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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 11 "Allies" (part 2)

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Nobiles Barbariæ

Posts : 6083
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 11 "Allies" (part 2)

Arran smiled as he spoke. “I am not by nature an arsonist and much as I admit that I loathed the accommodation I am also well aware that there are less dramatic solutions to inadequate lodgings. Unfortunately both my motive in doing so and the problems I … indeed we … face are graver indeed than mere damp and chilly lodgings.”

Cuffe’s astonishment at this news finally got the better of him. Though he spoke spontaneously his words were delivered evenly. It seemed he was in no way overawed in the presence of men like Arran, and the disgust at what he had just heard was all the more palpable for the measured tone he now adopted. “Lord Arran, convincing London that a fire started accidentally which grew unattended to an inferno in minutes in as godforsakenly damp a dwelling as Dublin Castle, let alone one with a sentry posted at every corner, won’t be a trifle, to put it bluntly. Can you at least make my job a little easier by telling me where exactly it did start? We would all look foolish indeed if their own investigators found evidence that we had lied.”

“There will be no investigator from London, Robert. Trust me, our report will be sufficient. However you are right to ask. The report we make must not be doubted by anyone. The fire started in my own bedchamber, I fear. It seemed I was less than diligent in damping down my grate before I retired and some hot coals must have fallen loose onto the floorboards.”
“But you said the fire was set on your instruction, Lord Arran. Are you now saying you set it yourself?” Cuffe’s attention to detail was beginning to unsettle Butler.

“Captain Cuffe, restrict yourself to constructing a viable hypothesis for how the blaze began. When you hear what I have to say you will see why I ask this. Now please, let us have no more interruption! And no more mention of the fire, please. It was necessary that this small group be given the real truth, but we have guests arriving at any moment, some of whom need only know what I choose to relate to them in that regard, and one in particular. Do you understand?” He paused, allowing his words to resonate a moment, before making to continue. It was Titus who interrupted him.

“Tell me who.”
“Pardon?” Arran seemed genuinely startled by the question.
“I wish to know who it is in particular from whom you wish to withhold the full truth. I would not wish to complicate matters by inadvertently admitting too much to the man.”
Arran glanced around the room, and then to the door. “Later, Mr Perry, and I suggest that the safest method of avoiding such complication is to keep your mouth closed and your ears open.”

Titus ignored the rude slight and nodded towards the door that Arran was eying nervously as he spoke. “I can guess who it is that we are expecting. Am I right in thinking that John Stafford is the one to whom you refer?”

Richard Butler’s obvious anger at this question was tempered by his impatient need to conclude this portion of the meeting prior to the arrival of these further ‘guests’. He muttered an annoyed “Yes!” and then resumed the flow of his earlier prepared speech. “Gentlemen, we stand at the start of a great adventure that will either ensure a future for this country or condemn it to servitude. Those are the stakes. It is not an adventure that any of us went out of our way to initiate but it is one that we all – through different paths – have stumbled into. The game is afoot, as they say, and we must either make the play now or fall victim to it later. Up to now this has been difficult, if not impossible, for the simple reason that we knew not for certain exactly who our opponents were. Recent events have crystallized these shades into forms however, and the time has come to act.” Voices could be heard from the hall outside. Arran’s own voice dropped in tone so that it could not be heard except by those at the table. “Remember what I said. Let myself and Sir John impart whatever news there is.”

“Or your version of it,” Titus could not help but think privately. He had been irked at Arran’s suggestion that those seated at the table were in some way not to be trusted to be diplomatic when the assembly expanded. Of the five of them already assembled, he privately reckoned that the one who he himself would trust the least was the very one giving this directive.

The door opened suddenly and a small group of men breezed through it. Richard Talbot walked at its head, and Titus noticed that Stafford was indeed amongst them. The others he did not know, but two wore the uniform of Talbot’s new regiment and one bore a marked likeness in features to the general, though he reckoned was a good twenty or more years younger. Without waiting for an invitation they each assumed a place at the table and Talbot nodded a salute to Arran, though said nothing. Richard Butler acknowledged this with an equally brief nod of the head and then pointed to the sheets of paper placed before DeLacey. “Very well, we are all here now. My secretary will give you our synopsis. I fear my heart is too heavy to relay some of which it contains.”

DeLacey coughed lightly. “Gentlemen, thank you for arriving so promptly. This has been a strange few hours, but a mere precursor for stranger days ahead.” He studied his notes briefly and continued. “In the last few months we have attempted to re-forge a union that was all but destroyed in the great rebellion. You will remember the old Catholic Confederacy – itself an alliance of the Gael and the Old English, as they are known here,” this much was for Titus’s benefit, “who further allied themselves with the Duke of Ormonde in opposition to the Protectorate forces at that time. This alliance, as we know, proved disastrous. The reasons for the disaster were many, but one stood out. The Confederacy itself could not succeed without the leadership of its biggest player, Owen Roe O’Neill, a general of great ability. When he prevaricated, and indeed became openly hostile to an alliance with Ormonde, the cause was lost. Our general found to his cost and ours that without O’Neill’s support those allied forces remaining proved ungovernable and fractious, or at least so much so as to be an ineffective army in the royalist cause. When events in England reached a point of open warfare, the parliamentary forces assembled against the royalists proved more than a match for this fractured alliance when they both came to blows. And of course, once the Irish alliance was defeated, nothing then stood in the way of Oliver Cromwell’s armies when they chose to come here and remove the last vestiges of this opposition.”

Talbot, visibly pained at being reminded of these events, interjected. “Spare us the history lesson, DeLacey.”
“History often teaches us more than one lesson, Richard.” DeLacey’s voice remained even. “The accepted wisdom is that this grand alliance of Catholic and Protestant, by its very nature, was doomed to failure, and after failing its component parts were scattered to the four winds. However its enemies have confused its dispersal for its extinction. What you may not appreciate is that while the great alliance was defeated, and has lain dormant for many years, it has remained extant in spirit, and even in practise. The same forces of Old English, Gael and Royalist are realigning under a new banner, one jointly held by Lord Arran’s father and the King’s brother, the Duke of York. We have gone a long way to facilitating this course, and the fortuitous events of last night, if such destruction can be so described, will in fact be the final seal in bonding this new alliance. The key to the success of this policy is the cooperation of the old nobility, and by ‘old’ I do not only mean the Old English, Richard,” he looked at Talbot, “but also those Gaelic Earls scattered across the continent of Europe this past eighty years and serving many masters, their only unifying purpose a desire to return to their own land and stake their claim once more on its governorship; a desire, need I add, that is shared by every man, woman and child on this island whose lot has been worsened since Cromwell’s time and which, you will appreciate, is a sizeable number indeed. Without their exiled champions enlisted to our own cause we could never carry the bulk of this island’s people with us, and without the people we are but a poor shadow of that very English interference from which we now wish to sever ourselves. We therefore sought that cooperation, and the destruction of the castle was the price they set, probably knowing full well that for us to openly pay it would most likely seal our own demise and accelerate their return to power at our expense. But now, thanks to fortune, it has been paid with no expense incurred on the part of our own ambitions and, whether our Gaelic compatriots like it or not, the contract is sealed.”

“Some bloody price!” Cuffe could not resist from stating his view. His previous disgust, if anything, was growing in its ire. Given that the man had risked life and limb, as had his men, in ensuring that Arran’s ‘gesture’ did not take half of Dublin with it, Titus could only agree that he felt entitled to feel some indignation. Arran glared at the captain but DeLacey acknowledged Cuffe’s concern.
“So we would all here agree, Captain Cuffe. And we are grateful I am sure that providence has saved us from deliberating upon the morality of both the demand and indeed its payment.” He paused, his eyes staring intently into Cuffe’s, not so much as to express rebuke but sufficient for the captain to understand that no further interruption would be brooked. Then he continued his address to the company. “But now is not the time to linger in discussing the hows and wherefores of achieving what fate has already decided for us. We must agree here now on a pragmatic course by which next to proceed, and how best to use the cards that fate has dealt us – for once a favourable hand. I can understand how some of you might wonder how such a catastrophe can be turned to our advantage, but in a very real way the destruction of the castle has indeed facilitated our own ambitions. For some time now the castle itself has been our biggest liability. There were times when we wondered indeed did our house harbour more of our enemies than our friends. The situation was untenable. When O’Neill suggested that our own house required purging first – those were his words – we had to cede that he was right. Last night’s fire, though of course an unfortunate accident, will be taken as a positive signal by these men. Niall O’Neill and his colleagues have already begun assembling forces both abroad and here. We can now presume a deal of trust and good will from this force’s leadership so must act on it prudently and immediately. We must take our next step.”
“The next step being?” Cuffe, if cowed by DeLacey’s last comment addressed to him, had recovered quickly and his indignation still burnt fiercely in his voice and look. Titus empathised with him - he could well understand how it felt to be informed only afterwards that one had been a pawn in these men’s strategies. “I suppose they will demand next that we blow up the city too! Who was the grand strategist who brought the Gaelic Earls into play in any case?” He looked accusingly at Arran.

Arran spoke softly. “You may not believe it Robert, but the grand strategist was the Duke of York himself, in whose service many of them serve abroad. I’m afraid that there is little love on the part of the Gaelic lords for my father or any connected with him, including our Catholic allies indeed, such as Sir Richard Talbot, much as he may think otherwise.” He shot a pointed look at Talbot, who bristled visibly. “We have shaped and enacted laws at England’s behest in recent years that earned us their distrust, to put it mildly. And though they probably distrust the younger Stuart as much, they know that his ambitions serve theirs too, so the plea for their aid had to come from his royal lips, or they would not have listened to it. This is not an easy alliance that Sir John speaks of.”

Richard Talbot had remained sitting impassively throughout Sir John’s summation, and, if he had been privy to Arran’s role in the night’s events, as Titus well suspected he was, he betrayed no sign of it. But Arran’s last contribution had stung him, it was plain, and he snorted derisively. “We had their support anyway. They are not idiots and believe that any foment on this island provides them with opportunity, such is their desperation to resume the roles they think of as their right! Besides, you confuse their enmity to you and your class with a hatred towards all those who currently hold the reins of power on this island. You flatter yourself, sir! What is the point of this meeting here today except for you to admit that your own grip on those reins is weakening? And you exaggerate their worth too. Your grip may be slipping, but theirs was lost a long time ago. They are desperate men so you can be sure that the one thing they recognise is the same quality in others. I warned you already what will happen once the tail starts wagging the dog!”
Lord Arran raised his hand. “Enough! We will discuss this later!”
But Talbot was building himself into a rage and ignored Arran’s instruction. He stood up and rested his hands, knuckles downwards on the polished table top. “In my arse we will! I told you both that there is no such thing as a private alliance for you with these men unless you both wish to kiss farewell to all your grand notions of rule on this island. And don’t think you can keep me from them forever either! Why are they not here?”
“It is not the wish of your commander, the Duke of York, Sir Richard. And for the moment that is enough! Now sit down, and shut up!” Arran, still seated, seemed nevertheless to look down imperiously on the irate general as he spoke. “What you propose is a private alliance between yourself and them, and therein lies disaster, or have you not been listening to a word that Sir John has spoken? It will be done according to the wishes of James Stuart, or it will not be done at all. Can I be plainer than that? You have not an army under you yet, Sir Richard. Remember that!”

Talbot sat down again, and the young man to his left whispered something in his ear. He nodded, then signalled to Arran that he was done. Arran acknowledged this with a slight wave of his hand and indicated for Sir John to continue.
DeLacey coughed lightly again and addressed Cuffe. “We understand why you are annoyed, Robert. You risked your life last night to save something that you now hear being described as best gone, and by what must seem to you a collection of complete ingrates. But if you allow me to continue you will see why we owe you great gratitude, and why we beg your forgiveness for not informing you fully of your role.”

This was a novel twist, thought Titus. DeLacey and Arran, begging for forgiveness from an army captain after just shouting down the opposition from one of the most powerful men in the land? Whatever they wanted from Cuffe, his ‘role’ in things as decided by them was obviously greater than mere fire fighting.

“Only a select few must know of our intentions to use the destruction of the castle in the way we propose, but even fewer knew of the demand for its destruction placed by the exiled Gaels. Such was the way it had to be. Unfortunately one of that few was Lord Ossory.” DeLacey paused as Arran sighed. “Lord Arran’s nephew has been of great concern to us. He has been privy to the origin of much of our policies – secret and stated – and we have …” he paused again - this was obviously too thorny a subject to express easily. “… feared that his indiscretions may have jeopardised our actions in the past. I am afraid that things were worse than we suspected and we have only but recently found this out. We have been busy the last few days interrogating those we knew plotted against us, and I am afraid that Ossory figured large in the dissenters’ accounts. That surprised us, but what surprised us more was the nature of his own dissent. It appears we have a new enemy – one that we never reckoned on at all, as his dispute we thought was an English affair totally that did not affect us here. We have been negligent.”
“It appears my late brother’s son has been duped into supporting the cause of the Duke of Monmouth,” Arran interrupted. “The fool has been told that Ireland, and he in particular, will be rewarded well should he help Monmouth in his ambition.”
“The king’s bastard? What ambition has that fool left? Did he not play his silly hand to no effect already? If you are saying that your nephew is fool enough to attach his allegiance to an even bigger one, and that you take either fool seriously, then I can only wonder at the worth of your logic in every other respect, sirs!” Cuffe was still grappling with the news with which he was being bombarded but was obviously informed enough, and still indignant enough, to express his disgust at this revelation of Arran’s.
“The bastard son of our King,” Arran explained, “still sees no reason why he should not be the next King himself. He was foolish, as you say, to play his hand over early and make an enemy of his uncle, but as time goes on there is an increasing number of people who see only his timing in that regard as foolish, and not his fundamental claim. As a Protestant he holds that claim to the crown higher than his uncle James. It may indeed be a risible claim, and Monmouth is a vain man, but he is not totally without strategy or wits. He has some military successes to his credit already in the service of his father and now thinks to use that experience against his uncle’s ambitions. His hope now is to rally the Whigs to his cause, and that is certainly not a vain hope, whatever about its author.”

“So?” It was Talbot who asked the question. “What do we care about an English king’s bastards coming home to roost? Our task is to secure this island, and if then we can aid James Stuart in his travails we will. But until then, I for one say that whatever keeps the English occupied squabbling amongst themselves is grist to our mill.”

Lord Arran replied, his tone measured but his frown indicating that he was tiring of Talbot’s interruptions. “England’s squabbles are not just an English affair, Sir Richard. Let me cite an example. At the moment French troops besiege Luxembourg in the low lands, part of a war that is set to determine the nature of Europe itself. It is tempting to see Luxembourg as a Protestant city besieged by a Catholic force but to do so misses the point of what is at stake. It is an issue of governance and government that divides our lands, not religion. Irishmen and Englishmen fight both within and without its walls, just as Irishmen will fight on both sides of whatever battles come to these shores, and under whatever banners they do so. You are right to state that our primary aim is to secure our people against the worst effects of such division. That has always been my father’s policy also. But we cannot secure the people against anything if we are not cognisant of what the threat is. There are forces in Europe who, as we speak, are searching for a method to keep the French King’s ambitions in check, and will use religion as a tool to enlist armies to their cause and define their friends and foes, just as Louis himself has done. They see England poised precariously in the balance, and with the younger Stuart about to wear its crown, ready then to tip to Louis’ side. To thwart this is their aim. A Protestant king on the English throne would be a boon to these forces like no other. But as determined as they are to achieve this, they are equally determined to ensure that their designs are not interfered with by any issue of self determination coming from this island, which of course is exactly what we are about. In light of this, all Protestant claimants to the post, be they son-in-laws of the future incumbent or bastard sons of the present one, are a threat to this island, and it would be a foolish man indeed who would dismiss Monmouth as a mere hindrance to James Stuart. Likewise, we would be equally foolish not to counter that threat, and any other, before it can do us ill. Pray continue, Sir John.”
“In England Monmouth’s claim is not taken seriously, even in the southern counties where his support mostly lies” DeLacey added. “At least, not yet. But it seems to have gripped the imagination of enough hotheads here to now be a rallying point for those who would oppose our own plans. I am afraid it appears that Lord Ossory has been seduced by the notion of holding an exalted position here should Monmouth’s risible claim win out. And he is not alone. Apparently he has been busy recruiting others to his scheme. His mistake was when he tried to recruit his own uncle.”
Arran visibly bristled at the memory. “Damned idiot!” There was sadness in his eyes as he said it.
“But it gave us a starting point from which to investigate further. It appears he has been assiduous in his recruiting campaign and has managed to persuade enough of the army to his side to convince himself that his plan is feasible. His militia hold him in great respect – he runs his cavalry as a private army and commands their total allegiance. And he has found it easy to recruit others to his plan.” DeLacey shuffled his notes. “You see it is not just the army who have joined his and Monmouth’s cause. There are others who know that while the cause itself is unlikely to succeed in it main ambition, it is a splendid vehicle for advancing their own private schemes in the meantime. And they have lost no time in this advancement either. Mr Perry, it seems that your investigations have alarmed them somewhat, apparently the dividing line between a ‘Modeller’ and a ‘Monmouther’ is thin indeed. I am sorry to say that we did not ascertain exactly how you initially aroused their suspicions, but we were fortunate to learn last night from a junior officer that they had decided to eliminate you from the game. His devotion to Captain Briar was touching, but we extracted the truth from him nevertheless.”

Titus felt his throat go dry. He privately suspected that he had been under suspicion and threat from even before when he had set foot on the Corinthian in Bristol. If these men could not fathom why, even after torturing those complicit in the plot against him, he was sure he would have little success in doing so himself. And yet his very life, he felt, depended on knowing just that. He let out an involuntary sigh that DeLacey noted, pausing momentarily in his speech to briefly acknowledge Titus’s concern with the subtlest of nods in his direction.
“Unfortunately, despite our vigilance, we were late in deducing just how advanced they were in their bloody plans. The most we could do was send a messenger directly to Captain Cuffe alerting him to your danger Mr Perry. We could not know if we were too late to prevent Briar carrying out your execution, but we had learnt how he planned to do it. He is a clever man Briar, in the cunning sense, and thanks to Ossory, we must assume, he was aware of the plan to set fire to the castle.”
Talbot’s relative, seated dutifully quiet up to now, no doubt as he had been instructed, could not contain himself upon hearing what had just been inferred. “Am I hearing this correctly? Lord Arran set the fire, but the castle’s complete obliteration was caused by the Monmouthers?”
Sir John addressed his notes, and not the speaker. “Yet to be fully ascertained, sir, but such would appear to be the case. And may I remind you that what you have heard discussed here is not to leave this room.” He looked up and regarded Titus once more. “I’m afraid, Mr Perry, that our friend saw this as an ideal time to dispose of you too. His plan was simple – drug you so you could not rouse yourself to escape and then let you go up with along with the castle. He must have been dismayed when he saw that we had secured our magazine prior to the fire, so he tarried and risked a confrontation with Captain Cuffe in order to use one of Robert’s own kegs to accomplish his dastardly intention. Fortunately for us, and for you, our informant was the one he had dispatched earlier to purchase the substance he used so we were privy to his plot. Apparently he learnt of the properties of mandrake at a recent lecture in which, thankfully for you, they were grossly exaggerated. But at least we could alert Captain Cuffe here to your dilemma. Even more fortunately for us all too, Captain Cuffe apprehended him before he could light the keg.”
“I may have thwarted his plan, sir, but I am afraid I could not apprehend him.” Cuffe interjected. “The man is at large still I fear, though there is a warrant for his arrest signed in your name.”
“Good. Let us hope that we can take him alive. He knows much that we now need to know urgently.”

Throughout the meeting Robinson had sat motionless and quiet, eyes down. He looked up now at Arran and smiled. “I assume the reason for my presence here then is not to advise you how best to rebuild the castle? I did think it strange when you told me in your message to ensure that no one saw me arrive. I have often thought some architects should remain anonymous having surveyed their handiwork, but I had hoped that this did not apply to me, even if I am so vain as to think so.”
Arran smiled. “No Sir William, and I am grateful that you did as you were requested so diligently. In fact, that brings us to our next point of business – Sir John?”

DeLacey looked at his last sheet of paper. “Now that we know who our opponents are – or at least some of them – we must act against them with all speed. The military will present little problem. The reorganisation of the ranks into a force directly under the command of Sir Richard Talbot has already started, and we can use this process to identify and eliminate any threat from therein. Others pose a more difficult challenge. Our enemies use some strange guises under which to assemble. One such is under the aegis of the Philosophical Society here in Dublin. I am afraid, Sir William, that we must ask you to enrol in their number and become our eyes and ears there. Hence the secrecy with which we brought you here. There must be no suspicion of association between last night’s developments and your activities in that regard.”

The smile disappeared from Robinson’s face, to be replaced by a look of horror. “Could you not ask me to die in battle or something? I’m afraid you do not know the magnitude of the sacrifice you demand of me!”
Arran laughed. “I am sorry William, we all have to do that which we abhor most at times in the service of our country. I have felt it prudent to advertise that you are out of the city at the moment on business. It will both explain why we did not summon you when the fire started, and also save you from having to field questions regarding what happened from curious minds, both here and in London. Now, I believe our good philosophers have a meeting scheduled for Tuesday evening next in Trinity College. As I am sure that the Society functions more as a gossip shop than anything else it is bound to be a well-attended meeting, given the show we put on last night. I would suggest you ‘return’ to Dublin in time to attend it too. Who knows William, you may even enjoy the opportunity to haul Petty down a peg or two?”
Robinson scowled and then a mischievous grin appeared. “Very well, though my ambition would be to exceed just the two pegs I assure you.”
“Right, well you can start by informing him that you have been appointed architect in charge of the reconstruction of the castle. That should set his gall nicely in motion.” Arran turned to Cuffe. “Robert, you must make that report I mentioned. Then I want you to accompany Mr Perry here on his mission. He will explain its nature himself. I suggest you both depart this day. Mr Perry, I take it you are fit to travel?” Titus nodded agreement, though his head hurt even as he did so. “Good. We have not yet exceeded the point where the subterfuge is required that you pretend to be about surveying duties yourself. In fact I would ask you to add an extra line of enquiry to your mission. It is vital that we assess the strength of the Protestant Militia as it exists in Ulster. Much of it is under the control of local landowners. You can use your contacts to this end without raising suspicions I feel.”

Talbot interjected again, though this time in more reasonable tones than previously. “Mr Perry, Captain Cuffe, I would be grateful also that you in fact assess their firepower, if at all you can. We have had word that arms are arriving from Holland on the Devil’s Highway, though of what quantity or of what nature we cannot get trustworthy intelligence. Also their leaders’ names too. These are not secret gangs such as we face here in Dublin, they are well organised by all accounts and …”
Arran interrupted him. “I know we are asking a lot, Mr Perry, but what Sir Richard says is true. We must assess their strengths. As things stand they are all nominally under the overall command of my father, which is more of a hindrance than a help as it allows them freedom of congress and an authority that they wouldn’t otherwise enjoy, which they are no doubt using to the hilt,” he waved his hand perfunctorily, “but that is bound to mean nothing soon in any case. We need to know also how many, if any, will serve under General Talbot, and if not, what are their plans. In the meantime we must persevere here with the illusion that things are progressing normally. Until you achieve your chief goal Mr Perry, and pray God you find my father or learn of his fate ere long, we will continue here to quietly identify and eliminate the impediments to our own. In the meantime no suspicion must be aroused, especially in Ulster, that anything has been set in motion. You understand when I tell you that events as unfortunate as last night’s fire must be seen as just that, and rumours to the contrary should be refuted at every opportunity.” He stared at Titus until he got a nod in response. “You will call into the Exchequer and extract whatever funds you require. That is all, gentlemen.”

Titus raised a hand. “May I ask for one further piece of business to be attended to before we end?”
Arran, who had just risen, sat down again and indicated for Titus to proceed.
“There is a certain prisoner in Newgate whose release I would like to secure. I’m afraid that Captain Briar had one of our spies arrested, Sir John.”
DeLacey looked up. “The lad Quinn? I was cursing him for not reporting back to me as arranged!”
“I am afraid so, and from the brief chat I had with Briar yesterday I fear he may have been badly abused – even more than most of that establishment’s guests. I will go directly there now if I may.”
DeLacey collected his papers and rose from his seat. “I will go with you.”
Titus couldn’t be certain, but as he and Sir John rose to leave, it seemed that Stafford rose also, but his arm was gripped by Talbot and he resumed his seat by the general’s side. The whole manoeuvre was so quick that it hardly registered in Titus’s vision, and when he looked again at the property developer, Stafford was in earnest conversation with Talbot, Talbot’s younger relative, and the man who had earlier whispered in the general’s ear, none of them paying any attention to Titus whatsoever.

Cuffe followed them out, and after the briefest of enquiries regarding who this young Quinn was and what he was up to, then made an arrangement with Titus to meet at Lady O’Carolan’s in Kinsealy later. Titus and DeLacey immediately proceeded in the latter’s carriage to Newgate, Sir John instructing their driver not to spare the horses, or indeed anyone so unfortunate as to impede their route. Upon their arrival at the prison, after a frantic journey that seemed best measured in seconds rather than minutes, the sentry on duty saluted Sir John and ushered them both swiftly through Newgate’s great doors, painted black with tar and with their massive timbers bound severely by giant hoops of iron – proof against hostile attack from either weather or man. A young gaoler was dispatched to fetch Jack, while Titus and Sir John were instructed to wait in the governor’s office.
Its titular occupant was not there. The governor, an old throwback to Cromwell’s time called Jonah Makepeace, was now so far gone in his years and crippled with rheumatism that he rarely if ever came to the prison in person except to attend noteworthy executions, and left the day to day running of it to the men under his command. These were composed in part of local youths who were selected, it seemed mostly, for their brutality and consequent insensitivity to the daily horrors of their workplace, and of army men who had all been transferred under a cloud from their respective militia. That they were excessively brutal there was no doubt, and rumours abounded about their murderous, as well as their sexual, inclinations that Makepeace indeed seemed happy to encourage. They ran the prison almost like an independent kingdom, and were allowed to by the authorities as long as they continued to finance it independently also, which they did by exacting levies on their own prisoners, as well as the wretches’ visitors and relations, and by selling the various goods that their captives were forced to produce. Given that they felt no onus to even feed the prisoners from this revenue – that was left to kindly relations and the church – it was obvious that their commitment to serving the wheels of justice was rather less than that which they held to lining their own pockets from the enterprise. But even this was tolerated by the authorities, as the prison still served its true purpose admirably – it stood as a giant deterrent to the citizens from erring against the criminal statutes, and its independence meant that those who most benefited from its presence, the country’s administrators, could sleep easy in their beds at night knowing that the excesses used within its walls to exact confessions, punish miscreants, and even to raise the tax which the prison paid to the state, could never be laid at their door. To encourage officialdom’s ‘blind eye’ approach, Makepeace regularly obliged them by accepting prisoners that – in the official jargon signifying people who had roused their ire but who could not be processed, for various reasons, through the normal channels - required ‘specific attention’ or ‘special treatment’, whether there was a legitimate charge levelled against them or not. Ordinary Dubliners, for their part, relished the irony in the governor’s surname and had a plethora of nicknames for the man that they loathed – Makemoney, Codpiece and Break-to-pieces being the most popular – but they still lived in universal dread of ever ending up as his ‘guest’ nonetheless, and the men under his command strove to ensure that this dread was both justified and constant.

DeLacey had filled Titus in on most of these details as they had ridden to the prison, and as the two men now sat in Makepeace’s deserted office, Titus found that he didn’t wonder why the old man was loath to attend his duties in person. Even from here the stench of human waste, putrefied flesh, and what could only be described as the raw smell of fear from the cells was all but overpowering. Muffled cries and the occasional manic scream punctuated the gloomy silence of the building, and when the ancient chambers did lapse into a desultory quiet, it merely amplified the echoed scurries of the rats beneath the floorboards on which they stood. Outside the office a manacled prisoner whistled softly as he mopped the bare boards, oblivious it seemed to the smell and sounds of horror emanating from below, his only departure from the mechanical motion of swabbing the floor being a swipe he made with his mop at a rat that had ventured from the safety of the wainscoting in the corridor and brazenly darted across the floor before him.

After a few minutes, footsteps on the bare boards outside signalled the gaoler’s return, with a rather dazed Jack close in tow. His clothes were torn and soiled, and he was without his shoes. Physically however, he looked none the worse for wear, though his wrists were red raw from where he had been chained. His lips moved slightly when he saw Titus but no sound came from them. The effect was pathetic an unnerving, but it was his eyes that spoke most eloquently of the horrible ordeal that the young man had just endured. They appeared vacant at first, even when Titus grabbed the lad’s shoulder, shaking it gently and enquiring how he was. Then they filled with tears, and he collapsed sobbing into Titus’s arms.
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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 11 "Allies" (part 2) :: Comments

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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 11 "Allies" (part 2)

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