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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 7 "The Hospital" (Part two)

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Nobiles Barbariæ

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Join date : 2011-12-25

PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 7 "The Hospital" (Part two)

The old man’s room was little more than a monk’s cell, its furnishings restricted to a cot and an old chest with a wooden top worn so white with use that it had obviously doubled as a seat through its long life. The weak evening daylight that shone through the small half-moon window set high in the wall under the vaulted brick ceiling barely illuminated the tiny room, but in the faint light Titus could see that the plastered walls were clean and thankfully free from damp, even after the recent wet weather, and that the flagstone floor had been covered with a rush mat that lent the cell an air of cosy domesticity. A small crucifix hung on the wall above the bolster on the cot, and Cormac had written stylishly beneath it “In Hoc Signo Vinces - in ainm Dé”, which Titus knew from his old friend’s all too rare stories of his time in uniform to have been the motto of the Irish army under Ormonde during the Civil War. The old man prized open the heavy lid of the oak chest revealing the faded scarlet of a folded tunic amongst its contents. Then, after rummaging for some time, he produced a much withered and creased scrap of paper that had been obviously folded and unfolded with great care and precision many times over its lifetime. Cormac opened it carefully again, laid it flat on the cot, and invited Titus to read it. The script and language was Irish, so Titus had to decline, but he did recognise the signature at the bottom – James Butler, Earl of Desmond, Duke of Ormonde - and the date October 1st 1643.

“I’m sorry Cormac,” Titus said, “The language defeats me. What is it?”
“A promise,” Cormac said, “to a young blood from a ‘Fear Mór’” - the last two words spoken with reverence.
“He gave you this document?”
“Oh aye, and I treasure it as a memento of its author, and of a time when honour meant something still, and was not merely a word debased to the level of a trinket that the rich man regards as his by right of his wealth. But it is the reason that he gave it to me that matters now. It is the acknowledgement of a debt to me, and which I now bequeath to you, should you have need to collect it. Ormonde knows the old ways. Should you present him with this bill, he would honour it still.” He seated himself wearily on the chest and invited Titus to rest himself on the cot.
“I admire your faith in the man, Cormac, and that he would recognise a debt even after so many years.” Privately Titus wondered about that. “But why would you think he might aid me on the strength of it, or that I might even need such aid?”
Cormac gave him a knowing look and nodded to the paper, still in Titus’ hand. “Please God and you won’t,” he answered. “But one can never tell. And that’s the beauty of it.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“One can never tell. The paper and the promise written on it might be years old, my boy, but the man’s name and signature carry a weight behind them, and it would be a brave man indeed who would doubt his word or that the bearer of the document enjoys his protection.”
If the men with whom he would be speaking had the same grasp of the Irish language as Titus had, he very much doubted that the letter, if produced, would confer any such authority. For all it had meant to Titus when he had tried to read it, it might just as well have been a forty year old letter from Ormonde to his laundry clerk complaining of collars being returned with grime yet on them. But there was no denying that Cormac meant every word of what he said. The least Titus could do was to take the offer seriously. “You mean that I should use this written pledge to intimate a closeness to Ormonde that I don’t possess, or even that I can call on him to protect me?”
Cormac shook his head. “The first of course would be a lie, though a useful one. The second is far from a lie, I can tell you. The debt that he owes is in return for no small favour rendered, believe me. And if he knew it was being called in, he would honour it. That’s a fact!”
Titus hid his scepticism. “May I ask what this favour was?”
“Of course. As bearer of the promissory note you have every right to know.”

Cormac’s retort surprised Titus, who had expected a flat refusal to his enquiry. For as long as he had known the Cormac, the old man had been reticent to discuss that period of his life prior to taking employment with Titus’ father. It was not shame that had prompted this silence, Titus had long ago realised, but it was rather as if the giant had simply closed a door on his life up to that point. His escape from the carnage of Nantwich where Ormonde’s ‘Irish army’ had been so mercilessly routed by Fairfax’s forces, his experiences in Ireland that had led him - an Irish Catholic - to wear the royalist uniform on English soil, even his early childhood in a country that was still reeling from the loss of its ancient rulers after their capitulation in Kinsale; all had been consigned to a dark room in his mind, the door locked, and its key long since thrown away. It was possible that his own contribution to that ill-fated campaign now embarrassed him, or that he found it too filled with painful memories to recall, but Titus suspected that the man had simply deemed his whole life an irrelevance up to the point where Perry Senior had literally plucked him up from the roadside in Prees. It was near this small market town that a starving and injured Cormac, who had managed to make his own painful way south from the debacle of Nantwich, must have reckoned himself close to leaving this life. The ruffians that waylaid him had found little resistance left in the man, and Perry Senior’s arrival at that point must have seemed to a dying Cormac like the apparition of an angel, come to salvage his soul and grant him life anew. And such was how the rescued man behaved – showing his gratitude to his rescuer by throwing himself into his miraculously achieved existence as a landscaper’s apprentice with total enthusiasm and commitment, applying himself to learning his new craft and language in next to no time, and deciding never more even to contemplate, it seemed, his other life – the one that had died in Nantwich along with so many others.

To begin with, this reticence to discuss his past was not considered odd by his new employer or his colleagues. In fact it was deemed most understandable, even advisable, in a country then ruled by Cromwell’s ‘protectorate’ regime, where reprisals against former enemies were a hallmark of the general’s ‘protective’ policies. But when Cormac’s silence had continued even after the return of the king to Whitehall, and England became a country suddenly filled with braggarts of every character and standing recounting their own contributions, be they true or not, to the royalist cause, it grew apparent that it had never been fear that had stayed his tongue, but rather the honouring of a vow that he only now be considered for what he was, not for what he had ever been, even by himself. That Cormac was breaking this vow now surprised and astounded Titus, and he must have shown it.

The old man smiled wickedly. “That shook you!”
Titus laughingly acknowledged that it had.
“Well,” said Cormac, “I’ve had my reasons.”
“I’m sure you had, and you needn’t feel obliged to discuss anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.”
The old man’s smile disappeared. “You were one of them – my reasons, I mean.”
Titus was taken aback, expressing his confusion with a simple “Oh?”, which once stated, he realised, sounded more like a magistrate who has been surprised by new evidence in a trial, and not at all how he had intended it.
Cormac rushed to explain. “When you were a child, well ...” He faltered, and began again. “There was a day once when you asked me – I’m sure you don’t remember – of courage I had witnessed on the battlefield. You must have been only about eight or nine. It was the question of a young boy relishing tales of soldiers’ heroic exploits and all that palaver.”
“That it was, and believe it or not Cormac, I remember your answer well.” Titus was not lying. The man’s response had made an indelible impression on his young mind, not least for its gory imagery. “You said that you saw a comrade fall in agony from cannon shot at Nantwich, his innards exposed, and that an advancing roundhead picked him up by the arm and hauled him to a spot far enough away from the carnage where he could die in peace. The roundhead kissed his enemy on both cheeks and patted his forehead as he prayed over him. He even held the man’s guts in for him as he ...”
“Aye, Titus. And it was the truth. In all my life I will never, I know, see anything more heroic than that man’s actions. But the moment I told you that, I knew I had made a terrible mistake.” He could see Titus’ look of bafflement and struggled hard to find the words to explain himself. “When you are young the world is an easy place to understand, Titus, and that is as it should be. The old men might hang on like leeches to their desire to administer this world, but we all depend on the young men to shape it, whether we acknowledge it or not – men who will die for a principle rather than compromise it, even though that principle might just be one old man’s craving to hang on to whatever power he has, or his desire to increase it.”
“Young fools, in other words.”
“Nothing of the sort, Titus! Nothing of the sort! Innocents – that’s what they are. Badly used they might be, but they themselves are innocents. And as a species, set by God apart from the dumb animals of His creation, we need that innocence, much more than we need all the hoary ould farts who rule us put together. Sure isn’t it the self-same innocence that brings one man to question the very nature of nature itself and so find patterns and answers where none thought to look before? It is a wonderful species we are, that we can explain creation with numbers, and numbers which add up, what’s more, from what I have read in his books!”
“You refer to Newton?” Titus had tried, and failed, to make sense of the eminent scientist’s formulae. If Cormac had read, and understood, Isaac Newton’s works on natural law then his was a more agile and keen mind than ever he had received credit for.
But Cormac was not be sidetracked. “Yes, him, and all others who ask the questions a child would ask, and have the courage and strength to find their own answers! Like those men who sail into the unknown and discover lands and riches outside our ken. Or those who ... well, you get my meaning. There is no progress without that innocence.” He sighed. “It’s a precious thing. When it’s lost it’s lost, and that day I gave you my stupid answer about heroics I could see that I had wounded your innocence, as surely as if I had plunged a pike into your young heart!”
“It was not stupid. I remember it yet.”
Cormac shook his great head. “No, no, it was stupid. A child has a right to his innocence. What he makes of it, or what it drives him to achieve, only God can dictate. But to try to take it from him before he has had a chance at all is a terrible crime, my boy.”
“Are you not being somewhat ...?”
“Hard on myself?” Cormac snorted derisorily at the thought of it. “Not hard enough! I’ll never forget your face, Titus, when I told you that story. I realised at that moment that, young and all as I still was then, I had learnt too much, and lost much more. Age, they say, brings the ultimate wisdom – the knowledge that one is not wise, nor ever has been. And for some of us, bitter experience has brought us to that realisation all the sooner. When a man realises that he has nothing to teach, it is best he keeps his mouth shut.”

A sadness had descended on Cormac, almost one of contrition, as if he had long meant to apologise to Titus for this incident of which he spoke and was now relieved, if pained, to get it off his chest. The younger man was at a loss as to how best to respond and set his old friend’s mind at ease, and so opted for humour, if only to advertise that whatever premature damage might have been done to his innocence, his capacity to be silly had remained intact. “You taught me more than you know, old man,” he said playfully. “And besides, for all your subsequent self-imposed muteness, you were never one to remain silent for long when it came to recounting the old legends of your people, admit it! I can still bore a dinner table for hours with recounting the exploits of the Children of Lear!”
Cormac laughed. “Sometimes the fairy stories hold the greatest truths of all, and ones that history can only parody. But you are right, mine has been a selective silence, I know.” A few moments of silence passed that Titus dared not break. Cormac’s face was sadly studious as he contemplated how best to say what he must say next. At last he took a deep breath – or it could have been a sigh – and continued. “But there was another reason why I knew I was wrong to try to fill your young head with the cynical rantings of a battle-hardened fool. I have always seen a bit of myself in you, my boy, a part of me that was long ago extinguished in the mud and gore of battle, but that I remember with fondness.” He caught Titus’ uncomfortable expression. “But don’t get me wrong! You’re your own man, Titus, and I am pleased that you are. You have never needed to be taught to know what was just from what was not, or when a man must make a stand against the odds, or even when to fold with grace. You were born an idealist, my friend, and such idealism is like the spluttering of a candle’s flame. It can kindle a fire that can raze whole cities to the ground, but a single puff of wind in its infancy could spell its doom.”
“I fear you compliment me beyond reason, Cormac.” Titus felt himself anything but the idealist that Cormac described.
His friend did not respond, but simply carried on. “I have always been respectful of that in you Master Titus, even when you were a nipper running under our feet as we hacked away at England’s stubborn earth, and we spanked you on your backside with the flat of our spades for slowing our labours. If it was a protective silence that I kept to shield you, it was a respectful silence too, I assure you. And I am glad that I did so, when I see the man before me. You are the man I might once have been, or so in my arrogance I like to presume.” Titus began to protest but Cormac stayed him with a raised hand. “I was robbed of a future when I was still a child, Titus, and now in my old age I find myself bereft of a past that I can even discuss with openness. I was always, you might say, on the wrong side of the coin when fate tossed it.” He looked the mapmaker straight in the eye. “But I have always liked to think that if the coin had landed right, just even the once, then it was a life such as yours that I would have led. No, more! It would have been a man such as you that I might have become!”
Titus, not for the first time since their conversation had taken this extraordinary turn, was at a complete loss for words. Cormac had, in a moment, turned what he had long held as the truth on its head. For all his life he had seen his father’s giant gardener almost as a creature from those very myths that Cormac had always been so fond of recounting – a man of quiet courage, stoic dignity and with the calm manner of one who had learnt to accept those things that could not be changed. Simple, flawed mortals like Titus could only hope to emulate such idols. Now, to have Hercules himself suddenly admit an envious respect for his adulator was almost too much to comprehend.
Cormac ignored his quandary and simply brought the topic of conversation back to where it had originated. “But we have wandered from what I would tell you. You are in need of an altogether more concrete form of protection now, and I am happy to provide it. I was about to say how a young Confederate guttersnipe like myself from the bogs of West Cork came to get his grubby hands on such a noble pledge, and from so lofty a person as the Viceroy himself.”
“You were a confederate? Were they not the ones responsible for massacring half of Ulster?” To Titus, whose grasp of Irish history was better than most Englishmen, but still poor at that, the deeds of the Catholic Confederacy in their war against the English were the stuff of ghoulish legends that children related excitedly to each other for the purpose of terrorising and titillation. The slaughter of thousands of Protestant men, women and children in their beds during the Catholic Rebellion in Ulster was simply the most gruesome of many stories from that time.
Cormac shook his head in denial, and a sadness was in his voice as he spoke. “There were terrible things indeed that happened then, and they don’t need to have been exaggerated for their cruelty to ring down the ages. But yes, Titus, I was a Confederate to the marrow, my boy, and still am. Now are you shocked?”
Titus tried to say no, but his features contradicted him.

Cormac waited a while, as if ready to end their conversation should that be what Titus wished, but when his young friend made no further protest he pressed on in the manner of a man who had rehearsed an entire speech, and would brave any protest to complete it. “I am a son of Ireland first, and a servant to the crown second, and that only by accident. Of course, to say as much in England could be deemed, even now, as rebellious talk. But it’s vital, so it is Titus, that you appreciate the distinction. It was one that was well appreciated at the time, you understand, and it is why I hold Ormonde in even greater esteem for all that. You see, before ever I fought under his banner, I was his sworn enemy, and he knew that. Yet he made the vow on that piece of paper nevertheless, and meant it too. That is the mark of a great man.” He exhaled, his speech delivered, and awaited a response.
To Titus, who had always known Cormac’s great respect for and allegiance to Ormonde, the news that Cormac had once fought against his hero was was nothing less than a revelation. Now, with his friend obviously awaiting a reaction, he said the first thing that came into his mind. “You changed sides?” At once he regretted it.
Cormac smiled slyly, sensing Titus’ discomfort. “Think I’m a turncoat, do you?”
“Well ...”
“Whisht and hear me out, boy. There’s more to this ould eejit than you could ever know.” This much Titus had already been forced to accept, but Cormac appeared to be enjoying the confusion his statement had caused and was seemingly determined to extend it. “An Irishman would know immediately how one need not necessarily have to move an inch to find oneself on the opposite side of where one stood. But you’re English, God love you, and too young in any case to know all that was going on in this godforsaken country at the time, so I’ll explain.” He leaned forward where he sat and spoke in hushed tones of those troubled times forty years before, when his and James Butler’s lives had become briefly intertwined. As he spoke, often with great concentration in choosing his phrases and words with care, Titus realised that he was receiving something more than the reminiscences of an old man, but a neat and obviously practised analysis of a period in history that few now spoke of, and even less could claim to have first hand knowledge of.

At that time, Cormac reminded Titus, the kingdom had been in turmoil. England was on the brink of civil war and her neighbours awaited that war with no little trepidation for what it might bring with it. But their trepidation, it had to be said, was mixed with some hope and an eye to the main chance, especially among those who had found themselves at the receiving end of England’s policies in the past and now wondered how her current difficulties could be best used to their advantage. Nowhere did that mixture of emotions apply more than in Ireland, where a war had already been raging – on and off – for a decade or more. There, the so-called Catholic Confederacy – a glorious alliance, as Cormac described it, of ‘ all the people that England wished might some day quit Ireland’s shores, but alas for England outnumbered her friends on the island by ten to one’ – had campaigned for self-rule and the establishment of an independent Catholic state on England’s doorstep. They had no shortage of recruits to aid them in their efforts. Ireland was a land in which there was hardly a Catholic family who did not hold a recent grievance against the English in some form, especially in those territories that had been earmarked in the preceding decades for ‘Anglicisation’. Cormac himself had enlisted when his own people had had their lands in West Cork confiscated at the seeming whim of the English court, and farms that had been held for generations were summarily gifted to cronies of the then monarch. But, despite the zeal of their soldiery and the numerical superiority of their forces, the Confederacy’s ongoing war against the better armaments and better trained troops of the English had long ago ground to a stalemate, with neither side ever succeeding in applying that killer blow to the other that would ensure their policies prevailed. And so it had looked set to continue – both sides achieving little but draining the country’s sparse resources in what seemed to be a perpetual and unwinnable cause.
But the onset of civil war in England changed that pattern drastically and in the course of a few months Ormonde found that his position had been all but reversed.. The crown forces that he had been granted – Protestant and English, almost to a man – and who had pitched themselves so relentlessly against the Confederacy army in Ireland, now found themselves being summoned to participate in a more pressing engagement. The army was needed back in England, and an increasingly nervous monarch instructed Ormonde to bring the Irish war to a conclusion by whatever means it might take to achieve. A military solution was beyond his scant resources, the most precious of which was time and that was quickly running away from him. There was nothing for it but to negotiate with the very men who for years he had tried to defeat on the battlefield.

His Catholic opponents understandably rejoiced at this turnaround in their fortunes, and his. It seemed that their patience and tenacity had at last been rewarded, and the Confederacy’s long struggle to establish a Catholic state, with fealty to a Roman pope over a Protestant English king, had finally prevailed. Their old enemy was on the back foot and its respected, but hated, chief agent would now be forced to come cap-in-hand suing for peace. And it merely gilded the lily that Ormonde would have to come to the Confederacy’s headquarters in Kilkenny to name his terms. The city had been commandeered by the Catholic troops for as long as their war with the crown had been in full swing, and it must have galled Ormonde immeasurably throughout this time to see the great Butler estates, of which he was still titular lord, be denied to him for so long. Now, to be summoned back to one’s own home by the thief who had occupied it, must surely have pained him even more. The Confederacy, in their apparent triumph, were intent on rubbing the Viceroy’s nose in his absolute defeat.

But their jubilation was short-lived. To their surprise, Ormonde responded to their request with magnanimous politeness, even quipping in his communication that he would be sure to inspect for scratches and scuffing to his ancestral home in his absence. Moreover, when Ormonde presented his peace proposals, they fell far short of what the die-hard elements of the Confederacy had hoped for, especially amongst its Gaelic leaders. True, there were generous concessions that gave a status and role to the king’s Catholic subjects in Ireland that they had long been denied, and there was even a suggestion that the parliament in Dublin might become a chamber that not only included members of their faith, but would be answerable first and foremost to the Irish Viceroy, and not to the English king – a considerable step towards independence. But to the chagrin of those who craved that independence, Butler averred that only armies under control of the crown would still be considered legitimate. Even more galling to the separatists, it would still be to the king’s treasury that Irish revenues would flow, not to an independent Dublin exchequer. And direst of all, there would be no provision to address the issue that most upset the Irish Catholics – the return of land that had been taken forcibly by Protestant landlords backed by the crown without any compensation ever offered to its previous owners. Many of the Confederacy’s leaders were men who had been hard bitten by such oppressive and unfair treatment, as indeed were a fair number of the men in arms under their command. It was apparent that the conditions of the truce had been drawn up in Whitehall by a king and his advisers who, despite the tenuous position they were in, were loathe to relinquish sovereignty over this vassal state, at least in the opening gambit of their negotiations.

A lesser man than Ormonde (and most definitely a man more committed to political survival than principle) would no doubt have simply presented these demands and sat back as the situation inevitably deteriorated, always able to say that he had been but the messenger and not the author of the offer – a not altogether unwise strategy at a time when one could not be sure if one’s current masters would even be walking this earth soon, should war consume them. But Ormonde had never been one to shirk responsibility, or indeed to care overmuch for contemplation of failure. He presented the king’s terms in the manner of one setting the terms of surrender to a vanquished enemy, not as one forced between a rock and a hard place or whose resolve might buckle at the merest opposition. He did so however while paying the utmost respect to his old opponents’ military competency, the integrity of their own arguments, and to the obvious intelligence that they had always displayed in countering his efforts to disband them. And it was to this intelligence, he said, that he would appeal most to when they withdrew to consider his terms. He would therefore add one important rider to his case that he felt any men of such undoubted political aptitude could not fail to consider relevant to their decision.

For his own part, he claimed, he could never desert the royalist cause. His fate, as his opponents well knew, rested with the monarchy’s survival. But it was not only his own fate that rested with Charles Stuart, he argued. Ireland’s too relied heavily on the outcome of the impending war in England, whether his opponents wished to believe it or not. A defeat for the Stuart king could, and would, bring nothing but unimaginable turmoil and mayhem to Ireland’s shores. If the Irish Catholics thought they had found a formidable foe in the English king, then they truly did not understand what the parliamentarians had in store for them, and their country, should the Puritan Cromwell succeed in his ambitions and rule in the king’s stead. Ireland, with its largely Catholic population and history of sedition, would be a priority in Cromwell’s plan to eradicate all sources of potential resistance to the state he would govern, especially a land that could be utilised so readily by a deposed monarch in staging a counter-attack. Unlike his predecessors, Cromwell owed nothing to, and thought even less of old allegiances, old alliances, old titles, or even old standards of civility. The country would be put to the sword - of that there was no doubt - with no opportunity for negotiated compromise, no hope of being allowed ever again to hold opinion, let alone influence, in an English state, and most importantly to those men who Ormonde addressed, no likelihood of ever again contemplating, let alone achieving, any degree of self-determination.

Such was the strength of Ormonde’s conviction and argument that slowly but shrewdly he convinced the Confederacy leaders, including even the Gaelic lords, of the unavoidable fact that they now shared a common cause. It would be in their interests not only to accept his terms and lay down their arms, but even to show a more meaningful solidarity by offering some of their own men the chance to fight under the royalist banner. While this enraged many of those he treatied with, who were just about prepared to afford the man the breathing space he desired but nothing more, it convinced enough of them – especially those Catholic lords who still held title and lands - to allow Ormonde to report back to his king that the Confederacy, while not defeated, was no longer a threat. Moreover, he added, he could affirm that his Protestant army was not only free to return to the king’s aid in England, but that it would be augmented by many ‘Old English’ soldiery, who recognised that their own needs now coincided with those of his majesty. Charles, ever more desperate for good news, took this to mean more than it ever could have, but Ormonde was not to know that. He had ended a war, as he had been instructed, and that was enough to be going on with. His attentions now switched immediately to organising his army and shipping them as fast as he could to the ‘friendly’ ports of Bristol and Liverpool.

Of course even the most optimistic of Ormonde’s converts knew that the idea of collusion would be a hard one to sell to their subordinates, and so it proved. Some were simply opposed to any deals with anybody. ‘England’s troubles were England’s and may she have more of them’ summarised the extent of most of the soldiers’ empathy for the royalists’ travails. Many others, Cormac amongst them, felt that Ormonde’s arguments had the ring of truth about them, but that the Confederacy leaders could still have pressed for more concessions should their recruitment to the royalist cause help lead to its ultimate success. In fact, as Cormac told Titus, that they didn’t press for a more concrete deal led indeed to their undoing over the next few years. Never again could the Confederacy speak with one voice – its leaders split between those who resented ever agreeing with Ormonde, those who felt thay hadn’t agreed enough, and even more who, as the tide slowly turned against the royalists, found themselves at a complete loss as to how best to proceed militarily. The arrival of a Papal Nuncio who openly supported the former faction, commanded by the returned Gaelic chieftain Hugh O’Neill, eventually led to a complete dissolution of the old Confederacy and its realignment along strictly Catholic and separatist lines. While the factions might combine later from time to time, there was never more the cohesion of leadership required to make them an effective force, and though they attempted to engage themselves against Charles Stuart’s enemies periodically, and sometimes even under Ormonde’s own command, it was never with any great effect. The formal deal they struck with Ormonde in Kilkenny was only the first of many over the next few years, each one a reaction to an ever worsening situation for both sides’ interests, and with an ever increasing pessimism on both sides’ parts for their chances of success. By the end the deals meant nothing. The king himself was no longer in a position to guarantee anything, and the Confederacy had disintegrated into a motley collection of disunited militia, with the old chain of command shattered forever and each small army left to choose its own battles, and for its own reasons. These reasons bore increasingly little resemblance to the original stated aims of the Confederacy, and had all the more to do with a desperate struggle simply to survive as the tide of war turned against their royalist allies.

One reason why their effect had diminished was that, at the moment the original deal was struck with Ormonde, may of the Confederacy’s soldiers saw the writing on the wall for their dreams of a Catholic country and simply quit, going back to their farms and professions rather than commit themselves to what might prove years of fighting on English soil. The decision, as it turned out, cost many of those men their livelihoods, if not their lives, when Cromwell, having won the war at home later turned his attention to eradicating all vestiges of potential resistance in Ireland, just as Ormonde had predicted. Some soldiers however, such as Cormac, didn’t even get that choice. As indentured servicemen in the pay of Old English commanders who had opted immediately to submit to Ormonde’s command, they were summarily transferred and enlisted, whether they liked it or not, into the ‘Irish army’ that James Butler proposed to assemble. Cormac, who had been happy as a young teenager to enlist in the military service of the Catholic Earl of Cork, found to his dismay that the Earl’s commitment of all his men to Ormonde’s authority meant that he would now be bound – and ‘bound’ was indeed the term – to leave for England immediately.

There was one choice these men were given, however, and to Cormac it was further evidence of Ormonde’s genius. Mindful of the fact that he had inherited men who might prove problematic should the war escalate, and that these men might thus defect from under his command at a moment when they were most needed in the ranks, Ormonde decided immediately to kill two birds with one stone. He decreed that those soldiers who so wished could choose to fulfil their duties in their own land, where a large force was now needed to patrol and contain the likely sources of support for the parliamentarian cause, most particularly amongst the ‘Scots Irish’ settlers in Ulster. The remainder would sail with him to England. It was a shrewd manouvre that solved one problem, but as Cormac pointed out, created an altogether different one for Ormonde that he could not have anticipated, and was ultimately what brought him and James Butler to meet.

Cormac, for his part, thought long and hard about taking the option of deployment in Ulster, and even of desertion, but in the end had opted to sail. If blood was to be shed by his hand in this war that no one had envisaged, or even wanted, then it would be better that it fell on English soil, and from an Englishman too, he reckoned. It was the desperate logic of a man trying to make the best of a bad situation, he knew, and as the time for embarkation drew near he began to grow ever more sceptical of the venture ahead and unsure that he had chosen the right path. When he joined the great muster of men in Wexford preparing to sail for Bristol it had merely cemented his fears. He found himself one of a few Irishmen amongst thousands of English, unable to understand their language, their command structure, or even if they shared his reasoned view that they were fighting a sensible and just campaign. From them he received nothing but contempt, with only his ignorance of their tongue protecting him from their more vicious epithets, and inwardly he despaired of his fate. As he told Titus, ‘it was hard to see where one’s allies ended and one’s enemies began’. Only for the fact that as Catholic Irish ‘recruits’ they were more or less imprisoned upon their arrival in Wexford, he would have defected there and then.

A rapid salvation was at hand however, and at the hand of no one else but the man whose brilliance Cormac was already beginning to appreciate. Though they had arrived in Wexford and found nothing but animosity from their new ‘comrades’, there was no denying that they were also afforded a little respect – even if a begrudging one – for the fact that compared to the bulk of the soldiery whose ranks they had joined, the Confederacy veterans represented the nearest thing to professional soldiers now under James Butler’s command. Ormonde, no fool when it came to using such expertise, sought out the best regarded of these and lost no time in spreading them throughout his own divisions. And so it was that Cormac, already at twenty years of age a hardened veteran in the war against James Butler’s forces in Ireland, now found himself promoted to captain in the same man’s ranks, and much to his own incredulity as he donned his scarlet tunic on the ship sailing for Bristol, on his way to fight an Englishman’s war.

To Titus this was much more than simply a history of the events that led Cormac to England, of course. He knew that its relation in itself was of immense importance to the old man, who for so long had sworn himself to silence on the issue, and therefore Titus knew also that he should feel in some way honoured to be the one to hear it. And, he had to admit, just to hear anyone at all prepared to talk of these time was in itself a rarity, all the more interesting when it was presented from the point of view of an Irishman who had been embroiled in them. This was something an Englishman could reasonably expect never to hear. The English Civil War was regarded as just that – a war between factions of Englishmen, fighting in England and obsessed only with English interests. The fact that the same war had led to a disaster in Ireland far exceeding in extent and ferociousness that which it had inflicted on their own countrymen was something the English had long ago chosen to ignore, forget, or simply deny. In England even now, more than thirty years since Cromwell’s corpse had been disinterred, tried for treason, and hung, drawn and quartered for its deceased owner’s crimes, most people wished only to draw a veil over that chapter of their past. There was no one who would contemplate, let alone discuss, the fact that England’s civil war – a mere hiccup, as it had turned out, in royal lineage – had had such catastrophic effects on her nearest neighbour.

Though Cormac made no reference to it, Titus could only imagine what those years must have brought by way of dread and despair to his friend. As news of the atrocities, each one worse than before, that accompanied Cromwell’s ruthless and vicious campaign in Ireland grew rife in the kingdom, wind of the carnage must have reached the ears of the quiet Irishman diligently plying his new-found gardening trade in England. Cormac, throughout this time of terror that the English now dismissed as the ‘interregnum’ years, had kept his head down and his mouth shut. But at what cost to his own conscience had such a silence been maintained, Titus now wondered? And what agonies or anguish had it disguised? Such was the scale of the mayhem that Cormac must have known with fearful certainty that those dearest to him were suffering severe torment. How could they not have? No corner of Ireland had escaped Cromwell’s attention as its Catholic people, despite their great numbers, were systematically butchered, deposed, deprived of their possessions, or shunted into exile in the barren reaches of their own land. Long before Cromwell left Irish shores, with his ‘work’ continuing under his equally ruthless lieutenants, his name had already become synonymous with evil in Irish minds.

That Cormac shared this view of England’s ‘Protector General’ there was no doubt. But as he told his tale to Titus it was with the rational and thought-out tenor of a man who had successfully placed enough distance between himself and the events to rise above such emotive, if understandable, expressions. It was apparent now that his long silence had never indicated a refusal throughout his life to contemplate those events that must have so seared his conscience then. Instead he had devoted himself to analysing them, turning them over in his mind; so that what must have seemed at one time a succession of randomly catastrophic proceedings that had sucked a twenty year old almost to his doom and his entire country through agonies that defied description, were relayed now with an inherent logic that bound them together – some, no doubt, learned from the written record of the time, and the rest deduced by Cormac through his own intelligence. And much of that contemplation had been devoted to understanding the man who had had most influence on the events surrounding Cormac’s own life, both then and subsequently – James Butler, Duke of Ormonde. If ever the man’s biography were to be written, its author could do worse than to tap the well of Cormac’s knowledge on the subject. As the old man continued his narration, it even occurred to Titus that Cormac could do worse than to write it himself.

Cormac, meanwhile, was getting to the nub of his story – how he had come to acquire the document that he now wished Titus to borrow, and the reason was rooted in Ormonde’s deployment of troops to the Protestant heartlands of Ulster. As Cormac told it, this tactic of policing potential opposition to the royalist cause on Irish soil had quickly made James Butler many enemies, but only some of which he had anticipated. The arrival of Confederacy veterans as a legitimate army in Ulster enforcing new, strict laws designed to subdue the local population had met with expected howls of outrage from the Protestant and Presbyterian subjects settled in these lands, and the interference it caused to market trading and the movement of produce led to equally vociferous howls from the commercial classes, already struggling to rebuild Ulster’s fragile - but potentially lucrative - economy that had been all but obliterated in the Catholic Rebellion of a few years before. These protests Ormonde had expected and had ready answers for. The troops had been stationed, he insisted, for the ‘protection and benefit of all’ in the province, and the proof of this would be seen first by the commercial traders themselves, when their unviolated corner of the kingdom would be able to capitalise on the anticipated disruption a civil war would wreak in England. But one protest he had not expected had come from his own master. He was dismayed to find that King Charles himself, conscious of the fact that this deployment meant an even smaller contingent of Irishmen available to fight on English soil, had openly criticised his Irish Viceroy for exceeding the constraints of his brief when dealing with the Catholic Confederacy. As reports and complaints reached Whitehall, Charles Stuart publicly questioned the wisdom of Ormonde’s actions, whose own attempts to mollify his majesty by assuring him of the professionalism of his new recruits had seemed only to increase the king’s ire on the matter, and when Charles Stuart finally stopped allowing Ormonde even within the vicinity of his court in Whitehall, Ormonde realised that there was more afoot here than mere scepticism or pre-battle nerves on the king’s part. The king may have been genuinely disappointed by the reduced size of the Irish contingent in his forces, but Ormonde, a dab hand at a little intrigue himself when he needed to use it, could smell its unsavoury whiff in this alienation he was being subjected to. He suspected that the king was receiving malicious advice on the matter, and set about at once in attempting to identify its source.
That source, as it turned out, revealed another class of enemy who he had not foreseen, and one moreover who was ideally placed to identify royal disfavour as the principal weakness in Ormonde’s armour, and to use it against him. He had not anticipated this enemy because his mind had been set on considering primarily the political and military implications of his actions when identifying those who would be most antagonised by them. One such action he had taken, a suspension of all property sale and transfer in the affected areas until the military emergency had abated, had been designed to guard against profiteering and land-grabbing when the financial hardships pressed home and small landowners felt the pinch. It was, after all, not unknown for cynical sorts to take unfair advantage in such times, and his ban had actually been welcomed by the majority of those farmers and town dwellers who otherwise raged against his placing of Ulster under martial law. But Ulster, unlike any other part of the kingdom, contained a breed of property speculator that was simply just not found elsewhere – the ones who called themselves ‘undertakers’ – and it was this group whose grievance against Ormonde arose solely from the fact that his restrictions, in the work of a moment, had deprived them of their livelihoods.

Undertakers were a generally despised class – the men who arranged the transportation and settlement of English and Scottish people to the lands confiscated from the Gael. Once the term had implied men of great wealth, operating through crown-appointed authority. Now they were more often than not merely unscrupulous ‘middlemen’ who bought and sold interests in land already planted, but which had been deemed unviable by its new owners. Often, therefore, the promises they made of the paradise and bounty that awaited those who availed of their services proved to be exaggerations, if not downright untruths. Many of the English and Scottish settlers found that they had exchanged a poor, but secure, livelihood in the land of their birth for a precarious and often deadly struggle to survive in Ireland, especially in the Ulster lands abandoned by the great Irish Earls when the Battle of Kinsale had sealed their fate eighty years before, and where many bitter descendants of those then dispossessed still lived in much reduced circumstances. For the undertakers therefore, the bounty years following the last great plantation in the time of King James had long since dried up, and the forfeited lands were now very much oversubscribed, if anything. Many undertakers had achieved great wealth and title from their activities already and simply turned to other lines of business, but there still remained a handful of powerful and well connected individuals who peddled this despicable trade, and squeezed whatever profit they could from the scraps that remained. Ormonde had now deprived them even of those.

So it was that one of these undertakers, a member of parliament called Leech with estates near Petersfield in Hampshire, took Ormonde’s effective blockade and isolation of Ulster at this time as nothing less than an assault on his ‘business’ interests, and set about employing his own devices to defeat his perceived enemy. When word reached him of the king’s dissatisfaction with Ormonde, Leech seized on this as an opportunity to destroy his opponent in whatever way he could. Defamation, scurrilous rumour and character assassination were his preferred methods, and as one of the prevaricating MPs who were being actively wooed by the king to deter them from committing to the parliamentarian side, Leech had been given access to the inner sanctum of the royal court in Whitehall. For a man who regarded malicious gossip as an effective and justified weapon to use against his enemies, such access was a godsend. Rumours can be powerful agents, but ones that seemed to emanate from within Whitehall’s walls themselves carried a credibility and weight that only accelerated their force. Whispers soon circulated that Ormonde was paving his way to be appointed ‘king’ in Ireland, that he was poising himself to initiate a bloodbath in Ulster of the king’s loyal Protestant subjects there, and, even worse, that he had intentionally mustered a weaker force than the king required as he had secretly concluded a deal with Cromwell.

Ormonde was no stranger ever to such ludicrous affronts – much of his time in England was usually spent in litigation defending himself and his administration against challenges from such underhand sources – but these were coming at a dangerous time and with dangerously lofty covenance, and were achieving surprisingly quick currency throughout the kingdom as a result. If only a portion of them were believed his reputation would be irretrievably tainted, and therefore his effectiveness curtailed. And if they were believed amongst Charles Stuart’s advisors, or by the king himself, then his career – if not his life – was as good as over.

It was imperative that the spring from which this slanderous effluent was emanating be plugged and Ormonde lost no time in striving to do so. He spent considerable funds in bribing informants to help locate it, while he busied himself with overseeing the deployment of his troops in person – a task that not only kept him a safe distance from London but also helped advertise his loyalty. Besides, if such scurrilous rumours were to be believed by his own men, then all his work at eliminating dissent would be in tatters. He therefore stationed himself with the main part of his army in Lancashire and prayed that his informants were efficient in their endeavours.
They were, and their task had been made easier by Leech himself. The MP, buoyed by the startling ‘success’ of his vendetta, had begun to boast openly in his favoured taverns that it was he who was ‘laying the great Ormonde low’. It was unfortunate for him that one member of his audience when he chose to sing his own praises one night in the White Boar Inn on Snow Hill was a man who stood to earn an easy five pounds by relaying the lyrics of Leech’s tune to Ormonde. This the man duly did, and found to his delight that another five pounds could be earned in tracking Leech and identifying his haunts and habits.
Ormonde had reason to be cautious. In other times he would have been delighted to drag this scoundrel through the courts and strip him of everything he possessed, but there simply was not time any more for such an approach. Moreover, Leech was a member of a parliament on the brink of rebellion and his simple ‘disappearance’ – tempting as the idea seemed to Ormonde – could have unpredictable and disastrous political ramifications. The situation demanded a speedy resolution, but one that involved no likelihood of initiating further catastrophe.

And that was where Cormac had entered the tale. To his utter amazement he had been summonsed one morning to Ormonde’s private chambers where the Irish contingent was camped. There he had received orders from his commander in chief to partake in a special mission. For the completion of this he should choose two trustworthy colleagues, and all three should maintain a strict secrecy concerning the matter, under pain of death should word reach Ormonde that any of them had revealed its nature to another soul. It was essential that they waste no time in its execution, and they must also realise that if they were caught before, during or after the deed, Ormonde would be obliged to deny any knowledge of it. They would be at the mercy of their captors, and no attempt would be made to rescue them. It was described by Ormonde as an important mission, vital to the royalist cause, but he added that it was also one of supreme delicacy. It was extremely important that the target of the mission should not be killed – such would bring untimely and unwelcome attention from certain parties to bear on Ormonde’s position – but it was equally vital that the man was rendered harmless, at least as a threat to the success of Ormonde’s ambitions.

Cormac, even now, was loathe to reveal the details but Titus gleaned that the ‘delicate mission’ on which the three men embarked amounted to travelling to London out of uniform, capturing Leech as he left the alehouse on Snow Hill that he was known to frequent, moving their captive to a secure house well out of earshot of the nearest neighbour, and there ‘persuading’ the honourable member for Petersfield to refrain from further activities that might discredit Ormonde further. No doubt Cormac’s imposing stature alone had been an essential criterion in his selection for the task. In any case, the technique of persuasion employed by Cormac and his associates seemed to achieve the desired effect, at least for long enough to allow Ormonde to complete his mobilisation unhindered. Leech left London ‘on urgent constituency business’ and did not reappear until well after the city had been abandoned completely by the royalists. By then the troops of both sides had fully mustered and deployed in any event, and the war had already escalated into the pattern it was to adopt until its conclusion, as the royalists concentrated their armies in stronghold after stronghold and were systematically besieged and pushed onward by their parliamentarian enemy.

Cormac rejoined his regiment which was then in Macclesfield, where he and his two associates were summoned immediately to report on the venture to their commanding officer. Ormonde had already left for London himself, having lost no time in setting about restoring a healthy line of communication with his king. But he had left instructions for the treatment of the men who had served him so well. The two soldiers who had accompanied Cormac were ‘rewarded’ with a transfer back to their own land. It was obvious that Ormonde felt it prudent that those with knowledge of what had happened be best denied the opportunity to prattle about it. He was taking no chances with his recently restored, and fragile, relationship with his king. A fearful Cormac, ordered to wait behind until after his colleagues had left, had wondered what was in store for him. Half expecting to be requested to fall on his own sword, he had instead simply been given the letter that Titus now held in his own hand. He had never figured out why Ormonde had treated him differently from his companions, or why James Butler felt bound even to thank his young captain, let alone offer his gratitude in such fulsome and extravagant terms. Ormonde’s letter, with that thoroughness for which he was renowned, thanked his junior officer in his own tongue for his efforts and swore that as long as God granted him breath to live, he would aid the young man if he ever needed help, or any man that Cormac should nominate in his stead. The offer could be availed of only once, but it was to be considered an offer without limits of duration or largesse in its terms. If what was requested was in Ormonde’s power to achieve at the time it was asked of him, then so it would be done. “I have no riches that I could bestow on you that would come close to the value of what I hereby propose,” the letter had concluded. “If you are a man wise enough to seek only your just rewards in life, and to know therefore the real meaning of wealth, you will hold this paper dear to your heart with an ardour far in excess of that expended on the glittering baubles of worldly treasures by lesser souls.” To the young Cormac it had been simply a wordy way of saying that Ormonde could not afford to pay him anything extra for his deed above his soldier’s wage. But the offer of a favour, Cormac knew, was indeed worth something in that it had been put in writing, however grandiosely. The young man was now quite older and had never called in this favour, until now.
He insisted that Titus at least take the letter and use it as evidence in his meeting later that night, should he need it, that he had his own private access to Ormonde’s authority. “Take it that you are my nominee, my boy. If nothing else, it might help put manners on them! These creatures can be an arrogant lot,” was how Cormac phrased it.

Titus was touched by the old man’s gesture in attempting to strengthen his hand at this strange and unwelcome meeting to which he had been summoned. He seriously doubted that Ormonde would even recall having to waylay Leech all those years ago, let alone the name of the soldier who had performed the task. So much had changed in the world since Ormonde had penned it all those years ago that it would be understandable if Butler, even should his memory be that prodigous, simply dismiss his promise as an embarrassment, a reliquary from a time when emotions were running high and men were fuelled by notions of honour and loyalty in a world yet to be disabused of those fantasies, at least as they applied to its politicians. Besides, their grand venture then had failed disastrously, and the royalists had been hewn down or scattered to the winds. The fact that James Butler had regained a position whereby such favours he might bestow were of considerable worth owed nothing to his actions then, or indeed those of his subordinates such as Cormac. Instead his success owed everything to his own dogged determination, unswerving loyalty to the Stuarts in exile, inexhaustible patience in waiting for that tide of events which had scattered them to change, and sheer hard work on his part once the new currents of history had floated him and his masters back to the lands from which they had been expelled. It would be understandable if James butler saw no reason to honour any debt incurred prior to that purgatory to which he and his royal masters had been subjected for many long years, and from which they had all been born anew into positions of power. In any case, whatever about Butler’s notions of honour and whether they had survived to the extent of fulfilling an ancient debt, Titus very much doubted that ‘castle men’ of the current generation held the old Duke in such admiration as Cormac did, and neither therefore would they be impressed by the age or provenance of the letter. It is in the nature of politicians to dispense with an old vehicle, no matter how useful its service once was to them, ever ready as they are to jump on the next one. Ormonde, however great a man he had been, was close to the end of his political life and as such was probably now regarded more as an impediment to the progress of his associates rather than a force still to be held in awe.

But old Cormac’s loyalty and faith in his master’s authority moved him and he declined to say what he thought. He thanked his friend for his offer of help, but apologised that he could never accept the gift of something so obviously precious to his old mentor. The old man was not going to be refused so lightly however, and stuffed the fragile parchment into Titus’ pocket. “You take it, Titus a’stór, you take it!” was all he said.

The sight of the gatheringing gloom of evening outside the small window above them prompted Titus to raise the other matter that had been needling him since Cormac had told him of his arrival being heralded in advance. “What is it my father is fond of saying?” he asked. “In wearisome company time runs like treacle, but quicksilver in that of a friend. I’m afraid I must depart ere long. But first ...”
Cormac hushed him with a wink, rose from his seat, and as he pulled the blanket that served as a curtain tightly across the window, confirmed with his interruption that he had anticipated Titus’ query. “You will know more of your herald? Reilly’s daughter?”
“Yes. I would dearly love to know why she took it upon herself to announce my arrival.”
“It wasn’t quite like that,” Cormac smiled mischievously. “But you can ask her yourself. I have her hidden here.”
Titus had not been prepared for that. He looked around Cormac’s small cell, half expecting to see the mysterious woman materialise from behind the sparse furnishings within it, and his obvious astonishment seemed to amuse Cormac. But only for the briefest moment.
“Well, not quite here,” he said. “But in a pantry room not far from here. We have a few that are not yet in use and it seemed the wisest precaution given her state and her predicament.”
Cormac merely nodded. “The lass is being pursued, and in fear for her life. But by who, or why, I couldn’t get out of her. And as to how she knows you, I can’t say either.”
“I think she knows that I discovered her father’s corpse.”
The big man blessed himself. “Poor lass,” he said. “She was one unholy mess of terror, mud, brambles and more terror when I found her skulking around the bushes at the gate earlier. She was lucky it was me who did so too, or else she might be already a guest of Newgate, I wouldn’t wonder.” He crossed to the door and took down the oil lamp from its hook, gently screwing off its glass globe.
“Maybe that was why she came here. You say that you knew her father. He must have told her that you were someone to rely on for aid ...”
“Goodness, no. It wasn’t me she came here to see. I knew her father, God rest his soul, only to nod to in the street, and have only ever seen her once or twice before. She did some alms collecting round Christmas time last year and called up to the Hospital, as I recall. Can’t imagine she got much out of the tight arsed governor, mind you, save a lecture on poverty being a damnation reserved for the idle and slovenly! But he had the decency to provide her with an escort back to the city – ould Peter Crabshaw, the biggest lecher on two legs, though age has cramped his style somewhat. I saw them disappear down the avenue together, her scurrying as fast as her feet could carry her, and him trying to keep up with her, his face a mixture of smug satisfaction at being seen in the company of a lovely young lassie and sheer apoplexy from the effort!” He laughed at the memory of it, and then sought out a tinder box from under the bolster on the bed. Once located, he set about lighting the wick of the lamp. “A striking lass as I recall, but not on the evidence of her appearance today, I might add.” The wick resisted the spark several times and he muttered an oath under his breath. “But no, it wasn’t ne that she came to see. It was you she wanted to meet. That much I could understand from her.” He sighed with satisfaction as the wick finally erupted into flame.
“Me?” Titus could not believe what he was hearing.
“Aye, you. And now we had better seek her out before you are late for your appointment this evening. I’m as curious as you are, no doubt, of what dragged the poor divil here in pursuit of a stranger. I was hoping your own story might shed some light on it all but I’m still none the wiser. Here, follow me and let’s get to the bottom of it.”

Titus suddenly felt uneasy. A part of him was interested, like Cormac, in interviewing his mysterious ‘footpad’ and finding out just why she had risked her life in pursuing him so surreptitiosly to his meeting with Cormac. But a huge portion of his reason was warning him against further involvement in the whole thing. In fact, if truth be known, Titus was already having serious misgivings about honouring his summons to the meeting with DeLacey – if that was indeed who it was – in Collier’s inn later that evening as well. He genuinely wished to return to when life had been so less complicated – a mere twenty four hours earlier in fact – and when his most pressing problems had all to with organising equipment for his forthcoming survey and nothing whatsoever to do with strange bearded men on bridges, corpses hanging from rafters, or women half demented from whatever ailed them demanding his audience. His growing uneasiness must have showed.
Cormac’s hand had grasped the clasp of his door in readiness to escort Titus to where he had secreted his guest. He released it, crossed the room to where Titus still sat, and resumed his place perched on the old army chest so that his face was a mere inches from Titus’. He spoke softly, amost apologetically, but with extreme deliberation, choosing his words with care. “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, Titus. But if you trust my intuition, then I think you should. I’ve seen things in my life that I find hard to live with at night when my ould brain wanders through its memories unbidden. And one thing I’ve seen is terror. Not fright, or fear, but absolute terror!” He spoke the last word with great emphasis, as if by stressing it enough he might begin to convey all that the English language could not. “This girl is not long for this world if we do not speak with her. That much I can assure you. Now, I don’t know about you, but my poor ould conscience just could not permit me to draw another breath before at least giving her the chance to say what it is that weighs so heavy on her mind.”

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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 7 "The Hospital" (Part two) :: Comments

Re: Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 7 "The Hospital" (Part two)
Post on Tue 24 Apr 2012, 23:07 by ferval
Well, you did ask for feedback!
In my opinion, and it's just that so ignore it if you wish or shoot it down, I will most certainly not be offended, I feel distinctly impertinent as it is, but I feel that Cormac's story should be in a chapter of its own and would benefit from being in a different voice from the main Titus narrative; his direct speech in the passage is the kind of tone I could imagine. There's a whiff of a history lesson there and, although it's interesting from a historical viewpoint, it tries to cover an awful lot of ground. I can quite see your intention but, if separated out, it could both be expanded and also be more animated if Cormac had space to add some more personality, colour and action to his account: it's a bit like a formal résumé of another novel tucked inside a chapter.
That being said, I continue to be totally engaged and gob smackingly impressed.

Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 7 "The Hospital" (Part two)

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