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London, 1815

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A soldier in peacetime was a queer sort of animal; Grant knew this, but had forgotten. Time hung heavy on his hands, the more so because of his resolution to forswear Strange’s company. He no longer remembered why this had once seemed a good idea, but he held to it out of a kind of obstinacy, as if it were a peculiarly long and disagreeable watch.

He had known many, officers and men, who greeted the news of war in the manner of Job’s horse: He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting. Grant was not wont to think of himself as one such, yet there was a quickening in his blood at the news of Napoleon’s return. The Duke had ordered him to fetch Merlin, of whom the Army now stood more than ever in need. There was no use in wondering whether he wished this encounter or no; an order was to be obeyed, and Grant hastened accordingly to Soho-square, to be once more the bearer of unwelcome news.

Strange and his wife were kissing and embracing; Grant had never felt more de trop in his life. He stammered out some apology for the disturbance, and delivered himself of his errand as well as he could. The sight of Strange reminded him why he had kept away all this time: the shock of desire had the force of an explosion. He wondered that he could stand up, that he was not thrown back against the wall as if by an artillery blast.

Merlin was protesting that it was impossible. He seemed about to say something of himself and his wife and their plans, but stopt, and said again “I cannot go to war.”

“There is no choice,” said Grant. “The St Serlo’s Blessing leaves upon the high tide in three hours’ time with you and me on it. I am sorry, Mrs Strange, but your husband is the army’s magician and we have need of him.”

Mrs Strange’s eyes flashed as they had done on that night after the Bedford, when she and Strange had quarrelled so bitterly about the King’s Roads. Her words then echoed in his mind: Damn magic to hell. Damn where it’s led us. It was as well, Grant thought, that she did not share her husband’s powers, or his own life would not be worth a pin’s fee.

He could not let himself think of her disappointment, or Strange’s. All that mattered now was the return to the war, and the intoxication of being with Merlin again. Grant could not be sorry for that, whatever might come of it.