The Scottish Prisoner (Lord John Grey 3) - Page 36

“Aye, go ahead. You lot!” He lifted his chin imperiously at the servants. “I want to speak to the person who found the body.”

There was a general shifting and glancing to and fro, but then a maid stepped out of the throng, pushed by two of her fellow servants. She looked wild, her eyes showing white like a spooked horse, and her hands wrapped in her apron, strangling it.

“Was it you found your master, then? Go on, now, there’s naught to fear,” the constable said, in a tone that he probably thought was reassuring. He might as well have said that he proposed to take her straight to the hangman, for the maid wailed in terror and threw the mangled apron over her head.

One of the men with her appeared to be her husband, for he put an arm around her and stuck out his chin—trembling, but out, Jamie noted with approval—at the constable.

“She did, then, your honor, and it’s quite put her out of her wits with the shock, as ye see.”

“I see,” the constable said rather brusquely. “Well, who the fook else saw what happened? You?”

“Oh, not me, oh, no, your honor,” said the husband, turning white and stepping back, making a sign against evil. His wife shrieked, feeling his sheltering arm depart, and cowered. Her friends among the servants obligingly set up a companionable keening to keep her company, and the constable set his jaw like a bulldog against the racket, lower teeth set hard in his upper lip.

While the constable conducted his laborious investigations, and the rain began to fall more heavily, Jamie saw Grey draw Tom Byrd aside with a jerk of his head, then bend close to his ear, clearly giving instructions, glancing now and then as he did so at the shrubbery where Jamie stood hidden.

He thought he made out from the incoherent babblings of the maid that she’d found the master in the summerhouse, and as the constable seemed indisposed to go and look for himself, Jamie eased out of the shrubbery and went quietly round the back of the little wood.

More than one person had run through it; he could see that from the fresh-broken twigs and trampled ferns. He skirted the damage delicately and stole quietly up to the rear of the summerhouse. It was made with latticed panels, these interspersed with open sections, which were barred with an ornamental railing, with latticework below. Tall as he was, he could just manage to peer through this latticework by standing on his toes.

The first thing he saw was not Siverly’s body, but the weapon. It was the same odd, knob-headed club with which Siverly had attacked him, and he crossed himself at the sight, with a peculiar feeling that was not satisfaction but more awe at God’s sense of justice.

Grey had recognized the thing from his description; had told him it was a war club, a weapon made by the Iroquois. Hardwood, and, in the right hands, a very deadly thing. Evidently, Siverly had run into someone who knew how to employ it—the knob at the end was thick with blood and hair, and … His eye tracked across the wide swath of blood that lay smeared over the floor of the summerhouse and came to rest on an object that he knew must be Siverly’s head, only because it could be nothing else.

The man was lying with his head toward Jamie, the rest of his body largely invisible. The blow had caved in his skull to a shocking extent; white bone showed, and rimming the wound was a pinkish ooze that he knew to be brain. He felt his gorge rise and turned round hastily, shutting his eyes and trying not to breathe, for the smell of blood and death was thick in his nose.

There was little to be learned here, and sooner or later someone would come; he couldn’t be found lurking near the body. He stole quietly out through the wood, turned right, and circled round the house, coming out of the gardens near the drive, just in time to see Lord John being taken away. The constable had commandeered a wagon from the estate and rode his mule alongside, keeping a sharp eye on his prisoner. The prisoner himself sat straight as a ramrod on the wagon’s seat, looking extremely cross but self-possessed. Jamie saw him say something to the constable that made the latter rear back, blinking, but then glower at Lord John and make an abrupt gesture to the wagon’s driver, who clicked his tongue to the horses and set off at a trot that nearly toppled John Grey off his perch, unable to catch himself with his hands bound.

Jamie felt an angry spasm of kinship at the sight; he’d known such small cruelties when he’d worn fetters. He murmured a deliberate curse toward the constable and walked out onto the drive, where the servants were clustered accusingly round Tom Byrd.

They all fell silent at sight of Jamie, falling back a little. He ignored the lot of them and jerked his head at Tom, saying merely, “Come with me, Mr. Byrd,” as he turned away down the drive.

Tom followed promptly, and while there was a hostile muttering behind them, no one hindered their departure.

“I’m that glad you come up when you did, sir,” Tom said, hurrying a little to come even with him and glancing back over his shoulder. “I thought they were a-going to take me to pieces—and so did they.”

“Aye, well, they’re like dogs whose master’s died,” Jamie said, not unkindly. “They dinna ken what to do, so they howl and snap at one another. What did his lordship tell ye, wee Byrd?”

Tom was pale and excited but had control of himself. He rubbed his sleeve across his face to wipe away the rain and settled himself to recite Lord John’s message.

“Right, sir. To begin with, the constable—that was the constable, the loud fat man—is taking his lordship to Castle Athlone.”

“Aye? Well, that’s good—it’s not?” Jamie asked, seeing Tom shake his head.

“No, sir. He says the justiciar has gone to France, and whoever’s in charge will either keep him locked up or make him give his parole, and that won’t do.”

“It won’t? Did he say why not?”

“No, sir, there wasn’t time. He says you must come and get him out, quick as ever you can.”

Jamie rubbed a hand over his face, brushing water out of his eyebrows.

“Does he, then,” he said dryly. “Did he suggest how I was to do that?”

Tom half-smiled, despite his worry.

“No, sir. He says to tell you that he trusts in your native wit and ferocity to accomplish this. I’m to help you,” he added modestly, with a sideways look up at Jamie. He put a hand to his middle, looking portentous. “His lordship gave me his dagger to keep for him.”

“That will be a great help,” Jamie assured him gravely. “Dinna stick anyone with it unless I tell ye, though, aye? I dinna want to have to save ye both from the hangman.”

The rain was coming down harder now, but as they were already wet through, there was little point in hurry, and they strode along without talking, the rain pattering on their heads and shoulders.

25

Escape from Athlone

QUINN HAD NOT GONE BACK TO GLASTUIG WITH THEM; they found him crouched by the fire with a glass of arrack in his hands, still shivering. He got up when he saw Jamie, though, and came outside at the jerk of Jamie’s head.

The rain had stopped, at least for a bit, and Jamie led the way down the road so they might talk unheard. In a few words, he acquainted Quinn with the news of John Grey’s arrest, which caused Quinn to cross himself piously—though Jamie could see from his face that he did not regard this as particularly unwelcome news.

He’d known pretty much what Quinn’s reaction was likely to be and had decided what to do about it.

“Ye still want that cup, aye?” Jamie asked Quinn abruptly. “The Cupán Druid riogh?”

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“Aye, go ahead. You lot!” He lifted his chin imperiously at the servants. “I want to speak to the person who found the body.”

There was a general shifting and glancing to and fro, but then a maid stepped out of the throng, pushed by two of her fellow servants. She looked wild, her eyes showing white like a spooked horse, and her hands wrapped in her apron, strangling it.

“Was it you found your master, then? Go on, now, there’s naught to fear,” the constable said, in a tone that he probably thought was reassuring. He might as well have said that he proposed to take her straight to the hangman, for the maid wailed in terror and threw the mangled apron over her head.

One of the men with her appeared to be her husband, for he put an arm around her and stuck out his chin—trembling, but out, Jamie noted with approval—at the constable.

“She did, then, your honor, and it’s quite put her out of her wits with the shock, as ye see.”

“I see,” the constable said rather brusquely. “Well, who the fook else saw what happened? You?”

“Oh, not me, oh, no, your honor,” said the husband, turning white and stepping back, making a sign against evil. His wife shrieked, feeling his sheltering arm depart, and cowered. Her friends among the servants obligingly set up a companionable keening to keep her company, and the constable set his jaw like a bulldog against the racket, lower teeth set hard in his upper lip.

While the constable conducted his laborious investigations, and the rain began to fall more heavily, Jamie saw Grey draw Tom Byrd aside with a jerk of his head, then bend close to his ear, clearly giving instructions, glancing now and then as he did so at the shrubbery where Jamie stood hidden.

He thought he made out from the incoherent babblings of the maid that she’d found the master in the summerhouse, and as the constable seemed indisposed to go and look for himself, Jamie eased out of the shrubbery and went quietly round the back of the little wood.

More than one person had run through it; he could see that from the fresh-broken twigs and trampled ferns. He skirted the damage delicately and stole quietly up to the rear of the summerhouse. It was made with latticed panels, these interspersed with open sections, which were barred with an ornamental railing, with latticework below. Tall as he was, he could just manage to peer through this latticework by standing on his toes.

The first thing he saw was not Siverly’s body, but the weapon. It was the same odd, knob-headed club with which Siverly had attacked him, and he crossed himself at the sight, with a peculiar feeling that was not satisfaction but more awe at God’s sense of justice.

Grey had recognized the thing from his description; had told him it was a war club, a weapon made by the Iroquois. Hardwood, and, in the right hands, a very deadly thing. Evidently, Siverly had run into someone who knew how to employ it—the knob at the end was thick with blood and hair, and … His eye tracked across the wide swath of blood that lay smeared over the floor of the summerhouse and came to rest on an object that he knew must be Siverly’s head, only because it could be nothing else.

The man was lying with his head toward Jamie, the rest of his body largely invisible. The blow had caved in his skull to a shocking extent; white bone showed, and rimming the wound was a pinkish ooze that he knew to be brain. He felt his gorge rise and turned round hastily, shutting his eyes and trying not to breathe, for the smell of blood and death was thick in his nose.

There was little to be learned here, and sooner or later someone would come; he couldn’t be found lurking near the body. He stole quietly out through the wood, turned right, and circled round the house, coming out of the gardens near the drive, just in time to see Lord John being taken away. The constable had commandeered a wagon from the estate and rode his mule alongside, keeping a sharp eye on his prisoner. The prisoner himself sat straight as a ramrod on the wagon’s seat, looking extremely cross but self-possessed. Jamie saw him say something to the constable that made the latter rear back, blinking, but then glower at Lord John and make an abrupt gesture to the wagon’s driver, who clicked his tongue to the horses and set off at a trot that nearly toppled John Grey off his perch, unable to catch himself with his hands bound.

Jamie felt an angry spasm of kinship at the sight; he’d known such small cruelties when he’d worn fetters. He murmured a deliberate curse toward the constable and walked out onto the drive, where the servants were clustered accusingly round Tom Byrd.

They all fell silent at sight of Jamie, falling back a little. He ignored the lot of them and jerked his head at Tom, saying merely, “Come with me, Mr. Byrd,” as he turned away down the drive.

Tom followed promptly, and while there was a hostile muttering behind them, no one hindered their departure.

“I’m that glad you come up when you did, sir,” Tom said, hurrying a little to come even with him and glancing back over his shoulder. “I thought they were a-going to take me to pieces—and so did they.”

“Aye, well, they’re like dogs whose master’s died,” Jamie said, not unkindly. “They dinna ken what to do, so they howl and snap at one another. What did his lordship tell ye, wee Byrd?”

Tom was pale and excited but had control of himself. He rubbed his sleeve across his face to wipe away the rain and settled himself to recite Lord John’s message.

“Right, sir. To begin with, the constable—that was the constable, the loud fat man—is taking his lordship to Castle Athlone.”

“Aye? Well, that’s good—it’s not?” Jamie asked, seeing Tom shake his head.

“No, sir. He says the justiciar has gone to France, and whoever’s in charge will either keep him locked up or make him give his parole, and that won’t do.”

“It won’t? Did he say why not?”

“No, sir, there wasn’t time. He says you must come and get him out, quick as ever you can.”

Jamie rubbed a hand over his face, brushing water out of his eyebrows.

“Does he, then,” he said dryly. “Did he suggest how I was to do that?”

Tom half-smiled, despite his worry.

“No, sir. He says to tell you that he trusts in your native wit and ferocity to accomplish this. I’m to help you,” he added modestly, with a sideways look up at Jamie. He put a hand to his middle, looking portentous. “His lordship gave me his dagger to keep for him.”

“That will be a great help,” Jamie assured him gravely. “Dinna stick anyone with it unless I tell ye, though, aye? I dinna want to have to save ye both from the hangman.”

The rain was coming down harder now, but as they were already wet through, there was little point in hurry, and they strode along without talking, the rain pattering on their heads and shoulders.

25

Escape from Athlone

QUINN HAD NOT GONE BACK TO GLASTUIG WITH THEM; they found him crouched by the fire with a glass of arrack in his hands, still shivering. He got up when he saw Jamie, though, and came outside at the jerk of Jamie’s head.

The rain had stopped, at least for a bit, and Jamie led the way down the road so they might talk unheard. In a few words, he acquainted Quinn with the news of John Grey’s arrest, which caused Quinn to cross himself piously—though Jamie could see from his face that he did not regard this as particularly unwelcome news.

He’d known pretty much what Quinn’s reaction was likely to be and had decided what to do about it.

“Ye still want that cup, aye?” Jamie asked Quinn abruptly. “The Cupán Druid riogh?”

Quinn looked at him, wide-eyed, and grasped him by the arm.

“Ye’ll never mean ye’ve got it, man?”

“No, I have not.” Jamie detached his arm, though without violence.

“But ye know where it is.” Quinn’s restless eyes had stilled, fixed intently on his, and it wasn’t a question.

“Aye, I know. It’s well beyond anyone’s reach, is where it is. I told the abbot to put it back where it came from, and to the best of my knowledge”—which is considerable, he added silently to himself—“he did.”

Quinn’s lips pursed in thought. “Someone will know,” he said. “All the monks had to know when they dug the poor fella up—they’ll remember where he was planted, too.”

“Aye. Well, ye want to go and ask them, do that—but ye’re no going until we get John Grey out of Athlone.”

Quinn’s strange light eyes bulged a bit.

“Out of Athlone Castle? Man, are ye demented?”

“Aye, I am,” Jamie said crossly. “But I mean to do it, anyway.”

“Why? The man’s not only English, not only your captor—he’s a fecking murderer!”

“No, that he’s not,” Jamie said, with decision. “He may be a good many disagreeable things, but not that.”

“But they found him standin’ over Siverly’s body, and the blood fresh on his boots!”

“I saw, aye?”

Quinn fumed visibly. “Why the devil d’ye think he didn’t do the man in, then? Ye heard what he had to say about him and all his talk about bringin’ the fellow to justice. Ye don’t get more justice than a bullet through the head!”

There was no point in telling Quinn that Siverly’s death—however administered—wouldn’t have been justice in John Grey’s book, save it had been preceded by a court-martial.

“He didn’t,” Jamie repeated stubbornly.

There was also no way to explain to Quinn what he knew to be true of John Grey. That being that the only circumstance in which Grey might possibly have killed Siverly was if he was in fear of his own life—and had that been the case, he would have said so. To Jamie, at least, via Tom Byrd.

He wasn’t going to argue the point, though, and not only because it would be futile. There was also the consideration that if Grey hadn’t killed Siverly, someone else had. And there were relatively few persons known to have been nearby, one of whom was Quinn. He couldn’t think why Quinn might have done such a thing, but thought it wiser not to point that out, given that he proposed to continue in company with Quinn for the next wee while.

“I’m going to Athlone, and ye’re goin’ with me.”

“What? Why?” Quinn cried, indignant. “Where d’ye get off, dragging me into it?”

“Where did you get off, dragging me into your bloody crack-brained scheme? You go with me, and I’ll take ye to Abbot Michael—ye can make your own case to him about the Cupán.”

“Crackbrained?!” Quinn went pale with indignation; his curls stood on end, nearly crackling with it.

“Aye, crackbrained. And ye’re goin’ with me to Athlone because ye can sail a boat, and I can’t.”

“A boat?” Quinn said, momentarily distracted from his affront. “What boat?”

“How do I know what boat?” Jamie said, very irritated. “We’ll find one when we get there.”

“But—”

“If ye think I’m going to abscond from an English prison with his lordship and try to escape through a countryside that’s nay more than a monstrous bog with the occasional pig to stumble over—think again,” he advised Quinn briefly.

“But—”

“Athlone Castle is nearby the River Shannon, and the justiciar said the Shannon’s navigable. So we’ll bloody navigate it. Come on!”

HE’D GIVEN HIS INSTRUCTIONS to Tom Byrd on the way back from Glastuig, and the valet had managed accordingly, not packing up all their belongings, as Jamie wished to cause no more stir than there was already, but acquiring what he could for an instant journey.

They found Tom Byrd waiting impatiently by the road with horses, a little way from the ordinary. Tom gave both men a narrow look, glancing from face to face, but said nothing. He had procured a cabbage, and a few potatoes, which he modestly displayed.

“That’ll do us fine for a supper,” Quinn said, patting Tom approvingly on the shoulder. He looked to the sky. “It’s going to rain again,” he said in resigned tones. “We’d best find a spot and cook it while we can.”

Peat fires burned hot but gave little light. The fire at their feet was not much more than a sullen glow, as though the earth itself was burning from within, but it had cooked their food and warmed their feet. Some of their food—lacking a pot, they ate the cabbage raw, despite Quinn’s dire predictions of unparalleled flatulence.

“It’s nay as though there’s anyone to hear, is there?” Jamie said, nibbling gingerly at a thick, waxy leaf. It squeaked between his teeth like a live mouse and was bitter as he imagined wormwood and gall to be, but it helped to kill his hunger. He’d eaten worse than raw cabbage, often.

Tom scrabbled a half dozen blackened knobs out of the embers and speared one with Lord John’s dagger. It hadn’t left his person since his employer had entrusted him with the knife upon his arrest.

“It’s a bit hard in the middle,” he said, gingerly poking at the potato. “But I don’t know as more roasting would help it any.”

“Nay bother,” Jamie assured him. “I’ve got all my teeth, and none of them loose.” Lacking a dirk, he stabbed two of the measly things neatly with his rapier and waved them gently in the air to cool.

“Show-away,” said Quinn, but without rancor. The Irishman had sulked on their way back to collect Tom but seemed to have recovered his spirits since, despite the fact that the rain he had predicted was now falling. He’d been for finding supper and refuge for the night with a cottager, but Jamie had preferred to camp briefly, then go on as soon as they were rested. News of their presence would spread like butter on hot toast—his wame gurgled at thought of butter, but he sternly ignored it—and they could not afford to be picked up by a curious constable. There were enough people already who knew Lord John had had companions. Edward Twelvetrees, for one.

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