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Hello, Friendlings! Poor [livejournal.com profile] ladysunrope has the novovirus and is very poorly - but, in between being sick, etc., like the darling she is, she did this for me. Lubs her.

I have had my Inca hat on all day because my hair needs washing, and I'm too tired. Let's hope tomorrow is a better day for both of us.

So, here it is - finally - the guilty revealed. I hope it comes as a surprise to you all. Be honest - did anyone guess? ;D




Thanks to LSR for her beta. xxx

Part - 25


Mahmoud Khan having been temporarily dismissed, Dom, noting that several men at the table were bursting with questions and comment, allowed them to vent their feelings for a short space.

After a few minutes, Dom drew them to order once more, and nodded to Elijah.

"It is now his Highness's wish that we continue hearing evidence. This time, concerning the death of Rashman Singh. Lord Osman, we know that this will be hard for you, as it was when you first heard it."

Dom smiled sadly at his cousin. "My dear friend; all I ask is that you say nothing until you are bidden to do so. Vigran, bring in Gafur, Mahmoud, and Sergeant Hill, together if you please."

Soon the three men stood, side by side before them.

"Gafur," Elijah said, "His Highness would like you to tell the assembly what you told us when you confessed to killing Rashman Singh."

Arjit rose in his chair, and Basmin pressed down hard on his cousin's shoulder, forcing him to sit.

Gafur nodded, and began his tale. He spoke of hearing Rashman, bed-bound by two broken legs after the explosion on the pass, whispering to Duleep Singh concerning the explosion. He said Rashman Singh berated Duleep for his incompetent placing of the explosives, and that his other master would give him orders in the near future.

He sighed as he remembered hearing Sergeant Hill in the stables, comment upon the badly spoken Bambaiyaa he had heard, and that Rashman, indeed, had used the most dreadful accent whilst berating Duleep Singh.

The trap had snapped shut. Everyone present realised it. Even Gafur knew something had happened. He looked at Dom, and saw, in the king's face, such anger as to make him weak at the knees.

Elijah put a hand upon Dom's arm, and spoke, in a quiet voice,

"Now, Gafur, you say that Rashman spoke to Duleep in Bambaiyaa, and that his accent was execrable."

"Yes, Lord," Gafur nodded.

"This must mean that you speak the dialect yourself."

"I do," the man replied, less confident, now.


"I wish that you will repeat, in Bambaiyaa, what Sergeant Hill instructs. Sergeant Hill."

Bernard Hill looked straight at Gafur. "It will not be long until Udom Singh is dead, and we will have accomplished our purpose, my friends."

Gafur was deathly white. He said nothing. "Speak!" Elijah ordered, as the bones in Dom's fists, clenched upon the table top threatened to break through the skin.

With a shrug, Gafur repeated the words.

"That's him, my Lord!" Hill said, with utter confidence. "Anyone with the least knowledge of the language, would see that the stresses on the vowels were all in the wrong place. It's him, by God!"

"Now, Osman Singh, repeat those same words, if you please." Elijah asked.

Hill obligingly recited the words once more, and Osman repeated them. Hill shook his head. "No, my lord king. I have not before heard his voice. His accent is bad, but the words are well spoken."

Osman was trembling. "You did not think I was involved, surely, cousin?..." he said, his voice unsteady.

Dom spoke at last. "No, my friend, I did not. But it seemed to me - to us - that someone might try to implicate you in the plot. It had already been suggested that Duleep had another master, after all. Elijah, if you please..."

Elijah stared, frowning, at Gafur. Hill had thoughtfully pushed a chair behind the old man, for he was shaking now.

"This is what we are led to believe happened," Elijah stated, his voice level, and tinged with authority. "You must tell us if we are wrong."

"Prince Rashman was asleep. Dr Ian had drugged him, for he was in much pain, which often happens, he told us, when bones are healing."

Ian nodded. "That is so."

"It was the afternoon rest hour, when everyone in the infirmary was asleep, and you and Duleep Singh were talking, quietly together, in a room off the secret passageway. You had not realised the walls were so thin, or that Rashman was awake."

"It was you, berating Duleep, that Rashman overheard. He realised at once what was happening, and, still befuddled by sleep, set up a shout of 'traitor'. You and Duleep rushed in and smothered the man, who was still weak from the drugs."

"Would you say, Highness," Elijah asked, turning to Dom, "That this is what we have been offered as a solution to the murders?"

Dom nodded, but he saw that Elijah was still frowning deeply. He glanced at Gafur, now sitting deathly pale and silent in the chair. He could not believe that this man, who had cared for him all his life, could have encompassed such a thing. His heart lay heavy within his chest, for Dom loved Gafur. The man had been with him all his life, even before the king, his father, had died. They had formed a bond which he thought would only be severed by the death of the old man. Now, that death appeared to be hovering very close, and Dom was devastated by the thought of being forced to slay one he thought of as his oldest friend.

"Well, Gafur - do you wish to alter your statement?" Elijah asked in a calm tone.

The man looked Elijah straight in the eye. "No, lord - it happened just as I told you. I swear it."

Elijah leaned over, breaking into Dom's thoughts. "Dom, there is something very wrong. May I speak with you in private?" he whispered.

Dom stood, and everyone rose with him. "We will break for an hour. Refreshments will be sent in to you. Please do not attempt to leave this room. Basmin, return Gafur to the other chamber, if you please, and see that it is well guarded."


The two men went into Dom's bed chamber where they would not be overheard, and sat in the comfortable chairs either side of the window.

"Well, Lij? What is it that troubles you?"

"What troubles me, Dom Singh, is that it all falls too pat. Do you not think so?" Elijah's face was stiff with concentration, so Dom allowed him to speak his thoughts.

"The very first question I wish to ask you to think on, Dom, is the point that just struck me, in the other room. Something I had not previously considered, which I now realise was extremely shortsighted of me."

"Why - if Gafur did murder Rashman Singh for the reasons I gave - why did he tell us that he did it? Surely a guilty man would keep such a deed quiet? There was nothing but his own admission that led us to think that Gafur had killed Rashman."

"I believe Gafur has been chosen as a scapegoat. Think, Dom! He has had more than twenty years to poison you, or to kill you by other means, if he wished to do so. Many, many opportunities...every day of every week. So - why all this, now?"

Dom rubbed his chin, deep in thought. "I see what you mean, Lij. But...but why did Gafur say that Rashman had a dreadful Bambaiyaa accent, when others had said he spoke it well?"

Elijah sat forward in his chair. "Dom, he spoke it well twenty years ago, as a child. It may be his speech had become a little rusty after disuse. Yours has, you admit."

Dom acknowledged the point. He sat forward in his chair, as if struck. "If we are thinking along these lines, another thought has come to me. Do you think it possible that Osman was poisoned before or after he had taken breakfast, and not whilst he ate? I understand from Fadi that Osman ate five or six of those figs before deciding that he did not like them..."

He jumped up and rang the bell. When Vigran came in answer, Dom asked for Osman and Fadi.

Fadi was interviewed first. "Tell me, Fadi, where does the food go after it has been offered to any members of the royal family?" Elijah asked the steward standing nervously before them. His face cleared.

"That is easy, Lord Prince. It is given to the servants who waited at the table. If they do not want it, any tit-bits or delicacies go back to the kitchens, for the servants there."

Dom sighed deeply. "I do not suppose we will now know who ate everything. It is a great pity we do not know what happened to the figs."

Fadi stepped forward. "Excuse me, Highness - that I know. It was myself, and two of my underlings who ate the rest of the breakfast, including the figs, after Lord Osman left the table. There were eight figs left, as Lord Osman had not cared for their taste. I had four, and they had two each. It was true a few of them were over-ripe, but they were delicious, nonetheless, except that the skins were a trifle...pungent."

Elijah's eyebrows rose. "Good God!" he said, quietly. "Dom, it seems you were right!"

Osman came in as soon as Fadi had been dismissed. He stood before his king, bemused but willing. Dom indicated that he sat. When he had done so, it was Elijah who put the question to him.

"Osman, think carefully, for we believe it is a very important point. On the morning you were taken ill on the road, did you eat or drink anything before breakfast, or on the journey after you left the palace?"

Osman shook his head. "No, lord, I did not. I was late rising, so I had to forgo my morning tea. I hurried to the dining room, and that was the first food that touched my lips." He shuddered. "The figs...."

Dom and Elijah glanced at each other, but said nothing. Osman may have had a distaste for the figs, but they certainly had not made him ill. "It appears that old Gafur poisoned them. I cannot believe such a thing of him. But after he admitted killing my brother, I suppose I should have thought of it." His face was sad, for he, too, was fond of the old man.

"And...on the road, Osman?" Dom asked, swallowing his impatience. "Before you were taken ill?"

Osman gave the matter some thought, before answering. "I drank a little of the wine I had in my flask, but it was too sweet for my taste that morning. Then...someone offered me a drink from their own flask. Watered brandy."

There was a long pause. "I remember thinking, at the time, that it was an odd thing for a man to carry in his water flask. Brandy often makes one thirstier – but the offer was well intended, so I took it."

Then he told them who had given him the drink.

"Make certain you keep silent over this, Osman," Dom ordered, after they had finished questioning the man. "Do not show by the least sign that you have any notion of his involvement, I beg you. I am certain he will try to kill you, if you let it be seen that you suspect him, and I am not minded to lose any more of those whom I love."

After the door had clicked behind his cousin, Dom got up and strode about the room like a caged tiger. "Lij, you are certain it was Gafur you saw in the stables when you were abducted?"

Elijah was abstracted by several unwelcome thoughts, but he answered readily enough. "Oh, yes, Dom, it was he. I saw him clearly enough, despite being half stunned. His hand on Duleep's shoulder, smiling up at him. He would argue, of course, that he was playing a part. There is no evidence that he was not. But the question that needs answering, now, - the only question that might implicate him - is, could he, or did he see me? For, if he could not see me from where he stood, he is in some sort, exonerated."

Dom dragged in a deep breath. "We must discover this before we proceed, Lij. I am with you in thinking that Gafur has been used as a pawn in this business. I want to make certain of a few facts before we leap to conclusions again. We have been cleverly led to Gafur, and ignored other paths we might have followed had we thought more clearly."

They went back into the other room, after they had discussed a few more things in private, and found the men were sitting around the table, finishing their tea. They stood when Dom entered, and he waved them to their seats.

"I have decided to postpone this meeting until tomorrow afternoon. I am far from happy with the evidence which I have heard, and will not condemn a man on hearsay alone. Things must be looked into even more carefully, and everyone questioned again."

"You will all return to your quarters until tomorrow, when I shall re-convene this hearing when I see fit to do so. You will all remain in your rooms, or, in your case, Dr Ian, in the Infirmary, unless I send for you. Is this clearly understood?"

Dom beckoned to Billy. "Come with us. We have things to discuss."

*

By the time the three men had emerged into the smaller stable-yard, Dom and Elijah were even more confounded by what Billy had revealed. It was, indeed, beginning to look as if Gafur had been implicated on purpose by those who wanted Dom rendered powerless, at least - and Elijah - dead.

Elijah took Billy into the stable, and they both stood on the spot where Elijah had been petting the foal when he had been struck and abducted.

Elijah left Billy there, and standing beside Dom, sighed deeply. "No, Dom; he could not have seen me from here. As you see, it is dark in there even though the sun is shining. I cannot see Billy, even though I know where he is standing." He walked about a little, making certain, for he was by no means sure, of the exact place where Gafur and Duleep had met.

When they left the yard, they gave precise instructions to one of the servants, and several guards, before going into the gardens and questioning the gardeners. Then they went to the kitchens and bakery. Afterwards they visited the cells, and spoke to the guards, there, and checked their records. At last they went to Elijah's chambers, where Billy brought out all his documents for Dom and Elijah to peruse.

"You will see there, my lords, the proofs of all that I have earlier told you." They sent for tea, and settled down at a table to discuss matters further.

They had not been long employed at this, when Fadi appeared with a parcel for Billy.

Billy opened it, and stared at the contents, then read out the letter enclosed within it. Dom and Elijah looked at each other, stunned. Dom put his arm about Elijah's shoulder, and squeezed him. It seemed it was finally, finally all becoming clear.

"Did you know of this before now?" Dom asked quietly.

"I had an inkling that something was going on, yes, my lord. We shall catch more than one bird with this stone, my lords," Billy said, in satisfied tones.

After an hour or so of discussion, Dom nodded his satisfaction.

"It seems we must draw him out, old chap," Elijah commented, folding all the documents and handing them back to Billy. "We shall get nowhere if all we have is circumstantial evidence, besides the parcel, of course." He pointed to the box, which had been wrapped firmly in brown paper, string and sealing wax - such a British object, it almost made him smile. Almost, but not quite.

Billy frowned. "Do you think it is worthwhile speaking to Duleep Singh again? If it serves only to clear Gafur, it may prove something."

Dom rolled his head, for his neck was stiff from the tension. "You mean, if we go to him, and tell him Gafur is implicated, he might give himself away by denying it? I believe he, too, is very fond of Gafur."

"But he would deny it if Gafur were guilty, would he not?" Elijah said, his tone subdued. "I think we should concentrate on drawing out our other suspect into precipitate action."

There was silence for a moment, whilst everyone thought. Billy's head shot up. "What if you let it be known, Lord, that you, your immediate family - your wives and children, and his lordship, here - were taking an extended vacation in...in the Americas? Somewhere where you could not be intercepted - at least, not by him? We must make him think that tonight is the only night he has to kill either of you, my lords. He must be desperate."

Elijah gave a wry smile. "I'll let it be known amongst the servants, that I am packing."

Dom gave his consent. "I will instruct Fadi to have servants pack my clothing and effects, Lij. I shall give orders to so many people in so many places, he will not fail to get to hear of what is happening. Especially if he goes to.... Billy, will you go to the stables and order - loudly - the carriages and horses for seven in the morning, and...."

Within an hour it was known, throughout the palace that the king and his family were leaving for foreign climes. Dom hurried down to the seraglio, to inform his mother what was happening, and instructed her to order her packing. "That it will all have to be unpacked should we prove successful, Mama, is the least of our worries," Dom whispered in the Lady Aditi's ear. "If he does not reveal himself, tonight, we shall go, in any case. It is not safe, here, until he is apprehended."

He kissed his children, and, after a detour to visit Vigran Singh, went back to Elijah.

They decided that it was to be generally known that Dom and Elijah would be spending the night in Elijah's chambers. They accomplished this by Dom asking servants to bring various items up from his own rooms. His nightwear and other clothing; the books by his bedside; other personal things, including toiletries and combs.

It seemed to have worked well. When Billy - purporting to be seeking an interview with the king - asked where he could be found, he was directed to Elijah's suite. Of course, not all of the servants knew Billy was lodged there, too, which augured well for the night's doings. The men were certain their suspect would ask questions, and would receive the answer they wished him to hear.


Billy unblocked the inner door to the Cupboard, in case the would-be assassin tried to enter there, and the three men sat and talked until midnight, when Dom sent for hot chocolate and biscuits to take to bed, and Billy made himself scarce. Thus it was thought by most that the king had retired for the night with only Lord Elijah for company.

*

They stayed, unmoving, not daring to speak, for hours. Then, a desperate shuffling was heard from the grill dividing the bedroom from the Cupboard, and a hiss declaring, "Lord, he is coming!"

"Get under the bed - and stay there!" Dom ordered, feeling for his pistol.

A couple of minutes later, the Cupboard door flew open, and a gun was heard discharging several bullets into the shapes huddled upon the bed. Then the lights were turned up as Dom and Elijah emerged from behind a screen, and Vigran and Mahmoud were holding a struggling man in their solid grip.

Billy came forward from the shadows, a very serviceable revolver held steadily in his hand. "Good evening, your Grace," he said, almost cordially. "We have been expecting you, as you may gather."

Dom ran a hand, not quite steady, over his face. "Daisy?" he croaked.

Captain David Wenham glared at Dom, and then at Elijah. "How did you know?"

"We worked it out, David," Elijah said, sadly. "You set a fine trap for poor Gafur to fall into - and we would have accepted it, but for one thing. Gafur," Dom called, "come in, man."

Gafur appeared at the doorway, brushing dust off his tunic. The look he gave Wenham was almost lethal. "You tried to kill my king!" the old man accused, his voice cracking.

"Gafur," Dom said, his voice firm. "Tell the prisoner how you finally knew it was he - together with help from Sergeant Hill, of course - who had organised this fetch."

Gafur sniffed, and sat where Dom indicated, on the edge of the bed. He was too old, he thought, for grovelling under furniture.

"It was the Bambaiyaa, Lord. I speak it very well, indeed. I knew Hill was lying the moment he said I spoke it badly, for I use it every week when I meet my wife, on her day off. She insists upon it. It was Rashman Singh, my Lord, that I heard speak it so ill in the Infirmary. It was clear to me that it had been a long time since he had used it..."


"This is all nonsense!" Wenham declared, as Billy fastened the chains into place around his wrists. "This is all conjecture - you have no proof..."

"Yet you are here, and you shot at us - as you thought - in our bed," Dom stated, firmly.

Wenham looked at the floor - there was no escaping that point. Then he shrugged. "I needed the money."

"Was that all it was?" Dom asked, a sad tone in his voice. "Merely money?"

Wenham gritted his teeth. "It is easy to say 'merely money', Dom Singh, when you have plenty. I have nothing, save my captain's pay. The estates are bankrupt - mortgaged to the hilt, and I cannot pay them. Bedford, I believe, is trying to obtain them, now. My dear late brother whored it all away in French brothels.”

Wenham still seemed more angered that his plan had not succeeded, than he was concerned by the consequences of his actions.

"So you hired Hill to help you, by gaining our confidence. I expect he was in on it when he struck me over the head in the Pathan valley." Elijah could see plainly, now, that the meeting with Hill in the valley had been no coincidence, but part of the trap.

Dom sat down next to a still trembling Gafur, and patted his arm, before speaking. "The penalty for treason, here, is being torn apart by horses, as you know."

Wenham grew pale. "I am not your subject! You cannot..."

"Do not dare instruct me upon what I can or cannot do in my own kingdom!" Dom interrupted, his voice white hot with fury.

"You attempted to kill my cousin, Osman, by offering him poisoned brandy. It was clever of you to spot the spurge growing in the gardens, and even cleverer to have sent two pots of it to Gafur's rooms, to implicate him. Oh, yes, it was seen there!"

There was a pause. "I do not understand why Rashman Singh should have allied himself with your cause. I never knew he wanted power, even under British rule. Now, we shall never know."

Wenham said nothing, but merely glared at the men seated upon the bed.

"My own life is precious to me," Dom continued, "but, even more so is that of Prince Elijah - oh, yes, Prince Elijah of Ranjipore. That you had him treated so brutally by your help-mate, Duleep Singh, who tried - and nearly succeeded - in convincing us there were two plots, not one, speaks of your character."

Dom nodded to Billy, who brought over the parcel. "Here is the last nail in your coffin - literally the last nail, Wenham. It is the payment for killing Elijah, and implicating me in it, that would have brought down the whole state of Ranjipore, and allowed the British to take charge here."

"It is addressed to you, and - so unlike His Excellency, the Viceroy - there is, enclosed, a letter from him, praising you for your excellent work, and promising another hundred thousand when the 'task' is completed and - I quote - 'the troublesome little man is, at last, safely underground, and ceases to be a trial and a disappointment to his long-suffering family.'

Dom put his arm around Elijah's waist, and held him close. That his lover's Uncle Hubert was at the centre of this plot gave him no satisfaction whatsoever in the uncovering of it.

"It is a great sorrow to me that I cannot have you torn apart, Wenham, merely on the point of that last statement alone; but Commander Boyd has promised to arrange your departure from this world, in a very precipitate fashion.

Take him to the cells!"
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