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Hello! I'm swathed in my new fleecy Disney dressing gown, emblazoned with a pic of Eeyore on the front, and hearts around the hem. I look like an idiot, but I feel warm. :D It's darn cold in Welsh Wales, tonight.

So here, my dears, is the next part of BS, as luckily LSR's putie was working for a short time. Hope you like it. Can you guess who is/are guilty, yet?

Bet you're all wrong! I certainly was, and I'm writing it!! ;D



Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] ladysunrope for beta, as always.


Part - 24


Dom and Elijah crashed through the infirmary's treatment room doors, to find the place in an uproar. Two of Ian's orderlies were racing about with tubes, and bowls of water, whilst Ian and the two doctors were working feverishly over the prostrate form of a young man.

Ian held up a hand as they approached. "He cannot as yet speak to you, Highness," Ian said, formally, as others were present, so they moved to a bench set against the wall as Ian continued trying to save a life.

There was another man sitting on a bench opposite theirs. A man dressed as all were, in night gear, quietly surveying the drama unfolding before his eyes. Basmin Singh.

Dom beckoned his mother's cousin over, and he came slowly, as if weariness informed every limb. There was a chair next to the bench, and Dom pulled it forward, gesturing the man to sit.

"How is it that you are here before us?" Dom asked, his voice tinged with suspicion. "Your rooms are even farther away from this place than are mine."

Basmin ran a hand over his face, and then looked straight into Dom's eyes. "I was here, already, Highness," his voice was low with concern. "This man is one of my personal sais. It grieves me greatly to see him caught up in such a plot. I knew his father well; he was a friend of the father of Duleep Singh."

Dom glanced at the activity on the treatment table. It seemed less frenetic, and therefore, the room was quieter. Dom lowered his voice. His question was to the point. "Why were you here, Basmin Singh?"

Basmin glanced towards Ian before he spoke. Dom saw his grandfather smile, and nod slightly, as if Basmin had asked him a question.

"Ian and I are lovers, Udom Singh," Basmin revealed, in a whisper, leaving Dom almost breathless with shock. "We have been together since before you were born, but no-one knows of it. I was in his bed when the guards came running, carrying the poor lad."

Basmin glanced at Elijah, to find the young man smiling at him. He addressed Dom, although he continued to look at Elijah. "We care very much for each other, just as do you and Prince Elijah, my lord."

"Does Ian think he will live?" Elijah asked, as the activity at the table increased once more.

Basmin shook his head. "Who can say? Ian says it is poison, but which poison he cannot, as yet, tell."

Ian had wiped his face, and sent the two doctors and the orderlies out of the room. He called Dom forward. He looked anxiously at his grandson, and then at the man who was lying near him. "He cannot live; he knows this, for I have told him. Pritam - here is your king. He has a question to ask of you."

Dom bent low over the dying man's form, speaking clearly. "Pritam, I am Udom Singh. Is there anything you can tell me that will help me to find the traitors? A name, perhaps. I am willing to care for your family, if you have one."

Dom hated saying this; he would have looked after them in any case. But he thought it might help, and they needed help. Urgently.

The man's eyes were glazing over, but his lips moved. "Duleep Singh...and...and..." Dom put his ear next to the man's lips, and heard, spoken with the man's last breath, a name. It was too quiet for any of the others to hear.

Dom straightened up, and sighed, closing his eyes as if in momentary pain but he said nothing. Dom glanced at Ian and Basmin. "Thank you, Dada-ji, for trying to preserve his life, and not only because his live testimony would have been helpful to me. His family, if he has one, will be cared for.
There is nothing more that can be done tonight. What I have learned will keep until later. Good-night, Dada-ji - cousin. There are a few hours left until we must rise. Try to rest. The day ahead will be difficult."

As they walked along the corridors back to Dom's rooms, Dom whispered the name that Pritam had revealed with his dying breath.

Elijah had expected it, but it made things no easier. Knowing was one thing - proving it was another.

*

Despite everything, the two men slept until seven. Breakfast was served to them in bed. Gafur's deputy brought it in on a tray. "Gafur said he will be in attendance later, Highness, but for now he was still slightly weak from the sickness. He asks that you pardon him."

Dom bowed his head, as Elijah poured the tea. "Convey my regards to Gafur, if you please. I shall look forward to seeing him, later, and in better condition than he was in last night. Pray ask Dr Ian Sahib, when he rises, if he attended Gafur as I requested last evening."

Dom sipped the tea, thoughtfully. "I wonder what it was that caused such a sudden sickness in Gafur, Lij? I have heard of no-one else who has been struck down by it. I asked Fadi. You do not think it could have been...poison, do you?

Elijah, buttering his toast, paused, his knife suspended in mid air. "I rule nothing out, my love. This case is complex - there may be many hidden parts to it that may never be uncovered."

They had just finished eating, and had risen from bed, when there was another tap on the bedroom door. "Come!" Dom said, loudly, and Ian came in, looking tired. He embraced his grandson, and patted Elijah on the arm.

He sat as Dom indicated, and twisted his head from side to side as if the muscles had all stiffened in his neck.

"It is not about the death last night of which I wished to speak, Udom Singh, but something else which may have a bearing on the case. There was no opportunity to speak of it, earlier, but, now, having thought about it carefully, I think I understand what it means."

Dom pulled his dressing robe tightly about him, and sat on the bed with Elijah, listening carefully to what Ian had to say. His face was grim, and so was Elijah's as Ian spoke, but a spark lit in Elijah's chest, as Ian came, faltering, to a close.

"And this is how Osman was poisoned...and the man last night?" Dom asked, his voice unsteady.

Ian bowed his head. "I fear so, Highness. It was bothering me, so I looked it up this morning, after Basmin left to see Pritam's family - a wife and four small children - and found that I was correct. It seems obvious to me, now. And to think, if circumstances had been different, I never would have had the opportunity to see it, for although it is found in the Punjab, it is not well known in this region."

He opened the book he was carrying and showed both men a drawing. "This is it. Deadly poisonous, given in the right doses. Warriors in ancient times used to dip their arrows in the juice, it says here. I have seldom before come across it, but now, I'd know it anywhere."

Although Dom was looking wearied, and very troubled, Elijah, not being so closely connected to events, began to see the news as fresh evidence.

He touched Dom's hand. "Do not grieve, Dom. They would have you dead, after all. Think on that."

"It will seem a long time until two o'clock," the king breathed, softly.

"Then let us walk in the gardens, Dom. There will be no-one there, as you ordered all to be locked in - but we can go there, and remain there, undisturbed, for as long as we wish."

"Thank you, Dada-ji," Dom said, embracing Ian as he left. "That is a great help to us, and might, indeed be the last word in the matter. We will see you at two, then, when you may tell all present of your findings." It was clear that Dom wished to be alone with Elijah, to talk things over. As soon as they had bathed and dressed, they went out into the bright morning sun.

*

"The rains will come soon," Dom remarked as they wandered through the gardens. "See how heavily the clouds sit upon the mountains."

Elijah tucked his arm through Dom's, and moved closer. "We shall have plenty of time, then, to get to know each other better. My uncle told me that when the rains come, one cannot go outdoors for two months without being soaked to the skin."

Dom smiled. "I am certain that in the city that umbrellas protect people from the falling rain - it is the rain pooling underfoot that soaks. Still, I am sure he rides everywhere in his carriage and has servants hovering beside him with huge umbrellas to protect his important personage." His tone was acerbic. Elijah wondered at it.

"It seems you do not care for my uncle, Udom Singh. Now, why may that be?" He drew Dom to a bench beside the path, and they sat within the shade of some trees surrounded by rhododendrons.

Dom considered his words before he spoke. "He is, and I think always has been, a pompous lobcock. Your brother reminds me very much of him, you know. I..." After a short struggle with himself, Dom refrained from making his next comment, but asked, instead, "do you like him?"

Elijah, who was enjoying himself looking about at the various plants, laughed. "By no means. He is as stuffy as my father, even if they are only related by marriage. And Cecil is very like..."

Elijah gripped Dom's arm. "Look!" he said, pointing to a spot a few feet away. "Well, good God! One begins to see things everywhere, when one knows..."

After a few more minutes they went back inside, and spoke to Ian. Then they went to the library, and looked things up in many books, until they were summoned to luncheon.

As they prepared to leave the book-strewn room, Elijah thought of something that had niggled at the back of his mind. "Dom, the letter purported to be from Basmin Singh to Portman, mentioned 'The Hand of Farisa'. Who - or what - is Farisa? Do you know?"

Dom stopped, and shook his head as if trying to dislodge an unwelcome thought. "Farisa was my late wife, Lij. The mother of young Udai and Mooma, as you know. I do not know why anyone taking against me would use her name. I was very fond of her. We grew up together. She was...she was - oh, God! Basmin's youngest sister."

They sat back down for a few minutes, trying to work things out, and were interrupted, in their musings, by Lord Cecil, who came in, his chest stuck out like a pouter-pigeon, and full of righteous indignation. He bowed, rather stiffly, to Dom.

"It has come to my attention, Highness, that there is to be a meeting, after luncheon, at which many people, including David Wenham, and even Sergeant Hill - are to be present. I represent Her Majesty, the Queen, and I am astonished that I have not been invited. I take the greatest exception to being excluded..."

Dom was just about to lose his royal temper, when he glimpsed Elijah's eyes, and found them to be brimming with glee. He cocked an eyebrow. "The Plan?" he asked. "Now, Lij?"

"Oh, definitely now, Dom Singh. Most definitely, now."

Dom turned an amiable expression towards Cecil's fulminating form. "Lord Cecil, I have a task for you, if you will vouchsafe to undertake it. There is an area of my demesne which needs careful scrutiny. I am not certain that everything there is conducted according to my wishes. Would you undertake to examine it, and report on it, say, in seven day's time? I would be much obliged to you. You, being a stranger, will have the advantage of surprise and your wealth of experience will be of great use to both of us."

Cecil's chest swelled even further. "I would be honoured to undertake this task on your behalf, Highness, for..."

Dom interrupted him. "You may start immediately. I know, from my own experience, that they serve an excellent luncheon."

Elijah and Cecil followed Dom to the wall, where Dom beat an imperious and complicated tattoo on the thick oak panel. The door swung open, and the old door guard, opening it, bowed low.

"My old friend," he said to the bowing man. "Here is Lord Cecil, Prince Elijah's brother. I am leaving him in your excellent care. Ah, Brian!" he called, as the head of the male harem approached. "Have a good care to Lord Cecil. He will be with you for a week. Make sure he has a delightful time, and inspects all the facilities. I shall come for him. Do not let him leave, I beg you, until I come."

Lord Cecil stood staring, his mouth agape, at the new arrival dressed in a long, green silk skirt, his chest bare, his red hair sprinkled with gold dust. "To hear is to obey, Highness. Honoured Sir, come with me, if you please."

Cecil turned to Dom to protest, but all he saw was the door closing behind him, and the click of the lock. "I say...." he began.

Dom and Elijah leaned against the closed panel and laughed. "Oh, wonderful! Your brother has the happy knack of making me laugh. The expression on his face! - and a week with all those beautiful and nubile men..."

They composed themselves with difficulty, and hurried off to luncheon.

No-one else was present, so they ate what they could, and retired to the chamber where all were commanded to assemble, until the ormolu clock struck two, and the people were let in.

Dom had had the furniture moved against the wall, and a large table put in the centre of the room, where everyone was invited to sit. Dom was placed at the head of the table with Elijah to his right. Arjit, Basmin, Osman, Vigran, Ian, David and Billy sat silently about the table.

"Friends," Dom said, in a level, but emotionless voice. "We are here to discuss many things; amongst them details pertaining to the death of Prince Rashman Singh, and the attempts on the life of his brother, Osman Singh, and upon the life of Prince Elijah, my...beloved. Also the attack upon my life, which as I am your king, is treason - the punishment for which you all know full well."

Elijah looked at the men seated solemnly around the table. The punishment for treason was to be torn apart by horses. He shuddered at the very thought.

Dom nodded to Elijah, who pulled from an inner pocket a list which he and Dom had drawn up in the library, and placed it on the table top, flattening it with his small fingers. No-one but Dom sat near enough to see what was written upon it.

"There are many things that we must address this afternoon, and not all of them will be in the order in which they occurred. His Highness has asked that you remain silent during the proceedings, unless asked to speak. If you have something of import to add, at any point, please raise your hand."

Prince Arjit raised a hand, and Dom nodded in his uncle's direction. "Highness, do you think that there is a traitor amongst us - in this very room?" He glanced about the table, noting with a slight frown of displeasure, the presence of the outsiders, David Wenham and Billy Boyd.

Dom sighed. "Uncle, you will find out sooner if you will be patient. There is, as Elijah has said, a lot to discuss. Pray let him begin,"

Arjit Singh nodded, acknowledging the sense of his remark.

Elijah looked at his list. "Firstly, we will discuss the attack upon me at the garrison, where I was stabbed, and struck on the head by Duleep Singh." There was a slight movement about the table, as the men adjusted to the order of things - not beginning at the beginning as one would expect.

"I recognised his voice immediately. Although I had only heard him speak on one occasion - when he first brought me here from Simla - his voice is of a distinctive tone. He subsequently arranged my abduction from the palace, and carried me off to the garrison to a cellar under General Portman's house. There he admitted to me his involvement in both matters, and that Portman was complicit in them. He then tried to kick me to death. He tried very hard."

Elijah's voice was steady, but it was noticed that he had gone very pale. "Fortunately, I am more difficult to kill than men might think."

There was a moment's silence before he continued. "Duleep Singh also admitted to his Highness that he had tried to kill him, as well as Osman and Rashman Singh, and myself, as we travelled to the Pathan valley. He has refused to admit who else was involved in this matter. We shall come to that, and to the death of Rashman Singh, later."

"Now we shall talk of the poisoning of Osman Singh. Prince Basmin has admitted that he handed the poisoned figs to Osman, this is not in dispute." Ian, sitting next to Basmin, put a sustaining hand on the man's arm.

"Fadi, the steward, gave them to Basmin. Now, we have someone new enter the lists. Vigran Singh, fetch the witness in, if you please. His name is Rishi."

Rishi came in, trembling violently. He had no idea why he had been summoned. Dom spoke to him in a soft voice. "Rishi, you have nothing to fear here; we only ask that you answer a few questions. Then you will be allowed back to your quarters, and to your wife."

Rishi began looking a little calmer, but he dared not meet Dom's gaze. "Thank you, Lord," he managed.

"Do you remember the day that Lord Osman was taken ill on his way to the garrison?"

The man nodded. "Yes, Lord. The servants' quarters were buzzing with the news. Besides, that was the day my dog died. I remember it well because I was very fond of that dog."

Dom covered his mouth to hide an involuntary smile.

"That very morning, you were carrying a bowl of figs intended for Lord Osman's breakfast. You told me of it, and gave me a few of the figs as a treat. I was dressed as a sais at the time."

Rishi stared at Dom, unable to see the sais in the silk clad form before him. "I did, Lord?"

Dom smiled. "You did. I assure you it was I whom you fed. They were very tasty figs, too. Ripe, and succulent. You chose them well. Now, do you remember, to whom in the serving area you gave the figs?"

The man smiled. "Indeed I do, Lord." He gave the name.

"Now, did you see what he did with them, before he handed them to Fadi?"

Rishi's brow wrinkled. "He washed them in a little bowl. I was cross. I told him I had already washed them."

"What did he do, then?"

"He threw the water out onto the courtyard."

"Then?"

"Then Fadi came and took them off him, and went into the breakfast room. Then the other one sent me packing. But he did hand me a piece of a fine chicken first. Only I tripped - my knees not being so good - and dropped it in the dirt, on the way back to the kitchens."

"Was the dog with you?" Dom asked, in a deceptively calm voice.

"Yes, Lord, he was. He followed me everywhere. But I lost him about then. I didn't see where he dashed off to, and later he was found dead behind the bakery, Lord. Someone said he had eaten the rat poison they put down, there. I don't know. I do know he ate...my...chicken..."

Enlightenment descended on Rishi at last.

"Thank you, Rishi. Vigran Singh will take you out through this door, and I command that you return immediately to your quarters, and remain there until you hear the summoning trumpets sound. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Lord," replied the old man, no longer afraid of Dom. "Will he pay for killing my dog?"

There was no smile on Dom's face, now. "He will pay. You have my word on it."

After Rishi had gone, there was a murmur from the men about the table. Dom clapped his hands. "There is more to hear. I beg you will keep your peace, and your feelings to yourselves, until all matters are concluded. "

Vigran returned, and Dom sent him to fetch in Mahmoud Khan.

The man stood to attention at the foot of the table. "I have only one question for you, old friend. You spoke to me, a little while ago, of the time when we were trapped in the mountains by snow on the pass, and Gafur's wife taught us all Bambaiyaa to help pass the time."

Mahmoud smiled. "Yes, Lord, some of us were better students than others. Osman Singh, for one, never quite grasped it."

Osman stiffened in his seat, but said nothing.

"No, neither was I very proficient, although usually I am good with languages," Dom commented. "I can still speak it, however. But was there not one student amongst us who shone? One whom a visitor from Bombay said had the best accent of a non-native speaker that he had ever heard?"

Osman let out a deep breath. "That, I had forgotten," he murmured, almost to himself.

Mahmoud nodded eagerly. "Yes, Lord. It was..."

Dom put up his hand. "Let me say it. Was it not Rashman Singh?"

"Yes, my Lord Prince, it was indeed he."

Dom rubbed his chin. "Was there not another with us, in the mountains, whom you did not mention when we last spoke of it? Someone else who spoke it well? I seem to remember..."

Osman opened his mouth, and closed it again. He knew whom it had been, but they had all been ordered not to interrupt. However, would Mahmoud remember?

Mahmoud thought about it for a moment or two, for it was a long time ago, and he had not seen the person since then. But he did remember.

As he said the name, Dom and Elijah glanced at each other. The net was closing. Soon, the guilty would all be revealed.
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ismenin

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