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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 9 "The Mustering" (part 6)

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nordmann
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PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 9 "The Mustering" (part 6)

Titus was dismayed when he reached the blacksmith’s shop at the corner near Collier’s tavern to see two constabulary soldiers standing a little distance up the street. They were chatting casually; one leaning against a wall while the other gesticulated languorously with his hands, neither heeding the inn entrance at all. In fact so pointed was their determination not to look in the direction of its door despite its proximity, it seemed, that one could not but assume that this was exactly what they were most interested in – they, like their commander, were obviously crudest when they attempted subtlety and most blatantly obvious when they feigned indifference. Titus darted into the doorway of the blacksmith’s forge and cursed this development. He could not take a chance on being spotted with his companions by these two. Worse, it raised the suspicion that he himself might have been followed, so he dared not risk attempting entry through the back lane either. Still undecided as to how best to proceed, he was startled out of his thoughts by a voice from behind. “Mr Perry, how are you doing? Isn’t this a great day altogether?” It was Ezzy, his ‘escort’ from the previous evening.

“Good morning Ezzy.” He saluted her, endeavouring with his countenance to impart that he had a difficulty while hoping at the same time not to arouse the suspicions of any other passers by.
“Are you alright Mr Perry? Jesus, you’ve a face on you as long as a poacher’s sack!”
He kept his voice low. “I’m trying to work out how to get into the Sheep’s Head to meet Jack and Sarah without those guards spotting me.” Sometimes honesty was the best policy, Titus thought, as he nodded slightly in the direction of the two soldiers.
She giggled and winked. “Were you up to some divilment last night after I left you? You English, you’d swear you couldn’t get a leg over in your own country!”
Sometimes honesty was not the best policy, Titus thought. “Let’s just say I’d be really grateful if you could get a message in to them. They are waiting for me inside – I hope!”
It seemed Ezzy was used to such assignments – her peers obviously had enough run-ins with the law to have had to adopt similar strategies before. “Leave it to me, Mr Perry.”

With Ezzy as intermediary, Jack and Sarah were instructed to make their way, separately and using routes designed to baffle any would-be pursuers, to George’s Lane in an hour’s time. A side alley from there led up to the stable entrance of the castle, where they would meet with Titus. They were to prepare for a long ride and Sarah was asked to leave her canine companion in the care of the Colliers for the day. When Ezzy had departed to relay this intriguing dispatch, Titus slipped quietly through the blacksmith’s yard and into the maze of crowded lanes that tumbled down to St Patrick’s cathedral. It was the most convoluted route that he could think of to reach St George’s Lane without getting himself lost, but it would surely defeat any attempt by someone to tail him. In the end, he was glad that he had allowed an hour for his journey, finding himself lost on more than one occasion as he did in the muddy, tenement lined streets that formed the ancient boundary of St Bridget’s parish with those of St Peter and St Stephen. Here was where they had walked in the lamp-lit darkness the night before, and Titus now quietly cursed that this part of the city, newly developed as it was, offered wider streets and little cover. But it did lend itself to facilitating haste, and to Titus’s relief he found himself at the entrance to the castle stables in next to no time, with no obvious sign of anyone in pursuit. Jack was already there, and a short time later they were relieved to see Sarah, veiled to the point of invisibility, scurrying up the lane to meet them.

So far so good, Titus thought, but now came the tricky bit, and one that he had not had time to afford much attention to its execution – how they should acquire three horses to get them to Balgriffin. Beyond DeLacey’s advice that his companions should pretend to an official role in Titus’s employ, he had given little thought to what should happen if the stable functionaries questioned their credentials or simply refused his request. Castle horses were not lent out to just anyone. But there was no time left to worry over such detail and he quickly assigned his friends the first positions that entered his head. Sarah seemed content to accept a pretended role as Titus’s interpreter. Jack however was less than impressed by his new appointment as Master of the Mapmaker’s Horse. “A bloody stable hand?” he asked indignantly, and probably a little too loudly, as they entered the stable compound.

As it happened, two stable hands looked up with undisguised loathing on hearing the remark. Thank you my dim friend, thought Titus. Just in the door and suspicions aroused already. He shot a sharp look at Jack who responded by nodding that he acknowledged Titus’s anger at his gaucheness.
His next comment however seemed to belie this understanding. “A bloody stable hand?” he said to Titus even louder than before. “Isn’t that the way of it though? If in doubt always point the finger at those who can’t defend themselves! Why don’t they suspect the livery master, or the footmen? Answer me that, sir!”
Titus hadn’t a clue what Jack was on about and just shrugged his shoulders in response, giving the young man a quizzical look that suggested his suspicion that the lad had finally lost his reason.
Jack turned to one of the stable hands whose own expression had changed also from loathing to puzzlement. “Would you credit that? Lord Dunsany’s granddaughter balloons up with child and the stable hand gets the flogging? But sure isn’t that always the way? Blame the hand and dare the saints object!”
“Too right!” one stable hand immediately replied.
“Any piece of shit going and it’s always us who get the blame first!” the other one chirped in.
“Like as not, given an’ all as it’s nobility we talk of,” the first one placed a sneered emphasis on the word, “it’s more I’d be thinkin’ the ould eejit Dunsany himself was him what done her!” His tone was definite, the verdict of a man having suddenly acquiring sufficient insight to speculate on a case totally unknown to him not a few seconds before.
They suddenly noticed Sarah and mumbled something akin to an apology for being so crass in front of a lady.
“No apology needed. I couldn’t agree more, lads,” Sarah replied. “Inbred, the lot of them! Sure they’re more to be pitied than criticised.” This met with muttered approval from the two hands.
“Hey, men,” said Jack, “from one hand to another – what’s the chances of getting three decent steeds for us? My master here has an urgent requirement for some. We’ve to head out to Dunsany’s now, worse luck! Show him the licence, master.”
Titus could only look at his colleague pleadingly. He hadn’t a clue what Jack was on about.
“The licence to borrow our steeds, master. From Lord Arran’s office? You know, the letter with the castle seal on it?” He faced the stable hands and threw his eyes to heaven as if to convey that his master, though a decent man, was still a little dim. One of them sniggered in response.
Titus, slowly realising the subterfuge in play, produced his original letter of credence from Ormonde’s office and handed it to Jack, who, to his astonishment handed it to one of the stable hands. The youth held it upside down as he scrutinised it and then returned it. “Sure that’s no bother,” the stable hand addressed Jack, who he had correctly surmised was the one in control of the situation, though maybe not for the right reason. “Come with us, you can pick your own.”
In no time Jack and the two stable hands had returned with three mounts. The lads were laughing uproariously at something but muted their mirth somewhat when they neared Titus and Sarah. Titus could not help but notice that the one who handed the reins to him was struggling to contain his laughter yet.

When the three had mounted and were heading across Essex Bridge to Capel Street Titus drew alongside Jack. “What was so funny?”
“I told them you were Dunsany’s lawyer.”
“Not true.”
“And that we were heading for Lord Dunsany’s place.”
“Not true, and not very funny either.”
“And that the reason you were so quiet back there was that you were praying the child had not been born yet, lest Lord Dunsany notice the similarity of features!”
Sarah burst out laughing behind them, and to Titus’s irritation both his companions continued intermittently giggling all the way up Capel Street.
The laughter ceased abruptly however when they noticed the unmistakeable livery of the funeral hearse parked outside Stanhope’s premises. A plain wooden coffin lay crossways on the plain, open carriage drawn behind, tethered to the trunnion in which it rested by a black rope. The door of Stanhope’s office was wide open. The mourners for Eoin Reilly’s funeral were obviously assembling there. If what Collier had told him was true then there would be many, as well as inquisitive soldiers, and he could not risk them being recognised by either group. Titus drew alongside Sarah, who had paused her horse at the sight of it, and grabbing its rein near its halter, gently eased her back into movement. It would not be prudent to linger too long, though he understood how every sinew in her being must have demanded they stop. As if coming out from under a spell, she noticed Titus, nodded slightly, and the three proceeded along the street and out of the city without another word being said.

In the townland of Drumcondra, where the road rose sufficiently to afford a view back over the Liffey estuary and the city below, the three paused and dismounted. From here one could just about discern the cemetery of St Mary’s in the far distance. Its tall elms and ruined chapel, once considered rural land remote from the city, were now nestling against the very edge of the new urban development that was rapidly reaching out and would soon envelop it. The ancient graveyard was one of the few places near to the city where Catholics could be legally buried, and only then if they had the foresight to have already purchased a plot. With the city’s expansion, it was certain that Dublin’s Catholic dead would have to be accommodated further afield from now on. Neither man spoke as Sarah knelt by the roadside facing the hallowed ground in which her father was being interred and quietly recited a prayer. After blessing herself and remounting, the three rode on in silence.

The morning was reaching its full height by now, and the April sunshine had a gentle warmth that was pleasing to the spirit. Titus, despite the sombre mood induced by Eoin Reilly’s funeral, felt the worst of the foreboding that he had suffered that morning begin to lift. His fears for Flitch could well be exaggerated, he assured himself, and his sense of responsibility for his two charges - as he had described them to DeLacey - had been alleviated considerably by the realisation that they were both resourceful people in their way too. No doubt instigated by the expanse of lush green fields surrounding them and the leisurely pace at which they travelled through them, Titus found himself with the time and serenity to muse about this city that had brought so much grief upon itself since its inception.
On a day like today one could begin to see why this town, and this land, had long been a trophy drawing so many to their doom in an effort to acquire it. When he had stood looking at the silted harbour on his arrival, he had wondered why the Vikings, a seafaring people who’s mode of invasion involved identifying navigable rivers from which to launch raids, had chosen this inadequate harbour at the mouth of an almost unnavigable river to build their most important settlement on the island. Here, as they rode quietly along the road traversing the slight promontory of Drumcondra, he found he was looking at the answer. As far as the eye could see to west and north stretched the ancient plain of Moy, as fertile a soil as one could wish for and which could feed an entire empire if need be. This was the lure that had attracted wave after wave of would-be conquerors to these shores, each intent on owning this jewel and each doomed to make way for the next. Titus privately wondered how long England’s own claim would hold. Every tactic from bribery, through warfare and even open annihilation had been employed to this end already, and yet one still needed an interpreter if one strayed more than a mile from its supposed capital. He had an uneasy feeling that his country was suffering from a delusion of ownership, one that Norman, Norse and Gael had suffered before it, and one that would eventually lead to its own inevitable conclusion. This land could never truly be owned and it punished those that would try to do so by setting one against the other until they resorted to bloodshed and their own self-destruction. It was a patient land, and the blood itself was its nourishment. It would survive. Titus doubted very much if the same could be said of his country’s claim to its overlordship.

They had chosen a circuitous route at Jack’s suggestion. After Drumcondra they had headed over fields to Glasnevin, from which they took roads that were little more than bridle paths, north-east to the village of Santry. From there they could ride cross-country just north of Jervis’s huge Belcamp Estate and arrive in Balgriffin from the west. The more usual approach, though much shorter, would have necessitated travelling a more populous route along one of the two great roads heading north with the added risk of meeting unwelcome patrols. The only real risk of an encounter with soldiers on the route they’d chosen lay in Santry itself, but Jack seemed to know this land well and suggested that they could skirt the village to its north through open common near the Santry River.
“And there comes the fun bit,” he said as they left the village to their south.
“Oh?” Titus trusted Jack’s navigation but suspected the lad’s idea of fun.
“There’s no bridge lest we double back to the village so we’ll have to jump it.”
“Can we not ford it?” Sarah asked. When told they must ride to Balgriffin she had said nothing at the time, allowing the others to presume that horse-riding was a skill she had acquired. But Jack at least should have known that a girl brought up in the Liberties had little opportunity to ride with hounds, even if her father had had the foresight to pay for riding lessons from an early age. It was still over three years since she had sat in a saddle and the prospect of jumping a river was not one that held much appeal.
“Normally, but it will be a fair racy beck this time of year, and I wouldn’t recommend trying to step through it.” Jack was delighting in the prospect. “But sure it’s only a wee jump!”

Soon they could see the obstacle for itself. The three sat on their horses looking down the slope of the riverbank at the racing waters below. The heavy rains of recent days had swollen the small river considerably, and it flowed at a speed no sane horse would look at, let alone attempt to wade through. Jack seized the initiative.
“Nothing to it! Hi!” With a shake of the reins he was off like a shot. His black mount seemed to soar when it reached the riverbank and landed a yard or more clear on the other side. “Told you! Easy!” he shouted from the far bank.
Titus could see that Sarah was looking with some trepidation at the river before her. “Just get him up to speed and he’ll do the rest. Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Look, if I can get clear across without a bath anyone can.”
He geed his horse into a trot, and then launched into a gallop towards the white-foamed waters. As he landed he felt the spray of water on his back from where his horse’s rear hooves had landed just inside the bank. A near miss, but he was over. Pulling up beside Jack he shouted across to a distinctly unhappy looking Sarah. “Oops!”
Sarah was in a world of her own and did not respond – her eyes and mind were focused purely on the riverbank at which she stared intently for what seemed several minutes. Suddenly she shook the reins, screamed “Abú” at the top of her lungs and spurred her steed into flight, as direct as an arrow and as fast as one too. Without appearing even to break stride her horse cleared the river in what looked like one giant effortless step and landed several yards beyond the opposite bank – and then with equally long strides kept going at the same speed and trajectory, right between the two men where they had waited for her, beyond them and out across the expanse of moorland behind them. For a moment they looked at her form disappearing into the distance with some amusement, but then exchanged a worried look when they both realised simultaneously what must be happening. “She can’t stop!” they said in unison, and immediately shot off after her.

Sarah and her steed led the two men a merry chase across the open land, dodging branches and hedges, clearing ditches and walls with the terrifying elegance and alacrity of Dante’s Geryon as she zigzagged across field and meadow, through common and wood, towards the village of Balgriffin. Riding as hard as they could they still could not keep up, and in no time she had disappeared from view completely. The two men drew their horses back from full gallop and proceeded in fear, expecting at any moment to see a lame horse and crumpled rider at every turn. Each vaulted wall or turned corner was approached with trepidation and passed with relief when no mangled Sarah or riderless mount was found behind it. At last, having found nothing and quite beside themselves with worry, they found they had all but arrived at the small hamlet of Balgriffin itself. They joined the road and came round the final bend before the first house of the village, the small tavern to which DeLacey had summoned them.

“Would you just look at that?” Jack pointed up the road. “Stars and garters, Mr Perry! Can you credit it?”
A horse stood tethered to a post outside the small tavern, and a young lady sat on a bench beside it, her back against the tavern wall, a piece of bread in one hand, a lump of cheese in the other, and a tankard of ale on the bench by her side.
“What kept you?” she mumbled through a mouthful of luncheon as they rode up.
“We were searching for some-body.” Jack replied, with a pointed emphasis on the final two syllables that he was sure Sarah noticed, though did not acknowledge.
“No, I would have seen somebody if they’d passed. Your search is in vain, I fear Sure you’re the first people to arrive in ages and I should know, I’ve been here a fierce while waiting for you,” she said with a smile. “Oh, and Mister Perry sir, you owe the mistress of the house three ha’pence. A bargain too, she brews the nicest ale.” She lifted the tankard of beer in salute as she spoke.
“We’re early, surprisingly enough,” said Titus, with as much irony in his tone as he could muster, and dismounted. “I suppose we should all eat before our company arrives. Any more of that bread and cheese for sale in there, ma’am?” Jack, whose hunger was such that he needed not a second invitation to dine, was already on his way in the door. As Titus stood by to let Sarah pass within he asked in a low voice. “Why were you so worried back at the riverbank if you can ride like that?”
“Don’t tell Jack,” she spoke through clenched teeth, as if in a stage whisper. “But if the horse hadn’t seen the bloody water trough at the inn and decided for himself that he was thirsty, I’d be halfway to Armagh by now!” Sarah winked at a stunned Titus and entered through the low doorway.

Once seated inside with ale and lunch before them, Jack raised the inevitable question. “Right ho, Mr Mapmaker, why are we here?”
Titus looked around the room. They were alone, the old woman who had served them being hard at work in the kitchen beyond. He felt that the time had come to tell them the full truth of his mission and how they had ended up figuring in it - this much he had resolved on the long ride out. And it was good that they should know before DeLacey’s arrival too. The old spy could think and say what he liked, but Titus wanted them to hear his version of events rather than Sir John’s. It was not that he reckoned he even knew enough of the truth to allay their fears, he could hardly allay his own. But it was important that they know as much as he did, and could estimate their own risks with as much intelligence of the task as he had at his disposal himself. This much he owed them.
He spared no detail that he could remember – the disappearance of Ormonde was met with gasps of dismay by both - and eventually showed them the lawyer MacCarthy’s letter, which looked so innocent but was the statement of an intention to murder one man, himself, if not the reason for the murder of another already, his secretary Flitch. Titus banished that dark thought from his head quickly. “DeLacey at least saw this as an instruction for my execution at the hands of this Wilson person, and I see no reason to disbelieve him. That is why I am so worried about Flitch. He came up this way yesterday to learn more about Wilson. At the time I did not realise how extensive Wilson and his colleagues’ network actually was. Now I can see that no one in Arran’s staff really knows for certain either, but everyone suspects it is widespread indeed - enough for the Castle chiefs to employ secrecy in their own camp. I have a grave suspicion …”

Titus’s suspicions however must remain unsaid. The door was opened abruptly at that moment and a uniformed member of the Castle Guard entered, surveyed the interior and spotted the three at the table. “You, sir, are Mr Titus Perry?” He asked curtly.
“Yes. Can I take it …?”
Again Titus’s sentence remained unfinished. The soldier turned smartly in the doorway and clapped his hand twice. The room darkened then as the small doorframe was filled by a succession of tall men - some uniformed and others in sober clerical garb, including Sir John DeLacey. Titus counted six in all, and then after a pause the door darkened yet again. The ornately clad figure of Lord Arran himself stepped over the threshold. He stood in the centre of the room, eyed Titus and his companions, and pointed to Sarah and Jack. “They must leave – now.”
“No.” Titus was firm in his reply and looked Richard Butler in the eye. “They are as much a key to the success of our plot now as I am, and I am already indebted to them for much in that regard. If you tolerate my presence then you must tolerate theirs too. Besides, I have apprised them of events. Given that they are embroiled in affairs that could spell their doom, I thought it only fair to let them know the nature of the hand that might strike them down.”
“Mr Perry! You have exceeded yourself in presumption! There is only so much I will take from you or from any man. Do not tempt me to show you where the limit lies!”
“Then we must all three quit your company, Sir Richard.”
Arran’s gaze switched from Titus to Sarah, then to Jack, then back to Titus. “Is this the girl whose father was found dead on Monday last?”
“The same,” replied Titus.
Arran turned and spoke hurriedly and quietly to DeLacey. He nodded to Sir John, and then turned to Titus again. “Very well, they can stay, but they must know that what they witness or hear today will earn them execution should they tell another soul. We have a guest at this parley who, shall we say, does not want it known that he is in our land at the minute.” He addressed Sarah and Jack directly “Do you understand the import of what I have just said?” They nodded obediently like small children, and Arran turned back to Titus with a frown. “Observe, Mr Perry. While you might suspect me a traitor, your friends do not doubt my word. You see? It is possible!” Obviously Sir John had not resisted telling him of Titus’s earlier expressed concern about the matter. Arran frowned until the whole room could see Titus’s patent unease, and then suddenly laughed aloud and clapped his hands together. “Right, assembly!”

The soldiers rearranged the rustic furniture in the inn so that the room was converted into a debating chamber, with the tables and chairs set into a large circle – or at least as large a circle as the small inn could afford to accommodate. One soldier was dispatched to ensure that the old lady working there remained out of earshot. Titus noticed that Arran slipped the soldier a small purse of coins to give to her. Sarah and Jack, having just been astounded to hear their companion explain his task as one involving the highest people in the land, now were totally dumbstruck to witness the arrival of some of these very figures into their midst, as if Titus had somehow conjured them out of thin air. And their awe was only increased, if anything, when Arran introduced one of the uniformed men as Sir Richard Talbot of Terenure, the younger brother of the late Archbishop. This Talbot, as everyone knew, was in exile and under sentence of death should he ever set foot in any part of the kingdom again. Rumour had placed him in the service of the French king, or as priest in the Vatican having taken holy orders, or even leading an army of fellow Irishmen for the Turkish sultan. To see him turn up in a small tavern in Dublin’s hinterland, and moreover introduced as “honourable” by the man who should be administering his death warrant, made even the wildest rumour seem tamely credible by comparison. But then, to see any of these men here was scarcely less incredible. Sarah and Jack may have been dumbfounded, but Titus himself was not so far behind them in terms of disbelief.

Once everyone had been seated, Arran assumed control of the chamber and addressed the assembled guests.
“Gentlemen, we have a lady present who lost her father only two short days ago. We will pay our respects.” There then ensued a sight that no small Irish tavern had ever seen or was ever likely to see again, as the assembled nobles, soldiers and citizens stood to a man, clasped their hats to their breasts, bowed their heads in silence and listened to Talbot, in full military regalia, citing the Catholic Prayer of Intercession. Titus and Jack stood too. When Talbot concluded with the Lord’s Prayer, all joined in - including Sarah - and Titus saw that both she and Talbot blessed themselves at its conclusion.

“My condolences, ma’am,” Arran said and indicated everyone to be seated. “Good, we’ll begin. Allow me to announce first some salient news which I know you have all waited to hear. I have received authorisation only today from His Royal Majesty to formally inaugurate the Royal Regiment of Foot in Ireland. May I present therefore its chief commander Richard Talbot, on whom will be also conferred a title befitting his status once the new king has been crowned.” Titus half expected to hear a round of applause but obviously that was not how things were done at this level. One or two nodded in acknowledgement and that was it. Arran continued.

“In the enforced absence of my father I have also assumed responsibility for the redeployment of the existing crown forces at our disposal. We face a threat in this land from three sides. My father has successfully kept two of them at bay, up to now, namely his enemies in England who feel they can run this land better than ourselves, and our Scots-Irish friends in the north, some of whom, by their own admission, will settle for nothing less than the annihilation of their Catholic neighbours and if truth be know the reinstatement of the Protectorate itself if they thought that it safeguarded their tenure. We are here,” and he looked around the tavern with the same disdain he had regarded Collier’s loft, “because it is my sad duty to confirm that it seems he has failed on both fronts alas. The English crown has bowed to pressure from within its Whig retinue and has nominated the Earl of Rochester as the next Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. A request to my father that he rescind his title when convenient has accompanied the communication we received today to this effect. In this the crown thinks it is taking a middle line. In fact, as I need not tell you, it is disastrous to our own cause. Rochester, who has publicly declared his support for James’ succession when it arises, is known to us well however as a fop of the Whigs and an opponent of that principle in practise. He craves high office so will accept his appointment on the condition of that nominal support, but in doing so he jeopardises our careers, our policies and our ambitions. If we wish to influence the course of our country’s fate, we must do so now, unblinkered by sentiment, by past allegiance, or even by our own loyalties. Gentlemen, we must, as my father would say, win the game by changing the rules. The alternative is our own emasculation and God knows what woes visited on our people.”

There was a murmur amongst Arran’s colleagues. This was obviously news to them too. Arran raised a hand. “It gets worse, gentlemen. This news will be greeted with pleasure by the one faction we have sought to contain all these years but who have been spoiling for a fight and will welcome any development that brings such a fight closer. We have information that the Presbyter Men in Ulster have been forming their own militia for some time, and with funding from some surprising sources. This practically invites retribution and to be honest, if we don’t grasp that nettle soon we may never get an opportunity again. My father has assiduously avoided confrontation in that quarter for over two decades - it seems the light-handed approach has failed him, as it has failed us, and indeed failed the country if we are not to be vigilant now.” He paused to let the import of his speech be noted. “Now - there is one other important fact that has been known to only a handful of souls up to now, most of whom are in this room.” He glanced at Titus before he proceeded. “We must face the possibility that we have lost our Viceroy, my father. He was abducted a month ago while contesting yet another false charge against his name in England. We have operated in the hope that we had time to recover him, or at least learn of his fate.” He pointed to Titus. “This man has courageously offered to help us to that end. But we must now address the likelihood that we do not have the time we thought.”

Titus saw on the faces of those present the same look of dismay that had overtaken Jack and Sarah earlier when he had relayed the same news. Ormonde was obviously a very revered man, or at least one much respected even by his opponents. Most tellingly to Titus, if Sarah and Jack’s reaction was anything to go by, even the generation that had grown up long after the old Duke’s deliverance of the country from Cromwell and his successors held the old man in awe. To learn they had lost him would obviously be more than many could bear, and the chill dread so visible on many of the faces in this room on hearing the news confirmed this. Only Arran seemed to have kept his wits about him sufficiently to formulate a plan and enough presence of mind to deliver it coherently.
“Gentlemen, I state now that we in Ireland must recognise at last that the time has come to reassess our stand on our Catholic brethren, and not because we admit any past weakness on our part or our policies, but because we must see that our strength bleeds from us as things stand, and as it does so, we come ever nearer to losing our ability to decide our own course. This cannot go on. We come soon to a moment in history when that very strength will be required of us as it never has been before to avert our own demise! And to those of you who might have questioned or opposed our stance in this respect in the past,” he looked at Talbot as he spoke, “let me say this. It is true that in many ways we have done England’s bidding, and that such bidding has been to the seeming detriment of our Catholic people. But ponder this. When England reneged on its promise to reinstate those who had lost lands and title under Cromwell’s tyranny, it was my father who tempered that betrayal by enacting laws which achieved quite the opposite. True, there were many who could never be reimbursed without risking England’s umbrage and the undoing of what little we could achieve, but there are many such as you, Sir Richard, who must acknowledge that you benefited from my father’s astuteness in that regard! And I make no secret of the fact that we confiscated land at the crown’s behest, even when it served our own interests in no way whatsoever, but to do otherwise would have ended our interests completely. I acknowledge all that, but I remind you of this.”

He paused again, as if collecting his thoughts, but Titus knew that Arran was a skilled speechmaker and that this was merely another tool of the rhetorician to emphasise the point to follow. “England, for its own self serving reasons, has ever imposed legislation on our land designed to enhance its own wealth and security, and rarely ours. In our time we have been witness to no policy originated in London other than that it conformed to this overriding tenet. To the crown, good fortune for Ireland is an incidental benefit of her policies relating to herself, and by no means ever intentional. But under my father, it is prudent to note, England – be it her parliament or her court - has not had it all her own way. We have spent our years gradually dismantling that very legislation, gently chipping fragments from its edifice, discarding it in fractions until at last the very rotten core of this law has been exposed and has proven unworkable, and all this so we could continue to prosper as a country. It galled the crown but the crown could do little about it except at ruinous expense. So you see,” and again he looked pointedly at Talbot, “Ormonde has already done the opposite of what they bid - even through the turmoil of the Popish Plot when he was forced to newly legislate against the very people he was helping back on their feet - not because he had love for his Catholic subjects, nor because he wished to undermine the English throne he had fought so hard to reinstate. He did it because the alternative was always too horrific to contemplate. Ireland cannot be run by a self-serving London legislature. Nor can it be run by an elite assembly of crown-appointed persons here who seek only to exploit their fellow subjects as slaves in the enterprise of creating wealth for London, a reality I fear that we have only escaped by the skin of our teeth due to my father’s diligence and assiduousness over the years. It can be run best from within, but only, as my father would always have attested, if the bounty of success is seen to be passed to all those that created it. It is time we follow through on Ormonde’s previous ‘disobedience’ and bring his, and our, policies to their logical conclusion. It is time to embrace our Catholic neighbour into the body politic. And that brings me to the third threat I mentioned, and one that is coming on us faster than we anticipated.”

Arran paused again. Whatever Titus had expected when DeLacey had told him to meet in Balgriffin, it most definitely was not a speech by the deputy Lord Lieutenant addressing the parlous dilemma facing the country, or, more particularly, facing those that presently governed it. He could see that the speech was for the benefit of galvanising the thoughts of those who Arran had assembled here, in the manner of a rallying call made by a general before a battle, and the intense concentration with which the assembly regarded the speaker reinforced this observation. But not the entire assembly. Titus regarded the three uniformed men whom he did not recognise. They sat in sombre silence, none of them looking at Arran as he spoke, studying instead the rough wooden tabletops before them. They obviously knew in advance the thrust of Arran’s rhetoric, even if the news of Ormonde’s abduction had been a blow. These were men awaiting instruction, and Titus realised that so was he.

“We in Ireland understand the folly of exclusion more than most. At best, it defers only the day when those excluded take measures to redress the imbalance, and allows only the illusion of peace in the meantime. We have only to look at our neighbour’s recent history to see how cataclysmic such retribution can be. At worst, it sours the spirit of the people to the extent that adequate redress can never be paid, and what might have been resolved in a lifetime takes many generations to achieve, during which time there can never be peace. Yet exclusion has been the backbone of our masters’ policies for more generations than we can remember, and we have been fortunate indeed in our own time that our policies here have at last begun to undo the harm that such policies have caused. The succession of our monarch’s brother to the throne should, in a perfect world, copper fasten that procession to the resolution of our ills, and place our glorious kingdoms in alliance not just with each other, but with our natural neighbours, France and Spain. But we do not live in a perfect world and there are many who have vested interest in its imperfections. Throughout the kingdoms as we speak, alliances are being formed of strange bedfellows - you know to whom I refer. The Presbyter, the Protectorate Parliamentarian, the Protestant Successionist, the Pretender and anyone else who opposes the Duke of York have all seemingly settled their differences to mount a challenge to James ever wearing his ailing brother’s crown. Sometimes I think the abolition of the letter P from the King’s English would solve all his woes!”
Arran’s jest raised a smile on some of his audience’s lips but no more than that. Loud laughter however came from the kitchen, and then a cry - “Well said, Arran!” Arran smiled briefly. “So gentlemen, our final guest has arrived – Anthony Hamilton, envoy for James Stuart - Duke of York!”

All stood as a tall man in a cloak entered the room. Doffing his hat and bowing courteously, he took the cloak from his shoulders and meticulously hung it on a nail by the door before seating himself on the one remaining free seat in the circle. Titus saw that he wore the tunic of a foreign army, and he guessed that it was French, though if the man’s attire represented the uniform of a French soldier, then the military there were well attired indeed. The man’s boots and breeches were of a cut and cloth the quality of which were both far in excess of that provided to a soldier of any rank that Titus had ever met. Likewise the hat, which he had hung with great show and delicacy above his cloak, was more moulded to suit Parisian fashion, Titus guessed, than to shield one against the elements. His every movement seemed exaggerated, as if the man considered himself ever on stage, and therefore his audience must not ever fail to be entertained – even if the scene required him to do little more than hang his coat or take a seat. But beneath the foppish aplomb his features betrayed a harder edge to the man. He reckoned that Hamilton, for all his airs and graces, had seen his fair share of combat, and not from the safe saddle at the battle’s edge normally reserved for men of his social rank either. The man had the solid, muscular and upright bearing of a fighter, and his eyes the steely glint of a commander of men.

“I feel like King Arthur!” he said with a smile, indicating the circular formation of the tables, and then glanced around the room. All had stood at his entrance and he gestured with his hand that they be seated again, though Titus noticed that Arran remained standing on the spot from where he had delivered his lengthy address to the company. For a moment the two eyed each other, as if in a competition to see who would sit last. Then Hamilton laughed, made a great show of pulling his rickety chair to his table, brushed it with his gloved hand and sat down heavily. Rubbing his fingers together, as if to inspect the grime on his glove, and then making a great show of brushing what dust he had found from his person, he again waved a hand to indicate his surroundings. “Though I don’t think much of your Camelot, Lord Arran. As privy council chambers go, I suppose it is privy enough, and indeed a chamber to boot, but I have to tell you that I have hidden in better appointed wardrobes in my time, and for much more delicious reasons!” There was general laughter at his comment, even if some of it was a little forced. Indeed Lord Arran, despite Hamilton’s admonishment for his choice of meeting place, brayed loudest of all. Hamilton waited for the merriment to subside, as all good actors do who have taken the trouble to learn their lines and therefore do not wish their delivery to be lost in the hubbub of a noisy audience. “However I do recommend the whiskey they serve in the galley aft. I had a nice wee dram while I waited for you to announce me. Mind you, I could have had a whole bloody bottle while I was at it. Christ, Sir Richard, you do go on you know!” Again there was polite laughter, but this time Titus noticed that Arran’s attempt at a smile resulted in a grimace that betrayed his true reaction to being gibed so publicly, and that he quickly looked sharply askance at the floor to hide the fact. This made Titus himself smile all the more. It was a nice surprise, and indeed good entertainment, to see men like Arran put in their place. They are apt to be as derogatory as they like about others, but are woefully unequipped to brook criticism levelled against them by their peers or betters, even in jest. He looked at the new guest afresh, and in a slightly kinder light. Hamilton spoke with a strange accent that Titus found strangely intriguing, to the point where he caught himself concentrating so hard on trying to understand the accent’s origin that he almost forgot to listen to the sense of the words themselves. These were enunciated with an extreme precision such as you would expect from a man educated in the best English schools, but with a lilting modulation that owed something, Titus reckoned, to the man’s French service, as well as to some other indefinable source. The slightest phrase was expressed with a relish that flattered its content, much as the French are prone to do, and his habit of rolling his “r’s” and broadening his vowels lent a lyrical cadence to his speech, almost as if one was listening to music. If Titus had known that Hamilton was an Irishman by birth, but from a noble Scottish family, and tied so long to James Stuart in service throughout his thirty nine years that he had spent almost his entire majority in the Netherlands, France and Whitehall, then it might have done much to explain the strange effect of his tones. But for the moment all Titus could deduce was that it was a not unpleasant effect, one he was sure that would lead many a listener to assume the same as he had about the speaker, be it a correct assessment or not. While not a particularly good looking man, there was enough wit and animation about his face to mitigate this fact – indeed to reverse the effect, and Titus was therefore also sure that the man’s oblique reference to bedroom escapades in his past was one not entirely invented for comic effect. Then, as if prompted by Titus’s last thought, Hamilton looked around the room pointedly until his eyes rested on where Sarah sat beside Titus, trying hard to remain as invisible as she could, but audibly gasping with embarrassment when she found that the room’s attention was now being focused on her. Hamilton gave a fleeting look of mock astonishment at discovering her there, followed quickly by a wide smile. “Oh, my word! And a Guinevere to boot! Your attention to detail is remarkable, Richard. I salute you, m’lady.” He nodded towards a shyly bemused Sarah with exaggerated politeness, and then his eyes scanned the faces around him again. “But now, all we need to complete the tableau is a Galahad – you say you’ve found one for me, Sir Richard?”

Arran smiled and nodded that he had. Titus was surprised at how quickly he seemed to have recovered from the earlier slight to his character, but reckoned men like Lord Arran saw the likes of such banter as less relevant in its content than it was in its context, merely a small part in the struggle of wills in which such men were constantly engaged. Hamilton’s mild, but public, snub served only to goad him into regaining the upper hand, and he lost no time in doing so. He still stood where he had been since Hamilton’s flamboyant entrance, and though the attention of all had been usurped by his guest, he knew that he was still in the best location to reclaim it. He paused before replying, a tactic to ensure that all eyes would turn to him, as indeed they did, and then spoke deliberately and slowly so as to hold that attention, a fixed smile on his lips. “Some of us have neither the luxury of a forgiving patron, nor indeed enjoy the benefit such as a delegate might whereby he can avail of all the authority of a policy’s maker while incurring little or none of the risk that policy may hold.” He paused again, just long enough to ensure that Hamilton got the point, and then pointed a finger at Titus before James Stuart’s envoy could respond. “It is left to some of us to take such risks all the time, and for our delegates alas to share their perils. Here is the man who has undertaken to locate my father.”

Hamilton grew serious, and once the face had lost its levity Titus could see that he was not a person with whom one would want to trifle. Without a wig, and with his closely cropped hair receding to reveal a forehead furrowed with past concerns, Anthony Hamilton had all the austerity in appearance of a medieval pope – not an inapt description for the personal envoy of a man who many suspected harboured an intention to restore the Catholic church to supremacy when monarch. But, as Arran had rightly pointed out, men like Hamilton might nail their colours to the mast of a ship and enjoy the view from its prow as it ploughed its course through calm waters. However, recent history had shown that they could still abandon both colours and ship if the sea ever got choppy. James Stuart’s boat had already endured its share of foul weather, but nothing like the storm that it was bound to encounter on the death of his brother, and all seated around the table knew it. It had been a harsh accusation for Arran to make so publicly, and Titus reckoned a tad excessive retaliation to Hamilton’s own taunt, but if the envoy had been wounded he chose to ignore it. Instead he turned to the mapmaker.

“Good man, pray to God you succeed,” Hamilton’s gaze briefly met Titus’s and the deep blue eyes seemed to attempt to probe Titus’s very thoughts before they moved on, an uncomfortable scrutiny for all its brevity. He slapped the table, as if both to terminate that part of the proceedings and to re-establish his status in the group lest Arran’s remark had diminished it. “Now gentlemen, to business. The Heir Apparent is desirous to learn of His Irish regiments, namely their projected size and companies. May I hear from their commander in waiting?”
Talbot raised his hand slightly to announce his presence, and Hamilton nodded for him to proceed. He looked once to Arran, as if seeking permission from that quarter too, then coughed lightly and responded. “We received the authorisation from His Majesty just yesterday. However we have already opened the lists. We estimate thirty thousand to begin with. We have no doubt we can double that once …” he paused suddenly and seemed to reconsider what he was about to say.
“Once my Lord’s brother croaks is what you mean,” said Hamilton. “That is excellent news indeed. Sixty thousand you think?”
“Well, yes sir,” replied Talbot edgily, “but our projection also depends on being allowed to recruit unhindered by others, and indeed that we do not lose our men even as we enlist them.”
“You speak in riddles, Mr Talbot. What others? And why would we lose our recruits so quickly?”
Arran interjected. “It depends on what happens next, Sir Anthony. We must first nullify any threat from Ulster and that in itself might cost our regiment dearly. I understand that is not a palatable contingency for your master to contemplate, but it is a reality that must be envisaged nevertheless. We think now that it would be wisest to provoke that confrontation first, at a time of our own choosing, rather than wait for our opposition there to mobilise further than it already has. It will be expensive, both in money and men, but cheap when compared to what otherwise might be demanded of us in the future to settle the same bill.”
For a fleeting moment it looked as if Hamilton was about to enter a rage. His face darkened and his lowering eyes settled on Richard Butler. Then, just as suddenly, he composed his features and the tension released from his clenched fist on the table. “And the cavalry?” He pointedly ignored Arran and turned to Talbot again.
Talbot looked singularly uncomfortable. “There is a complication there.” Again he looked to Arran, who seemed loath to interject again. There was a silence, during which Hamilton’s gaze rested enquiringly on Talbot, his fingers lightly tapping the countertop as he waited. Talbot, recognising that his colleague would not speak for him this time, cleared his throat. “We may not have one, sir.”
The rage returned with a vengeance. Hamilton slammed his hand on the table and threw himself back in his chair, his eyes thrown to the heavens. “Dear God, man! It is a country where children recognise a bloody saddle before they do their mothers’ tit! And you cannot form a cavalry?” He turned to Arran. “Did not His Majesty just recently elevate your own kin, at your own request, to the position of master of His Irish Cavalry? What does he think he is being asked to do? Form a bloody hunt?”
Richard Butler eventually spoke gravely, and with not a little pain, Titus noticed. It was clear that this was a subject that he had been waiting to arise, and with some dread. “It is my nephew alas who is the problem. He refuses to see reason. He has pledged his new command to the service of the crown alone, as he puts it. I suspect he does not wish to risk his newly acquired high office by subscribing to our cause.” Even in imparting this embarrassing news Arran maintained a tone of authority. Titus suddenly realised whose voices he had heard in argument from his bedroom window in the wee hours earlier.
“So,” Hamilton asked, “he has been informed of what that cause will be?”
“No, not fully,” Arran answered plainly. “I thought it wisest that he accustom himself to his command before we include him in our decision as to how it will be deployed.”
“But yet you say now that it cannot be so deployed. Explain yourself! Why did you ask for his appointment if it was not conducive to our aims?”
Arran shifted uncomfortably. It was obvious that he had made a mistake, and one that could not now be easily justified. “When I did so, our aims were not as honed as they are now, and neither alas was my understanding of my nephew James’ ambitions.”
“Which are set against ours? Is that what you are saying?”
“No sir, but he errs on the side of caution, and sees our own policies as rash in that light.”
Hamilton thought about this for a moment. “Maybe young James Butler is a more able commander than even we have given him credit for. It is not usual for a general to commit his troops without an understanding of the reward, as well as the risk. He bides his time then.” Titus thought Hamilton’s response a charitable one in the circumstances, an assessment he quickly reversed with the man’s following remark. “A prudent policy in better times than these - but of no use to anyone now. He must be relieved of his command.” Charity obviously only went so far.
“No sir, not now without risk to our own ends,” Arran quickly replied. “And I am afraid that your assessment of my nephew as a cautious general is not quite the truth, alas. He has allied himself strongly with young Lord Eyemouth and others in whom we cannot rely for support. They style themselves ‘The Young Turks’ and seem interested only in the mayhem of battle and not the politics behind it. We could find ourselves earning the enmity of the entire English army if we attempted to do so now. If we are to incur such enmity, better it be when we ourselves have the strength to defend what we hold dear, and the Duke of York is at least in possession of the crown.”
“So you advise that we proceed without a cavalry.” Hamilton seemed incredulous.
“In the campaign I speak of in Ulster, a cavalry will not be required. Later, when our position has been consolidated, and our forces are placed at your – our master’s disposal, then we see no impediment to employing both him and his troops.”
“You stand before witnesses to your assertion, Lord Arran, some of whom are, or very soon will be, in a position to exact a punishment for your mistake, if it is indeed one that you made.”

Arran did not even bat an eyelid at the threat, nor miss a breath in his reply. “Such error as I have made will not affect the outcome of our policies. That much I can swear to, Sir Anthony. And I ask only that the error be judged in the light of the choices that faced me when I made it. Had I and my father not proposed my nephew the Earl of Ossory when we did, there was every likelihood that the position would have been granted to the gallant but foolhardy Grafton, over whom none save the king’s old mistress Villiers still holds sway, or the nincompoop Ross who would be more likely to lose his troops in a card game than in a battle, or worse,” he paused and then smiled, “I believe Monmouth himself expressed an interest. Now that would have been a fine hurdle for us to leap, would it not, if it had come to pass?”
Hamilton smiled too. “We would have been hard put to leap any hurdle so, with not a horse to our name!” The comment was met with a murmur of laughter from the assembly, and Titus reckoned that some if it was more in relief than mirth. Arran’s error of judgement would be tolerated so, it seemed, at least for the moment. His assertion that Ossory’s support for their cause would transpire eventually, however much it might be true or false, was an easier pill to swallow than the thought of the Duke of Monmouth setting up camp on their doorstep, and holding one of their aces as his own to boot. But Titus did not share their compliance with Richard Butler’s assurance. He recalled the fraction of conversation he had overheard during the night between the two Butlers, uncle and nephew. Something about Lord Arran’s summary struck him as awry but he couldn’t quite place what it was. Arran had admitted a mistake, which itself was indication that he spoke the truth, but it felt to Titus that only half the truth had still been spoken. It was beyond him to even speculate what the unspoken truth might be, but there was more to Ossory’s reluctance than Arran had said, that much he was sure of. He wondered if Hamilton guessed as much also. By his demeanour apparently not, but then, Titus reckoned such half truths could well be regarded as normal discourse amongst men of power who expect no less from their colleagues and who deliver no less themselves. In politics an open truth might well be vulnerable to attack or rebuttal by foul means or fair, whereas a guarded truth survives longer.

“No matter!” Hamilton snapped. “We can play our hand then without him and if he truly bides his time, he will not be an impediment to our progress. If he styles himself on his companions then he will fight for any cause that looks likely to be victorious.” He thought for a moment and then asked. “What of Ormonde? I am sure I am not the only one here who has contemplated the sad fact that we work without him now, and maybe from now on too.” At this, he looked across to where the mapmaker sat, and Titus could not help but feel from his expression that despite his earlier expression of support and hope for Titus’s success, Hamilton thought little of his chances, and probably even less of the man he now addressed. “Without meaning any disrespect to you, sir,” his tone belied his sentiment, draped as it was in a sardonic tone, “yours is a desperate task indeed, and your appointment to it evidence of our own desperation too.” Titus felt that he should respond with some type of assurance to the contrary but he was given no chance. Hamilton’s attention shifted back to the company in general and his voice was raised. “But come, come, gentlemen. Surely we are not yet that desperate that we have neglected to plan around the contingency of our esteemed Duke’s demise? He is not a young man, and we are at the threshold of great events that will likely outlive him in any case.”

An uncomfortable silence descended on the room and those assembled there. Hamilton leaned forward and rested his hands, palms downwards, on the tabletop, as if studying his nails. He spoke slowly, advertising that his patience, while not inexhaustible, could yet be employed to ensure that his point was understood. “Rright, gentlemen. So let us assume then that he lives, but that events overtake our efforts to secure his release. We must then regretfully proceed without him, but we need not proceed without his name!” He saw Arran draw breath to speak but stayed him with a raised hand. “I am not implying that we abandon our efforts to liberate him. I am merely pointing out that until we learn otherwise, we must assume his complicity and support, and that it would be folly not to advertise that support at every opportunity. The man’s value to our cause is too great for us not do so. Indeed, should we not, it would lead to speculation of a rift between he and us, and that in itself is something we must strive to avoid. So, to all intents and purposes, we behave as if he is not missing, at least until the matter is resolved, however that shall be.” Most of the others murmured approval to this and Hamilton leaned back on his chair, satisfied that his point had been made and had met with general agreement.

But Titus had noticed that a couple of men across from him had not joined in the murmur of assent, and one indeed shook his head visibly. His muttered “No, no” could be heard above the others and eventually caught their attention. Hamilton peered into the corner from where the dissent had arisen and gestured for the man to make his point, at which he rose rather embarrassedly and saluted the Duke of York’s envoy in a military fashion. “Sir, I do not wish to contradict your statement fully, as I sincerely sympathise with the motive if not the method you suggest. But such advertisement will most certainly appear ridiculous should his abductors offer proof that we are lying, and we along with it. I would suggest the opposite course, and to use the Duke’s abduction as a rallying cry for our own recruitment. We are not yet enough in number to move, and might never be if we are made to look as fools at the outset.”
Hamilton studied the young man who had spoken. “I have seen you before. You are?”
“Patrick Sarsfield, sir. I have served with you in France.”
“I remember you, sir. A damned fine soldier. And a damned fine point you make too, sir. But you make it on the evidence only of what you have heard in this room. However, as Lord Arran himself would agree, there is much about his father’s abduction that gives rise for concern, but other aspects to it from which we may glean some reassurance.”
Sarsfield shook his head in bewilderment. “Reassurance?”
“Exactly, and that is why Sir Richard has chosen to investigate the matter through the agency of our friend here,” he gestured in Titus’s direction, “however unorthodox the method, or the man. Is that not right, Lord Arran?” Arran merely nodded and Hamilton resumed his argument, though now addressing all assembled there, and not just the young lieutenant who had prompted it. “You see, his demise, though God forbid that this might come to pass, would be a signal for our enemies in Ireland to move, one would think. His existence is an insurmountable obstacle to them, though they have tried many times, and in many ways to diminish it. Only his death would free their heinous hands, not merely his abduction. And if I can reverse that logic so then might you see where our reassurance lies. Our intelligence suggests only that the illegal militia in Ulster are yet in abeyance. There has been no attempt by them to usurp the king’s regiments’ authority as yet, nor to even openly state an opposition to His Majesty’s choice of successor, and you can be sure that no time would be lost by them in doing either if he who they see as their chief tormentor was known to be dead. They have whipped their brethren into a state of frenzy and terror using memories of the Great Rebellion and fantastic prophecies, to such effect indeed that there is not a single Presbyterian or Planter left who is not himself champing at the bit for the chance so to move. Such is the frenzy that even women and children would be gladly recruited to their cause, for they see themselves now as surrounded by enemies on all sides, with allies nowhere to be seen except on far horizons and who are themselves unready or unwilling to intervene on their behalf. Ormonde, who they know has barely tolerated their existence up to now, would be uncompromising in his response should they jump too soon, and well they know it, and what that response would be. His death however would not only free them from that fear, but could indeed see them emboldened enough to consolidate their hold on what they have. They already have the means, if not yet the will, to wreak a terrible revenge on their Catholic neighbours for the excesses of the Catholic Confederation forty years ago, and to go even further if they wish – appointing themselves masters of their plot, without waiting for that authority to be devolved from its royal source. But as yet their commanders keep their hounds on the leash, and their counsels to themselves, not wishing to provoke the enmity of Whitehall prematurely. In the absence of such a move in the offing we must therefore assume that they are not yet ready to do so, and we must take heart from that, sirs, as it should also mean that his demise has not yet occurred. Do you follow?”

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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 9 "The Mustering" (part 6)

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