He kicked his horse suddenly; it snorted and jolted a little way ahead, then, lacking further stimulus from its rider, lapsed back into a trot, looking curiously over its shoulder at Grey and his mount, as though wondering how they’d got so far behind.

Grey rode for a bit, turning half a dozen things over in his mind at once, then nudged his horse, which was already attempting to catch up with its fellow, not liking to be left.

“Thank you,” he said, coming even with Fraser again. “For not allowing the Irishman to kill me.”

Fraser nodded, not turning his head. “You’re welcome.”

“May I expect this courtesy to continue?”

He could have sworn that the corner of Fraser’s mouth twitched. “You may.”

Quinn was visible now, a quarter mile ahead. He had turned aside to wait for them, and was leaning on a stile, chatting to a cottager who was holding a small white pig, by his gestures evidently displaying the animal’s finer points.

They had almost reached Quinn when Fraser spoke again, turning this time to look at him, his face now cool-skinned and sober.

“Ye’ll do what ye have to, Colonel. And so shall I.”

17

Castle Athlone

ATHLONE CASTLE WAS BLACK AND SQUAT. IT REMINDED GREY vaguely of an oasthouse, those cone-shaped structures in Kent where hops were dried. Much bigger, though.

“Something of a family seat,” he said to Jamie, joking. “One of my ancestors built it, back in the thirteenth century. Justiciar John de Gray, he was called.”

“Oh, aye? Was your family Irish, then?”

“No,” Grey admitted. “English back to the Conquest, largely Normans before that. Though I do have that one disreputable Scottish connection, of course.” His mother’s father had been Scottish, from one of the powerful Border families.

Fraser snorted. He didn’t think much more of Lowlanders than of Englishmen.

Quinn had gracefully taken leave of them once in Athlone and gone off with vague murmurs of looking up a friend—and the assurance that he would rejoin them in the morning, to see them along their way. Grey rather resented the implication that, lacking such assistance, they would wander helplessly about the countryside like a pack of boobies, but swallowed his annoyance and thanked Quinn tersely for his help—though in fact he proposed to learn where Siverly’s estate was from the justiciar, rather than depend on an Irishman who would happily assassinate him were it not for Fraser’s threatening presence.

The guard who admitted them to the castle led them up the curving walkway into the center of the fortress, past a series of arrow slits set into the immense outer wall. These were narrow in their outer aspect but much wider on the inside, to allow an archer to draw a longbow, Grey supposed, and wondered idly if he could fit his head through one.

It was an ancient construction, originally a motte and bailey, and remnants of this were still evident, the central donjon rising like a twelve-sided pepperpot from the old bailey, now a paved courtyard ringed with smaller structures that crowded up against the huge surrounding wall.

The present justiciar was a man named Sir Melchior Williamson, also English, and while neither Grey nor Hal knew him, Harry did, and a note from the brother of the Duke of Pardloe had been enough to secure an invitation to dine at the castle.

“Is it wise to advertise your presence?” Jamie had asked, frowning, when Grey had written the note, enclosing Harry’s introduction. “If we need to take Siverly by force, best if no one knows who ye are, surely.”

“It’s a thought,” Grey agreed, folding and stamping the note. “But force should be our last resort. And I want to know whatever the justiciar can tell us about Siverly before I go to see him. Best to know the terrain before a battle.” The terrain in this case included Sir Melchior’s disposition and potential to be of assistance, should Plan B need to be invoked—but that judgment would have to wait until he saw the man.

Fraser snorted a little but seemed resigned.

“Aye. I’ll tell wee Byrd to lay hold of a couple of burlap bags, then.”

“What for?”

“To wear over our heads when we break in to Siverly’s house.”

Grey had stopped in the act of putting his signet back on and eyed Fraser.

“Haven’t much faith in my powers of diplomacy, have you?”

“No, and neither has your brother, or I wouldna be here.”

That stung.

“My brother prefers to have all contingencies covered,” Grey said, with exquisite politeness. “And with that in mind … I’ll mention the bags to Tom.”

Sir Melchior Williamson proved to be a short, thick-bodied man with the mournful eyes of a bloodhound—these belying a cordial, if wary, nature. He greeted them with pleasure and showed them the facilities of the castle, such as they were.

“Cold as charity,” he said, ushering them afterward into the small dining room in his quarters. “And nearly as cramped. Damp as a sieve, too, with the Shannon running past within bow shot of the walls.” He sneezed, sniffed, and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “I’ve had a cold in the head since I came here, two years ago. Going to France day after tomorrow, thank God—though I’m glad you came before I left.” So much for Plan B, Grey thought.

The dinner was simple but well cooked, and there was sufficient wine as to allow for comfortable conversation, during which Grey was able to inquire about Major Siverly without making his interest too obvious.

“Glastuig, his place is called,” Sir Melchior said, leaning back in his chair and unbuttoning the lower buttons of his waistcoat with an absentmindedness born of long practice. “I’ve been there just the once, soon after I came. Beautiful house. That was when Mrs. Siverly was in residence, though.”

Grey made an encouraging sound.

“She went back to her father’s house, when the major went off to Canada. From what I hear, husband and wife never had agreed very well, though, and she declined to come back when he returned.”

“The major lives quietly now, does he?” Fraser asked. He’d not taken the lead in conversation but had been useful in leading it back in the desired direction whenever Sir Melchior, who had a tendency to ramble, made off in some unprofitable direction.

“Very quietly. Though I hear he’s done the place over lately. Perhaps he proposes to lure his wife back with damask wallpaper.” Sir Melchior laughed, the bloodhound wrinkles of his face all turning up.

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He kicked his horse suddenly; it snorted and jolted a little way ahead, then, lacking further stimulus from its rider, lapsed back into a trot, looking curiously over its shoulder at Grey and his mount, as though wondering how they’d got so far behind.

Grey rode for a bit, turning half a dozen things over in his mind at once, then nudged his horse, which was already attempting to catch up with its fellow, not liking to be left.

“Thank you,” he said, coming even with Fraser again. “For not allowing the Irishman to kill me.”

Fraser nodded, not turning his head. “You’re welcome.”

“May I expect this courtesy to continue?”

He could have sworn that the corner of Fraser’s mouth twitched. “You may.”

Quinn was visible now, a quarter mile ahead. He had turned aside to wait for them, and was leaning on a stile, chatting to a cottager who was holding a small white pig, by his gestures evidently displaying the animal’s finer points.

They had almost reached Quinn when Fraser spoke again, turning this time to look at him, his face now cool-skinned and sober.

“Ye’ll do what ye have to, Colonel. And so shall I.”

17

Castle Athlone

ATHLONE CASTLE WAS BLACK AND SQUAT. IT REMINDED GREY vaguely of an oasthouse, those cone-shaped structures in Kent where hops were dried. Much bigger, though.

“Something of a family seat,” he said to Jamie, joking. “One of my ancestors built it, back in the thirteenth century. Justiciar John de Gray, he was called.”

“Oh, aye? Was your family Irish, then?”

“No,” Grey admitted. “English back to the Conquest, largely Normans before that. Though I do have that one disreputable Scottish connection, of course.” His mother’s father had been Scottish, from one of the powerful Border families.

Fraser snorted. He didn’t think much more of Lowlanders than of Englishmen.

Quinn had gracefully taken leave of them once in Athlone and gone off with vague murmurs of looking up a friend—and the assurance that he would rejoin them in the morning, to see them along their way. Grey rather resented the implication that, lacking such assistance, they would wander helplessly about the countryside like a pack of boobies, but swallowed his annoyance and thanked Quinn tersely for his help—though in fact he proposed to learn where Siverly’s estate was from the justiciar, rather than depend on an Irishman who would happily assassinate him were it not for Fraser’s threatening presence.

The guard who admitted them to the castle led them up the curving walkway into the center of the fortress, past a series of arrow slits set into the immense outer wall. These were narrow in their outer aspect but much wider on the inside, to allow an archer to draw a longbow, Grey supposed, and wondered idly if he could fit his head through one.

It was an ancient construction, originally a motte and bailey, and remnants of this were still evident, the central donjon rising like a twelve-sided pepperpot from the old bailey, now a paved courtyard ringed with smaller structures that crowded up against the huge surrounding wall.

The present justiciar was a man named Sir Melchior Williamson, also English, and while neither Grey nor Hal knew him, Harry did, and a note from the brother of the Duke of Pardloe had been enough to secure an invitation to dine at the castle.

“Is it wise to advertise your presence?” Jamie had asked, frowning, when Grey had written the note, enclosing Harry’s introduction. “If we need to take Siverly by force, best if no one knows who ye are, surely.”

“It’s a thought,” Grey agreed, folding and stamping the note. “But force should be our last resort. And I want to know whatever the justiciar can tell us about Siverly before I go to see him. Best to know the terrain before a battle.” The terrain in this case included Sir Melchior’s disposition and potential to be of assistance, should Plan B need to be invoked—but that judgment would have to wait until he saw the man.

Fraser snorted a little but seemed resigned.

“Aye. I’ll tell wee Byrd to lay hold of a couple of burlap bags, then.”

“What for?”

“To wear over our heads when we break in to Siverly’s house.”

Grey had stopped in the act of putting his signet back on and eyed Fraser.

“Haven’t much faith in my powers of diplomacy, have you?”

“No, and neither has your brother, or I wouldna be here.”

That stung.

“My brother prefers to have all contingencies covered,” Grey said, with exquisite politeness. “And with that in mind … I’ll mention the bags to Tom.”

Sir Melchior Williamson proved to be a short, thick-bodied man with the mournful eyes of a bloodhound—these belying a cordial, if wary, nature. He greeted them with pleasure and showed them the facilities of the castle, such as they were.

“Cold as charity,” he said, ushering them afterward into the small dining room in his quarters. “And nearly as cramped. Damp as a sieve, too, with the Shannon running past within bow shot of the walls.” He sneezed, sniffed, and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “I’ve had a cold in the head since I came here, two years ago. Going to France day after tomorrow, thank God—though I’m glad you came before I left.” So much for Plan B, Grey thought.

The dinner was simple but well cooked, and there was sufficient wine as to allow for comfortable conversation, during which Grey was able to inquire about Major Siverly without making his interest too obvious.

“Glastuig, his place is called,” Sir Melchior said, leaning back in his chair and unbuttoning the lower buttons of his waistcoat with an absentmindedness born of long practice. “I’ve been there just the once, soon after I came. Beautiful house. That was when Mrs. Siverly was in residence, though.”

Grey made an encouraging sound.

“She went back to her father’s house, when the major went off to Canada. From what I hear, husband and wife never had agreed very well, though, and she declined to come back when he returned.”

“The major lives quietly now, does he?” Fraser asked. He’d not taken the lead in conversation but had been useful in leading it back in the desired direction whenever Sir Melchior, who had a tendency to ramble, made off in some unprofitable direction.

“Very quietly. Though I hear he’s done the place over lately. Perhaps he proposes to lure his wife back with damask wallpaper.” Sir Melchior laughed, the bloodhound wrinkles of his face all turning up.

The conversation moved on to speculation as to what amenities might best please a woman. Sir Melchior was not married but had hopes in that direction; hence his journey to France—though he feared his intended would find the castle less than appealing.

“She’s half English, half French,” he explained. “Hates Irish food, thinks the Irish even more barbarous than the Scots—meaning no offense, Captain Fraser.”

“None taken, sir,” Jamie murmured, refilling his glass.

“And I do not know that I can count upon the appeal of my person to overcome such objections.” Sir Melchior looked over the rounded slope of his belly and shook his head, resigned.

Conversation became general at that point, and while Grey and Fraser prodded gently from time to time, they learned little more about Gerald Siverly, save for the interesting fact that his father had been a Jacobite.

“Marcus Siverly was one of the Wild Geese,” Sir Melchior said. “Know about them, do you?”

Grey did, but shook his head obligingly.

“That’s what they called themselves, the Irish brigades who fought for the Stuarts at the end of the last century.

“The castle was rather important then,” Sir Melchior explained, beckoning the steward to bring more wine, “because of the river ford. The bridge—you saw the bridge? Of course you did—it leads into Connaught Province, a Jacobite stronghold in the last war. The last war here, I mean,” he added, with a courteous inclination of the head toward Jamie.

“The Williamites assaulted Athlone on the west, the Connaught side, but the Jacobites destroyed the bridge over the Shannon and managed to hold them off. So the Williamites bombarded the town—according to the castle records, more than sixty thousand shots were fired into the town over a ten-day period. They never did take the town, but the Williamite general, a Dutchman named Ginkel, cleverly went downriver a bit—the Shannon’s navigable for most of its length—crossed there, and came round behind the Jacobites, flushing them out.

“The Jacobites were crushed at Aughrim then, of course—but the survivors made it to Limerick, and there took ship to Spain. The flight of the Wild Geese, they called it.” Sir Melchior took a meditative mouthful of wine and held it for a moment before swallowing; it was good wine.

“So Major Siverly’s father left for Spain, did he?” said Grey, taking up his own glass casually. “When did he come back?”

“Oh, he never did. Died in Spain, some years later. The son came back about six years ago, bought Glastuig, which had fallen into disrepair, and began to build it back up. I hear he’s come into quite a bit of money lately,” Sir Melchior added. “Inheritance from some distant relative, I heard.”

“Has he? How fortunate,” Grey murmured, and met Jamie’s eye across the table.

Jamie gave the shadow of a nod and put his hand into his coat.

“I wonder, sir—as ye seem to know so much regarding the history of these parts—might ye ever have seen a poem such as this?” He handed across a folded copy of the fragment of the Wild Hunt, translated into English.

Sir Melchior looked interested and sat up, fumbling for his spectacles. Placing these on his nose, he read the lines slowly out loud, following the words with a blunt fingertip.

Listen, you men of the three lands.

Listen for the sound of the horns that wail in the wind,

that come out of the night.

She is coming. The Queen is coming

and they come following, her great train, her retinue

wild of hair and eye,

the volunteers who follow the Queen.

They search out blood, they seek its heat. They echo the voice of the king under the hill.

“Deuced odd thing, that,” he said, looking up from the page and blinking owlishly through his spectacles at them. “I’ve heard of the Wild Hunt but can’t say I’ve ever seen an account quite like this one. Where’d you get it?”

“From a soldier,” Jamie said, with perfect truth. “As ye see, it’s not complete. I should like to find out the rest of it, and maybe who wrote it.” He gave Sir Melchior a look of convincingly scholarly earnestness, quite surprising Grey. He hadn’t known Fraser capable of acting. “I have it in mind to publish a wee book one day, with some of the auld tales. This would be a fine addition, if it were complete. Might ye be acquainted with anyone familiar wi’ such things?”

“Why … yes. Yes, I think perhaps I do know someone.” Sir Melchior beckoned to his steward to fetch a fresh decanter of port. “Do you know Inchcleraun?”

Both Grey and Fraser shook their heads, but Grey felt his heart pick up its pace a bit.

“It’s a Catholic monastery,” Sir Melchior said. “A glass with you, Lord John? Yes, yes.” He drank deep and set down the glass to be refilled, belching contentedly. “It’s on an island—the island’s called Inchcleraun, too—up toward the north end of Lough Ree. Only about ten miles from here by water. The abbot—Michael FitzGibbons, he’s called—is quite a collector of old things: parchments, oddments, all-sorts. I met him once; decent sort, for a priest. I think if anyone could tell you where to find the rest of your poem, it might be him.”

Grey saw Jamie’s face change suddenly. The change was transient, like the ripple of wine in the glass the steward set down before him, but definitely there. Perhaps he took exception to that “decent for a priest” remark? Surely not; such remarks were commonplace, and it hadn’t been said with any particular tone of derogation.

“I thank ye,” Jamie said, and smiled, nodding over his lifted glass. “A glass with ye, sir? It’s a verra nice make of wine, to be sure.”

18

Fireside Tales

GREY HAD HOPED TO BE RID OF QUINN ONCE THEY REACHED Athlone, but the Irishman clung like a burr, popping up wherever he and Jamie went in the city, cheerful as a grig, and giving no indication that he viewed John as anything but an esteemed acquaintance.

“Can’t you get rid of him?” he’d snapped at Jamie finally, discovering Quinn lounging in the yard of the stable where they’d gone to hire a mule cart for the larger baggage—for Tom had arrived by coach that morning.

“D’ye want me to shoot him?” Fraser inquired. “You’ve got the pistols, aye?”

“What does he bloody want?” Grey demanded in exasperation, but Fraser merely shrugged and looked stubborn—or, rather, more stubborn than usual, if such a thing were possible.

“He says he has business near Inchcleraun, and I’ve nay grounds to call him a liar. Have you? Or do ye ken the way, for that matter?”

Grey had given up, having no choice, and suffered Quinn to ride along with them. With Tom and the baggage-cart and with Jamie Fraser’s inclination to seasickness in mind, they had determined to go by road up the coast of Lough Ree, then find a boat to ferry Jamie across to Inchcleraun, where he would see the abbot and make inquiries regarding the Wild Hunt poem, before they made their assault upon Siverly’s estate near the village of Ballybonaggin, this being only a few miles from the end of Lough Ree, where the island of Inchcleraun lay.

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