The Scottish Prisoner

Page 19

Fraser disappeared into the privy closet with a firm shutting of the door; Grey took advantage of the sound to walk quietly up behind Twelvetrees, who was glaring at the closed door, evidently waiting for Fraser to come out and face further interrogation. Grey tapped Twelvetrees on the shoulder, and was immensely gratified when the man gave a cry of alarm and flung himself round, hands raised.

“I am so sorry to startle you, sir,” he said, with extreme politeness. “Did I hear you asking after me?”

Twelvetrees’s startlement changed in an instant to rage, and his hand slapped his side, reaching for the sword he fortunately wasn’t wearing.

“You bloody meddler!”

Grey felt blood swell in his temples, but kept his voice light and civil.

“If you have business with me, sir, I suggest that you speak to me directly, rather than seek to harass my friends.”

Twelvetrees’s lip curled, but he’d got control of himself.

“Friends,” he repeated, in a tone indicating astonishment that Grey should think he had any. “I suppose I should not be amazed that you make a friend of traitors. But I wonder, sir, that you should so far forget yourself as to bring such a man as that into this place.”

Grey’s heart had given a bump at the word “traitors,” but he replied coolly, “You are fortunate that you did not use that word to the gentleman in question. While I take the liberty of offense on his behalf, he might be inclined to take action, whereas I would not sully my sword with your blood.”

Twelvetrees’s eyes grew brighter and blacker.

“Wouldn’t you?” he said, and gave a short laugh. “Believe me, sir, I await your pleasure. In the meantime, I shall complain to the Committee regarding your choice of guests.”

He shouldered his way past Grey, pushing him roughly aside, and walked down the hallway to the back stair, head held high.

Grey made his way back toward the dining-room, wondering how the devil Twelvetrees happened to know Jamie Fraser. But perhaps he didn’t, he thought. If he’d inquired Fraser’s name, Fraser would have told him it, as well as informing him that he was Grey’s guest. And he supposed it wasn’t beyond the stretch of reason that Twelvetrees should recall Fraser’s name from the Rising—particularly when linked with his Scottish accent.

Yes, that might be mere chance. He was somewhat more concerned that Twelvetrees had exhibited interest in his own actions—and that Twelvetrees had called him a meddler. Meddling in what? Surely Twelvetrees couldn’t know that he appeared in Carruthers’s document, let alone that the Greys were in pursuit of Gerald Siverly. He hesitated for a moment, but this was not the time nor the place to speak with Twelvetrees. He shrugged and went back to von Namtzen.

“I HAVE BROUGHT a … gentleman of my acquaintance,” the graf was saying, with a half-apologetic glance at Grey. “Since you tell me it is a matter of Irish.” Lowering his voice, he said in rapid German, “I have of course said nothing to him of your matter; only that there is a poem written in his tongue and you want to know if the translation you have is accurate.”

Jamie had neither spoken nor heard German in many years but was reasonably sure he’d gathered the sense of this correctly. He tried to recall whether he had ever told Grey that German was among his languages—he didn’t think so, and Grey didn’t glance at him when von Namtzen spoke but replied in the same language, thanking the German. Grey called him “Du,” Jamie noticed, using the familiar form of address—but he could have seen easily that the graf was an intimate friend by the way in which he touched Grey’s sleeve.

He supposed it was reasonable that the Greys would want to check his translation of the poem—he’d told them that the Gaidhlig and the Gaeilge were different and that he did not certify his translation as completely accurate, though he could give them the overall sense of what it said. Still, there was the one small thing that he had deliberately omitted, and it gave him a minor qualm. If the graf had brought an Irish-speaker to give a new translation, the line about the Wild Hunt strewing white roses to mark the victorious path of their queen was sure to show up in contrast to his version, which had merely mentioned the faeries strewing roses.

He’d recognized it as a coded Jacobite document at once; he’d seen any number of such things during his spying days in Paris. But having no idea who had written it or what the code said, he had chosen not to mention that aspect; if there were hidden Jacobites operating in Ireland—and Tobias Quinn had told him there were—it was not his business to expose them to the interest of the English. But if—

His thoughts stopped abruptly as he followed the graf and Grey into the private room, and the gentleman already there rose to greet them.

He wasn’t shocked. Or rather, he thought, it was simply that he didn’t believe what he was seeing. Whichever it was, he took Thomas Lally’s proffered hand with a feeling of total calm.

“Broch Tuarach,” Lally said, in that clipped way of his, formal as a topiary bush at Versailles.

“Monsieur le Comte,” Jamie said, shaking Lally’s hand. “Comment ça va?”

Thomas Lally had been one of Charles Stuart’s aides-decamp. Half Irish and born in Ireland but half French, he had fled Scotland after Falkirk and promptly taken up a commission with the French army, where he had been courageous but unpopular.

How the devil did he come to be here?

Jamie hadn’t voiced that thought, but it must have shown on his face, for Lally smiled sourly.

“I am, like you, a prisoner of the English,” he said in French. “I was captured at Pondicherry. Though my captors are sufficiently generous as to maintain my parole in London.”

“Ah, I see you are acquainted,” said von Namtzen, who undoubtedly spoke French fluently but diplomatically pretended that he didn’t. He beamed cordially. “How nice! Shall we eat first?”

They did, enjoying a solid dinner in the English style—Lally ate his way ravenously through three courses, and Jamie thought that while the English might be maintaining him, they weren’t doing it lavishly. Lally was twenty years Jamie’s senior but looked even older, deeply weathered from the Indian sun and half toothless, with hollowed cheeks that made his prominent nose and chin even more prominent than they would otherwise be and a deeply furrowed brow that gave him an air of suppressed fury rather than worry. He didn’t wear a uniform, and his suit was old-fashioned, very worn at cuff and elbow, though his linen was clean.

In the course of the meal, Jamie learned that Lally’s case was somewhat more complicated than his own: while the Comte de Lally was a prisoner of the English Crown, the French had charged him with treason, and Lally was agitating to be returned to France on parole, demanding a court martial there, by which he might clear his name.

The graf did not say so, but Jamie got the impression that von Namtzen had promised to put in a good word for Lally in this endeavor and thus secured his presence and—presumably—his cooperation.

He was aware that Lally was studying him as closely as he was observing Lally—and doubtless for the same reasons, wondering just what Jamie’s relations were with his captors, and what was the nature of his cooperation with them.

The conversation over dinner was general in nature and conducted mostly in English. It was not until the table had been cleared and a copy of the Wild Hunt poem produced by Grey that Jamie heard Lally speak Irish, holding the sheet of paper at arm’s length and reading it slowly aloud.

It gave him an odd feeling. He hadn’t heard or spoken the Gàidhlig in many years, save in the privacy of his own mind, and hearing words with such a homely, familiar sound made him momentarily feel that he might weep. He swallowed, though, and the moment passed.

“Herr Graf tells me that you’ve done a translation of this,” Lally said, putting down the paper and looking sharply at Jamie. “An bhfuil Gaeilge agat?” Do you have the Irish, then?

Jamie shook his head. “Chan-eil. Ach tuigidh mi gu leor dha na faclan. Bheil thu g’am thuigsinn sa?” he said in Gàidhlig. No, though I could make out many of the words. Do you understand me?

Lally smiled, his harsh expression softening wonderfully, and Jamie thought that it was long since that Lally had heard anything like the language of his birth.

“Your tongue blooms with flowers,” Lally said—or Jamie thought that was what he said, and smiled back.

“You understand each the other’s tongue?” von Namtzen said, interested. “It sounds very much the same to me.”

“It’s … rather like an Italian speaking wi’ a Spaniard,” Jamie said, still smiling at Lally. “But we might make shift.”

“I should be very grateful for your assistance in this matter, Monsieur le Comte,” Grey said formally. “As would my brother.”

Oh, so that’s it, Jamie thought. Pardloe would put his not inconsiderable influence to work on Lally’s behalf, in return for this. The English might get an accurate translation after all. Or maybe not, he thought, seeing Lally’s polite smile in return.

Ink, paper, and quill were brought, and the graf and Grey retired to the far side of the room, talking commonplaces in German, in order to leave Lally to his work. He read the poem through two or three times, asking Jamie brief questions, and then took up his quill.

They spoke mostly in English but dropped more and more into their respective forms of Gaelic, heads together—and eyes on the sheet, conscious of the presence of John Grey watching them.

“Did you leave out anything machnaigh?” Lally asked casually.

Jamie struggled with machnaigh but thought it meant “deliberately.”

“Se an fhirinn a bh-agam. Ach a’ seo—” I spoke faithfully. But here … He put his finger on the line about the white roses. “Bha e … goirid.” I spoke … short.

Lally’s eyes flicked to his, then back to the sheet, but the comte didn’t change expression.

“Yes, I think you were right about that one,” he said casually in English. He took a fresh sheet of paper, pulled another quill from the jar, and handed it to Jamie. “Here. Write down your translation. That will make it easier.”

It took some time; they conferred over the sheets, Lally stabbing at Jamie’s translation with his quill and leaving ink blots on the page as he asked questions—sometimes in Irish, sometimes in French or English—then scribbling on his own sheet, crossing things out and adding notes in the margin. No mention of white roses.

At last, though, he made a clean copy, writing slowly—he had rheumatism badly in his hands; his knuckles were knobbed and his fingers twisted with it—and gave this to Lord John.

“There you are, my lord,” he said, and leaned back, groaning a little. “I hope it may be of help in whatever your venture may be.”

“I thank you,” Grey said, scanning the sheet. He looked up at Lally, one brow raised. “If you would be so kind, Monsieur—have you ever seen a thing like this before?”

“Oh—often, my lord.” Lally looked surprised. “Though not written down. It is a common thing in Ireland, though—tales like that.”

“You have not seen it in any other context?”

Lally shook his head, definite.

“No, my lord.”

Grey sighed and folded the sheet carefully into his pocket, thanking Lally once again, and, with a brief glance at Jamie, rose to leave.

The day was fine, and they walked back to Argus House. Grey had decided, upon reflection, to make no reference to Edward Twelvetrees—not until he’d spoken to Hal. They therefore spoke very little, but as they reached the Alexandra Gate, Grey turned and said to Jamie, seriously, “Do you think he made a fair translation?”

“I am quite sure he did it to the best of his ability, my lord.”


By Darkness Met

JAMIE ROUSED ABRUPTLY AND SAT UP IN BED, HAND GOING automatically beneath his pillow for his dirk before his mind made sense of where he was. The door closed almost silently, and he was on the verge of diving out of bed, ready to throw himself at the intruder’s legs, but he smelled perfume and stopped short, completely bewildered, tangled between thoughts of prison, Jared’s house in Paris, inn rooms, Claire’s bed … but Claire had never worn a scent like that.

The woman’s weight pressed down the mattress beside him, and a hand touched his arm. A light touch, and he felt the hairs bristle in response.

“Forgive me for calling upon you so unceremoniously,” the duchess said, and he could hear the humor in her low voice. “I thought it better to be discreet.”

“Ye think this is discreet?” he said, barely remembering to lower his own voice. “Holy God!”

“You would prefer that I pretend to encounter you by accident at a Punch and Judy show in the park?” she asked, and his heart nearly stopped. “I doubt we should have enough time.”

His heart was still pounding like a drum, but he’d got control of his breath, at least.

“A long story, is it?” he asked, as evenly as possible. “Perhaps ye’d be more comfortable sitting in the chair, then.”

She rose, with a small sound that might have been amusement, and he heard the muffled scrape of chair legs over the Turkey carpet. He took advantage of her movement to get out of bed—talk of being taken at a disadvantage—and sit down in the window seat, tucking the nightshirt primly round his legs.

What had she meant by that remark about the Punch and Judy show? Had his encounter with Quinn been noticed and reported? Or was it merely a chance remark?

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