The Scottish Prisoner (Page 48)

The Scottish Prisoner (Lord John Grey #3)(48)
Author: Diana Gabaldon

“That’ll hold ’em,” Quinn muttered, sitting down on the tiny slatted seat behind Grey. He put a hand on Grey’s shoulder to steady himself and leaned forward. “How are ye, boy?” Tom was curled next to Grey, his head on Grey’s knee, shivering convulsively. They both were, in spite of the cloaks Quinn had hastily wrapped round them.

“F-f-f-fine,” Tom said. His body was tight with pain; Grey could feel the bulge of Tom’s cheek against his leg as Tom clenched his teeth, and he laid a hand on his valet’s head, hoping to comfort him a little. He fumbled with his other hand under the cloak covering Tom, but his fingers were clumsy with cold, unable to deal with the makeshift tourniquet.

“We n-need to loosen the t-t-tourniquet,” he managed, hating his awkward helplessness, the chattering of his own teeth.

Quinn bent swiftly to help, his curls brushing Grey’s face; the Irishman smelled of peat smoke, sweat, and sausage grease, a strangely comforting, warm aroma.

“Let me have a bit of a look, now,” he said, his tone friendly, soothing. “Ah, there I have it, the sorrow and the woe! Now, ye’ll be holding quite still, Mr. Byrd, and I’ll just …” His voice trailed off in absorption as he felt his way. Grey felt the warmth of Quinn’s body, was soothed himself as much by the physical presences of Quinn and Fraser, close by, as by the knowledge of escape.

Tom was making small whimpering noises. Grey curled his fingers into his valet’s tangled damp hair, rubbing a little behind the cold ear, as he would to distract a dog while a tick was removed.

“Ah, now,” Quinn murmured, fingers working busily in the dark. “Almost there. Aye, that’s got it.”

Tom gave a great gasp and gulped air, and dug the fingers of his good hand hard into Grey’s leg. Grey deduced that the tourniquet was now loosed, letting a rush of blood flow into the wounded arm, waking the numbed nerves. He knew exactly what that felt like and clasped his own free hand over Tom’s, squeezing hard.

“Is the bleeding bad?” he asked quietly.

“Bad enough,” Quinn replied absently, still feeling about beneath the cloak. “Not spurtin’, though. A little bandage will do, with the blessing.” He rose up, shaking his head a little, and reached into his coat, coming out with a familiar square black bottle.

“It’s as well I brought the tonic, thinkin’ Jamie might need it for the pukin’. Sovereign for what ails ye, the maker says, and I’m sure that includes gunshot wounds and cold.” He handed the bottle to Grey. The smell was mildly alarming, but Grey hesitated no more than an instant before taking a modest gulp.

He coughed. He coughed until his eyes streamed and his chest heaved, but there was an undeniable sense of warmth stealing through his center.

Quinn, meanwhile, had got down onto the boards in order to rewrap Tom’s arm and was now holding the bottle for the young man to drink. Tom swallowed twice, stopped to cough explosively, and, wordless, gestured for Grey to take another turn.

Out of concern for Tom, Grey drank abstemiously, taking only a few more sips, but it was enough to make his head swim pleasantly. He’d stopped shivering, and a feeling of drowsy peace laid its hand upon him. By Grey’s feet, Quinn put the final touches on a fresh bandage torn from his shirttail and, patting Grey on the shoulder, clambered back behind him.

In front, Jamie Fraser still bent to his oars but, hearing Quinn’s movement, called back, “How are ye, wee Byrd?”

Tom’s only answer was a gentle snore; he had fallen asleep in the midst of the bandaging. Quinn leaned forward to answer.

“Well enough for the moment. The ball’s still in him, though. He’ll need to be brought to a doctor, I’m thinking.”

“Ye know one?” Fraser sounded skeptical.

“Aye, and so do you. We’ll take him to the monks at Inchcleraun.”

Fraser stiffened. He stopped rowing, turned, and gave Quinn a hard look, visible even by starlight.

“It’s ten miles at least to Inchcleraun. I canna row that far!”

“Ye’ll not need to, you ignorant jackeen. What d’ye think the sail’s for?”

Grey tilted back his head. Sure enough, he thought, with a sort of muzzy interest, there was a sail. It was a small sail, but still.

“I was under the impression that the use of a sail required wind,” Fraser said, elaborately courteous. “There is none, if ye hadna noticed.”

“And wind we shall have, my rosy-bearded friend.” Quinn was beginning to sound like his old expansive self. “Come sunrise, the wind comes up off Lough Derg, and ’twill bear us on the very breath of dawn, as the Good Book says.”

“How long is it ’til dawn?” Fraser sounded suspicious. Quinn sighed and clicked his tongue reprovingly.

“About four hours, O ye o’ little faith. Row just that wee bit longer, will ye, and we’ll be into the waters of Lough Ree. We can turn aside out o’ the current and find a resting place until daylight.”

Fraser made a low Scottish sound in his throat but turned back to his oars, and the slow heave against the Shannon’s current resumed. Left to silence and the softly rhythmic slosh of the oars, Grey’s head dropped and he gave himself over to dreams.

These were bizarre, as opium dreams so often were, and he half-woke from a vision of himself erotically enmeshed with a nak*d Quinn, this sufficiently vivid that he scrubbed at his mouth and spat to rid himself of the taste. The taste proved to be not of the Irishman but of the tonic he had drunk; a ginger-tasting belch rose up the back of Grey’s nose and he subsided against the side of the boat, feeling unequal to the occasion.

He was enmeshed with Tom, he found. Byrd was lying close against him, breathing stertorously; his face was pressed against Grey’s chest, his flushed cheek hot even through Grey’s half-dry shirt. All motion had stopped, and they were alone in the boat.

It was still dark, but the cloud cover had thinned, and the faded look of the few visible stars told him that it was no more than an hour ’til dawn. He lay flat on the wet boards, fighting to keep his eyes open—and fighting not to recall any of the details of the recent dream.

So groggy was he that it hadn’t occurred to him even to wonder where Fraser and Quinn had gone, until he heard their voices. They were near the boat, on land—well, of course they’re on land, he thought vaguely, but his drugged mind furnished him with a surreptitious vision of the two of them sitting on clouds, arguing with each other as they drifted through a midnight sky spangled with the most beautiful stars.

“I said I wouldna do it, and that’s flat!” Fraser’s voice was low, intense.

“Ye’ll turn your back on the men ye fought with, all the blood spilt for the Cause?”

“Aye, I will. And so would you, if ye’d half the sense of a day-old chick.”

The words faded, and Grey’s vision of Quinn melted into one of a red-eyed banty rooster, crowing in Irish and flapping its wings, darting pecks at Fraser’s feet. Fraser seemed to be nak*d but was somewhat disguised by drifts of vapor from the cloud he was sitting on.

The vision melted slowly into a vaguely erotic twinning of Stephan von Namtzen with Percy Wainwright, which he watched in a pleasant state of ennui, until von Namtzen evolved into Gerald Siverly, the ghastly wound in his head not seeming to hamper his movements.

Loud moaning from Tom woke him, sweating and queasy, to find the little boat gliding under sail along the shore of a flat green island—Inchcleraun.

Feeling mildly disembodied, and with only the crudest notion how to walk, he staggered up the path behind Fraser and Quinn, who were hauling Tom Byrd along as gently as they could, making encouraging noises. The remnants of his dreams mingled with the mist through which they walked, and he remembered the words he had overheard. He wished very much that he knew how that particular conversation had ended.

27

Loyalty and Duty

JAMIE WAS GREETED WITH CONCERNED WELCOME BY THE monks, who took Tom Byrd away at once to Brother Infirmarian. He left Quinn and Grey to be given food and went in to see Father Michael, disturbed in mind.

The abbot looked him over with fascination and offered him a seat and a glass of whiskey, both of which he accepted with deep gratitude.

“You do lead the most interesting life, Jamie dear,” he said, having been given a brief explanation of recent events. “So you’ve come to seek sanctuary, is it? And your friends—these would be the two gentlemen you told me of before, I make no doubt?”

“They would, Father. As for sanctuary …” He tried for a smile, though weariness weighed down even the muscles of his face. “If ye might see to the poor lad’s arm, we’ll be off as soon as he’s fettled. I wouldna put ye in danger. And I think perhaps the deputy justiciar of Athlone might not respect your sanctuary, should he come to hear about Colonel Grey’s presence.”

“Do you think the colonel did in fact murder Major Siverly?” the abbot asked with interest.

“I’m sure he did not. I think the miscreant is a man called Edward Twelvetrees, who has—had, I mean—some associations with Siverly.”

“What sort of associations?”

Jamie lifted his hand in a vague gesture. His bruised right shoulder burned like fire when he moved it and ached down to the bone when he didn’t. His arse wasn’t in much better case after hours of rowing on a hard slat.

“I dinna ken exactly. Money, certainly—and maybe politics.” He saw the abbot’s white brows rise, green eyes grow more intent. Jamie smiled wearily.

“The man I brought with me—Tobias Quinn. It’s him I told ye of, when I made my confession before.”

“I remember,” murmured the abbot. “But I could not, of course, make use of that information, given as it was under the seal.”

Jamie’s smile grew a little more genuine.

“Aye, Father. I ken that. So now I tell ye outside that seal that Toby Quinn has it in his heart to take up the destiny I laid aside. Will ye maybe speak to him about it? Pray with him?”

“I will indeed, mo mhic,” Father Michael said, his face alight with wary interest. “And you say he knows about the Cupán?”

An unexpected shudder ran over Jamie from his crown to the base of his spine.

“He does,” he said, a little tersely. “I leave that between you and him, Father. I should be pleased never to see or hear of it again.”

The abbot considered him for a moment, then raised a hand.

“Go in peace, then, mo mhic,” he said quietly. “And may God and Mary and Padraic go with you.”

JAMIE WAS SITTING on a stone bench by the monastery’s graveyard when Grey came to find him. Grey looked exhausted, white-faced and disheveled, with an unfocused look in his eyes that Jamie recognized as the aftereffects of Quinn’s tonic.

“Give ye dreams, did it?” he asked, not without sympathy.

Grey nodded and sat down beside him.

“I don’t want to tell you about them, and you don’t want to know,” he said. “Believe me.”