England – 1642
“My lord, Colonel, Sir – we found this and Taf – I mean Trooper Andrews – thought it might be important.”
Something glinted in the morning sunlight, Nick held out his hand and the trooper carefully pressed what he held into the Lieutenant’s glove. It was a ring. Heavy gold, not a modern design. Nick knew it at once and held it up for his uncle to see.
“This was his ring. We did not entirely fail.”
The trooper stood by, still clutching his hat. Sir Bartholomew nodded a dismissal, saying nothing until the man had gone back to his task.
“I do not think we can count that as much success,” he said quietly. “Without the rest of the evidence, it brings us nothing. I was foolish to listen to your father – this would have been done with by now if we had followed my intentions and not some addle-pate idea to make things right with the world. Paxton and Green could have found some opportunity, they even told you as much, but no – that was not good enough. It had to be seen to be done.”
Stung by this attack, Nick bridled.
“My father has always acted for the best in this matter. He has lived for this for the past twenty years, all my life he has spoken of nothing else as being so important. He raised my brothers and myself to do the same. He has always said that it needed to be finished in public – so there could be no myths, no imposters. Just – an end.”
For a moment the young Lieutenant feared he had taken family loyalty too far. But his uncle only nodded and took the ring, sliding it into his belt purse for safekeeping. Then he placed a hand on his nephew’s shoulder.
“You have much of your father’s strength and I do not argue that in a Utopia we might hope to see things completed neatly as he suggests. But this – this is the real world. There are seldom tidy endings, it has to be enough simply to make an end.” His hand gripped the shoulder, leaving Tempest feeling as though he was willing his own belief to flow into his nephew. Nick thought of his father – the furtive meetings, the dangerous documents and now war. His uncle was right in one thing at least, they needed to finish this.
“Then let me be the one to do so.”
Sir Bartholomew looked taken aback.
“This is not a task for a -” he said, breaking off and shaking his head.
“For what, Uncle? A child? Or perhaps you mean for a Tempest? Perhaps it is Coupland’s brand you want placed on this deed.”
The older man’s grey eyes hardened into a steel gaze.
“Listen to me, Nick. Your branch of the family is as deeply involved in the Pact as any. It has as much to gain or lose as the rest and as much right to be involved. But this is no ordinary man and you are not yet so experienced as others.”
“Let me stay and search at the least – give me a dozen good men. Henry can take my place with the troop – he is old enough and, he sorely wants it.”
Sir Bartholomew was silent, his gaze fixed into space over Nick’s shoulder. Then suddenly he cursed loudly and released his grip.
“God’s Wounds! Will someone deal with that?”
Tempest turned. The vagrant soldier, who had been asleep under a nearby tree, was now staggering around muttering to himself, heading towards them with the clear intention of looking for more free drink. Nick grabbed at his arm, spinning him round so he was a better target for a gauntleted fist. The drunk seemed to collapse as he made the blow, falling forward, head lolling, into Sir Bartholomew. As he did so, his legs slid from under him and caught into Tempest’s knees so he had to take a staggering step to keep his own balance. For a moment, his face was almost on a level with the drunken vagrant and he had the impression of reeking breath and a weeping sore, before he thrust the man away in disgust.
Three of the troopers had run over, seeing the assault in progress, and they now pulled the drunk roughly away. He made no resistance and seemed to be muttering barely coherent apologies as he was dropped on the ground and given a few hard kicks. When he lay still the troopers added a couple more blows for good measure then left him lying unconscious in the mud as they went back to their work.
Sir Bartholomew sighed and shook his head.
“This is what England is come to. Unless we act quickly you will see a hundred such broken men wherever there is now one.”
Nick was at a loss to see the reasoning behind that, but he wisely held his tongue. His uncle turned away and drew the younger man with him, walking back towards the horses.
“I will leave you to finish up here. I shall be at Howe, find me there.” He stopped and stared hard into his nephew’s eyes, Nick bore it without flinching – he was a Tempest and would not be cowed. Sir Bartholomew seemed pleased by whatever he saw because he nodded and turned away, collecting the reins of his horse and letting a trooper assist him to mount.
“I will bring you the final account before sunset, Uncle,” Nick promised.
“Good lad. Then maybe we can talk some more about your staying here when we march with the Marquis.”
Nick felt his spirits rise, then frowned as he noticed something out of place.
“Uncle, your purse!”
Sir Bartholomew looked down and his hand went to where the purse should be.
“God’s Wounds! That damned…”
But Tempest was ahead of him, running back across the uneven ground, shouting to his men as he did so. They were already too late. The spot where the drunk had been left lying unconscious was empty and a thorough search of the surrounding area turned up no real clue as to his disappearance.
From 'The Cat's Head' by E.M. Swift-Hook.