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Constancy Unshaken

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It seems odd to Leonard Meryll, when he thinks about it, and he has plenty of time to think about it: that he, the hero of field and campaign, should be skulking about the back streets of London town, lying low in the upper back room of a filthy tavern, while Fairfax, the fugitive, struts around Tower Green as bold as one of the Tower's own ravens.

Fairfax will be pardoned. Meryll's father and his sister will admit to their part in the plot. Sir Richard Cholmondeley will report it all to the King, who will find it hilarious, and welcome the real Leonard Meryll to his rightful place.

Surely that is how it must happen. Surely. If not, it is the noose for all of them. Traitors such as they will not merit even the mercy of the block.

He would give his life for Fairfax – did he not say that he would? He only wishes that they had, between them, thought of a plan that did not hold the possibility of his spending the rest of his life in hiding. But then the alternative is not appealing.

It is just possible that he can deny it all. Perhaps he has been set upon by bandits on his way home from the wars; perhaps even now he is lying sick in some foreign hospital. Perhaps he has forgotten his own name and that he was ever destined to become a Tower Warder. Perhaps he will make a miraculous recovery and come home to the acclamation he deserves.

But no: if there is no one who knows that Colonel Fairfax is not Leonard Meryll, then there is equally no one who knows that Leonard Meryll is Leonard Meryll. And even if that were so, what of Father? What of Phoebe? There can be no such excuse for them.

He calls for another draught of ale, and asks what news from the town. Really? And the Tower? Nothing?

The innkeeper remarks that his honour seems mighty interested in the Tower.

Meryll curses under his breath. It cannot be long now until Fairfax's escape is discovered. And, if Fairfax can be taken for him, he can be mistaken for Fairfax. He had been staying close, hankering after news, but he is bound to admit now that he would do well to get away from London, and from the men who will be looking for a soldier whose face no one knows.

He is a fool to pass so close to danger as he leaves, but he cannot resist the pull of the gaunt stone Tower that was once his home, and might yet be again. Then he sets his face to the south, and as the moon rises, swimming in mist, he begins his long walk.

From behind him, there comes the sound of a shot.