A Plague of Zombies, p.1Part #3.50 of Lord John Grey series by Diana Gabaldon
BY DIANA GABALDON
(in chronological order) Outlander
Dragonfly in Amber
Drums of Autumn
The Fiery Cross
A Breath of Snow and Ashes
An Echo in the Bone
The Outlandish Companion
(in chronological order) Lord John and the Hellfire Club (novella)
Lord John and the Private Matter
Lord John and the Succubus (novella)
Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade
Lord John and the Haunted Soldier (novella)
The Custom of the Army (novella)
Lord John and the Hand of Devils (collected novellas)
A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows (novella)
The Scottish Prisoner
A Plague of Zombies (novella)
A Plague of Zombies is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
2013 Dell eBook Edition Copyright (c) 2011 by Diana Gabaldon All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Dell Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Dell is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc., and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
This novella was originally published as "Lord John and the Plague of Zombies" in Down These Strange Streets: All-New Stories of Urban Fantasy, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, published by Ace Books, a division of Penguin, in 2011.
Cover design: Marietta Anastassataos
Cover images: Shutterstock www.bantamdell.com
Other Books by This Author
A Plague of Zombies
About the Author
Excerpt from Written in My Own Heart's Blood
The thing about Lord John's situation and career--unmarried, no fixed establishment, discreet political connections, fairly high-ranking officer--is that he can easily take part in far-flung adventures rather than being bound to a pedestrian daily life. To be honest, once I started doing "bulges" (that is, shorter pieces of fiction) involving him, I just looked at which year it was and then consulted one of my historical timeline references to see what kinds of interesting events happened in that year. That's how he happened to find himself in Quebec for the battle there.
In terms of this story, though, the impetus came from two different sources, both "trails" leading back from the main book of the series--Voyager, in this case. To wit: I knew that Lord John was the governor of Jamaica in 1766, when Claire met him aboard the Porpoise; it wasn't by any means impossible for a man with connections and no experience to be appointed to such a post--but it was more likely for a man who had had experience in the territory to which he was appointed. "Plague" is set in 1761, and is the story of how Lord John gained that experience. I knew also that Geillis Duncan wasn't dead and where she was. And, after all, with a story set in Jamaica, how could I possibly resist zombies?
A Plague of Zombies
Spanish Town, Jamaica
There was a snake on the drawing-room table. A small snake, but still. Lord John Grey wondered whether to say anything about it.
The governor, appearing quite oblivious of the coiled reptile's presence, picked up a cut-crystal decanter that stood not six inches from the snake. Perhaps it was a pet, or perhaps the residents of Jamaica were accustomed to keeping a tame snake in residence, to kill rats. Judging from the number of rats Grey had seen since leaving the ship, this was sensible--though this particular snake didn't appear large enough to take on even your average mouse.
The wine was decent, but served at body heat, and it seemed to pass directly through Grey's gullet and into his blood. He'd had nothing to eat since before dawn and felt the muscles of his lower back begin to tingle and relax. He put the glass down; he wanted a clear head.
'I cannot tell you, sir, how happy I am to receive you,' said the governor, putting down his own glass, empty. 'The position is acute.'
'So you said in your letter to Lord North. The situation has not changed appreciably since then?' It had been nearly three months since that letter was written; a lot could change in three months.
He thought Governor Warren shuddered, despite the temperature in the room.
'It has become worse,' the governor said, picking up the decanter. 'Much worse.'
Grey felt his shoulders tense, but spoke calmly.
'In what way? Have there been more--' He hesitated, searching for the right word. 'More demonstrations?' It was a mild word to describe the burning of cane fields, the looting of plantations, and the wholesale liberation of slaves.
Warren gave a hollow laugh. His handsome face was beading with sweat. There was a crumpled handkerchief on the arm of his chair, and he picked it up to mop at his skin. He hadn't shaved this morning--or, quite possibly, yesterday; Grey could hear the faint rasp of his dark whiskers on the cloth.
'Yes. More destruction. They burnt a sugar press last month, though still in the remoter parts of the island. Now, though ...' He paused, licking dry lips as he poured more wine. He made a cursory motion towards Grey's glass, but Grey shook his head.
'They've begun to move towards Kingston,' Warren said. 'It's deliberate; you can see it. One plantation after another, in a line coming straight down the mountain.' He sighed. 'I shouldn't say straight. Nothing in this bloody place is straight, starting with the landscape.'
That was true enough; Grey had admired the vivid green peaks that soared up from the centre of the island, a rough backdrop for the amazingly blue lagoon and the white-sand shore.
'People are terrified,' Warren went on, seeming to get a grip on himself, though his face was once again slimy with sweat, and his hand shook on the decanter. It occurred to Grey, with a slight shock, that the governor was terrified. 'I have merchants--and their wives--in my office every day, begging, demanding protection from the blacks.'
'Well, you may assure them that protection will be provided them,' Grey said, sounding as reassuring as possible. He had half a battalion with him--three hundred infantry troops and a company of artillery, equipped with small cannon. Enough to defend Kingston, if necessary. But his brief from Lord North was not merely to reassure the merchants and defend the shipping of Kingston and Spanish Town--nor even to provide protection to the larger sugar plantations. He was charged with putting down the slave rebellion entirely. Rounding up the ringleaders and stopping the violence altogether.
The snake on the table moved suddenly, uncoiling itself in a languid manner. It startled Grey, who had begun to think it was a decorative sculpture. It was exquisite: only seven or eight inches long and a beautiful pale yellow marked with brown, a faint iridescence in its scales like the glow of good Rhenish wine.
'It's gone further now, though,' Warren was going on. 'It's not just burning and property destruction. Now it's come to murder.'
That brought Grey back with a jerk.
'Who has been murdered?' he demanded.
'A planter named Abernathy. Murdered in his own house, last week. His throat cut.'
'Was the house burnt?'
'No, it wasn't. The maroons ransacked it but were driven off by Abernathy's own slaves before they could set fire to the place. His wife survived by submerging herself in a spring behind the house, concealed by a pat
'I see.' He could imagine the scene all too well. 'Where is the plantation?'
'About ten miles out of Kingston. Rose Hall, it's called. Why?' A bloodshot eye swivelled in Grey's direction, and he realised that the glass of wine the governor had invited him to share had not been his first of the day. Nor, likely, his fifth.
Was the man a natural sot? he wondered. Or was it only the pressure of the current situation that had caused him to take to the bottle in such a blatant manner? He surveyed the governor covertly; the man was perhaps in his late thirties and, while plainly drunk at the moment, showed none of the signs of habitual indulgence. He was well built and attractive; no bloat, no soft belly straining at his silk waistcoat, no broken veins in cheeks or nose ...
'Have you a map of the district?' Surely it hadn't escaped Warren that if indeed the maroons were burning their way straight towards Kingston, it should be possible to predict where their next target lay and to await them with several companies of armed infantry?
Warren drained the glass and sat panting gently for a moment, eyes fixed on the tablecloth, then pulled himself together.
'Map,' he repeated. 'Yes, of course. Dawes--my secretary--he'll ... he'll find you one.'
Motion caught Grey's eye. Rather to his surprise, the tiny snake, after casting to and fro, tongue tasting the air, had started across the table in what appeared a purposeful, if undulant, manner, headed straight for him. By reflex, he put up a hand to catch the little thing, lest it plunge to the floor.
The governor saw it, uttered a loud shriek, and flung himself back from the table. Grey looked at him in astonishment, the tiny snake curling over his fingers.
'It's not venomous,' he said, as mildly as he could. At least, he didn't think so. His friend Oliver Gwynne was a natural philosopher and mad for snakes; Gwynne had shown him all the prizes of his collection during the course of one hair-raising afternoon, and Grey seemed to recall Gwynne telling him that there were no venomous reptiles at all on the island of Jamaica. Besides, the nasty ones all had triangular heads, while the harmless kinds were blunt-headed, like this fellow.
Warren was indisposed to listen to a lecture on the physiognomy of snakes. Shaking with terror, he backed against the wall.
'Where?' he gasped. 'Where did it come from?'
'It's been sitting on the table since I came in. I ... um ... thought it was ...' Well, plainly it wasn't a pet, let alone an intended part of the table decor. He coughed and got up, meaning to put the snake outside through the French doors that led onto the terrace.
Warren mistook his intent, though, and, seeing Grey come closer, snake writhing through his fingers, he burst through the French doors, crossed the terrace in a mad leap, and pelted down the flagstoned walk, coattails flying as though the devil himself were in pursuit.
Grey was still staring after him in disbelief when a discreet cough from the inner door made him turn.
'Gideon Dawes, sir.' The governor's secretary was a short, tubby man with a round pink face that probably was rather jolly by nature. At the moment, it bore a look of profound wariness. 'You are Lieutenant-Colonel Grey?'
Grey thought it unlikely that there were a plethora of men wearing the uniform and insignia of a lieutenant-colonel on the premises of King's House at that very moment but nonetheless bowed, murmuring, 'Your servant, Mr Dawes. I'm afraid Mr Warren has been taken ... er ...' He nodded towards the open French doors. 'Perhaps someone should go after him?'
Mr Dawes closed his eyes with a look of pain, then sighed and opened them again, shaking his head.
'He'll be all right,' he said, though his tone lacked any real conviction. 'I've just been discussing commissary and billeting requirements with your Major Fettes; he wishes you to know that all the arrangements are quite in hand.'
'Oh. Thank you, Mr Dawes.' In spite of the unnerving nature of the governor's departure, Grey felt a sense of pleasure. He'd been a major himself for years; it was astonishing how pleasant it was to know that someone else was now burdened with the physical management of troops. All he had to do was give orders.
That being so, he gave one, though it was phrased as a courteous request, and Mr Dawes promptly led him through the corridors of the rambling house to a small clerk's hole near the governor's office, where maps were made available to him.
He could see at once that Warren had been right regarding both the devious nature of the terrain and the trail of attacks. One of the maps was marked with the names of plantations, and small notes indicated where maroon raids had taken place. It was far from being a straight line, but, nonetheless, a distinct sense of direction was obvious.
The room was warm, and he could feel sweat trickling down his back. Still, a cold finger touched the base of his neck lightly when he saw the name Twelvetrees on the map.
'Who owns this plantation?' he asked, keeping his voice level as he pointed at the paper.
'What?' Dawes had fallen into a sort of dreamy trance, looking out the window into the green of the jungle, but blinked and pushed his spectacles up, bending to peer at the map. 'Oh, Twelvetrees. It's owned by Philip Twelvetrees--a young man; inherited the place from a cousin only recently. Killed in a duel, they say--the cousin, I mean,' he amplified helpfully.
'Ah. Too bad.' Grey's chest tightened unpleasantly. He could have done without that complication. If ... 'The cousin--was he named Edward Twelvetrees, by chance?'
Dawes looked mildly surprised.
'I do believe that was the name. I didn't know him, though; no one here did. He was an absentee owner; ran the place through an overseer.'
'I see.' He wanted to ask whether Philip Twelvetrees had come from London to take possession of his inheritance, but didn't. He didn't want to draw any attention by singling out the Twelvetrees family. Time enough for that.
He asked a few more questions regarding the timing of the raids, which Mr Dawes answered promptly, but when it came to an explanation of the inciting causes of the rebellion, the secretary proved suddenly unhelpful--which Grey thought interesting.
'Really, sir, I know almost nothing of such matters,' Mr Dawes protested, when pressed on the subject. 'You would be best advised to speak with Captain Cresswell. He's the superintendent in charge of the maroons.'
Grey was surprised at this.
'Escaped slaves? They have a superintendent?'
'Oh. No, sir.' Dawes seemed relieved to have a more straightforward question with which to deal. 'The maroons are not escaped slaves. Or rather,' he corrected himself, 'they are technically escaped slaves, but it is a pointless distinction. These maroons are the descendants of slaves who escaped during the last century and took to the mountain uplands. They have settlements up there. But as there is no way of identifying any current owner ...' And as the government lacked any means of finding them and dragging them back, the Crown had wisely settled for installing a white superintendent, as was usual for dealing with native populations. The superintendent's business was to be in contact with the maroons and deal with any matter that might arise pertaining to them.
Which raised a question, Grey thought: why had this Captain Cresswell not been brought to meet him at once? He had sent word of his arrival as soon as the ship docked at daylight, not wishing to take Derwent Warren unawares.
'Where is Captain Cresswell presently?' he asked, still polite. Mr Dawes looked unhappy.
'I, um, am afraid I don't know, sir,' he said, casting down his gaze behind his spectacles.
There was a momentary silence, in which Grey could hear the calling of some bird from the jungle nearby.
'Where is he normally?' Grey asked, with slightly less politesse.
'I don't know, sir. I believe he has a house near the base of Guthrie's Defile--there is a small village there. But he would of course go up into the maroon settlements from time to time, to meet with the ...' He waved a small, fat hand, unable to find a suitable word. 'The headmen. He did buy a new hat in Spanish Town ea
'Yes. Oh--but of course you would not know. It is customary among the maroons, when some agreement of importance is made, that the persons making the agreement shall exchange hats. So you see--'
'Yes, I do,' Grey said, trying not to let annoyance show in his voice. 'Will you be so kind, Mr Dawes, as to send to Guthrie's Defile, then--and to any other place in which you think Captain Cresswell might be discovered? Plainly I must speak with him, and as soon as possible.'
Dawes nodded vigorously, but before he could speak, the rich sound of a small gong came from somewhere in the house below. As though it had been signaled, Grey's stomach emitted a loud gurgle.
'Dinner in half an hour,' Mr Dawes said, looking happier than Grey had yet seen him. He almost scurried out the door, Grey in his wake.
'Mr Dawes,' he said, catching up at the head of the stair. 'Governor Warren. Do you think--'
'Oh, he will be present at dinner,' Dawes assured him. 'I'm sure he is quite recovered now; these small fits of excitement never last very long.'
'What causes them?' A savoury smell, rich with currants, onion, and spice, wafted up the stair, making Grey hasten his step.
'Oh ...' Dawes, hastening along, as well, glanced sideways at him. 'It is nothing. Only that His Excellency has a, um, somewhat morbid fancy concerning reptiles. Did he see a snake in the drawing room or hear something concerning one?'
'He did, yes--though a remarkably small and harmless one.' Vaguely, Grey wondered what had happened to the little yellow snake. He thought he must have dropped it in the excitement of the governor's abrupt exit and hoped it hadn't been injured.
Mr Dawes looked troubled and murmured something that sounded like, 'Oh, dear, oh, dear ...' but then he merely shook his head and sighed.
Grey made his way to his room, meaning to freshen himself before dinner; the day was warm, and he smelled strongly of ship's reek--this composed in equal parts of sweat, seasickness, and sewage, well marinated in salt water--and horse, having ridden up from the harbour to Spanish Town. With any luck, his valet would have clean linen aired for him by now.
King's House, as all royal governors' residences were known, was a rambling old wreck of a mansion, perched on a high spot of ground on the edge of Spanish Town. Plans were afoot for an immense new Palladian building, to be erected in the town's centre, but it would be another year at least before construction could commence. In the meantime, efforts had been made to uphold His Majesty's dignity by means of beeswax polish, silver, and immaculate linen, but the dingy printed wallpaper peeled from the corners of the rooms, and the dark-stained wood beneath exhaled a mouldy breath that made Grey want to hold his own whenever he walked inside.
A Plague of Zombies by Diana Gabaldon / Mystery & Detective / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes