Authors: Gene Doucette
“I’m happy that you would prefer to not kill us, Monsieur Sinclair. I would remind you that your departure would also accomplish this feat.”
“You won’t stand down, then?”
“I’m afraid I cannot.”
When you’re in the line of fire of a crossbow, prudence dictates ducking or hiding behind a thick object. I had no thick objects to hide behind; only John, and he could avoid every other kind of attack—including, if his war stories were to be believed, one from a gun. I thought it was likely, then, that if the crossbow bolt found any home, the home would be inside of me.
All of which is to say my eyes were closed when the next thing happened, because I expected to die.
I didn’t die. I heard a metal-on-metal sound, and when I opened my eyes John had his sword raised and the bolt was stuck in the wall on the other side of the room.
Looking at the faces of the Frenchmen I saw fear for the first time. Apparently, John Corrigan had deflected a crossbow bolt from a few feet away with the flat of a sword blade. If he could do
, I’m sure they were thinking, what else could he do?
“Impossible!” Sinclair shouted.
It was a repeating crossbow, so he had a second shot, which he took. This time I kept my eyes open, but it happened almost too fast to comprehend. The bolt was due to strike John in the chest and would have landed true, but at the last second his sword—a blur—swiped up and across his body. Redirected, the second shot landed in the wall right next to the first.
The men with Sinclair looked legitimately spooked—I heard the word
—and I had hopes that this performance might be enough to persuade them to leave.
I also heard a gasp from an unexpected part of the room.
It was Joanne. She had snuck through the kitchen door just in time to witness John’s last trick and now was just standing there, agape, apparently unaware that she had put herself in tremendous danger.
John heard her too. He turned, stared for a couple of seconds, and then looked at me.
“What is it?” I asked.
He just smiled, a sad but relieved smile. “It will be okay, my friend.”
“What will? I don’t understand.”
But then I almost did, because Sinclair had reloaded his crossbow.
“Yield,” the Frenchman said calmly.
“I cannot,” John said.
Sinclair fired again, but he wasn’t aiming for John at all this time. He was shooting at Joanne.
John knew it. He jumped to his right and whipped the sword down in just such a way as to intercept the bolt before it could pass. It landed in the floor well short of her.
But in doing so John exposed himself. Sinclair had fired twice rapidly, with his second shot cleverly targeting the space John had to occupy if he was going to intercept the first.
The crossbow bolt made a sick, soft sound when it struck John in the stomach. Immediately he fell over, clutching what was without question a mortal wound. Joanne let out a scream that was overwhelmed by the cheer that went up on the other end of the room, and she ran to the side of our fallen friend. I would have done the same but there was the small matter of the seven blackguards John had left me alone to deal with.
Gamely, I stepped into the middle of the room and waved my sword around defiantly. There was literally no way for me to do this alone because at least two people were needed to keep anyone from the kitchen door, but there wasn’t anyone else left and I wasn’t really in a position to run away at this point.
“All right,” I said. “Let’s go.”
“For God’s sake, Reginald, enough!” Joanne shouted.
I didn’t know what Joanne expected me to do. If she thought these men were going to let everybody live after all of this she was terribly mistaken, especially after we’d dropped five of them. Possibly, the fact that John was dying in her lap had impaired her judgment.
Sinclair shook his head. “This house is overrun with honorable men,” he said. “Kill him and let’s get on with it.”
The one John had wounded was still closest, because the fool hadn’t figured out he was a tremendous liability and fallen back. I’d intended to start with him, as a shield and as a means to knock over the others, maybe clutter up the space a bit and make it difficult to stand. Anything that kept the seven of them from launching a coordinated attack, especially since I didn’t have John looking into my future and telling me when to duck.
It wasn’t much of a plan, but it was all I had. And it would have worked only until they figured out they could just go around me.
But before anyone could get close enough to launch an assault or do much of anything else, a distant horn sounded from outside.
?” Sinclair asked, to nobody in particular. He was really not having a good night.
“That’s my father, brigand!” Joanne said. “And his men. The horn means they’ve reached the gate and will be on you in minutes.”
“I thank you for the warning.” To his men he shouted, “Regroup! We take the fight outside!”
Joanne laughed. “There isn’t going to be a
! My father travels with half an army, you idiot. Why do you think your prized duke was staying here? No sane man would cross this household. If you think the two you already faced were a handful, wait until you see what the rest of them can do.”
The men with Sinclair looked extremely uncertain about this entire endeavor, and I couldn’t really blame them. These were some species of mercenary, and one thing that has always been true of a company of mercenaries is that they are only really comfortable when the odds are overwhelmingly in their favor. They have no interest in a hard fight and no motivation except money. They also aren’t particularly interested in causes.
Sinclair had a cause. I had no idea what it was, but he clearly had one. So he made every effort to convince the men he had left to rally and organize, but all it took was one of them to decide they were done for all to follow. The six men were gone before he could even finish handing out instructions.
All of which was a good thing, because Joanne was bluffing. Cornelius traveled with a couple of soldiers at most, but the rest of his party consisted of guests from London, and not the battle-tested variety of guest. Cornelius’s men along with the aging patriarch might well have turned the course of the battle, but it would have been a battle and not a rout.
Sinclair, the only man to remain, was still coming to grips with the idea that he had lost the night.
“I took on three of yours alone,” I said, holding up my sword. “You’re welcome to try me by yourself.”
“I might take those odds, sir, but no,” Sinclair said. “I would ask only the name of the man I killed. I feel as if his is a name I would do well to never forget.”
“His name is John Corrigan.”
“Corrigan. The greatest soldier I’ve ever seen.”
I had seen better, but none of the ones I could think of were also human. That said, I was pretty sure John could have given even a vampire a pretty hard time.
We both caught the sound of Cornelius’s carriage rearing to a stop. “You’d better flee, if that’s your intent,” I said.
Sinclair bowed. “Until next time.” Then he ran out the front door.
I thought about giving chase. Running him down wouldn’t have been all that difficult. The property was large, and there were at least five spare horses roaming around outside. Plus Cornelius and his men, once notified, would certainly have been up to the task.
I didn’t much like the idea of a chase that led me to those woods, however. More importantly, as soon as Sinclair left I remembered my friend was dying behind me, and decided I didn’t much care about anything else.
Joanne had John’s head cradled in her lap.
“How is he?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Not well, I think. I feel as if I should pull this out, but also if I do so it will both ease his pain and hasten his departure.”
I knelt down next to him. His breathing was shallow but his eyes were still alert and focused. His hand found mine, and squeezed with some strength.
“I told you…” he muttered, “I told you it would be all right.”
“It’s not all right at all. You’re dying.”
“I am. And I’ve been waiting for it. I’m glad it’s here. I need two favors from you, Reggie.”
“I need you to find my son. Find my son and tell him who I was and who he might be. He needs to understand… if he has the curse, he needs to understand.”
“Yes, of course.”
“I can’t see,” John said. “I can see nothing beyond this night so I don’t know if you’ll find him or not. I hope you do.”
“I can spend a lifetime looking. He’ll be found, I promise.”
He drifted off and his eyes fluttered, and I thought we’d lost him for a moment, but they snapped to attention again.
“The second favor, Reggie,” he said. “Pull out the bolt.”
The bolt had landed just at the bottom of his ribcage. From the sound of his breathing it had taken out one of his lungs, and there was no telling how much other internal damage had been done. The blood beneath him was dark and thick. But still I had hope that he could survive this.
“You’ll bleed to death if I do that, John,” I said. “We can find a doctor. I’m sure there’s one. We can wait.”
“I will bleed out the second you remove it,” he agreed. “But I’ll die either way. I told you, I can’t see past tonight. You know what that means. Nothing you can do will change that.”
“Reginald, don’t,” Joanne said softly, through a mask of tears.
“Didn’t I tell you this day would come?” John said.
“Yes. But you’re a madman. We both are. So why should I believe you?”
He smiled. “Sometimes madmen are the best kinds of people.”
* * *
We buried John on the grounds. Nobody had any idea about family or other friends that might warrant notification of his passing, and since that was the case we also didn’t know where else it made sense to bury him. I thought the location was appropriate because as little as I knew him I did think while he was at the estate he was happy.
The men who were supposed to arrive for the duke did eventually make it there, but a day later than expected. Whatever skullduggery Sinclair was involved in included delaying their arrival through some means I didn’t really bother to hear the details on. I was also extremely uninterested as to
anyone would go through the trouble to kidnap the young man John gave his life to protect. It was the machinations of royalty, and I wanted no part of it.
The young duke was from a background of some wealth, however, and I
interested in that. He felt it important to award the men who had protected him, and seeing as how my savings had been dwindling for years I wasn’t about to turn down a heavy purse. (Two purses, actually. The second was to go to John Corrigan’s son, whom I’d already promised to find.) He also made me promise to seek him out if I ever needed assistance or a reference or anything else at all. I shook his hand and made the promise, never expecting to need any such thing from him. About this, I ended up being wrong.
* * *
“What was John’s secret?” Joanne asked after our makeshift funeral service. We were in my room. I was wearing my fine suit again and staring out the window at the carriageway as my ride was being prepared below.
It was a few hours before I was due to depart for London. I wasn’t returning to the London day-to-day life I had led, but I didn’t let anybody know this, exactly. My madness appeared to have finally abated—after needing all the clarity I could muster to defend myself it seemed my mind had figured out some things—but it felt like it was time to move on. I had John’s family to find, and plenty of reasons to reinvent myself as someone who hadn’t gone insane in front of wealthy and influential people.
“How do you mean?” I asked.
“I saw how he moved. He could barely speak most times, but his motions were… It was like I was watching a play but he was the only one who recalled the rehearsals. Up until the end. Reggie, did he trade his life for mine?”
“It wasn’t your actions that caused his death. It was the man with the crossbow.”
“I appreciate that. But had I not returned, he would have prevailed, I think. Even against that army. So what was his secret?”
“He saw the future,” I said. “You can believe that or not believe it, but that was how he could do what he did.”
“Oh thank goodness!” she gasped. “I wanted no part of magic or devils. Nor was I prepared to accept that sort of explanation. But this… no, this I can believe, after what I’ve seen.”
“I don’t think either the sacred or the profane had any role in his curse. He also said he saw no future beyond the night he died, so don’t blame yourself. If it hadn’t been you returning it would have been something else.”