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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 2 "Deliverance" Part 2

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nordmann
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20120416
PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 2 "Deliverance" Part 2

Soon the fury of the elements themselves put paid to quiet contemplation, however sullen, in any case. McGregor could no longer hide his frustrations as the ship was wrested from his control and into that of the waters beyond Lundy Island. Here, where the Bristol Channel ended and the Irish Sea began, strong currents and gale force winds vied for ownership of the vessel, and soon, even with their sails tied up for fear of losing them, they were careering at a rate of knots in no particular direction – first this way and then that until soon even McGregor had to admit that his bearings had been lost and that the best they could do would be to keep a sharp eye out for land in all directions for fear of foundering on rock or sandbank. For hour after hour they bobbed around so, surrounded by an impenetrable wall of grey rain and under a canopy of black clouds that seemed so low as to sit perched on their own mast. There was no doubt that they were moving, and at a terrific pace, but until the onset of evening it was impossible to tell how many directional changes they had undertaken or where in fact they were headed. The answer when it came shocked them. So far had they been blown off course that when at last land was sighted through the deluge McGregor recognised with some alarm that it was the island of Man. Worse, they were on a course straight for the rocks that trailed the Calf of Man, and at a speed that meant they had little chance of veering to the islet’s starboard side and of finding haven in St Mary’s harbour. There was nothing for it but to attempt to keep to the seaward side of the Calf and trust that the strong current there might keep the winds from fulfilling their desire of grounding them. It had taken the entire crew several hours of toiling, swearing and praying, while battling waves often three times taller than their own vessel, to cheat the elements, round the island’s promontories and set The Corinthian on a northern trajectory, the captain having intelligently decided that any attempt at plying their way south would be suicide. The nightlong battle which finally ended with the Point of Ayre receding in their wake had left both crew and ship too weary to attempt another close call. Soon they would be trapped in the North Channel that emptied the Irish Sea into the Atlantic between Antrim and Kintyre, but at least it was one that would carry them speedily and with relative safety. Even if it meant washing up in Norway McGregor would allow the winds to carry his vessel where it would, and he would use his ship’s strength only to avoid the coast. Titus, glad only to be alive at this point, could but concur.

But McGregor’s fears ultimately proved unfounded. Through Saturday the winds had slowly eased and by late afternoon The Corinthian’s course could be arrested before she committed to the strong North Channel current, her mainsail deployed and her hulk be cajoled into tacking a rather ragged and reluctant passage southwest through the freezing drizzle towards Dublin. Titus was a little alarmed to see that the sailors shared his own relief bordering on ecstasy at having survived their ordeal, and there was no doubt that the mood on board picked up considerably now that they were all at least headed in the right direction. Even Flitch seemed at last to have found some sea legs and ventured up on deck, and though the heavy seas and rain never abated for the rest of the voyage at least Titus had some company to help arrest another descent into depression at the prospect of his mission. In fact Flitch seemed, for once, just as eager to discuss the practicalities of their job in Dublin, and once immersed in the details of their task Titus began at last to calm his own fears with regard to his administrative skills. He did not mention them to Flitch but his secretary had seemingly divined them nonetheless. Flitch, normally a man as given to scepticism about God’s nature as Titus himself - one of the reasons he liked the man - had reassured the mapmaker that he doubted God had spared them except to fulfil their mission. When Titus had ironically asked why it was then that He had seen fit to delay them so, Flitch had just shrugged, grinned mischievously and alluded to the fact that God was notoriously fickle in that regard.

Of course only the foul weather could be attributed to the vagaries of a fickle god - other setbacks had been caused by less divine intervention and boded ill for the months, and possibly years, to come. Surveyors’ equipment is valuable merchandise, and even despite the presence of three armed naval drivers to guard against such events he had already lost a case of valuable scopes to a Reading thief who had unknowingly benefited from Titus’ haste to make Bristol. Being on the move made pursuing thieves a complicated and time-consuming business. All they could do was report the matter to the barracks authority in Reading and hope that the captain they spoke to was as interested in pursuing felons as he was in pursuing his ambitions with the young chambermaid who was occupying his lap when Titus and Flitch had walked unannounced into his office. The scopes were a dear loss, but soon Titus would be responsible for the movement of gear many times their worth, and in land where army barracks were few and far between. Theft in Ireland could spell disaster, but besides theft there were other hazards too, as their journey had also proved. A draughtsman’s easel had been lost to the stupidity of a Bristol dockhand who had let it fall between ship and wharf when their gear was being loaded up the slippery gangplank from the Custom House Quay. McGregor had ordered the hand punished but Titus had intervened on the youth’s behalf. Given the weather it was a wonder that all his gear had not met the same fate, balanced as it had been on the backs of youths who struggled against the elements and malnutrition to transport his precious equipment up an unguarded slope of twenty feet or more on planking rendered as slippery as ice in the rain. Besides, the easel was worth a mere fraction of something else that went missing in Bristol, a folio containing the facsimiles of previously published Irish maps that had been given to Titus by Thomas Hayter in York House. Titus had not in truth thought much of its contents though he had appreciated its financial worth, and it seemed that Flitch shared his opinion. The scoundrel claimed that he had mislaid it, but Titus knew well that he had more likely sold it to an unscrupulous bookseller in return for funds sufficient to avail of that city’s dubious and expensive nightly diversions. Whichever version was true it merely added to their losses, and if such were to be his unforeseen debits in just one week, how great would they be when multiplied over the length of the survey? He shivered at the thought of it and knew also that at some point he must take Flitch to task over his cavalier attitude towards their property, a prospect that displeased him greatly. He was delighted therefore when at that moment a loud whoop of delight from the lookout interrupted their conversation. The promontory of Lambay Island had been spotted, the point at which the approach to Dublin Harbour began, and beyond which the headland of Howth marked the northern tip of the city’s bay. Such deliberations could wait, for now at last the long awaited moment was upon them and all their efforts would need to be directed in landing themselves and their gear ashore. Though technically a surveyor for almost three weeks, it was only now that Titus considered the job was actually starting. At last the time spent up to now in gloomy contemplation could be better put to the activities demanded of the task itself. The thought thrilled and terrified him in equal measure.

McGregor flew the naval flag, which meant thankfully that he could choose to land at the nearer harbour of Ringsend rather than hazard the journey upriver to Dublin’s own Custom House dock, as most other cargo vessels were obliged to do. It meant a much earlier docking, and it also meant that Titus’ equipment would automatically come under the immediate protection of army carriers who would transport it the last leg of its journey to the Castle. As he leaned against the rails watching the approaching beacons that signalled their arrival at the Liffey estuary, Titus found that he could review the tribulations en route somewhat more benignly. If the truth be known, the loss of the folio, easel or scopes hadn’t perturbed him as much as it probably should. The scopes were cheap and used, that was how come he had had them in the first place, and they were due for replacement in any case. The easel too was at an advanced stage of woodworm rot, and when it came to the old maps that Flitch had unfortunately ‘lost’, experience had taught him anyhow that reliance on past charts such as these often merely compounded and perpetuated the errors they indubitably contained. In fact the only important tools to a mapmaker were ones that could never be lost or stolen - one’s ability to measure accurately what lies before one and the wit not to place too much faith in what others might have depicted beforehand. Cartography maps man’s peculiar view of his world and the view of man is subjective in every sense. It may impress with its breadth of vision, but if unrestricted by discipline or training it is as likely to portray purely what one man wants to see as any more artistic medium with which he has elected to record an impression of his place in the world. A Van Ruisdael forest may appear enchanting but one would be hard put to find such a place in Holland outside of the artist’s vision. Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene might allegorise the England of Elizabeth, but one would be wasting one’s time in trying to deduce from it the price Spenser paid for a beer in the London of his day. Such works had a value, but only as art and art, in Titus’ view, had a licence to misinform. In fact it had a duty to do so in that it tackled life obliquely and through such distortion revealed to us aspects of ourselves that we otherwise could not fathom. Without such honest distortion of the truth could it never be anything other than poor science. Maps, on the other hand, had the opposite responsibility. They could be executed as artistically as their authors wished, but when that artistry overshadowed their own content they were even worse than simply poor science. They were dishonest documents, with neither beauty nor function and representative of nothing apart from the vanity of their creator. Mapmaking had its fraudulent practitioners, but it had even more who were merely poor in their craft, men for whom the vain allure of recognition outweighed their desire to chart their world with an honest eye. It did not make them necessarily evil, but it did make them careless and such carelessness led to maps not worth the paper on which they were printed. Only a strict adherence to scientific principle and an impassionate devotion to depicting the truth of things could ever mitigate this all too human tendency and Titus prided himself that these were the qualities he sought to employ in his work and which had been recognised by Hayter and his colleagues.

Seagulls screeched deafeningly overhead but soon a new sound, equally raucous, could be heard amongst their cries. His reveries interrupted, he sought the source of this strange noise and noticed for the first time the minute figures of the dockhands on the approaching quayside. This strange screeching was in fact these hands as they screamed instructions to McGregor’s men and amongst themselves, marshalling their own little force and advising The Corinthian’s crew how best to ease her into their waiting grasp. This then was the strange Dublin accent so derided in London pamphlets and on stage, described by one wit returned from Ireland’s chief city as a guttural blending of Scandinavian and Gaelic overtones imposed so thickly on the King’s own language that His Majesty would be forgiven for thinking himself lord over a race of swine. In all his days in London Titus had never heard it even once and as he listened to the exchanges between the workers and the crew he was damned if he could indeed find a trace of the English tongue in it at all. McGregor’s men however seemed to have no difficulty understanding their colleagues ashore. They cast the ship’s ropes to the waiting hands with ribald shouts and gestures uttered in the locals’ own speech, to which they received equally lewd and apparently humorous replies. Then, with amazing agility and strength, the dockhands seized the ropes and began arresting the ship’s forward movement, slowly beginning to haul her in against the quayside, while all the time shouting their humour-filled profanities to The Corinthian’s crew. McGregor appeared on the quarter-deck to supervise the proceedings and even managed to fire off a few volleys of verbal musket fire to the quay himself. The dock hands acknowledged the captain cheerfully, though with little of the reverence a man of his station would expect in an English port, and then all grew quiet as they strained to pull the vessel tight against the quayside and secure her fast. Sailors jumped down onto the cobbles to assist them and in the spluttering light of dozens of torches hastily lit along the water’s edge The Corinthian finally settled majestically into place. There was a last great shudder as she was tied fast to the iron bollards, bales of sodden straw cushioning her hull against the granite of the harbour wall, a moment of relative calm as everyone paused to regain their breath and then it seemed all hell broke loose. A gangplank was thrown down with a clatter, barked commands from the captain sent sailors scurrying up the rigging to secure the sails and down into the depths of the ship to set about hoisting up her cargo. A small army of workers, boys even younger it seemed than their counterparts in Bristol, swarmed up and onto the vessel to assist with the unloading, and a great wooden crane was wheeled laboriously to the quay’s edge, its leathers and chains greedily awaiting The Corinthian’s heavier goods stashed well within her bowels below her waterline – bales of calico from the West Indies, cotton from the Americas and chests of coffee beans from the Portuguese colonies. Flitch commandeered two of the young workers to haul Titus’ own goods into the slow stream of merchandise making its way down the stout gangplank to the waiting carts on the quay. The transfer was supervised by armed men in uniform who had suddenly appeared just as the ship had been tied in fast, some army men and some in the green livery of a private militia recruited by the port authorities, and all of whom watched the young workers with eyes peeled. The unloading of a cargo is when it is at its most vulnerable and the harbourmaster in Ringsend was obviously not a man to take any chances. Nor was he one to tolerate a slow crew, it seemed; his boys worked as if every second was precious, which indeed they were to McGregor whose cargo had been so seriously delayed already. In no time all the smaller goods, including Titus’ own, had been transferred to the carts with the harbourmaster’s great seal upon each load to show that they had at least left his jurisdiction and entered that of the customs men intact. Then a loud bell rang from the master’s offices and the swarm of dockhands dispelled into the night as suddenly as they had appeared, leaving only the crane workers and a handful of militia on the dock. At last McGregor gave the nod to his passengers and finally, after a six hour voyage that had stretched to two whole days and more, Titus walked with some difficulty, and no little relief, down the slippery boards behind Flitch. With the initial frenzy of activity died almost to nothing, only the barked instructions from the crane operator to his men broke the descending silence. Some of the torches spluttered and went out but no one ran to light them again – the centre of activity had moved from the quayside to the small customs yard some distance away to which Flitch departed at once to help arrange their gear’s transfer into army hands. As his feet stepped onto the wet cobblestones, Titus instinctively paused to savour this moment of arrival. To his disappointment however he found that he felt nothing by way of excitement, just a peculiar emptiness, aided by the bleakness of the scene surrounding him. The rain that had seemed as solid and threatening as a leviathan out on the open sea had shrunk in menace as they had approached the harbour. Now on land it had reverted to something a little more worldly in nature, though none the less depressing for it, something cloying and pervasive that one felt as much in one’s inner being as on one’s cold skin. The stench of rotting fish and the fetid stink of sewage that had assailed their nostrils as soon as the ship had reached its moorings seemed only, if anything, to be magnified by the elements. The growing silence and darkness, depriving a man as it did of two of his senses, merely served to exaggerate the noisome effect on the others and the effect of all of this was to induce a mood of darkness in a man’s soul. So much for what should have felt like a triumphal arrival on this strange shore, he reflected with foreboding, a land that was to be the arena of what should be the greatest professional challenge in his life, but right now seemed more likely instead to be that of his greatest catastrophe.

At that moment a dock hand bearing a large bale asked him to move from where he stood and the simple act of stepping aside was enough to dispel his depression. He chided himself for giving in so easily to its grip. It would be a weak man indeed, he reminded himself, who would so willingly let his humour be so adversely affected by some drizzle and some decaying fish after having just survived the wrath of a sea crossing such as they had. A religious man would even see it as an insult to the God who had spared him. He smiled at the peculiar propensity of man to forget so readily a lesson so soon after it is taught, picked up his leather satchel, and marched with more purpose than it merited across the stones towards the ballast office where he knew some letters awaited him and where he and Flitch had agreed to meet again after his secretary had seen their goods safely away under armed guard.

Their plan had been to take a passenger boat upriver, and normally when a ship came in to Ringsend there would be plenty to choose from. But McGregor’s ship had come in unexpectedly late on a Sunday, possibly the worst combination of circumstances with a view to organising a ferry passage, and their hope that such a ferry might coincidentally be available proved groundless. In desperation, Titus asked some dock workers taking momentary shelter under the eaves of the ballast office what they recommended and they answered him friendlily enough, but he found that he could scarcely understand their replies save for the ambiguous term Ringsend Car. They pointed him to a notice pinned to the building’s wall that advertised a carriage service to the city, departing ‘every o’clock at the vagaries of nature and under the auspices of Madame Moon’, and which promised to take a mere fraction of the time that the normal boat service could offer. He immediately decided to purchase two tickets from the vendor who stood beneath it.

This done, he collected his letters – one he knew to be from the admiralty to be used for the purpose of introduction and the other he hoped to be from the secretary of Dublin’s exchequer confirming his right to withdraw money. After Bristol he needed it badly. He slumped into a long seat in the ballast office’s spacious waiting room to peruse them. The first letter was straightforward and just as he had requested from Hayter, a simple statement that Titus Perry was about the King’s business, had been given the rather intriguing title of Surveyor Extraordinaire, and that he had the right to commandeer accommodation in his work to a rental value of three shillings a night, enough to pay for a small work gang’s bed and lodging. The letter had been sent ahead of Titus so as first to pass through the office of the Irish admiral-in-chief William Petty, the same man whose Down Survey from all those years ago would in many ways be the precursor to Titus’ own enterprise. Petty’s admiralty title was an honorary one only but Hayter had felt that the old man’s signature wouldn’t hurt by way of authorisation, and in any case courtesy dictated that the formality be observed. Unfortunately if it had passed through such an office however no one had thought fit to sign it, but though the cartographer in Titus was a little disappointed that his arrival had not been noted by such an eminent predecessor he was more than pleased with its contents nonetheless. In any case, courtesy dictated also that he visit Petty in person before leaving Dublin, a visit he anticipated with some relish. He just hoped that the absence of the old man’s signature did not mean that Petty was indisposed through illness or age to seeing him.

The second letter, when he opened its seal, astounded him. Signed by the Exchequer’s two secretaries, and countersigned by a secretary to the Lord Lieutenant himself, it stated that Titus had the right to withdraw – in bullion or promissory notes – as much as he deemed necessary for his work. There was no stated allowance, and even more astonishingly it even went so far as to say that he could not be refused a demand to withdraw. The admiralty office in London, and the board members alone, would audit and account for their surveyor’s expenditure. Until a contrary instruction was received from them Titus could dispose of exchequer funds as he saw fit, limited only by their availability. The letter also enclosed two promissory notes to the value of fifty pounds each with which Titus could begin procuring equipment and men immediately. Three pounds of that total, it stated, should be reserved by Titus for his own personal use, and a similar sum be withdrawn on those terms every month for the duration of the project.

He read and reread the letter before the importance of it fully sank in. Never before in his life had he been offered such generous terms by any employer, least of all by the notoriously tight-fisted paymasters of the military, and nothing in his communication with Hayter had even hinted at such terms or such trust. There had been no doubt that the navy board was in an apparent hurry to get the exercise underway, but Titus was long accustomed to such stated impatience from similar sources, and in any case the task in question was one that could well stretch on for years. It was madness to set such open and generous terms at the outset of a potentially interminable project, and the more Titus thought about it, the less sense it made. It was generous to a fault, but Titus could not quite figure out just what that fault might be. It was a conundrum, of that there was no doubt, but such questions would not be resolved tonight. Right now an exhausted Titus wished only to find his bed and he was delighted therefore when his secretary arrived at that moment with news that the equipment was at last underway. Flitch was just as delighted when he heard that Titus had purchased them both tickets on a carriage heading to the city and so without further delay they quit the shelter of the ballast office and ran through the rain past the lighted torches that marked the way down to where their transport apparently awaited them.

Titus had wondered at the strange schedule of the vehicles as had been posted on the notice but had not thought to ask the ticket vendor. As soon as he saw the waiting ‘carriages’ he immediately wished that he had. Ringsend’s principal road to Dublin travelled a roundabout route, actually heading away from the city at first so that it could cross the Dodder river at a place called Ball’s Bridge before turning sharply southeast and back towards the Liffey. The Dodder however was a river prone to flash floods and such a flood last autumn had swept the bridge away. McGregor had already advised them of this but had added that besides the ferries, there was also what locals called ‘the short road’ by which to get to the city. Titus had not thought to ask further about it, assuming that the ‘short road’ was simply one less suitable to carriages. He had not been wrong in this assumption, only in how less suitable the ‘short road’ was.

Of course a little deduction from what he already knew would have revealed the true nature of the road, and why people were normally prepared to go miles out of their way to cross the river at Ball’s Bridge rather than take it. The Dodder still had to be crossed and the ‘short road’ was therefore not really a road at all, but simply a euphemism for the traversing on foot of the Dodder’s wide sandy estuary where it emptied into the Liffey just east of Ringsend. This could only be done at low tide – higher waters cut the harbour and its little town off as an island, and all the more so since the bridge had been swept away. The journey had to be taken therefore in what could best be described as open boats on wheels but with retractable sledges that could be dropped below the wheels for those more aquatic parts of the journey. They were drawn by large scrawny ponies chosen for their light weight and dexterity who themselves were fitted with broad sledge-like shoes to prevent them toiling too much in the deep mud of the estuary. Their loads were extremely limited, most drivers would only take two persons at a time and people with baggage were obliged to hire two carriages for the journey. Officially they were known as “Ringsend Cars”, but to most Dubliners they were referred to as “Slob Feeders”, on account of the fate that might befall you or your luggage if either were to tip out into the fetid and potentially fatal mud banks, quick sands and channels en route (as many an unwary or intoxicated passenger in the past had found to their cost). Titus surveyed their own chosen car with some trepidation, his secretary did so with more open disgust, but a sudden chill gust of wind that slapped them wetly in the face as they stood there made up their minds for them at once. Titus hurriedly passed his two tickets to a driver wrapped so tightly in blankets and oilskins that he appeared more a small mountain with a hat than a man. A hand extended from the mountain, snatched the tickets, and disappeared into its lair, from which protruded two sodden leather reins. Then, with Titus having just boarded and Flitch yet to lift his last foot from the grass, the reins were jerked and the car set off on its short, but terrifying journey.

Drenched to the bone by the incessant drizzle and clinging grimly to the iron arm rails with whitened knuckles they found themselves clenching their eyes shut repeatedly and swearing even more often as their car’s pony, at several points in the journey through the darkness, was obliged to paddle and swim across some of the deeper channels. In places, much to their amazement, the driver even had to resort to the use of an oar to assist their progress over to the next sandbank. Once the estuary had been crossed however, the ‘road’ took a less perilous course, winding as it did between tall grassy dunes and then crossing umpteen rivulets until at last beginning a gradual climb away from the river. It may have been inches only but it was enough to ensure that the worst of the deep mud and smelly slob was behind them. Then, as the rain grew heavier and the skies grew even darker above them, they arrived at last with no little relief upon a solid road once more. The sleigh runners were lifted and their pace quickened considerably. Soon they could see ahead of them the high ruined wall that marked an ancient boundary between open land and ancient priory grounds, traditionally the perimeter of the city. On many maps this land was still marked as All Hallows, but for almost a century the ancient pasture had become grounds to the august College of the Holy Trinity, the main buildings of which stood another quarter of a mile or so further along the ancient wall. At this point a makeshift shelter of driftwood and canvas had been erected and from here one could hire a more conventional carriage to bring one on into the centre of the city. Their driver kindly offered to wait with them and broker a fare with the next carriage if they wished, but Titus reckoned that in weather like this such transport would be few and far between, quite expensive, and in any case he didn’t quite trust their driver’s sudden magnanimity. Both he and Flitch thanked the man but agreed that shank’s mare offered as comfortless a passage as one of these carriages on a night like this, and would in all probability be a far sight quicker. With an uncaring shrug from the other man, they elected instead to ply the last mile through the rain on foot.

Rounding the priory wall where the ground jutted slightly towards the Liffey and afforded one a view both upstream and down, Titus paused to look around him. Even in the darkness the wide estuary of the Liffey revealed the slimed timbers and rotting hulls of all those vessels that had fallen foul of her notorious sandbanks. They protruded like ancient black bones from desecrated graves along the river’s edges, stark reminders of this notoriously shallow and fickle waterway and how cruel she could be to those who underestimated her moods, especially in times when storm and spring tides combined. Beneath her surface sat several ‘needles’, points of jagged rock strewn casually by a callous creator with no apparent pattern or logic, but which lurked in waiting for ships steered by men unfamiliar with the port’s treachery, or simply unlucky vessels blown the few yards off course that it took to hole them. Vessels denied the harbour at Ringsend were obliged to take this hazardous route up to the city’s docks and custom house, which itself was situated, almost maliciously, before the greatest and most destructive of the river’s ‘needles’, Standfast Dick.

Upriver near the junction of the Poddle and nestled on the downstream side of Dublin’s greatest bridge Titus could make out even in the growing darkness the clustered masts of those ships that had safely plied the one navigable channel to berth at the Custom House dock. Southwards from the dock climbed the dark silhouette of massed chimneystacks and tiled roofs, sloping with increasing gradient up to a pinnacle on which were perched two great turreted towers and a tall steeple. These were two of Dublin’s three great structures, the Castle and the Cathedral of Christchurch, one situated on the ancient boundary where the Poddle and Liffey combined and from where the city had derived its name – Dubh Linn, the Black Pool – and the other on that even more ancient settlement, the high ground by the river where the city’s founders, the Norsemen of old, had built their first town. In marked contrast to this compact conurbation, on the far side of the river lay an open expanse of field and hedgerow, pierced here and there by occasional spires and the odd smoke plume. This was the townland of Clontarf, the ancient battlefield where an Irish king of old had wrested control of the city from its Norseman founders, and which stretched northwards as far as the eye could see, even on this gloomy April evening. To its west however, recent encroachments were being made upon this ancient greenery. The present Lord Lieutenant, the Duke of Ormonde, had spearheaded an ambitious expansion of the city across the banks of the Liffey. New bridges had been built at his behest, as had been land allocated by lot, and the evidence of the success of this bridgehead was the concentrated pall of chimney smoke that hung in the air above the north bank of the river a mile or so upstream.

Ormonde had achieved much else besides in Ireland outside of his civic enhancements. His reorganisation of the army into a cohesive force had made Titus’ commission here possible. It was no longer a rabble hastily mustered when exigencies demanded; the crown’s army in Ireland was now a formidable and efficient network of garrisons and reserves dotted strategically around the whole island, a network that Titus intended to take full advantage of. Ormonde’s most important achievement was not visible to the eye at all, though Titus had heard it expressed several times by those who held an interest in this kingdom, most recently just that day from McGregor himself, who was Irish by birth. The century had seen the English throne sway disastrously in the storm raised by those opposing factions who would have had it inhabited by a Catholic or a Protestant incumbent. At one point it had even fallen altogether when the king was executed and his monarchy replaced by a ruthless, puritanical, but ultimately short-lived parliament. The years since the restoration of that monarchy had seen Catholicism officially tolerated but still ostracised in England to the point of persecution and murder. In Ireland however, Ormonde had recognised the folly of persecuting a people who greatly outnumbered their would-be persecutors on the island he governed. Although a firm supporter of the Protestant administration, he had ensured that the “Old English” (as the non-Gaelic Catholics were known), although nominally subject to restrictions by law, were for the most part treated with a leniency that often confounded and enraged his English peers. Also, while this leniency did not extend to the huge mass of Gaelic Irish Catholics, there were signs that slowly but surely even members of this class of society too were filtering into positions of power and prestige throughout the land. While his policies aroused suspicion in England, many in Ireland believed that they not only made pragmatic sense, but that through this man who was held in great esteem by his countrymen, Ireland could at last repair the terrible hurts it had sustained forty years before in the disastrous years of the ‘Great Rebellion’ and its aftermath. Then, Cromwell’s armies had subdued the country with a viciousness far exceeding the worst excesses of his campaigns in England. They had all but exiled the Gaelic Irish to the western hinterlands beyond the Shannon River, massacring a good portion of them in the process, and had treated their royalist adversaries of whatever faith little better. A decade of misery for most had seen many executed or deported to the Barbados and other points near the ends of the earth, while their lands had been confiscated and reassigned to Cromwell’s own supporters. The resultant legacy of distrust, confusion, and outright hatred that he had left in his bloodstained wake had been largely assuaged through Ormonde’s delicate deconstruction of these divisive measures, and a grateful populace, for the most part, had seen their fortunes grow again as a result. In Ireland of course nothing was ever certain, but Titus was glad he carried with him credentials displaying the patronage of the Duke of Ormonde.

His secretary Flitch had offered to accompany him to the castle but the lecher’s eyes betrayed that he had already committed himself to investigating the fleshpots and bawdy houses of Rotten Row and Lazar Hill about which he had gleefully learnt from the sailors on the voyage over from Bristol. Although this represented the most direct route to the castle (provided one chose not to avail oneself of the facilities en route), Titus was mindful of the valuable smaller equipment he carried in his pockets, as he was of the rapidly fading daylight, so deemed it would be safer if he made his own way along the more salubrious thoroughfares of Townsend Street, Hawkins Wall and Hoggen Green.

In the dim evening light on Dam Street that filtered grudgingly through the dark rain clouds, draped so low across the city that one felt one could reach up and touch their sodden mass, Titus discerned the tall black towers of the castle gate above the rooftops. The street petered out here into a network of narrow lanes where one such, at Cork Hill, veered left into Castle Street and the large portcullised entrance to the fortress which represented the centre of the crown’s administration in Ireland. The old Duke himself was absent. For the past two years he had become a constant counsellor and political advisor to the ageing King Charles in London, leaving his son Lord Arran in charge at home. Protocol dictated that Lord Arran’s staff at the castle should be officially informed of his arrival, but an exhausted Titus merely presented his papers to the gatekeeper, allowed himself to be conducted to the quarters that had been set aside for him and his secretary, and flopped down in the first available cot to welcome the onset of sleep, a luxury he had been deprived of for three whole nights and which felt to his aching limbs like a period of weeks. Flitch could fire a twenty one-gun salvo should he arrive later if he wished – nothing would disturb the slumber that Titus descended into gratefully that night.
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