More than a week had passed since Callum had made the transaction to purchase the neighboring property and the house. He had thought it many times over, wondering if he had made a good decision in doing it. But every time he looked at Dustin and the way he looked back at him, the thought disappeared, knowing that Dustin’s dream would soon be realized to have room for horses.
They kept a watch on the neighboring house and one day Martha saw the coach coming down the road from Dudley and it stopped on the main road in front of the neighboring property. Callum was called to by Martha seeing it from the kitchen window. Callum thought she would do a dance watching the figure way off in the distance walking away from the house, as she pointed seeing it and was happier than Callum had ever seen her. He knew there was something that was still unsaid about the neighbor by her and he also knew he would not press the issue with her to find out what it was. As long as she was happy, that was good enough for him. She asked him to go over and check the house, but he calmed her and said they would do it later, there was plenty of time for that.
Their own house had returned to somewhat of a quiet nature now as the repairs were proceeding on the Muir house in the village and the damage to it done by the great tree falling had been mostly completed, thanks to Bockman and his overseeing it with all of the skilled tradesmen of the village. Callum had actually been saddened by the Muir family leaving, being let back into their home as the work was nearly completed. The vast majority of the tradesmen that worked on the home had been retasked to start work on the destroyed livery now, and it was coming along nicely by only two days of that process. Owen had joined in to help, even though it was frowned upon by the tradesmen, but he could not stand it anymore, just standing idly by as everything was being done for them. Callum could only shrug when Bockman had asked Callum to intervene about Owen, but Callum shook his head ‘no’. Bockman relented and gave in.
It was the early afternoon of the following day when Callum was coming back from seeing the magistrate in the village. He wanted more information about the Cross and the new property. The magistrate had offered it to him originally, but Callum told him he was pressed for time with getting the document signed and the transaction to be completed. He walked in silence back toward his home, and his group that was waiting there for him, with all the new information that he carried in his hand. He was not sure how much of it Martha knew as well but he felt better now that he had what he held in his hand.
“Quintan, are you hungry?” Martha asked as he came into the kitchen. His group was sitting at the table looking up at him, little Henry was on the bench squirming next to Dustin, and stood up on it, happy to see Callum.
“No, thank you, my dear, but I will have some coffee, if you please.” Callum said and turned his attention to the little one that was positively beaming at him. Callum smiled at him, “And what has you so excited, my lad?”
“Dustin let me ride the mare.”
“Oh? You have ridden the mare before.”
“Not by himself.” Dustin said, reaching up and patting the little back that was next to him. Henry was bobbing his head up and down without stop in a nod, his eyes were wide with excitement.
“Really, all by yourself? My, I suppose we will have to get you a horse of your own then very soon.” Callum smiled, again seeing the constant nodding with wide eyes, “Yes, I thought you might like that idea, you rascal.” Callum grinned and then winked at him.
“You men and spending all of your money.” Martha said shaking her head as she carried a cup over to Callum and handed it to him, “Honestly.”
“Oh, I suppose it’s because you don’t have another new frock to wear.” Callum chuckled, “I think you might be feeling a bit neglected.” Callum hopped a bit as he was swat on the butt hard.
“Scamp.” She said, “Don’t you even think of spending another shilling on me.” She said and turned back toward the stove. Callum chuckled and sipped his coffee. He leaned forward and came close to Henry’s ear.
“I think our dear lady needs a bit of a hug.” Callum whispered in Henry’s ear. Henry put his hands on Callum’s shoulders and looked over to see where she was and looked back at him. He smiled and nodded and then jumped down and went over to her, throwing his little arms up around her waist.
“Now what is this?” She asked as she looked down. The little face looked up at her, smiling big.
“You needed a hug.” The little voice said, and she melted, bending down and kissing his little cheeks, making him give her dimples in return. She pinched his chin gently and he giggled.
“Now you run along, you little scamp. You’re a charmer just like he is.” She said, and he came back over to the table as Callum sat down.
“What do you have there?” Dustin asked as Henry came back to the bench and climbed up next to Dustin and sat on his little knees.
“This is the information from the magistrate. He wrote it out for me.” Callum said as he unrolled it. He read it aloud for Dustin, “Callum’s Cross, settled 1726, owner Quintan McClain Callum, wife Aurora. House built same year as settled, property two acres, knolled farmland, single well.
It appears that I am named for my grandfather. That answers that question.” Callum said softly, he read on, “Sons born, Morton, 1744, Peter, 1749, James 1751.” Callum sat back and looked at the document for a moment counting in his head, “My father was 32 when I was born. I wonder why he and my mother waited so long.”
“So you have uncles.” Dustin said, seeing the names, but couldn’t read them.
“According to the magistrate they died, leaving only my father living.” Callum thought more about it and then continued to read on.
“Harbroughs on the Road.” Callum said as he looked up at Tomlin and Holt, “That is what the house is called apparently, but he didn’t say why. Settled 1649, owner Lothanus LaTourre, he sounds as if he might have been French,” Callum chuckled looking at all of them, “now isn’t that they way of it? I fight the French and I end up owning a Frenchman’s house, now can you see the irony in that?” Callum smiled, Holt and Tomlin chuckled, Dustin only could shake his head. “House built 1651, property 30 acres, two wells, rolling pastureland.” Callum said and rolled up the paper.
“Did he have a wife or children?” Dustin asked.
“I don’t know, the magistrate did not give any of that information, if he did have a wife and children, it isn’t listed here.” Callum said as he shrugged. He set the paper down on the table and sat back and drank more of his coffee.
“What are you going to do now?” Dustin asked.
“Well, I was thinking, now that he is gone, perhaps we should go and have a look at the house and see what is there.”
“I was hoping you would say that.” Dustin said and looked excited. Callum was surprised by it.
They opened the door slowly to the house, Callum was first, Dustin was behind him, Tomlin and Holt were looking around the front wall up the stone and mortar, seeing windows above them, and one to their left. Callum could smell him, that smell that made him wrinkle his nose slightly the first time he had met him when he opened the door. He wasn’t sure what the smell was. He walked in. Seeing all the furniture was indeed there. Dustin was right behind him.
“What do we do?” Dustin asked feeling slightly nervous.
“Spread out,” Callum said, “Thomas, Christian, you go upstairs and have a look around, Dustin, you and I will look around down here. Once we have our looks about the place, we can trade places. Check for leaks or drafts of any kind, if there are any, I’ll have Bockman set some workmen on the place to repair them.” Tomlin and Holt nodded and went for the staircase. Callum and Dustin went through the parlor, everything seemed the way it was when they were here a week ago. Dustin went over to the desk under the window. “Dustin, I’m going to see about the kitchen.” Callum said and went out of the parlor into a hall and walked out of sight. Dustin saw a letter on the desk, sealed with wax. He couldn’t read it, but he knew enough of the letters written on it to know it was for Callum. He picked it up and took it with him to find him.
There were three bedrooms upstairs, at the top of the rail, a landing that went around, one bedroom faced the road on the front of the house, the other two faced the back of the house where they were standing. Tomlin nodded at Holt, Holt going in the first door at the top of the stairs, Tomlin going to the next one to the left. Large beds were in each room, Holt went and felt the mattress, it was very firm, and he frowned at it. He looked about, as the room was dark, the windows on two walls were covered by long heavy dark drapes. He went to them and pulled them back. He could see Callum’s Cross from here and smiled seeing the stable, the hen roost, the house, he could make out the dog walking on the flagstone and smiled wider. He went to the other window and pulled back those drapes, looking out across the back pasture, seeing a stone fence way off in the distance. He turned and saw a long low chest of drawers. He ran his fingers over the top of it, it was clean and dust free, it was obvious that this room was used by the man that was living here.
Tomlin was feeling the bed in the room he was in, dust rose up from it when he pat it. He narrowed his eyes and went to the window, pulling back long heavy dark drapes to let light in. He turned around, there were two candle stands, one to each side of the bed. Tomlin sniffed the air, smelling something, but couldn’t figure out what it was, he looked around but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. There was a good sized chest of drawers opposite the bed and he went to it. He could see dust covering its top, and knew no one had been in here for quite some time. He left the draperies open and walked to the door, closing it behind him. He met Holt on the landing.
“This must have been his room. It’s pretty clean.” Holt said, leaving the door open.
“Well this one hasn’t been used in a very long time, it’s very dusty. It is a nice room though, very airy and open.” Tomlin said. Holt pointed to the last bedroom. Tomlin looked at him, “But have you noticed that smell? Do you know what it is?” Tomlin asked and Holt shook his head.
“I smell it too. It’s very strong up here. Maybe if we air the house out, it will go away.”
“Maybe.” Tomlin said as he went toward the last door. He opened it and stopped in his tracks. “Christian.” Tomlin said softly as he stared into the room. Holt came up behind him and looked in and gasped as intense eyes were looking back at them.
Dustin walked into the kitchen and looked about at all of the pots and pans that were hanging about. There was a large stove to one side, with counters that lined the walls with open shelves. On them were plates, cups, platters and assorted things that Dustin had no idea what they were. In the center of the kitchen was a square grate covered area that was built out of stone, on its top, about waist height was a heavy grating that covered over what looked like ash and charred remnants of wood. Two heavy pieces of thick heavy steel with slots cut in it rose up from the stone on opposite sides to a larger piece of heavy looking metal that was open inside, as if it were some kind of upside down bowl, that led to a pipe, large in diameter that went into the back wall above a window that looked out across the back pasture.
The window itself was large and was over a sink that was in the middle of a counter that went from corner to a door that led outside. To one side of the sink was a hand pump. Callum was bent over it, looking at it carefully. Dustin watched as he bent down and opened a door under the sink and there were two pipes that went to the floor. Callum nodded his head and stood, closing the door as Dustin came beside him.
“Look, there is a pump here inside the kitchen.” Callum said as he pointed at it, “You remember I was talking about this very thing not long ago?” Dustin nodded his head remembering, “The damned Frenchman figured out how to do it, to get water into the house. Bloody Frogs.” Callum said softly, and then he looked at Dustin, “Are you alright, my love?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Here,” Dustin said as he handed Callum the letter, “I think this is for you. I think it has your name on it.”
Callum took it and read his name on it, and then opened it. He read it and then looked at Dustin with a look of shock. He went out of the kitchen almost at a run. Dustin was right behind him. “Quintan, what is it?” Dustin asked as he was trying to catch him.
“Quintan? I think you need to see this.” They heard Tomlin call out as Callum hit the stairs and charged up them two steps at a time. He hit the landing and came around the rail to where Tomlin and Holt had the door to the front bedroom open. The drapes had been pulled open over the windows on the front wall and the room was bathed in streaming light. Callum stopped dead in his tracks as he reached the doorway. Dustin came up beside him and looked in.
“Dear God.” Dustin said softly with a slight gasp, “Quintan, it’s you.” Dustin was staring at a portrait of Callum or so he thought at first, from mid-chest up, the figure in the painting was centered, wearing a soft blue shirt, long hair in a tail, that was draped over the left shoulder, the face of the figure was cold, heartless in his look as he stared back at them, “But the eyes, it isn’t you, it must be your father.” Dustin said softly.
Holt was opening a window. The smell was strong in this room. There was a table in the center, with paints, brushes, rags scattered all over it. There was a stand near the table with a tall stool in front of it, and against the wall, next to the window was a red velvet settee, that had a blanket draped over it, as if someone had been laying there recently napping. Holt got the window open and the breeze came in bringing fresh air into the house. They all started feeling better immediately and the lightheadedness they were each having was going away.
There were stacks of canvases against the walls on the floor, leaning. Tomlin went over and picked one up. He looked at it and then looked at Holt. He smiled at a memory that he had of a conversation once between them at the inn in London.
“Christian,” Tomlin said and Holt stepped up close to him as Tomlin held up the painting, “You remember I said once that I would find an artist to paint you like you were laying in that bed at the inn? Well, I think he lived here.” Tomlin smiled as he looked at Holt, who was wide eyed.
“I have never seen anything like that before. Look at the way he lays on the,…” Holt turned and looked over at the settee, then he looked back at the painting, “It’s the same settee. I wonder who that is.”
“I don’t know, but he certainly is a fine looking man. Wait a moment…it looks like Owen.” Tomlin said softly, Holt looked closer at the face.
“You’re right, it is.”
“Oh my Lord.” Dustin said as he covered his mouth as he stopped at a painting in one of the other stacks. Callum came over to him and looked at it. “That’s very…” Dustin was stunned.
“I think the word you’re searching for is…erotic.” Callum said in looking at the painting Dustin held.
“I don’t even know what that means.” Dustin said as he couldn’t take his eyes off it, “I was going to say…revealing.”
“Well, another good choice.”
“Do you think that is…” Dustin started to say and then gulped.
“Owen? Looks like it to me.” Callum said, “Quite fetching, isn’t he?”
“You think he is that…big?”
“Too big for you?” Callum asked, and Dustin frowned, “Well, if he is that big, he is certainly going to waste not having anyone for companionship.” Callum said and walked away, Dustin dropped his mouth open at him.
“That’s certainly impressive. I might have to see that for real though.” Holt said softly next to Dustin’s ear. Dustin was still open mouthed as he looked at Holt. Dustin set the painting down and went through a few more, a couple of them were clearly Owen. Dustin gulped and found himself getting a little worked up over them.
“I wonder…” Callum said, everyone looked up, Dustin came and stood behind him, looking over his shoulder as Callum was knelt down, holding a painting out of the stack of two men.
“Do you think that is your father?” Dustin asked softly.
“It must be, as it certainly isn’t me.” Callum said.
“I think it is very striking.” Dustin said softly, looking at the painting, “I wonder if the other man is,…”
“Yes, it has to be. Obviously he was painting of his experiences or those that would pose for him.” Callum said and set the painting back down. He flipped through a few more in the stack, seeing men, none that he knew, as well as some very young boys. Callum let the stack go back to the way it was.
“Gentlemen, I would ask that most of these be burned, especially those of the younger boys, as they are more than likely living here in the village and perhaps are not prepared for something like this to be shown about. I would also ask that Henry never know of this until he might be of age. God knows what this might do to a small boy and his thoughts.”
“Agreed.” Tomlin said, as Holt came near him, giving a nod as well, “But, could we not keep some of them that are of…”
“You wish to keep certain ones, Thomas?” Callum asked.
“Thomas, it’s alright.” Callum sighed, “I must confess that some have me in a bit of a state as well.” Callum looked over at Dustin and smiled briefly.
“And this portrait of you father, Quintan, surely you would want…” Dustin said.
“Here, read this.” Callum said, holding out the letter. Holt slowly reached out and took it from Callum’s hand. Holt looked at Callum, who nodded toward him and then waved a hand, as Callum went to the open window and stood there, looking out over the land toward the main road.
“James,” Holt said and looked at Callum.
“James is apparently my true given name, Christian, I verified that with the magistrate this morning.” Callum said as he stared out the window without turning.
“James, as you take possession of what it is that you have purchased from me, know that I leave you all the contents of the house, as I have said I would. I begin my new life, thankfully funded by you with its purchase, in London. I will begin again with what I found was my true calling in life, to paint. Know that it was your father that kept after me to put to canvas what was in my mind, my heart, and in my soul. I leave you these paintings as a reminder of what men can share with one another when allowed the chance to do so. You may do with them as you wish. Know that your father was my constant love throughout his and my life, why I came to live here in the first place. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to live the rest of my days in comfort, signed…” Holt stopped and looked at Callum, “Quintan, I feel that…” Holt stopped as Callum turned in the light of the window.
“I know what you’re going to say, Christian, but I know of something that all of you do not about my father. I will leave it as such.” Callum said as he came over and took the letter gently from Holt’s fingers, “I am wondering if our dear lady has supper ready or not. I, for one, could use a large glass of wine. Would any of you gentlemen care to join me?” Callum asked and went toward the door.
“Quintan, wait.” Dustin said as he put a hand on Callum’s shoulder. Callum stopped and looked at him.
“My love, I have a deep and great need to see and hold our son right at this moment. I need to reaffirm to myself that I am not like my father,” Callum said and looked over his shoulder at the portrait of him, “like that face that you see in that portrait, cold, cruel. He had his time and his place, but I now have mine.” Callum said and walked away, leaving the three of them in the front bedroom with the paintings. They heard the front door close as they stared at one another.
Callum walked into the back door of the house and saw Henry at the table, the dog lying at his feet on the floor. Callum smiled wide at his little charge and went to him, who was smiling as well. Callum held out his arms and the little one smiled wide, as he held out his. Callum scooped him up and held him tight to him, rocking him gently as he squeezed him.
“I missed you, my son.” Callum whispered.
“I missed you, too.” The little voice said. The dog was thumping his tail on the floor as his eyes shifted while he watched them together.
“Have you had your supper?” Callum asked.
“No, Aunt Martha said to wait until you came home.”
“Then we shall wait no longer.” Callum pulled back and smiled into his face, going forehead to forehead with the little one. “Maybe we should wash up first. My hands are a bit dirty.” Callum scrunched his nose.
“Okay.” Henry smiled.
“That’s my boy.” Callum smiled, and rubbed his nose against the little ones, “I love you, Henry.” Callum said softly.
“I love you, too.”
“Good.” Callum smiled wide after he said it quickly. He rubbed his nose against Henry’s again, making him giggle a little. Callum tickled him and he wiggled and laughed. Martha was smiling as she was at the stove. Callum set Henry down and he wrapped one of his arms around Callum’s leg as Callum looked over at her. “Whatever you are cooking smells heavenly, my dear.”
“I am glad you think so. Your lads gave me a suggestion earlier as they were here at the table. I thought I would try it out and see if it meets with what they told me.”
“Knowing the way you cook, everything will be true perfection.” Callum said as he smiled. He looked down and smiled at the grip that was on his leg. “Let’s go wash up.” Callum said and saw a big group of nodding. He put a hand on the top of the little head and went to walk away, but the little arms held him fast. Callum reached down and moved him with his hands, turning the little body to stand on a single boot top, and then he started to walk with him on his boot. Henry was giggling as he went along to the back door. Callum chuckled as he was kicking out his leg along the way giving him the ride, looking at the overjoyed little face that was shining back up at him.
“We will ride through the night until we reach Birmingham.” The gruff voice said, as he reached up and grabbed the saddle and pulled himself up, swinging his leg over and sat down on the seat, he reached down and started to pull on his gloves one at a time. The two that sat on their horses watched him as they waited. “He is with an officer of the Navy, a Lieutenant. I will deal with him myself first. You two are to cover my flank. After I take this officer first, then I will get my hands on that whelp that carries my name. Are there any questions?” He asked, knowing there would not be after his gloves were in place. He took the reins in his hand and wheeled the horse, his seconds followed what he did and followed him out of the drive onto the main road.
Callum pumped some water into Henry’s hands, watching him rub them together and then Callum showed him how to use his hands on his little face. Henry did it and smiled up at him as the water dripping off his chin. Callum smiled and nodded his head, seeing what he had done.
“Alright, you pump for me now.” Callum said and traded places with him. Henry pumped the handle and the water came, Callum rubbed his hands and then did his face, and did it again. Henry stopped pumping as he and Callum looked down the knoll seeing Dustin, Tomlin, and Holt coming toward them, laughing with each other, bumping and carrying on like school boys. Callum smiled at them and Henry turned and looked up at Callum for a moment, and then back to the group. “Go and meet them, if you want, Henry.” Callum said, touching the little shoulder. Henry took off and ran down the knoll to them. Dustin picked him up and hugged him, patting his little back, then put him down. The dog was sitting next to Callum thumping his tail on the flagstone as they all approached. Dustin and Holt had each taken one of Henry’s hands and were swinging him as they walked together up the knoll to the flagstone. “I was beginning to think that I might need to send out a rescue party.” Callum said, as he flicked his hands free of water.
“We got caught up in the kitchen of the house.” Tomlin said, “All of that cookware, Martha would go out of her mind with it all, and that open grill?”
“You could spit an entire boar on it.” Holt said smiling wide. Callum could see that they were both very happy with the house. “Did you see the pump at the sink, Quintan? Imagine that, water inside the house.”
“Yes, I saw that.” Callum said, “Wash up lads, I believe the lady of the house has our supper ready. Come along, Henry, we’ll get yours first.” Callum held out his hand and the little one came up to him, taking it. The dog followed and then lay down at the back door on the flagstone. They went inside the kitchen and Callum set Henry down on the bench.
“I see the lads are back.” Martha said as she came to the table with a tray. Callum looked at what she carried and smiled.
“Yes, finally they are. My dear, you should hear them out there. They are all of them excited about that house.”
“And what of you, my boy, you don’t seem to share the enthusiasm.”
“I suppose I don’t, I know I should, but there is something about the house that I don’t care for. I don’t know what it is, but it just didn’t feel right when I was there today.” Callum said softly.
“The past, it bothers you, what was done there, I know.” Martha said softly as the back door opened. She pat Callum on the shoulder and looked at the group coming in, making noise, and still laughing. Callum now knew that she knew what had happened there and it made him start to think and to wonder if she would ever tell him without him asking her.
“Aunt Martha, you should see that kitchen.” Dustin said, “It’s twice as big as this one, and there are counters everywhere on all of the walls, open shelves, and the open fire pit, it was incredible.”
“Quintan, I was thinking, maybe you should have her go and pick out what she would like out of the house to bring here.” Tomlin said, “I know it would take me a hundred years to figure out what everything was that is in there.”
“Perhaps I should, Thomas.” Callum said as he cut Henry’s supper up for him as he was on the bench with him. Henry tried to do it, but struggled. Callum looked at him and bumped him, making him smile at Callum. They played their eye game, looking at each other and then looking away, then back again. Callum leaned over and Henry went nose to nose with him and rubbed their tips, Callum scrunched his nose and made his face and Henry giggled as Dustin watched them. Tomlin and Holt continued to talk about the house to Martha who had joined them at the table now, but their voices seemed to fade away as Dustin continued to watch Callum and Henry as they were closer now than Dustin had ever seen. He knew something troubled Callum deeply, but he would have to wait to find out until they were alone.
Callum came into the bedroom, closing the door behind him as Dustin was getting undressed, folding his clothes as he took each item off and placed it on the foot of the bed. Callum came over to the bed on his side and pulled his shirt out of his pants and then pulled it over his head. Dustin watched him out of the corner of his eye.
“I know there is something that troubles you, Quintan. You were acting strange at supper, and then you went off with Henry to the parlor.”
“There is nothing wrong, I assure you.” Callum said softly without looking at him.
“Like there was nothing wrong at La Rochelle, nothing wrong at the Heritage, or the Boar’s Head.” Dustin said softly, “If you wish not to speak of it, then just say so. You don’t have to stand there and lie to me.” Dustin said as he pulled back the covers and got into bed, rolling to his side, his back toward Callum. Callum was angry, not with Dustin, but with himself. He was letting all of this get to him, as it did in London, until he blew up. It cost him his career. He knew if he didn’t say anything, there might be a higher price, costing him Dustin. Callum got into bed and slid over to Dustin, he went against Dustin’s back and put a hand on his smooth skin of his arm.
“And you certainly do not have to make love to me simply because we are in the same bed, naked.” Dustin said flatly.
“You’re right, I don’t have to make love to you. But, I do wish to make this right with you. Dustin, I have never lied to you, in all the time that I have known you, and you know that. Yes, there is something bothering me, something about that house. I don’t know, maybe is has to do with my father and what he did there.” Callum said and exhaled and rolled on his back, putting an arm over his eyes. Dustin rolled over and slid next to him, putting his left hand on Callum’s chest.
“I’m sorry, Quintan.”
“You have nothing to be sorry over.” Callum said softly.
“But I do.” Dustin said as he propped up on his elbow, “This evening I found myself feeling very jealous, jealous over a little boy, and the attention and the affection that you showed him this evening. I could see the love in your eyes that you have for him, everyone saw it. You love him so much.”
“Of course I do, and you do as well.”
“You’re right, I do. But you see him in a different way than I do. You said earlier today that you had a deep and great need to see and hold our son. That’s how you see him, as your son.”
“How do you see him?” Callum asked as he moved his arm.
“I don’t know. Sometimes I see him that way, sometimes I see him as a younger brother. But it is you that is his father, and he knows it, the way he looks at you, laughs with you. He is heart sick every time you leave him, to go the village, or when you went to the other house those times and left him here. It is a good thing you are not in the service any longer, if you went to sea, right now, it might be the end of him. But Henry is not the problem, at least not the real one going through your mind. You are haunted by the memory of your father, a man you never knew.” Dustin said softly, Callum just looked him with narrow eyes, he turned his head and looked up at the ceiling.
“Martha told me something of him.”
“That he could be cruel. He would hit my mother.”
“She knows that for certain?” Dustin asked. Callum nodded as he stared at the ceiling.
“She said that my mother had told her.” Callum rolled his head a little, “What kind of a man does that, Dustin?” Callum let out a breath, “I saw that portrait in that room, I know it was him, but it was also me. I suppose you’re right, his memory does haunt me. I am him, and have been told that by more than one, I look like him, but I don’t wish to be like him.”
“You couldn’t, it’s not in you, Quintan. There is not a cruel bone in your body.”
“Oh yes there is. I saw it in myself, in London. Those men, that attacked us at the Admiralty, I wounded one. I ground his wound under my boot heel to get him to talk. It was cruel, brutal. And the frightening part of it was I enjoyed it. I hurt him and I enjoyed it.”
“Quintan, that’s different. You did it for a different reason. What your father did was different as well.”
“How? Tell me, how is it different? When he hit my mother, don’t you think he might have enjoyed doing it?”
“I don’t know, and neither do you. You are chasing something in your mind that you cannot answer, no one has the answer to that. Ask yourself why that is?” Dustin asked and Callum looked at him, “I’ll tell you why, it’s because they are all dead and cannot tell you what they thought or felt. You are alive and are here with me, right now. And ask yourself this, would you ever hit me?” Dustin asked, and Callum just stared at him, “Would you?”
“No. I can’t imagine myself ever doing that to you.”
“You see, there is your answer. You can’t imagine yourself doing that to me, and I believe in that, Quintan, I trust in that. It’s because you love me, as I love you. You are not him, and you are not cruel at all. I know it, and I know you, the real you.”
“You always manage to pull me out the deepest depths of despair, how is that you can do that? I love you Dustin Perkins more than anything.”
“Really, more than anything?” Dustin smiled, “I think I know about a little one downstairs that you would love more than me.”
“Shut up.” Callum said above a whisper.
“What?” Dustin threw up an eyebrow.
“Shut up.” Callum said softly smiling and took Dustin’s face in his hands, “I love you more than anything, even that little one downstairs. I will love till my last day, my last breath, and then beyond that. You are my everything, Dustin, my everything.” Callum said and pulled Dustin to him, kissing him tenderly, and then more passionately. Dustin stayed with the kiss as he worked himself to come up on top of Callum.
“Thomas,…you are…simply amazing.” Holt panted as he lay his back on Tomlin’s chest. Tomlin brought his arms around Holt’s chest as he kissed his neck and then gently chewed on his shoulder, “Each time is better than the time before.” Holt whispered as he stared up at the roof of the stable. Tomlin rolled his hips under Holt’s tight narrow butt, making Holt moan softly feeling him in between his cheeks. Holt smiled, as Tomlin was kissing the back of his ear.
“Christian, may I ask you a question?”
“I think you just did.” Holt put his hands on Tomlin’s arms that were holding him and rubbed the smooth skin.
“I’m serious, Christian.” Tomlin said and then bit Holt’s earlobe.
“Ow.” Holt said and let his head fall next to Tomlin’s so they were both looking up at the roof of the stable. “What did you want to ask me?”
“Are you happy with me?” Tomlin asked.
“Of course I am. Why would you ask that? Aren’t we here, like this right now?”
“Yes, we are, but I saw the way you were looking at the paintings today, I saw the way you looked at those of Owen.” Tomlin said. Holt shifted and got off Tomlin, he rolled on the blanket in the straw and came next to him on his stomach.
“Do I detect a pang of jealousy?” Holt asked softly as he was resting on his forearms as he looked at Tomlin.
“I don’t know about that, but it made me stop and think if I am enough for you or what you want.” Tomlin said as he looked into his pretty face. Holt smiled softly, lowered his head and shook it a couple of times, he looked back up.
“My Thomas,…my love, my rescuer,…I know neither of us has ever had anyone else that we could truly call our own. I love you, Thomas, I love your sparkling eyes, your wit, your intelligence. You are so tender with me, more so than with the others. I have told you before that I feel safe and comforted when I am with you, protected in a way I have never known. You do that, Thomas, and I will always love you forever.”
“Thank you, Christian. I love hearing that.” Tomlin said as he reached over and tucked a lock of hair back into the rest. Holt watched Tomlin’s eyes as they scanned all of his face, he could see them moving about, taking in everything in the candlelight that was on the window ledge.
“As far as the paintings are concerned, do you not find them…arousing?” Holt asked.
“I suppose they are that. I will say I was rather caught up with the one myself.”
“The one of him lying out on the settee? Yes, it was rather striking.” Holt said softly.
“I think you might fancy him a bit.” Tomlin said.
“Don’t you? He is very handsome.” Holt smiled.
“He is that, and very muscular as well. After what we saw today with the paintings, I know he enjoys what we do, that was very clear to me. And Quintan teased Dustin with it as well.”
“Yes, he did, didn’t he?” Holt smiled wider, “Would you want to try and see…?”
“What, if he would want to share our bed?” Tomlin asked.
“It might be interesting.” Holt wiggled his eyebrows as he traced around a nipple on Tomlin’s bare chest. Holt bit his lower lip and had a look of mischief on his face.
“I had thought about it as well for a moment when I was looking at that painting, the two of us possibly with him. But, I don’t know, this is all so new.”
“It is new, to both of us, you’re right.” Holt said as he let his lip go.
Dustin was sitting on Callum, his hands covered Callum’s chest as Callum was moving his hips up and down against the bed, sliding in and out of Dustin slowly. Dustin was breathing through his mouth, his head tilted back with his eyes closed. Dustin licked his lips and then panted at this feeling he loved so.
“You fill me so much.” Dustin whispered as Callum kept moving in and out of him. Dustin clenched his fingers on Callum’s chest when Callum would slide into him just right dragging over that wonderful spot inside of him. Dustin would moan a quick soft sound making Callum smile briefly at hearing it and Callum would growl softly in reply.
Dustin let go of the muscled chest and sat back further, arching his back, hanging his head back. He brought his hands behind him and rest them on Callum’s legs, gripping his thighs above the knees, Dustin buried Callum into him fully, his complete length. Callum brought his hands up and grabbed Dustin’s sides below his ribs, holding on tight as he made small quick motions up into Dustin, taking Dustin’s breath away.
“Yes.” Dustin whispered as exhaled finally.
“I’m going to fill you.” Callum exhaled through clench teeth, gripping Dustin tighter, moving his hips quicker.
“Do it.” Dustin panted out and then he felt it, the flexing inside of him, of Callum’s mast and Dustin heard the growl under him from Callum’s throat, as Dustin kept his eyes closed and was breathing in and out through his nose. Dustin opened his eyes and brought his head forward looking down at his beautiful man under him. “I so love you.” Dustin breathed out, “I so love what you do to me.” Callum looked up at him and smiled softly, letting his grip loosen and then sliding his hands over the soft smooth skin.
“You are so beautiful, Dustin.” Callum whispered, his hands slowly gliding over every part of his chest and stomach, “I could look at you like this every day and every night.”
“Then perhaps I shall stop wearing clothes all together.” Dustin smiled as he regained his breathing.
“Now that is a wonderful idea. I know several that would enjoy seeing that actually.” Callum said as he raised an eyebrow.
“You are such a devil.” Dustin smiled and then leaned forward and kissed Callum as he cradled Callum’s face in his hands. Dustin pulled back a little looking into those sparkling deep blue eyes. “I am so fortunate to have you.”
“No, I am the fortunate one.” Callum smiled, “I have the most wondrous person in the world that loves me and shares my bed. You make me so very happy, Dustin.”
“I do my best.” Dustin whispered.
“I know, now, get off me. I want to my best to you.” Callum smiled and looked at him with wide eyes.
Lt. Silas Morris stood near the wheel of the sloop, a crewman, Elam, an older able-bodied seaman, had the wheel as they were making their way south. There was a good wind tonight, and the sails of both masts were at full billow. The only excitement on this mission so far was the storm that hit and passed over the North Sea a week ago. Morris had had his hands full with that bit of nasty weather and he felt bad for the Marine contingent that was below in the hold.
Eddington had settled in for the night and had given the deck over to Morris, who would be relieved in another four hours by their junior officer, Midshipman Michealson, for the remainder of the night, and then Eddington would take over on the first watch. Morris was bored with the mission as they were out trying to bait this Frenchman who was wreaking havoc on merchant shipping. Morris didn’t know much about it, but there were some rumors to it in port. Morris did not pay attention to rumors at all, and was beginning to think that this Frenchman didn’t even exist.
“Mr. Morris, sir.”
“What is it, Andling?” Morris asked as he turned to another crewman on the deck.
“Sail, sir, off the starboard aft quarter.” Andling, a rather muscular able-bodied seaman pointed behind them. Morris turned and looked, seeing sails off in the distance in the dark, a large ship it appeared to be.
“That might be the Corsair,” Morris said as he put a glass to his eye, “we were supposed to rendezvous with them in another day. Perhaps they’re early.”
“Beggin your pardon, sir, but weren’t they supposed to be south of us already, sir?” Elam asked as he looked over his shoulder at the ship behind them.
“Looks like she’s coming up on us fast, sir, maybe five or six knots, sir.” Andling said as he was watching the ship.
“She does seem to coming rather quickly, doesn’t she?” Morris said as he put the glass to his eye again.
“She’ll be on us in about ten minutes, sir.” Elam said.
“Thank you, Elam, I can see that.” Morris said.
“Shall we get ready, sir?”
“Ready for what, Elam?” Morris asked, looking at him, “As I said, I think it’s the Corsair.”
“I’m not sure about that, sir.” The older man said, sounding nervous.
“And what makes you think it’s not?”
“I served on the Corsair, sir, for two years. That doesn’t look like the Corsair, sir.” Elam said and looked forward again, “Shall I alter course, sir?”
“What for?” Morris asked, as he was looking through the glass again, “I don’t think…wait a moment. Why would she go lights out like that?” Morris asked as he saw all the deck lights go out.
“Sir, shall I send for Mr. Eddington?” Elam asked as Andling was getting closer to the aft rail to see better, “They’ll be on us in about five minutes, sir, maybe less.” Morris thought about it and sighed, lowering the glass.
“Andling, go below, give Captain Eddington my compliments and ask him to join me on deck.”
“Aye, sir.” Andling said, tipping his hand and went quickly toward the gangway stairs.
“Shall I change course, sir?”
“Alright, Elam, change course, bring her ten degrees port.”
“Aye, sir, ten degrees.” Elam said and cranked the wheel, the sloop responded right away in the good wind, the canvas snapped again full and the deck creaked. Morris lifted the glass, seeing the large ship changing course to match theirs now, coming even closer. Morris thought he heard something and took a step further aft and strained to listen. He heard something and then recognized it, spinning on his heels, his eyes wide. He jumped for the ships bell and grasped the rope and started clanging it furiously.
“ALL HANDS ON DECK! MARINES TO ARMS!” Morris screamed at the top of his lungs. He spun back around as he let go of the bell rope. The large ship was coming right at them. He could hear shouts in French as the ship came closer. Morris looked forward as Marines were starting to emerge at the top of the gangway and then the impact rocked the sloop, knocking everyone off their feet, sending them to the deck. Screams and groans could be heard as the ropes came over the side, grappling hooks bit into wood and as everyone was getting to their feet, another hard hit as the two vessels collided again. Morris got up and went to go forward as the first members of the French crew came over the side and onto the deck of the sloop. Morris was unarmed and saw three French sailors coming toward him carrying swords and axe and a boathook. Morris went for the stairs but was cut off. A Frenchman raised an axe in the air and Morris watched as the heavy blade came down on him.
Eddington was coming along the companionway for the stairs as shots could be heard being fired, men screaming and the smell of gunpowder was filling the air, along with the clang of steel. Eddington had his sword in his hand, Andling was behind him as they drew near the gangway, Marines were firing and fighting with French sailors as a terrible battle was going on in very tight quarters. The Marines were trying to regroup but there were too many French. Eddington was hearing screams in front of him as now the French were coming at him and Andling. Eddington was doing everything he could with his sword, but could only lunge in the narrow companionway. The French were pouring in on them now, dozens on the companionway and Andling was using only his bare hands to fight back. Eddington took a boathook in his right shoulder and was pushed against the wall, the pike end driven in deep and then he saw the glint of a dagger out of the corner of his eye. He looked away and saw Andling being stabbed repeatedly with other boathooks as he fell as Eddington felt the steel go to his throat.
Callum woke and looked over in the predawn light at Dustin lying on his side away from Callum. Callum watched him breathe as Dustin slept and wanted to touch him so bad. Their night together, making love, left Callum with such a feeling of love for him. He smiled softly and got out of bed quietly and got dressed, he picked up his boots and went to the door and went downstairs. He saw the dog on the little bed at Henry’s feet. The dog thumped his tail. Callum reached down and pat the dog on his head and went into the kitchen. He sat on the bench and put his boots on as Martha brought him over a cup of coffee.
“Is everything alright with you this morning?” She asked softly.
“I couldn’t help overhearing part of your conversation last night.” She said and then paused for a moment, “Perhaps I shouldn’t have said anything.” Martha said and started to turn back to the stove.
“Say what you like.” Callum said, “What of the conversation did you hear?”
“About your father. You being like him…” She said as she turned back toward him.
“Ah, yes.” Callum said. He picked up his coffee and sipped it, then set the cup down. She was waiting there where she stood, “There is a portrait at that house, of my father. When we first saw it, we all thought it was me.”
“I have told you before that you are the spitting image of him.”
“So you have.” Callum said and reached for his cup again. She stepped forward and put a hand on his shoulder, looking into his eyes.
“You are not him, do you understand? You could never be like him, ever. It is not possible.” She said and was very firm in her tone.
“Dustin seems to agree with you. It was quite upsetting to him, and he had very strong opinions about it as well.”
“Dustin and I share a great many things, especially our love for you, Quintan. We both also have deep trust in you and know you will never betray that trust or tarnish your heart. Proof of that is laying in the parlor, your son.”
“My son.” Callum said softly.
“He is your son, we all know that.” Martha said and leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead. Callum smiled softly. “And speaking of that…” She said as she looked at the doorway. The little one came in, the dog behind him. He walked up to Callum and leaned against his leg. Callum put a hand on the little back and he looked up at her and she smiled and raised an eyebrow. She reached down and touched the little head of hair and walked back to the stove. Henry laid his sleepy head on Callum’s thigh as Callum rubbed the little back slowly in small circles. He heard Henry yawn and Callum picked him up.
“Come on, it’s too early for you to get up. It’s not even light out yet.” Callum whispered as he carried him back to his bed and put him down in it, then covered him up, “It’s alright, you go back to sleep. You don’t worry, I’ll be right here, I’m not going anywhere.” Henry closed his eyes and nodded his head as he lay on his side. Callum bent down and kissed him on the temple. He went back to the kitchen and picked up his coffee cup. He went over and leaned against the counter next to her.
“You see what I mean?” She asked softly, “He hears your voice and he is right there.”
“I know. I think he’s just grateful that I brought him home with me.”
“It’s more than that, he loves you so.” She said softly. Callum smiled at her. He put a hand on her shoulder.
Holt woke next to Tomlin. The warmth of his body next to Holt felt so good to him as he woke with his head on Tomlin’s chest, his left arm draped across Tomlin’s stomach. Holt could hear the horses moving about in their stalls as his eyes began to focus in the dim light of the stable. He breathed in slowly, taking in the scent of this young man next to him along with the scent of the straw and horses. Holt smiled warmly and hummed his satisfaction quietly. He gently lifted his arm and slid away from Tomlin to get up.
He reached behind him and lifted the heavy blanket and stood, then let the blanket go back down to where it was. He looked down at his love as he continued to sleep then turned and reached for his clothes. He dressed quietly and went over to the closest stall, Dustin’s mare. She snorted softly as if trying to stay quiet for Tomlin’s sake of his sleep. Holt ran his hand over her, feeling her softness, and she stood still. He untied her and backed her out of the stall, turning her for the half doors. He reached over and unlatched them and opened one leading her out. He untied the lead and let her walk away to graze freely about the knoll. Holt looked over toward the rising sun, he could see the shimmer of the dew in the grass as the mare walked away, with her head down as she grazed along slowly.
He went in and took Owen’s mares, leading them out of their own stall, one at a time, doing the same for them as he did for Dustin’s mare, letting them graze freely. He watched them for a moment as they started for the top of the knoll where the addition of the house was being done. He knew that they would find new grass there from the torrential rains of a week ago. He went back and gathered a long coil of rope and went into the stall with the stallion.
He ran his hands over him, letting the stallion know that he was there with him and all was well. The stallion was quiet as he leaned slightly into Holt’s touch on him. The two had come to know one another quite well in this time that they had been together since Holt had been part of the stallion’s rescue in the destroyed livery. Holt thought to himself that it would be sad for him to see the stallion go back to stay at the livery as he had come to love him very much. Holt did not say a word as he had been touching him, and then untied him from the stall and led him outside. Holt walked him down toward the main road on the front corner of the property that bordered the new property next to them. Holt kept the lead in control to not let the stallion run as he knew he wanted to. He reached a spot near the bottom of the knoll in the wash where the grass was tall. He bent down and secured one end of the rope coil to the stallion’s fetlock and went to the stone fence where a post rose out of it and tied the other end securely. He dropped the coil in the grass which would give the horse a long lead in which to graze about as he removed the lead on the halter, putting it over his shoulder. Holt pat him gently and went toward the house.
“Here comes Christian, looks as if he’s put the horses out.” Callum said as he looked out one of the kitchen windows. He watched him as he came up the gentle knoll through the damp grass and went to the pump, pumping the handle a few times and washed his hands and face. Holt saw Callum through the window and smiled at him. Callum returned the smiled and set his cup down, reaching for a new one off the open shelf. He poured coffee for him and walked it to the table with his own cup as Holt came through the back door.
“Good morning, my Stable Master.” Callum said as he set the new cup down on the table.
“Good morning to you, my Squire.”
“And how are you on this glorious morning?” Callum asked quietly.
“I am quite exceptional this morning, thank you.” Holt said in a low voice as well, giving Callum a smile with a side glance.
“Not just exceptional, but quite exceptional. Really, I wonder why?” Callum asked knowing full well that he and Tomlin must have been doing what he and Dustin had up to most of the night. Callum chuckled and Holt blushed. “What are you up to today?” Callum asked softly as he sat down at the table.
“I need to go and check the post this morning to see if there is a reply yet from London to my request from the bank.”
“Ah yes, I nearly forgot about that.” Callum answered and watched as Holt went over to the stove and said good morning to her. Martha smiled warmly at him and reached up and cradled his cheek for a moment. Holt came back to the table and joined Callum in the next chair. Martha came over and set a plate down in front of Holt. He looked at it and then up at her and smiled.
“Thank you, my lady.”
“So very polite.” She smiled and said softly putting a hand on his shoulder, and then looked at Callum, who reached over and pulled her apron string with a grin. “Unlike you, you scamp.” She frowned and he chuckled.
Callum felt something next to him and looked down, seeing little Henry next to him. The little one was rubbing his eye with a little fist. Callum reached over and picked him up and set him on his lap, holding him close to him. Martha touched the little head and went back to the stove.
“I suppose you’re up for the day now?” Callum asked Henry, who nodded, “Alright, then go let your dog outside and you use the privy.” Callum said as he kissed the top of his head and set him on the floor. Henry walked over to the back door and he and the dog went out, closing the door behind him.
“It must a good feeling.” Holt said as he looked over at the door.
“To have a child?” Callum asked, “Yes, it is. The funny thing about that is that I never gave it any thought about having them up until I came across him in Portsmouth again. Once he said what he said to me about not eating for days at a time, it tore at me. I knew I had to do something for him, and now, he is…”
“The greatest feeling in your heart?” Holt asked as he looked at Callum. They met with their eyes and Callum nodded slowly, “I can see it within you. I only hope that one day, I can share that feeling myself.”
“You will, Christian.” Callum said as the back door opened, the little one coming back inside. Martha walked up to the table with two more plates, setting them in front of Callum, as Henry came back to him. Callum picked him up and set him on his lap again, and looked up at Martha, “Thank you, my dear.”
Tomlin and Holt came out of the post, Holt opening the large thick envelope. He pulled out the contents as they stood in the street. Tomlin was looking around seeing some of the people milling around going about their own business, most everyone smiling or waving politely at those that they knew, making Tomlin smile as this community seemed to be friendlier than his own home of Norwich, from what he could remember as a boy. He looked back at what Holt held and was reading.
“The administrator of the bank sent me a personal note along with the funds.” Holt said as he read it, his eyes went wide as he read further. Tomlin saw the look and Holt looked up at him with more than a look of concern, “Come on!” Holt said pulling Tomlin by the sleeve and started to walk quickly toward the Cross. They were stopped by a man that was coming out of the livery that was under reconstruction.
“Christian, what is it?” Tomlin asked.
“Morning, gentlemen. You are friends of the Captain, are you not?” He asked as he came up to them. Tomlin nodded to him, “Bockman has asked that I look over the addition to the Captain’s home as he is asking for a material list. Are you headed there now?”
“It appears that we are.” Tomlin said, looking at Holt, who seemed very anxious to be on their way again.
“We must get to Quintan, Thomas, quickly.” Holt said putting a hand to Tomlin’s arm, his voice almost desperate.
“May I walk with you?” The tradesman asked.
“Yes, but it seems that we are in a bit of a hurry, if that’s alright.” Tomlin said as he felt Holt pulling on him again. The three set off at a quick pace toward home. Holt took the envelope and put it inside of his shirt.
Dustin had risen out of bed and Martha had made him his breakfast and was cleaning up as Dustin had gone outside to help tend to the horses that were grazing. Callum and Henry were carrying water to fill tubs for the horses to drink. Dustin came and joined them near the stable as Callum had brought the stallion over as well. Owen’s mares were milling about, Dustin’s mare was following Henry and the dog about moving slowly along behind them near the outside far corner of the stable.
“I was thinking about the new property.” Dustin said as he was near Callum.
“What were you thinking?”
“You said something about a new barn, as I recall.” Dustin said as Callum was holding the lead for the stallion.
“Yes. I was thinking of that just this morning at breakfast with Christian and Henry. I asked Christian if he had any ideas about it as he seems so very experienced with horses.”
“He does, doesn’t he?” Dustin said, “And he rides so well. You know, it only took him a couple of minutes to explain to me how to jump the stone fence with the mare, that day we came to you in the pasture.”
“You don’t say. He does seem very skilled and doesn’t even give it a second thought as it were, almost as if it were a part of him, like walking.” Callum smiled.
“Exactly like that, yes.” Dustin said, looking at Callum, nodding. “Did he have any ideas about a barn?”
“He did, and some of them intrigued me. He described how he would lay it out, so there were stalls for any and all animals that might be sheltered there as well as rooms for hay and grain storage, keeping in mind to seal them against mice.” Callum said as he looked at the stallion just standing there not drinking from the filled tub. Callum pat him gently on his withers, “I wonder if Owen will coming here today to check on his pride and joy.”
“I doubt that.” Dustin said rather quickly and Callum looked over at him.
“Why do say that?”
“I think our dear Owen has rather given the care of the stallion to Christian as the two of them are quite familiar with one another now.”
“What do you mean?” Callum asked.
“Owen said something before they moved back into their home that he knew that the stallion was going to be cared for quite well if Christian were doing it, as Owen could see how the stallion feels about him.”
“He does have a way with him.” Callum said, he led the stallion into the stable and put him in his clean stall and tied him. Callum gave him a bit of grain, and closed the door of the stall. He came out of the stable and saw off in the distance on the road he could see three riders coming at a trot, the red of their uniforms made them noticeable against the green of the grasses and the blue of the sky.
“What is it?” Dustin asked as he saw Callum staring, he came over to Callum with an empty pail in his hand.
“I wonder.” Callum said softly, watching the riders that were merely red dots in the distance, “Uniforms.” Callum said and Dustin looked as well.
“Who do you think it is?” Dustin asked.
“I’m not certain.” Callum was still using his quiet voice as he stared, “But I don’t care for it.”
“Oh dear God, do you think…?”
“It is entirely possible. Let’s get Henry into the house.” Callum said not budging as the riders were coming closer, more visible now, and one clearly in the lead with the other two behind.
“Henry, come with me, my lad.” Dustin called out to him. Henry came and Dustin took him by the hand, “Let’s go see what Aunt Martha is up to, shall we?”
“Okay.” The little voice said behind Callum.
“Quintan?” Dustin asked as he looked over his shoulder as he walked with Henry.
“Coming.” Callum said as he started moving but kept his eyes on the riders.
They came through the back door, Dustin leading Henry by the hand and the dog following. Dustin picked Henry up and set him on the bench at the end of the table. Martha turned and saw them come in, seeing the looks on their faces as Callum closed the door behind him. She turned away from the stove in their direction.
“What is it?” She asked with wide eyes. Callum looked at Dustin, ignoring her for a moment.
“Dustin would you go upstairs and…” Callum stopped in mid-sentence looking at Henry, who was looking up at him with his bright brown eyes. Callum put a hand on his little head and looked over at Martha, who was wringing her hands in front of her now.
“What is wrong?” Martha asked again seeing the worried look on her face, Callum stepped to her and clasped his hands on her shoulders gently.
“There are men coming,” Callum said softly, “men in uniform. I have a feeling it’s Christian’s father. I want you to keep Henry in here with you while I deal with this.” Callum was trying to keep her calm, but she knew, knew of what The Earl had possibly done, and knew that there great danger with his arrival. “Keep him with you and safe, do you understand?” Callum asked softly, his look was intense and she nodded her reply. Callum turned and saw his little one looking at him, as he came close to him, he looked toward the doorway into the parlor, Dustin was at the door at the front of the house, watching through the glass of the door. Callum looked down at Henry. “I want you to stay in here with Aunt Martha, alright? Do not come out. I will return in a bit, do you understand me?” Callum asked and the little one nodded and looked afraid. Callum smiled and bent down and kissed his head.
“Quintan, they’re here!” Dustin called out from the door. Callum went through the doorway into the parlor coming up next to Dustin.
“Go upstairs and fetch my sword.” Callum said softly as he stared through the glass. Dustin looked at him for a second and saw the look, the look he had seen before on Callum’s face and he knew what it meant. Dustin bolted for the stairs. Callum stepped closer to the door as one of them dismounted and came through the gate, leaving it open. The brilliant red uniform was heavily decorated Callum could see, the boots he wore, knee high and heavy, his hand was on his sword pommel as he came up the path. Dustin came charging down the stairs carrying both of Callum’s swords, he handed one to Callum. “Stay here, at the ready, I will deal with this.”
“I will deal with this.” Callum said firmly and looked at him, as Callum opened the door and stepped outside. Callum straightened himself as he stepped out onto the path, his sword held by the scabbard in his left hand. “I would ask that you not come any closer, Colonel Holt.” Callum said in his voice of authority. The man in uniform stopped and narrowed his eyes. Callum could not see much resemblance between he and Christian, it was obvious that Christian must resemble his mother. Callum saw a scar running on Holt’s jawline, made by a blade for certain. His narrowed eyes seemed cruel and callous to Callum and with his manner of stance on the path, Callum thought that he must think highly of himself, an air of aristocracy about him.
“You know who I am.”
“Your rather dubious reputation precedes you, My Lord Earl. I don’t wish to seem rude, but your presence is not welcomed here, sir.” Callum said, still in his voice of authority.
“Dubious reputation? May I have your name before I cut out your slanderous tongue?” The deep voice growled.
“I am Quintan Callum.”
“I have heard of you. You have somewhat of a reputation for glory grabbing, at the expense of those around you.”
“I see, you have been talking to those that are in your same standing.”
“And what standing would that be?” The deep voice said, as his fingers regripped the pommel of his sword.
“Those of a jealous and slighted nature, men of a truly lesser quality.” Callum said as he stood his ground. He watched the eyes flash, going almost as red as the uniform.
“I am here to retrieve my worthless whelp of a son. Return him to me first, and then I will seek satisfaction with you.”
“Your son is now a member of my household and is under my protection,…My Lord Earl.” Callum bowed his head slightly not losing sight of him for a moment. Callum watched as the other two uniforms dismounted and dropped their reins on the stone fence, coming through the gate slowly, and their hands on their swords as well. Callum looked back at Holt, who was drawing his sword slowly, Dustin stepped out of the doorway and onto the step. Callum heard Holt chuckle.
“Under your protection?” The deep voice asked, “And what protection would that be, you and a boy?” Callum looked over his shoulder as the steel of Holt’s sword gleamed in the sunlight. Callum saw Dustin on the step, his left hand on the scabbard, the right on the pommel. Callum shook his head slightly at him and then looked back at Holt. “I will say this about you, Callum, you certainly have some brass. I will step over your corpse and take my whelp from your home, as he is probably cowering in or under your bed.”
“You underestimate him.” Callum said, as he swung his sword, throwing the scabbard off into the grass. “He has shown me great bravery several times.”
“Is that why you had to steal him from his bed?” Holt asked in his deep voice as he raised his sword.
“Only because you were cowardly enough to have to try and poison him, and rather than act like a man, you had to have a woman do your dirty work for you.” Callum said as he readied himself for what was coming. Holt growled deeply and charged, his eyes flashing with pure anger and murder. The blades clanged loudly as Holt swung downward, Callum blocking and then back swung, catching the red tunic and slicing into the fabric. Holt jumped back and looked down and growled again as he came at Callum swinging, Callum lifted his sword, blocking and pushed forward backing Holt a step down the path. Callum lunged, but was parried and Holt lunged himself, Callum blocking and then stepped forward, pressing an attack, backing Holt down the path a few more steps. Callum stayed with him, pressing against him further.
Tomlin and Holt were walking quickly, the tradesman was doing his best to keep up with them, having to take double steps to match pace. He had said that his name was Klein, as he was trying to engage them both in conversation, but they were focused on trying to reach the Cross as quickly as they could, Tomlin still not knowing what was going on. Holt thought he heard something as they were walking on the road, the tall stone wall of the village was to their right, and Holt stopped for a moment, holding up a hand, making them all stop. Tomlin listened for a moment and he and Holt looked at each other hearing the faint sounds of steel clanging. They both knew and started running. Klein started to trot after them and as they went over the slight rise in the road and could see Callum’s Cross in the distance, Tomlin and Holt stopped and watched, seeing the glint of steel and hearing the clanging, the red of uniforms. Klein caught up to them and looked as well, seeing two men engaged in a duel with swords, his eyes going wide.
“Quintan.” Holt said, and Tomlin started to run. Holt turned and grabbed Klein by the arms, “Go, get a doctor, there will be bloodshed here very soon. Go, quickly, please.” Holt said and let him go and ran after Tomlin. Klein turned and ran as fast as he could back toward the village.
“I was told by The Duke that you were quick to anger.” Callum said as he was being pushed up the knoll by an enraged Holt, as he was slashing over and over at Callum.
“Wellington,” Holt growled as he swung again, Callum blocking, “there is a man without courage.” He growled.
“I think not,…” Callum said as he blocked a downward swing and then lunged, but was blocked, “he is a man that goes out of his way to be honorable.” Callum huffed as he lunged again, Holt back swung and Callum ducked it, then jumped back a step.
Dustin was watching as Callum and Holt were going over the top of the knoll around the house, he had stepped forward as Holt’s seconds were following as well, Dustin pulled the sword he held as he watched the seconds, they both sneered and drew theirs.
“Brave but stupid, boy.” The closer one said, and turned toward Dustin now, “It will be easy to take you, young one, but I do hope you will at least last for a few minutes.”
“Why don’t we find out?” Dustin asked as he dropped the scabbard in the grass. Dustin looked and Callum and Holt had gone around the side of the house out of sight but could still be heard. Dustin held up the sword as the first uniform came closer, he touched sword tips and Dustin focused on his menacing eyes.
Klein was running so fast to get to the doctor as Holt had asked. He was running past the livery, some of the men looked up seeing him. Daultry, the giant of a man, was one of them as he had brought some timbers from the mill for the tradesmen to use. Owen was near him.
“Klein!” Daultry called out in his deep loud voice, Klein stopping but was wide eyed, his chest heaving, “What has happened, man?!”
“They,…are….fighting…” Klein was heaving and trying his best to answer pointing back in the direction he had come.
“Who?!” Daultry asked as he dropped the ropes he had in his hand, he was stepping forward.
“The Captain,…at Callum’s Cross,…they sent me,…for the doctor!” Klein was heaving.
“Uniforms!...trying to kill the Captain!” Klein ran away at his top speed. Daultry turned and Owen ran past him out of the livery. Daultry went to call after him but he was gone, he looked back at the others and then ran off behind Owen.
Tomlin came running through the gate as Dustin and the uniform were engaged in their combat. Dustin was doing everything he could to defend against the more powerful and experienced sword, trying to remember and use everything that he had seen Callum teach Holt during their one time practice out in the grass. Tomlin came charging up the path and the other uniform turned and lunged with his sword, running Tomlin through with his blade. Tomlin stopped as the blade went through him about half way, with mouth wide open from the shock and the pain. He reached out and put his hands on the uniformed shoulder and took in a half breath as the blade was pulled out back out, he looked at the face of the uniformed man, watching him as he curled his lips back in a sneer and Tomlin dropped to his knees and fell. Dustin saw it and lowered his guard for a moment, his attacker saw him look past and turned, seeing the body in the grass and turned back.
“Thomas!” Dustin screamed as the heavy pommel of the sword hit Dustin hard in the temple, spinning him face first into the grass and into blackness.
“NOOO!” Holt screamed as he came through the gate seeing Tomlin had been run through and drop, Holt dove at the uniform, knocking him to the ground. Holt had a hand on the wrist that held the sword, his other balled into a fist and he pulled back and was pounding the face under him. The other uniform came down away from Dustin as used his heavy sword pommel and hit Holt in the back of the head, Holt dropped his head a bit and then was hit hard again, knocking him off the other uniform.
Owen was running harder than he ever had before in his life, he came over the slight rise and saw Callum’s Cross, seeing the still forms laying on the grassy knoll and two red uniforms standing over two of those still forms, sheathing their swords. Owen’s chest burned and he was focused only on getting there to help his friends. He didn’t look back behind him, if he had, he would have seen Daultry gaining on him with his long strides.
Callum was backing across the backside of the knoll in the tall grass, Holt was growling even more as he was pressing his attack even further. Callum was sweating, but he was not tiring as the exertion of the chopping of the great trees had actually strengthened him. Callum was trying to let Holt wear himself out and then he knew he would make a mistake. Holt was older yes, but was obviously in good shape, and Callum knew he was a very experienced duelist, as he was matching move for move with Callum.
“You fight well, Callum.” Holt growled as he swung again, Callum blocked and lunged again, but was blocked himself. Holt back swung and Callum slipped in the wet grass, going off balance, Holt saw it and was on him, swinging again, catching Callum along his upper left arm. The cut was deep and Callum groaned at it, and backed up a couple of steps. Callum heard a muffled scream from inside the house, knowing it was Martha but he didn’t look.
Callum backed up again a couple of steps and went against the back of the roost, hard. He saw the flash of steel and ducked, the blade hitting into the wood of the roost where his throat had been. Callum pushed off the roost into Holt, knocking him backward across the tall grass, and Callum lunged as he stepped close with his opponent. Holt was blocking every lunge and swing as Callum was pressing him, making Holt go on the defensive. He pressed ever tighter to Holt and the wet grass was being trampled, making it even more slippery. Holt stood his ground, to not go off balance and the two began to pound blades against the other.
Owen charged through the gate and came up the rise as the two uniforms turned toward him as they now heard him, Owen tackling both of them to the grass. One of the uniforms rolled away and started to get up, when he looked left and saw the giant form lumbering up toward him. He reached and pulled his sword as the giant hand went around his throat and lifted him off his feet, snapping his neck in an instant. Daultry dropped the body and went toward Owen and the one he was fighting against. Dautry reached down and grabbed both Owen and the uniform, pulling them apart, Owen came up swinging and hit the uniform with two good punches. The uniform recoiled but grabbed his sword and pulled it, it was half covered in blood, but another hand stopped the uniform. Christian took the sword from him with both hands, stepped back a step and ran him through, going to the hilt with the blade. The uniform gurgled as Daultry held him up by the collar, and Holt went near eye to eye with him, and then spat in the dying face. Christian pulled the sword out and went to Tomlin, he put his hand on Tomlin’s back and felt it rise and fall slightly.
“Thank God, he’s alive.” Christian said and saw the blood on Tomlin’s left side and the hole in his shirt. Christian put his hand to Tomlin’s shoulder as he knelt by him, the tears welling in his eyes as Dautry dropped the body to the grass and set Owen down. Christian heard it, the clanging of steel and looked up, his eyes flashed, “Quintan.” He got to his feet, taking the sword and started running for the corner of the house, Owen was right behind him.
Callum was pushed back by Holt, making him slip in the grass again, Holt swung and slashed Callum across his upper chest below his left collarbone to his left shoulder going very deep, Callum groaned and spun away, another muffled scream came from inside the house and Callum staggered away from his attacker lowering his sword as he was slumping forward, clutching the deep wound with his left hand. Callum turned and saw him coming toward him as Callum weaved and dropped to his knees.
“Quintan!” Martha screamed from the back door. Holt came closer to him with a leer, raising his sword, pulling it back to thrust it into Callum.
“Papa!” Henry screamed. Callum held his breath as he saw the glint of steel with red on it. He knew he was done. Holt started to thrust but stopped, his eyes going wide, his sword tip dropped, and then he gasped, Callum saw a sword tip come through Holt in his middle, and he saw the fingers grip the shoulder from behind, then more blade came through him, and then he saw Christian’s face go to his father’s ear.
“Justice be done!” Christian growled loudly into the ear. Callum watched the body fall to the grass sideways as if it were like a tree. He slowly looked up and saw Christian and Owen standing there. He weaved a bit and let go of his sword dropping it in the grass.
“Christian,…” Callum said softly as the blood was pouring out of him. Owen bent down in front of him, taking him in his hands.
“Quintan, lie down.” Owen said softly as Christian stood there a moment and then turned away. Callum swallowed hard and blinked his eyes in a long motion. He focused and saw Martha coming beside him, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“My boy.” She said softly as she put a cloth to his deep wound holding it tight together.
“Dustin.” Callum whispered.
“What? What did you say?” Martha asked as she leaned forward. Callum swallowed hard.
“Dustin, where is he?” Callum whispered.
“I don’t know. We’ll find out.” Martha looked at Owen, who nodded and got up and ran off toward the front of the house.
“Does it hurt bad, Papa?” The little voice asked, and Callum looked over seeing the tears running from the little soft eyes.
“You called me, Papa.” Callum said softly, Henry nodded.
Dustin was rolled over and his eyes were starting to focus, a huge red bump with a cut was on his temple. He saw the giant face looking down over him and he let out a breath through his nose. He started to recall what was going on. He sat up and looked around. Owen looked at him.
“You alright?” Owen asked. Dustin put a hand to his temple and groaned.
“That man can hit.” Dustin said and started to get up. A huge hand grabbed him under his arm and lifted him to his feet in one motion. Dustin looked up at him and smiled briefly as Owen held him under his other arm. Dustin saw Tomlin and Christian in the grass below him and started toward them. He also saw the dead men in red uniforms. Dustin looked out on the road, he saw people coming from the village and a small carriage coming being drawn by a single horse. Dustin took a step, looking around and looked at Owen, “Where’s Quintan?”
“He is at the back of the house. Martha is tending him.”
“What?” Dustin asked in almost a whisper and got free of the two that held him, he ran toward the corner of the house. Owen and Daultry looked at one another.
“I’ll keep everyone away, go and see about him.” Daultry said as he pointed after Dustin.
Dustin came around the corner to the flagstone and stopped, Callum was on his back in the grass, his leg trying to bend at the knee and then falling back down, Dustin couldn’t see all of him as Martha was knelt beside him blocking his view. Dustin could see the body of the older Holt with a sword run through him lying in the grass near Callum’s feet. Dustin came toward him and stepped over the body stopping at Callum’s feet.
“There you are, my love.” Callum said quietly, covered in blood, Martha and Henry looking up at Dustin.
“Not again, dear Lord, not again.” Dustin whispered as he came over next to Henry and knelt down. “Quintan, help is coming.” Dustin said taking Callum’s right hand in his. “Henry, can you go and get some water in that pail and bring it here?” Dustin asked, the little one jumped up. Dustin scooted closer to Callum. “I wonder if it is now finally over.” Dustin smiled briefly. Callum nodded as he slowly closed his eyes.