by Clio


The five of them froze. Edrington was the first to snap out of his
trance; he began running toward the icehouse, his brother fast on his
heels. Kennedy stood rooted to the ground, unable to move. His mind was
still processing what they had heard when Annie took off after the
Edringtons. With a stifled curse he chased after his sister, catching
her when she was halfway across the green.

He caught her elbow and spun her around to face him. "Are you mad,
Annie? Are you just going to go charging in there? Into who knows

Annie was struggling against his clasp on her arm. "Let me go, Archie!
I have to know..."

Emma arrived at that moment, slightly out of breath. She laid a hand on
Annie's shoulder in a calming gesture. Annie's struggles stopped, and
she began to breathe in great gasping sobs. She was crying, although she
seemed unaware of it. Emma wrapped an arm around her friend and looked
imploringly at Kennedy.

"She needs to know, Archie. Just as surely as you do. No more hiding
things from her. The time for that is long past."

Kennedy stared into Emma's grey eyes. There was truth in them, and he
nodded once to acknowledge the justice of her statement. He gently
placed a hand in the center of Annie's back. She turned her tear stained
face from Emma's shoulder to her brother. He took her hand and they
started to walk toward the icehouse door.

They were about twenty yards away when Edrington emerged from the
building, his face as white as his breeches. He looked dazed; unable to
meet their twin gazes. He shook his head as if to clear it; his eyes
tight shut against their approach. He opened his mouth once as if to
speak, but no words came out. He shook his head again and simply
gestured for them to enter.

When they crossed the threshold Annie's steps faltered. The stench of
gunpowder was heavy in the air. Underlying it was a strangely sweet odor
that left a vaguely metallic taste at the back of the mouth. Kennedy
recognized it immediately - blood. William was standing just inside the
door, so Archie unceremoniously pushed his sister into the other man's

"Hold her." he ordered. "Whatever you do, don't let her follow me just
yet." And he walked slowly forward.

The lantern was still lit; it provided a circle of light in the otherwise
gloomy building. By its light Kennedy could see the backs of two men;
Colonel Mathers and Bodkin. The myriad smells grew stronger as he
approached. The straw rustled underfoot with each step. The sound
seemed unnaturally loud in the stillness. One boot squelched; Kennedy
looked down to see a dark, liquid stain spreading through the straw below
his foot. He froze on the spot. His mind screamed at him to take that
last step, but his body refused to obey.

Colonel Mathers glanced up then and spotted him. The older man's face was
ashen and slack-jawed with shock. With a gesture and a curt word he
ordered Bodkin to move.

When the constable moved back the first thing Kennedy saw was a hand
lying palm up in the straw. His eyes traced the line of an arm,
recognizing the jacket as Reg's. When he reached the shoulder he
stopped; the cloth was blood soaked. He took a deep breath and forced
his eyes the final few inches.

And immediately shut his eyes and recoiled from the sight. He clenched
his jaw and swallowed against the bile rising in his throat. The pistol
ball had entered just under Reg's chin and the back of his head had been
virtually obliterated by its passage. Oddly enough, his face was by and
large intact; open, staring eyes seemed to be accusing his brother even
in death.

Kennedy took a deep breath and opened his eyes again. He turned his back
on the ruin that had been his brother and came face to face with his
father. Edward stood calmly amidst the chaos that had erupted. In his
hand was a beautiful dueling pistol with silver scrollwork on its barrel.
Even as Archie watched a last wisp of smoke drifted from the barrel.

He swallowed hard before speaking. "Father?"

Edward started and dropped the pistol into the straw. He looked at his
younger son and smiled. A calm and in control smile that chilled
Kennedy's blood and made him shiver.

"Archie." he said in a perfectly even voice. "I've taken care of that
problem we discussed yesterday."

Kennedy felt tears spring to his eyes. He stooped and picked up the
pistol and handed it blindly to Bodkin, who was standing behind him.
When he met his father's eyes again he felt overwhelmed by sadness.
Sadness that it had ever come down to this; his brother dead and his
father out of his senses. Oh Mother, he thought to himself. I am so glad
you aren't here to see this. To see what a failure I am and what a mess
I've made of everything.

Edward seemed to notice that Archie was crying at that point. He looked
puzzled. "Aren't you happy, son? Now you don't have to worry about
anything anymore." He cast a quick glance at Reg's body, lying half
slumped against the wall. "I did it for you!"

Kennedy shook his head violently, desperate to deny his father's words.
But he knew that it was true. Whatever twisted reasoning had gone into
the decision, Edward had decided to kill one son to protect the other.
"Its my fault." he whispered.

"Sir?" Bodkin asked.

Kennedy turned away from his father and faced the constable and Mathers.
"This is all my fault. I should have known. I should have been able to
figure it out!" He was sobbing harshly by that time, tears streaming
unheeded down his face. "Oh God!" he shouted. "Why did it have to come
to this?"

At that shout Annie and William came forward. They approached the group
of men uncertainly. Annie caught a glimpse of the bloodstained wall and
came to an abrupt halt. Her breath caught in a gasp that snapped
Kennedy's attention from his own agony.

When he looked up and saw his sister his first impulse was to get her out
of there as quickly as possible. But Emma's words about not hiding
things were still echoing in his head, so he took a step to the side to
allow Annie an unobstructed view of Reg's body.

"No." The word escaped from her barely above a whisper. She turned her
head slightly and met her father's eyes. "No!" she repeated before
turning to William and burying her head against his chest. Her entire
body shook with the force of her sobs as he wrapped his arms around her
and took her from the building.

With his sister gone Kennedy found he could not spend another moment in
that cramped, foul smelling place. He brushed past Colonel Mathers and
quickly made his way outside. The bright sun nearly blinded him. He
blinked several times as Edrington moved to his side.

"I'm sorry, Archie."

"No sorrier than I, I'm sure." He looked at his friend. "Do you have any
idea how it happened?"

Edrington shook his head. "Nothing definite, but I would guess that your
father had the pistol hidden somewhere under his coat. Most likely in
the waist of his breeches." He met his friend's eyes before continuing.
"He shot Reg without blinking an eye, Archie. Mathers was standing right
there, but your father never hesitated."

Kennedy shut his eyes and waved a hand to stop Edrington's words. Even
so the images ran through his mind. Edward, in whatever delusional state
he had fallen into, taking that pistol from the gunroom, knowing that it
could only be used for one thing. That pistol....

"Christ!" Kennedy exclaimed with a sigh. "I used that pistol just days
ago when I challenged Father to kill himself quickly if he had the guts!
And now look what he's done with it!"

"You can't blame yourself for this, Archie." Edrington said. "We'll
probably never understand why you father chose this, but it has nothing
to do with you."

"But it does! Don't you see? I stood there over my brother's body and
heard my father say 'I did it for you'! His exact words, Hal."

"He also said that Reginald Kennedy was going to kill you."

Both younger men jumped at the sound of Colonel Mathers' deep voice.
Kennedy turned and faced the colonel.

"Did he say that?"

"Actually, yes, he did. Just after he fired the shot. He looked down at
his son and said 'Now you won't have a chance to harm Archie.'. Those
were the last words he spoke until you came in."

"What'll happen now, Mathers?" Edrington asked.

"I don't rightly know." He cast a quick glance at Kennedy before
continuing. "The man is hardly in his wits. I don't think the
magistrate will order him to stand trial for this. Some private,
out-of-the-way place would be best for him. A place where he can neither
come to, nor do, any harm." He extended a hand toward Kennedy. "I am
sorry, Mr. Kennedy." He nodded once to Edrington. "My lord." he said
before he walked away.

Kennedy had shaken the man's hand in a daze. He looked to where Annie
stood, held close against William Edrington's side. She was watching him
closely, and when she noticed his stare she gently removed herself from
William's clasp and walked slowly but steadily across the green. The
twins embraced and held each other tight.

A week later Kennedy rode to Edrington Manor to bid his farewells to the
family. He spent an uncomfortable half hour in the drawing room with the
ladies of the house. No one seemed able start a conversation that didn't
in some way touch on what had happened, so the visit was filled with
abrupt pauses, unfinished sentences, and awkward silences. Finally
Edrington stood and motioned Kennedy to join him on the lawn.

They walked in silence for a time, each seemingly reluctant to break it.
When Edrington finally did it was in his usual straightforward fashion.

"He'll be fine at Chelton House, you know. They'll take excellent care
of him."

Kennedy sighed. "I know that. I just wish it hadn't come down to this.
My brother dead, my father..." He paused. "My father as good as dead,
locked away in a private hospital. And what am I going to do tomorrow?
Return to my ship as if nothing at all has changed. Forgive me if I
think of myself as a self-centered bastard!" He ran a hand over his
hair. "And, to top it all off, I have to accept charity in order to pay
for the bloody hospital." He met his friend's eyes. "I'll pay back
every penny, Hal. You can count on that."

Edrington shook his head. "You don't have to, Archie. But if it'll make
you feel better than so be it." He slowed his steps and they came to a
halt under that same oak. The earl looked up into its spreading
branches. "You know, my father always had an attachment to this tree. I
have no idea how old it is, but Father always used to come and sit under
it when he needed to do some heavy thinking." A brief smile crossed his
face. "He proposed to my mother under this tree, and I did the same with
Sarah. When Father was dying I would come out here and sit for hours,
even in the winter. Mamma was horrified; she kept expecting to find me
rooted to the ground! But I learned something in all those lonely hours
of thought. I learned that life has a purpose, and that sooner or later
we all have to do our part." He looked at Kennedy and found the younger
man staring up at the boughs. "My father died when I was just fourteen.
Can you imagine? An earl at fourteen? But I took strength from this
land, and from this tree, as silly as it sounds. I took strength from my
father's legacy."

"I kissed Emma for the first time under this tree." Kennedy mused. Then
he seemed to shake himself out of his thoughts and looked at his friend.
"But how can I take strength from my father's legacy?" he asked, unshed
tears making his voice hoarse.

"Take strength from the best part of that legacy, Archie."

Kennedy thought about that statement for a moment. "Annie." he said,
finally understanding. He smiled then, the first genuine smile to cross
his mouth in days. "She's always been my strength." He laughed
slightly. "I guess some things never change, do they?"

"The good things don't, no." Edrington replied.

Kennedy sighed and glanced up at the enormous tree one more time. He
brought his eyes back to the earl's. "You'll look after her while I'm
gone, won't you? You, and your mother, and Lady Sarah?"

"We'll look after her, Archie. Never fear."

"Thank you, Hal. For everything." Kennedy extended his hand.

The earl shook it, then unexpectedly embraced his friend. "You're very
welcome, Archie." He drew back and looked closely at his friend. "Just
remember, you are expected to come to my wedding at the end of the year.
Don't fail me!"

Kennedy grinned. "I wouldn't miss it for the world!"

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