Lies unearthed and a future won

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While he gaped, lost for words, she rested the back of her hand on his forehead, and picked up his wrist to feel for his pulse. "How is the head?" she asked. "Do you feel any pull from the stitches?"

David grabbed the hand before she could remove it. "Teri." He struggled to order his thoughts, but they slithered out his grasp and he could only cling to her hand as if she anchored him to reality instead of driving him out of his mind.

"Take your hand off her." Imanol's cold voice gave David words.

"She is my wife!" he declared at the same moment that Teri said, "Go away, Imanol."

"Your abandoned wife," Imanol sneered.

"No! Is that what you thought, Teri? No. I did not leave you. Not by my choice."

He had both hands now, but Teri had turned so pale he thought she might faint. Imanol must have thought so, too, for he came into sight, fetched a chair from the table under the window, and set it so that Teri could sit down.

"Perhaps I will not gut you yet, English. Not until you have explained. Ask your questions, Teresa." He stood with one hand on Teri's shoulder, and met David's glare with a slight smile.

"She is my wife," David said again, stressing the word my.

"They said we were not married." Teri's words were so quiet he had to strain to hear them. "They said I could not wed without my uncle's consent, and so our marriage was not valid. They said you must have known. Well, that is true, you were training to be a solicitor, so how could you not know?"

David was shaking his head. "Lies. All lies. Who told you such lies? That is why we went to Scotland, Teri. I told you, remember? Your uncle would not consent to our marriage, and in Scotland we did not need his consent. We were married. We are married."

Teri was nodding. "They lied," she confirmed, and she turned and looked up at Imanol. "They lied to me, Imanol. They said he was dead."

"Who is this 'they'?" David demanded.

"My uncle. Your mother. Mr Hemsworth. Richard."

"They told me you had left; run away with another man. And here you are," he glared at the Spaniard, "with him. Why did you not wait, Teri?"

Teri was shaking her head, tears filling her eyes, and it was Imanol who spoke. "For what, English, and how? Those she trusted said you were dead and a liar besides. Her mother had died, and your own turned her out when she refused to marry this oh so noble friend of yours. This Richard."

David, his mind reeling, had no words. All he could do was shake his head and hold onto Teri's hands, a grip she was now returning as if determined never to let him go again. His poor love. Abandoned and betrayed, or so she thought, then left alone with no one to turn to.

"How did you come to leave," Imanol asked. The hostility was gone from the Spaniard's voice, but David could hear it in his own as he told Teri, not the man who had taken her away.

"You remember I went to hire a post chaise for our return journey? The last thing I remember is going into the inn yard. When I was next aware, I was on a ship on my way to the Americas. They fished me from the sea, Teri, and I have no idea how I came to be there. I persuaded them to land me at San Miguel, the first place we stopped, but it took time to find a ship heading for England that would take me, and we hit heavy weather. I came as fast as I could, Teri." He clutched her hands convulsively as he relived the moment when his mother told him 'the Spanish whore has gone with one of her own kind, and good riddance'.

"I don't understand." Teri still drew her brows into a kissable crease when she was puzzled. "Richard asked all over Maryport. And then he went back to identify your body after it was washed up by the sea."

"Richard? He went to Maryport to find me?"

"I don't know what I would have done without him. You had our money, David. If Richard had not turned up that same night, I would have been at a stand."

David met Imanol's eyes over Teri's head. Richard. Richard was at every turn of this tale. Rescuing the abandoned wife. Consoling the grieving widow. Offering for the ruined orphan.

"And does he yet live in this village, hermano?" Imanol's voice was soft but lethally sharp, and Teri turned to him, startled.

"You do not think... but Richard was David's friend!"

Imanol gestured with his head, and she turned to David, who nodded. "He wanted you, Teri. But I never thought he would stoop to murder and lies. In the end, though, even with me out of the way, you did not choose him." That would explain the invective Richard heaped on her when David returned, words that broke what was left of their friendship and stopped only when David shut the traitor's mouth with his fist.

If he had known then...

"He enlisted with the dragoons and died last fall," David told Imanol.

"It is for the best," Imanol reassured him. "For honour would demand satisfaction, and there is the small matter of the French at present. All is well, then Teresa. I will leave you with your esposo and away to my men. Perhaps I will see you on my next visit, hermano. Be good to her or I shall gut you yet." His dark eyes gleamed with humour as he pushed away from the chair.

"Just like that?" The Spaniard was leaving the field to David? "Wait. What does it mean 'hermano'?"

The corner of Imanol's mouth quirked upwards at that, but he slid out of the room without comment.

"Brother," Teri said. "It means 'brother'. Imanol is my mother's son by her first marriage." She pulled back, mock indignant. "What did you think, David? That I had run off with another man?

He could have said that she had thought him false and a liar, but a week of marriage was enough to give him a small measure of wisdom, and instead he changed the subject. "Come here and give me a kiss, Teri. For I lost you, and now I have found you, and we have ten lost years for which to make up."

***

Graham Peters rejoined his regiment in Santander, recently liberated from the French. He'd been absent in the mountains for months, at first recovering, then supporting the guerillas. And his general was delighted with his work, and was sending him back up into the mountains. Just as well. He no longer had the shoulder strength to manage the work he had once done so easily, but he had become skilled at the repairs El Lobo needed to keep his equipment and his wiry mountain ponies functioning.

Captain and Mrs Markinson were taking ship to England from the Santander port—Mr Markinson, rather, for the thigh wound had turned putrid and—though Mrs Markinson's devoted care saved the leg—Markinson would walk with a pronounced limp for the rest of his life.

Peters would miss the Markinsons. He had moved out of the main house after Markinson got back together with his bride, but he still saw them daily. Indeed, when Markinson was at his sickest, Peters had taken over the school so Mrs Markinson could nurse her husband. A fine hash he made of it, but the children learned a little English, and he a little Spanish.

It had taken months before Markinson had been up and about again, though Mrs Markinson's silhouette hinted that he'd had energy enough for his bride.

Markinson was a lucky man, Peters thought, going home to England with a wife, a child on the way, and the promise of a new career in law. El Lobo had a friend who was a solicitor in London, and who had agreed to take Markinson on. "Take mi hermana away from this war, English," he commanded.

And so now Peters and El Lobo stood shoulder to shoulder watching the Markinsons being rowed out to the ship that would take them home, and climbing up the side, Mrs Markinson a little ungainly already with the coming child.

Mrs Markinson waved towards the shore, and Peters waved back. After a moment, El Lobo raised one hand in a lordly sweep across the air, then turned away.

"Come, Sergeant Peters. We have a war to win, you and I." 

****

That's it. This little tale will be part of my next collection of short stories, to be published in the middle of the year. Next week, I'll begin another.

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