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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 13 "Betrayal" (part 1)

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nordmann
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PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 13 "Betrayal" (part 1)

The journey to Armagh, once Drogheda had been left behind, was a revelation to Titus. Much of the land on the eastern seaboard of the country, ancient tillage and grazing terrain that stretched right into the boggy interior of the island, had been handed over wholesale to Cromwell’s followers and soldiers after the Great Rebellion. But pockets of the old Catholic ownership still existed, and one of the largest of such pockets was the huge territory west of Dundalk and south of Armagh, where Cromwell’s writ had met the obstacle of small farms whose freehold had been long established and over which no small group of landlords existed that could be easily displaced with new men friendly to the parliamentarian’s cause. Some attempts had been made to wrest ownership from the natives but they had largely floundered, first in the well organised local opposition to the attempt, and then in the legal wrangles that ensued and which proved to outlive Cromwell and his regime. As a result much of this land had therefore been retained or recently recovered by its original owners and their descendants. Not entirely of course – nowhere east of the Shannon could make that claim any more – but as the land rose from the great plains of Meath into hill country, and the large lush fields were replaced by meaner plots of less tillable soil, it was is if one could sense that one had left the English territories behind and entered a corridor of land in which the old ways still very much applied. In Carrickmacross, after checking in with Captain O’Halloran as Cuffe had suggested, they had been advised by the local militia not to venture outside the barracks – there had been a hanging that morning and the soldiers could not vouch for the safety of anyone with an English accent outside the sanctuary of their compound. This was a far cry indeed from the places they had left behind, where DeLacey could state with confidence that the Gaelic tongue could not be heard now this side of the Shannon, the great river which Cromwell had deemed a boundary between ‘civilisation’, as he decreed it to be, and the ‘wilderness’ of the old Gael. If any Englishman wished to pursue the notion that his country had completely absorbed this restless island into his superior culture he need only take the road from Slane to Armagh – that ancient stamping ground of Ireland’s venerable Saint Patrick - to disabuse himself of it.

Yet it was here also that DeLacey’s other observation – that the Irish were confounding their oppressors by adopting their tongue – could also be seen, or rather heard, in action. As if by invisible signal, the denizens of the area had forsaken the Irish language for that of those who surrounded them, and in doing so had guaranteed their survival for another while at least. In times past this had been the southernmost extent of the great kingdoms of the O’Neill, and had bred its inhabitants to resist all those who would usurp it. Their jealously guarded territory had long since been seized by Mountjoy and others, and parcelled out to Scot and Saxon, but to the people of the land Titus traversed, this was merely the replacement of one foe with another. And in an age when open insurrection would mean certain annihilation they had also exchanged one weapon for another. Gone were the pike and musket, at least for the moment, and in their stead were the vocabulary and grammar of the invader, what would in military terms be called a ‘holding tactic’ – buying time until the troops could again be rallied and pitted against the enemy. It was a peaceful place, but only on the surface. And it didn’t take much to scratch that surface and experience the enmity burning beneath.

For the same reasons, Titus mused as the carriage toiled up a hill near Ballybay, this was land that Petty, for all his grandiose claims, could never map fully. This land had largely escaped his Down Survey all those years ago by virtue of the fact that Cromwell’s murderous campaign had passed it by, and it brazenly defied the English to map it yet. Only a week or so ago, Titus had reckoned that this would be the greatest challenge he might face in his time in Ireland, and not an inconsiderable one either, given that it also contained within it a threat to his very life and those of his workers. Now however he felt an almost perverse affinity to this part of the island, away from the influence and authority of men like Beresford and Moore. His rational mind rebuked him for the notion, but instinctively he felt more at home in this land that cocked a snoot at its would-be overlords than he did in the warped imitation of England the same men were making of the country elsewhere. Oddly it was Sarah it seemed who showed the greater wariness and tension in this land where the values of her cherished forebears still held sway to some extent – probably, Titus guessed, because she knew only too well the true nature of the dangers that faced them here in this land living on borrowed time, and expensively purchased respite from war, where the two opposing factions of usurper and usurped rubbed shoulders in such close proximity. The ‘corridor’ ended halfway through Armagh County and the land became English once more, at least in title. As they descended the slight gradient of the road into the city of Armagh in the early afternoon sunlight, Titus found himself wondering how so spectacular a landscape could truly harbour such threat as had been expressed with horror in Dublin when people like Collier and Stanhope had heard he was heading there.

The city was really a town, its elevation to urban status owing to the presence of its most visible landmark, the lofty cathedral of St Patrick, built on a hill so that its predominance was even more marked. Beneath it sprawled Armagh, an ancient monastic settlement and once a seat of Gaelic power that bore now all the attributes of a market town arranged on the English model on this small island of ‘civilisation’, as Cromwell would have said, surrounded by a sea of potential rebellion. As if to emphasise Cromwell’s point, the southern entrance to the city was made between those two great proofs of English ambition – the barracks and the Bridewell, the city’s prison. Although the barracks offered them the safest base, Titus was mindful of the other task that had been set him here by Niall O’Neill, and decided that staying at an inn might afford him a less suspicious address. Armagh, still a site of pilgrimage for many Irish, was well equipped in that respect. Sarah, in any case, had already said that she would be damned if she would be forced to endure another night in a military barracks after their night in Carrickmacross, where she had felt simultaneously like a prisoner and a traitor, holed up as they were in that all too solid manifestation of the crown’s authority over her island, an authority which she hotly contested and had grown to loath.

The inn they settled on in English Street, which traded under the unpretentious epithet “The Inn”, was a comfortable berth at least, and Titus secured three rooms there. Cuffe’s men could share one while he and Sarah would take one each. The innkeeper was pleased to have such free-spending customers in his establishment and was amenable when Titus asked him to enquire if his friend Cormac had yet arrived in the city. He agreed to check with his regulars if they had noticed such a man – Titus’ description of him being enough to convince him that such a distinctive looking man would not be long in being spotted should he be there. Pushing his luck a bit, Titus then asked the innkeeper tentatively if he knew of a Cathal Ó Chaoileann or someone with a similar name. The man’s pained grimace however, even before Titus had finished saying the name, and his flustered but adamant ‘no’, indicated that just using a Gaelic name in open conversation was an affront to etiquette in these parts. Titus thanked him anyway and thought that he’d better attempt to redress the innkeeper’s assessment of him by mentioning that he was setting off for the barracks, where his equipment had been delivered by Cuffe’s arrangement already. The innkeeper’s scowl disappeared and he once more resumed the character of an efficient and friendly host.
“You can save yourself a wee walk by cutting through The Commons. Go out the back and through the orchard – you’ll see the green. Then bear right.”
Titus thanked him and met Sarah at the door. “I think I almost made an enemy here,” he said as they walked between the rows of apple trees, and he explained what had happened.
“Are you sure O’Neill meant you could find him in the town? Ard Mhaca to a man like O’Neill is an area much bigger than a collection of houses you know.”
“He knew my itinerary and he was quite specific in his directions. The man is, or was, here all right, and he might be the key to finding Ormonde - if we can only find him first. Besides, I have a horrible feeling that O’Neill’s ‘advice’ was issued as an order, and failure on my part to comply with that order carries a penalty!”

They ambled out onto The Commons, a large expanse of greenery that the city people used for recreation, and where a group of children were playing ball. Their wild whoops of delight and excited screams were in marked contrast to the almost sullen silence that they had experienced on the streets here since they had stepped out of the carriage. Lynam, the soldier Cuffe had detailed to drive the coach, told them on the way from Dublin that he had been stationed in Armagh the previous year for a few weeks and had spent his time here missing terribly the hub-bub and clamour of the capital. He said that he felt always as if the town was on the verge of something calamitous - the silence spoke to him of apprehension on the part of its citizens rather than the peace and quiet one would find in a similarly sized town in England with such ancient ecclesiastical roots. Titus, who had reckoned the young lad had exaggerated somewhat, could now see what Lynam meant for himself. This was a nervous town; one could sense it in the very air almost. But if this was a town living on its nerves, then at least these youngsters had found a way to dispel their qualms.

One boy kicked the ball wildly and it sailed over the heads of his companions, landing with a bounce and a few hops at Sarah’s feet. She stooped and picked it up just as a tousle haired, freckle-faced lad came running over to retrieve it.
“Please ma’am, here!” he cried.
Sarah laughed, but held on to the ball. “I’ll trade you!” she said with a smile.
The boy stopped and smiled too – it sounded like the lady wanted to play a game. “Very well,” he said. “But you’re not getting my frogspawn.”
“Damnation! I could have done with some!” She laughed again. “Very well you’ll just have to trade me some information so.”
“I know that Gerald Williamson’s father keeps his whiskey hidden in the barn so Mrs Williamson can’t find it.” The boy spoke with the air of an experienced spy passing a secret in a dark alley.
“Well that’s more than I needed to learn,” Sarah said. “All I wanted to know was if you knew someone called Cathal – a man living here.”
“Ah, there’s no one called Cathal in Armagh. It’s not allowed!” He eyed Sarah suspiciously, as if he was wondering was she trying to catch him out in something. The other boys’ curiosities were getting the better of them and they had started drifting over to hear the exchange, or recover their ball - either way Titus and Sarah found themselves in no time surrounded by a whole gaggle of laughing and chattering youngsters. Titus was about to take steps to dispel the assembly when one of the older boys called out. “Hoy, Peter, what’s up?”
Peter indicated Sarah with a jerk of his thumb. “This lady wants to know is there a man called Cathal living here and she’s holding our ball ransom till we tell her!”
The boys all laughed as if this was the funniest joke they had heard in a while. Sarah laughed too, as if that is how she had meant it all along. “Not even one? My, how could I have been so silly?" She pouted like a scolded child whose teacher had instructed her to stand in the corner.
“Oh it’s not silly ma’am,” the older boy reassured her. “It’s just anyone called Cathal here would be a Charlie now. I know, because my granddad was a Cathal but now we have to call him granddad Charles when we talk of him. It’s the law, my dad says.”
“The law?” Sarah grinned. “My grandfather’s name was Corneille Auguste Honoré Jacques-Louis D’Olier but everyone just called him Corny! We obviously had that law in our family before you did!” As the lads all laughed heartily at her poor grandfather’s appellation she held the ball high in the air. “Now, who says I can’t throw this ball as far as that tree over there?”
“You’re a lassie,” one very young boy remarked. “Ye can’t throw a ball!”
Sarah politely disabused him of his notion. “Oh but I’m no ordinary lassie. Didn’t you hear my grandfather’s name? I’m an Amazon!” She made a savage, wide-eyed expression with gritted teeth to emphasise her point. “Now, do you still think I can’t lob a wee ball like this as far as I can a spear?”
They looked at her and then looked at the tree. There was a lot of hushed muttering until eventually one of the boys was elbowed to the front of the group to address her. “And if you don’t?” Someone was obviously going to go far in business one day. “We reckon as you should pay a fine for daring to do something that you can’t!”
“Oh really, do you now? Well if there’s money at stake let’s raise the ante a bit! Do you see where that crow is sitting on the fence beyond the tree? I wager a penny that I can hit the spot where he’s sitting, and him too if he’s too stupid to get out of the way!”
The boys giggled but hushed politely as Sarah took aim. With the ball cradled in her palm, her face contorted into a parody of Amazonian concentration and her hand as far back as she could stretch without falling over, she flung her arm forward like a sling and the ball sped through the air towards the fence. The crow escaped just in time – no sooner had he flown his perch than the ball thumped the spot just where she had predicted, with a thud that could be heard all the way back to where they stood.
The boys all clapped and the one who had challenged her to a wager looked sheepishly at the ground. “None of us has a penny to pay you ma’am,” he said apologetically, looking at her coyly from the corner of his eye.
“Oh I know that,” she said. “Us Amazons don’t take money for our efforts anyway, didn’t you know? It’s not considered polite amongst us ancient Greeks! ‘Bye lads!” She took Titus’ arm and they marched off, leaving the boys to wonder at the strange Amazons from legend with ridiculous names abroad in their town.

“Amazon? That explains a lot!” Titus grinned when they had left the dumbfounded lads behind.
“We should have given them their penny anyhow,” Sarah said gaily. “They were very helpful.”
“Were they? All I gleaned from them was that there’s no one called Cathal left in the whole town.”
“Yes, because now he’s Charlie! Don’t you see? The man you’re looking for has taken an English name.”
“So we ask every Charles we meet if he’s a pal of O’Neill’s?” Titus was perplexed with Sarah’s good humour.
“We don’t have to. I found him!”
Titus stopped and looked at Sarah quizzically. She patted his arm and they started ambling again. “We passed his tailor’s shop in the carriage heading up Scotch Street when we arrived,” she said. “Except his name isn’t Cathal Ó Chaoileann any more. It’s the English version – Charles Holly!”
Titus was astounded. “That is brilliant ma’am!” he said graciously.
“Oh, no need to thank your interpreter for interpreting sir!” She replied with equal grace. “Though she might expect a bonus in her wages this week.”

They found themselves outside the barracks where Titus’ equipment had hopefully arrived safely and was now being stored. Titus asked Sarah to wait for a few minutes outside as he went in to check on its arrival. The sergeant was an elderly man, with the languorous Scottish accent that was fast becoming the only one around these parts amongst planter and aboriginal alike, and he treated Titus with what amounted to outright suspicion when he announced who he was. Only on seeing Titus’ authorisation from Ormonde did he allow him to enter the back room where his gear had been stowed. It all seemed present and accounted for so Titus turned to leave.
“Hold on a wee minute,” the sergeant called to him laconically as he reached the door. Titus turned and faced the man who was standing with arms folded in the centre of the storage room. He noticed his grubby uniform – one that had seen many a long day since last it had been laundered, if ever – and the scowl on the man’s face as if he were tasting something particularly bitter as he spoke. “Is it not meet where you come from to show your gratitude to those that look after you?”
Titus held the man’s contemptible stare for a moment before replying. “It is meet where I come from that a soldier knows his rank and not to ask impertinent questions of his betters.”
“Ah well, you’re not where you come from now then, are you?” The man held out a dirty palm. “We wouldn’t want any of your nice equipment to come to any harm now, would we?”
“How shall I put this?” Titus drew himself to full height as he spoke. “You are right of course, sergeant. It would indeed be a shame if my equipment got damaged.” His tone rose sharply. “You see, then I would have to report back to Dublin regarding in whose custody it was when it happened. And maybe you’re not fully abreast here of what’s going on in Dublin at the minute so I’ll fill you in. The burning of the castle, word is, was due to negligence on the part of its soldiery – or so Lord Arran believes I’m told. Apparently the word is out also that he’s ordered the flogging of anyone in uniform negligent enough to cause any more damage to crown property, and need I tell you that he has a special interest in the very equipment you’re guarding, what with it having been paid for out of his own purse. Do you catch what I mean by any chance?”
The sergeant’s gaze faltered and he withdrew his grimy hand. “I was just saying, that’s all,” he muttered.
“Me too sergeant, and that is all!” Titus turned and went out the door.

Sarah caught his look as he came out. “It’s all there?”
“Oh indeed it is. Though for how much longer I wouldn’t care to guess. If the good sergeant inside is typical of the state of the crown’s army in these parts they’d better start praying that no one starts a war just yet!”
Sarah laughed as he recounted what he’d told the sergeant, but Titus grew even more serious. “I’d suggest we find this Holly man, and then as soon as Jack and the men arrive we’ll get out of this city altogether.”

They were climbing Scotch Street as they spoke and Sarah suddenly pointed across the road. True enough, there was a painted wooden sign indicating “Charles Holly – Tailor and Garment Maker”. The shop was in a narrow two-storey building that looked as if it had been squashed between its neighbours as an afterthought. The upper floor, from which the sign hung, was whitewashed and roofed with thatch. Its door and window frames were freshly painted a bright green and in the window was a torso-shaped piece of wood, on which were draped a workman’s tunic and a plain white shirt. Mr Holly did not cater for the Earls of Drogheda of this world it seemed.
The door opened with a creak and they stepped inside. A young girl was sitting by the bare fire grate sewing a hem on a shirtsleeve, and looked up only momentarily from her work as they entered. She said nothing, but carried on with her sewing as if they were not there.
“Is Mr Holly here?” Titus asked her. She did not answer.
“Can you tell Mr Holly there are people to see him?” Titus spoke slightly louder this time but yet the girl still persevered in her labour without even acknowledging them. He was about to say something stronger when he heard the back door of the house being slammed shut and footsteps approaching. As the man entered the room Titus reckoned he looked vaguely familiar, though he could not quite place his features.
He was carrying, with difficulty despite his size and obvious strength, a large wooden pale filled with turf for the fire. He looked up when he saw his visitors, placed the pale down by the door, rubbed his palms on his apron and offered to shake Titus’s hand. “Hello, hello,” he said. “Were ye waiting long? I was just out the back getting some firing.” He stepped over to the girl and tapped her lightly on the shoulder. With a finger he indicated the turf and then patted her affectionately on the back of the neck. She smiled and nodded silently.
“Don’t mind wee Jenny. She’s deaf and dumb, the poor lass. But she’s a great wee seamstress I can tell ye. If she were me own daughter I couldn’t be more proud of her. Now what can I do for ye?”
“I’m not sure,” Titus replied. “It depends on who you are.”
At the sound of the English accent the man frowned, and he sat by the table on which was heaped a pile of material in various stages of being transformed into clothing. He indicated the pile with his hand. “Me? I make tunics and shirts, trousers too. That’s who I am. If it’s not one of them you’ll be needing I’ll bid you good day.”
“An é Cathal Ó Chaoileann’s ainm duitse?” Sarah asked suddenly. He looked up at her, obviously unsure how best to answer. “If you are,” she said, “we were told to seek you out. If you’re not, then we’ll be on our way and sorry for troubling you.”
“Have you more than your word to pledge me should I be folly enough to answer you? Round here people pay for such information. And let me tell you some pay dearly for it too.” He spoke slowly, his stare switching from one to the other as he did so.
“No I am afraid we don’t,” replied Titus. “I am Titus Perry and this is Sarah Reilly, though this may be token enough of whose errand I am here on.” He held up his hand and showed the tailor the signet ring that Imelda O’Carolan had given him. The man gasped when he beheld it, and cradled Titus’ hand gently in his own for a moment. His eyes watered as he examined it, then he sank back on his stool, his back against the wall, and his face upturned to the rafters above.
“Good God,” he said. “That I might have lived to see those days!” The girl, who had been busy setting the fire as they spoke, saw his distress and ran to him, throwing her arms around his neck - then she turned her face and glared at the two visitors. Holly patted her on the back and soothed her, indicating with a nod that he was all right. Begrudgingly, she drifted back to the fire grate, but kept staring at Titus and Sarah as she did so. “Wee Jenny thinks the world of me, poor lass. If she only knew!” The man turned to Titus. “Right Mr Perry, what is it that ye want?”
Sarah and Titus exchanged a nervous glance before Titus spoke again. If this was not indeed the man O’Neill meant after all, then this might well prove a disastrous encounter. “A few days ago I met a man called Niall O’Neill in Dublin. He told me to talk to you concerning a small problem I have offered to help solve. Oh, and to tell you that he is the last leaf on the branch.”
At the sound of O’Neill’s name Holly started. “This is a day of wonders indeed. You saw him? So he’s back?”
“Yes, and in the company of others also returned. One calls himself the Ball-Dearg.”
Holly muttered “Jesus” beneath his breath and it was then that Titus remembered of whom Charles Holly reminded him. It was Hugh O’Donnell, the giant who had cuffed him and then spoken so cryptically to him as he had left their company, and the one who Arran and Talbot had reckoned was the mysterious Ball-Dearg. “Pardon me for asking but is he a relation of yours? You look very similar.”
Holly nodded slowly. “He’s a sort of cousin in a way, aye – Hugh O’Donnell. A big man in every sense – he holds a command in the French armies. Many would say that he’s also by right a king in these parts since they hanged Redmond O’Hanlon three year ago. The branch O’Neill refers to is the order of the Red Branch Knights – as the old Lords styled themselves. He means to reclaim his land.”
Titus was unsure exactly how to proceed – should he tell this stranger about Ormonde’s disappearance at all? Holly himself solved his conundrum.
“There’s only one reason the O’Neill and O’Donnell would send an Englishman to seek help from me that I can think of. Ye’re here to find Ormonde, are ye not?”
Titus nodded but said nothing.
“I can help ye all right. But I will have to ask ye to help me too.”
“How?” It was Sarah who asked. “We’re in uncharted territory here.”
Holly smiled. “We all are lass. We all are. All I want from ye is a promise that ye’ll make sure no harm comes to Jenny here, whatever happens.”
“I’m hoping no harm comes to anybody,” Titus replied. “But you have my word. I thought all O’Neill intended was for you to give me some local information, and I swear that what you say remains between us. I will tell no one that we spoke.”
“Information? Oh I can give ye that no bother, but it won’t get ye to Ormonde, lest the man wants ye to find him. Maybe we can benefit each other is what I’m thinking.”
“How so?”
Holly just shrugged and fell silent for a moment. Then he looked at both visitors in turn. “It’s a strange pass indeed we’ve come to that two such innocents be sent on an errand as ye have. Still, it’s smarter a ploy than many I’ve seen I’m thinking now.” He picked up a piece of cloth from the table and played with it idly as he spoke. “I did receive a wee message a while back. The man you seek was a guest of the Ironsmiths’ plantation for a while. It’s in Tandragee. Do ye know it?”
“I have seen the name marked on a map. What is this plantation you speak of? And why did you say he ‘was’?”
“The Ironsmith’s? It was a set of farms taken by a guild of ironsmiths many years ago. There’s none of them left but the name lives on. I believe the man ye seek was there but has left now.”
Titus and Sarah seated themselves as he spoke. Jenny was busying herself lighting the fire and the sweet smell of turf smoke perfumed the air of the tiny workshop. Holly explained to them that he had received a message about a week ago to say that a captive of some importance, almost without doubt the Duke of Ormonde, had escaped the clutches of his captors. He then explained what he meant by having ‘received a message’, and in the process gave them some understanding of the land, and the community, in which they were.
It seemed that though much of the territory east of Armagh had been taken by or granted to English owners in the reigns of James and Charles the First, their tenure had been hard fought over, and they had suffered terribly in the backlash of the Great Rebellion. Those not killed by the insurgents then had mostly fled their holdings for the relative safety of Londonderry or even back to England itself. After Cromwell’s campaign new owners had been appointed throughout the area but it was difficult to entice English or Scot to work the land and it was still the original population, or what was left of them, that filled that role, often working as serfs on land that generations of their own families had actually owned in earlier times. Thanks to the strict rules governing Catholic entitlements however, their labour was cheap and therefore much in demand. But any bitterness at this cruel historical irony was mitigated by the assurance of a wage, however small, and tolerated by their new masters who were grateful for the cheap labour. A system had grown over the years by which this labour was organised amongst the dispossessed Catholics so that the economic dregs, which were their subsistence, were shared with some degree of equity. The network held another vital function for the same people – it was the channel through which important information could be relayed. In a country where political turbulence was always around the next corner and carried with it potentially drastic consequences for many, this relaying of news was vital for all those concerned. Titus remarked that this sounded very like ‘the ladder’ he had been told of in Dublin but Cathal had snorted at the suggestion. “That ladder is a device to get the Old English back in step with their countrymen, that’s all. What I’m talking about is something else entirely, as you’ll see.”

In recent weeks the rumour mill that was this information network had been busy with a startling development that none could really believe, but yet the rumour had persisted. A great man, probably even the great man himself, had been abducted and was being held captive in the locality. Speculation was rife as to who had done it and why, but none of the theories survived too much inspection for long. The clandestine local Catholic leadership had made a concerted effort to learn the truth of it – and it seemed Holly included himself amongst that number – but they had eventually dismissed the whole thing as an elaborate fiction. Until last week, that was. Holly had received a note, anonymously posted under his door, that stated some amazing news if it were true. It was written in the old tongue and said quite simply that he should prepare himself to possibly house an important guest in the near future. Then, two days later a second note had arrived written in a different hand. This one, also in Gaelic, said that his guest would not now be arriving after all – he had negotiated his way to safety successfully – but that he was nonetheless grateful for Holly’s assistance and would reward him accordingly when circumstances allowed.

Titus mentioned the note that had been sent to Lady O’Carolan in Dublin and produced it for Holly to read. He peered at it and handed it back with a shrug. He could not say for certain if it was in the same hand as either of the ones he had received, and he had destroyed those for obvious reasons. But it appeared to be stating the same thing, if a little more succinctly. He also examined the signature on the letter that Cormac had given Titus and again had to shrug unknowingly.

“You said we would need you as well as your information Cathal. Why is that?”
“Call me Cathal if you will, but I am afraid it would be more prudent to call me after your king, sir. A slip of the tongue in these parts can lead to losing it.” He pulled a slip of paper from his pocket and consulted it before proceeding. “I made enquiries about the Ironsmiths’ when the rumours started first. One farm was bought only last year by an Englishman going by the name of Jebediah Stanley. It’s a big place – once it was part of the O’Hanlon’s private estate up at Tandragee Castle. The funny thing was that from the moment he bought it, it lay idle. That farm can support a hundred of us with work but not a sod has been turned on it since he took over. Nor was this Stanley ever seen, though the house was occupied and coaches came and went.”
“You think this is where Ormonde was held? Are they Presbyterian? Such was the opinion of his son Lord Arran.”
“Ah, we don’t have many of them around here, it’s more the English who have invited themselves to become our landlords.” There was bitterness in Holly’s words and he stared pointedly at Titus when he stressed the term ‘English’. “But no, I think not. Too grand altogether, as were his guests. Then I heard that one of his guests was identified – a lady by the name of …”, he looked at his piece of paper, “… Elizabeth Croft. She employed one of us to transport her from Belfast when she arrived and he passed this on.”
Titus could see that Holly was more than just a participant in the Catholic information network – he obviously made it his job to collect this data too. “So you investigated the lady?” he asked.
“Oh I did of course, though it’s not easy these days. I can’t just present myself at the Gentleman’s Club by the cathedral and ask them you know. But I have my ways. She’s a noble woman, yet to come into her title. But she has a half-brother whose title is well known and will be better known ere long – James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth.”

Titus let out a low whistle. A pattern was developing that pointed at last to a logic that as yet had defeated him – as it had the politicians in Dublin. Monmouth was the bastard son of the king who was making no secret of his claim to the throne. Arran’s nephew Ossory was in his camp. And Robinson had deduced as much from his last letter from Ormonde himself, only had found it too fantastic to be real. Could it be that Ossory had devised the kidnap to impress his chosen master? But for what? No ransom or other demands had been made. He asked Holly if young James Butler had been seen in these parts.
“He sailed into Belfast about a month ago, aye, but there was no sighting of him around here. The Butlers wouldn’t keep their heads up in this area in any case. Folk here would give them short shrift at the best of times, and it would be all the shorter now. The Catholics don’t trust them as far as they can throw them either, even Ormonde, and the Presbyter despises them. The English everywhere would gladly see the back of them, they have designs on this place that the Butlers have forestalled.”
“But what if Ormonde was handed to them, any of them, on a plate – and by one of his own?”
Holly thought about this. “You’re saying young Butler is a traitor to his own family? But why? If he’s nailed his colours to Monmouth’s mast he’ll get his rewards come what may should the bastard claim the crown. If not, he’s still in trouble.”

Sarah had been sitting silently listening to Holly. “Tell me something Cathal,” she said. “What if Ormonde was not meant to be a gift, but a payment, a vouchsafe?”
“For what?”
“To either the Presbyter or the English, or maybe even both, for their support when Monmouth makes his stand. They’re both set against James succeeding his brother, are they not?”
Holly let out a derisory snort. “They’d rather the divil himself took the throne than him all right. I see your point. Holding Ormonde checks Dublin’s hand at a crucial moment and with the grandson then set to take the job and grant them their desires I reckon they’d settle for that.”
“But now he’s escaped,” said Titus.
“Aye, like a fox amongst the hounds,” Holly added. “He’s working against those that worked against him I reckon. That’s why he hasn’t gone back to Dublin or made known his escape except to those who he can use.”
“But why not tell his own son? I’ve met the man. Believe me, holding secrets is second nature to him.” Titus could not yet fit this fact into the puzzle.
Holly smiled. “It may be for many reasons. One that springs to mind is that he doesn’t trust the man. Though there’s another that may be just as true. He just doesn’t want to be found.”
“Why would that be, Cathal?” Sarah asked.
“He’s a wily one lass, ye only have to believe half the stories about him to see this is true. He’d have his reasons. But anyway, I said before that maybe we can be of use to each other. The man ye seek has contacted me already, as I told ye. It seems he’s fussy too about who he speaks to, so it might do ye no harm to keep me in tow for a while. Ye have the run of the country – I don’t. Take me on as one of your men for a week or two. Jenny here can look after the shop, she’s well able to fend for herself.”
“And how do we benefit you then?” Titus asked.
“I’d rather not say too much, but it would be of great use to my work for me to get out and about more than I can. A spot of surveying might be just the ticket.”
“I don’t know, Cathal,” Titus had not failed to notice that Cathal apparently knew of the surveying project though it had not been mentioned, and was still dubious about Cathal’s reasoning and motives in their entirety. There were as yet too many unanswered questions. If O’Neill and O’Donnell being in the country, for instance, had come as news to Holly, then who had informed them of Ormonde’s situation and that he was yet alive? It definitely hadn’t been the castle. Either Holly was less a player in the information-gathering network than even he thought, or the man was lying. And Titus was sure that whatever the ‘work’ was that Cathal had referred to and which would benefit from his inclusion in the surveying team, it most certainly did not mean his tailoring business.
“Look, ye can do things your way and I tell ye, it’ll be like a man searching for a drop of water in a dry well. My way works, believe me. Besides, the reason O’Neill sent ye to me is as he reckons I owe him a wee debt. Let me at least pay the man back as best I can.” Holly was adamant.
“For what?” Titus asked, but Holly refused to elaborate further. The man might not be forthcoming with all the facts, but Titus reckoned that the little he had divulged was honest, and that the tailor was in fact taking a great risk saying as much as he had. “I’ll think about it,” was all Titus would allow. “I’ll be back tomorrow morning and I’ll tell you what I decide when I call.”
“Well think on this too when you’re deciding so. You’re in a wasp’s nest now when you’re here - remember that. This isn’t Dublin. Ye’d better start doing things the way they’re done here or risk being stung. That’s not a threat Mr Perry. That’s a cold fact. And between you and me there’s something about to happen to stir the wee nest into a bit of a dither. When word gets out that O’Neill and O’Donnell are about, and especially the Ball-Dearg, people here will know the news for what it means, and the signal as what it stands for too. If you’re here when the nest explodes you won’t last much longer than a harmless little flea in the swarm’s path, I can assure you.”
With these words ringing in their ears, Titus and Sarah left.

Back on the street they were silent as they returned to the inn. Over a meal however they quietly discussed the meeting with Holly.
“I’m afraid,” Titus admitted. “I really think I’m better doing things the way I planned to. It’s not as if I can change the arrangements now in any case.”
“He’s not asking you to change anything Titus. He just wants to come along. What he says is right. There’s something big stirring in these parts and if it goes up we really need someone to look out for us if we’re caught in the middle of it.”
“But can we trust him? He’s offering to help only as some kind of debt repayment to the O’Neill as far as I can see, and god knows for what, or even if it’s true. The man’s a trader of information, you can see that, and right now we have enough on our plate without taking a possible spy into our camp. And even if we can trust him, is it not a liability having him with us anyway? He’ll arouse suspicion if nothing else.”
“Yes it is. And it is just as big a liability without him.” Sarah put her knife down. “Look, for what it’s worth I share your misgivings, but think on this. As far as we know he and Lady O’Carolan are the only two people Ormonde has contacted. Now, what have they in common?”
Titus shrugged. There was little that he could see similar between the poor Armagh tailor and the landed gentlewoman in Kinsealy.
“You saw his face when you showed him the ring Titus. He’s one of the old breed, and so is she. And if truth be known it seems Ormonde has decided the old breed is all that’s left who can be trusted. And do you know something? I’m inclined to agree with him.”
Titus had to admit that she had a point, given that of the ‘new breed’ there were few if any he hadn’t already grown to doubt as well, though in his own mind he privately held reservations. He let it pass. “I will think about it. It’s about as much as I can promise.”
“You do that Titus. I’m off to my room.”

Sarah rose and left the table, leaving a solemn Titus in her wake. He knew that she had strong views on the English in Ireland but her friendship towards him had led him to believe that her views were mitigated to some extent by the reality of personal relationships at least, if not by political reality. Here though, where the stark reality of how the English intended to expunge all traces of Irishness from the surface of the earth was impossible to avoid noticing, her views were seemingly hardening. He sat alone for a while and let these thoughts tumble around in his mind. Her opinions, he knew, were not born from casual debate and intellectual reasoning. They had been moulded by her life – a life of struggle from being an outsider in her own community, and then of tragedy when hatred towards her father’s ‘outsider’ views had led to his murder. It’s no wonder she sees an affinity with men like Holly, he thought. To Sarah, the ‘old breed’ as she called them, represented the only valid continuity on this ruptured island. He decided he was not in a position to question his trust in her or her stance. She was a particularly shrewd judge of character herself. She knew the place better than he. That settled it in his mind – Charles Holly was about to become a surveyor.

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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 13 "Betrayal" (part 1) :: Comments

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Re: Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 13 "Betrayal" (part 1)
Post on Thu 30 May 2013, 17:24 by Arwe Rheged
Hi Nordmann,

Not sure what sort of feedback you want, but you are guilty of occasional head- hopping and, more noticeably, excessive exposition. By way of example, the first four lengthy paragraphs could be cut to a couple of sentences and the piece would lose nothing. In fact, it would gain much.
You'd increase the dramatic tension for one thing - swathes of exposition (otherwise known as info-dumping) slow the action to a snail's pace and are often dull to read. By chapter 13, we want to be engrossed in the story and be on the shoulder of the protagonist. You as writer need to know this stuff in order to paint a credible backstory - but we as reader don't need to know it, or if we do, we don't need a big bowlful of it all in one go. You can get across the issues you want to describe - suspicion of the English et al - through dialogue or even dialogue tags if you must.

But it's well written, which as any number of literary agents will tell you (including Juri Gabriel, who writes the best form rejection letetrs in the business) puts you ahead of about 95% of the competition.

Regards,

AR
 

Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 13 "Betrayal" (part 1)

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