Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 20

Otter shrugged. "Maybe I ain't so good at finding her as she wants me to be." He looked away, his expression guarded.

Robbie picked up his pack and his weapons. "We're awa', then, lads."

It had clouded over; there was a spattering of snow, and the wind was bitter. When Nathaniel was sure they wouldn't run into any guards he signaled and the others came out into the open.

Against the far corner of the house nearest the stables, Treenie came to her feet silently, tail wagging.

Otter hissed, "A light!"

The five of them slid deeper into the shadow of the house. Nathaniel forced his breathing to slow, throwing his senses outward into the dark.

It was Captain Quinn, stumbling over the path and laughing to himself. He carried a pierced tin lantern that seesawed an arc of jagged light over his face. He stopped, peered at the house owlishly, and then tried to fight his way through the bushes one-handed. At first Nathaniel could not make sense of it, and then he realized that Quinn was drunk enough to be searching for the hidden door on the wrong wall of the house.

"Come on, Giselle," he called. "You can't hide from me. I've got your drag, I do. Pickle packing, eh? All tied up in a knot with your savage, but I'll put an end to that."

He drew his short sword and thrashed at the bushes, grunting with the effort. Nathaniel edged backward, just out of his reach. They continued like this for ten yards, until Quinn took a holly branch across the face and pulled up short.

"Moved your little door, have you? Won't do you a bit of good, lovey, I'll find you out in the end. Ask any man jack in the Sixtieth if Jonathan Quinn don't have a way with a woman's doors." He snickered at his own wit, threw back his head and bellowed in earnest. "Giselle!"

Nathaniel swore to himself. The idiot would have the guards here.

A window opened above their heads. "She's not outside, you bloody great booby, Quinn. Come in from the cold." The window shut again.

"Have to piss first," Quinn called back. "Then I shall find her. You shan't have 'er, do you mind me, Johnson?" Muttering, he turned, and shuffled off a few steps, pulling at his breeks as he went.

The five of them started in the opposite direction, crouched low and moving fast. Once around the corner, they bent their heads together.

Hawkeye said, "We'll have to split up and meet at the start of the ice road."

"If I may--" began Moncrieff, and Hawkeye cut him off with a hand on the shoulder.

"If you want to talk to me, you'll have to do it on the run. If you're up to that."

"Giselle!" shouted Quinn, closer now. "Giselle!" Overhead the cloud cover was breaking up so that Nathaniel could see his father's face.

"Giselle!"

The sound of boots in the snow, from the opposite direction. The guards came trotting, finally roused from the warm house and their card game. The hidden staircase was risky, but anything was better than standing exposed in the garden. Otter sprinted for the bushes, with the other men close behind.

Once inside they waited, completely still, for the voices in the garden to fade away, but instead they grew louder. Nathaniel felt the blood thrumming in his hands, his leg muscles twitching with the need to be away. Otter's chest was heaving as if he had run a hot mile, and Moncrieff stood tensed and ready to bolt. More than he bargained for, Nathaniel thought. Robbie and Hawkeye kept their calm: old soldiers, they had lived through far worse.

Treenie shifted uneasily in the total dark.

"Wheest," Robbie breathed, and she settled down.

Nathaniel focused on the regular ebb and flow of his father's breathing, ordered his thoughts, and lined up their few options. There was no help for it, so he took the stairs three at a time to listen at Giselle's door. Nothing.

From the courtyard came the sound of horses' hooves on the cobblestones.

At Nathaniel's signal they came up the stairs and into the bedchamber. The smells hung in the air like smoke from a wet-wood fire: beeswax, lavender, crushed roses, musk. Otter stood paralyzed at the door and had to be pushed forward. Nathaniel knew what he was feeling. I didn't have any intention of ever setting foot in this room again, either.

More bad news at the window: the courtyard was full of redcoats, horses, servants, a sea of bobbing lanterns and torches. Guards milled below the window, poking in the bushes. Nathaniel caught a glimpse of Pickering and a few of the others, walking away as if they had nothing to do with any of it.

"They're looking for you," he said, turning. Some part of his mind registered the strange sight they made, rough backwoodsmen in the gilt and velvet and silk of Giselle's chamber. Moncrieff had collapsed into a spindle-backed chair; Robbie peered over the top of the canopied bed. The red dog rested her mucky rear quarters on an embroidered footstool, sniffed at the perfumed draperies and sneezed.

Hawkeye came to look through lace panels for himself. "I'd call this a tangle, all right."

Robbie was prowling, opening wardrobes and closing them again in disgust. "Nae place tae hide."

Otter still stood in the middle of the room, frowning into the banked fire in the hearth. Then he turned and walked to a full-length mirror on the wall opposite the bed, and punched at the belly of a gilded angel on the upper right corner. The mirror levered away from the wall with a sigh.

"That's a new one on me," Nathaniel said.

Hawkeye rubbed a hand over his mouth, peering into the cubbyhole. "She's fond of hiding games, ain't she? Does Pink George know about it?"

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