Into the Game
by Pam and Del

PART SIX

 

The clatter of cutlery and the savory smells wafting down the passage alerted
Archie to the location of the breakfast room. The first thing he saw as he
reached the doorway was Rory MacCrimmon, standing by the sideboard and
helping himself from several chafing dishes. Catching sight of Archie, the
youth greeted him cheerfully and went on filling his plate.

There was indeed enough to feed an army, Archie reflected, approaching the
sideboard himself. It appeared that Kilcarron did not stint on provisions
for his subordinates. The food here, though, was of much higher quality and
variety than that served in the military. Eggs, boiled and fried; bacon;
sausage; potatoes; bread; bannocks; even kippers. The sight of this bounty
awoke no corresponding stir of pleasure--a circumstance Archie found more
than a little upsetting.

*I used to enjoy breakfast. Especially when we were in port--and there was
the chance of something nicer than ship's biscuit and salt beef. Come to
that, I used to enjoy mornings too.*

Not today, though--his appetite felt as dull as his wits. Was it the
sedatives that Latour was giving him that made him so listless and
uninterested in everything? Possibly. Still, if it were a choice between the
sedatives and the nightmares . . .

Grimacing to himself, he located the inevitable crock of steaming porridge.
If he was going to be miserable over breakfast, he might as well be miserable
over something that deserved such a reaction. Mouth setting in a determined
line, he spooned the lumpy oatmeal into a shallow basin, poured himself a cup
of of coffee from the pot on the sideboard, then sat down at the breakfast
table. Rory soon joined him, taking the chair directly opposite.

Adding a dollop of milk to his coffee, Archie marveled at the condition of
the boy's plate, heaped high with eggs, meat, and every kind of bread. A lone
kipper, its sightless eyes glaring, flanked a pile of fried potatoes. Archie
averted his gaze, dutifully swallowed another spoonful of porridge while Rory
inhaled his own breakfast with the unbridled enthusiasm of seventeen.

They presented such an inadvertent contrast that Carmichael grinned at the
sight as he entered silently and poured himself coffee. He tweaked Rory's
ear as he walked behind their table and seated himself. "I think you're
growing again."

"You're back!" Rory whipped around with more unguarded enthusiasm in the
presence of adults than Archie had seen before. "When did you get in?"

"Two days ago. Your wits are gone slow, or you haven't been paying
attention. Finish your breakfast." Rory scowled but resumed eating;
Carmichael nodded at Archie. "Morning, Stewart."

"Oh!" Rory looked up again. "*That's* your name. That's what I should call
you."

"*Mr.* Stewart, to you," Carmichael corrected. His brows drew together as he
looked from Rory to Archie and back again. "What *have* you been calling
him, hell-brat?"

"Sir," Rory answered, with a sudden blandness in his expression that Archie
realized was a near-imitation of Carmichael's, talking to Latour that first
day. "And he calls me Mr. MacCrimmon." Green eyes lowered. "But he can
call me Rory if he wants to."

"Perhaps outside of lessons," Archie temporized. There was a game going on
here, and he wasn't yet sure of all the rules. But he'd finished
three-quarters of the damned oatmeal--relieved, he pushed it aside and drank
coffee.

Rory was pushing away his own empty plate, glancing at Carmichael. "Where?"

"Right-hand study," Carmichael said, and followed them as Rory led the way up
the stairs to the top floor.

The study was much like its counterpart in Kilcarron's main house. Archie
sat down slowly in the nearest chair, telling himself with more determination
than truth that breathing didn't hurt. Carmichael glanced at him briefly,
then sent Rory to open a window.

"It's raining," the boy reported, back over his shoulder.

"Leave it open--we can get some air, keep everyone awake." Carmichael's gaze
returned to Archie, as Rory sat down. 'What was on the table?"

"What?" Archie stared, puzzled.

"You just came from breakfast," Carmichael reminded him casually. "What was
on the table?"

Archie tried to think back. "Well, there were dishes, and cups, and forks,
and spoons, and . . . and . . . " He floundered to a stop, feeling obscurely
embarrassed, the blood rushing to his cheeks.

Carmichael raised his brows slightly, then looked at the next chair. "Rory?
Your turn."

Green eyes glinted back impudently. "Carmichael, you know that's not a fair
question!"

"It's still your turn. Off you go."

"Three china cups." Rory began to tick items off on his fingers. "Four china
plates, four place settings of silver, four linen napkins. Silver pitcher
and cream-pot, china sugar bowl, sugar tongs--only plated, three cut-crystal
jampots, silver saltcellar and pepperpot, damask tablecloth. I can do the
sideboard too," he added helpfully.

"That'll do, hell-brat."

Archie resisted the temptation to drop his burning face into his hands.

"Our Rory hasn't told you his specialty then?" Carmichael inquired, amused.
Archie shook his head.

"He was one of the middling best housebreakers in Edinburgh."

"*Middling!*" Rory protested, his professional pride clearly offended.

Carmichael aimed a light cuff at the youth's head that would have missed by a
foot even if Rory hadn't ducked. "Don't forget you got *caught*, boy!"

"That's because I *grew* three inches." Rory sounded aggrieved. "Not because
I was in--incompetent," he brought the word out triumphantly.

"It was a bit more than a year ago," Carmichael resumed, for Archie's
benefit. "Edinburgh magistrate was going to offer Rory two choices--hanging
or transportation. So Old Nick bought him out of gaol and brought him here."

Rory shrugged. "He said he'd pay me to break into houses. It was better than
getting my neck stretched."

"Old Nick said he had to finish growing first," Carmichael went on. "And
there were other things he had to learn. Reading. Writing. Speaking." A
slightly evil grin flicked in Rory's direction, conveying a shared private
joke. "Washing. But the memory work has come along fine."

Memory work. Archie felt himself flushing again, realizing where he had
failed.

"First lesson," Carmichael said briskly but not unkindly. "You've got eyes.
Use them. *Second* lesson," he continued without breaking stride as Archie's
flush deepened, "you've got a brain, or Old Nick wouldn't have brought you
here." He paused, watching to see that he had the younger man's full
attention. "Remember that. There's nothing here you can't learn." He
waited until Archie met his eyes and nodded faintly, then pushed a book
across the table at Rory. "Your turn again. Let's hear how you've done
since I've been away."

*****

*****

Judging by Carmichael's expression, Rory *had* made progress, Archie thought,
some fifteen minutes or so later. The boy understood what he read, even
though he struggled over the longer words--not too surprising if he had only
learned to read in the last year or so.

A light, unfamiliar step was heard in the passage, followed by a soft rap on
the door. Rory stopped reading and jerked upright, green eyes widening in a
mixture of indignation and dismay. To Archie's surprise, the boy directed a
fiercely reproachful glower at Carmichael who stared imperviously back.

"*Manners.*" The commander's voice was as severe as any schoolmaster's as he
went to the door. Rory grimaced but rose from his chair; mystified, Archie
stood up as well.

Carmichael opened the door and stepped back to admit the other person into
the room. Archie's eyes widened as he recognized the woman he had glimpsed
from the library window a few days ago, talking to Kilcarron.

"Miss Dunbar." Carmichael inclined his head.

"Carmichael," the woman replied in a throaty contralto, tinged with a slight
Lowlands accent. She turned towards the other two occupants in the room. "Mr.
MacCrimmon." Her tone became, infinitesimally, more formal.

Beside Archie, Rory was suddenly as stiff as a poker. "Miss Dunbar," he
returned, his tone more consciously polite than Archie had ever heard it.

"And you must be the new man?" Miss Dunbar's eyes, a startling shade of
blue-green, looked Archie over. "Mr--?''

"Stewart," Archie supplied, the name still feeling strange in his mouth.
"Miss Dunbar," he added quickly, not wishing to sound terse or discourteous.

Miss Dunbar smiled, her severe expression softening slightly. She looked
less forbidding then--Archie placed her age at about thirty. Tall, slim, with
dark hair worn in a chignon, dressed with neatness and propriety in a frock
of striped blue muslin, with what looked a bit like a chatelaine fastened
around her frock's high waist. She had the demeanor of a schoolmistress
but, based on what Archie had learned that morning, it was best not to make
any assumptions about anyone until one knew the facts.

"I'll leave you to it, Caillean," Carmichael said, still at the door.
"Stewart, I'll expect you at the weapons range at noon again. Rory--" Tawny
eyes stared meaningfully at the boy, who flushed and nodded jerkily. The
response appeared to satisfy the commander, who then stepped out of the room,
closing the door behind him.

"Now then, gentlemen," Miss Dunbar began briskly, opening a desk drawer and
taking out a book, quills, ink, and paper. "Let us begin." She passed the
book, one pen, an inkpot, and some blank sheets of paper to Rory. "Mr.
MacCrimmon, you will copy out these marked pages in your best handwriting
while I work with Mr. Stewart."

His demeanor still stiffly polite, Rory opened the book and began his task
without delay. Miss Dunbar turned to Archie, her expression slightly
quizzical.

"Mr. Stewart, I will be training you in codes and ciphers--but I would
appreciate some idea of how best to proceed with your instruction. What do
you already know?"

Archie hesitated a moment before replying. "A little," he said tentatively,
thinking back to his Indefatigable days, his strategic discussions with
Horatio. "I remember *one* code--was it ours?--involving people with the same
book. Yes . . . " He was beginning to feel more confident as the memory
returned. "The exact same book--same edition, same pages, everything. And
the people trying to communicate would send messages composed of
three-number sequences. The first number in the sequence would be the page
number, followed by the line and word numbers."

"Yes." Miss Dunbar was smiling now. "That's one that's often used. But it
works best when only a few people are exchanging information--two or three,
perhaps. Otherwise, it would be far too easy for adversaries to identify the
book being used and decipher the code. Can you think of ways to pass along
messages without leaving a trail?"

Archie considered the matter further. "Well . . . there would be passwords.
Catch phrases." Another memory, far older, stirred in his brain. "Songs!"
he exclaimed. "Blondel the minstrel--he sang a certain song under prison
windows in the Holy Land until he found where Richard the Lionheart was being
kept."

"Excellent!" Miss Dunbar was positively beaming, aquamarine eyes alight. "And
you'll have heard of the Jacobites too--and *their* coded songs!"

Oh God. Sudden pain like a knife thrust to the heart . . .

//. . . the white and black of pianoforte keys, hands, long-fingered and
supple, touching those keys with expert assurance, a clear voice singing . .
. "My heart is sair, I daurna tell / My heart is sair for somebody . . . "//

No . . . not this . . . not this, on top of everything else. The memories of
Horatio were barely endurable. If he was going to start remembering
*everyone* he had loved and left behind . . .

*I can't. I CAN'T.* Something would break, certain sure--either his
promise to Kilcarron, or himself, into little pieces. *So many pieces I can't
ever be put back together again* . . .

"Mr. Stewart?" A husky contralto, edged with concern. "Mr. Stewart, are you
unwell?"

Archie fought the pain down with an effort that made his eyes water, pinched
the bridge of his nose hard between finger and thumb. He swallowed, coughed
briefly, managed to force his voice past the thickness in his throat. "A . .
. a touch of the headache. It's--it's nothing." He managed to crack his eyes
open, saw not only Miss Dunbar but Rory staring at him fixedly. "It's
nothing," he repeated, trying to put more conviction in his voice.

Miss Dunbar still eyed him askance but resumed, albeit more slowly. "As I
was saying," she continued, "the Jacobites used songs to communicate
intelligence about Bonnie Prince Charlie--where he was bound, where he was
hiding, who was joining his band. Of course, by now, over fifty years later,
most of their secrets are quite exploded. But music can still serve as a
signal between agents. However, written codes are the most frequently used
in our profession and we will be exploring some of the more recently
developed ones today."

Archie sat quietly, collecting himself and letting her speak without
interruption. Gradually, he began to feel more composed, to pay closer
attention to what Miss Dunbar was saying. The young woman was warming to her
subject, growing more visibly animated. There was no doubt she found codes
and ciphers fascinating, that she was eager to share that fascination with
her students. She has a passion, Archie thought--and felt an echo of that
earlier pain as he recalled other people he had known who'd had passions too.
Horatio, about strategy, his sister Alice, about gardening . . . and his
betrothed, about music.

The sound of another drawer opening roused him from his thoughts. He glanced
up, saw Miss Dunbar taking out what looked like an exercise book. "This,"
she announced, making her way back to his side of the table, "contains
examples of two codes, one English, one French. Carmichael mentioned you were
studying French with Dr. Latour."

"Yes." Archie looked at the pages she had marked for him. "This one," he
pointed at the English code, "this one Latour was starting to teach me aboard
ship."

"Good. Then it will not be completely unfamiliar to you. Now *this*," Miss
Dunbar turned to the other set of pages, "is one of *their* codes, which we
broke just last year. You can see how we've set down the key, right here.
Using it, you should be able to decode their messages with comparative ease."
She extracted a folded paper tucked into another part of the book. "Here is
a copy of a coded French dispatch we intercepted six months ago. Outdated, of
course, but I am giving it to you for practice purposes."

"You wish me to figure out what it really says?"

She nodded. "Using the key. Now for the English code, I want you to compose
a brief message--no more than a few sentences--using the symbols and signs
we've established." She placed another inkpot down at his right hand, set
paper and pen before him. "I shall be working with Mr. MacCrimmon if you
have further questions."

"Thank you." Opening the exercise book again, Archie applied himself to the
task. He was vaguely aware of Miss Dunbar and Rory as they moved to another
area of the study so they could review the boy's handwriting without
disturbing him.

The key for the French code was meticulously accurate--it was not long before
he had the entire message not only decoded but translated, though somewhat
roughly, into English. Nothing of monumental significance, although the
possibility of peace with England *was* broached in the dispatch. October,
1801. Archie thought back to that time . . . the last leg of their voyage to
Santo Domingo, marred by tension, an unruly crew, and a captain tottering on
the brink of insanity. Tottering--and then falling headlong into the abyss.
*And trying to take all of us with him in the process.* His wound twinged
sharply, as if his body hated the memory as much as his mind did.

No more. He pushed the dispatch away, reached for more paper to deal with the
English code. Compose a brief message, Miss Dunbar had said. What should he
write? Somehow he doubted "Against my will, I am being trained as a spy by a
mad Scottish earl. Save me" would go over well. No--consider the most basic
details. If one agent needed to meet with another, he'd require a time and
place, and perhaps some way to confirm identity if the agents themselves had
not met face to face. Perusing the symbols contained in the English code,
Archie began to formulate such a message in his head . . .

He was just putting the finishing touches on his effort when Miss Dunbar's
voice reclaimed his attention. "Mr. MacCrimmon, Mr. Stewart."

Archie carefully completed the last symbol of his coded message before
looking up inquiringly. Once more at the front at the room, Miss Dunbar was
examining the pocket watch on her chatelaine.

"It lacks but fifteen minutes to the noon hour," she announced. "Why do we
not stop for the day? It will not do to--overfatigue anyone."

She had--almost--sufficient assurance to carry it off, but Archie felt his
face growing warm nonetheless. Damn it--was there a single soul in this
entire bloody place who *didn't* know he'd been wounded? Just as
embarrassing was the subsequent realization that the answer was probably
"no." He smothered a sigh and laid down his quill.

Miss Dunbar came to collect his work. "We will review these at your next
lesson, Mr. Stewart. Mr. MacCrimmon, I advise you to practice the letters we
spoke of today for an additional half-hour. Gentlemen, I shall see you
tomorrow morning."

Recognizing a dismissal, Archie followed Rory out into the hall. The boy
pulled a wry face at him once the study door had closed behind them but only
said, "Dirty trick of Carmichael's not to warn me. Still, at least it's over
with."

"Ciphering's your least favorite lesson?"

Rory grimaced in affirmation. "Ciphering *and* handwriting--both taught by
Miss Dunbar. I've my riding lesson now. Are we still meeting in the map room
this afternoon?"

"I believe so, unless Dr. Latour said otherwise."

"Good." A slightly impudent grin. "I'll see you then, Mr. Stewart." He loped
off, leaving Archie to contemplate the enigma of his geography pupil and to
recoup his own energies for weapons practice.

*****

The drizzle had stopped, although the ground was still yielding underfoot.
Carmichael was waiting at the practice range as he had been the previous day.
He greeted his new subordinate with a brief nod and they proceeded to the
gun-rack.

"The air's damp," Archie observed, as the senior agent passed him the rifle
and ammunition pouch.

"The powder's dry. A soldier shoots in any weather."

Rebuked, Archie revised his words before he could come out with the tell-tale
"aye-aye". "Yes, sir." He looked down. "Didn't mean to speak out of turn,
sir."

"Load and fire, Mr. Stewart."

If he heard the name often enough he might remember it was supposed to be his
own. Archie started the drill, aware he was being watched: not
disapprovingly, but thoughtfully.

After twenty minutes, Carmichael halted the practice. "That'll do for one
day--Latour said not to tire you out. Let's try something else--where the
weather doesn't matter."

Archie dropped his eyes again, retreating into silence for safety. He
followed Carmichael to the end of the range, where one target was set aside,
noticeably closer to the standing-line. A canvas-draped table, rather than a
gun-rack, stood nearby.

"Here." Carmichael pulled back the canvas, handed Archie a knife from the
assortment on the table "They're special balanced. Can you throw it?"

"*Throw* it?" Archie repeated, looking from the knife in his hand to
Carmichael. The idea seemed very . . theatrical.

"It's *quiet.*" Carmichael emphasized the second word. "Never forget that.
And never carry less than two: down your boot, up your sleeve, in your belt
or your breeches. I think Jamieson carries four or five."

"Jamieson?"

"He's our best knife man." Carmichael picked up a knife himself and threw
it--it struck slightly left of center. "I'll have him work with you when he
gets back. He can hit a running target from thirty paces--when he's running,
too." Carmichael's second knife hit the target right-of-center. "And Rory,"
he added, "can open a window with one. Not that difficult. I'll have him
teach you."

"He'll say it's a change from maps," Archie mused. He weighed the knife in
his hands for another minute, then aimed as he had seen Carmichael do, and
threw it at the target. It struck woefully low and aside.

"Try a bit higher," Carmichael encouraged. He grinned slightly. "Tell
yourself it's Old Nick you're aiming at!"

The knife struck three inches closer to the center of the target this time.

"An improvement, Lazarus!" Kilcarron called, suddenly appearing from the back
of the range. Archie stiffened, setting his teeth as Kilcarron approached,
but it was Carmichael who spoke.

"Stewart," he corrected, his voice casual, uninflected, and not particularly
loud, but something about it made Kilcarron stop in his tracks.

"As good a name as any, I suppose," he said, after a brief pause, nodded to
them both, and strolled away.

Archie exhaled carefully, a wave of mingled relief and embarrassment sweeping
over him. *Carmichael is right--I DO need to find a better way of dealing
with . . . him.* But, oh God, it felt--shamefully good not to have to face
Kilcarron alone right now.

Carmichael saw the brief, grateful flicker of the blue eyes, and grinned.

"Old Nick!" he said expressively. Then he picked up another knife and passed
it over. "Again."

 

END PART SIX