Roses in Moonlight - By Lynn Kurland


A tall, distinguished-looking man of a certain age walked along the back streets of London, his kilt snapping briskly thanks to his haste, his dress sword avoiding the same only because he kept his hand on the hilt. No sense in terrifying the locals prematurely, was his thinking. He had business down the way and suspected he would need every ounce of Scottish canniness to see that task accomplished.

He dodged native and tourist alike who were apparently enjoying leisurely strolls before retiring. He, however, had all his attentions bent on reaching his destination whilst his victim—er, his prey—er . . . well, whilst who was loitering within the building in question hadn’t managed to pry himself off the stage and scamper out the nearest exit. Given that getting the man off the stage would be the biggest obstacle they faced, he supposed perhaps his concern for haste was unfounded. But he hurried just the same.

He leapt up the stairs leading to the theater like a hart, then walked through the gates until he entered the darkened building itself. There was no audience there, no lads manning the lights, no actors waiting in the wings, for there was no play being performed that night.

At least no play that any mortal would have seen.

The boards were indeed being trodden, but he temporarily ignored the man standing on that stage in favor of a bekilted lad standing in the shadows, shifting purposefully. He frowned thoughtfully as he considered the sight. The shifting was less purposeful than it was nervous, but that was unsurprising. Hugh McKinnon, laird of the clan McKinnon in days long past, was a fine swordsman and a canny warrior, but when it came to their current business, he always tended to become a little uneasy.

But he, Ambrose MacLeod, laird of the clan MacLeod during the glorious flowering of the sixteenth century, did not shift unless it was to simply avoid the thrust of an Englishman’s blade whilst saving himself the trouble of drawing his own. He strode purposefully across a floor that was much cleaner than it would have been in his day to stand next to his compatriot. Hugh looked at him, his ruddy complexion rather more pale than Ambrose would have cared to see it.

“I’ve no liking for this locale,” Hugh whispered. “Too many Englishmen loitering about for my taste.”

Ambrose shared Hugh’s distaste, but it couldn’t be helped. “We’ll see to our business quickly, then hie ourselves back to the proper side of Hadrian’s Wall.”

“It pains me to admit as much,” Hugh admitted, looking pained indeed, “but I do wish we had Fulbert de Piaget along for this. At least he might have given that blighter up there a proper bit of trouble.”

“Fulbert is, as you know, offering his services to the newly made Earl of Artane,” Ambrose said, “even though I imagine young Stephen can manage well enough on his own.”

“Ha,” Hugh said derisively. “Fulbert is likely spending less time offering aid than he is sitting in front of a hot fire with a hefty mug of ale. I suspect he simply didn’t want to burden his delicate ears with the bleating of that prancing fool yonder.”

Ambrose studied the man striding about on the stage, pausing frequently to trot out various soliloquies, trying them on to apparently see which one suited him best. It was true that the man was absolutely riveting on stage, but equally apparent that he would be perfectly foul on the ground.

“Should we have looked harder for an appropriate ancestor?” Hugh asked doubtfully. “That one’s a bit full of himself, wouldn’t you say?”

“It carries him confidently on the stage,” Ambrose said.

“But it isn’t as if we lack for Scottish players,” Hugh countered.

“We do of that vintage. And as you well know, we need an Englishman for this part.”

“An Englishman?” Hugh echoed pointedly.

Ambrose sighed heavily. “Very well, I’ll admit he isn’t technically an Englishman.”

Hugh stuck his fingers in his ears briefly and sang part of a heroic battle anthem. Then he scowled at Ambrose. “That was to cleanse the palate. I don’t want to think about where he was born.”

“I can’t blame you, my friend.” Ambrose glanced at the man on the stage. “Nay, Hugh, this is what’s required. Unfortunately, no matter from whence he hails, I fear this one will be hard to manage.”

“I suppose that’s one way to put it,” Hugh muttered.

Ambrose turned his full attentions to the spectacle. He was impressed in spite of himself by the lighting the shade had created