The King's Man
by
Rhiannon

Chapter Seven

I have shot mine arrow o'er the house
And hurt my brother....

 

Will Deveraux yawned, swung his legs out of the hammock, and stepped straight into the congealing plate of food that he had put on the floor the night before. He looked at his stockinged foot in disgust, and swore.

Guido di Cesare, sitting at the desk, his shirt-sleeves rolled up to his elbows and an inelegant smudge of ink on the side of his nose, looked across at him and grinned.

"Having a good morning, Deveraux?" he enquired. Will glared at him.

"Where did you get to last night?" he asked irritably, hopping around the room and trying to strip off the stocking without overbalancing.

"Everywhere," said Guido cheerfully.

Will put one hand on the back of the chair, and looked over at the assassin curiously. The bruises were fading from the thin features already, the swelling almost completely gone, and Will thought at first that this was the difference in his appearance, besides the rolled-up sleeves and the ink smudge. He shook his head, trying to clear it of the last remnants of sleep. Guido looked dishevelled, as he always did when working through the cipher code - when he finally sat down to work, he absorbed himself in it completely, becoming indifferent to his usually elegant appearance - but he somehow looked -

"Ironed," said Will aloud. Guido frowned at him, chewing on the feather of the quill pen he was using.

"What?" he asked confusedly. "Deveraux, go back to sleep, eh?"

"No - you. You look ironed."

Guido looked down at his crumpled shirt, which had dried in an assortment of interesting wrinkles, at his rolled up shirt-sleeves, and passed a gloved hand over his still-tangled hair, checking that he really hadn't taken a brush to it the night before.

"As opposed to what?" he asked incredulously. "Deveraux, did you go blind in the night?"

Will shrugged, and began to try the difficult balancing act of peeling off his food-covered stocking while holding onto the back of the chair with one hand.

"You - look - different," he grunted between attempts.

"I had some sleep," shrugged Guido.

Will was bent over, tugging at the toe of the tight sock. At that his head came up sharply - and straight into the back of the chair. He yelped with pain, put his foot down, and rubbed at his head.

"Where did you sleep?" he asked after a while, during which he had hopped around the cabin, one hand held to his head, swearing under his breath. Guido had put down his pen, and was laughing silently, something else Will had never known him do before.

"In a chair," he said, his voice quivering with laughter. "I suggest, by the way, that you sit down to get that revolting object off your foot, before you break something."

Will glanced down at his foot, which he was still trying to keep off the floor, looked over at the chair, rubbed the bump on his head, and nodded.

"Sensible plan," he said wearily, and sat, facing the assassin. "Guido, what's going on? Do you have a plan yet, you and Hornblower?"

Guido shook his head, smiling.

"Hornblower's thinking up a plan," he said calmly. "When I left him last night, he had the expression of a man determined to succeed, so I assume he's thought of it by now. I'm just going to make sure it works."

He picked up the quill again, and bent to the papers in front of him, whistling quietly and tunelessly.

"Guido," Will began.

The assassin took no notice, immersed in the hieroglyphics he was scrawling across the paper.

"Guido," Will repeated, more insistently. Guido looked up, blinking.

"Hmmm? What is it, Deveraux?"

"Stop whistling and talk to me. What chair? What's going on with you?"

Guido sighed, his good mood beginning to evaporate.

"Do you want me to work out this cipher or not?" he enquired crossly. "Since you went to all that effort to turn me into a walking official document, I assume the answer is yes, so can you leave me to get on with it?"

"Di Cesare..." Will gave up, and concentrated on peeling his stocking off.

Guido dipped his pen back in the inkwell, and continued writing. Some of his hair fell over his forehead, and he blew at it irritably for a while, finally raking it back with his fingers. He was muttering to himself under his breath, going through the Donne poem.

"At the round earths imagin'd corners, blow /Your trumpets, Angells, and arise, arise...arise must be the Greek cipher, then, so I'll connect that here, and use the seventh...what next, what next, should I skip a line...? No, this works...repeat the arise as if it were the start of the line, and I get 'Arise from death,' rather than beginning 'From death', yes, that would work..."

Will was getting interested despite himself. He had always worked the ciphers himself, but it seemed that Guido, too, had developed a method.

"When did you learn to do this?" he asked curiously.

"When you kept giving me the damn things without the code," said Guido absently.

"But this isn't my system."

"No - it's mine. I am the code now, remember. So it all has to work through me and the cipher poem."

"So you're making yourself into the connection? That can't be done."

"I know. I'm doubling the poem as cipher clue and connection. It's the only way I can be sure to remember it without writing it down..."

"But Guido, if you double it, then all someone has to work out is which poem it is!"

Guido looked up, sighing.

"Obviously," he said. "And if Lorenzo gets to me before we've delivered the documents, then I'd say that would be fairly necessary, wouldn't you?"

Will stared at him.

"You're developing a readable cipher," he said, stunned. Guido nodded. Will leant over the desk, blocking the light from the paper.

"Are you preparing to die, di Cesare?" he asked angrily. "Because if so -"

Guido cut him off, holding up one gloved hand.

"No, Deveraux," he said softly. "I'm doing everything I can to make sure that I don't die. You see, there's something I have to do. I've given my word."

"Oh, really?" Will sat back down in relief. "And what would that be?"

Guido smiled.

"I'm going to kill a ghost," he said calmly. Will blinked, then laughed, assuming it was a joke.

"Well," he said after a bit. "You'd better hope you stay alive quite a while, then, while you work that one out, because as far as I know, it's impossible."

Guido stretched in the chair, and linked his arms behind his head, leaning backwards. With his shirt-sleeves rolled up, the strength in his arms was apparent. There was no spare flesh at all on the Italian spy's body, only a concentrated, supple musculature that belonged to a dancer or acrobat. It was only rarely, when Will saw the muscles tense and flex in a casual movement, that he remembered the strength behind Guido's studied elegance. He also knew that Guido carefully disguised that strength unless he was making a point of it.

"Are you serious?" he asked in amazement, and Guido nodded.

"Oh yes," he said calmly. "And you're wrong, Deveraux. It can be done."

"Guido, I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. How can you kill a man who's already dead?"

Guido sighed impatiently.

"Why do you employ me, Will?" he asked irritably. "I mean, what do you put on those little bits of paper?"

Will flushed, the scars burning red across his face.

"The names of the men you are to kill," he said. "Are we going to have a fight about this? Is this the point of your babbling about ghosts?"

Guido, to his surprise, didn't even get angry.

"Right," he agreed. "The names of men. How do you know I've killed them?"

Will started to see what the assassin was talking about.

"Because - you tell me so. And that's your job. So I believe you."

Guido nodded.

"And if I told you Lorenzo was dead? Would you believe that?"

Will thought for a moment. Then -

"No," he admitted.

"Nor would I, if someone else were to tell me he was dead. Oh, I would know it was true, if I trusted the messenger. But believing it..."

"So the ghost is belief," said Will. Guido shrugged.

"Who knows," he said. "But it would be a start...to make someone believe in a death, at least."

Will nodded slowly.

"Well," he conceded, "I suppose you're the ideal person for that..."

Guido nodded absently.

"I should be," he said quietly, and bent back to his papers.

Will shook his head wearily. He had no idea what the assassin was talking about, but so long as it was keeping him alive, it was none of his concern.

Guido was muttering again, his pen flying across the paper.

"You numberlesse infinities, yes, remember to put the 'e' on the end, and that would give the clue to the English, so how should I spell 'souls'...would I need Donne's spelling? No, better the ordinary and make it more recognisable, and - oh, damn!"

The quill had split under Guido's vehement strokes, splattering ink all over the carefully written page and rendering the whole thing completely indecipherable. Guido stared at the ruin of a morning's work in disbelief.

"Right," he said, staring at the ink-blotched paper. "Fine."

He got to his feet, his expression daring Will to find it amusing.

"I'm going for a walk," he said, very much on his dignity. "A long walk!"

He walked out of the cabin, swinging the leather bag onto his shoulder as he went, and muttering under his breath. Will kept his face carefully immobile, and it was only when the cabin door had slammed behind the irritated assassin that he allowed himself to smile. Whatever it was that had changed in Guido, it was promising to make the rest of the voyage very interesting indeed.

*****

Guido was furious. He had put a lot of effort into the cipher, which was now completely ruined, and he had gone to great lengths to appear calm in front of Will - something else which had not lasted. He rolled his shirt-sleeves down, rubbed hopefully at where he thought the ink-smudge probably was, and combed irritably at his hair with his gloved fingers. He supposed he should shave, but that meant going back to the cabin, and keeping up the front of absent-minded calmness while talking to the spy commander was probably beyond his capabilities at that moment.

He fished in a pocket, and pulled out his pipe, going slowly through the ritual of filling and lighting it in order to calm himself. He did not regret what he had said the night before, but he was beginning to wonder what, exactly, he was going to do. Still -

"You swore your weapons over to him," he said aloud. "He's told you who he wants killed. You're an assassin, Guido, so think of a way!"

"Who wants who killed?" asked a voice behind him.

Guido turned round slowly.

"Mr. Sanderson," he said wearily. "Amazing. Haven't you got anything better to do than listen to me talking to myself?"

Sanderson thought for a moment, then shook his head. Guido closed his eyes in resignation.

"Oh." he said flatly. "Well, try and think of something, would you? I'm busy."

"No you're not. You're standing here talking to yourself."

"That's busy."

"How?"

"Because I think better when I talk to myself - look, can't you go and learn something, or climb something, or do whatever it is midshipmen do? Go and annoy Lieutenant Hornblower - I'm sure he'll think of something that'll occupy you for a few hours."

"But you said you'd teach me."

"No, I didn't," said Guido, his head starting to spin with the effort of following the boy's thoughts. "I said you could begin spying when I said you were ready. That was last night. You're no more ready this morning than you were then. Now, go away."

"But Guido -"

"No."

"But -"

"No!"

"You promised!" Sanderson was outraged.

Guido sighed, feeling very old indeed, remembering a time when hours had seemed to last forever, and a day older was a lifetime.

"Very well," he said. "First lesson. Don't lie to me."

"I didn't -"

"You said you had nothing to do. I know for a fact that you should have something to study this morning."

Sanderson stared down at his feet.

"It's boring," he muttered. Guido's mouth twitched, and he hastily brought his hand up to his mouth.

"That may well be true," he said sternly, "but a spy requires discipline as much as an officer does. You will have no better opportunity of learning that discipline than by forcing yourself to complete boring tasks. Besides, the more highly trained your mind becomes, the better equipped you will be to process necessary information, when the time comes."

"You mean - everything's helping me be a spy?"

"Absolutely," confirmed Guido with a straight face.

Sanderson nodded.

"That makes sense," he said. Then he grinned. "It's still boring, though!"

And he raced off, leaving Guido leaning against the wall, his eyes closed, helpless with laughter.

"Thank you," said a quiet voice. "At last, I stand a chance of getting some work from him."

Guido stopped laughing, opening his eyes and trying not to look too pleased at Horatio's thanks.

"My pleasure," he said. Then his eyes blazed with excitement, as he took in the lieutenant's barely concealed enthusiasm.

"You have a plan..."

*****

Will Deveraux was trying to clean up the cabin, with very little success, when the door was flung open with a bang, and two furious young men burst into the room.

"What the -" began the spy commander irritably, but was drowned out completely by the sound of two very obstinate men yelling at each other at the tops of their voices.

"This isn't a plan!" shouted Guido angrily. "It's a bloody death-trap! Why the hell did I ever trust you with anything? The only thing you're capable of planning is your own funeral!"

"You aren't listening!"

"I've listened enough! You're mad!"

"You have no concept of strategy!"

"No, but I can recognise a death-wish when I hear it!"

"You -"

"SHUT UP!" bellowed Will with all the force he could muster, and the two subsided reluctantly, glaring at each other.

"What on earth is going on?" he demanded in the silence. "Have you both lost your minds? You can be heard from one end of the ship to the other!"

"He's a madman!" exploded Guido.

"And you're a fool!" retorted Hornblower.

"At least I'm not going to get myself killed for the sake of a plan!"

"At least I have a plan!"

"Yes, and you're going to end up dead with a plan! Superb!" yelled Guido, flinging his hands in the air. "Why didn't I think of that?"

"You have absolutely no idea of -"

"ENOUGH!" shouted Will. "I don't know what this is about, and I don't bloody care, but take it OUT OF THIS CABIN! NOW!"

They took no notice of him whatsoever.

"I am not going to be dead!" snapped Horatio. "And if you bothered to hear me out -"

"Hear you out? Do you honestly expect me to give my time to such complete lunacy?"

"You asked me to come up with a plan! I did - what more do you want?"

"One where we all get out alive!" snarled Guido.

"Will you just listen to me - God almighty!"

Horatio ducked just in time as the inkwell went flying across the room for the second time in a week. It hit the wall in a shower of ink, most of which covered Guido, and smashed to the floor. The assassin, drenched in the contents of a just refilled inkpot, took a very deep breath, struggled for calm, lost the battle, and howled -

"Deveraux, you total bastard, will you stop trying to dye me jet black? Once and for all, I don't bloody need it!"

Then he caught Horatio's eye, saw his stunned expression, and burst out laughing, wiping the ink off his face with the back of one gloved hand.

"Good timing, that duck," he said, and laughed harder.

Horatio's wide mouth twitched, and he started to laugh as well.

"You - you look ridiculous!"

"Undoubtedly," said Guido, mopping at his shirt rather ineffectually with Will's cloak. "I'm covered from head to foot in ink. AGAIN!" he yelled in Will's direction.

Will was glaring at them both.

"Guido," he said grimly, "put my cloak down. Go and wash. Go and boil your head. Go and jump overboard - I don't care, just - disappear! Both of you - GO AWAY!"

"Right," muttered Guido. "We're going."

He caught at Horatio's jacket sleeve, and pulled him towards the door, both of them laughing.

"We're going straight away," agreed the lieutenant hurriedly, smothering his laughter, and watching out carefully for any more missiles.

They disappeared through the doorway, closing the door carefully behind them. Will was just about to start clearing up the remains of the inkwell, when Guido's head reappeared around the door.

"Goodbye," he said solemnly, and shut the door just in time to avoid having the tin lid of the inkpot thrown straight between his teeth.

It did not improve Will's temper to hear the laughter diminishing down the corridor.

*****

"All right, all right!" said Guido after a while, gasping for breath.

He was stripped to the waist, and shivering, even standing by the brazier below decks. His face was blue and red in patches from the cold water Horatio had forced him to use in order to get rid of the last traces of ink, and his dark hair hung nearly to his shoulders, dripping wet. He was being watched with interest by Horatio, Archie, and a fascinated Sanderson, all of whom were waiting for him to complain. Guido just grinned at them, enjoying their disappointment.

"Give me something to dry off with. I am now - Christ, that was cold! - now officially listening."

Horatio threw a coarse piece of towelling at him, and Guido started to scrub the water out of his hair with it, his expression one of complete distaste. Drying, the thick, wiry strands sprang back up, looking twenty times shorter. He turned around, towelling the back of his head roughly, and the rows of thin white scars on the nape of his neck showed up clearly. He caught Horatio's gaze on them, and flushed, turning back quickly, the tensed muscles showing up clearly on his thin, acrobatic frame.

"A present from my brother," he said coldly, his dark gaze challenging anyone, even Sanderson, to comment. No-one felt like taking the statement up, and Guido nodded.

"Right," he said. "Now - can I have my shirt back, please?"

"It's still damp," said Sanderson, who had been drying it in front of the brazier.

"Even damp," said a shivering Guido, "I would still like it back."

Sanderson handed it over without further comment. He had enough sense to know that one word out of place, and he would be sent back up on deck to do something completely unnecessary. He tried to make himself invisible, and hoped the conversation would be as interesting as it had promised to be when the laughing, ink-drenched assassin had appeared below-decks and interrupted his studies, closely followed by the two officers.

"The plan will work," said Horatio calmly.

"Hmmm," said Guido suspiciously. "Your motivation for it, please."

"I think your brother likes bargaining. If I were to 'allow' myself, as it were, to fall into his hands, then you could waste time pretending to bargain for me, while Deveraux and Archie get the documents to the church."

Guido shook his head.

"No," he said flatly. "When he finds out, he'll kill you."

Horatio shook his head.

"No," he said simply.

"What do you mean, 'no'?" demanded Guido. "Trust me on this, man! I know my brother - and he will kill you, once he finds out he's been tricked."

"He won't kill me," said Horatio coolly, "because you're going to stop him."

Guido stared at him blankly for a moment, then sat down on the coil of rope by Sanderson.

"What?" he asked. "Sorry, I'm going to do what?"

"You," said Horatio patiently, "are going to stop him from killing me."

Guido shook his head, and gripped his damp hair with both gloved hands, looking as if he would like to pull it out by the roots.

"You've lost your mind," he said faintly.

"No, I haven't."

Guido raised his head.

"All right," he said with the brittle mock-enthusiasm of one who believes themselves truly doomed. "And how, exactly, are you intending that I do this?"

Horatio looked very determined as he said the one thing he had been dreading.

"That," he said, keeping his face immobile, "is your part in the plan. But I think you know a way."

Guido became very, very still. His aquiline face darkened almost imperceptibly, and the hooded eyes narrowed slightly. He breathed shallowly, his hooked nose flaring like that of a suspicious cat.

"Yes," he said bleakly. "Yes, Mr. Hornblower. I do know." Then the black eyes widened, glittering with pain, and Sanderson drew back in terror from the face of the killer, all Guido's loathing of humanity flashing to the surface as he sprang to his feet.

"And God help you all!" he spat out, facing them down, as a condemned man would his judges. "God help you all, if I should fail!"

He turned away from them then, staring into the glow of the brazier, trying to control his tongue, to swallow down the bitterness that he longed to express. He held his hands up to the warmth, trying to still their shaking, looking wearily at the perfect fit of the black leather gloves.

Assassin, he told himself. King's Man. King's Agent. Spy. Guido di Cesare.

The familiar litany rang hollow in his mind, giving him no strength, but from somewhere, he managed to find a smile, and remembered how to twist his mouth into it.

"Sorry," he said, turning around. "I promised to listen, didn't I? You're right. I know a way...to make sure he doesn't kill you. But - I need to - work on it. I hadn't really thought - about that."

"You've got a few days," said Horatio lightly, and Guido nodded.

"Good," he said calmly, and breathed out with a kind of laugh. "I think I'll probably need them."

He saw Sanderson relax, saw Horatio smile, and watched from deep inside himself, marvelling at their response to the actor. As though from a great distance, he watched them leave, and turned back quickly to the heat of the brazier, shuddering.

From behind him, there came a slow hand clap.

"Oh, well done," said Archie Kennedy sarcastically. "I see the money you spent at the playhouse wasn't wasted."

*****

Guido's hands shot out, and gripped the glowing edges of the brazier with shock, the hot metal searing through the leather of his gloves and straight into his skin.

"Christ!" he shouted in pain, letting go almost instantly, and then, "Damn!"

The damage to his hands was minimal, but he looked at his expensive gloves in dismay.

"They're completely ruined," he said wearily, and sat down on the rope again. Absurdly, he found he was close to tears. "God damn it, man, do you know how much these cost to have made?"

"No, and I don't care," said Archie. He sounded as angry as Guido felt. "Do you understand what you just agreed to?"

Guido nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

"He trusts you! He thinks you know a way!"

"There is a way," whispered Guido. "He's right."

"Guido, no! No, damn you, not like that! Tell him no!"

Guido shook his head mutely.

"Guido, for the love of God...don't do this..."

Guido was still silent, his head bent over his ruined gloves, watching the tiny white blisters appear on his palms as though fascinated.

"Guido..." pleaded Archie, "Listen to me, listen...there has to be another way..."

Guido flung his head up, his hawk's face proud and dark.

"No," he said, suddenly firm. "I honour my word."

Archie dropped his gaze from the assassin's fierce eyes. He could not think of a way to stop this, and then -

"I forbid you," he said firmly.

"What?" demanded Guido incredulously.

"I forbid you," repeated Archie. "You gave me your word! You swore over your weapons! Damn you, di Cesare, I forbid you to do this! Find - another - way!"

*****

Guido slammed into the cabin with a force that nearly took the door off its hinges. He stormed over to the untidy pile of bags in the corner, and began rummaging through them, flinging clean clothes over his shoulder.

"Guido?" asked Will tentatively.

The assassin said nothing. After throwing clothes around the room for a while, he finally pulled out a tattered old shirt of Will's, and started ripping it up viciously into strips. Then he tore off his ruined gloves, and hurled them across the room. He tipped the contents of his leather bag out onto the desk in a pile of knives, bottles, two guns, powder, and a selection of jars and packets. A pair of new gloves landed on the top of the heap. Guido opened one of the little jars, and smeared a thin amount onto each of his palms in turn. Then he bound the burns with strips of ruined shirt, yanking the knots tight by using one hand and his teeth. Finally, he pulled on the new gloves, and put everything back in the bag by the simple method of holding it open and sweeping everything off the table and down into the opening.

"What?" he snapped, when he had finished.

Will looked around the room ruefully.

"I just tidied up in here," he said. "Now it looks like a laundry."

Guido shrugged.

"So?" he asked acidly, swung his long body into the nearest hammock, stuck his pipe in his mouth, and surrounded himself with smoke.

"If this is about the ink - by the way, what's wrong with your hands?"

"I decided that gripping on to red-hot iron would be a really good idea," said Guido, sounding very unfriendly.

Will walked over, picked up the seared gloves, and sighed.

"They're completely ruined," he pointed out. "What did you do that for?"

Guido simply blew out another cloud of smoke, and did not respond.

"Was this because you didn't like the plan?" Will was striving for patience. The hammock swayed slightly as Guido shrugged.

"Oh, the plan's wonderful!" spat the assassin. "I deliver Hornblower up to Lorenzo on a plate, and keep my lovely, sane brother occupied in not killing him, while you and Kennedy get the documents to the church. What could be simpler?"

"That sounds like a good enough start -" began Will, and was cut off by the expression on Guido's face. The assassin was looking at him with complete contempt.

"A good enough start?" drawled Guido slowly. "And do you have any idea as to how I'm going to stop my brother killing that lunatic lieutenant, once he finds out we've got the documents away from him?"

"You'll think of something," said Will confidently. He was picking up shirts from the floor.

"Yes! I'll have to! Because bloody Kennedy won't let me do a straight exchange and go back to Lorenzo!"

"Of course he won't," said Will absently, folding a jacket that had somehow landed on the other side of the room. "And if I thought I stood any chance of being listened to, I'd have told you that nor would I."

Guido sprang out of his hammock, and began to pace around the floor.

"There is no other way!" he shouted. "Bloody noble idiot, he's going to get himself killed!"

"No, he isn't," said Will calmly. "Because you're going to find a way of getting - him - out without turning yourself into a living sacrifice. And he's right, Guido. That plan will work. But you're going to have to help. And you need to change one thing."

Guido sat in the chair with his head in his hands.

"It won't work," he said miserably. "It won't work because Lorenzo has no earthly reason to believe that I would bargain for Hornblower."

"I know. As I said, we need to make one change to the plan." Will bent, and put the jacket back neatly into one of the bags. "Lorenzo might not believe you'd bargain for a random naval officer, but he knows you'll bargain for me. All we do, Guido, is change the name of the bargaining tool...and Hornblower's right. The plan will work."

Guido looked over at Will slowly.

"Of course," he said, dangerously quiet. "Naturally. I give up a year of my life to keep you away from Lorenzo, so of course I'm about to just hand you over to him four years later. What else would I do?"

"Guido, it's the only way the plan can work..."

"So change the plan," said the assassin flatly. "Once and for all, Will, I am not going to let you anywhere near Lorenzo."

Will came over and crouched down beside the chair, his scarred face intent.

"Yes," he said firmly. "You are. And you're going to get me out alive."

*****

The change in plan, which Will announced that evening, was not received either well or quietly. The little cabin seemed far too small for five people, especially when three of them were talking loudly. Guido had simply opted out of the whole thing, and was standing in the shadows, smoking his pipe and glaring silently. Sanderson, who had somehow managed to wriggle in, crossed over to him.

"Why aren't you arguing, too?" he asked. "You argued with Mr. Hornblower before."

Guido looked down at the boy, and took the pipe out of his mouth.

"Because they're fighting about details," he said quietly. "It's all the same to me. I still have no idea of what to do."

"Why does Commander Deveraux want to go instead?"

The question fell into a momentary lull, and all attention focused on Guido and his small companion.

"Because 'Commander' Deveraux," said Guido bitterly, "is a trusting fool."

And with that, he walked out, closing the door behind him with a quietness that was more alarming than if he had slammed it.

"He's really angry," said Sanderson, not at all overawed at being faced with two superior officers. "I mean really, really angry."

"Yes," agreed Will. "He is. And I can't say that I blame him."

"Why?" asked Horatio.

"Because you trapped him into one thing, I tricked him into another, and Mr Kennedy over there has forbidden him to use the only way out he can see. If I were him, I'd be furious." Then the demonic face twisted into what passed for a smile, and Will added, "I'm rather enjoying it, as it happens. Guido di Cesare trying to think of what to do...it's certainly a novelty!"

"Just not one that he's enjoying as much as you..." murmured Archie.

Will turned and glared at him. Archie shrugged.

"Well, it's true," he pointed out.

"Shall I go and find him?" offered Sanderson. The other three stared at him for a moment.
Then -

"I wouldn't," said Will. "If I were you, Mr. Sanderson, I'd stay as far away from him as I could get."

"Well, someone should," pointed out the little midshipman.

The spy commander stared at him for a moment, then sighed.

"All right," he said wearily. "Any volunteers?" And then, hurriedly, "Apart, that is, from Mr Sanderson?"

*****

It was raining heavily. Toulouse appeared to be in a fair way towards turning into a river, and Lorenzo di Cesare, the greatest assassin in Europe, looked out from the little house he and his spies had taken over, and swore profoundly in the same perfect English as his brother employed. Tall and thin, looking almost exactly like his younger brother, he was beautifully and rather flamboyantly dressed in the latest fashions, his dark hair immaculately styled.

The true differences between the two brothers had always been of attitude rather than appearance, even though Lorenzo was older. Guido, before his enforced change, had been the quicker to laugh, the one who loved to fence and ride, who lived his life as though he were in a book. It was the books that had led him to offer his services to the Englishman, Will Deveraux, in a desire to be a hero. Lorenzo, older, quieter and more pragmatic, an admirer since he could remember of the Borgias and their hired killers, had simply seen a chance to use his skills for an emerging power, calmly turned himself into an assassin, and sworn himself over to the young Italian captain, Bonaparte.

It was, in a way, he reflected, a good thing that Guido had forgotten who he had been. The young enthusiast, with his head full of chivalry and honour, all set to spy for the Empire, would never have lasted as long as the cold-blooded assassin Lorenzo had turned him into. The older man had hoped that his younger brother would join him, would use the skills he had learnt to fight at Lorenzo's side. But the year that had taught Guido the secrets his older brother already knew had also taught him a hatred and rage that had replaced his joyous love of life, and it was only in their final parting that Lorenzo had been forced into an admission of what his training had done...and how far he had gone...

Guido had gone to England as soon as he could, assassin or not, swearing that the next time he met Lorenzo, he would kill him, vowing vengeance for the year that had destroyed his life and, very nearly, his sanity. Lorenzo had not understood until too late that his brother's defiance had been very real, and not a childish form of resistance. Enraged at what he saw as a simple refusal to comply, he had beaten down Guido's every attempt to withdraw from what he was being taught with a physical and mental torture he had not known he was capable of showing, knowing only that he had the choice between destroying who Guido believed himself to be - and killing him outright.

Now Lorenzo, grouped with his spies in Toulouse, waiting for Guido and the Englishmen to arrive, was facing a second, more terrible choice - his brother or Bonaparte...

"This weather will delay them," he muttered. "If they're coming by land from Brest..."

"They're not," said a triumphant voice from behind him. Lorenzo whipped round eagerly.

"Hal," he said with relief. "What do you have for me?"

Henry Trevelyan was grinning from ear to ear, holding a dirty piece of paper as though it were the Holy Grail.

"You aren't going to believe this," he said. "Pellew's taking them around the Spanish coast!"

Lorenzo pounded his fist onto the windowsill. Unlike Trevelyan, he did not look pleased.

"Oh, the British!" he exclaimed irritably. "Only the bloody British would do that, Hal!"

"At least they'll get here quicker," his companion pointed out.

Henry Trevelyan had been a friend of the di Cesares since boyhood, when his family had moved from London to Italy. It had been Guido who first called him Hal, after the wild Prince Henry in the Shakespeare plays, and the name had stuck, even when it was clear, as they grew up, that the young Italian could have given the even-tempered, amiable Englishman lessons in hellraising on any given day of the week.

Trevelyan did not pretend to understand Lorenzo's behaviour, and he regretted the loss of Guido's friendship more deeply than he cared to admit, but he was too pragmatic to lose Lorenzo's friendship as well as a result. Whatever his opinions were about the brothers' relationship, he kept it very much to himself, and had never breathed a word of his feelings on the subject in Lorenzo's presence.

"I know, I know," muttered Lorenzo now. "But that's if they're not sunk to the bottom of the sea, isn't it?"

"You sound almost as if you care," said Hal, boosting himself up into the window-seat next to Lorenzo. The older man looked over at him irritably. Possessed of lazy good looks, an equable temperament, and vast amounts of money, Henry Trevelyan had the charm and good humour of a man who has never had to struggle for anything in his life. It occasionally drove Lorenzo insane.

"Of course I care," he said impatiently. "I didn't spend all that time training him to be an assassin just so he could end up as the perfect example of a sea-change!"

"Into something rich and strange," murmured Hal, staring out at the rain. "You know, Enzo, I somehow doubt your brother feels quite as sanguine about being an assassin as you seem to think." He paused for a moment, then said lightly, "From what I hear, he hates you for it."

"I know," said Lorenzo grimly. "He hates me for what I made him into, and he hates me because I work for the French. Hal, I never meant to go as far as I did with him, you know that."

It was the closest Hal had ever heard Lorenzo come to an expression of regret for what he had done to his brother during that long, terrible year in Italy. Wise enough not to push for confidences, he just shrugged, and carried on looking out at the rain.

"So why are we here?" he asked absently, counting the raindrops that ran down the warped glass.

Lorenzo sighed.

"Because we're supposed to get those bloody documents, Hal, remember?"

"Right," said Hal, his sleepy blue eyes betraying nothing. "Of course. No other reason, then. That's nice."

And he carried on counting raindrops. Lorenzo looked over at him quickly, suspecting sarcasm, but Hal's expression was as imperturbably cheerful as ever.

"Isn't it?" agreed the assassin coolly. And he glared out at the empty street as though it was to blame.

 

End of Chapter Seven