Stacy would have led them that way and then doubled back, if Elliot were any judge. The rising sun spilled over the sea, anyone heading east walking into the large ball of light.
Elliot knew exactly where Stacy would head. A twinge of dread went through him, but Elliot motioned Fellows to follow him back toward the hills.
The trees closed around them again, cutting off the view of the cultivated lands and the cottages, civilization gone. The passes from Afghanistan to the Punjab were like that, knives of land that masked the view of anything but the steep cliffs to either side.
However, those roads came out of stark mountains to river valleys of amazing beauty. Elliot had been stunned by the glories that had existed outside the tunnels where he’d been buried, as he’d slunk back home like a wounded animal. Evil should not exist in that much beauty.
It had been cold there as well. Elliot had had only vague ideas of the seasons when he’d been held captive, but he remembered weeks of icy cold wind.
Here, summer made the air soft, but under the trees, cool mist gathered. The feeling of alertness as Elliot tracked was the same, though, the calm wariness, the warm sweat on his back, the controlled breathing that let him walk for long distances without becoming exhausted.
The fact that he was walking through damp leaves in Scotland instead of dry, cold mountains made no difference. Every rock and tree was either concealment or a hidden danger, each an obstacle to be assessed, traversed, then watched. All as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
Elliot made for the entrance to the tunnels closest to the edge of the hills. He knew Stacy had used them for cover and likely was there now.
He held a whispered conversation with Fellows about what he wanted to do, and approached the first tunnel cautiously. The entrance could barely be seen, covered with brush, weeds, and a fallen limb of a tree.
But Elliot had scouted these on his many walks around the estate in the last couple of weeks, taking note of every possible entrance to Castle McGregor. He knew he hadn’t missed any.
The first sign that someone had passed that way came at the tunnel’s opening. The brush had overgrown it, but someone had cut away the natural brush and replaced it with care.
Elliot moved the branches as quietly as he could, while Fellows kept watch. When Elliot had cleared a space, he dove inside in one quick movement, crouching beside the opening so he wouldn’t be shown against the light outside.
Fellows followed, copying his movements. Elliot waited until his eyes became used to the dark, then he walked forward.
As they moved through the damp caves, Elliot sensed the darkness inside him hunkering down in the corner of his mind, waiting to pounce.
His heartbeat quickened, and the perspiration that clung to his back began to trickle down his spine. The wet of it was clammy and cold, and his pulse pounded in his temples and made his head ache.
Not now. Right now, he had to find Stacy. He had to find Stacy and get the thugs chasing him arrested. Whatever was between himself and Stacy, they would have to work through it, but first he had to save the man.
Elliot hadn’t had the chance to explore every bit of the maze of these tunnels. The ceiling on this part of it was low, and he and Fellows had to walk half bent over. Elliot’s rifle would be useless down here, the walls too tight for any close shooting, but he had a knife, and Fellows was armed with a pistol, a good Webley.
Elliot knew men were down here with them. He found no sign, just as he’d never seen sign of Stacy in the woods, but he knew.
The darkness in his mind laughed at him. It was there, and it didn’t care how dire was the situation. The waking visions or the sudden dizziness that stole his breath could rear up at any time, ripping away everything but stark animal panic.
Elliot drew a long breath and tried to fight it off. If killers were under the house, that meant that everyone in the house was in danger. Elliot had tried to seal off all entrances to the old castle from above, but that was before he’d known professionals had come here to kill Stacy. They might have been working at opening up those places while Stacy hid at Mrs. Rossmoran’s and Elliot helped Juliana with her fête.
The thought of Juliana in danger, and Priti with her, helped him push away the mocking voice inside him. He’d never let anyone touch them. Never.
A faint sound came down one of the tunnels. Elliot stopped, reaching back for Fellows in the dark, halting him.
Elliot heard it again, a footstep. Only one, probably misplaced. Elliot motioned Fellows to stay where he was, and crept forward, crouched almost to the floor.
He brought his rifle around, sighting down the barrel at the rough-hewn opening to the larger room.
Elliot saw them, or at least, saw the flicker of their lanterns. They were careful not to let the light fall on them.
He saw a flash of movement beyond them, which might be Stacy. Elliot had taught Stacy the trick of using just enough movement to entice an enemy out into the open, which was what they had done when they’d rescued the English family up in the Afghan mountains.
Stacy was drawing them into tight quarters, preparing the ambush. The problem with that plan was that there was only one of Stacy. In theory, a single man could hold off a platoon if he had the right kind of ground advantage, but in practice, many against a platoon was always better odds.
Elliot peered into the room again. If he and Fellows moved to flank, they could disarm both men, and Stacy would be safe. Elliot could go back home and feast on porridge prepared by Hamish or lentils and spices from Mahindar, whoever managed to get to the kitchen first.
He turned to creep back to Fellows to tell him his plan, when someone shouted deep in the bowels of the tunnels. The two assassins were moving forward in a flash, lost down the tunnel that led to the boiler room.