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Authors: James Matlack Raney

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BOOK: Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves
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“F – f – father,” James breathed, his head growing light and his cheeks flushing pink.

Lord Lindsay looked James up and down. Neither a smile nor a frown crossed his face, but Lord Morgan’s fierce eyes bored into James’s face so intently that James was forced to look away.

“It…it was this stupid horse,” James stammered, realizing he was not making the impression he had originally intended. “I’m a brilliant rider, I am, really!” James felt his cheeks go suddenly hot and his ears burn with shame and fury. “It was this stupid horse’s fault!” James raised his riding whip to take out his anger on Thunderbold.

But his father’s strong hand again caught James’s, and he wrenched the whip roughly from his grasp. “That is enough of that,” Lord Morgan said, a hard edge on his tone. He took the whip in both hands and with one swift jerk snapped the long handle in two. “I never begrudge a man for his mistakes, son, only his excuses.” Lord Morgan turned from James, tugging on Thunderbold’s reins. Father and son rode back down to the tattered welcome party together, an awful silence hanging between them.

The ride back was a solemn and unbearable one for James, whose heart still slammed and whose tears still threatened. He only glanced twice at the Lord Morgan. The first time, his father’s face was still as grim it had been after saving James’s life, but the second time, as the pair crested the hill that ran down from the forest to the manor and the destruction once meant to be Lord Morgan’s party, a small smile crossed Lord Morgan’s solemn face. Another man, dressed very much like Lord Morgan, though twice as rough and three times as weathered, waited for them on a large steed, surveying the catastrophe below.

“Looks like the party already started, milord,” the other man said in an unmistakable Highland burr.

“It would seem so, Hudson,” James’s father said.

“’Minds me a bit o’ the party the former mayor of Shelltown threw for you years back, jus’ wit’out the harpies,” the man named Hudson said with a laugh.

By instinct James nearly told the man, who was without doubt a commoner, to mind who he joked about and with whom, and almost demand exactly what he meant by harpies (obviously not real harpies, James knew), but James’s tirade was cut off by a most surprising and jolly outburst. James’s father tried to cough to control his laughter, but it seemed he found himself unable, and he and Hudson laughed themselves all the way down the hill, without even bothering to include James in on what was so funny.

How rude, James thought.

The flummoxed, flustered, and humiliated servants did their best to hold their heads up as their lord approached the debacle that was once his party, but to James’s continued confusion, Lord Morgan appeared not only undisturbed by the destruction around him, but got off his horse to greet the servants personally, looking each of them in the eye with thanks, shaking their hands, and remembering all their names like old friends.

“Hello, Molly, and how’s Wilifred? Still arthritic? Too bad, I’ll send the surgeon on Tuesday.” Molly grabbed Lord Lindsay’s hand and began to cry and James nearly fell off his horse when his father actually
shook it back. “Where on earth is Mildred, Molly?” James’s father asked, but Molly’s face pinked around the cheeks, and she only shook her head. James swore he saw her flick her eyes in his direction. The nerve! As though that woman’s sacking had been anything but her own fault!

“Greetings, Tom! And how is England’s deftest sword master? Why on earth are you limping, Tom?”

Tom looked down at his foot and tried to smile it off, but the slightest glance in James’s direction gave the answer away. “I see,” said Lord Morgan. James reminded himself to stab the old git in the other foot on their next lesson.

“Hello, Yves. Good lord, man, what on earth is all over you? Taking a more natural approach to gardening these days? Ah, of course.” James saw his father nod again after a sly look from that traitorous Yves.

“Phineus, Jeremiah — well, in God’s name gentlemen, what happened? Or need I ask?” A cold needle stabbed Jim’s heart when his father added the last part, but that brief embarrassment faded into hot hate as the two wretched servants betrayed him again to his father.

“And where is George, the cook? He always made the best custard, and I’ve been looking forward to — ah, of course.” James’s chin sunk a little lower. He tried to hide his reddened face beneath his hat, all the while plotting revenge on these dreadful, common traitors who were painting him out to be the villain – him, indeed!

But at last, finally, Aunt Margarita strutted forth, or as much as one could hope to strut when wearing a tattered gown splotched in green grass stains from top to bottom. Fortunately for Margarita she was a practiced snoot, still managing to keep her nose in the air in spite of the current predicament. James admired her sense of place, but he saw the smile on his father’s face fade immediately at the sight of her.

“Margarita,” he said, noticeably leaving off the “Dame.”

“Greetings, Lindsay,” Margarita managed, her face growing a suddenly purplish shade of crimson. “We are grateful beyond measure for your safe return. We had planned a party for you–”

“No matter,” Lord Morgan cut her off. “I too am grateful, Margarita.” James’s father’s voice was deep and cheerless. “For the care and…culture you have given my son.”

Margarita said nothing, but her eyes narrowed, and a crimson flush darkened her cheeks with hateful rage. But Lord Lindsay Morgan had already turned his back on her to address the house staff once more.

“It’s good to be home. But please, take your time with the decorations.”

Even some of the servants laughed at this. Who did they think they were all of the sudden, James wondered crossly to himself.

“Jeremiah and Phineus, please help Hudson with the horses. I need to have a word with my son.”

A huge dose of dread like the first drop of a terrible rainstorm splashed over Jim’s soul. He refused to look at anyone as he slunk off Thunderbold, following his father’s footsteps down the trail toward the beach not far from their home.

THREE

t was an awful walk for James as he followed his father down the grassy hill and onto the beach. James watched his small footprints press into the sand beside his father’s large ones until they came to a stop not far from where the ocean waves lapped against the shore. They stood there quietly for what seemed like an eternity, the rushing rhythm of the waves in the distance beating like a slowly ticking clock inside James’s anxious mind, dreading the forthcoming tongue-lashing.

“I’ve been away for so long,” James’s father finally broke the silence, the sudden sound of his voice nearly jumping Jim right out of his own skin. Lord Lindsay’s hands were clasped behind his back, his face pointed toward the dusky horizon, his eyes staring over the ocean that went on forever. His words were soft and quiet. “I sometimes think I should not have left you.”

“You were doing your duty weren’t you, father?” James said, trying hard to sound like an adult, hiding as best he could the shaking fear he felt inside. “I’m sure you had no choice.”

James’s father laughed bitterly, and the sound of it scared James more than a little. “No choice … no choice,” he said again, still looking nowhere but the ocean. “There’s always a choice. Only cowards say there’s no choice. Perhaps that’s what I’ve been all along.”

“Don’t say that father!” James chided a little too forcefully. “You’re a hero. Everyone says so! Why just last week one of Dame Margarita’s friends was saying–”

“Quiet James, and speak not of that which you do not understand!” his father suddenly barked, so forcefully that James sucked in a quick breath and shut his mouth with a clap of his teeth. “And believe me when I tell you there is much you do not understand.”

Still James’s father refused to look at his son, but he now took one hand and began playing with a necklace that hung just over the collar of his shirt. It was a metal seashell, and Lord Morgan held it as delicately as a freshly plucked flower in his rough fingers.

“I have thought so many nights of how difficult it has been these last few years, for me and for you. There’s so much, so much you don’t know about yourself and why I left and where I went.”

“Were you killing pirates father? Dame Margarita said you must have gathered the most amazing hordes of–”

“Can you not keep silent and listen even for five minutes, boy?” Lord Lindsay shouted again. James once more shut his mouth, but a hot, prickling bristle of anger bloomed in his chest this time.

“As I said,” James’s father continued. “There is much you do not understand about our family, my son, or about the world in which we live. There are dangers out there, James, and wonders, monsters and beauties, pirates and heroes, even magic, and treasures beyond your wildest dreams…”

“Treasures?” James asked quickly, clamping shut his mouth again the moment the words left his tongue.

“Yes, treasures.” His father did not reprimand him this time, and James breathed a sigh of relief, thinking about all the glittering piles of treasure his father must have seen and collected over the years. “And you might think I would say that those aren’t what’s the most important of all those marvels in the world, that it is duty and honor and all of that which drives us, but there you would be wrong. It is the treasures, James. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Remember that always, James, for it is as true as any truth in the universe.”

“Of course I’ll remember, father.” James was about to explain just how excellent his memory was and how he could remember every bit of gossip about every person Margarita ever talked about, but his father, who had just scolded him for interrupting, cut him off! James again felt the tingle of anger rub against his insides.

“Before I speak of where I’ve been these last five years, tell me something, James.” Finally, James’s father looked at him, blue eyes tunneling deep into James’s face. “Do you still come down to the beach every day and play with your boats and your swords and fight your imaginary battles? Do you still run up and down the dunes, and flap your arms like a gull, and splash into the water without a care for what waits for you in the waves?” The question seemed deeply important to Lord Morgan, as though the outcome of a great battle pended on the answer. But James knew his father would be impressed with him now.

“Oh, heavens no, father!” James tried to laugh like a grownup. “You’ll be so pleased with how much I’ve grown up since you’ve been gone. Dame Margarita has taught me well. I don’t waste my time with such childish pursuits any longer.” James smiled brightly, but just when he thought his father would smile in return, finally proud of how his son had come along, his father’s face dropped like a falling star, his eyes growing distant and cold as though James had stabbed him in the stomach with a knife of ice.

“I see,” James’ father said, tucking the necklace back under his shirt and clasping his hands again behind his back.

After a long moment of silence, Lord Morgan turned his head back toward the ocean, and the two of them stood there in uncomfortable silence again for what seemed like another bit of forever. His father’s disappointment and constant yelling had put James in a sour mood indeed, and just when he thought things couldn’t get worse, they did.

“I want you to go to your room until dark.”

“You want me to do what?” Now James was truly taken aback. “No one’s sent me to my room in four years! I do what I want. I’m practically an adult!”

“Well, my son,” Lord Lindsay growled, “things change. You will go to your room and think about the havoc you wreaked today, and about the trouble you put the staff through. After that, I will tell you of my travels.”

“Trouble?” James scoffed, too angry to think about the words now spilling from his angry mouth. “Father, it’s no trouble for servants to clean up our messes - that’s why they’re called servants!”

Lord Lindsay’s hand crossed James’ cheek with enough sting to shoot a sharp pinch into his nose and tears into his eyes. James gasped in surprise, looking with shock into his father’s cold, blue eyes. “You will stay in your room until 8 o’clock, when you will come to my study. You have much to learn, boy.”

BOOK: Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves
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