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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "Awakening" (part 3)

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Nobiles Barbariæ

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Join date : 2011-12-25

PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "Awakening" (part 3)

Titus rose from his chair and approached the slumped form where it lay on the ground, half lying, and half sitting in the angle of the room. It had bothered him who this poor wretch might be, but given his past experience with the men in the room, he had assumed it was another ‘guest’ of O’Neill’s who was being treated with the same civility with which he had himself when he had met his hosts in Cook Street in Dublin. He had tried to ignore the presence of the man up to now, but it gnawed at his conscience as he sat at the table, and now, in response to O’Neill’s words his conscience came to the fore and he suddenly felt shame for being as cold and heartless as the men seated at the table. The shame was compounded as he approached the figure and realised that what O’Neill had said was true. This heap in the corner was his secretary.

He knelt and peered at the ravaged face. It was Flitch, though you could hardly recognise it unless you knew the man well. Always a slim man, now there was little except skin and bones to his figure, and his face was a mess of open sores that disfigured his cheeks and forehead, almost as a mask. A beard of matted greasy hair obscured his features further. Only his eyes had not changed. Barely open, they regarded Titus vacantly but their blue intensity could still be discerned, and in the darkness of the room, Titus could not be sure whether his old friend, or at least the man he had assumed as such, could see him or not. He shook Flitch’s shoulder and the man let out a low groan, but his eyes widened slightly.
“Good God, man. What happened to you?”
Flitch tried to speak but his attempt dissolved into a series of racked coughs and splutters. O’Neill turned in his chair so that he could better see the reunion, and interjected. “Ye won’t get much by way of friendly chatter from the man, Mr Perry. If he has a mind left to him at all it’s not in this world at the minute. And the rest of him is in close pursuit!”
“What have you done to him, O’Neill?” Titus’ rage and anguish were close to sending him hurtling across the room to throttle the wise cracking Gaelic renegade.
“Me? Nothing! This is how we found him. It’s what ye might want to do with him is what we want to know. If it were left to us he’d be out of his misery already.”
Titus reached into his pocket and produced the ledger that he had found in Flitch’s satchel that afternoon. He placed it on Flitch’s lap and the man cast his eyes briefly upon it, saying nothing, but Titus was certain that he recognised it for what it was. The mapmaker might never know the full implications of the betrayal that was documented in its pages, or the true nature of the man who had written its pages, but he wanted Flitch to know that they had been more than partially deduced.  Then he turned to O’Neill. “I will not see the man die. Is there nowhere he can be cared for until I can see to him myself?”
“Not in Armagh, no. Houses are being searched so nowhere is safe. And moving him will kill him, I imagine. I’m afraid the only help we can offer is to speed him on his way to his maker and let him seek solace there.”

Titus regarded the wreck of a man before him. Half dead he may be, but the man could hear and understand what was being said, he was sure. His eyes may be dim, but they held Titus in a gaze and attempted to convey something to the mapmaker, though whether it was contrition, a plea for pity or some form of warning it was hard to know. One hand lay limp at his side, obviously useless, but the other hand rested on the ledger and tapped it gently. Titus was torn between two emotions of equal magnitude, contempt for this man who had so completely betrayed him, and sympathy for him in the state to which he had been reduced. He had hoped to confront the man over his duplicity but he realised that death most likely would rob him of that chance. O’Neill and his friends meanwhile sat quietly at the table, as if out of respect for the mapmaker’s dilemma, their eyes cast down and their faces averted, an invitation to Titus to speak his piece to his old associate in whatever privacy the close confines of the small room allowed.
“Why, Flitch?” was all that Titus could ask, his voice almost a whisper, but laden with the anguish that he felt.
The man’s reply was barely audible, a rasping sound from the back of his throat that he struggled to convert into intelligent speech through his calloused lips, and for all his effort was just one word, “Friend.”

It could mean anything, Titus understood, or nothing at all. God knew what state the man’s mind was in, or, as O’Neill had said, even if it was present at all. But there was one question that Titus needed to ask and which had troubled him since first he had deduced Flitch’s true aim in accompanying him to Ireland. If the stories that Holly had relayed to him were true, then Flitch and Ormonde had both been captives of Stanley together. Flitch had obviously been instructed to dispatch the old duke, for whatever reason, but had not. Was it due to lack of opportunity or a change of heart on the man’s part? Or had he tried and failed in his mission?
“Ormonde lives yet,” he said to his secretary. The man nodded to acknowledge that he understood Titus’ remark, and that it was true. “What stayed your hand, Flitch? Were you prevented by circumstance or compassion?”

Flitch merely held Titus’ eyes in a stare while his own widened ever more slightly. Again the rasping voice attempted to speak, and again the only word it uttered was “Friend”. Then the eyes dimmed and closed and he collapsed back into the corner, breathing painfully.
Titus turned to O’Neill. “Where did you find him?”
“On the road to Crossmaglen, much as you see him now. A friend of ours had managed to get a few words more from him than ye did just now and deduced that he was the man who Cathal Ó Chaoileann knew to have been incarcerated in Tandragee. He is not long for this world, we thought ye might want to say your farewells.”
“He is not dead yet. With care he might live. I must see him tended to.”
O’Donnell, who had remained quiet throughout the exchange expressed dismay. “We have neither the time nor the resources to do as you demand.” He turned to O’Neill. “Tell him Niall, he is your agent after all.”
“Alas my friend here speaks not a word of a lie.” O’Neill raised his hands in a shrug. “Besides, sure what use is he to ye now? Don’t ye have enough on your plate without nursing traitors? I must refuse your request.”
“Then I will not do as you bid me. I will take my chances with Pringle armed with what I have.”
O’Neill sighed. “Ye have nothing. Your friend Miss Reilly is not the innocent wee lassie ye might think. She’s been ruffling quite a few feathers around here since she arrived. A brave wee soul, but a foolish one.”
“She was misled by Holly then. I will see that Pringle is told this.”
“Misled? I don’t think so. Poor Cathal might have a different view on that entirely. Believe me Mr Perry, it was what she gave to Cathal that goaded the man into action, and a wee bit on the early side too I might add. Between them they have almost cost us our battle here. She filled Cathal’s head with talk of insurrection, and claimed she had proof that Dublin would back them. If I wasn’t such a fool for the women myself I’d say she did it on purpose, and is no friend to our cause at all.”
Titus was still kneeling by Flitch as O’Neill spoke, but was so disgusted that O’Neill would take him to be such a fool that he rose and came upon the Gael in a trice, and the others jumped up to tackle him in their colleague’s defence. He brushed one man’s hand aside and brought his fist crashing on the table before an impassive O’Neill. “You lie!” he screamed. “The tailor Holly is trying to save his skin! Surely even you can see that, you ignoramus! Sarah Reilly could not have said such things!”
O’Neill gripped Titus’ forearm and held it. “I’m no ignoramus, Mr Perry, and ye’d be as well to banish such thoughts from that wee Saxon pea in your head ye use as brains. They will get ye killed, and it need not be by my hand either, though what’s stopping me now is only that we need ye, as ye need us. Your wee lady friend brought a letter from the great Lord Arran himself, saying just what I told ye! It was no lie on her part, or the tailor’s. If it’s a lie, it’s one of Richard Butler’s!”

A groan from Flitch in the corner interrupted the resulting silence. The man had managed to lean forward a few inches with an effort that brought beads of sweat to his brow and had opened the small ledger. With huge difficulty he was attempting to point to an entry on one of its pages. Titus stepped over and picked up the book, examining the spot that Flitch had indicated. It was an entry, dated the day that his secretary had gone missing, in fact the final scribble in the book. “Perry account closed. Arran will finish the job for free. I resign.”
For a long time he just stood there, immobilised by the revelations he had been forced to acknowledge this day, and now, it seemed, the biggest one of all. The man who had hired him to search for his father, the man who had addressed his peers on the subject of protecting Ireland’s interests in a Balgriffin inn as they prepared for James’ accession to the English throne, the man who had vouchsafed the safety of Sarah Reilly, had been dishonest in all three things. Sarah, it now was obvious, had been used as an unwitting pawn in a strategy of fooling the Ulster Catholics into playing their hand early, too early, knowing that the local authorities’ response would be swift and merciless, but would occupy their forces and make them less likely to pose a threat to the Dublin administration, where Arran was busy feathering his nest with a vengeance. He had used his peers likewise, lulling men like Talbot into a false impression that he, Richard Butler, would be amongst their ranks when and if James called on them to support his claim to the kingship. But there was never any intention of such support from Richard Butler, merely a ploy to postpone any potential challenge to his authority prior to James’ accession and which might also interrupt him in his ambitions. A solidarity of intent on the part of Dublin’s leading players would defer Rochester’s appointment if nothing else, and buy him the time to complete his land grab. And he had used Titus, not to find his father for the sake of filial love, or even for a political aim, but as a vehicle to transport an assassin to slay the old man. In Arran’s view, his father’s attempts to forestall the demise of their dynasty would most likely accelerate it, and therefore deny him his true aim. The man’s proclivity for murderous betrayal extended to his own father, it seemed. He closed the book in his hand and sat down wearily.
“Not such a castle man now, are ye?” O’Neill asked softly.
“I never was. Though I wonder could the same be said of you O’Neill? It seems to me that you and he made a little deal not so long ago.”
“Aye, we did, but the difference between ye and us is that we know who we are dealing with.” He nodded towards the corner again. “Whereas I wonder did ye ever?”

O’Neill outlined what he needed from Titus. The Justice, Pringle, was to be told that there was documentary evidence of his involvement in funding the militia of several Ulster garrisons and these documents would be made available to Whitehall and certain printers unless he proved cooperative. While such funding in itself was not a crime under English law, it would most definitely embarrass Pringle should it be made public, especially if accompanied by the news that the men recruited were swearing an oath to their present king and his immediate successors, his niece Mary and her Dutch Husband William. In parts of England this oath might represent a legitimate hope, even if a treasonable one at that, but in Ulster it represented much more than an aspiration. It was indeed a recognition of the only set of events following the monarch’s demise that would at least give the new settlers hope for their own survival. And in fact it was fast becoming much more than that. There was scarcely a Protestant left in these parts who believed anything else, and so strong was their faith in this that many men had already done what little they could to make it a reality by enlisting with the Prince of Orange’s army in the lowlands, awaiting the day when their master laid claim to his inheritance. In the meantime, those who organised themselves into militia at home paid lip service to the king, and even his bastard son, but in their hearts also awaited the day that their status and livelihoods be guaranteed by the Dutch Prince. Moreover, they insisted that those who claimed to share an interest in their welfare do likewise. Pringle’s motives for supporting these men might only be like those of a punter who knows that a policy of backing horses from a winning stable will always exceed the short term benefit that can be derived from backing the occasional outsider who romps home, but in this case such a policy carried a large caveat. The outsider in question was none other than the king’s brother and legitimate heir, and even some of the other horses in the field had chances of winning that could not be too readily discounted. However this was Ulster, where such grey areas could not even be considered, so awful were their implications, and where the local population insisted therefore on a black and white truth, and insisted that those who invest in them do likewise, as indeed Pringle had done. Public disclosure of his decision that his career could only benefit from supporting this faction, even if he had also thrown money in other directions to the same purpose, would alienate the young Justice in the eyes of James’ supporters for sure, as well as in the eyes of Monmouth and his entourage, who for the moment Pringle was encouraging to believe included himself. To encourage Pringle further, O’Neill handed Titus a letter that he insisted should also be shown to the magistrate. It was written by Stanley, and addressed his friend directly, telling him that he had reconsidered the rectitude of their policy, and that he had informed the castle fully of what they had organised so far, as well as their fiction of supporting the Duke of Monmouth as an avenue only to approaching the Prince of Orange and strengthen the latter’s support in Ulster and other parts of the kingdom. In return for this information, the letter said, Stanley had been granted amnesty from prosecution by the castle, and he begged his friend to do likewise. The letter added that the castle suspected the arrest of the two people on a charge of treason was a blind, intended by the anti-James faction to deflect attention from the true nature of what was transpiring and that the Lord Lieutenant would look with especial interest at those who prosecuted the case, assuming them to be in league with those opposed to Dublin’s policy. As a friend, Stanley urged Pringle to disassociate himself forthwith from the case and refuse to validate the charges. The inference was simple. If Pringle valued his career then he would reject the charge against Holly and Sarah, making it almost impossible for the military to proceed with the prosecution. If he chose to proceed, then he not only was jeopardizing his career, but ran the risk of being prosecuted himself and might even find himself indicted by the testimony of his old friends.

“You were lucky to have caught Stanley, then,” Titus said. “And that it will be his friend Pringle who will validate the charges against the tailor.” Even before O’Neill answered, his knowing smile had told Titus that what he suspected was true.
“And ye wonder why we stay in with Arran? We asked for Pringle, and we got him.”
“And Arran suspected nothing?”
O’Neill smiled broadly again. “Sometimes it’s the way ye ask for things that matters! Remember that when ye ask for your wee lassie’s forgiveness for having doubted her. Please God, it won’t be long.” He slapped the table with both hands, indicating the end of their meeting. “Right, let’s see what we can do about our friend’s patient. Chances are it’s just a grave we will have to dig after all.”

It was arranged that Flitch be moved to a safe house just outside Armagh, though no house could be presently described as such any more. If he survived the ordeal of being moved, a man of O’Neill’s would be left guarding him, both to prevent his escape and to protect him from detection by the army. Titus helped his secretary to his feet, though in truth without two men supporting him he had not the strength to stand, and Titus grimaced as the man’s agony was evident in his face with each step towards the door. In the end it was Gearóid, the sentry, who picked Flitch up and carried him as a child cradled in his arms down the stairs. Once Flitch had been thus borne to his fate, the assembly began to break up, one man at a time for safety’s sake, until there were only two remaining – Titus and the giant Hugh O’Donnell. O’Neill had been first to go and Titus had been amused to see him adopt the persona of a lowly beggar man, even before he had left the room. Practise makes perfect, he had thought wryly. When it was O’Donnell’s turn to go Titus asked him what character he would assume? O’Donnell had laughed, but replied by pointing to Titus’ cheek. “I had you as my twin brother for a while, did I not? Perhaps fair is fair, if you can impersonate the ‘ball-dearg’ then I should walk out an Englishman!”
“It is true, I owe you a blow, Mr O’Donnell. Perhaps your own ruddy cheek might like a partner on the other side?”
The giant laughed again and slapped Titus on his back with a force that nearly sent him sprawling. “You do sir! In happier times than this, the pair of us may well spend a day in our cups and end it with a brawl to be sure! And I swear I’ll let ye win!”
“I’m no hero, Mr O’Donnell. I am afraid that is the only way I would!”
“Well I think ye are safe enough, if happier times are coming they are a long way off. I had my doubts about ye, Sasanach! But O’Neill says ye can be trusted, in this task at any road.”
“I am grateful that someone at least doesn’t take me for a fool.”
“Oh I didn’t say that!” O’Donnell winked and slipped out of the room, deftly ducking his giant frame under the lintel in a graceful motion that belied his cumbersome appearance. His footsteps as he descended the stairs were as soft as a child’s, and left Titus pondering the strange life these men must lead, in which they commanded whole armies in France and lived as royals amongst their peers, while here in their native land they sneaked around with the practised stealth of beggars and thieves.

Titus waited ten minutes or more as he had been instructed, and then gingerly descended the stairs, now in total darkness. When he entered the tap room he saw that some customers had begun to arrive, and with relief he was more than pleased to see Cormac sitting in a corner, alone. He approached him and the old man looked up, but said nothing. Since Sarah’s arrest he had all but disappeared from view, keeping himself to himself, and Titus had been too preoccupied and busy to do much about remedying the situation. Now, with at least a plan in progress to free Sarah, and with little else to do in the meantime, he felt suddenly guilty at not having made more effort to talk to Cormac over the last few days. Without waiting for an invitation he sat down beside his friend. “Will you have a drink?”
Cormac shook his great head, “I might, it is meet that we talk ere tomorrow.” Then he grew silent, as if in deep contemplation. Eventually he looked up at nothing in particular and said, “It is not every day that men walk out of legend into one’s life and we are summonsed to meet them.”

Titus assumed that Cormac was aware of what had transpired upstairs. “Indeed, I spoke with your Ball-Dearg a moment ago. He has sworn to fight me, and let me win. It must be the first time he has ever said that to an Englishman!” He had hoped the jest would lighten the old man’s humour but it seemed to achieve the opposite.
Cormac snorted in disgust. “The true Ball-Dearg is dead. They are all dead. And those that claim their titles need not promise to let the Englishman win. The Englishman has won already.”
Titus could see that his attempts at levity would not be well received. In truth, he was not in great humour himself after what he had just witnessed. “To be fair to O’Donnell, it is not a title I have heard him lay claim to, only his followers. He and O’Neill have a ploy to rescue Sarah from the clutches of the military. I believe it will work.”
“Pshah!” Cormac’s anger seemed to be growing, if anything. He looked as if he contemplated rising and leaving, but then thought better of it and turned to the mapmaker. “Do you know what I have seen in my time?”
“Many things I am sure, Cormac.”
“Aye, many things the likes of which you would never understand, though that slip of a girl in the Bridewell might, despite her young years. I feel her loss something terrible Titus, and you know that we have failed her, sorely!”
“Cormac, you have ever been a friend to me and it grieves me to see you so distressed. But trust me, all is not lost yet. There is a plan.”
“There is always a plan!” Cormac’s ire and anguish were now evident, but he kept his voice low. “There is always ever only a plan! At least tomorrow you and I might hear of one worth listening to.”

This last remark defeated Titus, though he took it to mean that the old man’s despair was not complete, and that he held out some hope for a solution to their ills. “I’m sorry Cormac. But I can think of nothing then that will lift your spirits.” He thought of all that he had learnt in the last day and realised that he wanted to confide his feelings in the old man, but feared broaching the subject. “Were I to tell you what I discovered today I am afraid they would in fact sink even lower. I know that mine have.” He left his comment hanging in the air. If Cormac prompted him he would reply, otherwise he would keep his thoughts to himself.
The old man leaned back and gazed at the rafters of the Gullion’s tap room with arms folded. “Oh? What was that?”

Titus still harboured reservations about continuing. But if he guessed correctly, his friend’s fell humour was much like his own, prompted by a feeling of impotency in the face of powers too great to challenge. Now at least, some of those powers had been exposed, and a method of countering them, however desperate, had been deduced. He mentioned the book that he had found in Flitch’s satchel, and that his secretary’s mission here had been a mischief of the highest order, using Titus as an expendable vehicle simply to gain access to his quarry – the old Duke himself. This got the man’s attention, and he told Cormac the news that his secretary had also been located, though the man was now near death in any case. Outside of its context amongst all else that he had discovered – Arran’s true intentions and Sarah’s unwitting subterfuge that might yet spell her doom - the news seemed hollow and meaningless, as if he had merely found that his secretary had finally been located the worse for wear after an extraordinarily long drinking binge.

Cormac seemed to read the metaphor in Titus’ mind and signalled to Stephen behind the bar. “Perhaps I’ll have that drink so.” When he saw Stephen acknowledge with a nod he turned to his companion. “You came to me in Dublin with a lot of questions on your mind, do you remember? And I had no answers for you then, save to tread warily and trust in the authority of the one man who might help you, and please God, will tomorrow prove me right. Now you have found some of the answers for yourself, so it is I who have a question or two for you now.”
Cormac’s reference to tomorrow confused Titus. It was the second time he had done so, but he reckoned the old man would tell him what he meant in his own time. It was better, now that he was at least talking, just for the minute to play along. “Oh?”
“Yes. Tell me my friend, why did you come here?”
“To Armagh?”
“To Ireland. And don’t tell me about maps and surveys, unless you take me to be the old fool I feel I might be! What were ye hoping to find here?”
Titus thought before he answered. “I am not sure Cormac. Perhaps I was running from something, rather than trying to find anything at all.”
“Aye, that much is true, and I could see that in your eyes when we sat in Kilmainham. Still, sometimes that is the best way of finding things, not looking for them at all. So what have you found then?”
“A lot of grief, I think. And more peril than I would wish to assume.”
Cormac nodded. “But you’re looking well on it my friend. And why wouldn’t you? Will I tell you what I think you sought here?”
“An answer to a simple question, one that we all have to ask in the end. Is my death to be as meaningless as my life?”
“You think I came here to challenge death?”
“No, not to challenge it, but I think to better recognise it. Do not misunderstand me, Titus my friend. I have but sympathy for your plight, believe me, and no wish to see you dead at all, at all. But tell me, have you found out? Is there anything here worth dying for?”
Again, Cormac’s words gave Titus pause for thought. It was true that he was less ambivalent towards his own demise than when he had arrived. He had put this down to having forged bonds of friendship with others, and a responsibility towards their well being. But even he could see that such a view was erroneous, or too simplistic to be true. After all, he had been lied to and betrayed by some of those who had prompted that very illusion. Yet what Cormac said was right. His life, though filled now with more threat and contradiction than he could ever have thought possible, seemed more real than ever. “No, Cormac, there is nothing here worth dying for, but plenty worth fighting for.”
“Too much, sometimes I think, now. When I was younger I couldn’t find reason enough! But then, I was only a foolish young eejit in those days. Back then, I thought there was only one way to fight too. Jesus, had I a lot to learn! Tell me Titus, when you liberate Sarah, what will ye do?”
“I don’t know to be honest Cormac. I fear my commission here is drawing to a premature close. But if I can at all avoid that eventuality, I will stay on here as I intended.”
“And you think Sarah might stay with you?”
“I don’t know. We vowed to find her father’s killers, and up here is not the place that will be done, if it can be at all. But I’m afraid that other things are afoot in any case that may make that task impossible.”
“It was always going to be nigh on impossible, but it was right that ye should think otherwise. It is good to have an ambition, and I am glad that you have found one at last.” Stephen arrived with a bottle of whiskey and two glasses, and laid them on the table. Cormac thanked him in a way that intimated to the bar man that they should be left in private again. “It is less a man that killed Eoin Reilly you know, but a whole country, your country Titus.”

Titus did not know what to say in response. He did not feel in any way part of the regime that Cormac referred to, and nor did he think that Sarah meant to take revenge on an entire country either for her father’s death. But her political ambitions were stronger and encompassed more than he had given her credit for, and her tenacity he knew only too well. Perhaps indeed that is how she saw it too. “It is my country Cormac, but those are not my ways. And you know that.”
“Aye, and she knows it too. Believe me, there will be many a twist and backward step between the pair of ye before your time is out, but take it from an old man. Each one will have been worth it, for both of ye!” Again he lapsed into a silence and reminisced quietly to himself of his own younger days. Such was evident from his next comment. “Do you know where it was that I was born?”
Titus admitted that he did not, though he knew that his brother lived in Cork.
“The county of Cork, yes. A place called Kinsale, my people were fishermen. McGillicks, originally from Donegal but they followed the fish south in God’s old times and settled amongst the O’Sullivans. As a child I used to help old Tadhg O’Sullivan farm his land on the Old Head of Kinsale.” He leaned forward to add import to his delivery. “Twenty years before, a great battle had been fought there and the Irish lost it. The last great battle, whatever they tell you, for with it died the dream. It was the end of the road for the Gaelic lairds and they knew it.” He poured whiskey into his glass and swallowed it with a gulp. “I grew up lifting the bones of slain Irishmen from the earth with my plough Titus. The corpses of thousands littered that place, and buried there with them was the last hope for our land.”
Titus poured himself a drink too and listened to his old friend speak.
“There’s a legend around Cork of a great leader who will come from over the sea and summons the warriors from their slumbers. A leader of ghosts as well as men, he will rally the Gael from the graves in which they slumber, and from the cots in which the living cower. All will unite under his banner, and like St Patrick with the vermin, he will banish the invader from our land.”
“Who knows? Maybe such a day will come, Cormac.” Titus hoped to agree with the old man, if only to help lift his spirits, but the look of disdain he received in response showed him that he had missed Cormac’s point completely.
“There can be no leader, just as there are no real warriors, and in truth there probably never were. I spent many years thinking otherwise, like the rest of my countrymen. I too dreamed of a day when the boot would be on the other foot. I was wrong. It never can be. That time is past. We are on the eve of another great war Titus, you know that don’t you?”
Titus agreed that it was looking likely. He could see no way that bloodshed might be avoided, so great were the passions and cruel the injustices suffered and planned by all sides.
“Aye, Titus, and tell me. What troops do you see rallying? And I don’t mean those eejits dressed like cabbages parading around Armagh and calling themselves militia! Or the ones who call themselves Gaelic lords skulking around their own country like spies!”

Titus remembered the meeting that they had witnessed in Balgriffin, when the conniving Arran had fooled his peers into thinking that he supported them in their endeavours to build an Irish army which could take arms against a Protestant foe. “Well, Talbot has plans to mobilise a great Catholic army in the king’s name. And I am sure it will be opposed at some point by one as large, if not larger. I do not think we need fear on that account Cormac. War will come, and it will most likely be great and bloody.”
“It’s true about the war but no, Titus. These are just plans. There are always plans, and they are always ambitious, and there will always be fools a plenty to feed those ambitions by sacrificing their lives for its cause. Christ knows, I was such a fool myself once, and I marching off to England thinking I’d be fighting ould Cromwell myself with daggers drawn and the pair of us brandishing our swords.” He laughed ruefully at the memory if it, and sighed. “But I’ll tell you who’s been mobilising. The money men have been mobilising, that’s who! That’s all it means now - money. That’s all it ever meant!”
“I’m sorry Cormac. I don’t think I know what you mean.”
“Why was Sarah arrested?”
“The charge is treason.”
“Aye, and what does that mean? Why do you think a king demands loyalty and punishes those who won’t give it to him? Why do you think a king wants to be a king?”
It was something Titus had often pondered himself. Where he came from in Shropshire, there was a lot of support, though mostly muted, for the notion of a republic, and many men had enlisted with the parliamentarians in their struggles hoping that some day their efforts would lead to this end. In that ideal, the idea of a king was repugnant, and the motives of a king were regarded as self serving and self seeking, nothing more. It was an idea that he had often entertained as being the most rational that he was yet aware of regarding monarchy and rule. But it was unrealistic, and in the country today, unworkable. He asked Cormac if that was what he meant also?
“No, my boy. Not here in Ireland. This is a country spoiled for all forms of government. All that is left here now in charge is profit and those equipped to make it.”
“It may be true for Dublin, Cormac, and for Ulster. But what profit is there in ruling the island in its entirety? I have seen enough maps of the west to know that it will never yield its owners much, whoever they are, and all that will ever be grown there is dissent and ambition to escape it.”
“That in itself is an ambition from which others can profit Titus. What I say is true. There are no warriors left, only profiteers. There is a breed running this country now which is neither Irish nor English, but by God they’re rich.”
“I spoke with men tonight, upstairs in this very inn who would beg to differ, I would imagine. They see themselves at the start of a crusade that will lead to their reinstatement to power. And as far as I can see they are no strangers to poverty, and would gladly impoverish everyone else in pursuit of their ambition.”
“Then they are either liars or fools. Probably a bit of both, foolish men who lie to themselves. The Duke of Ormonde was the last hope for this country Titus, and they have done him down, or so they think.”

Titus wanted so much to tell Cormac that far from being done down, James Butler was active yet, and if the rumours were true, stirring opposition where he deemed it politic, pursuing his aims and thwarting his foes as he had ever done. But the truth was that Titus now believed that even this news was not a source of solace, especially to Irishmen like Cormac. It would be comforting to think, like his old friend, that this lent hope to the plight of the Irish, but he knew that what O’Neill had said had a ring of truth to it also. The Butlers served the Butlers first and their country - whatever country - second. That they would deal even with the Dutch Prince or his allies was in all probability a likelihood if it guaranteed their own political survival. Even if old James Butler could influence events as before, it could well be to deliver England and Ireland both into the hands of the Whigs, with a puppet Dutchman as their king, and as little chance for the Irish to govern themselves as ever. Then, as long as men like O’Neill and O’Donnell hovered in the wings, especially after having been tantalised by the sweet aroma of future power in the island, Ireland would be held ransom to the ambitions of all parties, and the maelstrom of the conflict that their contrary plans would provoke. The country might not be merely facing a great war, but many years of it and with no happy outcome. He decided it best not to pursue the subject of the Butlers or their duplicities, but he was surprised that Cormac himself did just that.
“His son is a traitor. I should have told you that in Dublin, but it was better that you found out for yourself Titus.”
Titus looked at the old man and sipped from his whiskey, but said nothing.
“He is a traitor to his father, a traitor to his class, a traitor to his countrymen and a traitor to the crown he claims obedience to. The biggest profiteer of the lot!”
“And the grandson, Ossory?”
“A young fool by all accounts. A hothead and an ambitious man. Christ knows what divilment he’s capable of, but in his favour he is motivated more like his grandfather, and not just to line his own pockets!”
Cormac seemed spent by his invective against the younger Butlers but Titus genuinely valued his old friend’s assessment and wished to hear it. “What will happen Cormac, do you think?”
“The profiteers will win and the people will lose. And those with ideals will lose soonest. That is what will happen. And the only time the warriors will stir is when their bones are disturbed by young boys’ ploughs.”
Stephen reappeared to see if they wished to buy another drink, but Cormac shook his head. When they were alone again he turned to Titus and smiled, raising his glass in mock toast. “We had a plan too, didn’t we? Brave adventurers setting forth on a mission to avenge a beautiful girl and the great wrong done to her.”
Titus smiled too. “The wrong has yet to be righted my friend.”
“It will take more than us to do it, but you’re right to have hope – it can be done. When is the trial?”
“In a fortnight most likely, though I am hoping it will not even come to that now. I have been given a good lever over Pringle, the man who will validate the charge against her. Unless he is a fool she will not face a trial.”
“Good, that would be good. The girl has been through enough. Look after her, Titus.”
“I will.”
“And I am glad to hear the news too for my own sake, it will save me from an uneasy conscience at not being here for her ordeal. I am away tomorrow my friend. And then I may not see you again, I am thinking.”
This took Titus by surprise. “There is no need to leave. I am expecting Sarah to be acquitted and then I intend to carry on as before, as I said, at least until winter sets in. There is still a role for you in our surveying enterprise should you wish it.”
“It cannot be as before, not for you now Titus, now that you really know who your enemies are. Unfortunately, they know who you are too. You are right to cock a snoot at them though and complete your commission, if only to show them that you are not a man easily cowed by bullies. But I am too old in any case for traipsing around mountains with yard sticks and eye glasses my friend!”
“What will you do?”
Cormac leaned towards Titus in a conspiratorial manner, the hint of a smile on his lips. “Do you know the tailor’s girl, Jenny?”
“I do. I went to call on her today but she was not there.”
“No, she’s with me. If the tailor is executed she will starve. Even if he is acquitted they cannot stay here. Without that work she is lost.”
“And?” Titus was intrigued.
“I’ve the last of my savings and you can’t take it with you when you go, as they say. I’ve come up with a new plan, mo bhuachaill.”
“With Jenny?”
“Aye.” He winked. “Me and her are setting up in business together. We’ve found a spot in Omagh town where they might not be averse to having a tailor in their midst.”
“You? A tailor?”
“And why not? Didn’t I do enough stitching of me ould tunic and trousers in the army to dress an entire regiment?” Cormac laughed. “But in truth it will be her business and not mine, though I’ll be grateful for the roof over my head and the wee bit of company. She’s a chatty little thing.”
“Chatty? Are you sure we are talking about the same woman?”
“Oh, aye. Sometimes you just have to listen in the right way to hear what a person has to say. And it helps that ye speak the same language, mo stór!”
“She speaks Gaelic?”
“Oh aye. Nothing but. She was raised by her grandmother on a farm in Cavan and never needed the English. The farm was lost when the old woman died. Poor Jenny hadn’t the wit, the money, nor the tongue to defend herself when it was claimed by the local parson. From that day on she vowed never to speak what little béarla she knew nor acknowledge those who did. In a land where her own tongue is a crime, that’s a promise to stay deaf and mute. So deaf and mute she is.”
Titus shook his head in amazement. His old friend had surprised him, and nor was he finished.
“She’s the tailor’s wife, did you know that?”

Titus was stunned. “His wife?” He had suspected much about the true relationship between the woman and her employer, and he shamefully remembered some of the wilder conjectures that had sprung to mind, but he had never once suspected that they were man and wife. The revelation both embarrassed and intrigued him. “He introduced her to us as his deaf and dumb seamstress, and as valuable as a daughter to him!”
Cormac smiled. “And why wouldn’t he? With you, a great big hulk of an Englishman demanding to know his affairs?”
“It wasn’t quite like that, but I get your point.”
“Oh aye, he learnt of her plight and tried to take her on as an apprentice but found that this broke another English law in these parts. So, he married her instead. As yet there’s no law says a Catholic can’t have his wife in his house with him. Please God, if the man has the freedom to do so, he’ll be living under the same roof as well, so don’t you be going getting any notions. You see Titus, we all do our bit.” He winked.
In spite of the sympathy he felt for Jenny Holly and the despair from which the tailor had rescued the poor wretch, Titus laughed at Cormac’s gesture. Indeed, when faced with such a ludicrous world what else could one do? “When are you off?” he asked.
“I would have liked to say my goodbyes to young Sarah, but I cannot wait until the crown gives her leave. The shop in Omagh is in demand, I’d better get the purchase done and dusted as soon as I can. So I’m off tomorrow.”
“And were you not going to say your goodbyes to me? Let me at least get you another drink to toast you in your ‘tailoring’ venture.”
“Ah, mo bhuachaill! Sure there’s no point yet.”
“No, sure I’ll be seeing you soon enough, will I not?”
“What do you mean?”
“O’Neill, didn’t he tell you about tomorrow?”
“He told me much, but not that you and I had an appointment.”
“That was nice of the ould hoor, leaving me the treat so. Tomorrow morning, at Navan Fort, with none other than James Butler.” Cormac smiled.
“Ormonde?” Titus gasped. He remembered the remark that O’Neill had made about telling the Duke to his face of his opposition to his policy. He had told his associates that Titus would be witness to the event, but at the time he had not understood exactly what he meant.
“Aye. He wants to see us. I met your ‘king of the beggars’ on Market Hill today and he passed the word to me.”

Titus could not hide his surprise. In his mind, Ormonde had become almost an object of myth, an elusive ideal, an undefined end to a mission that in itself had proven ephemeral and meaningless. To be told now that his elusive quarry was not only flesh and blood, but was in fact wishing to meet his pursuer, was quite a blow to the senses. His surprise however quickly turned to a sense of foreboding and annoyance. Why had O’Neill arranged this meeting, or Ormonde for that matter? In the present circumstances it smacked of one intrigue too many, one unnecessary and unwarranted, indeed unwelcome, intrusion and it gave rise to an uneasy feeling in his gut, though he had to admit a curiosity too in meeting this ‘wild goose’, as Sarah had called him, who had led them on such a merry chase for so long. He asked Cormac what he thought.
“Oh it’s not O’Neill’s arrangement, Titus! He might think himself a high king but he’s a long way off summonsing the likes of Ormonde to do his bidding. It’s Ormonde himself has summonsed us.” There was a pride in his eye as he said it. Titus had once doubted that the old Duke would ever remember a foot soldier like Cormac from forty years before. It seemed his doubts had just been countered by truth. Cormac raised his glass again. “I’ll meet you out at Gallows Hill an hour after dawn. We should get to meet him before the beggar king arrives!” Cormac’s smile as he drained his glass was the happiest he had seen his friend in many a long day.
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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "Awakening" (part 3)

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