by Clio

Chapter 12 - A Knife In The Back

Edrington wasted no time. He immediately gave orders to have four horses
saddled and ready before bursting into the drawing room with the others
at his back. When he broke the news to the rest of the party Annie paled
and swayed on her feet. Emma was at her side and quickly took her elbow,
gently but firmly pushing her back to her seat on the sofa. Kennedy
quickly crossed the room and knelt before his sister. He was unaware of
the turmoil in the room; his only thought was for Annie.

He clasped her hands in his; they were as cold as ice. She met his eyes
with a haunted look.

"Archie, it can't be true." Her voice was a choked whisper. "You know it.
You must!"

Kennedy flashed a quick look at Emma, sitting beside Annie with her arm
around Annie's shoulders. He was loathe to speak of these things in front
of her, but he had little choice. It was time to drop all the pretenses.

"Annie, I don't know anything. I certainly don't know who Reg is
anymore." His voice hardened with determination. "But I have every
intention of finding out." He leaned forward and pressed a quick kiss to
her cheek before standing. He laid a hand on Emma's shoulder for the
briefest moment before moving to join the Edrington brothers.

"No questions right now, please William!" Edrington was saying when
Kennedy walked up. Hornblower stood off to one side, trying to be as
unobtrusive as possible.

Edrington noticed Kennedy's presence then. He nodded once in
acknowledgment. "Is she all right?" he asked with a quick glance at
Annie. "Good. Let's go, gentlemen."

In the entryway they hastily donned cloaks and hats. Edrington in
particular seemed impatient to be off. His face could have been cast in
granite for all the emotion he showed, but anger radiated from him in
waves. That, and something that was almost akin to resignation; as if he
had been expecting some sort of eruption and was merely accepting the
inevitable. He pulled on his kid-leather gloves as he strode out the

They had to wait a few moments before the horses were brought to the
door. Kennedy took advantage of the delay to say a few hurried words.

"Hal, I'm sure that my brother could not have killed this man. Not in
cold blood, at any rate."

Edrington gave his young friend one agonizingly long, searching glance.
"But in hot blood, perhaps? Who knows what any of us is capable of under
those circumstances?" He raised one hand to pull his queue free from the
collar of his cloak, and Kennedy saw that the hand shook. Edrington must
have noticed it at the same moment, because he clenched his fist so tight
the leather of his glove creaked. "I don't know what happened tonight,
Archie, but its my responsibility to find out. No matter whose brother is
involved." He met Kennedy's eyes. "I'm sorry. I know this can't be easy,
but it has to be done. If you'd rather not go..." He left the sentence

Kennedy shook his head. "No, I have to go. I can't ask my father to do

The horses arrived just then with a clatter of hooves on the cobbles of
the courtyard. With a start Kennedy recognized two of them; the roan and
the bay had both been in Muziallc. It was obvious by the way he stroked
its nose that the roan was Edrington's personal favorite. A quick glance
at Hornblower showed that he shared his friend's shocked surprise.

"I'll spare you this time, Horatio." And with a cheeky grin for his
friend Kennedy mounted the bay.

"I'd rather be spared entirely." Hornblower said with a grimace. But he
gamely climbed on one of the horses just as Edrington swung himself into
the saddle and kicked his heels back. The roan started down the drive at
a canter and the other three hastened to keep up.

Kennedy rode at Edrington's side. Although it was nearly nine o'clock in
the evening there was a faint glow in the sky to the west. They didn't
speak; there was no point in it until they had more facts. Kennedy let
his mind go blank; it was preferable to thinking about what might await
them when they arrived. He found himself listening to the conversation
between Hornblower and William.

"I don't really understand. Surely between the village bailiff, the
constable, and the sheriff they can figure this matter out. Why does His
Lordship need to be present?" Hornblower asked.

William laughed slightly. "Noblesse oblige, Hornblower." The earl turned
in the saddle and gave his brother an ugly glare. "What I mean is that
there is still a tremendously medieval mentality it most villages.
Justice is the local lord's business, and the folk expect him to take
care of business, as it were. Especially in an area like this, where old
Anglo-Saxon influences are stronger than Norman ones."

Hornblower seemed to mull this over, which distracted him from his
purpose of staying in the saddle. He listed dangerously to one side.
Kennedy glanced back at his brief cry of alarm, and had to stifle a laugh
when William reached out and pushed Hornblower back upright. Even in the
encroaching darkness Hornblower's sheepish look was obvious as he thanked
his companion.

Kennedy glanced at Edrington, and decided against asking him to moderate
their pace. He was tense and angry, and perhaps more than a little
disgusted. Kennedy urged a little more speed out of his horse and drew
abreast of the earl. They were out of earshot of their companions, so he
decided to broach the subject.

"Edrington, do you think we might slow down? You know that Horatio is not
exactly an ideal horseman, and I'm a little out of practice myself."

Edrington didn't even look back. "William's a cavalry officer; he can
keep an eye on Hornblower." He nudged the roan's flanks and put the
animal to a full gallop. "Catch up when you can!" He shouted back over
his shoulder.

"Damn and blast!" Kennedy mumbled under his breath before putting his
heels back and thundering off in the earl's wake.

When he arrived in the village Kennedy was winded from the ride. The
horse, contrary animal that it was, wasn't even breathing hard. He reined
in outside the tavern where Edrington was just lowering himself from the
saddle. The innkeeper, Gaines, approached the pair from across the green.

"My lord. Mr. Archie." He greeted them respectfully. "I'm sorry to have
to bring you out like this, but..."

Edrington shook off the apology. "Never mind all that. What exactly
happened, Gaines?"

They set off across the green toward the rough-hewn building that served
as the village icehouse and, when circumstances warranted it, the village
jail. As they walked Gaines told what he knew, which turned out to be not
very much. A group of five men, including Chambers and Reg, had been
seated around a table in the tavern, getting loudly and uproariously
drunk. Some sort of disagreement arose; there was a great deal of
shouting and shoving before they took the discussion outside. A few of
the regular village idlers had followed the pack out, and the next thing
Gaines knew one of them ran back inside shouting that murder had been

"I went outside and found that man, Chambers, lying on the green... Just
here it was, m'lord." He gestured to a spot off to their right. "He had a
knife stuck in his back clear to the hilt. Mr. Reginald Kennedy" a quick
glance at Archie "was kneeling alongside the body with blood on his hand
and the cuff of his shirt. Before I could ask him anything or he could
say a word he simply fell over. Passed out from drink, I expect." he said
with another apologetic glance at Archie.

They had reached the icehouse by that time. Edrington paused to strip off
his gloves and push them into his belt. Kennedy noticed that his hands
were no longer shaking. He reached out and opened the door. They were met
by a gust of cooler air and the homey scent of sawdust. Mingled with it
were the undeniable scents of gin and vomit.

Edrington's nostrils flared in response, and had the situation been less
serious Kennedy would have laughed at his friend's sudden resemblance to
his very well bred horse. But there was little humour to be found. They
moved toward the back of the building, and there they found Reg.
Unconscious and with a sickening combination of blood and vomit staining
his right shirt sleeve. Some of the blood no doubt came from Reg himself;
his lower lip was split and his nose had contributed to the mess.

Edrington nudged Reg's shoulder with the toe of his boot. A groan was all
the response he got.

"See if you can't get through to him." he ordered Kennedy.

Kennedy squatted beside his brother, trying his best to ignore the
stench. "Reg?" he asked quietly. "Reg, can you hear me?" He shook Reg's
shoulder, gently at first, and then more forcefully. "Wake up, Reg. We
need to talk to you about what happened."


Kennedy stood up again. "I don't think he'll be coherent for quite a
while." He looked down at his brother. "And he probably won't remember
very much of what happened."

Edrington turned away from the sorry sight and addressed Gaines. "Keep
him here. The colder air might help revive him. Have you sent word to the
militia commander?"

Gaines nodded.

"Good. Station three militia soldiers outside to keep an eye on him." He
turned to Kennedy. "Now I suppose we had best have a word with the

They set back off across the green towards the tavern. William and
Hornblower had caught up and we standing with all four horses. The buzz
and hum of voices could plainly be heard through an open window.

"Hal, what..." William began.

"Not now." Edrington curtly cut him off and entered the tavern.

Silence fell on the assembled crowd like a thunderclap. All eyes were
turned to the door and to the sudden entrance of the Earl of Edrington.
Kennedy had to admit the man knew how to make his presence felt. In the
dim, smoky light of the taproom the red coat and the shining brass of his
military uniform shone like a beacon, and the light from the candle
sconce beside the door turned his blonde hair into gold.

The sound of a glass shattering broke the spell. Conversation resumed,
albeit in a more subdued tone. On the far side of the room a portly
middle-aged man rose from his chair and threaded his way through the

"M'lord, I was just about to go to the manor to speak to you."

"Outside, Bodkin." Edrington whirled and strode out the door,
disappearing as suddenly as he had appeared.

Once outside he did not hesitate to expend a little aristocratic wrath.
"I suppose sitting in a tavern drinking ale with witnesses qualifies as
ëjust about to go to the manor'! Its a damn good thing that Gaines sent a
messenger, otherwise I might not have known that a murder had happened
for... Oh, I don't know! Two, perhaps three, days? What the devil do you
think you're doing here, Bodkin?" His voice was pitched just above a
whisper, but the older man shrank back from it all the same. "My father
always trusted and respected you, and I kept you on because of that,
though it was against my better judgment. I'd hate to be proven right at
the cost of seeing a man unjustly hanged!"

Kennedy started at those words. For the first time since they had ridden
out it finally sank in. His brother was under a charge for murder. If
found guilty he would be hanged. He felt his vision blur and his hands
start to shake. His knees felt weak and the only thought in his head was
Please God, not a fit. Not here, not now. By some miracle he managed to
walk to the water trough at the side of the tavern, and without taking
the time to think about he pulled off his hat and plunged his head under.
The cool water helped clear his head, and when he blinked the water out
of his eyes he saw Hornblower standing at his side, a worried expression
on his face.

"Archie, are you all right? You look like you've seen a ghost!"

Kennedy mustered up a wan smile for his friend. "I'm all right. I think
it finally hit me."

"Do you think Reg did what they're accusing him of?"

"I don't honestly know." Kennedy took a moment to push his hair off his
face, pulling the ribbon loose in the process. He held the scrap of black
grosgrain before his eyes. "Damn! I lose more of these blessed things
than I can keep track off." He met his friends eyes and sighed. "Reg is
completely incoherent. He's not even conscious, and he's likely to remain
in that state for some hours to come. So we can't hear his side of the
story just yet."

Edrington and William came up then. Looking passed the brothers Kennedy
could see Bodkin walking toward the icehouse, his shoulders slumped and

"I suppose after all of this is over I'll have to see about a new
constable." Edrington said. He finally seemed to notice Kennedy's wet and
disheveled state. "What happened to you, Archie?"

"A hostile encounter with a water trough. Never mind what happened to me!
What did Bodkin have to say? What do the witnesses say?

Edrington looked down at his feet before launching into the tale. "Not
very much. And I think calling any of them witnesses is overly
optimistic. There were at least eight men involved in the fight, which
means at least seven of them could have knifed Chambers. All of them were
fairly far into their cups, so not one of them can describe the sequence
of events with any accuracy. They seem to be in agreement about one
thing, however; Reg was the angriest and had the most reason to want
Chambers dead. But I suppose that's just trying to cover their own
assets. Why point the finger anywhere else when a man is already under
lock and key for the crime?"

"Who exactly is this Chambers?" William asked.

Kennedy spared a glance for the young cavalryman. "I forgot; you've come
in in the middle of this whole mess." He took a moment to sketch in the
bare facts of the whole story before answering William's question.
"Chambers is an old sailor. He served on the Justinian with Horatio and

"Is he a deserter?"

"No." Hornblower answered. "He was discharged for wounds sustained in
action against the French frigate Papillon. He was one of the men we
managed to rescue after the Justinian sank in that action." Kennedy
congratulated himself at not flinching at the mention of that name.

William was still puzzled. "I don't understand. Why would Reg Kennedy
have a reason to kill an old salt like Chambers? It doesn't make any
sense." He looked at Archie. "Was your brother in the habit of carrying a

"No. No, he wasn't." His voice gained conviction. he looked at Edrington.
"Surely that argues in his favor?"

Edrington did not look hopeful. "Perhaps, but its hardly conclusive. In a
melee like what we have here it would have been fairly easy for a man to
lay his hands on a knife. He could have pulled it from the belt of one of
the other men! Who knows?" He sighed and rubbed a hand down his face.
"There's nothing more that can be done until Reg wakes up and can tell
us, and Gaines and Bodkin, what he remembers. I'll stay the night at the
inn to be close at hand. Archie?"

"Yes. Yes, I'll stay as well." Hornblower was about to speak but Kennedy
overrode him. "No, Horatio. You have to go back to the manor. You're
supposed to leave tomorrow, remember?" He gave a mirthless laugh. "Not
much of a going away celebration, was it?"

Hornblower simply shook his head. "How can I leave in the midst of all
this? You asked me to accompany you home to help you, and now, when you
really need help, I have to leave." His voice was strained. "I'm sorry,

"Don't be. You have to obey orders. And we'll talk before the post chaise
leaves tomorrow." He clasped Hornblower's hand tightly in his and stared
deep into his friend's eyes. "You have helped me, never doubt that. I'll
be all right, you'll see."

Edrington gave his bother a message for their mother and his fiancee, and
orders to have a change of clothes sent back for both himself and
Kennedy. William and Hornblower mounted and rode from the village without
looking back

It was getting on toward midnight by the time they arrived back at
Edrington manor, but everyone was still wide awake. Lady Sarah must have
heard the front door open, because she came out to the entry hall before
William and Hornblower could even take one step toward the drawing room.

"William, what's happening? Where's Hal? And Mr. Kennedy?" she asked, her
voice husky with anxiety.

The others had followed her out of the room and formed a circle around
the pair. Their faces were drawn with worry and exhaustion. "Its all
right. They're staying in the village." He looked toward Annie and Edward
and a slight flush rose to his face. He looked guilty as he finished the
explanation. "Reg was unconscious by the time we got there, and he won't
be able to tell his side of the story for some hours yet. Hal and Kennedy
decided to stay the night so they would be close at hand when Reg is able
to talk."

"They'll need a change of clothes and fresh linen. I'll see to that."
Lady Sarah said and moved briskly to keep her word.

The dowager countess had barely spoken since the first use of the word
murder, nearly three hours earlier. Now she stepped into the void of her
son's absence. She gestured to include Edward, Annie and the
Chamberlains. "Its too late to return to your homes now. You are all
welcome to stay here for the night." After everyone had accepted she
turned to Hornblower. "My apologies, Lieutenant. This was supposed to be
something of a celebration in your honour. I hope you won't return to
Portsmouth with any bad feelings."

Hornblower blushed, and bowed before her with his characteristic
awkwardness. "Not at all, my lady. I'm only sorry that I was not able to
enjoy more time spent in your fascinating company."

Lady Edrington laughed and poked him lightly with her cane. "Get on with
you, young man! I'm far to old and experienced to fall for that!"

Lady Sarah came back downstairs. "Everything is set." She glanced at her
future mother-in-law. "I anticipated that we would have overnight guests,
so the maids are making up the rooms. And I took the liberty, Mr.
Hornblower, of arranging to have your things brought here from Rosefield.
I hope you don't mind."

"No, not at all." he replied. "It saves me an extra trip on horseback."
He gave his posterior a brief pat and flashed a rueful grin. "Horses and
I do not exactly get along."

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