth.

“That—” he began, then broke off and shook his head. “Do you—” He paused again, so patently appalled at the suggestion that words failed him.

“Do I know what I ask? Yes, I do, and I am sorry for it.” Silence hung between them for a moment, broken by the champing of horses and the call of an early lark in the meadow beyond the stable.

“Please believe that I would not seek to make use of you in this fashion, were there any other choice,” Grey said quietly.

Fraser stared at him for a moment, then pushed the fork into the heap of soggy straw, turned, and went out. He walked off into the growing dusk, to the paddock, and there stood, his back turned to Grey, gripping the upper rail of the fence as though trying to reestablish his grip on reality.

Grey didn’t blame him. He felt completely unreal himself.

“Why?” Fraser asked bluntly, turning round at last.

“For my father’s honor.”

Fraser was silent for a moment.

“Do ye describe my own present situation as honorable, sir?”


Fraser cast him an angry glance.

“Defeat—aye, that’s honorable enough, if nothing to be sought. But I am not merely defeated, not only imprisoned by right of conquest. I am exiled, and made slave to an English lord, forced to do the will of my captors.

“And each day, I rise with the thought of my perished brothers, my men taken from my care and thrown to the mercies of sea and savages—and I lay myself down at night knowing that I am preserved from death only by the accident that my body rouses your unholy lust.”

Grey’s face was numb; he could not feel his lips move, and was surprised to hear the words come clearly nonetheless.

“It was never my intent to bring you dishonor.”

He could see the Scot check his rising anger, with an effort of will.

“No, I dinna suppose that it was,” he replied evenly.

“I don’t suppose you wish to kill me?” Grey asked, as lightly as possible. “That would solve my immediate dilemma—and if you dislike your life as much as you appear to, the process would relieve you of that burden, as well. Two birds with one stone.”

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