'Do as he says,' advised Daniel.

The soldiers released their captives at once. The woman immediately moved across to Loti's side. She was gloating.

'You don't look quite so pleased with yourself now, Captain Rawson,' she said. 'I should have poisoned your wine as well. Who came to suspect me?'

'I did,' replied Daniel, 'though I had significant help from a young lady named Amalia Janssen. She happened to be in Paris some months ago and saw you appearing in a play. Your performance was memorable, it seems. Because of that, the life of our commander-in-chief was indirectly saved.'

'This is no time for conversation,' said Loti, taking control. 'You are our means of getting out of here, Captain Rawson. As long as we have you at our mercy, nobody will dare to touch us.'

'What about us?' bleated Ketel. 'We can't stay here now.'

'Let us come with you,' said Mytens. 'We're in this together.'

'This gentleman is going nowhere,' said Daniel, turning to face Loti. 'I'm refusing to budge an inch.'

'Would you rather I pull this trigger?' Loti threatened, pressing the barrel against Daniel's forehead. 'Would you rather have your skull blown apart?'

Daniel was calm. 'Yes,' he replied, levelly. 'When you're a soldier, you expect to die at some stage. If my time has come, I'd much rather be dispatched with a merciful bullet than by a more agonising means. Pull the trigger if you must, sir,' he continued, 'but remember this. You can only kill me. As soon as you've done that, these soldiers will hack you to death with their swords. An empty pistol will be no defence against excruciating pain.'

Loti's eyelids fluttered and the corner of his mouth twitched. His confidence was seeping away. Daniel held his gaze defiantly. He could see the doubt, fear and hesitation in the Frenchman's eyes. While Loti was unsure what to do, the woman made a positive decision.

'Shoot him, Pierre!' she cried 'If we must die, take him with us.'

The brief distraction was timely. In urging Loti to shoot Daniel, she'd inadvertently rescued him. As the Frenchman looked at her, Daniel's hand came up in a flash and knocked the weapon aside, causing it to go off with a bang and fire its bullet harmlessly through a window. Before Loti could move, Daniel felled him with a punch to the chin and stood over him. The soldiers took hold of the other three prisoners. Having heard the gunshot and the noise of shattered glass, other soldiers rushed into the house. Daniel motioned two of them over to haul Loti to his feet. He then turned to the woman.

'You're a fine actress,' he said with unfeigned sincerity, 'and it was a privilege to watch you at work. I'll be interested to see what kind of performance you manage to give on the scaffold.'

The dinner in The Hague was only a short interruption to the more serious business of conquest. Though the battle of Ramillies had draped the Allies in glory, the French army had not surrendered. They were rapidly regrouping in order to return to the fight. There were still months of campaigning ahead. Marlborough was keen to get back to action. On the day after the dinner, therefore, he gathered his party together. Daniel was allowed only a limited time to bid farewell to Amalia Janssen.

'Where will you go next?' she said.

'We'll go wherever we can be of most use, Amalia.'

'You're of most use when you're beside the Duke. Had it not been for you, Daniel, he might now be lying in a coffin.'

'We must both share the credit for that,' he said. 'It was only when you identified that lady for me that I became suspicious. If you and your father had not attended the theatre in Paris, then we'd all be grieving His Grace's death. The worst part of it would be that those responsible would have got away with it.'

'They reckoned without Captain Daniel Rawson.'

'We were lucky this time, Amalia. I've no doubt whatsoever that there'll be other attempts to assassinate His Grace. The more success we achieve on the battlefield, the more danger he'll be in. We must heed the warning we had last night and protect him carefully.'

'I hope you'll remember to protect yourself as well.'

'I will, Amalia.' The sound of horses made him glance across at Marlborough and the others. 'It's time to go, alas. Seeing you again, if only for a fleeting moment, has been an absolute delight.'

'The feeling is mutual.'

'I've no idea when we shall meet again. When the campaign is over for this year, I'll be returning to England with His Grace.'

'Then that's where we shall have to see each other.'

'How can that be? You'll be with your father in Amsterdam.'

'Not for the whole winter,' she explained. 'The Duke is a true connoisseur. He was telling Father about this wonderful palace that's being built for him.'

'Blenheim Palace will take years to complete.'

'I know, Daniel. 'We'll visit it when we're in England.'

'Why should you do that?'

'The Duke has kindly commissioned Father to weave a tapestry that celebrates the battle of Ramillies. It will hang in a place of honour at the palace. Father will need lots of advice, of course, from someone who actually took part in the battle.' She smiled gleefully. 'The Duke suggested that you might be the ideal person.'

Daniel was thrilled. Needing to leave with the others, he had no time to tell her how pleased he was. He simply enfolded Amalia in his arms and expressed his joy in a long, sweet, succulent kiss.

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