The small house had seen better days. Withered, battered by the winds, it stood there, its grey thatched roof sagging at the middle. Long grass and weed had invaded the yard where it hadn’t been cut, and would probably fill every inch within a summer or two. On bushes between the house and the barn, hung sad, dark grey rags that seemed to have been there forever, subdued to the power of the fickle Irish weather. Lyndon dismounted and helped Megan down. Not a friend of horses, she seemed relieved to set her feet on solid ground, smoothened out the shawl over her hair and brushed her dress free from hair.
“Where is everyone?” she said and, for the first time during the journey, actually looked at him, searching his face for an answer.
“They’re here.” Carefully, he slid his gaze over the still scenery. “Watching us, I’d say.”
“But why?” She put her hand in the pocket of her skirt. At first he didn’t understand what she was doing, but when it turned up again, curled up to a ball, he knew. She was holding her crucifix, the one Charles had ripped from her neck when he’d attacked her. Lyndon should have offered to mend it but hadn’t thought about it. “Surely they must see it’s me?”
“It’s not you they’re interested in,” he murmured. “They’re wondering about me.”
He had had the good sense not to dress in his uniform, as it would have been outright suicide for both, but even though his clothes were simple, they were clearly of good quality, which made him stand out from any other Irishman in the country.
When the door slammed open, he took a step back, wishing for a moment he’d had his pistol loaded and ready – but on the other hand, shooting someone at this point would probably be a bad idea. The person climbing out on the yard didn’t seem to have the same reservations. The loaded rifle pointed steadily at his chest. Lyndon held up his hands.
“Please don’t shoot,” he called out. His words fell flat in the silence. “My intentions are good.” The man’s eyes narrowed, but he didn’t lower his weapon. “Megan,” Lyndon pressed from one corner of her mouth. “Tell him.” But she was staring at the man too, paralysed by the sight.
Great, Lyndon thought. I’ve come all this way, only to be shot by a bloody criminal.
There really was no other way to describe Megan’s brother. His bright blue eyes, Megan’s colour exactly, were shaded by bitterness and the distinct air of violence surrounded him like a bad stench. A criminal. No more, no less.
“I recognise your eyes,” he said, in such a thick accent even Lyndon, who’d lived with Irishmen for a good portion of his life, had trouble grasping what he was saying. “People saw you at Vinegar Hill, wielding your sword against men, women and children alike. A wicked beast ye are.” He cocked his head at Megan while raising his rifle and taking a better aim at Lyndon. “Has he harmed you, wee sister?”
“No. Please, Aindréas. Put the weapon away. It’s not who you think it is.”
“What do you mean?” He stared in bafflement at Lyndon. “Those eyes… I’ve heard about him, understand? He’s a devil.”
“This is his brother.”
He contemplated this. Behind him at the doorway, a smaller, less ragged version of himself appeared.
“Devin?” Her lips trembled. “Devin, is that really you?”
“Aye… but what are you doing here? You should be in England.”
She shook her head, teary-eyed. “I’m back. And… I wish to stay with you.”
“Aye?” He rubbed his eyes, as if wanting to clear them and make sure that what he was seeing was correct. He drew his breath, rounded his brother and came out on his other side, dangerously close to where the rifle was pointing, and flung out his arms. “Come here, little sister!”
She ran to him, straight into the embrace, hid her face against his neck, crying fiercely now. The man named Aindréas, who was the one holding the rifle, viewed them with surprise, then turned his gaze onto Lyndon.
“Think you have a bit of explaining to do, sir.” he said, slowly.
“I think not,” Lyndon snapped back. Things were starting to annoy him. First the not-so-pleasant task of bringing her to Ireland, albeit it had been his own idea. Then this. Kindness had a strange way of never paying off. “I’ve delivered her safely to you, and now I’m leaving.”
“I’m leaving,” he repeated, lowering his head. “I’ve had enough of this. Goodbye.”
He turned around; put his hand on the saddle, made himself ready to swing himself up in the saddle, but froze at the sound of the gunshot. It exploded in the stillness and rang out slowly over the hills. A hen cackled from the henhouse, and the horse, though used to battlefields, snorted and rolled its eyes, backing away with its ears tucked back to its neck.
Lyndon turned back again, deliberately slow this time. If the man was crazy enough to waste a bullet by shooting it into the air, he would probably not hesitate to put one in Lyndon’s head.
“Alright. I’m listening,” he said, calmly. “What do you want me to do?”
“You’re coming inside, good sir, and you’ll explain yourself. Preferably without bloodshed, but...” The man shrugged and made a face to suggest he didn’t really mind the alternative.
Lyndon caught Megan’s gaze, but she didn’t seem willing to help him, and when she looked away, guiltily, he knew she didn’t even want to admit that she knew him. So much for gratitude.
“Fine,” he said between his teeth. “Let’s get it over and done with then, shall we?”
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