by Clio

Whatever happens....

"I understand congratulations are in order." was Edrington's greeting the
next morning. "Its the talk of the district."

Kennedy was confused for a moment, than surprised, than embarrassed.
"How the devil....? I mean, how did word get out so fast?"

Edrington shrugged and grinned at his friend. "Servants talk, Archie.
Most particularly, they talk to other servants. So it doesn't take long
for happy news to spread. And this is happy news, considering what the
last few days have brought." He extended a hand and heartily shook
Kennedy's. "You have my sincerest congratulations, Archie, and my best
wishes. She's a wonderful young lady; I'm sure you'll be happy."
Edrington glanced over his shoulder toward the house. "You'd best
prepare yourself, my friend. Mamma and Sarah will no doubt shower you
with praise and compliments!"

By this time Kennedy was blushing so furiously that he felt his face was
afire. But he accepted the congratulations graciously. He turned to
include his father in the happy exchange only to find Edward still
astride his horse, a distracted look on his face.

"Father?" he asked.

Edward started out of his haze. He seemed to realize for the first time
that they had arrived at their destination. He climbed from the saddle
slowly, like a man twenty years older than his age. He had been in a bit
of a fog since Kennedy had returned from Marsden Hall the evening before.
The announcement of his and Emma's engagement had brought barely a
flicker to Edward's face, whereas Annie had smiled, wept, hugged, and
laughed all at the same time.

Edrington noticed the difference in Edward's demeanor, but made no
comment on it. He ushered his guests into the house. The ever-ready
Barton stood by to take their hats and gloves.

"Breakfast is waiting, m'lord." he said.

The men proceeded to the dining room. As they approached Kennedy could
hear the cheerful voices of the women of the house, interspersed with an
occasional comment in William's low baritone. He glanced at Edrington.
The earl simply smiled and raised that damnable right eyebrow of his.
Kennedy inhaled deeply, and steeled himself for the storm of
congratulations that awaited him on the other side of the door.

It proved to be less painful than he thought it would be. William's
sentiments were perhaps the most boisterous, but they were mercifully cut
short by a stern glance from his brother. Lady Edrington had not risen
from her chair, so Kennedy had to stoop to present his cheek to be
kissed. She then demanded that he take the chair beside her and tell her
all about his proposal.

They made it through the meal somehow, Edward seemingly unconcerned with
the chatter that surrounded him and Archie wishing he could just slide
under the table and disappear. William seemed disappointed that Annie
had not joined her father and brother, but he contented himself with
enjoying every blush and embarrassed smile his mother managed to elicit
from Kennedy.

When the meal ended Edrington sent for his horse and then gestured
Kennedy to accompany him to the study. "You mustn't mind Mamma" he said
as they walked down the hall. "She tends to be that way when she knows
its discomfiting." He smiled. "It is rather amusing, however, watching
you turn so many shades of red!"

"Very amusing, I'm sure!" Kennedy shook his head and laughed at his own
susceptibility. "Where does she come up with some of the things she
says?" he asked.

Edrington grinned. "I wish to God I knew! You think you had it bad?
You should have seen me squirm when I told her that I had proposed to
Sarah!" He laughed at the memory. "I haven't been that uncomfortable in
front of my mother since I was ten!" By this time they were facing each
other across the gleaming expanse of Edrington's desk. The earl grew
serious again. "There isn't a single person in this family, or in this
household, that doesn't truly and honestly wish you and Emma all the
best, Archie."

Kennedy had to clear his throat before he spoke. "Thank you, Hal."

"Now I suppose we need to get on with less pleasant matters." he said.
"Colonel Mathers expects us by ten, so we'd best leave soon." As he
spoke Edrington took a pistol out of the gun cabinet, loaded it, and
tucked it into his belt.

Kennedy blanched at the sight of the pistol. "You..." He took a deep
breath. "What..." He raised troubled eyes to his friends face. "Why?"

Edrington leaned forward on the desktop. "Why?" he asked. "Because I
want to be prepared for anything that might happen. I don't expect there
to be any trouble, but we just don't know." He gazed steadily into
Kennedy's eyes. "You don't know Colonel Mathers like I do, Archie." He
straightened and turned to look out the window. His voice was pitched so
low that Kennedy barely caught his next words. "I have a very bad
feeling about all this."

When they arrived in the village there was a crowd of people gathered on
the green. Edrington's expression darkened when he saw them, and his
hand dropped to the butt of his pistol. Colonel Mathers stood off to one
side, studiously ignoring the press of people near the icehouse door,
Bodkin standing nearby.

Kennedy felt a frisson of fear chase down his spine. For all that he
held himself apart, Mathers had the satisfied expression of a man who's
every plan was bearing fruit. He glanced over at Edrington and saw that
his lips were compressed into a thin line and his jaw was tightly
clenched. He dismounted, tossing his reins to a groom from the inn,
before approaching Mathers.

"I see you're up to your usual antics, Mathers." he said.

Mathers sneered. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean, Major! Can I
help it if these people are interested in seeing justice done?"

Edrington stared at Mathers for a long moment before turning his back on
him. "No, I suppose you can't help it." was all he said in response. He
walked to where Edward was just dismounting and brought him to the door.
"Mathers, this is Mr. Edward Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy, Colonel Mathers."

The two men acknowledged each other with nods. Kennedy stood behind his
father and slightly to the side. He was worried about his father; Edward
had barely spoken since their conversation in the study the day before.
He hadn't slept at all; there were dark circles under his eyes and he
moved stiffly. He seemed to have aged overnight. He took a deep breath.

Mathers nodded once and Bodkin hauled open the icehouse door. The cool
air wafted out, carrying with it the last vestiges of a foul odor.
Edward's nostrils flared in response, and he clenched his jaw tightly
against the churning of his stomach. Kennedy placed a hand on his
father's elbow, startling him.

"Father, are you all right?" he asked.

Edward nodded and swallowed heavily. "I think so." he said, his voice
shaky. He looked at his younger son. "Archie, I know that I said I
didn't want you here, but...."

Kennedy met Edward's eyes and gave his elbow a reassuring squeeze. "I'm
not going anywhere." he said, and the pair disappeared into the chilly,
damp interior.

"We cleaned him up some, m'lord." Bodkin said quietly to Edrington,
glancing over his shoulder with a guilty face at Mathers. "The colonel
didn't rightly want us to, but I said he deserved to see his father with
a clean face."

Edrington was surprised at the sensitivity shown by the large, gross man.
"Thank you, Bodkin." he said sincerely. "It won't go bad for you, will
it?" he continued in sudden, and surprising concern.

Bodkin shook his head. "Don't fret for me, m'lord. I knows the Colonel,
I do. He'll not do anything."

Edrington saw Mathers approaching over the constable's head so he
contented himself with a nod for the man before turning to the Colonel.
When Mathers made to follow the Kennedys inside, Edrington held out an
arm and blocked his way. "You said that Mr. Kennedy could speak to his
son alone. With no interference." He pointed at Mathers' chest. "I'm
holding you to that, Colonel." And he turned to follow Archie and
Edward, shutting the door and dropping the bar on the inside.

Inside the dimly lit building it was eerily quiet, except for a murmur of
voices. Edrington followed the sound, hoping to catch up with the
Kennedys before they got to Reg. He had not failed to notice how pale
and wan Edward was, nor how quiet he had been since they arrived at
Edrington Manor. It worried him no less than his friend. He was only
too aware of how tenuous Edward's grip on sobriety was, and for the sake
of Archie and his sister he wanted the older man to remain in control.
But this was a situation to try the nerves of even the steadiest man, and
he feared that Edward was not up to the challenge.

A dim glow of light was ahead, and he heard Edward exclaim "Good God!"
He hurried the last few yards and came on the scene abruptly, nearly
tripping over Reg's outstretched legs. The clink of a chain was the
first clue. When his eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness of the lamp
he saw that Reg had a manacle around one ankle. He followed the path of
the chain as it snaked across the floor and saw where it met a hasp on
the wall. As he stood in stunned amazement at the sight Edward turned to
him, his face suddenly ablaze with emotion.

"He's chained! Like a common criminal!" Edward was all but shaking in
his anger. "Worse! Like a common animal!"

Edrington was almost too shocked to speak. "I didn't know!" His voice
was a whisper. "Mathers never said anything!"

Their voices seemed to get through to Reg, for he stirred and opened his
eyes. He looked at his father first, than at Edrington. It wasn't until
he laid eyes on his brother, standing as much in the shadows as he could
manage that Reg reacted. He struggled to his feet and moved as far
forward as the chain would allow. His eyes never left his brother's

"GET OUT!" he shouted. "Get him out of here!"

Kennedy recoiled from his brother's anger.

Reg tried to take another step forward but was stopped by the manacle on
his ankle. Instead he extended his hand toward Archie, his pointing
finger hovering less than six inches from Archie's nose. "You pathetic
little bastard" he raged. "I don't want you here. I don't need you
here. I can't stand the sight of you! Now...... get...... out!"

Kennedy took a step back, turned and fled from the icehouse.

Edrington looked at Reg. "Everybody is trying to help you, Mr. Kennedy."
he said, his voice colder than the air around them. "You might do well
to remember that." He spun on his heel and followed Kennedy outside.

He caught up with Archie on the far side of the green near where their
horses were tethered. He stood with his back determinedly turned on the
whole assemblage, facing down the road that lead to Edrington Manor, and
beyond that to Rosefield. His fists were tightly clenched at his side,
but even from a distance Edrington could see that his shoulders shook.


Kennedy's hands relaxed and he took a deep breath. When he exhaled his
shoulders drooped and he pressed one hand to his eyes. His voice shook
when he spoke. "Why?" He shook his head. "I just wish I knew why." He
turned his head to look at Edrington, who had moved to stand beside him.
"I always loved him. Worshipped him, really. Reg was never like Jon,
you see. Oh, he did his fair share of picking on me, but it was never
torment, not like with Jon. I never wanted this!" he shouted, his voice
catching on a sob. "I never wanted this." he repeated in a whisper. He
turned a tear-streaked face to Edrington. "You were right, Hal. You and
Horatio. You were both right."

Edrington looked puzzled. "Right about what?" he asked.

Kennedy laughed, but there was no humour in it. "Nothing. Everything."
He met Edrington's eyes again. "My father was making me his heir. The
day before I arrived home he signed the papers and made it official." He
shook his head despairingly. "Reg has known the entire time that I've
been here. And I can't help but think..."

"Think what?"

"I can't help but think that he wanted me home so he could do something
about the situation. Something to put an end to the whole mess."

"If you father signed the papers the only thing that would make a
difference would be your death!" The earl paused while the implications
of his words sank in. "You don't think....?" Edrington was too shocked
to continue.

"Don't I? Maybe I do, maybe I don't. I hardly know anymore. Besides,
it doesn't matter! Reg is chained up in that icehouse awaiting charges
of manslaughter at the least, and I am free and will return to my ship
within the month. Not to mention all the happy returns I can expect once
my engagement to Emma is made public!" Kennedy's voice had grown heavier
with sarcasm as he continued. "Good God! I'm beginning to think that
Reg has every right to despise me and wish me dead! What the hell kind
of brother am I?"

They were facing each other by then, practically standing toe to toe.
Kennedy needed an outlet for his anger and self-disgust; it didn't matter
that his friend wasn't the cause. Edrington was unsure of the best way
to respond to Kennedy's self-deprecating tirade so it was with some
relief that they both heard the sound of horses approaching. A quick
glance up the road showed three riders approaching the village at a brisk

They were about to move out of the way of the oncoming animals when
something about one of the riders caught Edrington's attention. The man
in question was hatless, and he rode with an easy seat the likes of which
was rarely seen on a country road. When the group passed through a patch
of sunlight it lit his white-blonde hair and made his identity plain.

"William!" Edrington exclaimed

"What?" Kennedy asked, turning to take another look at the approaching
riders. When he did he too noticed the fair hair and came to the same
conclusion as Edrington. He turned and stared at his friend. "What the
devil is your brother doing here?"

Edrington shook his head. "I have no idea! I certainly didn't tell him
what we were doing!" He turned his eyes to his brother's companions.
"And who are the two men with him?"

That last question was answered almost as soon as they arrived and
dismounted. Edrington crossed to where the new arrivals were tying their
horses in order to quiz his brother, but he stopped short at the sight of
a long, curling strand of red hair that had escaped from the hat of one
of the "men". Before William could open his mouth to explain his brother
grabbed hold of his arm and dragged him out of earshot, leaving Kennedy
to confront the other two.

Kennedy had also been puzzled by the identity of William's companions,
but his puzzlement vanished when the shorter of the two pulled off his
hat. Gleaming red hair cascaded down, falling below the shoulders, and
framing a face that he knew only too well.

"Annie! What the...?" He clamped his jaw shut to stem the rising tide
of his anger. He looked his sister up and down. "I would have thought
that Mother would have thrown out that old suit of mine years ago. Where
did you... find......"

His voice trailed off when he got a good look at the face of the third
member of the party. He didn't need to see the black-as-midnight hair to
identify this one. The storm-cloud grey eyes were enough. He took hold
of an arm of each and quickly, but determinedly, marched them around the
side of the tavern. He pushed them against the wall and waited.

And waited. Finally, his anger got the better of him. "What the hell do
you two think you're doing?" he roared.

Annie flinched away from her brother's anger, but Emma swept off her hat
and stepped forward to confront Kennedy. "What do we think we're doing?
Exactly what we would have done openly if you had bothered to confide in
us! Instead, you sneak off virtually at the crack of dawn, leaving your
sister home, alone, wondering what is going on and practically pulling
her hair out because nobody will tell her anything!"

Kennedy took Emma's rebuke to heart. "Do you think it was easy?" He
looked at his sister. "I wanted to tell you that we were coming to see
Reg, but Father insisted on keeping it quiet. How did you find out,

Annie seemed to take strength from her friend's presence at her side. She
stood straight and her chin went up in that determined way she had. "I
found Lord Edrington's letter. In Father's study."

Kennedy raised an eyebrow and looked carefully at Annie. "It was locked
in the desk. I saw Father put it there myself." He gave his sister an
appraising look. "You didn't...?"

Annie shook her head. "No." she said defiantly. "William picked the
lock." She blushed slightly, but continued the story. "He came by after
breakfast. I was worried about you and Father, and he said that perhaps
there was a clue to where you went in the study. When he found the
letter, I..."

"You decided to put on an old suit of clothes of mine and go haring off
to the village to see what was going on." Kennedy laughed slightly.
"Well, I may not approve, but I can't say I'm surprised. At least
William had the sense to come with you." He turned his attention to
Emma. "And what exactly is your part in all of this?"

Annie chimed in before Emma could say a word. "I brought her into this.
We went to Marsden Hall first, and I asked Emma to come with us."

Emma looked down and shuffled her booted feet. When she looked up she
met Kennedy's eyes. "I was worried about you! Can I help that?"

Kennedy sighed and reached out to draw both woman into an embrace. "I'm
sorry." he said, pressing a quick kiss to the hair of each. "I was a
fool. I should have told you what was happening." He looked from Emma
to Annie and back again. "I should have told both of you."

The walked over to where the Edrington brothers stood arguing. William
looked slightly abashed and the earl furious. Without missing a beat
Edrington turned from his brother to Kennedy. "Do you believe this?
Invading your father's privacy, lock-picking, theft!" He held up the
letter he had written the day before and waved it under Kennedy's nose
before turning back to William. "Good God, William! Where in the name of
heaven did you learn to pick locks? And what's next? Becoming a
professional highwayman?" He looked up at his brother's face. "I would
dearly like to box your ears for this! Unfortunately..." He waved a
hand to indicate the difference in their height.

William obligingly stooped until his head was lower than the earl's.
With an exasperated laugh Edrington cuffed him once on the shoulder.
William smiled and straightened up.

"Don't think this lets you off the hook, lieutenant." Edrington said,
giving his brother a severe look. "I still want an answer to my

"Of course, my lord." William replied, sketching an ironic bow. "I'll
even teach you how to pick locks yourself, if you like." he finished with
a grin.

Annie had watched the exchange closely, and visibly relaxed when
Edrington smiled. "Don't blame your brother, my lord. He was only
helping me."

Edrington looked from Annie to his brother, noting the high colour on
both their cheeks. He glanced at Kennedy, who was valiantly trying to
suppress a grin, and then at Emma, who was shaking with laughter. "Yes,
I imagine he was helping you." He shot a look at William. "Why does
that not surprise me?" he asked no one in particular.

"What's going on, Hal?" William asked.

"What? Oh, Mr. Kennedy is speaking to his son right now." He gestured
toward the icehouse, where Bodkin and Gaines stood beside the door,
talking quietly.

"I see Colonel Mathers is in fine form today."

At William's statement they all turned to where Mathers stood on the
green, speaking to the assembled crowd. They were far enough away so
that they couldn't hear specific words, but the tone was unmistakable.

"I suppose its his standard 'Justice shall be done' speech. Complete
with hints that should the good people of Eddingstone choose to take
justice into their own hands he'll do nothing to stop them." Edrington
said, the contempt in his voice obvious.

Emma moved to stand closer to Kennedy. "I don't like the way that man
looks." she whispered to him. "He acts so self-righteous. I don't like
self-righteous people."

Kennedy put an arm around her and kissed her cheek. "It'll be all right,
love. Hal won't let anything happen."

Those words had barely left Kennedy's lips when the air was rent with the
sound of a gunshot.

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