Читать онлайн "A Midsummer Tempest" автора Андерсон Пол Уильям - RuLit - Страница 9

 
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“No—”

Jennifer shook herself, straightened, and sped across the yard. Catching his hands, she cried: “Canst thou help him?”

Will stopped grinning. “We can, lady.”

“Who art thou? What art thou? Dear God—”

“Nay, a different Person has thic post. I be but a tenant farmer from Somersetshire,’listed in tha dragoons when tha King raised his standard, got near Prince Rupert on account o’ bein’ good at caerin’ for animals.’A kept no few—white dog, monkey, an’ moare—tha Puritans yammered’a must be a wizard an’ theeazam his familiars, but’twar zimply that’a liaked pets… an’ outzoldiered his foes… an’ I chatter a lot, doan’t I?”

Jennifer glanced around. “Well, I may be missed and tracked any minute. B-besides—keep me not hooked!”

Will hunkered down to scrub sleeve across a low fragment of wall. “Than zit, mis’ess, an’ bear with me for tha love we boath bear him an’ tha King.”

The King thought Jennifer dazedly. No, not the King, that heavy Scot on England and on English faith and freedom—or thus I lately have been told—But Rupert

She let herself down, clasped her knees, and stared. The ungainly figure shambled back and forth, talking:

“I’m only half desperate in trustin’ you, good lady. I’ve no choice—nor you’bout me, if you truly wish him well—but I’ve heard everywhere as how you be kindly, mirthful, tolerant, a very zouth pole to thic northward-frozen stick your guardian. Moareover, I’ve dwatched you from afar as you walked alongzide my general, an’—There’s tha one field where Rupert lacks shrewdness an’ courage.” Will shook head and clicked tongue. “Not that’s’a’s never planted palms on its hills, or with rod an’ staff comforted what’s in tha valley; zuch doan’t stand to reason, though it do to attention. But either virtue in a woman maekes him shy, or’a’s always too occupied with war to scout a sweeter terrain an’ wage a merrier campaign. Anyhow, I zaw moare in your gait an’ stance than I think’a did, or you yourzelf, maybe—” He jerked to a stop. “Hoy, I could light a fiere with your cheeks!”

“Go on or go away,” snapped Jennifer.

“Forgive me; I be a barnyard fowl. Knowin’ tha eagle Rupert—Well, to speak honest, I’listed as much to have holiday from wife, ten kids, an’ plow—not that I doan’t cherish’em, understand;’tis only that they get to be, well, many—as much for a chance o’ sport, an’ maybe loot, as for my king an’ tha Oald Way. But than I came to know Rupert… On Marston Moor, befoare his eyes, I deserted him.”

The wound in the voice made Jennifer sit erect. “He bespoke a once trusty man,” she said indistinctly, “who let his dog go free to die, and fled.”

Will cocked a fist. “ ’Twarn’t my fault,” he rasped. “A blockhead groom—Well, I found scant space for’splainin’’mongst tha blades. An’ when I zaw him trapped, it sim me best I slip free an’ trail after him. What help might another prisoner be?”

“How didst thou follow him?” Jennifer wondered.

Will shrugged. “Mis’ess, I’ve poached my whole life, from Mendip Hills to Channel, from Avon River to Exmoor—an’ moast’round mine own hoame, in zight o’ Glastonbury Tor but a countryzide damnably low, flat, oapen—If I couldn’t track a Roundhead, five miles behind an’ given no moare zign than his farts, why, dangle me aloft for tha crows on charges o’ havin’ cut off in their prime his Majesty’s hares.

“At first I mingled with tha enemy, passin’ for one o’ them in tha turmoil.” His manner bleakened. “An’ turmoil’twar whilst tha’ butchered tha women.”

Jennifer started. “What women?”

“Camp followers mainly, though zome war honest wives. An’ when did bein’ a whoare, or bein’ Irish, merit death? Yet tha Roundheads put’em every one to tha zword on thoase charges, not troublin’’bout a trial.”

Will spat. “I think milord Jesus might have zomewhat to zay on thic, come tha Last Day. Meanwhile, let’s hoape our Rupert wins free to smite’em hypocrite an’ sly.”

The girl stared before her. “I’d give a world to disbelieve thee.” She hauled her regard back to him. “Well, what then?”

“I kept near tha leaders’ tents, zaw him taken into one an’, next morn, stuffed in a cloase-guarded coach. I loped along on the verge o’ sight: miane, thic be, not theirs, tha’ not lookin’ for an escoart.”

“You could?”

“A man afoot can run down a hoa’se or deer, if’a be in condition for it an’ patient. An I’d no carriage to pull, indeed no weight on me zave cloathes, armor, two zwords, an’ a few pennies which, h’m, a zartin Roundhead had no further use for. I zaw tha prince delivered to this manor an’ reckoned they’d keep him hereawa for a bit. Zo it behooved me to zettle down likewise, watch what happened, an’ twitch a quiet tail before luck’s mousehoale.”

“Where might you bide?”

“Around about.’Twould be wrong to name names, but this land grows Stuart loyalists like thistles. A haymow heare, a backdoor dish o’ beans an’ bacon theare, a plump an’ lusty goodwife whose husband’s long absent in tha war—There be plenty wanderers, not just tinkers but tha uprooted. Takin’ due care, I’ve drawn no moare notice than was needful in reconnoiterin’ tha local gossip.”

“And for Rupert!” Jennifer leaped to her feet. “Hast thou a plan? What can we do to, to save him?”

Will took a stance and peered long at her. “Thic depends on you, Mis’ess Alayne.”

She confronted him. “How?”

“Let’s first zee if I grasp tha nettle right,” he said with a new hesitancy. “ ’A’s locked into his rooms, too high in tha as-tro-logic tower for a jump out a window, an’ zentries beyond his door… each night. Ben’t thic zo?”

(She gave a stiff nod.) “By day’a may walk abroad, in limits, but never beyond zight o’ his warders unless tha’re content just to zurround tha jakes. No help in thoase hours, the moare zuch when our allies be o’ night.”

“Allies? Who, in his aloneness?”

“I’ve followed tha Oald Way, an’ zometimes on it met others unliake me,” said Will ambiguously. “Let’s first break him loose, shall we? Around my waist, underneath this farmer garb I’ve begged sine’twould be unwise for a full-clad dragoon to go clumpin’ about—I’ve coiled a roape. It could as well go inzide your skirt. If you can slip it to Rupert, he can snake out thic window we bespoake, this very eventide.”

“Christ have mercy! I’ve been forbidden to see him.”

“Surely you can brass yourzelf off as havin’ a special message or zome zuch need, get by tha men at his door, zay unzuzpicious words whilst you let tha roape an’ a noate of explanation fall behind zomethin’ what bars their eyes but not his. Can’t you? Tha… others… tell me you’ve stomach for great deeds; an’ heare’s a mere schoolgirl prank.”

“Well—but’tis not that easy, Will. The watch-dogs would clamor—”

“Not if you quiet them. Zo I be toald.”

Now she peered at him for a time. Drops clinked from leaves onto stone. A cloudlet crossed the sun and made a moment’s chill. “Who told thee?” she asked. His look grew steady as hers. “I could zay’twar a peasant who’d watched you befriend two four-foot slaves; but I daere not lie. Zee you, mis’ess,’taint enough that you slip him the means to slide down, nor stand below an’ accompany him over tha bridge for to keep them hounds mute.’A doan’t know tha country, an’ I dast not come nearer tha house than this. You must needs guide him to a zartin place in tha wildwood. There I’ll wait with what weapons I took from Marston Moor, an’ a couple o’ requisitioned hoa’ses. An’… our friends, miane, Rupert’s, yours if you’ll let’em be… you’ll meet them too. Further than thic I mayn’t speak heare, zave to swear that inzofar as lies in their power an’ miane, you’ll steal home to your bed unharmed in any way.”

     

 

2011 - 2018