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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "Awakening" (part 4)

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Nobiles Barbariæ

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Join date : 2011-12-25

PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "Awakening" (part 4)

The weather closed in that night and Titus woke to a day that would not have been out of place in the tail end of winter, when wind and rain avails of its invitation to make even bleaker the territory just released by ice and snow. The air was chill, and even colder when the rain soaked through one’s clothes and was found by the gusting breeze which blew from every direction. He had difficulty keeping his horse from turning back each time they rounded a twist on the Gallows Hill road and met a fresh blast of sleet laden gale, but Bran, who accompanied him on his journey, seemed to relish each flurry, barking excitedly and racing around the horse’s feet, making Titus’ progress all the more tedious. Cormac was waiting for him on foot near the Gallows Field, so Titus dismounted and the two men walked the road to Navan Fort, leading the horse behind them, and with Bran as their vanguard, racing ahead to check the road and occasionally waiting for his inexplicably dour companions to catch up with him.

The weather put paid to conversation, except the occasional curse at a particularly wet hail of sleet or unexpected pothole which drenched the foot and left one’s toes pained with cold. They were glad to get off the road eventually and seek the shelter of a small copse of trees from which they could see the mound of the old fort, and hopefully their appointed host when he chose to arrive. The last time they had been here, as a guest of Cummins, the sunshine and balmy air had lent a tranquillity to the place that belied its turbulent history. Now, in the teeth of a howling gale and through sheets of steely rain, the old fort began to reacquire the terrible majesty it had once held as the main palace of the Red Branch Knights, those fantastic heroes of legend who had ruled the land of Ulster in a bloodthirsty, but magnificent reign which had lasted for a thousand years. So went the stories, in any case, but Titus could not help but wonder if such a unity of purpose might ever be claimed for this land again, and indeed if the belief that such had ever pertained, in any manifestation, was mere legend itself.

Cormac had read his thoughts, it seemed. “Like a grave, is it not? There’s more buried here than old kings I’d dare say.”
“Yes, Cormac,” Titus smiled. “But it’s still a good spot from which to survey the glen hereabouts.”
Cormac laughed. “Ah, the romance of the English! You stand at the very nub where the life of mortal flesh and that of the spirits join as one and all you see is a worthwhile surveying proposition. Is it any wonder we Irish think we should best govern ourselves?”
“If sentiment can run a country, the Irish could run a continent.” Then Titus’ dry laugh turned to a guffaw and he pointed to Bran, who was digging furiously with his fore paws at a piece of ground just outside the shelter of the copse. “It seems Sarah’s dog has taken your comment literally Cormac. If it is a grave, we’ll soon find out!”
Cormac tried in vain to call the dog back but Bran was intent on his task. “A bloody English breed in that mongrel, I swear!”

The sound of hooves broke through the squall and wind-blown rustle of branches, and a rider appeared on the crest of the fort. He paused for a moment, taking in the view despite the elements, and then slowly descended towards the copse.
“O’Neill?” Titus asked, peering through the rain at the figure on horseback.
“Not if he wants to convince us all he’s still a beggar,” Cormac replied. Then he strode out from the cover of the trees and saluted the approaching rider. The man waved back and picked up his pace, reining in his horse at the edge of the clearing. Bran, just feet away, looked up momentarily and then resumed his endeavours in the soil.
The rider dismounted and walked towards the trees. His face was all but obscured under a heavy hood, and a mantle covered his shoulders and chest, so that he appeared almost as a knight from an age of chivalry, perhaps one of the Red Branch Knights themselves come to see who owned the dog that disturbed his grave. “God save you both!” he said by way of greeting. “You must be my mapmaker, and you my corporal of old.”

Cormac seemed speechless, merely nodding in reply, but Titus stepped forward with his hand outstretched. He was not sure if such was how one greeted a Duke of the realm, but if the Duke it was, then the stranger had the grace to reciprocate. He took Titus’ hand and shook it warmly. Once under the thick branches of a tree and out of the elements, their visitor pulled back his cloak to reveal an ancient but sturdy face, a full grey beard, and long thin white hair which he had tied back with a ribbon to the rear. His dark eyes peered out from under thick white eyebrows and he gazed at both men in turn. If this was Ormonde, Titus thought, then he had changed much from the portrait which now lay in the ashes of Dublin Castle and which once had adorned the wall above Arran’s fireplace. The painting had depicted a middle aged man in a long black wig, sword on hip, tunic pressed, one foot confidently poised on a stile, and with soulful eyes that gazed out at the viewer in an aristocratic attitude of disdain. If this was he, then either life had changed the man utterly, or the artist had painted the man’s power but not his image.
“You have a ring I believe that I would wish to see, sir.” The man spoke to Titus as a master would speak to his pupil who he suspects he has found in possession of a pilfered trinket.
Titus held out his hand, on which he wore the ancient signet ring that Lady O’Carolan had loaned him. The old man smiled. “It looks better on Imelda’s fair hand, or did!” Then he turned to Cormac. “Sir! I owe you a debt! What was the bastard’s name again?”
Cormac seemed dumbstruck and could just about reply. “Leech.”
“That’s him, the honourable member for Peterborough! Do you know how he died, sir? Of the pox! His good lady wife had already upped sticks with half the household, half of his money and all of the children. What little he had left was squandered on the whores who infected him, and then the quacks to cure him. How’s that for a fitting end to one named after the physician’s most trusty tool, eh?”

Cormac’s laughter smacked of an obedient retort, not born out of genuine amusement. Titus smiled, not at the man’s crude jest, but at what he realised the old Duke had just done. By enquiring after the ring and the name of the man whom he had Cormac abduct all those years ago, he had satisfied himself most accurately and succinctly as to the identity of the men he now met. Old he may be, but he was shrewd.

Once satisfied, Ormonde switched tack abruptly. “You are a much sought after man, Mr Perry. Almost as much as myself! At the last count those who look on you with murderous intent number the English in at least two guises, and the Irish in at least three. How does it feel to be so acutely well regarded, at least by your enemies?”
Titus had not had a chance to enumerate all those who wished him ill but he accepted Ormonde’s assessment. “It is a form of flattery I suppose. I …”
Ormonde spoke over Titus’ observation. “Not bad for a mere surveyor, I agree! You will have William Robinson green with envy.” He stroked his horse’s neck. “Yes, you have many enemies but not as many or as deadly as I have. You had a secretary, a man who called himself Mr Flitch. We spoke. He was to kill me. He failed, as you can see.”
Titus began to relate that he had seen Flitch’s notes yesterday and had only then realised this fact for himself, but Ormonde silenced him with a raised hand. “He was to kill you too, you know, but he thought better of it. The man thought better of a lot it seemed ere his final thought, and if it were prompted by contrition then I have hope for his soul. It is a good thing too that he did, or else much mayhem might have ensued and we would not be talking here now.”
“Why are we talking here now sir?” Titus did not like the way this man had perfunctorily interrupted him before. If he was going to dictate the conversation he should at least get to the point. “I, for one have spent no small effort in locating your good self these least few months. If this parley shed light on who abducted you and why I might see some merit in it!”
Ormonde merely laughed. “The who you know. As to the why, then your guess is as good as mine. My host never explained himself and I am afraid I relieved him of the obligation rather by absenting myself from his hospitality at the earliest opportunity. No, the point of this parley carries more weighty purpose than trying to fathom the workings of a simple mind such as Mr Stanley’s!” He paused, and when he saw that Titus was not going to interrupt him further, continued. “We must decide what to do next. Thanks to this rather unasked for sojourn, I have had an opportunity to judge at first hand this little corner of the realm that I supposedly rule in the king’s name, and I am not enamoured by what I see. But then for that matter I am not too enamoured by what is happening in much of the realm lately. Tell me something Mr Perry. You came here to Ulster to search for me, as you have said, yet you have remained here well beyond when you knew I was not to be found. Why was that?”
“I have other business to attend to.”
“By that I assume you do not just mean your mapmaking venture. You have another purpose here? Tell me.”
Ormonde was not a man used to having information withheld from him. What he asked for, he got. But he was also used to having the means to ensure he got it. Now, he had nothing but the strength of his rhetoric and the arrogance born of power to enforce his demands. Still, Titus reckoned, while the manners of the man might leave a lot to be desired, his deduction showed intelligence, and it would be equally intelligent to answer him. If he guessed the man’s character correctly then he was someone who valued straight answers, and valued the giver of them too. At least for now, it was important to remain in his confidence, and, if confidences were to be traded today Titus would make the first offer. “I have a friend, Sarah Reilly. She is the daughter of a Dublin businessman who was murdered. I have sworn to help her find her father’s killers. Alas, she herself has now been arrested and presently sits in the Armagh Bridewell awaiting trial for treason.”
“Who was her father?”
“Eoin Reilly, a Catholic merchant.”
“Ah, yes. Eoin Reilly.” Ormonde paused slightly and the knowing look in his eye at first confused Titus until he realised that it was indeed an invitation to acknowledge the old man’s memory for detail. A brief nod from the mapmaker had to suffice so he continued. “But in my mind the man was a Huguenot, not a Catholic. Married into their faith and served his new brethren with diligence and honour. I recall the man well. He did much for those people, and had only their welfare at heart. I liked him, but my opinion was not shared by many outside the Huguenot fraternity.”
“He cared less about his neighbours’ religions than their circumstances, sir. When his wife died he returned privately to his Catholic faith, but served her people still as best he could. If that meant deliberately misleading others with regard to his own religion then that was of less matter than the good he could achieve through his deception.”
“A humanist then. More fool he. These are not times when one can so neatly side-step the issue of one’s faith. It is a credential that has become a badge of allegiance in a war between opposing views as to how this kingdom will be shaped. The king himself hovers between the sides at the expense of his own credibility. If a king can be subjected to torment by his subjects over this question then what chance has a merchant like Reilly? Still, he was a thorn in the side of many an unscrupulous man I believe, and my officers benefited much from his labours.”
“It may well have been your officers who killed him, Sir James.”
Titus expected Ormonde to take some form of umbrage at this retort, which he admitted to himself had been prompted more through a desire to interrupt the man’s opinionated presumptions than due to any evidence supporting it. Ormonde’s reply was not what he expected. “Yes, Mr Perry, I have been informed of what transpires in Dublin. So, in what way are you helping the girl then? It seems to me her distress has grown with your aid, not diminished.”
Titus took this last comment as a slight and his anger revealed itself. “Sir, with all due respect I find myself pitted against a type of foe with which alas you may boast more familiarity than I could ever aspire to. I may not yet have the guile required to counter them but I will do so, and in my own ways! I …”
Again a raised hand signalled him to be silent. “Good. There is precious little originality about people any more. It is all the more welcome for its rarity. The chieftain O’Neill has told me that he is aiding you in this attempt at freeing your friend. That surprised me.”
“It is his own man that he wants free.”
“Ah, the tailor, yes. But then O’Neill would as quickly have the man murdered in prison before any trial as have him liberated. It is easier to achieve than a release, and serves O’Neill’s purpose just as effectively. Yet, for your friend’s sake, he has risked exposure and arrest himself to concoct a method of securing both their freedom. Strange, is it not?”

Titus had not thought of it this way, and indeed what Ormonde said was true. He admitted as much.
Ormonde stroked his beard and assumed a puzzled look which, in its exaggeration, signalled that it was not just Titus’ agreement on the point that he sought. “So it is the daughter of the erstwhile Huguenot he wants at liberty then, and not the tailor. Might you know why?”
Titus merely shook his head, forcing the old man to pursue his own reasoning further.
“She has something, or she has access to something, or she knows something.” Ormonde prompted Titus’ speculation. “These can be the only motives. Now, might you know?”

Titus thought of Eoin Reilly’s list but decided it more prudent not to admit that it existed, or that now it was in his possession. “Why not ask O’Neill himself when he comes? He is an ally of yours I believe. Or at least rumour has it that you have worked hard these last few weeks rising his people in foment.”
Ormonde laughed humourlessly and it was hard to know whether it was feigned jocularity at Titus’ sardonic reply or whether he mocked the mapmaker’s insolence. “That is one way of putting it, though a little melodramatic. Rather, mine has been the tactic of a man stung by a wasp and who suspects that its nest is in a particular tree. Once recovered from the sting he has a choice; avoid the tree in future, or beat the living shite from it with a big stick, thus to dislodge the nest along with any other vipers that may be hiding in it! I choose the stick every time. A wasp’s nest left to grow unhindered can grow very big indeed.”
Cormac, who had been reverentially silent up to now, laughed at the words. Ormonde smiled at him. “You are a Kinsale man, I believe. You have fished?”
“I have sir.”
“Then you know of the point that they call the ‘glory hole’?”
Cormac nodded and smiled back. “I do indeed sir, though where I come from we called it the ‘drunkard’s mouth’ as neither should be left open too long for fear of what might escape from it!” Titus was lost, but Ormonde laughed heartily at Cormac’s retort.
“I am sure you had worse names for it, ones that modesty forbids you to express at the minute! However, with your permission sir, I shall enlighten our friend here. The ‘glory hole’ is when a net has been narrowed but is not yet closed. It is the crucial point when drawing a net you see, the point where the fish have been gathered into its scoop but there is yet one avenue of escape. The prey, whose minds have now been concentrated naturally to that aim, find it, and unless the fishermen are deft, will utilise it in a trice. That is the point we have reached in this land, and unfortunately for you sir,” he addressed Titus, “you have been standing right in front of it. You can thank your God that you have survived thus far, for it is only through His kind indulgence that you could have! These are dangerous fish indeed that are swimming through it.”
Cormac, now more at ease, contributed to the metaphor. “There is a tradition that if the old woman’s … ha!, the glory hole … points ashore the fish are less inclined to use it. Mr Perry, I assure you sir, has had the good sense to keep at least one foot on the beach!”

Again Ormonde laughed aloud. “Indeed! An astute observation man, and well said. The ability to keep one’s feet on the ground is a useful one! So, Mr Perry, you know not what O’Neill wants from your friend. Or you will not say. No matter, it is between the both of you, or the three of you. For the moment. I have bigger fish to fry, and one of them is my own spawn. That is what I want from you both, some assistance, before the glory hole is closed too late and the most venomous fish have escaped.”
“Why us?” Titus could not believe the arrogance of the man. His requests were phrased as demands, even at such a low juncture in his own fortunes when it would be more politic, it would seem, to ask rather than order.
“I am destitute of reliable lieutenants, sir. Besides, my aims and yours overlap somewhat at the moment. I will not be ungrateful.”
“Your son Richard has used almost those very words to me before. Forgive me if they do not carry the same assurance to my ears as once they might.”
Ormonde eyed Titus closely. “Now I know you are an honourable man, as by what you have said, you have denied yourself the chance to be paid twice over. But I assure you that my word is my bond and ever has been. What I say I will do, I do. And there are many souls who have lived to regret that this is so - even more of them dead!”
“I do not doubt your word, sir,” Titus held Ormonde’s stare, “only that fate will give you the opportunity to keep it. I would have preferred you appeal to another aspect of my character rather than my wish to be rewarded. It is not my prime motivation in life.”
“I apologise, sir. I did not wish to offend you. And there are many forms of reward, even in my gift yet. So do not doubt me. And, I assure you; fate will have little to do with it either. I make my own fate, or perish in the attempt, and even after death you will find that I can be generous to my friends!”
Titus felt as if he had been reprimanded, but tried not to show it. “Tell me what it is that you require and I will tell you if it is in my gift.”
“When your business here is done, and it must be done in less than a month or there will be little point to what I ask you, then you must return to Dublin. I will give you a letter to relay to my son Richard. In it I shall state falsely that you found me, derelict after my ordeal and confused of mind, and that you helped me back to health. Once fit enough to travel I returned with all speed to England, conscious as I was of my duties towards my ailing king, and desirous to resume my counselling role, my administration at Oxford, and the company of my darling Elizabeth. All this he will readily believe and accept as it is but a continuation of how I left things and advantageous to him in pursuance of his own agenda. Why do you look at me like that, sir?”

Titus’ disbelief at the arrogance of the Butlers must have obviously shown itself involuntarily in his expression. “Sir,” he said, “since I have fallen into the ambit of your son’s influence and direction, I have encountered nothing but duplicity. I have suffered injury to mind, limb and conscience. I have been lied to, made a fool of, been used as a pugilist’s punch-bag, and have had to endure the tortuous display of so-called men of high status making convoluted moral acrobats of themselves in order to justify their skulduggery, their deceits and their thinly disguised avarice. Now you have the effrontery to ‘request’ that I jump through yet more hoops for you and your family’s ends, that I lie and bear false witness on your behalf. To what end, sir? What makes you think that you have the right to do so? To be frank, Lord Ormonde, I would be grateful were I never to hear the name Butler spoken again as long as I live!” So much for remaining in the man’s confidence, Titus thought, but his tirade had been deeply satisfying none the less and he felt relived and greatly pleased to have said it all without a stammer or faltering confidence.

Ormonde’s face flushed crimson. “Your murderous secretary told me something of your character, Mr Perry. Like a lot of others who play their fellow man for a fool, he was a shrewd judge of people’s nature, save maybe his own. He said that you have one aspect which is both your best point and your most vile. You fail to see honestly the role you play in things. It lends you a detachment, which you work well to the benefit of your conscience, but it also blinds you often to the truth, which will one day be your ruin!”
The man was right of course. If Titus had learnt anything since he had stepped off the gangplank in Ringsend all those weeks ago, it must be that it was this very quality, which Sarah called his naïveté and Cummins had called his stupidity, that had dictated his life up to this point. He had seen things happen to him, and had avoided seeing how it was he who had made them happen, let alone learn from them. Ormonde had struck a nerve, and he knew that the old man knew that too.
“The truth is that there will come a day, and it is not far off, where your wish may be granted Mr Perry, and you will never hear the name Butler associated with power ever again. Indeed, should you do as I request then it may well be all the sooner! Do you seriously think I am asking you to participate in some sordid struggle for supremacy within my family’s ranks?”
Titus replied uncertainly, as that was indeed what he had thought. “Forgive me if my assessment offends you, but you must understand that it is natural to presume that the son has his father to thank for more than his position in life.”
“As you owe your father yours? No, I thought not!” The old man’s voice dropped almost to a whisper and his eyes narrowed as they bored into the mapmaker’s. “I had a son once whom I groomed for high office, a man who acquitted himself well in his military career, and for whom I prepared a path into affairs of high station so that he could acquit himself equally well there too. But it was not to be. The Good Lord chose to punish me for my presumption by taking Thomas to Him just as he was about to carry the torch I had so carefully prepared for him.”

Titus remembered the name of Thomas Butler, for a few years feted in London as the city’s saviour when he was one of those daring commanders who had successfully repulsed a Dutch fleet sent to wreak destruction on the city’s vulnerable docks. It occurred during the last of the three wars between these erstwhile trading foes, implacable contestants for the right to rule the North Atlantic waves who had only in latter years resumed a ‘companionship’ of sorts, and that only due to an English victory in the end, almost as unexpected as it was decisive. For many years the boot had been on the other foot and the Dutch had not been slow to press their advantages, even to the point once where they had launched an assault not just on their competitor’s navy, but on the capital itself and its most vulnerable and vital element – its docks. London without her docks would be as a man deprived of his lungs, and would survive just as long, so the Dutch fleet had reckoned that it might pay to be daring. London’s traders, whose success in recovering so rapidly from the ravages of plague and fire had lent them a spurious faith in their own invincibility, had grown over complacent and remiss about the city’s protection from assault, especially along her river. One Dutch raid, a mere sortie compared to what was planned later, had effectively deprived the city - so dependent on imports - of a whole month of such trade, while the traders struggled to restore the shipowners’ confidence in the safety of their vessels and cargoes. Prices soared, incomes plummeted and the mortality rate among the poor, even in such a short time, began to emulate those terrible years of plague that had preceded the great fire. When the Dutch had assembled a far larger force to strike again, panic had threatened to overrun the city. Even the threat of an attack was enough to decimate trade, and this was no threat. If rumours were to be believed, then the Dutch were intent on crippling London’s economic mainstay for once and for all. All that stood between it and destruction was a tiny English fleet, hastily assembled and commanded by the Earl of Sandwich, a man in whom the king had largely lost confidence and who was determined thus to restore his reputation as a gallant and brave patriot. Amongst his officers was Thomas Butler, then a young man establishing the very reputation that his commander was attempting to regain. Against the odds, and due as much to recklessness, favourable winds and selfless devotion to their mission as to any superior strategy, the small English flotilla had dispersed the Dutch fleet and sunk many of its ships, though Sandwich himself died valiantly in the attempt. It effectively ended the war against Holland, and it made Butler and his fellow officers heroes to Londoners, who regaled them as their champions and turned Sandwich’s funeral into a victory parade for his young cohorts, Butler included. A bright future beckoned for the young Irish champion, but it was not to be. A weak heart succeeded where the entire Dutch fleet had failed and Thomas Butler died in his sleep, a man not yet reached his thirtieth birthday.

Ormonde sighed. Then he raised himself to his full height again. He had not arranged this strange meeting to reminisce over his eldest son, or what might have been. He coughed. “Forgive an old man who must ever guard against a tendency to dwell on his own history in his mind’s eye. The older one gets, the more of a past one has, and the resulting silences can be interminable!” He smiled, and Titus returned it. He could see that the man felt deeply about what his son’s death had cheated them both of – a secure retirement for the father as the son emulated his career and rose to high office and influence in the kingdom. Instead, whatever influence James Butler still held was waning with the health of the king in London, and his son Richard had done nothing but use the little time remaining to bolster his own finances and let the proud Butler legacy die out with the end of his own political career. Titus thought that he should say something in mitigation of his earlier outburst.
“For what it’s worth, as a youth I was one of those who cheered your son’s procession down Whitehall after the victory over the Dutch, Sir James. My father and I travelled to London especially to do so. There were many who owe what they have now to his courage, myself included.”
Ormonde nodded his thanks.
“But I cannot see why I should be asked to aid you in a subterfuge against your son Richard. It seems to me that it would be as easy for you to go to Dublin and speak your mind to him. Or use your influence in London to stop him in his tracks.”
“No, I can see why you think that Mr Perry. But it is too late for such intervention. Let Richard hoard his money if he will. He cannot empty the exchequer’s coffers. Let him scrabble for whatever scraps he can.”
“They are some scraps. It is land that he is after. And an area of land by the city almost greater than Dublin itself is now in his hands.”
Ormonde started. “What say you? How knows you this?”
Titus bit his tongue. His only evidence lay in Eoin Reilly’s list and he did not want to reveal that source to Ormonde. “I have deduced it sir, from observation and hearsay.”
Ormonde eyed Titus closely again, this time with a look bordering on suspicion. “The Huguenot Reilly contacted me in London some months back with just such an allegation.” This was obviously why the man had come so readily to Ormonde’s mind when Titus had mentioned him earlier, though Ormonde had seemed all too willing to allow his audience ascribe it to his own prodigious memory for people and events long passed. “And I dare say the same man’s suspicions are the source of your own deductions! No matter, he could provide me with no evidence, but he did arouse my curiosity. I have performed my own investigations and have taken measures too. Sir John DeLacey is a loyal servant to me, and has done all that I asked of him.”
“Sir James, if I carry your letter to Lord Arran, can I ask a favour in return?”
“You may ask, certainly.”
“What do you know of Eoin Reilly besides what you have told me? I assume from what you said that you have researched the man.”
“That was done, yes.”
“Do you know anything of the plot to kill him? Or can you surmise its perpetrators?”
“Ah! Your vow to his daughter! I have my suspicions, though that is all they are.”
“Your suspicions I would hazard are as secure as many others’ convictions Sir James. I am curious in particular why a Captain Briar of the Castle Constabulary should be party to the man’s murder, or so I think. Do you know the name?”
“I cannot say I do. Such appointments of late have all been made by Richard’s staff.”
“Even more curiously, your grandson and namesake - Thomas’ son James - has formed an association with this captain. We know that the Earl of Ossory has gone to Holland to enlist with Monmouth, and we know that your own abductors were of the same persuasion, or at least Jebediah Stanley pretended to be, until his true allegiance to Prince William of Orange could be announced without penalty. We know also that Briar worked hand in hand with Henry Moore, the Earl of Drogheda. And we know that there is a private militia calling itself ‘The New Model Army’ which is also closely allied with the captain in question too. What we fail to see is the one connection that binds them all, if there is one, but we suspect that it is also the explanation for Reilly’s murder. My own suspicion is that land is at the heart of things. His daughter suspects so too and John Stafford in particular.”
Ormonde laughed. “And you are not a spy?”
“No sir, I am a mapmaker, brought here on false pretences and trying to navigate his way through terrain that defies description.”
“Ha! Good answer. But you are wrong about my grandson. What you tell me is good news indeed, for it means that he has the wits of his father and has done my bidding well.”
“Your bidding?”
“Yes sir. You are right that he has gone to Holland, even to Monmouth’s camp. But it is the Prince of Orange under whose banner he will fight when the real fight comes!”
“Like Stanley?” Titus asked incredulously. “So there was an association between the two?”
Ormonde spat on the ground at the mention of Stanley’s name. “The man is a jelly. He wobbles with ambition and indecision in equal measure. He is besotted by Scott’s half-sister but is just as besotted by the prospect of wealth. He is not important, and will engineer his own destruction as certainly as Blood!”

This reference to Ormonde’s distant past reminded Titus that he was talking to a man who had survived many administrations and many vicissitudes in life, but had always emerged all the more powerful for it, however dire the events at any time might have seemed. He may have benefited from good fortune, but Titus was sure that in the world Ormonde inhabited fortune counted for little and intellect for all. Yet there was one aspect to all that he was trying to fathom about the man’s policies now that defeated him, at least if he was to believe that intellect was at play. He decided to be so bold as to ask it outright. “Let me leave aside my reservation that a Dutch Prince has any claim to the throne. Or indeed that any fight is in the brewing save the normal skulduggery that typifies what your colleagues in Whitehall and Westminster will tell us is ‘life and death’ but to the rest of us seems mere politicking. I am finding it difficult to reconcile your two aims myself Sir James. You speak proudly of your grandson enlisting with such a Protestant claimant, but you yourself are allied with an exiled Catholic Earl who is bound to oppose him to the death should the confrontation arise.”
“You are an astute young man. But you presume confrontation in the wrong quarter. I will speak no more of that, as my work is not yet complete. Suffice for me to say that there is a saying in our family. ‘What may be right or wrong for England will e’er be wrong for Ireland. But when what’s right for Ireland can serve England well, it takes a Butler to point this out to them!’ Richard has seemingly forgotten this. Can we get back to my letter?”
“Of course.” Ormonde’s family motto had done nothing to clarify anything in Titus’ mind, but it seemed to be the old man’s last word on the matter.
“This letter will serve to assure my son that his activities in Dublin can go unchecked. With his mind on his own pursuits he will less likely hinder mine. But now, you must also deliver another to DeLacey for me. This will contain explicit instructions for what to do when the time comes.”
“The ‘time’ being?”
“The death of Charles. It is James who will get the crown, despite the bleatings from Holland at the moment, and it will be a Catholic crown until his demise. But that may not be for long, and then it reverts to his Protestant daughter and her Dutch Prince husband. In the meantime there is much to be avoided in this land.”
“If an alliance is stupidly formed between the exiled Earls and Talbot’s army, yes.”
“But that is bound to happen. Your own son is facilitating it.”
“Not if they are kept apart. Carrot and stick, my man. That is how one governs. All carrot or all stick will lead to strife. A balance between the two will keep the peace.”

Titus was beginning to feel as he had felt in the Balgriffin inn. “I cannot say I am comfortable knowing that the destiny of so many millions of people lies in the improvised and arbitrary diplomacy of a handful. Or that I am now an agent of that diplomacy.”
“Nor should you be sir, and there is many a day when I yearn for a life where I did not have to engage in such diplomacy! But it is thrust on a few to exercise it as best they can, be it improvised, arbitrary or simply guesswork indeed, and on fewer to do it wisely. I pray that I am wise, but I can never be certain.”
“Your grandson is cutting a deal with the Orange Prince, is he not?”
“Yes, crude but correct.”
“Let me guess. The Gaels and Old English retrieve some land and authority as long as James’ tenure of the throne is hopefully brief, and even more hopefully free of alliance with they or their Catholic their friends on the continent. Ireland will keep its nose out of English affairs, in other words, and will not serve as a conduit for any designs the French king may have on its sovereignty.”
“You state things crudely again, but you are not far from the truth, I grant you. Though the French king has designs that well exceed the fate of a small island adrift in the Atlantic waves, I can assure you.”
“And it will be the Butlers who will overview this deal, and what follows?”
“And will also deliver the hammer blows on the same heads should they fail to see reason I assume?”
“Carrot and stick, my boy.”
Titus laughed wryly. “I have eaten fresher carrots!” The full import of Ormonde’s scheme was beginning to become plain in his mind. “But your grandson feigns support of Monmouth’s claim. This is to divert James’ attention from the truth I assume.”
Ormonde did not seem to mind overmuch that his strategies were being so derisorily received by the young mapmaker before him. In fact, he seemed impressed that Titus had deduced as much as he had. “I was wrong to call you a mere spy in jest earlier. I would fancy that you might make rather a shrewd courtier yourself Mr Perry.”
“I doubt it Sir James. However, some years in London’s sewers have given me an insight into the behaviour of its rats, though not an inclination to become one myself.”
The old man laughed aloud, so loud that Cormac, who had been standing deferentially some distance off, forgot his awe of the great Duke and waved his hand frantically to silence him as one might shush a clamorous child. His other hand pointed out through the trees to the clearing. “There is someone coming!” he whispered loudly. A figure was approaching from a field to the west, walking through the rain in the inadequate shelter of the hedgerow along its ditch. As he stumbled in his approach they could see that it was Niall O’Neill, and that he travelled alone.
“Sir James,” Titus had another question to ask before O’Neill could arrive within earshot of the answer. “You did not answer me about Eoin Reilly’s murder. You call him a Huguenot but you must know that he was perceived as a Catholic, and an outspoken one at that. That is reason enough to kill a man for some, but I suspect his investigations into land acquisitions earned him his fate. Have you no idea who might have ordered his execution? As I said, there is a man called Stafford who his daughter is convinced had a hand in it.”
“Possibly, but I would more suspect my son. Now sir, let us see you prosecute that rat!”

O’Neill sauntered up to them but stopped before Ormonde and bowed. “Your Grace!”
Ormonde laughed. “There has been nothing so to describe about me for a long time Niall. Grace is an admirable quality I grant you, but not one I have ever found too useful in politics! Welcome to our small parliament. We have been deciding the fate of this land of ours.”
“In my absence I note,” O’Neill stated without a hint of a smile. “Old habits die hardest.”
There was an uncomfortable silence as Ormonde seemed to check himself, dearly loving to make a fit retort to this slight but remaining diplomatically silent. In the end he smiled and patted O’Neill on the shoulder, an action that made O’Neill stiffen slightly. “Now, now, Niall. We are all of us hoping for the one end here, and it is important that we make use of this short time together to ensure that we are co-ordinated in every other respect too. Our friend here, Mr Perry, will await a satisfactory outcome to the unfortunate arrest of your associates and then travel back to Dublin. Do you have a message for him to convey to my son too?”

Titus noticed that O’Neill’s accent had changed remarkably. Gone was the lilting burr of the zealous northern patriot. In addressing Ormonde he emulated the old man’s English inflections almost perfectly. “I do, Mr Perry, and forgive me but I have written it down as I wish not the words to be paraphrased.” He handed Titus a small piece of parchment and even as the mapmaker placed it in his pocket both could sense that the old duke felt umbrage that he had not been shown it. Titus reached into his pocket to extract it but was immediately stayed by a smiling O’Neill, who it seemed was deriving some pleasure from Ormonde’s discomfiture. “It tells him that our work here is almost done,” he said, eyeing Ormonde as he spoke. “But more than that, it has exceeded our expectations.” He returned to Titus. “Thank him from us, but inform him that we can proceed without his aid for now. He will understand.”
“The last time you gave me a coded message to relay to him he blew up the castle, with me in it!” Titus could not help but remark. “What fate awaits me this time?”
O’Neill bristled, but relaxed as quickly, then smiled. “If he has anything heavy to hand when you tell him I’d advise you to duck. Other than that you should be safe enough.”
Ormonde laughed. “Richard was never a good shot. You may not even need to duck. Very well, gentlemen, I think we are near conclusion here. Mr McGillick! Thank you for your patience! Please, I have something for you.”
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