The King's Man
by
Rhiannon

Chapter Twenty

What man dare do, I do...

 

Guido awoke with a small jump, his eyes immediately opening wide and focusing within seconds. He looked across at the candle worriedly, and saw that he had only been asleep for about an hour, judging from the amount that had burnt down since he closed his eyes. Still resting on his shoulder, Will was sleeping as only the heavily drugged can do, completely immobile and deeply unconscious, his skin cool to the touch, the fever gone. For a moment, the assassin held him close, trying to give him the reassurance in sleep that he would so need when he awoke.

Then Guido shifted him onto the pillows carefully, and slid off the bed as smoothly as he could, trying not to make any unnecessary movement that might jolt the wounded spy.

He pulled his gloves back on quickly, trying not to think about how he had broken his vow that night, keeping his mind away from the fact that he had allowed himself to touch another human being as if it were his right, as if he were not the poisoned creature that he was. He sighed a little as he pushed the thoughts away, bent down to the side of the bed, and put the little vial of liquid back in his bag.

Will mumbled something incoherent, shifting restlessly in his sleep, and Guido froze, even as he bent to pick up his bag. If he woke now...

But the scarred face remained peacefully unchanging, and after a few seconds, Guido moved again, swinging his bag onto his shoulder wth the easy movement of long familiarity, and stepped swiftly and silently from the room. By the time the drugs wore off, and Will awoke, he would be long gone...

He paused in the doorway, taking a last look at his sleeping commander.

"Forever and forever, farewell, Cassius," he murmured. "If we do meet again, why, we shall smile. If not, why then this parting was well made...keep safe, my friend. Keep safe."

And he closed the door softly, slipping down the stairs on velvet feet, catlike in the dark of the hallway.

He looked in at the main room as he passed, and could see the two lieutenants sitting by the fire, talking quietly. He sighed softly, knowing that he would have to explain the new plans to them in a few minutes, and wishing to God that those plans were different, that he had a choice in what he must do...

But there was no choice. And, as Pellew had so rightly said, they were men of duty, all of them, bound to their King and their country to do what was right. As the assassin, Guido could have fought Will's decision, but as the commander, he had to do what was best with regard to the handing over of the documents - and what he wanted had no place in his plans. They had to win this battle of wits if any of them were to survive - and he was, now, the only one qualified to make winning possible.

Guido considered going in to them first, and telling them what must be done, then leaving them to talk it through while he found Anne. Then he shook his head firmly.

No - better to leave them...Let them have these last minutes of peace and safety, while they can...

 

******

Guido, moving silently through the darkened inn, sighed a little, and walked into the back of the building, towards the cluttered comfort of the kitchen. He had been here so many nights in the past, talking to Anne, letting her persuade him to eat before he left...and he needed the comfort of familiarity now as much as he knew he needed food.

Anne was standing by the stove, putting wood in, her back to Guido. The assassin cleared his throat awkwardly, remaining in the doorway. Anne turned quickly to face him, hastily closing the stove door. Her expression was a long way from being either welcoming or friendly, and the assassin quickly gave up any idea of getting anything hot to eat before he left. Bread and cheese, then, he thought, his stomach revolting at the thought. Still, it would have to do.

Anne was still looking at him, evidently waiting for him to say something, and Guido's long mouth flickered at one corner as he looked back at her. There was so much he wanted to say, and could not trust himself to put into words...but it was not his place to say any of it.

"I'd like some food brought through," he said quietly. "Bread? Cheese? Whatever would be simplest."

Anne looked at him miserably, and Guido realised that she was not being unfriendly. She was waiting instead for his condemnation...

God! Do I seem so unforgiving?

Anne's face softened a little.

"And then you won't eat it," she said simply. "You never do."

Guido sighed.

"I'll eat it," he said tiredly. "You can stand there and watch me, if you like. If nothing else, the process of watching me pull a piece of bread apart for an hour should be soporifically dull. You'd sleep well, afterwards."

Anne's mouth twitched into a smile, and the assassin's wicked grin flashed across his thin face in response.

"I have some soup," she said almost shyly. It was what she had always made sure was waiting for him, on past nights. "Would you eat that?"

Guido gave a sigh of relief, and nodded gratefully. Soup was one of the few things he could tolerate when the dosage of antidotes reached this level in his system, and though he would have made an effort with the bread and cheese, it would have been infinitely more difficult for him to eat enough of it to make any difference.

"Stay in here and eat," said Anne gently. "You don't have to go in with them, if you don't want."

She knew how much the assassin loathed to eat in front of people, when he had not been able to deal with food for a while. He found the whole process humiliating, forcing himself to eat what he could not even taste, due to the extreme reaction his tastebuds tended to have to some of the poison-resistants he took before a mission. Food became simply texture to him, and he hated most of the textures that it involved...

Guido eased his long body into one of the kitchen chairs, and propped his elbows on the scrubbed table. He sighed, and rested his chin in his hands.

"How many times have you done this for me, now?" he asked quietly. Anne shrugged, placing the soup on the stove to begin heating it.

"Does it matter?" she asked simply. "I'm just glad you still trust me not to poison you."

Guido chuckled.

"Well, it wouldn't do anything to me," he pointed out. "So you're free to try, if you like."

"Would you taste the poison?"

"Oh yes. It would be the only thing I could taste. So if you feel so inclined - well, just think of it as a sophisticated kind of pepper."

Anne laughed. She came over to the table, and sat down beside the assassin.

"Did you drug him?" she asked quietly.

Guido nodded sadly.

"It was the only way," he said apologetically. "Anne - for tomorrow - here."

He took two vials from his pocket, one filled with the same colourless liquid that he had mixed with water earlier, the other with a faintly green powder.

"The liquid will kill any pain he has," he said. "And it'll make him sleep. The powder...is for when he gets angry tomorrow, when he realises what I've done. He has to rest...and he can't, if he's busy wishing he could beat me to a pulp, and I'm not there to obligingly allow it. Put the powder in whatever food you cook for him...it's an instant calming device...my brother uses it before he kills...it's perfectly safe to mix the two. Only use three drops at a time of the liquid, though...it's very strong."

Anne nodded, and took the little glass cylinders from him.

"You trust me," she said wonderingly.

Guido laughed.

"Of course," he said amusedly. "Anyone who has the courage to get Will shot just to keep him here - well, on your own head be it. Personally, if I were you, I'd have had him shot so as not to have him here - any sane woman wouldn't want him around - but they say that love is blind, after all...and I always wanted to meet living proof of that..."

Anne smiled.

"You're glad, aren't you...?" she asked hesitantly.

Guido nodded.

"I never wanted him to go to Toulouse," he admitted. "Yes, I am glad, I suppose. And I understand why you did it. I - I could not have, even if I had thought of it, so...Keep him here, Anne. Keep him safe. He deserves to be happy, if anyone does..."

And I don't think he wants to do this any more, I think he's started to hate being the spy commander, no matter what he says...show him there are other things in life...

Anne nodded.

"You really love him, don't you? I've never known you care about anyone before..."

Guido frowned, about to question her as to what she could mean by that - after all, he was renowned for having no feelings at all, good or bad - then laughed, realising the truth in what she said. How strange, that he should be admitting to his emotions now, when he had so little time for them - perhaps that was why he found this slipping into true friendship so easy to accept...

"No - I'll leave that to you," he said dryly, keeping up his cynical façade with an effort that he prayed was not visible. "Now where's that damned soup?"

******

Guido came into the main room of the inn with a deliberately heavy step, alerting the two officers to his presence.

"I am awash with soup," he said wryly, as they turned to look at him. "You will have to pour me onto my horse. Honestly, the things I do for my country deserve a knighthood."

Archie grinned at him.

"I didn't know assassins ate soup," he said, laughing at Guido's pained expression.

Guido gave a mock sigh.

"Our sufferings are unparalleled," he said with fake nobility, and laughed. "Gentlemen, so will yours be. We leave tonight. I've drugged Deveraux up to his eyeballs, so we can leave without being inundated with conflicting instructions - and I have, I'm afraid, a change in plan as a result."

Horatio blinked.

"I didn't know you could make plans," he said, trying, unsuccessfully, not to smile.

"I didn't know you could make jokes," responded the assassin without missing a beat. "The things we learn in this life, eh, Mr Hornblower!"

Then he sobered, and sat down in one of the chairs.

"I have to ask one of you to make the transfer instead of Will," he said worriedly. "I can't make it for him. If it were an option, I would, believe me, but Lorenzo wouldn't trust me. And he'd never believe that anyone would risk their lives to get me out. So - I have an idea."

"Which one of us do you have in mind?" asked Horatio calmly.

Guido's wicked grin transformed his narrow face.

"Neither," he said. "We're going to toss a coin. That way - no guilt. Agreed? Chance is sometimes safer..."

Archie nodded.

"No responsibility?" he asked, remembering what the assassin had told him about his weapons.

Guido smiled wryly, recognising the reference.

"Exactly. So -"

He took a coin from his pocket.

"Call it, gentlemen."

Silence.

Guido sighed.

"If one of you would be so good..." he said, trying to put as much impatience into his voice as he could. Inwardly, he sympathised. Each of them was dreading, not that they themselves would have to take Will's place, but rather that the other would, and that they would have to be the one who hid and watched...Still, one of them had to, and there was no time for this, not now...

Horatio swallowed.

"Heads," he said, almost inaudibly.

Guido tossed the coin in the air, and caught it on the back of one gloved hand. He looked down, and raised his eyebrows.

"As you requested," he said calmly. "Into the lion's den with you, then, Mr Hornblower. Here."

He tossed over the packet of fake documents, and Hornblower caught them deftly.

Guido got to his feet.

"Well then," he said. "Make your preparations, gentlemen. We leave within the hour."

He stood, and turned to leave the room. He had no desire to witness the inevitable argument that he knew would follow. After all, he had already fought and lost the same battle with Will, and he knew that Kennedy would lose the argument in exactly the same way.

In the doorway, he turned back, and said as sardonically as he could manage -

"I am, incidentally, as honoured as a soup-filled assassin can be. If I could have chosen two men to accompany me on this journey - I would have chosen no others, having met you both."

Then he vanished into the dark hallway, leaving them no chance to respond, and went out into the cold night air.

He looked up at the stars, and thought of the 'Indefatigable', sailing back to the Channel beneath the same sky.

"And I will bring them back to you, Pellew," he said quietly. "You have my word. All that I can do - all that I have the power to accomplish - it will be done. I swear it. I swear it on the name of the di Cesares."

*****

Hal Trevelyan paced up and down his room nervously. Twenty steps to the window, nineteen steps back. Nineteen steps there, twenty back. Twenty there and twenty back. Either nineteen or twenty steps each time, it never varied to eighteen, he never took as many steps as twenty-one or twenty-two. It was getting monotonous, but the constant movement was at least helping him not to scream.

There was nothing, absolutely nothing, that he could do to warn Guido about what his brother had planned for Will Deveraux - at least not without getting himself killed, and being alive might be useful at some future date, if he wanted to do something constructive when Guido finally reached Toulouse. Guido might have confidence in his ability to come back from the dead, if needed - Hal was rather more sceptical about the chances of his being able to do that...

There was a knock at the door. Hal stopped in his pacing, and called -

"Yes?"

The door opened, and a young man in the uniform of a French cavalry officer limped in, leaning heavily on a cane. Hal blinked at the new arrival for a moment, then shouted delightedly -

"Angelo!"

He hurried over and embraced the younger man, who was laughing.

"What on earth are you doing here?" Hal enquired, holding him by the shoulders at arm's length, looking him up and down with unfeigned pleasure. "Christ, man, it's good to see you!"

Angelo di Cesare grinned.

"Honourable discharge," he explained, indicating his leg. "The field surgeon said that if he found me or my leg within a mile of the army again, he'd have me incarcerated in the nearest prison until the war's over. So I went home, and they said you were all here...and I never could resist the chance of a little fun. So here I am."

Hal chuckled.

"It's not going to be that much fun, Angelo," he warned. "Guido -"

"Is coming to Toulouse," finished Angelo, and grinned wickedly, looking every inch a di Cesare. "I suspected you could do with a little help here, Hal."

Hal sighed.

"Lorenzo's doing perfectly well," he said tiredly. "He doesn't need help - though it's nice to see you, anyway."

Angelo's smile fell from his face.

"I didn't say I thought Enzo needed help," he said seriously. "I said I thought you did."

Hal swallowed, feeling his mouth go dry. This could be a trap...

"What do you mean?" he asked quietly.

Angelo shrugged carelessly.

"Well, Enzo's mad, isn't he?" he said casually. "Not that he wasn't always a little strange, but since he chained Guido down in the dungeon, he's been completely insane. Why d'you think I went into the army? It was either that or a spell down there with my own little collar. So - now I'm back, and I'm free to help you."

Then an expression of panic crossed his face.

"Oh Lord," he said. "I'm assuming - you were always so close - you are still on Guido's side, aren't you? If not - for God's sake - don't say a word of this to Enzo, Hal, please!"

Hal breathed a sigh of relief.

"Don't worry," he said sleepily, lowering his heavy eyelids. "As ever, I'm on Guido's side."

Angelo's hand was shaking slightly as he passed it over his face.

"Thank God," he said simply. "I had - well, for a moment, I thought - whew..!"

Hal gestured to one of the chairs.

"Sit down," he invited. "Sorry, I know, I should have offered before..."

Angelo shrugged.

When he had left for the army, Hal had thought of him as a boy, but he was certainly not someone who brought that description to mind any more. He was four years younger than Guido and Hal, and Hal, in particular, had not taken much interest in the younger brothers while they were growing up. Now he was facing a young soldier in his early twenties, a man who seemed to have become more like Guido than Hal would have ever thought possible. It was most disconcerting...

"What?" asked Angelo, easing himself stiffly into the chair, and stretching out his leg in front of him with a small sigh of relief. "You've got the most peculiar expression on your face, Trevelyan."

Hal laughed, a little embarrassed.

"I was thinking how much like Guido you seem to have become," he confessed. Angelo grinned.

"Well, I had two role models to choose between, really, didn't I?" he pointed out. "Enzo or Guido? Not that difficult to decide. Guido always had more fun..."

Hal smiled.

"Yes, he did. Angelo, you do know, don't you, that he can't even remember we existed? He knows, of course, that he has brothers apart from Enzo, but he can't remember you. Or me, either."

Angelo shook his head.

"That's not quite true," he said. "Last night, one of Enzo's spies brought me a letter, sent from a doctor aboard the ship Guido sailed on to come here. Good job Lorenzo keeps such a watchful eye on me, or I might never have got it...still. I did get it, thank God. The letter explained that Guido had left a book of his in the - the - oh, damn, what's it called? The cable something. Anyway, when the doctor picked it up, this fell out."

He handed a folded piece of paper to Hal.

"The doctor said he thought I should receive it, whether Guido meant me to or not..."

Hal saw the familiar writing with a jolt of recognition, and closed his eyes for a moment,
fighting an old pain that went so deep he had almost forgotten it.

"Angelo,

This is a strange letter to write - it will be even stranger to receive, I know. Yet tonight, I have remembered myself and my past, and a boy lies dead through my failure. So I write to a man I knew only as a boy, and am determined not to fail in this one last respect.

Get away from Lorenzo, Angelo. Get away and stay away. Change your name, your religion, your country, change everything and anything, but get away from him. Believe me when I say your life may depend upon it. Your sanity certainly will, at some point.

Should you see Hal Trevelyan, pass on this message. Tell him that my old offer holds true. Tell him 'fiat justitia', and that I will await him in England, should he choose to come. I should never have asked him to protect Francesca - it was an unworthy request. Never, Angelo, never ask a man to do what you cannot. It is dishonourable.

I believe that you have grown to be a man of honour. I know that you fight in Bonaparte's army - I choose to fight for England's King. It is of no consequence. Belief in what we do is all that matters, not whether we believe in the same thing. Never lose that belief, my brother - that way madness lies - I know, for I have been mad these last four years, I think.

I repeat. Get away from Lorenzo. I do not want you destroyed, as I almost have been.

Send word to Hal, whatever happens, to do the following. If he still holds our friendship dear, ask him to send a paper sealed (he will know how) to the tavern just outside Toulouse. I will wait for his word to arrive or not before proceeding.

Your brother,

Guido di Cesare."

Hal refolded the paper, and handed it back to Angelo.

"My God," he said quietly. "I'd forgotten that side of him."

Angelo accepted the paper.

"The side that commanded people? I doubt you ever really saw it, Hal - you were always too close. He and Enrico - they were born to it, something the rest of us missed out on. I remember Pietro saying that once, when I asked why I always ended up doing exactly as Guido told me, just as I would have if Papa had said it. Pietro just said I should thank God it wasn't something either he or I could do to anyone, and just accept it. He told me that it was a shame Enzo was so aware he couldn't do it - and an even greater shame that Guido was so unaware that he could."

Hal laughed.

"How like Pietro, to notice that," he said dryly. "I miss him, you know, still. He was always so good to everyone..."

Angelo nodded sadly.

"I miss him too," he confessed. "But I missed Guido more, when he left. I always felt safe when he was here, I knew he would protect us. When he lost his memory - I went in to see him, while he was packing to go...he was so angry. I'd never seen him like that - he was a different man. I was stupid, I didn't realise what had happened to him - I begged him to stay. He said 'Why should I? You are all my enemies now.'"

Hal nodded.

"I came too late to stop it," he confessed. "By the time I got to them, Guido had almost forgotten who he was, and he was too weak to save himself. When he was coherent, those few times, he begged me to stay away, to save myself, look after Francesca. He never once asked for help, did you know that? He had promised Lorenzo a year, and he was determined to give it."

"But why were we all his enemies?" In Angelo's voice was a faint trace of the confused boy he had once been, and Hal's heart went out to him.

"Because he didn't know who we were. All he could remember was Will Deveraux's name and that he had to get to England. He thought we were all on Lorenzo's side, at first, and you spoke to him in the days before he learnt there was any more to it than that."

"Why didn't he remember us, though? Why Will?"

"Because he made the bargain for Will," explained Hal, ignoring the old pain that still twisted within him at that question. "That was the last thing he did as himself. He must have clung onto that, through everything Lorenzo did to him, hung on to the knowledge that he had someone to go to, after..."

Angelo nodded.

"I suppose..." he said reluctantly, and then blushed slightly. "Hal - is it true what I heard one of the servants say once - about Francesca?"

Hal groaned inwardly, but kept his expression blandly amused.

"What was that?" he drawled.

"That she - she went to Guido, the night before he left, trying to give him back his memory, and -"

His blush grew deeper, and Hal stifled a smile.

"Yes, it's true," he said. "Then he threw her out of his bed, out of his room, and told her to go back and tell her lover that she'd done as he asked."

"Her lover?"

Hal sighed.

"He thought it was a final bit of torture from EnzoTo have her come in and tell him that she loved him...well, given the year he'd just gone through, I could hardly blame him for what he thought. I wish he hadn't taken her to his bed, though, even so..."

"Was that why she married Enzo?"

Angelo was treading on forbidden ground now, and knew it. Hal's eyelids veiled his blue eyes as he heard the one question that none of them ever discussed, even in private, and he murmured,

"Partly. Now don't meddle. That's out of bounds, and you know it."

Angelo nodded.

"So," he said lightly. "Do you want my help?"

Hal laughed.

"Want it - no. Need it - yes. What are you planning to do...?"

******

Horatio went out into the courtyard, and looked across at the light coming from the stables. Guido's shadow moved across the doorway, and Hornblower heard him whistling. Being tone-deaf, he had no idea what, if anything, the assassin was whistling, but the sound, that to him resembled a rusty saw being scraped backwards and forwards over a particularly splintery piece of wood, was strangely reassuring, indicating as it did the Italian's contentment.

He walked across the cobbled yard, and went in to where the assassin was saddling the horses up, making sure they were ready to go.

Guido, his shirt sleeves rolled up and his pipe stuck between his teeth, whistling tunelessly and cheerfully as he tightened the girths on the saddles, looked around at his approach, and smiled, taking the pipe out of his mouth and stopping whistling.

"Sorry," he said. "I know it annoys you."

"What - oh, the whistling."

Guido chuckled quietly to himself.

"I've been told by a reliable source that it sounds like a drone from a bagpipe," he said. "Small blame to you for getting annoyed."

"I wouldn't know," confessed Horatio.

Guido blinked.

"Hey? What do you mean, you wouldn't know?"

"I - ah - I can't tell one tune from the other," admitted the lieutenant. "I think it's called being tone-deaf. At least, that's what I've been told."

Guido's mouth dropped open slightly, and he stared at Hornblower speechlessly for a moment. Then he leant back against one of the stable partitions and howled with laughter.

"My God! You're joking?"

Hornblower shook his head, feeling his face redden as Guido continued to laugh.

"Ah, Christ," gasped the assassin eventually, recovering himself. "How wonderful. I've been
feeling apologetic about irritating you with my tunelessness, and all the time - you didn't realise!"

Horatio found himself smiling. Put like that, it did seem - well, amusing.

"I can't even recognise the National Anthem," he said, starting to laugh himself. Guido made an odd sound somewhere between a whoop and a gurgle at that, leaning back weakly against the partition, almost bent double with the force of his laughter.

"How about Bach? Handel? Haydn?" he asked rather hysterically.

"Well, I've heard of them...but I've never actually - well, heard them, I suppose..."

That last statement struck him as irresistibly ridiculous, and he was soon laughing as hard as the assassin.

Guido's eyes were filled with tears of laughter.

"Oh God..." he wheezed. "Oh God, sorry, it isn't funny - it must be damnable for you - but oh! What a joke! I would have been just as annoying if I'd whistled a tune..."

******
Anne looked out of the kitchen window at the sky, which grew a little lighter as dawn approached. It was still impossible to tell whether the day was going to be fair or cloudy, and she hoped that the three men who were talking so earnestly outside would have good weather for the journey they were about to take.

Guido, Hornblower and Kennedy, ready to leave, were in the courtyard, going over the plans one final time.

"We go to a tavern outside Toulouse," said Guido calmly. "We will wait there tomorrow afternoon, and then two more nights. The transfer is to take place at Sainte-Marie at ten in the morning. Mr Hornblower, you will be carrying the false documents. I will carry the fake code, Mr Kennedy will have the real documents."

"Who are we supposed to be meeting?"

Guido shrugged.

"No idea," he said simply. "However, we all know who we will be meeting, so let's get this clear. Whatever happens to me, whatever Lorenzo does, you are not to deviate from the plan. There is less chance of him daring to take an English officer, if he kills me, so - no thoughts of retaliation, if that should happen. Mr Kennedy, you will stay hidden with the documents at all costs, no matter what you hear or see. Remember, the man to whom they must be given will be in the church at ten, and I'm trusting you to make the real transfer for me. If you fail, we're all dead men anyway, so I would suggest you concentrate on ensuring that you get to our unknown contact."

He smiled a little, allowing himself to relax slightly.

"Mr Hornblower - I am sorry, truly sorry, that you are being asked to do this, but since it was your original plan in any case, I must confess that my feelings of remorse are eased somewhat."

When had he ever had to explain this much, this succinctly, before? Probably never. Guido's head throbbed painfully, just behind his eyes, as he tried to marshal his scattered thoughts into speech.

"What are you hoping will happen? With Lorenzo?"

Hornblower's voice was very quiet, but there was no doubting his resolve. Guido raised his eyebrows.

"Hoping?" he enquired sardonically. "It has been a long time since that was an option. No - what I am expecting to happen is - well, there are several options. You will give Lorenzo the fake documents. I will wait somewhere, hidden. He may leave without opening the documents. On the other hand, if he opens and checks them, he will realise they need a code - which you do not have. At that point, I will come forward - that's why I have the code, after all - and I shall make the transfer as best I can. Again, at that point he may leave. I suppose one could classify that as my - hope.

"The final option is this. If he decides he would prefer me to the documents - well, we're all in God's hands from then on out. Rather appropriate, being as we'll be in a church, don't you think?"

"And if Lorenzo is there before the man we're supposed to make the transfer to?" asked Kennedy. "If he's waiting for us?"

Guido blinked, a little surprised.

"I'm assuming that he's going to be there waiting for us," he said very dryly. "Officials never turn up early. Or late, for that matter. They always come exactly on time. As will you," he added, turning to Horatio. "Lorenzo will probably be waiting there, and our little farce is all set to be played out."

"So how do I get into the church without anyone noticing?" asked Archie reasonably. "More to the point, what's your contact going to do? What are you going to do?"

Guido smiled.

"You and I are going to spend a lovely cold night in the church, and wait to see what happens," he said quietly.

"Firstly, because if Lorenzo brings men with him, I want to see where he stations them, and secondly because I believe in being better prepared than him. If the contact sees Lorenzo, he'll hide, and wait. You see, he'll know that Mr Hornblower there has nothing to do with the transfer - a description of Will's appearance is always given most precisely - and, without sounding too immodest, one of the reasons I dress as I do is so that no-one can be in doubt of who and what I am. Mr Hornblower - forgive me, but nothing on God's earth could convince someone that you were an agent for the Crown. The man we are to meet will simply leave us to deal with my brother, and wait for me to give him the right papers."

"But you said I'm going to give them to him..." Kennedy pointed out.

"Only in the worst case scenarios - the documents being opened or my - incapacitation. Lorenzo may leave with the fake documents. If I come out with the code, the contact will know that someone else has the real papers, and he will be prepared."

"How will I find him?"

"Once Lorenzo has left - and whatever happens, he will eventually have to leave - the contact will appear. He will sit in the third pew on the left, and pretend to pray. Then you go to him."

Guido sighed a little, and tugged the hood of his cloak up over his head, shadowing his face even further. God, how tiring talking was! He felt as though each word were being dragged out of some bottomless pit as he explained, his tongue clumsy and his mouth actually beginning to hurt with the effort of speech.

And if I die, ignore it.

No, he could hardly say that, even if it was what he thought. It would sound as if he had given up hope, and was slipping into despair once more - which he wasn't...

Am I?

No. He was resigned to what might happen, that was all. The documents were too important for anything to get in the way of the transfer...

Like the minor inconvenience of being dead...

He had to somehow explain that to them - but how?

Guido sighed again, worriedly, and fished amidst the folds of his cloak for his pipe, trying to find the right words. The rules were so different for them, in the war they fought - and so much the same...

God, Anne, I didn't want Will to go to Toulouse, but right now I'd pay for him to be coming with us...this is impossible...

What had Pellew said?

"You are a man of duty!"

Yes, I am, but I am also not a man who talks very much, and I've just made two long speeches and it's making my head hurt...

"I know this all sounds a little far-fetched," he said quietly. "But I want you both to be aware that no matter what I do to try and prevent it, there is a chance that I won't survive the transaction. You have to be prepared...to know what to do, if that happens."

******

In the quiet, firelit room above the inn, Will Deveraux stirred beneath his blankets, flinging out an arm and muttering in his sleep, his scarred face twitching with dreams. Below him, in the courtyard, Guido wheeled his horse about to face Anne and Philippe, who were standing in the doorway of the inn.

"I must say Will is dead, when I go to Toulouse," he said quietly, bending down to them. "As must you. I don't know when I'll be back - but until then...tell him that he must not do anything to jeopardise the lie. Not even to save us. Make sure he listens - it may in the end be our last chance, if he's thought to have been killed."

Anne nodded, but she looked worried.

"Guido? You will come back, won't you?"

The assassin nodded.

"Yes."

"Can you swear it?"

"No. But I can swear to try. That is as much as you can ask of me. Now goodbye...and - thank you. Both of you. For everything. Anne, I - well - take care of my commander."

He straightened up, and looked up at the little window.

"Goodbye, my friend," he murmured.

Then he touched his heels to the sides of his horse, and clattered out of the gate, to the track where Hornblower and Kennedy already waited for him.

His face was set and immobile in the pale grey light of the dawn, his eyes cold and black. He rode past them without a glance, simply expecting them to follow, lost in his own thoughts and plans, setting an easy pace along the track, his hood drawn up to conceal his expression and his mind racing. The two lieutenants exchanged a brief glance, seeing their strange commander evidently unwilling to speak any further, and followed him without comment.

As the three horsemen disappeared around the curve of the track, Will Deveraux, fully awake, leant his bandaged head against the cool glass of the window he had dragged himself to, and felt his eyes burn with tears of fear and shame.

Fear for the young men who had ridden off into the unknown.

And bitterly, disgracefully ashamed at his own gladness to be staying behind.

"Go safe, Guido," he said quietly, his breath misting the glass. "But please, please, my friend, be careful..."

*****

Angelo looked across at Hal worriedly as the older man slept in his chair. Little by little, with the aid of a bottle of brandy and the use of all the familiarly joking quotations that his brother's speech had been peppered with, he had coaxed out of Trevelyan some of the events of the past years, since Guido had disappeared into the depths of the British intelligence system. Eventually, Hal, worn out by talking, had simply lain back in his chair and fallen asleep, the glass held loosely in his strong, calloused fingers.

Asleep, Hal could no longer hide the strain of the past few weeks, the new lines of constant watchfulness showing up clearly beneath the closed eyes, the strong face outlined by the candle in sharp planes and angles, betraying how much weight the Englishman had lost in past days.

The drawling voice had stammered occasionally, when the brandy began to loosen Hal's tongue, and Angelo, listening, remembered a period when Hal had stammered uncontrollably - wasn't that after he had come to live with them permanently? He had been too young then to really remember what had happened, but he did remember Enrico saying that if ever Angelo commented on Hal's stammer again, he would take him out to the stables and thrash him to within an inch of his life. Since Enrico's moments of open anger could be counted on one hand - he was far too vain to allow his face to distort with rage, preferring to seethe quietly - Angelo realised that it must have been important.

He had, of course, not listened to his brother's warning, and continued to torment the English boy. To his shock, it had not been Enrico who had responded, but the remote and unquestioning Guido, who had never been angry with Angelo in their lives, preferring to make a joke, or completely ignore what was happening.

As Angelo mimicked Hal one morning, trying to amuse Enzo, Guido had come into the room, listened for approximately five seconds with an expression of pure disbelief on his face, then sprung at his younger brother with a speed that shocked everyone in the room, grabbing Angelo by his hair and dragging him outside to the rose garden.

Once there, he had proceeded to systematically beat Angelo up, the younger boy's struggles having no effect on Guido's already powerful arms at all. Within a few minutes, the feeling of complete helplessness and frustration had reduced Angelo to tears that were partly shame, and partly rage, and Guido had instantly stopped.

"Did you like how that felt?" he demanded, and Angelo realised in shock that whatever rage had spurred Guido on to start this, it was no longer present.

"Of course not!" he yelled. "How would you like it if someone made you feel completely powerless and you couldn't fight back? You're a bastard, Guido!"

Guido just looked at him as coldly as if he were a stranger.

"I suggest you consider very carefully how you just felt the next time you feel inclined to mock Hal," he had pointed out icily. "And bear this in mind, Angelo. You are dishonouring our name when you behave like that. We do not harm those who cannot defend themselves. Ever. Consider this your one and only chance to remember that."

And he had walked off back to the house, straightening his sleeves as though he had simply taken a short walk in the garden.

If Hal were stammering again now, things must be unbearable, not just bad...

Angelo sighed. He was not yet fit to do very much - well, he never would be fit, the doctor had made that quite clear - and he seemed to have come back, not to a home where he stood a chance of recovery, but to a madman's hell of deceit, terror and danger, swirling around Lorenzo like a lethal undertow.

At first, Angelo had thought that it was just fear of Lorenzo that was eating away the Englishman's strength, but as the evening wore on, and Hal became steadily drunker, it became obvious that it was far more complicated than that. Hal's love for Francesca was killing him, slowly and surely, even Angelo could tell that much from the few halting words that Trevelyan had allowed to escape him on the subject. The combination of Lorenzo's test, which had played so cruelly on the young Englishman's obvious love for her, Hal's resulting feelings of disloyalty to the absent Guido, and Francesca's own need for Hal's friendship, were exacerbating the process.

"I have to get him out of here..." he muttered quietly to himself. "Guido'll kill me if he finds out I knew how bad things had got and did nothing...and one brother waiting for an opportunity to have me cut to shreds is quite enough."

Angelo got to his feet, fumbling for his cane, and limped over to the window, watching the sun come up over the bare trees. He reached into his pocket, and opened Guido's letter to him, reading -

"...ask him to send a paper sealed (he will know how) to the tavern just outside Toulouse. I will wait for his word to arrive or not before proceeding."

"I'm going to do better than that," said Angelo to the sunrise. "I'm going to deliver him to you myself. Seal and all, Guido, whatever that seal may be, I'll get him to bring it...I'm damned if I'm going to let this go on any longer, and you're the only one who can stop it for us, my brother. I don't know why I should be doing this, but - well - I owe you a favour, after
all..."

End of Chapter Twenty