“What do you mean, the general isn’t here?” Jeremy felt his stomach sink to his toes as he addressed Major Andrew Clark, the officer currently in charge of General Lafayette’s camp. “Where is he?”
The four of them – Henry, Isak, Nicholas Knighton and him – had entered Lafayette’s camp and made a beeline for the Frenchman’s tent. Jeremy noticed that Nicholas appeared decidedly relieved as he left the dawning morn behind to duck into its darkened interior, and had wondered why at the time – then he remembered Henry’s words about the professor’s ‘condition’.
‘Professor Knighton suffers from a rare disease which renders him unable to sustain long exposure to the sun. If he cannot remain indoors or in a shadowed place during the daylight hours, a severe bleeding occurs under his skin, as well as swelling, faintness, and an inability to breathe. These reactions are life-threatening.’
They were as well, he knew, the sign of one who was ‘undead’.
Jeremy scowled. This entire episode was unnerving. Now even he was thinking in terms of myth and superstition. He shook himself and pinned Major Clark with narrowed eyes. “Well, where is the general?”
“He left yesterday in search of you, Jeremy, and the others,” Clark answered. “I was just as surprised to see you three arrive without him.”
“Is Gilbert….” Nicholas Knighton stepped forward. “I take it General Lafayette is well accompanied? A contingent of soldiers – or more – travel with him, I trust.”
Major Clark eyed Professor Knighton as if wondering who he was and what right this stranger in their midst had to question him. But with a nod from Jeremy, he replied, “The General tends to be a bit…well….” The major resisted sighing. “General Lafayette is a man who makes his own decisions, and those who are under his command are compelled to abide by them.”
“In other words, he ran off on his own?” Nicholas’ pale blue eyes sought Jeremy’s gaze. There was fear in them. “Jeremy, this is most unfortunate. The danger to Gilbert is immense.”
Clark was instantly alert. “What danger? What do you know?” The soldier added with a snarl, “Does this have to do with that monster, LaCroix?”
Nicholas moved into the center of the tent. Jeremy noticed with curiosity that he was careful to avoid the beam of rapidly advancing sunlight that fell through the crack in the tent door. “What do you know of LaCroix?” Knighton asked.
Clark bristled this time. “Who is this man?” he demanded.
Henry, who had remained silent up to now, stepped forward. “A professor and friend of mine, Andrew, come newly from Massachusetts. Nicholas is one of the men LaCroix has pursued. He has come to help us.”
Isak nodded agreement from the corner of the tent he occupied.
“I have certain…knowledge,” Nicholas said softly. “I know this man. I know how to stop him.”
“What has this – what has LaCroix to do with the General? We were told the man targets civilian agents of the Cause, not military,” Clark said.
“It is all a game to Lucien. Today he fights for the British,” Nicholas spread his hands wide. “Tomorrow, if it took his fancy, he would kill them and fight for you.”
“Then he is a mercenary?” Clark asked.
Professor Knighton paused. Then he nodded once. “A mercenary whose price is met with blood.”
Clark either missed or chose to ignore Nicholas’ unusual choice of words. Jeremy did not. They echoed through his being, bringing a chill, even as the major continued to speak. “Well, even if LaCroix could be bought, there is not enough money in the whole of the colonies to do so.” Major Clark turned and picked up his sword and began to buckle it on. “But that is a trouble for another hour. We need to find the General and Sergeant Boggs and see what if anything has happened to –”
As the major spoke a commotion broke out in the camp, so loud it silenced them all. Jeremy pivoted on his heel and headed for the tent opening with haste, intent on finding its cause.
It perplexed him when Henry stepped in the way and barred him from reaching the door.
“Henry, what is this?” Jeremy demanded.
His friend ignored him. Henry’s eyes remained fixed on the professor. “Nicholas?” he asked, as if seeking permission.
Jeremy turned to look at the elegantly dressed man. Nicholas Knighton had shifted further into the darkness that filled the tent, literally hugging its deepest shadows. “I will be fine, Henry,” he said softly, “go about your business – but return to me with any news.”
Frowning as he turned back, Jeremy sought Henry’s gaze. The apothecary’s brown eyes were curiously blank – like those of a man one catches just on the edge of sleep. “Henry?” he asked, laying his hand on the other man’s shoulder. “Are you all right?”
“Everything’s fine, Jeremy,” Henry answered as he stepped aside and permitted him to reach the tent door. “Just fine.”
“I’ll stay here,” Isak Poole said as Jeremy threw open the tent’s flap. Jeremy turned and looked back and noticed that the black man had taken a defensive position in front of the professor, as if making certain the intruding rays of the sun did not penetrate the tent’s interior to reach his masked form.
Once outside Jeremy had little time to ponder the meaning of his friends’ actions. The camp was in an uproar. Soldiers were yelling – shouting orders for aid and ale. The camp doctor had been called for and a man was reporting him no where to be found – which occasioned even more cries of consternation and concern. Jeremy squinted against the rising sun to see what was the matter. Then he found it – two forlorn figures at the midst of the storm.
Sergeant Boggs had returned – supporting, almost half-carrying an extremely pale and obviously ill Marquis de Lafayette.
“Dear God, sir!” Jeremy exclaimed as he pushed through the crowd of soldiers and arrived at their side. “Sir?” When Lafayette failed to answer, he turned to Sergeant Boggs and asked, “What happened?” Jeremy had noted the bandage on the general’s neck, and seen the dried blood crusting at its edges.
As Boggs shook his head, the older man’s concerned gaze flicked to the men surrounding them. Then he said, loud enough for all to hear, “The General took a spill, Jeremy. A branch caught him in the neck. It looks much worse than it is.” Boggs nodded with relief as Jeremy slipped in and helped to support the ailing Frenchman. “All he needs is some rest.”
“Henry is here, Daniel. He can take a look at the wound.”
Boggs nodded again and muttered under his breath as they began to move. “All is not well, Jeremy. We need to get Lafayette inside.”
As they continued toward the tent, Jeremy looked hard at his friend and commander. Lafayette had never sported much of a tan – in fact the young Frenchman seemed pale by nature – but any color he had possessed had drained away, leaving him pallid and white as a winding sheet. As he examined him, Lafayette stirred and met his worried gaze. The General favored him with a weak smile and a softly spoken, “Mon ami….”
“We’ll have you inside in a moment, sir,” Jeremy answered, and then called out, “Henry!”
Henry was standing near the tent. His eyes had been on its interior, but when he heard Jeremy’s voice he turned and, for the first time, seemed to notice the drama unfolding before him. As if some physician’s instinct was roused by the sight of the wounded man, Henry seemed to snap out of whatever dream he had been treading and rushed to their side.
“General! What happened?” Henry hovered close beside them as they walked, his fingers reaching for the soiled bandages. “Were you attacked?”
The Frenchman shook his head. “I do not…remember.”
As he spoke they arrived at the tent. Major Clark stood close by the door. The officer saluted and then looked to Lafayette for orders. What he found must have given him pause, for even though he addressed the General, Clark’s eyes were on Sergeant Boggs as he spoke. ”Are there any orders? …Sir?”
Lafayette lifted his head but said nothing.
“Just keep guard,” Boggs replied quickly as they ducked inside.
Major Clark nodded and palmed his pistol and then took a position before the tent opening as their small party made its way into the darkened interior. Once inside Sergeant Boggs deposited Lafayette on his cot and then went to fetch him some water. Before he could reach the bowl and ewer, however, Nicholas Knighton’s voice echoed from the darkness.
“What has occurred? Sergeant Boggs, isn’t it?”
Boggs looked, first at Jeremy with puzzlement, and then at the stranger emerging from the shadows. “And who is it that is asking?” he replied, his tone curt.
“It’s all right, Daniel,” Henry said quickly as he sat by Lafayette and began to peel the crude bandage away, “you can trust Professor Knighton. He’s an old friend of mine, and a supporter of the Cause.”
Boggs looked dubious. But then Daniel was as fierce as a father when it came to his young charge. “Professor Knighton?”
Nicholas stepped out of the shadows and held out his hand. Jeremy noticed as he advanced into the room that Isak, who had remained silent as a shadow near the tent door, stepped forward and tightly fastened the laces, closing the opening and shutting out the light.
As Boggs took his hand, Nicholas smiled that smile – the one that could have charmed King George into giving up the colonies without a fight – and said, “What Henry says is true, but there is more to recommend me. If you will permit….” With his free hand, Nicholas indicated the general. “Gilbert and I are acquainted.”
Sergeant Bogg’s scowl deepened. “Gilbert?”
At his name, Lafayette’s head came up. The Frenchman’s aspect startled Jeremy. It was as if all of the vitality and energy that were inherent in the man had been sucked out of him and he had been left an empty shell.
“My name,” Lafayette asked, his voice unnaturally weak. “Who is it speaks my name?”
Nicholas moved to the cot and sat on the side of him opposite Henry. He laid his hand on Lafayette’s arm and said softly, “You will not remember me, Gilbert, but I remember you. My name is Knighton. Nicholas Knighton.
“I knew your father.”
The world was spiraling down – ever down into unending darkness. A leaden fatigue had overtaken him which he could not shake. A sense of doom – impending, inescapable – made his steps leaden, and each action useless. As he and Sergeant Boggs had approached the camp, as the sun had risen on the new day, Lafayette had felt no flicker of joy, no sense of relief, no happiness to be home. This was not where he wanted to be. That was somewhere else – with someone else –
He had no idea who.
While on the road he had tried to escape from Daniel Boggs, heading into the fields for a destination he could not name. Once Daniel had caught him, he had been overwhelmed by a sense of shame. He was out of control. He was losing himself.
He was losing his mind.
Lafayette shook himself now and turned to stare at the blond stranger who had spoken to him. When he did, it seemed he saw him with someone else’s eyes. A name came to him. Not a name he knew, but one his grandmother had whispered in her prayers.
“Nicholas?” he asked.
The man smiled – a disarming smile edged with concern. And then he nodded. “Yes. Gilbert. It has been many years. I am surprised you remember.”
He wasn’t certain he did. And yet, both face and voice were familiar. “You were taller,” he said stupidly.
Nicholas laughed. “You were younger. Much younger. No more than two or three.”
“That must have been quite an impression you made,” Jeremy remarked softly from close by. “General, this is Nicholas Knighton. A friend of Henry’s. A professor from Harvard.”
Jeremy did not sound convinced. Lafayette watched the pale blue eyes of the blond man next to him flick to Jeremy’s face, but it was only seconds before they were locked on him again.
“Gilbert,” Nicholas Knighton said, his tone even…calm. “What do you remember?”
It was a good question.
What did he remember?
The vision of his dream rose before Lafayette’s eyes. “A warm night. An open window. My mother beside it with the moonlight in her hair,” the Frenchman answered with a sigh.
Nicholas nodded. “What else?” he prompted.
Into the vision came a man – blond, handsome, with the face of an eternal child. In other words, Nicholas Knighton. Lafayette watched Nicholas put his arms around his mother’s shoulders and hold Julie du Motier as she broke down and sobbed. “She is crying,” he said.
“Do you remember why?”
Silence reigned in the tent. No one spoke. Henry sat, frozen, beside him. The apothecary’s fingers were on his wrist, checking for a pulse. Jeremy stood close by, arms crossed in defiance – or denial. Isak remained, mute, by the tent door while Daniel lingered by the table, the heavy pewter ewer in his hands.
“Gilbert. Look. See.” Knighton’s tone was hypnotic; his command not to be denied. “Remember.”
Lafayette closed his eyes and entered the vision, becoming a little boy again. He felt his grandmother take his hand and draw him away from the room where his mother wept. He saw the older woman kneel before him.
“This man, a friend of your father’s, comes with bad news,” his grandmama said. “Michel is dead.”
Lafayette remembered wondering at the time who that was.
He opened his eyes and met the worried gaze of the familiar stranger who sat beside him. “You were there,” Lafayette said, “the night my mother found out that my father had been killed.”
Nicholas nodded and admitted with a sigh, “I was there. On the battlefield as well. There was nothing I could do to save him.”
“And so you came in penance to tell her, but….” Lafayette blinked. He seemed to recall an earlier vision – the one he had spoken of to his aide. “But you were there earlier, at Chavaniac. I can see you – from the cradle.”
Professor Knighton laughed and glanced at the others as if to see who was paying close attention to their words. His boyish face fell when his eyes lighted on Jeremy. Turning back, he said softly, “No, Gilbert. You are mistaken. It was only the once. Hear me, it was only once. That was someone else.”
Lafayette blinked and the face seen from the cradle altered, becoming another man’s – dark haired, tall, and ancient as the great oaks that circled the estate. “Someone else,” he echoed woodenly.
Nicholas’ hand went to the wound on his throat. For a moment he examined it, and then let out a sigh of relief. His fingers lingered on the gash as though -- by sheer will -- he might make the torn skin mend. Then, leaning close, Nicholas spoke words that only Lafayette could hear.
“Forget,” his silken voice insisted, “forget her. You are meant for greater things. Janette has no control over you. Neither does her master. Forget.”
Lafayette blinked and forced his eyes to focus. Then he shook himself and, for the first time, seemed to wake from a dream. He was still exhausted and raw with fatigue, but suddenly – inexplicably – it felt as if he could recover. His hand went to his throat and he was startled to find that the wound was less ragged, as though it had already begun to heal.
He turned and sought his ‘physician’s’ gaze. Henry was looking at Nicholas Knighton. As Nicholas nodded, the apothecary quickly applied a fresh linen bandage to the wound and tied it tight, finishing with a flourish and a hastily spoken, “There you go, Sir. Leave that in place for a few days. Then all should be as right as rain.”
Jeremy Larkin shifted uncomfortably as he watched the exchange. But before he had a chance to say anything, Knighton rose and faced him, opening his hands wide as if to show there was no weapon – no threat to be found in him.
“So you see, Jeremy, what I said was true,” Nicholas insisted. “I am no stranger to your general. Now will you trust me?”
There was something here Jeremy did not think was true – though he knew not what it was. He looked from Henry to Isak – both standing like loyal dogs ready to do their master’s bidding – and back to the elegantly dressed stranger who called himself Professor Nicholas Knighton. Then he glanced at the tightly laced tent opening and at the small dotted line of sunshine running across the floor. A thought flashed through his mind – too ridiculous to contemplate – and then Jeremy returned his gaze to General Lafayette who was rising from the cot and standing under his power for the first time since his arrival in the camp.
“Sir, what do you say?” Jeremy asked as the young Frenchman reached for the cup of water offered by his aide.
Lafayette downed the drink in one gulp and then asked for more. “I say the time for talk is over. It is time for action – and for strategy. We are all together at last. And safe for now. But that is not long to be, not if this man, LaCroix, has his way.”
“I can help you with that,” Nicholas offered softly. “I know what LaCroix wants, and it is an end to the Rebellion.”
Jeremy had held his tongue long enough. He grew tired of intrigue and subterfuge. “Tell the truth, Professor!” he demanded. “It is not the end of the Rebellion this man wants, but the end to a rebellion of one – is this not so? This is personal. Between you and LaCroix.”
Henry rose to his feet, instantly angry. “Jeremy, attacking the professor will get us nowhere. You know of the Rebel leaders’ deaths. How can you suggest such a thing?”
It didn’t make sense, but somehow he knew it was true. Yes, rebels were dying. Yes, even Lafayette it seemed was threatened. But there was something more here, something – as Knighton himself had said – some sort of a dangerous, deadly ‘game’ in which they had all inadvertently become pawns.
“Professor? What is your answer to Henry’s question?” Jeremy asked. Regardless of what he thought of Knighton’s motives, he felt the man was not a threat to them – at least at present – and that, perhaps, he could even be a help. “Are the rebel leaders in danger here? Or is the threat only to you?”
Nicholas Knighton was silent for a moment. When he spoke, his words hung in the air like the smell of ozone before a storm. “There is a very real danger, to the rebel leaders and most of all, Jeremy, to you – Captain Yankee Doodle. The battle between LaCroix and myself goes back many, many years, but it is not waged in a locked room or within a cloistered space – LaCroix will compromise and corrupt and kill whoever and whatever he needs to in order to draw me out. In order to make me…his own.” Nicholas approached him and when he spoke his tone was normal – with no attempt to coerce or influence him. “We need each other, Jeremy. I can save you, and perhaps you – in turn – can save me.”
“What is this man to you? This LaCroix?” he asked.
Knighton’s lips smiled but his eyes betrayed him.
He was afraid.
“LaCroix?” Nicholas answered. “He…made me what I am. But as your nation, which struggles for its own identity, I do not choose to become what he would make of me. Power, control, manipulation, these are Lucien’s gods. I left him and he will not have it. I joined your Cause, because in it I see what I strive to be – liberated, free…whole once again.” Nicholas paused. “I told you the Seven Years’ War was the blade that finally parted us….”
“Yes,” Jeremy agreed.
Nicholas turned and looked at Lafayette who was dousing his face with cool water and accepting a fresh shirt from Sergeant Boggs. Then he drew closer. “I stood with Gilbert’s father on the battlefield at Minden and watched Michel Du Motier cut down in his prime – a young man of no more than twenty-five – with a wife and child at home. And for no more reason than he was my friend.”
Jeremy paled. “LaCroix?”
Nicholas nodded. “It was his hand that did the deed. I came here, I will admit, in hopes of escaping my own doom – but now it is tied up with Gilbert’s. Jeremy, I need your trust – and your help – not only for my sake, but for his. You saw the mark on his neck?”
Jeremy shook his head. “You do not claim…?”
“No. It is not the bite of the vampire, but it is the mark of, shall we say, a vampire’s attention? LaCroix knows he is here and he will not rest until General Lafayette is dead.”