Captain Honey saw him coming and met him halfway. Honey was young, perhaps in his early twenties, and much paler than either of the combatants.
“Joseph Honey, your servant, sir,” he said, offering his hand. “I—I am not sure what to say, really.”
“That makes the two of us,” Jamie assured him. “I take it Captain Twelvetrees doesna intend to withdraw his assertion that Lord John is a sodomite?”
The word made Captain Honey blush, and he looked down.
“Er … no. And I quite understand that your principal will not brook the insult?”
“Certainly not,” Jamie said. “Ye wouldna expect it, would ye?”
“Oh, no!” Honey looked aghast at the suggestion. “But I did have to ask.” He swallowed. “Well. Um … terms. Sabers—I see your principal is suitably equipped; I’d brought an extra, just in case. At ten—oh, no, you don’t do paces when it’s swords, naturally not … er … Will your principal agree to first blood?”
Jamie smiled, but not in a friendly fashion.
“Worth a try, isn’t it?” Honey rallied bravely, looking up at Jamie. “If Lord John would be willing—”
“He is not.”
Honey nodded, looking unhappy.
“Right. Well, then … there’s not much more to say, is there?” He bowed to Jamie and turned away, but then turned back. “Oh—we have brought a surgeon. He is of course at Lord John’s service, should that be necessary.”
Jamie saw Honey’s eyes travel past him, and he glanced over his shoulder to see Lord John, stripped to shirt and breeches, barefoot on the wet grass, warming his muscles with a series of slashes and lunges that, while not showy, clearly indicated that he knew how to use a saber. Honey exhaled audibly.
“I dinna think ye’ll have to fight him,” Jamie said gently. He looked toward the trees and saw Twelvetrees openly gauging him. Eyes meeting the other man’s, Jamie very slowly stretched himself, displaying both reach and confidence. Twelvetrees’s mouth quirked up at one corner, acknowledging the information—but in no way disturbed at the possibilities. Either he thought there was no chance of his having to fight Jamie—or he thought he could win if he did. Jamie inclined his head in a slight bow.
Grey had turned his back on Twelvetrees and was tossing the sword lightly from hand to hand.
The weight of the saber felt good in his hand, solid, heavy. The freshly sharpened edge glittered in the light; he could still smell the oil of the sharpening stone; it made the hairs prickle agreeably down his arms.
Jamie walked back, to find that Harry Quarry had joined Lord John and Tom Byrd. The colonel nodded at him.
“Couldn’t stay away,” he said, half-apologetically.
“Ye mean His Grace doesna quite trust me to give him a complete report of the outcome—should that be necessary?”
“Partly that. Mostly—dammit, he’s my friend.”
Grey had barely registered Harry’s arrival, absorbed as he was in his own preparations, but he heard that and smiled.
“Thank you, Harry.” He walked to his supporters, suffused with a sudden overwhelming affection for the three of them. The lines of the old folk song drifted through his mind: God send each noble man at his end / Such hawks, such hounds, and such a friend. He wondered briefly which was which and decided that Tom must be his faithful hound, Harry of course the friend, and Jamie Fraser his hawk, untamed and ferocious but there with him at the last—if that’s what it was, though in all honesty he thought not.
I can feel my heart beating. Feel my breath. How can it stop?
Harry reached out and clasped his hand quickly. He smiled reassuringly at Tom, who was standing there clutching his coat, waistcoat, and stockings, looking as though he might faint. Some unspoken signal ran among the men, and the opponents walked out to face each other.
Wet grass feels wonderful, cold, fresh. Bastard’s been up all night, his eyes are red. He does look like a ferret—or a badger—without his wig. Should have polled my hair, but what the hell, too late now …
His saber touched Twelvetrees’s sword with a tiny chime of metal, and electricity ran smoothly up his back and over him, out to the tips of his fingers. He took a harder grip.
“Go,” said Captain Honey, and sprang back out of the way.
Jamie could see at a glance that both men were excellent swordsmen. Neither one was concerned with showing away, though; this was deadly business, and they set about each other with a concentrated ferocity, seeking advantage. A flock of doves erupted out of the trees in an uproar of wings, frightened by the noise.
It couldn’t last long. Jamie knew that. Most sword fights were decided in a matter of minutes, and no one could keep up such effort with a heavy saber for much more than a quarter hour. Yet he felt as though it had already lasted much longer. Sweat crawled down his back, in spite of the cool morning.
He was so attuned to the fight that he felt his own muscles twitch, echoing the surge, the lunge, the gasp and grunt of effort, and his hands were clenched at his sides, clenched so hard that the knuckles and joints of his bad hand popped and grated.
Grey knew what he was about; he’d got a knee between Twelvetrees’s thighs and a hand behind the other man’s neck, his sword hand held out of the way as he grappled to bring Twelvetrees’s head down. Twelvetrees was no novice, either, though, and pushed forward into Grey’s hold rather than pulling back. Grey staggered, off balance for an instant, and Twelvetrees broke loose and leapt back with a loud cry, swiping at Grey.
Grey dodged back, too, but not quickly enough, and Jamie heard a strangled cry of protest from his own throat as a line of red opened as if by magic across the top of Grey’s leg, followed by a rapid curtain of blood crawling down the cloth of his breeches.
Grey lunged, disregarding—or not noticing—the injury, and though his hurt leg gave way and he fell to one knee, he caught Twelvetrees a ringing blow with the flat of his saber, over the left ear. Twelvetrees staggered, shaking his head, and Grey got laboriously to his feet and lunged, missing his aim and slicing through the meat of Twelvetrees’s arm.
Got you. Bastard. Got you!
“Pity it’s not his sword arm,” muttered Quarry. “That would end it.”
“Nothing will end this but death,” said Captain Honey. The young man was white to the lips, and Jamie wondered briefly if he’d ever seen a man killed before.
Twelvetrees fell back, opening himself, and Grey rushed him, realizing too late that it was a trap; Twelvetrees brought the pommel of his sword down in a vicious thunk on Grey’s head, half-stunning him. Grey dropped his sword and lurched forward into Twelvetrees, though, flung his arms about the other man’s body, and fell back onto his good leg, lifting Twelvetrees over his hip and slamming him to the ground.
Take that, arse-wipe! Christ, my ears are ringing, damn you … damn …
“Oh, very pretty, sir, very pretty!” cried Dr. Hunter, beating his hands enthusiastically. “Did you ever see a more beautiful cross-buttock throw?”
“Well, not in a duel, no,” Quarry said, blinking.
Grey stood, mouth open and chest heaving. He picked up his saber, half-leaning on it as he fought for breath. Wisps of hair clung wetly to his face, and rivulets of blood coursed slowly down his cheek and his bare calf.
“Do you … yield, sir?” he said.
Come on, come on! Get up, let’s finish it! Hurry!
Twelvetrees, winded from the fall, did not reply but, after a moment, succeeded in rolling over, slowly managing to get to his knees. He crawled to his fallen sword, picked it up, and got slowly to his feet, but in such a manner of deliberate menace as made his answer clear.
Grey got his own sword up in time, and the sabers met with a sliding clash that locked their hilts. Without hesitation, Grey punched Twelvetrees in the face with his free hand. Twelvetrees grabbed at Grey’s head, caught his clubbed hair, and yanked hard, pulling Grey off balance. His arm was weakened by the cut, though, spattering blood, and he could not keep his grip—Grey got his saber loose and hacked viciously at the other’s body with a loud grunt.
Jamie winced, hearing Twelvetrees’s hoarse cry and feeling that blow go home. He had a curving scar across his own ribs, inflicted by an English saber at Prestonpans.
Grey pressed his advantage as Twelvetrees staggered back, but the ferret was wily and ducked under Grey’s lunge, collapsing onto one hand and thrusting upward, straight into Grey’s unprotected chest.
There was a gasp from all the watchers. Grey pulled loose, reeled backward, coughing, his shirt reddening. Twelvetrees got his legs under him, but it took him two tries to stand, his legs shaking visibly.
Grey collapsed slowly to his knees, swaying to and fro, the saber hanging from his hand.
“Get up, me lord. Get up, please get up,” Tom was whispering in anguish, his hand clutching Quarry’s coat sleeve. Quarry was breathing like a boiling kettle.
“He’s got to ask him to yield,” Quarry was muttering. “Got to. Infamous not to—oh, God.”
Twelvetrees took a step toward Grey, unsteady, face set in a rictus that showed his sharp teeth. His mouth moved, but no words came out. He drew one step closer, drawing back his bloodied sword. One more step.
One … more …
And Grey’s saber rose fast and smooth, Grey rising after it, driving it home, hard into the ferret’s belly. There was an inhuman noise, but Jamie couldn’t tell which of them had made it. Grey let go of his sword and sat down suddenly on the grass, looking surprised. He looked up and smiled vaguely at Tom, then his eyes rolled up into his head and he fell backward, sprawled on the wet grass, welling blood.
Oh … Jesus …
Twelvetrees was still standing, hands closed around the blade in his belly, looking bemused. Dr. Hunter and Captain Honey were running across the grass and reached him just as he fell, catching him between them.
Jamie wondered briefly whether Twelvetrees had given Captain Honey instructions regarding his body, but dismissed the thought as he ran across the grass to his friend.
Take me … ho
“IF THE BLOW HAD GONE BETWEEN YOUR RIBS, YOU’D BE dead, you know.”
It wasn’t the first time Grey had heard this—it wasn’t even the first time he’d heard it from Hal—but it was the first time he’d had the strength to reply to it.
“I know.” The thrust had in fact—he’d been told, first by Dr. Hunter, and then by Dr. Maguire, the Greys’ family physician, and finally by Dr. Latham, the regimental surgeon—struck him in the third rib, then sliced sideways for two or three inches before the tip of the saber had stuck in the bone of his sternum. It hadn’t hurt at the time; he’d just been conscious of the jolting force of the blow.
“Hurt much?” Hal sat on his bed, peering closely at him.
“Yes. Get off.”
Hal didn’t move.
“In your right mind, are you?”
“Certainly. Are you?” Grey felt extremely cross. It did hurt, his bum had lost all feeling from sitting in bed, and now that the fever had passed, he was very hungry.
“Twelvetrees died this morning.”
“Oh.” He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again, feeling an apologetic gratitude for hunger and pain. “God rest his soul.”
He’d known Twelvetrees was almost certain to die; it was rare to recover from a serious wound to the abdomen, and he’d felt his sword strike bone somewhere deep inside Twelvetrees; he’d gone through the man’s guts, entire. If blood loss and shock didn’t do for a man, infection would. Still, there was a somber finality to the news that jarred him.
“Well,” he said, clearing his throat. “Has Reginald Twelvetrees sent round an official demand for my head yet? Or at least my arrest?”
Hal shook his head, unamused.
“He can’t say a word, not with everyone thinking—and saying—that Edward was a traitor. You’re more or less being hailed as a public hero.”
Grey was staggered. “What? What for?”
Hal gave him a raised eyebrow. “After you exposed Bernard Adams as a Jacobite plotter two years ago? And then what Fraser said to Twelvetrees at the Beefsteak? Everyone thinks you challenged him because of his treasonous behavior—not that they know what that was, thank God.”
“But that—I didn’t—”
“Well, I know you didn’t, ass,” his brother said. “But as you didn’t take out a notice in the newpapers saying he’d called you a pederast and you took exception to it—and he didn’t take out a notice saying he thought you were a menace to society and proposed to support his opinion by force of arms—the public has as usual made up its own mind.”
Grey’s left arm was in a sling, but he rubbed his right hand hard over his stubbled face. He was disturbed by the news but not sure what to do about it, if anything could be done, once—
“Oh, bloody hell,” he said. “The newspapers have got hold of it.”
“Oh, yes.” A muscle twitched at the corner of Hal’s mouth. “Minnie’s saved a few of the better ones for you. When you’re feeling up to it.”
Grey gave Hal a look. “When I feel up to it,” he said, “I have a thing or two to say to your wife.”
Hal smiled broadly at that. “Be my guest,” he said. “And I hope you’ve a fine day for it.” He got up, jostling Grey’s bad leg. “Are you hungry? Cook has some revolting gruel for you. Also burnt toast with calf’s-foot jelly.”