The King's Man
by
Rhiannon

Chapter Eighteen

The readiness is all...

 

Archie woke slowly, stretching luxuriously in the bright light that came in through the shutters. He guessed that it was about midday, and wondered why he had not woken up earlier...but then he and Guido had talked until almost dawn, and drunk, as his head was beginning to testify, quite an incredible amount. His initial feeling of well-being evaporating, he sat down on the edge of the bed, put his head in his hands, and groaned deeply. After a while, he got up, and opened
the shutters, wincing in the bright light.

He looked out across the fields, and saw the two men, far in the distance, riding on horseback. Some minutes later, one of them fell off, and the other dismounted, helping the other to his feet. Archie laughed out loud into the sunshine, knowing who they must be, and wishing he could hear what Guido was undoubtedly saying with good-tempered sarcasm.

The smell of bacon drifted up, and the sound of Deveraux laughing from the next room, and a woman's voice, soft and teasing. Hangover notwithstanding, this was a good way to wake.

Archie looked along the track they had walked the night before, seeing the deep puddles glinting in the sun, and smiled, thinking of Will's stumbling progress in the dark, and Guido's exasperation. The assassin's trust was not quite given yet, Archie knew. Whenever he seemed about to truly open up, to relax into friendship, something indefinable held him back, cut in with irreverent humour and stopped whatever he had been about to say. Yet he had given what he could, and that was a start...

I can kill ghosts...

"Maybe you can," said Archie into the sunshine, and opened the hinges of the window, breathing in the heady air of spring. "On a day like this, I could believe anything!"

Below him, in the little garden that Anne had dug just in front of the inn, a little tree grew, already laden with the early blossom that came even in the coldest months. The tree was called Daphne, after the nymph chased by Apollo who turned herself into a tree to escape his advances. As a token of his love, a symbol of his pain and and of her rejection, Apollo had given to the tree she had become the blessing and the curse of showing beauty in the midst of coldness...and the little pink flowers that covered every branch were testimony to his despair - and the sign of his remembrance.

"I should tell Guido that..." he mused. "But he probably knows the story, and he would laugh, and just say 'Not for me.' He's like that tree, all the poetry he remembered, chained to a wall, all the things he says so unexpectedly...he has flowers, too, in his mind, no matter how cold he tries to make it for people around him...it would be good, I think, to have him as a friend..."

The horsemen in the faraway field seemed to be having rather more luck now. The one who had fallen off - well, Horatio. It was unlikely that Guido, however generous he was feeling, would have done something like that to make someone feel better - now had his hands clasped behind his head, and the horse was going in careful circles. Whatever the assassin was teaching him, it seemed to be working.

More laughter came from the room next door, and then Will's voice, soft and coaxing, unlike any tone that Archie had heard from the irascible spy before.

"Be happy, Deveraux," he thought, remembering another village in France, and Horatio's honourable decision not to love Mariette as she wanted - and his despair when she had died. "Be happy..."

He looked back along the track, seeing a group of riders coming along it, and wondered if they would stop at the inn. Seven - an odd number, to be riding in the afternoon and not be soldiers...Then he gasped, and leant out of the window, straining to see more clearly, Guido's words of the night before coming back to him -

"They're after Will, and there's seven of them...what am I going to do?"

"Oh my God," whispered Archie. "Oh, no...Guido, Guido, damn it, get back here and do something..."

But the asassin, far away from the inn, carried on with the riding lesson, completely oblivious as to what was going to happen, too distant to even hear the hoofbeats, or to be able to see the track.

"Hell!" raved Archie, pulling on his boots with frantic haste. "Deveraux! Will! Get up, for the love of God! WILL!"

He ran out of his room, along the corridor, and pounded on the door. "Will, get up, get up!" he
shouted desperately. "They're coming, Will, for God's sake, get up!"

The spy opened the door, his blond hair tangled, half-naked, his breeches pulled on hastily, barefoot and dishevelled.

"Who?" he demanded, looking surprisingly in control and unflurried, despite his his state of undress. "Who is?"

"Lorenzo's assassins!" gasped Archie breathlessly. "Will, I - oh, just get dressed, will you?"

******

Guido was laughing, his face softened by pleasure and pride. "Good!" he exclaimed. "By God, that's better. Now try and take him to the other end of the field and back...and remember what I said about your hands this time."

Horatio's face was illuminated by his rare smile.

"This - is fun!" he gasped, all the breath being jolted out of him, and Guido flung his dark head back into the sunlight, crowing in triumph.

"I told you!" he laughed, exultant. "I told you!"

He spurred his horse on after Horatio's, and the lieutenant instinctively urged his own mount on, until they were racing each other towards the end of the field, towards the hedge.

"Jump it!" shouted Guido. "Remember what I showed you - jump it! Don't stop!"

Horatio's hands loosened on the reins, giving the horse its head, while his legs prepared to urge it upwards.

"I hope this works..." he muttered, as the hedge neared. And then they were both over, laughing like maniacs, while their horses carried effortlessly onwards.

"You're good!" exclaimed Guido happily. "You see - it was possible!"

"Again!" demanded Hornblower breathlessly, feeling all the pride of a man who has conquered his own inability.

And the assassin grinned, not telling him that they had done enough, or trying to teach him any longer, but carried away on someone else's pleasure.

"Race you," he said with a flash of challenge. "To the trees."

And he spurred his horse away at a gallop, not even giving Horatio the time to respond.

"I'll still catch you, damn it!" shouted Hornblower, urging Dante on after the assassin and his idiot mount, which seemed to have suddenly improved out of all recognition. "I promise you, Guido!"

Guido's mocking, untrammelled laughter trailed behind him like his long-since discarded cloak, and Horatio found himself pushing Dante on to even greater efforts, trying to catch him.

******

"How long have we got?" asked Will calmly, loading his guns and Guido's steadily as he spoke.

"Ten minutes. Less."

"Damn. Not enough time. Archie, bar the doors. Fasten all the shutters except these two."

Archie ran downstairs, and found that Anne was ahead of him, her small hands frantically tugging at the heavy wood.

"Here," he said briefly, helping her, and looked down at her with a smile that was supposed to reassure.

In that glance, he saw that she was crying, silently and ceaselessly, her pretty face reddened with weeping.

"Anne, don't worry, please! We won't let anything happen to you!" he exclaimed, distressed.

"It's not that!"

Anne was sobbing as she ran to the shutters of the main room.

"It's not that! I know who betrayed you!"

"Anne - oh, God, not you..."

Oh, please, not you...

"No! NO! But it might as well have been! How could he, how could he, he knew I love Will, oh, how could he?"

"Your father."

It was not a question.

"Who else?" sobbed Anne. "Oh, my God, what have I done? I should have known!"

Archie took her by the shoulders, and shook her, remembering Guido doing the same to Will, amidst the fighting on board the 'Indefatigable'.

"Did he tell you?" he demanded.

"No, no, but I should have known..."

"But you didn't. And I didn't. And Guido didn't. Anne, it isn't your fault. Help us now, instead! Calm down, do you understand? We need you."

Anne gulped back her sobs, nodded, her small face set with determination.

"What can I do?" she asked quietly.

Archie almost laughed. The world was disintegrating into insanity around them, and he was asking this girl to help...as though it would be any use...

No. Don't think like that. Guido would find a way out, and so must you. What can she do...? She must be able to help...

"Well, can you shoot?"

She grinned back at him, and in that moment, Archie found her beautiful beyond all measure, seeing her courage.

"You ask an innkeeper's daughter?" she asked, laughing shakily. "Of course I can!"

"Come on, then. Help us!"

They raced back up the stairs, Anne's heels clattering as they went.

Will turned from the window as they came in, hope and disbelief warring for supremacy on his scarred face, and in that moment, Archie realised what he must have thought. This was no time, however, for explanations.

"Reinforcements," he said succinctly, and even managed to smile. "Anne, choose your weapon."

******

Guido, racing towards the trees, sure of winning with ease, reined in with a suddenness that sent Idiot rearing wildly across the path. Hornblower, seeing him stop with such recklessness ahead of him, reined in more slowly.

"Guido?" he asked, coming up to him at a trot. "What is it?"

"I heard a shot," said the assassin distantly, his whole being focused somewhere else entirely.

"I'm sure I..."

And then the tiny sound carried across the fields again, and even Horatio could hear it.

"But what - ?"

"Oh, my God. The inn!"

And then Guido had turned his horse around, and was spurring him on at a pace that Horatio knew he could never hope to match. The assassin seemed to be one with the animal, blended together like one of the mythical centaurs, riding at a breakneck speed that should have been impossible, vaulting the hedge like a wave, his cry echoing behind him.

"Come on, damn you! Ride!"

And Horatio found that he was doing his best to obey, as instinctively as he would have had Pellew given an order on board ship.

******

The three at the window watched in despair as the seven men clattered into the courtyard.

"I'm so sorry," whispered Anne miserably, levelling her pistol out of the half-opened window, concealing her body behind the shutter. "Oh, Will, I - "

Will Deveraux, heedless of the risk, leant forward, and captured her lips with his own. "I trust you," he said quietly. "I trust you, Anne."

"Deveraux, for Christ's sake, get BACK!" shouted Archie, realising that the spy was in clear view.

One of the men below looked up, laughed, and fired. Will fell to the floor without a sound, blood pooling beneath him.

"No!" screamed Anne desperately, and fired out of the window in her turn. "No, damn you! No! WILL!"

And Lorenzo's assassin swayed in his saddle, and fell as silently as Will Deveraux, his head crashing onto the cobbles with a force that split his skull.

Archie had not even moved as Will fell behind him, his eyes never leaving the men below.

"Anne, see to him," he said with all the coolness that he would have shown in battle, and took the spare gun from her unresisting hand, placing it on the window ledge, and uncorking the powder-horn with his teeth.

He levelled one of his pistols carefully at the man who was looking away, down at his fallen comrade, and fired. Anne was saying something urgently, somewhere behind him, and he heard Will groan, but there was no time for that, as he took cover behind the shutter, aiming the second pistol, and preparing to fire again, seeing the second man fall dead from his horse. This
was never going to work...not with Will gone...

And then Guido, like the wrath of God, was flying into the courtyard, his sword drawn. He had seen Will fall back from the window, even as he strove to cover the distance to the inn, and was howling in rage, his dark face setting itself into the killer's mask.

"Fiat justitia!" he roared, both the assassin and the friend becoming one in that single moment, a man more frightening, in his unstoppable fury, even than when he withdrew to the serenitiy of the assassin's trance.

He raised his weapon, his horse moving beneath him as though they were one flesh. "Face me, damn you! Face me!"

And two of Lorenzo's assassins, either insane or suicidal, were doing just that, and now there were only three facing Archie, and there might just be a chance, if he stayed behind the shutter...

He had not bargained on Guido's ability to kill, when he made that calculation.

Within seconds, the two other assassins lay dead, cut down without a word or even apparent effort on Guido's part, and Guido was shouting, as three pistols aimed themselves towards him -

"Stay out of sight! Do you hear me? Out of sight! NOW!"

And Archie saw Horatio swerve his horse with a dexterity he would never have believed possible, and vanish behind the wall that enclosed the courtyard.

Archie realised that the words were aimed at him, too, and flattened himself against the wall of Will's room. There was a strange silence, and then one choked cry, and a single shot, and Archie could not help but look.

 

Guido, still on his horse, was unnervingly motionless in the centre of the courtyard, facing the one remaining assassin. The other two lay dead, one fallen from his horse, the other caught in the stirrups of his mount, which was wheeling in panicked circles around the enclosure...

Both men had knives protruding from their throats.

"You missed," said the King's Man quietly, and then his hand moved in a blur, too fast for Archie to follow, and the seventh man toppled to the cobbles, dead before he hit the ground. A strange, muffled silence fell over the courtyard, and Guido slowly lowered his sword to his side.

He had only used one hand to kill the three remaining men, thought Archie numbly. He hadn't even let go of the sword...

My God, what is this man?

And then the odd calm was broken, as Guido dismounted with one vaulting leap from his horse, running towards the barred doors, shouting, "Deveraux! Deveraux!"

Sound and motion were coming back into the world, the sense of strained unreality vanishing, and Anne was crying quietly behind him, and as Archie turned, he noticed, as calmly as if he were dreaming, Will's blood, on the floor of the room, on her dress, on her hands. Not quite registering what had happened, even then, he turned back to the window, and saw Horatio,
looking as stunned as he felt, tying his horse to the nearest post and running after Guido.

As Guido hammered at the door, shouting for them to let him in, and Anne stumbled uncertainly to her feet, Archie found that he could not stop himself thinking -

My God, how can he do that? How can he move so quickly, how the hell can he kill like that?

and then, as the reality of what had just happened came flooding in, and he realised for the first time what he was looking at -

"Oh, my God. Will?"

*****

Guido battered at the doors like a madman, only dimly aware of Hornblower arriving beside him, adding his own efforts to Guido's concerted attempt to get in.

"Deveraux!" he shouted. "Deveraux! God damn it, where are you, you bastard? Answer me!"

Silence from upstairs, and the assassin stood back from the door, shouting up at the little window where he had last seen Kennedy -

"Will someone let me in! Kennedy, damn it, what's happening? Let me in!"

Oh God, let Will be all right, he can't be dead, not now...

The sky was clouding over rapidly, a harsh wind springing up. Guido turned and looked around him for something to use to knock the door down with, and realised that the horse with the dead man caught in its stirrups was still wheeling in desperate circles. Its evident distress seemed to have a calming effect on the assassin, bringing him back to a better awareness of his surroundings, and he walked quickly over to the terrified animal, cutting the dead body free from the stirrups with two quick strokes of his knife.

"Well," he said, more calmly. "We appear to have a fine selection of horses here, Mr Hornblower. What do you suggest I do with them?"

"Keep them?" suggested the lieutenant, equally calmly.

"What for? I'd try selling them, but I doubt I'd find a buyer," said Guido dryly. "No, we'll have to leave them here, so - get the horses inside the stables. I don't know what's going on up there," he added, with an irritable gesture towards the window. "But there's no point in destroying our transport while we wait to find out. Unless you're all dead up there," he
shouted angrily, "would one of you LET ME IN?"

He was starting to get very, very worried indeed, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling. He went back to the door, and started pounding on it again, hoping against hope that someone would come down, and let him in...hoping that the doors were not remaining barred because no-one dared tell him of Will's death...

******

The assassin's shouts were finally beginning to register with the occupants of the inn.

"Anne, go down," said Archie.

If he's dying, you shouldn't be here...

Anne shook her head silently, kneeling on the floor
beside her lover, her mouth pressed together to hold
back her tears.

"Someone open the door!" howled Guido from below. He sounded frantic, the sound of his efforts to get into the inn redoubling in volume.

"Anne, please..."

If Will dies, Guido will never forgive us...better that I should be the one here...

Will, lying on the floor of Archie's room, opened unfocused grey eyes and blinked up at the two people who hovered over him.

"I really - would - do as he says," he gasped faintly. "Guido's quite - capable - of breaking down - the door - in this mood."

Anne sobbed once with relief, scrambled to her feet, and rushed down the stairs to unbar the door. Will's scarred face twisted into a smile, and he closed his eyes again.

"He - always - gets there..." he murmured vaguely, nonsensically, and slipped back into unconsciousness before Archie had a chance to reply.

"Will. Will! Come on, wake up, please..."

Archie felt hastily for a pulse at the side of the spy's throat, sighing with relief when he found it.
It was ragged, uncertain, beating alternately too hard and too faintly, but it was, at least, there.

Then Guido was in the room, his dark face anguished.

"Oh, Will, good Christ, no!"

He knelt down beside Archie, asking frantically,

"What happened to him?"

Archie shook his head.

"I don't know...I didn't see where he was hit - I was concentrating -"

He gestured in the vague direction of the courtyard, and, to his surprise, Guido seemed to accept that without question.

"Yes, of course," said the assassin apologetically. "Sorry."

He bent over his commander, his hawk's features sharp and almost frightening in the intensity of his gaze.

"Come on, Deveraux," he muttered. "Help me out here..."

He lifted Will with surprisingly gentle hands, turning him onto his side, and gasped.

"By God, man," he whispered in awe. "You were lucky!"

The bullet had sliced across the back of Will's scalp, leaving an ugly wound that had taken flesh and hair with it. It was bleeding profusely, but the bone beneath was intact.

"Well, you're going to have an interesting white streak of hair there, when it grows back," said Guido, in the same soothing tone that he employed on his horses, "but it's a long way from fatal, eh, Deveraux? We'll stitch this up, and all will be well..."

His face was worried, belying his calm words. Scalp wounds bled a lot, of course, but the blood flow was slowing of its own accord, even though it showed no signs of clotting...and Will was frighteningly deep in unconsciousness, not responding at atll.

He had lost so much blood...

Guido lifted the Englishman into his arms without apparent effort, and said quietly to Archie -

"Hold his head below the wound. Cup your palm and make sure he's steady. I'm going to take him to the bed."

Slowly, they made their way across the room, Guido's strong arms carrying his commander as easily as though he were a child.

They laid him down gently, on the bed furthest from the window, lying him on his front, so that the back of his head was exposed to view.

"Make sure Anne doesn't come in, while I do this," said Guido, pulling open the flap that sealed his leather bag. "She probably trusts you, now, so go down to her and tell her everything's all right. And something should be done about those men in the courtyard...we can't leave them there. By the way, has Philippe had the decency to commit suicide, or has he simply run away?"

He pulled out a piece of thick cloth, and pressed it to Will's head, trying to stop the bleeding enough to begin work.

"Philippe?"

"The innkeeper. He's seen what I do to those who betray me, so if he's anywhere close by, he's either mad or dead."

"I haven't seen him...now that's odd."

Guido frowned, taking the cloth away for a moment, and peering at the wound.

"Odd? Sensible, more like."

"No, but - when I woke up, I could smell bacon. And Anne was in Will's room, so it wasn't her cooking it. He must have left when I shouted for Will..."

Guido looked up from his examination of Will's injury, and said slowly -

"So where was he? You were outnumbered, he could have at least been stopping you from barring the doors, and he could have had no idea that I would get back in time...so where did he go?"

"I'm starting to wonder - no, it's ridiculous."

Guido laughed quietly, threading silk into a long needle.

"No," he said amusedly. "Ideas are never ridiculous. Deciding to face down five armed men single-handedly, on the other hand, is definitely ridiculous."

He raised his eyebrows, and a wicked grin flashed across his face.

"Did you think I hadn't noticed?" he asked. "Well, when I've done this, I'll ask you what the hell you thought you were doing - and I'd start thinking of answers now, if I were you. I don't mind bravery, but that was - well, anyhow, later. What were you starting to wonder?"

"If they weren't the assassins. Paid killers, but not assassins? Maybe Philippe's gone to find the real assassins...look, I said it was ridiculous."

But Guido shook his head.

"I think you're more than likely right," he said, and began to sew up the ragged edges of Will's head-wound.

"Why?"

"The one who fired at me missed. A true assassin would never miss. So he, at least, wasn't one of them. Also, it's hardly our style to come up to an inn like a cavalry charge, you know. We prefer subtlety. I think the numbers were a coincidence - or perhaps designed to mislead. One or the other. Anyway, you're right. Happy?"

Archie shrugged, noting the assassin's use of the word 'we'. It was as though he were deliberately drawing attention to what he was - as if any of them were likely to forget!

Then he remembered Guido's uncharacteristic rage as he rode into the courtyard, and smiled. The assassin was trying to make it clear that such furious behaviour was not his style.

"Ecstatic," he said aloud, and thought -

Your style is over-rated, Guido. You're just as effective when you lose your temper and fight as when you sneak off in the dark...and an infinitely more likeable person...

"Do you need any help?" he asked then, watching as Guido continued to stitch up Will's scalp.

Guido shook his head.

"He's out like a light," he said simply. "He wouldn't wake up if the whole of the French army marched through here. And if he does - I have means of making him sleep again. And - Archie?"

"What?"

Guido's taut features relaxed, and he shook his head.

"Nothing," he said quietly. "Later. Now go."

"Are you sure?"

Guido nodded.

"It'll be all right," he said softly. "But I need you to take care of the others. You asked me to trust you - I'm trying. I need you to be downstairs, making sure of things. Can you do that?"

Archie smiled, realising that, far from dismissing him, Guido was asking a favour.

"I can but try..."

*******

Guido's deft fingers stitched up the gash in Will's head quickly and surely, his face expressionless.

"Come on, Will," he muttered as he worked. "Stay with me, my friend. Stay with me..."

The last man - no, boy, he thought, grieving, a boy - that he had known with a head wound had never awoken, slipping into death without any of them even noticing.

He finished his work, tying a little knot in the end of the silk, folding another of the thick cloths into a pad, and bandaging it to Will's head with strips of linen, so that the wound would not be torn open again if the spy moved his head suddenly. He turned Will onto his side, so that he might sleep in comfort, and rested back on his heels with a little sigh.

Will Deveraux did not move, his breathing faint and slow, unchanging, even now that Guido had stopped the blood loss from the terrible cut on his head.

Guido was exhausted, his quick hands trembling a little, now that they were no longer put to work. He had not fought like that since the night Hal was wounded in the stupid tavern brawl they had somehow got into, years ago, had not felt that rage since. But this time - this time! - he had been possessed of the skill to do something about it.

And if I should kill in rage, oh, God, forgive me.

The old prayer that he used to recite with Hal, before their fencing matches...

No. No. I don't want God's forgiveness, not this time...I want Will's. Will, I'm so sorry, I should have got here sooner, I should never have left you...

He stripped off his gloves, and touched the back of one hand to the spy commander's forehead, finding the skin cold and dry, as though all the energy in his body were going towards keeping the ragged heart-beat going.

Sanderson had died, and they had never even seen the moment it happened...and Will did not move...

"Deveraux..." whispered the assassin desperately, and remembered the spy, only hours before, standing on the deck of the 'Indefatigable', gripping his arms, shouting -

" You are my friend, damn you! My friend!"

And his own voice, so cold and despairing -

"I tried to kill my friend..."

"Ah, Deveraux, did I need to say it aloud? Didn't you know? You have always had my friendship, but I never would have dared call you friend...you have given so much, and I so little...I'm sorry, Will, I should have dared..."

******

The hours passed. Periodically, either Archie or Horatio came and knocked on the door, asking if Guido wanted or needed anything, asking the same questions over and over, and all the time the one question to which the assassin had no answer hung in the air.

"Will he live?"

They cleared up the courtyard outside as the afternoonpassed. Guido forgot to ask them what they had done with the bodies, but as long as they were safely out of the way, he couldn't find the energy to care particularly, so he didn't bother to ask. Night was falling, and still, nothing changed, not the spy's shallow breathing, nor his ragged heartbeat. Despite the warmth of the room, and the blankets Guido had wrapped around him, he was cold to the touch. Perhaps
he had lost too much blood before the assassin even got to him...

"Will, please..."

Guido's voice was ragged, despairing.

There was a knock at the door, and Guido got to his feet, walking across the room with all of his innate grace intact, his heart breaking and his face impassive.

Anne, very pale, but composed, stood there.

"I've come to sit with him," she said firmly.

She walked to the bed, and took Will's hand in hers, kneeling on the floor in the puddle of her flung-out skirts.

"Hello, love," she said softly.

And Will's eyes opened, a smile distorting his scarred face.

"Anne," he whispered painfully. "I dreamt you were here..."

"And now I am," she said with a smile, pressing his hand to her cheek and holding it there.

Guido watched in silence, guilt tearing at him. Why had he even thought his presence would help? They called him the Angel of Death...who was he to think Will would have responded to him?

The assassin looked at the couple in front of him, mumbled his excuses hurriedly, and stumbled from the room, his dark eyes hardening into black.

"Friendship," he whispered, half-falling down thestairs, and almost running into the courtyard. "What use is that to him? He has love...I have death, I carry it around with me like a disease, infecting everyone I meet. I have nothing of any worth to offer him, and he knows it. There is no such thing as friendship, not for me..."

Archie, sitting before the fire in the main room with Horatio, both of them locked in a worried silence, saw him go past, and jumped to his feet.

"Guido!" he shouted, seeing the assassin's expression in the one moment before Guido turned and ran towards the stables. "Guido!"

Guido was oblivious, his narrow face contorted with self-loathing, running to the only comfort he knew. Archie was just behind him, but he did not realise.

He yanked open the door to Dante's stable, knowing that this horse alone, the one he had given to Hornblower because he was the best, the most responsive, the most alive, this horse would do what he needed, to gallop, and gallop, and leave it all behind, all his folly, all his offers of stupid friendship, all his idiotic belief that he could ever mean anything...

"Guido!"

The assassin turned around, his face wiped clean of all expression. The torment he felt might never have existed, and Archie paused, uncertain of what he had seen on his face before. Perhaps it had only been a trick of the light...

"He's alive," Guido said simply. "And awake. I need to get out of here for a while, though. I'll be back in about an hour."

"Do you - do you want company?"

Guido shook his head.

"No," he said flatly. "I do not."

He coaxed Dante out of the stable and into the courtyard, vaulting onto the horse's back with the strange fluidity that was so peculiarly his when he rode.

Then he was gone, riding out towards the fields at a breakneck pace, leaning forward over Dante's neck, urging him on, until both man and horse were out of sight.

Horatio came out into the courtyard, shivering a little in the night air.

"Where's he gone?" he asked in some confusion. "I thought he'd be happy - Will's going to be fine..."

He broke off with a small gesture of incomprehension.

"He really doesn't make sense, sometimes," he finished.

Archie shrugged.

"We probably wouldn't like it if he did," he pointed out. "Come on. Let's get back in the warm. Freezing may be his choice this evening, but that doesn't make it mine..."

 

End of Chapter 18