“Hail Mary, Mother of God …” he whispered, and took firm hold of the edge of the boat to steady himself. Where were Grey and Tom Byrd? He shut his eyes tight to accustom them to dark and looked away from the castle before opening them again. But what he could see of the bank was featureless, dark blobs that might be boats or sea monsters bobbing near the shore, the black patches of what Quinn said were reedbeds like tar against the dull shimmer of the water. Nothing seemed to move. Nothing that looked like two men running, at least. And, by God, they should be running, he thought, with that lot after them.

For now the whole garrison was roused, and the shore near the castle was aglow with lanterns, their swinging lights shooting beams up and down the riverbank, the bawling of the sergeant—Jamie grinned despite the situation, recognizing the furious voice of the man he’d taken prisoner—echoing across the water.

A quiet splash made him turn his head. Quinn had put an oar in the water and was sculling, very gently, to slow their progress. The boat’s head turned inward in a slow, meditative circle.

“What if they’re not here?” Quinn said very quietly.

“They’re here. I left them on the bank, just by the castle.”

“They’re not there now,” Quinn observed, an edge to his voice, low as it was.

“They saw me go upstream. They’ll have followed me. We’ll need to turn round. They’ll not have seen us, coming down so quiet.”

He spoke with a great deal more confidence than he felt, but Quinn said no more than a muttered “God and Mary and Padraic be with us” before putting the other oar in the water and settling himself to it. The boat turned, the current hissing past its sides, and with as little splashing as could be managed, they began slowly to retrace their progress, Jamie leaning out as far as he dared to scan the shore.

Nothing. He caught a flicker of movement, but it disappeared between two sheds. A dog, likely—too small to be a man, let alone two.

Where would they go, with the soldiers about to erupt into the night? Into the town was the logical answer. The castle was surrounded by a labyrinth of narrow, winding streets.

“How far d’ye want to go?” Quinn grunted. He was breathing hard with the effort of rowing against the current.

“This is far enough. Turn round again,” Jamie said abruptly. They were perhaps a furlong upstream of the castle; if Grey and the lad had been on the bank, they would have found them by now. They must have gone into the town, and the soldiers would doubtless be coming to that conclusion, too.

Jamie started praying again. How was he to find them in the town? He was as noticeable himself as either of the Englishmen. It would have to be Quinn searching the town, and he doubted that the Irishman would be enthused at the prospect.

Aye, well, he’d just have to—

A heavy clunk! struck the hull of the boat near his hand, and he jerked with such violence that the little vessel rocked wildly. Quinn cursed and backed his oars.

“What in the name of the Holy Ghost did we hit?”

Clunk! Clunk! Clunk! The sound was repeated, a frenzied demand, and Jamie leaned over the side and nearly let out a skelloch at the sight that greeted him: a wild-eyed head like Medusa protruding from the water a few inches from his hand, snaky hair in all directions and teeth bared in a ferocious grimace. This startling figure held what looked to be a large bundle in one arm, a sort of sword in the other hand, and as Jamie gaped at it, openmouthed, the figure gritted its teeth and swung the weapon once more against the side of the boat with a peremptory clunk!

“Get us in!” said the figure. “I can’t hold him much longer.”

26

Opium Dreams

GREY HUDDLED IN A SODDEN HEAP IN THE BOTTOM OF THE boat, dully aware of Fraser’s back in front of him. The Scot’s long arms stretched and pulled, shoulders bunching as he rowed steadily upstream, and the black bulk of the castle slowly, slowly diminished behind them. He heard peremptory shouts from the shore and Quinn, standing up in the boat, clinging to the mast and shouting back in Irish, but Grey was too dazed with cold and exhaustion to worry much about what he was saying.

“That’ll hold ’em,” Quinn muttered, sitting down on the tiny slatted seat behind Grey. He put a hand on Grey’s shoulder to steady himself and leaned forward. “How are ye, boy?” Tom was curled next to Grey, his head on Grey’s knee, shivering convulsively. They both were, in spite of the cloaks Quinn had hastily wrapped round them.

“F-f-f-fine,” Tom said. His body was tight with pain; Grey could feel the bulge of Tom’s cheek against his leg as Tom clenched his teeth, and he laid a hand on his valet’s head, hoping to comfort him a little. He fumbled with his other hand under the cloak covering Tom, but his fingers were clumsy with cold, unable to deal with the makeshift tourniquet.

“We n-need to loosen the t-t-tourniquet,” he managed, hating his awkward helplessness, the chattering of his own teeth.

Quinn bent swiftly to help, his curls brushing Grey’s face; the Irishman smelled of peat smoke, sweat, and sausage grease, a strangely comforting, warm aroma.

“Let me have a bit of a look, now,” he said, his tone friendly, soothing. “Ah, there I have it, the sorrow and the woe! Now, ye’ll be holding quite still, Mr. Byrd, and I’ll just …” His voice trailed off in absorption as he felt his way. Grey felt the warmth of Quinn’s body, was soothed himself as much by the physical presences of Quinn and Fraser, close by, as by the knowledge of escape.

Tom was making small whimpering noises. Grey curled his fingers into his valet’s tangled damp hair, rubbing a little behind the cold ear, as he would to distract a dog while a tick was removed.

“Ah, now,” Quinn murmured, fingers working busily in the dark. “Almost there. Aye, that’s got it.”

Tom gave a great gasp and gulped air, and dug the fingers of his good hand hard into Grey’s leg. Grey deduced that the tourniquet was now loosed, letting a rush of blood flow into the wounded arm, waking the numbed nerves. He knew exactly what that felt like and clasped his own free hand over Tom’s, squeezing hard.

“Is the bleeding bad?” he asked quietly.

“Bad enough,” Quinn replied absently, still feeling about beneath the cloak. “Not spurtin’, though. A little bandage will do, with the blessing.” He rose up, shaking his head a little, and reached into his coat, coming out with a familiar square black bottle.

“It’s as well I brought the tonic, thinkin’ Jamie might need it for the pukin’. Sovereign for what ails ye, the maker says, and I’m sure that includes gunshot wounds and cold.” He handed the bottle to Grey. The smell was mildly alarming, but Grey hesitated no more than an instant before taking a modest gulp.

He coughed. He coughed until his eyes streamed and his chest heaved, but there was an undeniable sense of warmth stealing through his center.

Quinn, meanwhile, had got down onto the boards in order to rewrap Tom’s arm and was now holding the bottle for the young man to drink. Tom swallowed twice, stopped to cough explosively, and, wordless, gestured for Grey to take another turn.

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“Hail Mary, Mother of God …” he whispered, and took firm hold of the edge of the boat to steady himself. Where were Grey and Tom Byrd? He shut his eyes tight to accustom them to dark and looked away from the castle before opening them again. But what he could see of the bank was featureless, dark blobs that might be boats or sea monsters bobbing near the shore, the black patches of what Quinn said were reedbeds like tar against the dull shimmer of the water. Nothing seemed to move. Nothing that looked like two men running, at least. And, by God, they should be running, he thought, with that lot after them.

For now the whole garrison was roused, and the shore near the castle was aglow with lanterns, their swinging lights shooting beams up and down the riverbank, the bawling of the sergeant—Jamie grinned despite the situation, recognizing the furious voice of the man he’d taken prisoner—echoing across the water.

A quiet splash made him turn his head. Quinn had put an oar in the water and was sculling, very gently, to slow their progress. The boat’s head turned inward in a slow, meditative circle.

“What if they’re not here?” Quinn said very quietly.

“They’re here. I left them on the bank, just by the castle.”

“They’re not there now,” Quinn observed, an edge to his voice, low as it was.

“They saw me go upstream. They’ll have followed me. We’ll need to turn round. They’ll not have seen us, coming down so quiet.”

He spoke with a great deal more confidence than he felt, but Quinn said no more than a muttered “God and Mary and Padraic be with us” before putting the other oar in the water and settling himself to it. The boat turned, the current hissing past its sides, and with as little splashing as could be managed, they began slowly to retrace their progress, Jamie leaning out as far as he dared to scan the shore.

Nothing. He caught a flicker of movement, but it disappeared between two sheds. A dog, likely—too small to be a man, let alone two.

Where would they go, with the soldiers about to erupt into the night? Into the town was the logical answer. The castle was surrounded by a labyrinth of narrow, winding streets.

“How far d’ye want to go?” Quinn grunted. He was breathing hard with the effort of rowing against the current.

“This is far enough. Turn round again,” Jamie said abruptly. They were perhaps a furlong upstream of the castle; if Grey and the lad had been on the bank, they would have found them by now. They must have gone into the town, and the soldiers would doubtless be coming to that conclusion, too.

Jamie started praying again. How was he to find them in the town? He was as noticeable himself as either of the Englishmen. It would have to be Quinn searching the town, and he doubted that the Irishman would be enthused at the prospect.

Aye, well, he’d just have to—

A heavy clunk! struck the hull of the boat near his hand, and he jerked with such violence that the little vessel rocked wildly. Quinn cursed and backed his oars.

“What in the name of the Holy Ghost did we hit?”

Clunk! Clunk! Clunk! The sound was repeated, a frenzied demand, and Jamie leaned over the side and nearly let out a skelloch at the sight that greeted him: a wild-eyed head like Medusa protruding from the water a few inches from his hand, snaky hair in all directions and teeth bared in a ferocious grimace. This startling figure held what looked to be a large bundle in one arm, a sort of sword in the other hand, and as Jamie gaped at it, openmouthed, the figure gritted its teeth and swung the weapon once more against the side of the boat with a peremptory clunk!

“Get us in!” said the figure. “I can’t hold him much longer.”

26

Opium Dreams

GREY HUDDLED IN A SODDEN HEAP IN THE BOTTOM OF THE boat, dully aware of Fraser’s back in front of him. The Scot’s long arms stretched and pulled, shoulders bunching as he rowed steadily upstream, and the black bulk of the castle slowly, slowly diminished behind them. He heard peremptory shouts from the shore and Quinn, standing up in the boat, clinging to the mast and shouting back in Irish, but Grey was too dazed with cold and exhaustion to worry much about what he was saying.

“That’ll hold ’em,” Quinn muttered, sitting down on the tiny slatted seat behind Grey. He put a hand on Grey’s shoulder to steady himself and leaned forward. “How are ye, boy?” Tom was curled next to Grey, his head on Grey’s knee, shivering convulsively. They both were, in spite of the cloaks Quinn had hastily wrapped round them.

“F-f-f-fine,” Tom said. His body was tight with pain; Grey could feel the bulge of Tom’s cheek against his leg as Tom clenched his teeth, and he laid a hand on his valet’s head, hoping to comfort him a little. He fumbled with his other hand under the cloak covering Tom, but his fingers were clumsy with cold, unable to deal with the makeshift tourniquet.

“We n-need to loosen the t-t-tourniquet,” he managed, hating his awkward helplessness, the chattering of his own teeth.

Quinn bent swiftly to help, his curls brushing Grey’s face; the Irishman smelled of peat smoke, sweat, and sausage grease, a strangely comforting, warm aroma.

“Let me have a bit of a look, now,” he said, his tone friendly, soothing. “Ah, there I have it, the sorrow and the woe! Now, ye’ll be holding quite still, Mr. Byrd, and I’ll just …” His voice trailed off in absorption as he felt his way. Grey felt the warmth of Quinn’s body, was soothed himself as much by the physical presences of Quinn and Fraser, close by, as by the knowledge of escape.

Tom was making small whimpering noises. Grey curled his fingers into his valet’s tangled damp hair, rubbing a little behind the cold ear, as he would to distract a dog while a tick was removed.

“Ah, now,” Quinn murmured, fingers working busily in the dark. “Almost there. Aye, that’s got it.”

Tom gave a great gasp and gulped air, and dug the fingers of his good hand hard into Grey’s leg. Grey deduced that the tourniquet was now loosed, letting a rush of blood flow into the wounded arm, waking the numbed nerves. He knew exactly what that felt like and clasped his own free hand over Tom’s, squeezing hard.

“Is the bleeding bad?” he asked quietly.

“Bad enough,” Quinn replied absently, still feeling about beneath the cloak. “Not spurtin’, though. A little bandage will do, with the blessing.” He rose up, shaking his head a little, and reached into his coat, coming out with a familiar square black bottle.

“It’s as well I brought the tonic, thinkin’ Jamie might need it for the pukin’. Sovereign for what ails ye, the maker says, and I’m sure that includes gunshot wounds and cold.” He handed the bottle to Grey. The smell was mildly alarming, but Grey hesitated no more than an instant before taking a modest gulp.

He coughed. He coughed until his eyes streamed and his chest heaved, but there was an undeniable sense of warmth stealing through his center.

Quinn, meanwhile, had got down onto the boards in order to rewrap Tom’s arm and was now holding the bottle for the young man to drink. Tom swallowed twice, stopped to cough explosively, and, wordless, gestured for Grey to take another turn.

Out of concern for Tom, Grey drank abstemiously, taking only a few more sips, but it was enough to make his head swim pleasantly. He’d stopped shivering, and a feeling of drowsy peace laid its hand upon him. By Grey’s feet, Quinn put the final touches on a fresh bandage torn from his shirttail and, patting Grey on the shoulder, clambered back behind him.

In front, Jamie Fraser still bent to his oars but, hearing Quinn’s movement, called back, “How are ye, wee Byrd?”

Tom’s only answer was a gentle snore; he had fallen asleep in the midst of the bandaging. Quinn leaned forward to answer.

“Well enough for the moment. The ball’s still in him, though. He’ll need to be brought to a doctor, I’m thinking.”

“Ye know one?” Fraser sounded skeptical.

“Aye, and so do you. We’ll take him to the monks at Inchcleraun.”

Fraser stiffened. He stopped rowing, turned, and gave Quinn a hard look, visible even by starlight.

“It’s ten miles at least to Inchcleraun. I canna row that far!”

“Ye’ll not need to, you ignorant jackeen. What d’ye think the sail’s for?”

Grey tilted back his head. Sure enough, he thought, with a sort of muzzy interest, there was a sail. It was a small sail, but still.

“I was under the impression that the use of a sail required wind,” Fraser said, elaborately courteous. “There is none, if ye hadna noticed.”

“And wind we shall have, my rosy-bearded friend.” Quinn was beginning to sound like his old expansive self. “Come sunrise, the wind comes up off Lough Derg, and ’twill bear us on the very breath of dawn, as the Good Book says.”

“How long is it ’til dawn?” Fraser sounded suspicious. Quinn sighed and clicked his tongue reprovingly.

“About four hours, O ye o’ little faith. Row just that wee bit longer, will ye, and we’ll be into the waters of Lough Ree. We can turn aside out o’ the current and find a resting place until daylight.”

Fraser made a low Scottish sound in his throat but turned back to his oars, and the slow heave against the Shannon’s current resumed. Left to silence and the softly rhythmic slosh of the oars, Grey’s head dropped and he gave himself over to dreams.

These were bizarre, as opium dreams so often were, and he half-woke from a vision of himself erotically enmeshed with a naked Quinn, this sufficiently vivid that he scrubbed at his mouth and spat to rid himself of the taste. The taste proved to be not of the Irishman but of the tonic he had drunk; a ginger-tasting belch rose up the back of Grey’s nose and he subsided against the side of the boat, feeling unequal to the occasion.

He was enmeshed with Tom, he found. Byrd was lying close against him, breathing stertorously; his face was pressed against Grey’s chest, his flushed cheek hot even through Grey’s half-dry shirt. All motion had stopped, and they were alone in the boat.

It was still dark, but the cloud cover had thinned, and the faded look of the few visible stars told him that it was no more than an hour ’til dawn. He lay flat on the wet boards, fighting to keep his eyes open—and fighting not to recall any of the details of the recent dream.

So groggy was he that it hadn’t occurred to him even to wonder where Fraser and Quinn had gone, until he heard their voices. They were near the boat, on land—well, of course they’re on land, he thought vaguely, but his drugged mind furnished him with a surreptitious vision of the two of them sitting on clouds, arguing with each other as they drifted through a midnight sky spangled with the most beautiful stars.

“I said I wouldna do it, and that’s flat!” Fraser’s voice was low, intense.

“Ye’ll turn your back on the men ye fought with, all the blood spilt for the Cause?”

“Aye, I will. And so would you, if ye’d half the sense of a day-old chick.”

The words faded, and Grey’s vision of Quinn melted into one of a red-eyed banty rooster, crowing in Irish and flapping its wings, darting pecks at Fraser’s feet. Fraser seemed to be naked but was somewhat disguised by drifts of vapor from the cloud he was sitting on.

The vision melted slowly into a vaguely erotic twinning of Stephan von Namtzen with Percy Wainwright, which he watched in a pleasant state of ennui, until von Namtzen evolved into Gerald Siverly, the ghastly wound in his head not seeming to hamper his movements.

Loud moaning from Tom woke him, sweating and queasy, to find the little boat gliding under sail along the shore of a flat green island—Inchcleraun.

Feeling mildly disembodied, and with only the crudest notion how to walk, he staggered up the path behind Fraser and Quinn, who were hauling Tom Byrd along as gently as they could, making encouraging noises. The remnants of his dreams mingled with the mist through which they walked, and he remembered the words he had overheard. He wished very much that he knew how that particular conversation had ended.

27

Loyalty and Duty

JAMIE WAS GREETED WITH CONCERNED WELCOME BY THE monks, who took Tom Byrd away at once to Brother Infirmarian. He left Quinn and Grey to be given food and went in to see Father Michael, disturbed in mind.

The abbot looked him over with fascination and offered him a seat and a glass of whiskey, both of which he accepted with deep gratitude.

“You do lead the most interesting life, Jamie dear,” he said, having been given a brief explanation of recent events. “So you’ve come to seek sanctuary, is it? And your friends—these would be the two gentlemen you told me of before, I make no doubt?”

“They would, Father. As for sanctuary …” He tried for a smile, though weariness weighed down even the muscles of his face. “If ye might see to the poor lad’s arm, we’ll be off as soon as he’s fettled. I wouldna put ye in danger. And I think perhaps the deputy justiciar of Athlone might not respect your sanctuary, should he come to hear about Colonel Grey’s presence.”

“Do you think the colonel did in fact murder Major Siverly?” the abbot asked with interest.

“I’m sure he did not. I think the miscreant is a man called Edward Twelvetrees, who has—had, I mean—some associations with Siverly.”

“What sort of associations?”

Jamie lifted his hand in a vague gesture. His bruised right shoulder burned like fire when he moved it and ached down to the bone when he didn’t. His arse wasn’t in much better case after hours of rowing on a hard slat.

“I dinna ken exactly. Money, certainly—and maybe politics.” He saw the abbot’s white brows rise, green eyes grow more intent. Jamie smiled wearily.

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