Into the Game
by Pam and Del

PART ELEVEN

"Damnation." Latour sat back in his chair, still frowning over what
Carmichael had told him. "I was hoping that a healing body might work some
influence on the mind."

"It still might," Carmichael replied, with the air of someone determined to
be optimistic. "He's been getting to sleep without your medicines. Last
night--" he shrugged. "I don't know if he used it or not. Could've gone
either way. Give him time enough, and work enough--"

"And we might finish putting him back together?" Latour pursed his lips.
"He was a serving officer. I had hoped perhaps--"

"He might talk to me? He trusts me a little, I think, but not enough yet for
that." Carmichael's eyes narrowed in calculation. "I could push him just a
bit . . . and I will if his troubles continue. But I'd rather wait."

"Yes, I see. In the meantime," Latour steepled his fingers, "I remember your
chosen method. 'Hold on to the chain and run with it.' I didn't realize you
were going to be quite so literal."

"What--take him out in the sun and walk his legs off? He's getting stronger."

"That's one good thing, at least. And it means I always know where to look
for you these days. If I want Carmichael, I ask if anyone's seen Stewart.
Or if I need Stewart, I ask for Carmichael."

His listener raised amused brows. "You told me Old Nick wanted him trained
to harness. *You* wouldn't use your strongest horse?"

"Well, *you* of course, but . . . Rory?"

Carmichael only grinned. "Trust me on that one."

"Hmm." Latour leaned forward, eyes probing. "And what's your assessment,
now that you've had him for six weeks?"

"He'll do well enough in a fight," Carmichael said, paying what was in truth
his highest compliment. "And he's been easy enough to train. Almost a
pleasure."

"Really?"

Carmichael nodded. "Training's *always* work. Still--he's got guts, and a
brain, and no airs to speak of. And stubborn enough to learn anything. It
was going well, up till now." He rubbed his jaw reflectively. "He'd get a
bit quiet sometimes, and I didn't think that was his usual way. And I've
watched him with Rory. A very gentle disposition, if left to himself. I
don't know that he'd have chosen to be a fighting man, if he could. No
disgrace, but it seems unlikely to have found him in the service." He
studied Latour again. "And you say Old Nick's had his eye on him for years?"

"From some years ago. *You* know how that works."

A wry nod. "None better."

"And he's shaping well, by your own account. At least, until yesterday's
episode. An aberration, do you think?"

"Too early to tell. I'd like you to have a look at him."

The physician nodded decisively. "I was about to suggest that myself. It's
been six weeks, after all--I had intended to see whether he could start
riding. When should I go down to the lodge?"

"Depends on when he wakes up. You could try coming round in about an hour or
so--give him a chance to pull himself together."

*****

Some time later, the subject of their discussion stirred, sighed, and
reluctantly opened his eyes. The day had to be faced, whether he was ready
for it or not.

And it *was* day again, Archie discovered without surprise. He rolled over
onto his back and eased himself upright, absently rubbing his scar, more from
habit than discomfort. No pain but some stiffness--less, perhaps, than there
had been before yesterday's fencing bout. One good thing, he supposed. As
for the rest . . . at least, time and sleep had dulled the knife-edges of
memory. He could contemplate that last battle aboard Renown more
safely--without pleasure but also without the panic and distress that had
overwhelmed him the day before.

*It's done with, in the past. Try to KEEP it in the past.* The worst had
already been endured, physically. And if the emotional wounds were taking
longer to heal, at least they *were*, in fact, healing. No dreams, and he had
not needed Latour's sedatives last night. Surely that represented progress
of some kind.

Throwing back the blankets, Archie swung his feet to the floor and stood up,
relieved to find that the room did not sway and spin around him. Quickly, he
set about preparing for the day. Shaving water in a covered jug was waiting
outside his door; he tested the temperature of the water with his finger,
then, satisfied, brought the jug inside.

Pouring the water into a basin, he caught sight of himself in the mirror and
was taken aback by the pale, strained face he saw reflected there. The face
of someone who had been ill or grievously hurt--who was not yet fully
recovered.

Archie sighed sharply and put down the jug. *Oh, God, I am so sick of this!*
Weeks stretching into months of painful, protracted convalescence, a brief
rallying period, and now . . . some uncomfortable intermediate stage?
Everything up, everything down--like a damned seesaw.

"'The state of man dois change and vary,'" he muttered, splashing water on
his face. "'Now sound, now seik, now blyth, now sary, / Now dansand merry,
now like to dee . . . '" He broke off abruptly as he remembered the next
line of Dunbar's lament.

*Timor mortis conturbat me.* Well, bugger that. He curled a disdainful lip
at his reflection and reached for the shaving soap.

The shave helped--it was though he were scraping off yesterday's residue
along with yesterday's stubble. He washed his face again afterward, changed
into the fresh clothes he had selected from the chest-of-drawers, and started
downstairs for breakfast. With everything that had happened, it must have
been over twelve hours since he had last eaten.

He took an obscure comfort in the discovery that he actively craved something
more challenging than porridge. Not defeated yet, by God!

*****

"Good morning, Mr. Stewart." Rory, already seated at the table, looked up as
he entered the breakfast room.

"Good morning, Rory." Archie wondered a little at the formality of the
greeting--the boy was usually much more casual--but the tempting aromas from
the sideboard soon drove all else from his mind. Choosing a plate from the
table, he turned back to make his selections. Ham and eggs? Fish,
perhaps--trout or haddock?

"The soft-boiled eggs are good this morning," Rory volunteered, still with
that odd, almost deferential formality in his voice.

Archie ventured a glance over his shoulder, saw green eyes studying him
somberly, almost apprehensively. The way they had yesterday--during the
fencing match. *Damn.* He just managed not to swear aloud. *Bless the boy,
does he think I'll skewer him with a toasting fork if he doesn't mind his
manners?* "Thank you," he said lightly. "I'll be sure to try one, then." He
suited the action to the word, placing the still-warm egg, poised in its tiny
cup, upon one side of his plate, then moved on to the next array of chafing
dishes.

Eventually, he took his seat at the table, his plate containing not only the
egg, but moderate portions of ham, browned potatoes, and buttered toast.
Removing the top from his egg, he again felt Rory's eyes upon him. The boy
dropped his gaze as Archie himself looked up, but not before the latter saw
the expression contained in those eyes. *Not* apprehension, but rather,
anxiety . . . and something that looked very much like solicitude.

Oh, Lord. First Latour, then Carmichael--now, Rory too? How many keepers
did they think he needed? He was almost tempted to return to the sideboard
and heap his plate with twice the amount he usually consumed, just to squelch
any doubts about his health. But all he'd accomplish by that would be
dyspepsia. His appetite had returned and he'd regained a little of the
weight he had lost during his lengthy convalescence, but there was no need to
eat like a starved lion at every meal. Sailors might run to fat now and
again, but maintaining "a lean and hungry look" might be prudent for a spy
who had to move quickly and think even more quickly. He concentrated instead
on simply savoring each bite of his breakfast and trying to engage Rory in a
normal conversation.

He had partly succeeded in the latter objective when Carmichael strolled into
the room, closely followed by Latour.

*And pat! they come " like the catastrophe of the old comedy."* Archie
stifled a sigh as the pair approached.

"Morning, Rory, Stewart." No constraint in Carmichael's manner as he poured
out coffee for himself and Latour.

"Good morning, gentlemen." The doctor favored the two younger agents with a
nod, then seated himself beside Archie. Keen grey eyes observed the
condition of Archie's plate. "Ah--pleased to see you have made a good meal,
Stewart."

"Indeed, doctor." Slightly self-conscious now, Archie transfixed a bit of ham
with his fork and braced himself for whatever was to happen next. Would
Carmichael sit down in the chair on Archie's other side, effectively blocking
him in?

He should have credited his commander with more subtlety. Instead,
Carmichael took the chair opposite, beside Rory.

Archie's lips tightened. Indignant blue eyes glowered into tawny ones which
stared imperviously back. Archie could well imagine the older man's spoken
response: Did you think I *wouldn't* call the doctor in, then?

Dismasted. Archie smothered another sigh and resumed eating. No doubt it was
only a matter of time before Latour insisted upon examining him"and by now,
Archie knew better than to try to resist.

*****

X-eGroups-Return: sentto-266600-25988-1023930268-SarahB1=buckeye-express.com@returns.groups.yahoo.com
X-Sender: PL1834@aol.com
X-Apparently-To: hhfic@yahoogroups.com
To: hhfic@yahoogroups.com
From: PL1834@aol.com
X-Yahoo-Profile: fiametta66
Mailing-List: list hhfic@yahoogroups.com; contact hhfic-owner@yahoogroups.com
Delivered-To: mailing list hhfic@yahoogroups.com
List-Unsubscribe: <mailto:hhfic-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com>
Date: Wed, 12 Jun 2002 21:04:21 EDT
Subject: [hhfic] FIC: Into the Game(PG/AU), Part Eleven, 2/5
Reply-To: hhfic@yahoogroups.com

 

*****

"Raise your hand over your head-yes, that's it. Now the other one." Latour
regarded his patient impassively while Archie obeyed his instructions in glum
silence.

"Now, put both arms out to the side. You may lower the left one. Reach
towards your left side with your right hand . . . yes, as if you were
drawing a sword. Now, try the opposite motion with your other hand--good.
Now, lower your arms. Can you lean to your right . . . and to the left?"

Archie held on to his patience; it would do him no good to lose it with
Latour.

"Lean forward, slowly. Very well-you may straighten up." The physician
raised his eyebrows as Archie resumed a more upright position. "You're
certainly-quiet, today."

Archie maintained his silence, despite the note of inquiry in the doctor's
voice. Latour's brows drew down and forward into a near-scowl. "Lie down,
please."

Archie lay still, as Latour gently probed the scar again, though he could
sense the doctor's rising exasperation. "That appears to have healed well,
at last-have you experienced any pain or stiffness?"

Evasions were no longer possible. "Only a little."

"When you were leaning over, or when you were stretching forward?"

"Oh. Well--both times, really."

"That's not uncommon. Additional practice and repeated stretching will make
movement easier."

"But that's not really why you're here, is it?" Archie studied the physician
but Latour was too experienced to betray surprise.

"Isn't it?"

Archie sighed. "You're here because I made a damn fool exhibition of myself
yesterday, and now you're all afraid I'll fall on my face again!"

Latour's eyes met his directly. "Do *you* think it likely?"

The temptation to snarl an instinctual "No!" was strong but Archie forced
himself to consider the question. Before he could frame a response, however,
Latour had launched another query, far more direct and unwelcome.

"Have the nightmares returned?"

*****

//"I alone pushed Captain Sawyer into the hold."

He was facing the courtroom again. But . . . something-he could not figure
out what--was wrong.

"I alone pushed him," he repeated, more loudly this time. Why didn't things
stop?

"Were you alone in the hold?"

They had not asked him that before. Archie blinked, turning towards the
bench-and saw Hammond holding the gavel. Where was Commodore Pellew?

"I pushed him," he insisted, his voice sounding ragged even to his own ears.

Hammond's eyes narrowed, his brogue becoming more pronounced. "You are under
oath, lieutenant, and you have not answered the question. Were you alone in
the hold? Who was with you?"

Archie caught his breath. "No one, sir. I told you-I alone pushed him." To
his dismay, his voice seemed to be growing thready, increasingly
insubstantial.

Hammond was turning away. "We have other testimony."

Other? What did they mean-what had they heard, or been told? And by whom?

"No," Archie began, and discovered he could barely hear his own voice. The
babbling of the crowd in the courtroom was building to a crescendo around him
. . .

Hammond banged the gavel "Take him away!"

Archie stared down from the witness box in horror. Horatio. Horatio in
irons, flanked by marines, being led away . . . to certain death.

"No!" Archie protested. "*I* pushed the captain-" But no one seemed to hear
him, or even see him. Desperately, he tried to descend from the stand, fling
himself after his friend . . . but his legs would not obey him. Why couldn't
he move? Glancing towards his feet, he saw instead the dark, spreading stain
on his jacket. Suddenly his knees gave way and he was down, clutching the
end of the stand for support. Pain flooded through him in a searing wave,
red tinged with black . . . he fought to keep his senses, hearing Hammond's
words.

"Hang the mutinous dog!"

The marines were marching Horatio further and further away .. . .

Struggling, bleeding, Archie tried to summon the strength for one last
desperate cry . . . //

 

February 1802

 

. . . He awoke, gasping, feeling Latour's hands on his shoulders. Oh God,
he'd been asleep . . .

"No." A single hoarse syllable broke from him.

Latour released him. "That's the first word you've spoken in more than a
day."

Shivering, Archie licked his lips and tried to breathe more evenly. More
than a day, since Kilcarron-had done what he intended. And Archie had
done-what he had been forced to do. He felt Latour's eyes still on him.

"Lie back," the physician ordered. He undid the bandages, carefully probed
the area surrounding the wound, pausing as the younger man tensed. "Does
that still pain you?"

Archie nodded faintly, not meeting the other's gaze. Unexpectedly, Latour
caught him by the chin, tilted his head up. Too weak to pull away, Archie
still tried to avert his eyes as the doctor studied his face.

A sharp intake of breath from Latour, then, "You . . . young . . . fool."
The doctor's voice resonated with pure, cold fury. "You've been trying not to
sleep!"

He released Archie's chin, stalked to the medicine cupboard, and returned
with a glass in hand.

"If you do not rest," Latour said inexorably, "you will not recover. It is
as simple as that. Now, you may take the dose of laudanum yourself, or I
will resort to force."

"No!" The protest burst out, despite Archie's resolution to remain silent.
"Not . . . laudanum . . .please." To his horror, the shivering intensified.

The note of distress in his voice had caught the physician's attention. He
looked gravely from Archie to the glass. "It would ease your pain."

Archie shook his head, licked his lips again. "Dreams," he managed finally.

Latour continued to eye him thoughtfully. "Your dreams trouble you-if you've
had laudanum?"

Archie nodded.

"The dreams are troubling you now, *without* the laudanum," Latour objected.
Once more beyond speech, Archie could only meet the doctor's eyes imploringly.

"Very well," Latour said at last. "There are other soporifics. But if I
allow this, I require your obedience. You will rest, you will eat, and you
will cooperate in all other matters relating to your recovery. Agreed?"

Archie nodded shakily, capitulating.

"Very well," Latour repeated. He left the bedside, returned with a second
glass. "This will work more slowly than the laudanum-it is thought to induce
a different form of sleep." He held out the draught; hesitantly, Archie
accepted the glass and drank.

"Better." Latour studied his patient's face again, obviously still
considering tactics, before collecting both glasses and walking back to the
medicine cupboard. On his next return to the bedside, he was holding a small
book.

"Were you taught French, ever?" His tone was casual.

The unexpectedness of the question freed Archie's voice. "Yes . . . a long
time ago."

Latour nodded and handed him the book. "Then let's look at a page or two,
and see what you remember."

It was a very simple collection of grammar exercises. Time passed gradually,
as they reviewed some of the early lesson. Then everything was growing very
quiet-very far away. Fading away . . . Archie felt his eyelids growing
heavy, then Latour taking the book out of his hands . . .

*****

Archie blinked, coming back to the present. Latour was watching him
intently-damn, he'd been silent too long.

"*Have* they returned?" the physician repeated.

Archie took a breath, exhaled carefully. "No. No, they have not."

There had been *some* dreams, he knew--dim, hazy, imperfectly recalled-but
nothing as vivid or disturbing as what he had experienced during the voyage
to Scotland.

"I trust you will inform me if they do?"

Trust. He could not deny that a fragile trust *had* been established, after
that time aboard ship. But it was still difficult to respond as Latour wished.

"Very well." He forced the words out, found himself immediately dreading the
coming night.

"In the meantime," the doctor resumed, "a change from your usual duties for
today might prove beneficial. I believe you are sufficiently healed to begin
riding."

*****
Archie had half-expected the riding instructor to be whippet-thin and hard as
leather. The latter might have been true, but Erskine was compact, even
stocky, and no taller than Archie himself.

He greeted Latour and his newest pupil equably, and, after a brief exchange
with the doctor about Archie's physical condition (during which the subject
of their discussion tried not to fidget), had a placid brown gelding saddled
and brought round to the stable yard. A groom held the reins while Archie
mounted, feeling the stretch of the movement in his scar as he climbed aboard
and settled himself into the saddle. To his relief, his muscles seemed to be
obeying him, for the most part. Those walks with Carmichael, perhaps.

"I'll leave you both to it, then," Latour said, nodding at Erskine. "And
Stewart?" He fixed his erstwhile patient with a last stern gaze. "Simply
because one is now declared fit for a certain activity does not mean one
should prove one's fitness by a reckless expenditure of one's energies."

In other words, don't overdo it. Archie managed a stiff nod himself, and,
satisfied, the doctor took his leave.

Appearing to take no notice of this last exchange, Erskine instructed Archie
to ride around the stable yard several times, so that he might assess his
abilities more readily. What he saw seemed to reassure him, for he halted
Archie on his third circuit.

"A decent seat, and good, light hands," Erskine remarked with approval.
"You've ridden before?"

"I learned as a child, though I have not ridden for some years."

"Not a skill you lose, once it's mastered. How's the wound? Still painful?"

Archie considered the matter before replying. "Not--exactly. But a bit
stiff, yet. I can feel the horse's stride in the scar, here." He indicated
the location of the wound.

Erskine grunted in sympathy. "Damnable place to be injured. But it should get
easier with time and exercise. We could continue for another
half-hour-there's a riding path I take young MacCrimmon on." He added, with
a glint of humor, "I do have to accompany you, of course. Someone needs to
look after the beasts if you come to grief!"

To his surprise, Archie found himself smiling back, though a trifle wryly.

*****

The track was smooth and wide enough for two riders. Erskine, astride a
dependable-looking roan, kept up a light, desultory conversation as they
rode, but Archie was aware of the instructor's keen gaze observing his
progress. Fortunately, the older man appeared satisfied in the main,
offering only a few suggestions, which Archie was quick to accept.

"A fine stretch of demesne here," Erskine remarked, as they ambled past a
lush stretch of grassland. "Used to be a park. Kilcarron's
great-grandfather kept deer, but he had to move them after they got in the
way of exercises."

Archie blinked at the images this revelation evoked, then asked, a little
hesitantly, "Is it-common knowledge that this estate is a training ground for
spies?"

"Not *common* knowledge. Oh, the Crown knows, and the London folk but for
the most part, his lordship likes to keep things separate. So his ancestral
lands are clear away to the west, near Ayrshire."

Ayrshire . . . and Aylesford Hall. Archie felt a pang at the thought, even
though he had always found his family's largest estate somewhat cold and
inhospitable.

Erskine was continuing. "These lands are held by fee-simple, so his lordship
can pass them on to whoever he needs to." He glanced at Archie. "You may
have already heard something of this. The heir to the organization is always
a Crawford, but *not* always the next Kilcarron."

Archie nodded. "Any idea who it will be?"

"None. Could be a woman-or a babe still in leading strings." Erskine changed
the subject. "There's a lake just over that rise. Man-made, of course, but
d'you want to see it?"

Man-made the lake might be, but it was an impressive sight nonetheless, like
a silver-blue plate reflecting the sky overhead. Kilcarron's agents needed
to know how to swim too, Erskine informed Archie, who, noticing the way the
breeze ruffled the surface of the water, privately wondered if the weather
here was ever truly warm enough for swimming. Maybe in high summer--the
thought of submerging himself in the lake *now* just made him shiver.

Leaving the lake behind, they rode over the next rise. Although alerted by
the sound of rushing waters, Archie was still startled when he saw the great
cascade. Like the lake, it too was man-made, but Kilcarron's grandfather had
managed a handsome facsimile of nature. Two foaming, thundering tiers fell
to a churning pool some twenty feet below.

"The pool's almost as deep as the falls are high!" Erskine shouted over the
noise. "And no rocks below, either, just in case!"

Just in case? Then, "Diving?" Archie's voice was incredulous.

A grin creased Erskine's round, pleasant face. "Sounds daft, when you think
of it. But you never know what you might be forced to do someday!"

Archie stared down at the cascade again, its rumble filling his ears while
his thoughts fled to the other side of the world. Another time, another
place, with water--gleaming brilliantly blue-green under a tropical
sun-lapping at the shore, far below his feet. Launching himself in a great
leap, to be caught and held in the sea's embrace. Then the echo of a familiar
voice, precariously poised between laughter and tears . . .

//"You're the one who jumped off a cliff with a man who can't swim and
another who's afraid of heights."//

Pain--of the mind only, this time--shuddered through him. He closed his eyes,
frantically willing it away. The roaring of the cascade mingled with the
roaring of the blood in his ears; between the two, he was like to be deafened.

If he were to dig his heels into his horse's sides, send the beast and
himself over the top of the falls . . . would it be enough to kill them both
outright? Or would he require more momentum-wheeling his mount around and
*setting* it at the ridge, like a cavalryman making a charge? And would the
horse balk, dig in its heels at the last moment, or simply rear, dumping its
rider unceremoniously on his backside?

*No. No, I can't do this. I gave my word.* Rational thought came creeping
back, like a thief in the night. Thief. Rory. Carmichael. Latour.
Shockingly ungrateful of him to undo the effort his new colleagues had put
into his recovery. And doubly unfair to the poor horse who could not have
foreseen having to carry a suicidal rider.

Archie sat where he was, breathing deeply and letting the spray from the
falls cool his heated face. When he opened his eyes at last, he saw Erskine
studying him thoughtfully.

"Reckon we'd better head back to the stables," was all the riding instructor
said.

Archie nodded, turned his horse away from the cascade, and followed Erskine
back to the main riding path.

It was nearing noon by the time they reached the stable yard. Still, Archie
thought he might manage a bit of a wash and a rest before weapons practice.
The muscles of his chest and abdomen twinged from this morning's exertion,
and probably would for a while yet. But given sufficient time, everything
healed-at least to some extent. And that would suffice, for now.

*****
The days resumed their normal course, with the addition of riding lessons.
Gradually, Archie began to feel at ease in the saddle again. And to regain
some of his former ease with the other agents. After a few days of treating
Archie as though he were made of glass and about to shatter, Rory reverted to
his usual demeanor, making matters much less awkward for both of them.

And there were always new things to learn, new pursuits to occupy the
days--and the nights, as it turned out.

*****

The light touch on his arm roused Archie from a sound sleep. Blinking, he
realized it was still dark outside his window. "What is it?"

"Night work." Carmichael's voice. "You and Rory, both. Put on something dark
and meet us downstairs."

*****

They were waiting for him in the common room. Carmichael, dressed normally
enough (Archie wondered if he'd even been to bed at all), and Rory, all in
black, with a grappling line slung over one shoulder; the boy was looking
dangerously excited.

Archie lifted questioning brows. "What's this about?"

"Night practice." Rory *sounded* dangerously excited too. "We've somewhere
to get into."

"And *out* again," Carmichael reminded him. "You're to go somewhere and pick
up something. And be finished in two hours."

"Where?"

"That's part of the exercise," Carmichael began, but Rory interrupted,
grinning.

"Main house, I think." He shot Carmichael a challenging green glare after
ducking the inevitable cuff. "You lot were all up there doing *something.*
If I hadn't noticed, you'd tell me my wits were getting slow!"

"Your mouth's getting a damn' sight too fast!" Carmichael retorted. But,
rather to Archie's surprise, he didn't swing at the boy again. "Now, are you
ready for the job?"

"Not yet." Rory looked around. "Is there any-oh, good."

Carmichael was dangling a small drawstring bag by its laces; he tossed it
over to the boy.

"Soot," Rory announced to Archie, shaking some into his left palm and
starting to smear it across his face with two fingers. "You'll need this to
o."

Archie dipped a finger into the boy's palm, rubbed it along his cheek as he
tried to duplicate Rory's actions.

A critical green gaze looked him up and down. "No, not like that. Here-let
me."

Archie obediently stood still as blackened fingers traveled expertly across
his forehead, then down the rest of his face.

"You don't have to be covered all over," Rory explained. "But you have to
use enough to break-" he fumbled for the right word.

"Break outline," Carmichael supplied.

Rory nodded, relaxing. "That's right." He stepped back from Archie, finished
smearing and streaking his own face, then eyed his partner appraisingly
again. Shaking another handful of soot into his palm, he handed Archie the
bag. "You'll need it for your hair too."

Archie watched as Rory worked the ashes into his own fiery locks, then did
his best to imitate the action. The boy's nod reassured him as to his success.

Carmichael was chuckling. "Well, it'll be one way of getting you to wash
afterwards!"

"Oh, that's funny." Rory's scowl was still evident even under the layer of
soot. "Who's looking out for us?"

"Jamieson."

"Oh-" Archie did not understand Rory's next words, but Carmichael did, his
brows rising.

Archie looked from one to the other. "What's wrong?"

Carmichael grinned widely. "Rory thinks his eyes are too good."

"He caught me last time," the boy admitted sourly.

"So you try all the harder *this* time."

*It will make our success that much more satisfying.* Archie studied Rory's
expression under the striping; the boy didn't look any more convinced by that
line of reasoning than Hunter had been, all those years ago.

"You'll have two hours," Carmichael repeated. "Oh, and one more condition."
He glanced meaningfully at Archie. "*You're* not to climb anything."

"What?" Rory's head whipped around furiously.

Archie felt no less indignant. *I used to climb rigging, damn it!*

"*Doctor's orders.*" Carmichael's eyes met Archie's. "Latour says you can't
risk falling, so you're not to climb."

Archie was about to protest, but saw Carmichael's gaze pass on to the
youngest present. "*Conditions,*" he said emphatically.

Rory's response was still incomprehensible-either Gaelic or gutter-but the
feeling behind it was clear enough.

It was Carmichael's turn to scowl. "You want back down cellar?"

"No women present," Rory retorted instantly.

"Shut it-or I'll make an exception!"

Rory lapsed into sullen silence. Archie considered speaking, reconsidered,
and kept quiet himself.

"You can have fifteen more minutes to think," Carmichael announced, "but then
you're on the clock. Two hours. Your part of the job is to get *him* in,
and get him out."

"And no climbing," Rory repeated, his annoyance still evident. "Carmichael,
if I pull this off, I want a pint. *Two* pints. And a whiskey."

"You don't get whiskey, it'll stunt your growth," their commander growled.
"Shut up and think."

The minutes passed. Rory paced briefly; Archie speculated. What was the
exercise likely to require of them?

"Stewart." Carmichael's voice, low and stern, as Rory continued to pace at
the far end of the room.

Archie glanced inquiringly at him.

"Don't let that devil-spawn talk you into climbing. He knows it.
*Conditions.*"

"But-" Archie began, then yielded. "Very well."

Carmichael's expression was still grave. "Your word on it."

That was puzzling. "Yes," Archie agreed, then realized the more typical
words that had *not* been used. *That's an order.*

"Five more minutes." Carmichael raised his voice. "This part's yours," he
added to Archie, handing the younger man a pocket watch and a folded sheaf of
papers, with "Stewart" written across the back. "Two hours, Rory. And
you're *not* to run him into the ground!" Ignoring the boy's glower, he left
the common room.

*****

Archie broke the wafer and quickly unfolded two pages: one was an improvised
map (Rory was right-it looked to be the main house), with an "X" at one
corner, and the other . . .

A neat combination of letters and symbols. Caillean's hand. And one of last
week's ciphers. Archie glanced around the room, found pen and ink on a desk,
and began to transcribe as quickly as possible; luckily, the message was only
a few lines long.

"South study. Second floor. Third right window ajar. Point Fifteen." He
looked up at Rory who, map in hand, was reading over his shoulder. "It seems
straightforward enough. Happen to remember which one Point Fifteen is?"

Green eyes glinted mischievously. "That's *your* part, Stewart. You may have
to do this without me one day."

"It's--actually not permitted?"

Rory relented. "*Conditions.* If you really can't remember by the time I
get you in-but you've time to try for it yourself. Ready?"

*****
"Remember what I told you," Rory murmured as they headed towards their
destination. "No shoes once we're in and stay close to the walls-less chance
of floorboards squeaking that way."

Archie nodded. Rory's advice so far all made sound practical sense.

"And I'll let you in at the nearest door."

"The door?"

"That's how the prigging gangs do it. Smallest goes in first, by the window
or chimney, then lets in the others. Nearly all of em use the door going
out. But we have to be twice as careful, then." The boy's scowl was visible
even in the darkness. "That's when Jamieson caught me before."

"Overconfidence?" Archie suggested.

The boy grimaced and nodded. "We want to get it right, first try."

"And if we don't?"

Rory gave him a ferocious scowl. "Don't even *think* like that!" A brief
pause, then, "We'd have to do it all over again tomorrow night-and Carmichael
makes it harder. Less time. A person on the inside, two people. Or a dog.
That happened once when Carmichael and I were sent together. Mastiff-big
ugly brute. Kilcarron made up that assignment."

"Why am I not surprised?" Archie murmured. "Will there be someone on the
inside tonight?"

"No. Conditions. Right now, we're told how many and where, but not their
circuit. And *they * know-Jamieson knows-to expect us but not from which
direction. It'll be different, though, once we've done this more often."

The bulk of the main house loomed in the distance, and Rory immediately fell
silent. Archie checked his watch. Half an hour gone.

As they approached the house, Rory touched his arm and motioned him to drop
to a crouch. Together, they stole towards the south wing, moving softly and
silently.

Archie racked his brain as they crept through the grass. Which was Point
Fifteen?

Point Fourteen: Under cushions on a chair.

Point Twelve: Corner of drapery seams.

Point Sixteen: Behind a wall painting.

Fifteen-that was it! Look for a desk, and check the underside of the desk
drawers. Archie felt a brief surge of triumph, quickly suppressed as Rory
grabbed his arm again.

"Down." A low voice but not a whisper that might carry. Archie followed his
guide's example, flattening himself against the turf.

*Very* soft thread of voice: Rory was counting. Archie turned his head
cautiously, without raising it, straining to look up.

Flicker of movement in the dim light of the half-moon, barely visible against
the darkened building: Jamieson on sentry duty.

>From one corner of the building to the next: Archie had never observed
before how lightly the knife-expert could move. Rory was still counting as
Jamieson disappeared around the far corner, did not stop, and only shook his
head fiercely when Archie touched his shoulder to gain his attention.

Archie waited-and puzzled it out for himself. Of course-knowing how long it
took Jamieson to complete an entire circuit of the perimeter gave them a
better estimate of how much time they had once he was no longer visible.

The south study-their objective. Third window from the right, ajar. He
tilted his head very slowly and cautiously, looking for it; Rory's hand
closed on his forearm in a signal. Archie started, but silently, and followed
the boy's glance.

Movement again, in and out of the shadows along the building. Rory pushed
Archie's head back down and spoke, low-voiced, in his ear.

"Four hundred fifty, by my count. Once he's to the corner, I'll go up. You
keep watch-after his next pass, I'll try letting you in. Look out for him
doubling back-that's *how* he caught me last time."

The flickering shadow that was Jamieson was more than halfway to the far
corner. Rory tapped Archie once more on the shoulder and was off, himself a
creeping shadow along the ground. Archie started counting in his turn,
following more slowly as Jamieson disappeared on his rounds. The shrubbery
afforded just enough cover for him here, while still allowing him sight of
the nearest door . . .

*****

Another pass: Archie lay still, barely breathing. Rory had eeled up his line
with the same ease as any experienced mid, then pulled the rope up after him.

Jamieson had reappeared soon after. Archie lay counting, trying to match the
speed Rory had used, as the other agent passed by, proceeded to the corner .
. .

. . . rounded it and was gone. Archie crawled on his belly towards the door.
No noise, but movement at last-the door opened and he slipped inside as
quietly as he had been taught.

*****

Shoes slipped off without a sound. Floorboards. Stay along the wall. And all
the way up the stairs to the study. The plan was proceeding smoothly enough.

Underside of the desk drawers. The center drawer-nothing. The upper two
drawers-nothing. The very bottom drawer-his fingers found another slim sheaf
of folded papers. A careful pull brought it away in his hand. He touched
Rory's shoulder-safer than speech-and the two of them were away again.

Down the stairs, still holding their shoes and leaning against the wall.
Kneeling behind Rory while the boy eased the door open. Then a slow, creeping
progress back the way they had come. Once outside, they saw the dim shape of
Jamieson begin to double back but a handful of gravel judiciously flung by
Archie sent the agent in the opposite direction. By mutual consent, they
separated once they reached the shrubbery, meeting up again before the front
door of the lodge.

Into the common room again-eighteen minutes left. Archie held the papers to
the light.

Rory's name on the back; he promptly passed the sheaf to the boy who opened
it and discovered two more pages-one sheet of ciphers and . . .

"Oh, bugger." The words emerged from between Rory's teeth; Archie smothered a
smile.

And a map. Nothing as easily recognizable as the main house, either. The
boy looked up.

"I don't suppose you can-"

"You may have to do this without me one day?" Archie ventured lightly.

Rory answered with a shrug; it was Archie's turn to relent. "If we get down
to five minutes and you still can't think of it-try the code first."

"Seventeen minutes, now." Rory glanced at the clock, then the cipher-sheet.
"This is easy enough-it's yesterday's." Seating himself at the desk, he
quickly became engrossed in the work, as Archie watched the clock and
ruminated.

"Here! North of Lisbon." Rory looked up from his task with two-and-a-half
minutes to spare. They exchanged relieved smiles that broadened into grins.

"Two minutes, gentlemen." Carmichael entered, carrying a tray with four
tankards on it.

"Done!" Rory reported triumphantly. "If that's my pint, I want two!"

"You're getting *one*," the commander reiterated, taking the papers Rory held
up and exchanging them for ale.

At Carmichael's nod, Archie helped himself to a drink as well. "Who's the
last one for?"

"Who d'you think?" Jamieson inquired, strolling into the room and taking the
fourth tankard. "Here's to the Eel!" he announced, raising it in an
impromptu toast.

"And a clean job this time," Carmichael agreed. Rory colored a little but
seemed pleased.

"And to Stewart's first go-round," the boy proposed, and they drank to Archie
too.

"And next month," Carmichael declared, "it'll be Edinburgh. Add horses to
everything." A feral smile flashed. "And *I'm* to be on watch!"

Rory groaned and rolled his eyes. Jamieson laughed.

Despite the lateness of the hour, the mood became celebratory, especially as
the ale went down. Rory and Jamieson drew apart a little, in deep discussion
of some other topic. Carmichael, meanwhile, had taken an armchair by the
fire; after a moment's hesitation, Archie seated himself in the chair
directly opposite, mulling over some conclusions he had come to while Rory
was poring over the map.

"I've brought you back your watch," he said, breaking the silence.

Carmichael waved a dismissive hand. "You might as well hold on to it for now.
Useful thing to have, a watch-I've already got two, myself."

"Thank you." Archie slipped the watch into his pocket. He glanced
consideringly at his commander again. "This-wasn't really about the papers,
was it?"

"Wasn't it?" Carmichael's face gave nothing away.

Archie pressed on, emboldened nonetheless. "No. And it wasn't about me
climbing anything, and it wasn't even about doing everything in two hours."

"What, then?" Suddenly narrowed eyes studied him intently.

The younger man plunged ahead. "It was-to see if Rory and I could work
together. To see if Rory could work with *anyone* else," he added.

Flick of a noncommittal smile, but by now, Archie could tell when Carmichael
was pleased. The senior agent stared thoughtfully into the fire, then looked
back up at Archie again.

"You might almost be ready for this work, after all," was his only remark,
but he was still smiling.

 

END PART ELEVEN