Read Vidal's Honor Online

Authors: Sherry Gloag

Vidal's Honor (4 page)

BOOK: Vidal's Honor
11.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

In an attempt to contain the shudder of fear that ripped through her, she wrapped her arms round her body.

“Can we risk her seeing us if she is alive?” Honor wanted to offer the woman some help, but knew the danger might be too high.

“We have no option,” Tom stated as Harry rejoined them.

“Did you watch them?” Tom began urging the mules to their feet.

“I did,” Harry confirmed. “They carried right on down the track and I doubt they will return.”

“And the woman? Could you see anything from your position?”

“Exhaustion, is my guess. They did not touch her until she fell.”

Hence the scream of pain, Honor thought.

“Do we go on?” she asked.

After a long silence, Harry nodded. “We have no choice.”

“And if the woman mentions she saw us? What then?”

“Why not take her with us,” Honor ventured.

“To do so is madness,” Tom complained.

“Maybe, but think. If she is with us, she is safe and unable to reveal our presence to anyone else. Also,” Honor paused, huffed out a breath, then continued, “I was going to say, two women with two men would balance the party, but of course I am travelling as a young man. What will happen to her if we leave her where she dropped?”

Tom and Harry didn't answer. Didn't have to.

She understood.

The woman, if she remained where she lay, would be taken by the next group of men that came by or die of exposure during the night. Either way her prospects were grim.

Taking her arm, Harry helped Honor to mount her mule. “Come, we cannot afford to delay any further.”

Without a word spoken, Honor knew her guides had reached a decision about the unseen woman. When they dismounted beside the forlorn heap in the middle of the path, it didn't surprise Honor when the men asked her to join them beside the stranger.

“You must talk to her,” Tom insisted. “She will not trust us.” All three of them understood the peril of Honor talking to a stranger. Her voice, though naturally deep, would not fool those out to find her. While living in the village she'd been ordered to remain in her hut and speak only to those sent to her by Phillipe.

She dismounted and approached the woman who had her hands over her head. Did she think they were returning members of the men who'd just abandoned her?

As if unaware of the altercation, Honor she dropped to her haunches and spoke in a low soothing tone.

“Are you not well? Can I help you?”

The woman stiffened at her approach then looked up at the sound of another female voice.

“An accident, I fell.” She said struggling to sit up. “I have travelled a long way and my food ran out two days ago.”

No doubt a partial truth, Honor thought. “Then will you allow us to take you up with us?”

When Tom and Harry moved to stand beside her, the woman cringed but kept her fisted hands at her side.

“Where are you bound?” Harry asked, his tone devoid of threat.

“I don't remember.” She struggled to her feet. “I lost my mule.”

In other words, those men had stolen it. Tom's glance silenced any comment Honor intended.

“I will set you up in front of my sister. Come now, get up,” he commanded.

The woman cast a puzzled look at Honor, then Tom, and back again.


Gracias
.” She allowed Tom to take her arm and guide her to Honor's mule.

“Do not let her fall off,” he told Honor.

Honor shuffled back to make room for the woman.

“What is your name?” she asked when the two of them were settled and ready to move off once more. This time Harry was in the lead, while Tom fell in behind them.

“Consuela.”

Their progress was slower than before, and soon Consuela's body slumped against Honor's. Unwilling to create any more delay, Honor took the extra weight and hoped Consuela slept.

 

Chapter Four

 

Enemy patrols and foul weather had extended Vidal's voyage from London to Gibraltar by several days, and now, standing in front of the local guide, his frustration at further delays threatened to rob the last tenuous hold on his temper.

The man introduced himself only as Juan. “We move under the cover of darkness.“ Seconds before a group of French soldiers rounded the corner, he grabbed Vidal by the arm and dragged him into the shadows. “Already they are looking for you. This is not good. We go tonight. Come now.”

Maintaining his grip, Juan pulled Vidal along the narrow street, stopped at a door and without knocking, pushed it open and hauled Vidal in behind him.

The room was small, dark and stark, and sounds from somewhere within the house told him they were not alone. Someone set a mug of warm liquid on the table in front of him, and Vidal drank gratefully. He didn't care about the unidentifiable taste. It lessened the chill in his soul at the prospect of what lay ahead. Not the physical challenge. He accepted it would be difficult and almost welcomed it.

It was the thought of seeing Honor again, knowing they'd be in close company for many days, even weeks, and keeping his feelings in check. No other woman had threatened his emotional control the way Honor had managed to, and when she'd chosen Devlin as her husband, Vidal made himself scarce, only coming home to stand as his friend's groomsman before returning to the Peninsula.

“We swim.”

“What?” The sound of Juan's voice disrupted his thoughts.

“It is dangerous for the Spanish and French patrol the waters, but it is the only way. If we survive…”

“And our chances?” Why had Lord Liverpool sent him out here if the odds were so badly stacked against them?

“Slim.” Juan held his gaze.

Was the man challenging his ability to withstand a little hardship? Vidal nodded.

“So be it. Slim is better than none.”

* * * *

It had been touch and go. Thankfully Vidal dived seconds before an oar from one of the boats just missed his skull. A shout from another boat started a concerted hunt for them further out to sea until someone decided it had been a dolphin and not a man. Minutes later the vessels returned to shore and he and Juan swam along the coastline before making for the Spanish beach, where they'd been met by three men.

“We must go. Joseph Bonaparte's army is badly controlled and mismanaged, but they are also afraid of Wellington's intention to take Madrid which makes them edgy. They're everywhere. Trust no one.”

Instead of concern, Juan had grinned at the speaker and laughed. “I see you are full of optimism, as always.” He clapped the man on the back. “I bring you the English lord. You must take him to Phillipe without delay. Already they have been informed he is here.” Juan thumbed towards the water.

A string of Spanish oaths filled the air and the three men urged Vidal and Juan away from the shore.

“Tomorrow I will guide you.” The man walking beside him addressed Vidal in broken English. “You will call me ‘Dick'.” A shout of laughter went up, but no one explained the joke.

* * * *

In the end Juan guided him inland.

“Does it always rain so hard?” The paths had turned to rivers of mud. “I thought you said it wasn't far to our destination?” Vidal didn't bother to swipe at the water trickling down his neck anymore.

“No, if we used the direct route it is not, but we have to take these less travelled trails to evade renegades, French soldiers, and Spanish partisans. Also villagers are afraid of strangers, for they fear the French deserters almost as much as they dread their army.”

Instead of the predicted day and a half, it took nearly three days to reach the village Juan mentioned.

And now he found himself in the centre of a fierce argument between Juan and one of the village elders.

Juan left the bunch of angry men and came across to Vidal. “These people deny having a stranger among them, apart from Phillipe's cousin, and she kept to her bed with a fever nearly all the time she was here.”

“Is she still here?”

His guide shook his head. “No she returned home several days ago, and then Phillipe left a day after the French soldiers came and searched the village.”

“And of course—” Vidal swept his arm out in frustration. “None of these people know where the cousin or Phillipe have gone.”

“They say not, but they did tell me Phillipe headed west.”

“And the significance of that?”

If he remembered correctly, his study of the local maps on board ship indicated the most direct road to the French Pyrenees would be north and east. But then what did he know of troop movements away from the battle grounds on route to Madrid?

Juan shrugged and returned to the huddle of men watching them.

South west. Were they trying to make for Portugal? Surely they'd be aware of the futility of attempting to enter, let alone leave that country, especially by sea, due to the blockades.

The voices were too low for Vidal to overhear. He knew enough Spanish to carry on basic conversations, but an argument on the scale and intensity of the one in progress a few feet away was beyond him. He let his gaze roam over the compound. "Village" was a grandiose term for the collection of adobe-huts circling the gathered men. When a movement caught his eye, he slowly sauntered over to where a young man lingered beneath the sparse shade of a stone-pine. He expected the man to disappear as he approached; instead he stood his ground, only moving closer to the tree when Vidal turned sideways apparently enjoying the view.

“You have information for me?” The ease with which the man attracted his attention bothered Vidal. Had this man done the same when the French soldiers arrived?

“You seek the strange woman?” The lip of the local man's cap shielded his face from scrutiny.

“You mean Phillipe's cousin?” Vidal asked. Could it be the "cousin" and Lady Beaumont were one and the same, he wondered.

“She's no relative of Phillipe's.” A snort accompanied the shuffle of feet. “I don't know who she is, but she is not Spanish.”

“And did you tell this to the French?” For the life of him Vidal failed to mask his contempt.

“Of course not! I wouldn't do that.” Indignation won over caution and the man stepped in front of Vidal, his face red with fury.

“Then why tell me?”

“You are English. The woman was talking with Sancia, Phillipe's wife, one day when I was passing her hut and I didn't think she spoke like a native. The door was open, you see, and she did not speak like a true Spaniard.”

“Go on.” Vidal waited for his informer to continue.

The villager cast a glance at the huddle of men still talking with Juan then shrugged before refocusing on Vidal. “She left before nightfall.”

The significance of this information did not escape Vidal. “How long ago?”

“Several nights. The French came the next day, and on the next Phillipe disappeared.”

“You say you heard her discussing recipes with Sancia?” Vidal asked. “Did you ever see her?”

“As she left the village. She wasn't alone. The men with her were not from here, but Phillipe knew them.”

“Describe her.”

“She was dressed in breeches, waistcoat and boots.” He paused, his eyes unfocused in thought. “A cap,” he said. “She wore a cap, but it didn't hide her hair well. She had golden hair. The colour of the sun before sunset, unlike the people here.” True enough, Vidal acknowledged. Other than those who'd turned grey, everyone else had dark hair.

The man stepped back, his hands behind him, when Vidal tried to offer him money. “Phillipe does not tell us all, but whatever he decides we support him.”

“Then why talk to me?”

“Because if the French return and find Phillipe gone, they will not rest until he is found. If this girl is your affair you need to find her and let Phillipe come home.”

He offered his hand to his informant and shook it. “Thank you. I will endeavour to see Phillipe returns safely.”

Taking his time to stroll further round the collection of buildings, Vidal made his way back to where Juan waited. “Did they tell you where Phillipe has gone?”

“You have to understand,” Juan began, “with the turmoil in our country, and Joseph Bonaparte on our throne, there are those who support him and his brother, while others, like us—“ he indicated the men he'd spoken with who were still watching them “—who fight to restore our rightful monarch, communication is difficult. Trust is broken. Links are gone. We rely on our own and pray we do not fall into the enemy's trap when we connect with those who claim to champion our cause. Phillipe told them little and they are offended with his lack of faith, even though they accept he acted for their protection. Few of them believed Phillipe's assertion the newcomer was his cousin, so although they're not sure, they think he's gone to warn them how close the enemy is getting.”

“If he can't trust your team of agents, do you suppose Phillipe will try to take the woman across Spain himself?”

Juan shook his head. “To do so would risk his neck, not that it would stop him, but if he was uncovered it would bring retribution to his family and the rest of this community. They are afraid.”

“Please thank them for talking with us and that I fully understand and will go at once.”

Juan passed on Vidal's message and returned, a basket in his hand. “If we are going, we must do so immediately while we have enough light. They have given us food and water.”

“We?”

“I am coming with you. Surely you don't think I'd leave you on your own. A lone traveller would draw attention.”

“How so?”

“Most would assume you to be a deserter and attack you for it.”

“What about your family?”

Juan's eyes hardened, his lips thinned, and he thrust his fists into his pockets. “I have no family. They were taken.”

With a nod and a quick touch on Juan's shoulder Vidal strode to the waiting mules. “Then I'll be pleased for your company.”

With a bow to the congregated men, Vidal mounted and followed Juan out of the village. He didn't need more words to fill in what Juan was telling him.

“While you were with the elders, I spoke to someone who thinks Phillipe was headed for a hut they often use as a meeting point that is just over a day's ride away,” Vidal said after the small community disappeared from view.

BOOK: Vidal's Honor
11.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

A Bear Goal by Anya Nowlan
QueensQuest by Suz deMello
Exploration by Beery, Andrew
The Accident by Ismail Kadare
Blind Alley by Ramsay, Danielle
Introduction to Graph Theory by Richard J. Trudeau