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NOTE: This excerpt contains the first chapter of each of the three stories in the cycle.
It is impossible to tell the story of the nexus of 2001 without referring back to the earlier "great" or "long" nexus, whose course spanned the first thousand years of our Lord, from 29 to 1014. Its bookend events profoundly affected world history, as can readily be seen by comparing the two resulting earths.
However, such history, and that of the Irish dynasties who ruled our world until 1941, has been well combed. Much less attention has been devoted to the years of the interregnum, and it is to these that the current work is addressed.
This chronicle has been created by searching transcripts of news accounts, interviews with survivors, and several electronic memoirs. Some conversations have been fictionalized, but many are reported by bards who witnessed them or to whom they were recited, and must be taken as authentic. Thus, the narrative before the reader is not fiction woven around a few threads of history, but a tapestry of scenes from actual lives of real people. Only the connecting arrangement is artificial, representing an attempt on the editors' part to participate in other than dry textbooks. If this is well received, the entire story will one day be told likewise, though the principal author/editor of the volumes will vary.
Also, with the help of the Professor, this series represents a departure from long standing policy in that it will be offered for publication on his world as well. There, it will indeed be taken as fiction, but the general editors trust it will serve to prepare the ground for eventually revealing there are more earths, and with very different histories than theirs.
This first volume cycles among three related stories:
1. The 1941 rise to power and deposition of High King James IV, with the subsequent history of the four royal cousins to 1958,
2. The origin on Tirdia (Prime, per Metan scholars) of Sally O'Neill and Lucy O'Brien, their involvement with and marriage into the royal family in 1945 and following events through 1955,
3. An account of Brian McIlhargey and his wards Meghan (Mara) and Karen from the 1977 battle of Glenmorgan through to their departure from Edwardston in 1990.
To assist the reader, each chapter is clearly tagged with names, dates, and places (including the earth) to indicate which of the three story cycle arcs is in view. All of The Peace takes place on Hibernia and Tirdia, but readers should note when reading chapter tags that from the sixteenth century until the nexus of 2001 the Hibernian and Gregorian calendars were identical, so dates used in The Peace are the same on both earths. In this edition, to securely establish the initial settings in readers' minds, the first six-chapter rotation through the three plots has two successive chapters from each arc. After that, action rotates among the three plots in less predictable fashion.
These volumes could not have been completed without the assistance of Physician-Colonel Maeve Derry of City Hospital, Tara, whose explanation of medical terms and practices was invaluable.
Offered in the Name of the High Lord of Heaven
Under the Patronage of the crown
Dedicated to the Throne of Tara, Mistress of Worlds
by General Editors
Richard Kent, Academician and Lord Protector of England
Jana Whelan, Ard Seanacha of the Court of Ireland
Walking Buffalo, Academician and Lord Holder of Edwardston
Cameron O'Grady, Lord High Bishop of Tara
Princess Rainbow Buffalo/O'Grady, Seanacha,
who compiled this first volume.
That the members of Hibernia's hereditary nobility have for centuries acted as guardians of her throne at Tara is well known to anyone who paid attention to Irish history lessons in third grade. That they reserve the throne exclusively for themselves is less obvious--many a talented, strapping lad has gone to court thinking he could claim it, only to be thwarted by the surprising development of the normally fractious nobility cooperating against him. Because the ruling monarchs have since 1791 surrendered their clan names, it is not always obvious that the green chair has been occupied by a single family ever since the Federation of Worlds was founded. It may be that this "gentle agreement" was reached solely to avoid the embarrassment of the nobility killing itself off entirely with its notorious infighting.
Such matters are only politely discussed privately among the high lords and ladies, or here at Kilkarney, where their best and brightest are sent, ostensibly to train as military officers. Get used to being candid for four years, for at Kilkarney you are on sacred ground. You may say anything to each other, but are not permitted to kill students or staff. After you graduate, it is the other way around, for none of us are under any illusions that the "noble" among you have actually come to prepare for the polite but much more deadly power games your families play with each other. Or have the lessons of 1941 been lost on you?
--selected from the commander's commencement address to the entering class of 1964, Kilkarney cadet school.
The palace at Tara, capital of Hibernia, September 1941
"The time for kings has passed." Donal Tobin began his seditious speech to the other lords quietly, carefully mixing patriotic rhetoric and history lessons in a mind-dulling recipe. "From the establishment in 1014 to 1792, ten different families ruled Ireland. Yes, the current dynasty has occupied the green throne for a century and a half, but a change now would generate a mere footnote in Ireland's rich and glorious history. And, I assure you that when our ancestors established the Peace of Ireland following the great European wars, they scarcely imagined Tara's rulers would ascend to world dominion, mastering two earths and accumulating interests on three others. They did not set out to invest a monarchy with such concentrated power, enormous influence, and potential for corruption."
The conspirator sat in his study, "scarcely fifty staves from the court chambers, as the buzzards fly", he was fond of saying. The court scene unfolded in one part of his MT wall screen, as he scrolled a text window beside it. "Following the script, are you, friend Donal? Good. Let's keep the lies predictable, shall we?"
Ending the Irish monarchy was neither a pleasant nor a safe prospect, but better than any alternative. He could easily die in his coup, but there was no going back now.
"Oh, Lord of Heaven," he gazed toward the ceiling in appeal, "People will say I've prolonged our own version of the Three Worlds' War, even betrayed the realm. But you know I've not my own interests at heart, only Ireland's. I'm in your hands, for life or death. Lord, I may have done wrong manipulating Donal, but he'll merely get the power he wants."
"It has been," Donal Tobin's voice droned at the periphery of his attention, "one hundred fifty-two years since the elusive Metans gave us the technical ability to travel among five of the six earths, excepting only Meta herself. The Federation of Ortho and Para, under the rule of our glorious capital here at Tara, is almost as old. It's time a fresh breeze blew through these ancient halls, time to set aside the rule of despots, incompetents, and drunkards, time to take the reins of power into our own hands for the good of all Hibernia. Henceforth, let this house reign collectively." He swept his arm about to include his audience.
"The fighting in Europe and Asia has dragged on far too long. Ireland needs fresh initiatives, fresh leadership, fresh vision to put an end to this interminable war."
"Ah, yes, the war," mused the conspirator to his empty office. "Some argue we Irish merely play our favourite game." He wagged his finger at Tobin's image. "You and your MacCarthy allies believe Ireland lacks the will to fight hard enough. You forget the savage conflict on the earth next to ours, how it leaks through the timestream to adjacent worlds, also producing a war much like ours on Water World, the other side of Tirdia."
A group of junior officers had agreed too enthusiastically with his argument, and he'd had to stop the hotheads from assassinating Tirdia's Hitler and Hirohito.
"Perhaps," he thought, "we could have achieved the side effect of an earlier end to our war if we'd stopped Tirdia's fighting." But the last thing Hibernia needed was a failed intervention resulting in Tirdia discovering the other worlds. "We could all be overwhelmed by the multitudes of a planet whose people apparently have nothing to do but breed," he reflected. "Perhaps that's one reason the Metans call the place Prime. It has more people than four other earths combined."
The conspirator spoke toward a microphone. "MT, open new window, public file James Fourth." He ignored Donal Tobin's speech, to review for perhaps the hundredth time his carefully assembled dossier on the young king whom the nobles were about to dethrone.
"James, second son of James, son of Conn. Born 1917, fostered out to Barry and Millicent Devereaux of New Tara. Entered Kilkarney 1934 on a full scholarship, graduated 1938 as first cadet. Returned to Irish North America in the king's service, promoted to captain 1940, and to major, 1941."
Little else than well-known and well-polished facts, the conspirator thought. Access to a palace network node and skills few would advertise were required to reduce a reigning monarch's personal information to such bare bones. He'd also been responsible for most of the lies in Donal Tobin's somewhat larger file on the King. "But it's not what Donal Tobin thinks he knows that could get people killed today," the conspirator mused. "It's what is not in this file..."
James, April 1941, Irish North America
"Going somewhere, Major?"
James whirled from packing his backsack. His hand was halfway to his sword at the unexpected interruption when he suddenly realized who his visitor was. "Your Highness, I..."
"Cut the guff, James. Brace my arm instead. It wasn't too jolly when you found out, but I've rather enjoyed having another brother. You never knew Conn," reflected his visitor, suddenly pensive, but moving the conversation along rapidly. "He died at four. Matthew has his heart set on bardic orders. Daisy is still too young to know what she wants besides her own horse. But we two are the family warriors. There need be no formality between us."
James relented, and the two locked right arms, testing each others' strength. As they relaxed, William casually observed, "You're more like Dad than ever. Why not become King instead of me?"
James started in surprise, and William added, "If you weren't Dad's secret insurance policy, I'd trade places in a heartbeat. Tara's palace is a dreary place compared to an army camp. This is where Hibernia's true heart beats."
James forced himself to relax before the force of William's good humour. Fostering out a second son to have him raised in obscurity wasn't merely custom, but a necessary security measure in fractious Ireland. Even when his foster parents were killed in a riot during his second year at Kilkarney, the elder and younger James were never together. William was instead informed of the relationship, and dispatched to the school with the news. He had visited many times since, becoming a friend as well as a brother, though James had rarely been to Tara.
James shook himself. "What brings you, William?"
"The high command needed to send a ceremonial bigshot. Dad's managing risk by working out of the country estate. His actor only stands in for routine ribbon cuttings, so I volunteered to chuck palace life for a week."
James raised his eyebrows. "Have there been enemy threats?"
"Nothing so tangible, and he wouldn't worry about the Germans or Japanese. No, he's staying out of circulation till he's ruined the latest domestic plot."
James nodded grimly. Ireland's "loyal" nobles were notorious for such schemes. He reverted to William's initial greeting. "Just as well you spend some time on the field, but you've forgotten I'm only a captain, not a major."
"Not to the high command. You and ten soldiers standing off three hundred Apache at the Alamo until the rest of the army got there made interesting reading from General Ryan's dispatches." William fished a small box from his pouch. "They sent this trinket along with your new stripes. Presentation's tomorrow." He held it out with a grin, and flipped the lid open.
James gasped, then shook his head. "The Medal of Honour. I can't accept that." Ireland's highest award hadn't been given for nearly two decades.
"Thought you'd say that." William laughed, and took a seat on a canvas chair. "Two nights ago Tara News editorialized, and I quote, 'Not content with ranking first sword of the army, James Devereaux has now taken his place in the ranks of Ireland's great heroes.' Meanwhile, the high command thinks you've single-handedly turned around the North American theatre. The way things are elsewhere, Ireland needs her heroes. I'm here to ensure she gets one, and no argument."
"None of it matters." James turned bleakly to the sack he'd been packing.
"Why not?" William's smile faded.
"Got a report from one of my sergeants that an entire Cree village is dead." James held out a photo. "I need samples, but it looks like smallpox."
William gasped. "Only the great houses have access..."
"Exactly. One of Ireland's lords schemes to shorten the war by wiping out the North American natives."
"But we can't win dishonourably. Our allies would turn against us. Hibernia would fall apart." William paused briefly, then pocketed the jewel box. "Got an extra isolation suit?"
Two hours later, James trudged back up the hill where he'd left William on guard. The village of Jumping Pond and its dead were two hundred staves behind and below. He stopped for William to hose him down with disinfectant, stepped from the isolation suit, tossed it onto the fire, accepted another spray on his bare skin, dried himself, then donned his clothes and hefted the sample box.
"Almost certainly smallpox," he announced grimly, as the two walked to the crest, "but genetically engineered to be fast acting. Some died walking down the street or in the midst of a meal. I'll wager it spreads over the whole continent in days."
James glanced at the box in his hand. "By the book, we send these to Tara for analysis."
"By the time they could act," William observed quietly, "the whole world will know. The political fallout..."
James gripped William's arm. "Running Bear's daughter was here visiting her aunt."
His brother whistled. "When the Stoney chief finds out, he and our few North American allies will desert. We'll have to pull troops from Europe to contain the mess."
"What have you in mind?"
"I've prayed about it, William. In what wisdom the Lord of Heaven gives, I believe there's only one way to get an antidote into the field in time."
"We both have our MCs." He waited for William to draw his own conclusion.
"Cut Tara Medical out of the picture and re-engineer the virus ourselves? Messing with pathogens without a vote of the lords means breaking the covenant, brother of mine."
"You don't have to join me, William, but surely if banned techniques are employed to do good, or to stop evil, they're legitimately from God, and must be used, despite the law. There's little choice but to act at once."
Just then, they crested the hill, and James saw five bodies lying in a tangle of swords and blood. He turned to William, astonished.
"Low thugs." William waved his dismissal. "Walked into the clearing chatting about ambushing you. I killed them all, unfortunately. No papers, but all European." His manner was almost casual, but James detected a quaver in his brother's voice. An honourable man disliked killing, even when it was necessary.
"Do we leave them?"
"Might as well keep whoever sent them guessing. Look. I've pulled rank on a few calls I made while you were below. The ceremonies are postponed. I've booked New Tara hospital's synthesizer. An air car picks us up between here and the camp in ten minutes and takes us directly there. Security will guard this place till we're done, then burn it."
James looked at William in awe. "I didn't need to persuade you."
William shrugged. "We're family. We think alike."
Tara's palace, September 1941
And, thought the conspirator, drumming his fingers on the richly-polished desk, the royal brothers won the gamble few would ever know they had taken. They built a virus-vectored countermeasure, then arranged for its distribution throughout the continent with secret cooperation from enemy chiefs. Doing it compromised Irish security, but stopped the plague with only three communities lost.
Within weeks, a quiet telegraph had spread the news of their involvement, and though the reason was never spoken aloud to Europeans, the North American rebellion suddenly collapsed, all twenty nations of the enemy Blackfoot coalition re-entering the Peace on terms negotiated between them and the Stoney chief who headed the allied nations. The document was signed by William for the crown. Whoever stole the smallpox samples from the national lab and altered them would know how the plague was stopped, but not by whom.
"Family Monde started this," mused the conspirator, "but I'll never prove it."
But fortune had not smiled so kindly on the royals two months after.
James, June 1941, Irish North America and Tara
"Sir, General Ryan to see you." The sergeant was in a near panic, and no wonder. Generals summoned majors; they didn't visit them unless the news was extraordinary, and even the unusual would get soldiers killed.
"General." James snapped a salute as his commander entered the tent, receiving one in return.
"Sergeant, see we're not disturbed. Stand easy, Major." Ryan activated a white noise generator.
"Good," thought James, relaxing. "It's military business, after all." Perhaps, as others already, he was being transferred to the European front.
"I take it," began Ryan, picking over his words gingerly, "you haven't had the news from Tara."
"No." James was baffled. Was the war over? But if so, why this? He willed the general to get to the point.
"I'm family," observed Ryan, taking him by the shoulders and looking his young officer squarely in the eye.
James started. "You know?"
"That you were fostered at birth to my sister-in-law's brother-in-law Barry Devereaux, but are by birth the king's son, and my wife Carole's nephew? I was your godfather. You came to New Tara in my arms." Suddenly, the general's eyes brimmed over with tears, and he no longer needed speech.
"It's the King," James suddenly concluded. "What happened?"
Ryan bowed his head, forcing his words. "A force of two hundred invaded the palace early this morning. James III died defending your mother, then they killed her. Apart from two kitchen servants, there were no survivors. None of the invaders was taken alive."
"Matthew and Daisy?"
"I'm sorry, lad."
His voice became a squeak. "Then William is King."
"William slept in the palace after a late-night meeting with the King. He took fifteen with him, but he is gone, too."
There was a long silence while James stood immobile with shock and the general gathered his thoughts. "I hate to do this to you, James, but you have duties. Patrick O'Toole advises that Calaghan MacCarthy and Gerald Monde will proclaim the dynasty's end, then send in the court's name to the high armoury for the means to 'end the war once and for all,' as they put it."
"They would use atomics? Ireland would be dishonoured forever." Shaken back to a measure of rationality, James observed, "Only the King may enter the high armoury. Doing so requires a DNA match and codes known only to the high command."
"There is an override provision, requiring a second code set assembled from among the bards, the church, and Lord Chamberlain. It will take them a day to arrange, no more." Reilly held out a black pouch. "The military lords sent their passcodes. Your DNA was registered at birth."
"You want me to..."
"The general staff agrees the war must not end so. An orbital shuttle arrives in ten minutes. I will pilot. Once you get us into the satellite, we remove a hatch from a class MX device, extract one of the two plutonium canisters and the trigger detonator..."
James finished for him. "...and set a timer to blow apart the protective casing after we leave, contaminating the armoury with radioactive material. It would be years before robots could be built to recover weapons or new ones made, and by that time..."
"...honest soldiers should have won the war honourably," Ryan finished. "Will you do it, James?"
James nodded his head slowly. He would grieve later. "I will."
"I told the other generals we could count on you."
"And, when we return?"
"You will have other duties."
Two days later, James stood at court in the row reserved for senior officers. Any with the rank of Major or higher were entitled, when at Tara, to participate in governance with the hereditary and political nobility. As high churchmen and bards, they were "lords by position." All but one of Ireland's colonels and generals were present, as were four of his own rank.
James looked around at the court chambers, built on the lawn of the second palace forty years earlier when the court had outgrown its previous quarters. On the dais stood the celebrated emerald throne, a chair carved, despite its name, from a solid block of jade. Tears came to his eyes, and he looked away.
Surrounding him were the nobility of Greater Hibernia, hereditary and domain peers, military and bardic lords, and three bishops. Court servants occupied lesser places at the back and rear. The other side of the aisle was empty, for today's session concerned Ortho alone, not her Federation partner Para.
He watched and listened as the front row and other lords drifted to their places in anticipation of the day's opening. Tara was awash with rumour. Secret sessions had authorized a mission to high orbit, but it had returned empty handed, and high-level shouting matches behind closed doors had followed. Some suggested civil war was in the offing. Others had darker forecasts.
"All stand for the first lords."
Quiet shuffling followed Lord Chamberlain's announcement, then a long pause. Wearing matching scowls, Calaghan MacCarthy and Gerald Monde walked in front of the first row, up two steps of the dais, turned as one, and faced the house, thus claiming equal status as overdomain lords.
Lord Chamberlain thumped his mace on the floor. "Recess is over, and the house is back in session. Who speaks first?"
Lord MacCarthy opened his mouth to say, "We do," but was cut off by First Military Lord General Reilly. "Ireland is at war. The high king and commander-in-chief is dead. The army claims the right to speak on a matter touching its honour."
"Such is the custom of the house," intoned Lord Chamberlain, so Ryan, Reilly and their fellow officers strode to the front, ranging themselves on the dais behind MacCarthy and Monde.
"My lords and ladies," began Reilly. "King James III has departed us to join the High Lord of Heaven. Were he here, he would disapprove of your intentions for prosecuting the war."
Tensions grew as many concluded Reilly was about to announce a military coup. But he surprised them. "Moreover, we believe Ireland ill served that this house has not yet announced a state funeral. The army will not interfere with political decisions, but the general staff hereby announces its own warrior's parade and military wake for James III and his family, beginning 0900 day after tomorrow at the palace armoury. Thank you."
Following a brief stunned silence, the dignitaries broke out in applause, thumping fists on their scabbards in approval. Gerald Monde looked around as the tumult died, and nodded at the generals, clearly expecting their party would now vacate the platform.
"There's one thing more," Reilly added, as if in afterthought, waving the house to silence.
James looked from their midst, taking note of the several dozen officers now filing in around the perimeter of the room. Cameras swivelled to cover the breaking events, and he could see reporters in the gallery speaking frantically into their throat microphones for audiences around the world. General Reilly had broken the tension. Now...
Reilly began anew. "William is dead, and so are other children of King James and Queen Maeve. However," He waved at an MT screen, where a birth certificate, school records and military honours were suddenly displayed. "Not many know that in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred sixteen, King James and Queen Maeve gave birth to a second son while in Austria. That son was fostered out and raised abroad as James Devereaux, ostensibly a nephew to the king's brother-in-law. As you can see, DNA and other records prove his blood. I am pleased to present an officer and gentleman, a hero of Ireland's wars, the army's youngest ever first sword, a man worthy of his father."
The group of officers parted. Red faced, James sat on the throne as Reilly concluded. "James III is dead. Long live King James IV."
Callaghan MacCarthy's hand went to his side, but halted when the screen displayed a sword rating for James of one hundred five, ten points higher than his own. As he and Monde hesitated, James spoke to their backs in the ensuing silence. "My lords Monde and MacCarthy, we do not permit you to face the house or to share the dais. You may return to your places and speak in your turns." He hid a grin. Whatever else, the pair had lost enough face to prevent them from attempting another run at first any time soon.
Later, after a gruelling session dominated by reversals of the previous two days' initiatives, James had the king's suite re-keyed to his own DNA and codes, and retired behind a guard of loyal officers to quarters he'd only visited twice and never expected to be his. On his entry, a man in palace livery bowed deeply.
"Your Majesty, I have the honour of being your steward, Patrick O'Dwyer. My fathers have served yours for six generations."
"Your father was the previous steward, and perished here?"
"Yes, my lord, though he killed three first."
"You also are a master sword?"
"Of course, my lord, an eighty-five rating."
"There were survivors."
"Cook and a scullery girl. Beneath their notice, my lord."
"Not beneath mine. Escort me to the kitchen, would you please, Master O'Dwyer." Using title and family name together confirmed the man in his post.
"Right away, my lord, if you will follow me." The approval in O'Dwyer's tone spoke volumes. "I will engage a new staff at your pleasure, of course. But at the moment, we are only three."
When James entered the kitchen, a sumptuous dinner, no doubt his own, was laid out on a tray under the warming lights by one oven. Across the room were the makings of a fresh batch of bread. He'd seen the cook only once. She was Molly Byrne, a broad woman whose sharp tongue diminished her formidable skills. She set down her mixing bowl, and went to her knees at once. At her side, a flour-covered ragamuffin of a girl stared at James like he was an apparition from another world, then dropped the plate containing her own supper to the floor, where it shattered into a hundred pieces.
"James," she whispered, eyes wide.
"Be quiet, girl," the cook snapped, "and get down." She cuffed the child to her knees, and bent her head.
There was a long, silent moment, then James carefully announced, using only her title, "We take note of your service during a harsh time, Mistress Cook." He turned to his steward. "Master O'Dwyer, kindly authorize two months' wages as her bonus." He glared disapprovingly at the girl. "Once this careless child cleans up her mess, send her upstairs for discipline." He stalked out, followed by the steward.
Minutes later, James stood behind his study desk, facing the royal shield and three crossed swords of O'Connor, Devereaux, and Meathe. He sighed deeply. These were the symbols of his family's power and authority, the three blades Conn I had won to take the throne in 1792. Could he wield them, or would they devour him?
Behind him, the door opened. He turned to find Patrick O'Dwyer ushering the child into the room.
"The scullery child as ordered, Sire." O'Dwyer set the dinner tray on the table, bowed, then winked. He knew.
"Thank you, Master O'Dwyer. You may go."
The door no sooner closed behind her than the nine-year-old let out a yelp, ran to James, and threw herself into his arms. The two wept copiously.
"Oh, Jimmy, it was so awful, so wicked. Afterwards, I prayed to the Lord of Heaven you would come and rescue me, but I didn't know how you could, or if you knew I was here. Today they told us to get ready for a new master, but not who, and ..."
James looked down with great tenderness. "How did you do it, Daisy? How did you fool everyone?"
"I was running to the kitchen, and stumbled on the body of Patsy, the scullery girl. It was only her third day here, Jimmy, and she was so innocent, so harmless, but she was dead, her neck all twisted and broken. The men were upstairs fighting, and I knew there were too many, so I took her smock, ran inside the kitchen, mussed myself with flour, then hid in the closet and prayed. Afterwards, when security found me, I screamed and screamed, but I didn't tell who I was. When Cook Byrne came back from visiting her mother's place the next day, she didn't know, 'cause she'd never met Patsy. She didn't even see me, not really. You can't trust her, Jimmy. She says nasty things about Dad." Daisy's voice caught.
"I'll find her a new posting. But you can't stay here, Daisy."
"How will you get me out?"
"I've made cousin Patrick O'Toole chief of security. He'll send agent Seamus to escort you." James sounded amused.
Daisy blinked her dark lashes at him, relaxing slightly. "Agent Seamus is nice, but where will he take me?"
"The safest place is with Chief Running Bear and the Stoney west of Edwardston. His daughter died in the war, so you can be his new princess. You've your grandmother's dark features, and no one will know you're not a native."
She chuckled, and the terror in her eyes faded. "Will I ride a horse and live in a teepee?"
He answered in reverse order. "The Stoney have permanent towns, but Running Bear will surely give you one of my ponies."
"Will I see you often?"
"No, little sister. It's too dangerous." He hugged her close. "And, you'll have to go tonight."
"What will happen to you, Jimmy?"
He looked around, his expression dark. "I don't know yet, Daisy. But this has become an evil place."
And, more evil there was, too, for when James next appeared in court two days later, he was pale and haggard. One rumour claimed he'd been poisoned, another that he'd drunk too much at the wake for his parents. Easily believing the latter story, several churchmen quietly let it be known they were withdrawing their support, and several military officers wondered aloud about a man who couldn't hold his liquor. Hearing them, the jackals gathered once more.
The descendants of King Conn III (High King of Ireland 1912 - 1932) have been exhaustively documented. It is therefore rather odd that there is no trace prior to 1945 of two key family members, especially since DNA was routinely recorded along with other personal data at the time. This work supposes a local computer on the Metalibrary became corrupted in the aftermath of events surrounding the conclusion of the Three Worlds' War, and the error propagated through the network. The story that both women originated on one of the other earths is surely romantic fantasy.
--from "Pax Hibernia (The Peace of Ireland), 1939-1951" by Richard Kent, later withdrawn.
Sally and Lucy on Tirdia five years later, en route to Calgary, July 7, 1945
The locomotive spewed roiling clouds of smoke into an otherwise pristine sky as it chuffed its human cargo across the hot prairies toward Calgary. Guests in the wheeled luxury hotel strung out behind were, variously, European immigrants seeking new homes far from the war, salesmen visiting their customers, lovers arranging a summertime tryst, cowboys heading to the stampede, or soldiers returning home from the front. Aboard the head end, the veteran crew of CPR Number One executed their tasks with the dull efficiency of endless repetition. Behind them in the mail car, postal clerks lazily sorted letters taken aboard at Medicine Hat. As always, sleeping car Lake Louise was coupled next. The conductor's book showed that most of her seats were ticketed, including upper and lower five.
Bunks long since made up, Lucy O'Brien and Sally O'Neill sat on the comfortably wide benches facing each other, alternating their gaze between the monotonous brown grasslands beyond the window and the aisle beside them. By prior arrangement, the adjacent seats were empty.
"Three years today," Sally observed, after the silence between them grew unbearable. She must tell her friend she shared the awful pain.
Lucy glanced back through suddenly blurred vision, then away at the window. She closed her eyes, not wanting to talk. Three years. Three long years since a massive explosion had levelled her childhood home at Galway, killing her parents and younger sister. Her friend and second cousin Sally, already orphaned when her parents and brother were killed in a German air raid on Belfast the previous year, had made Lucy's home her own, so was bereft of family a second time. The remembrance was overwhelming.
July 1942 - September 1944, Dublin
Returning to their flat near Trinity College following the funeral, Sally and Lucy no sooner opened the door than their landlady appeared, anxiously clutching a small package wrapped in brown paper.
"Sorry 'bout yer folks," Betsy Maguire opened, hesitantly, then, apparently deciding to get it over with, thrust the parcel into Lucy's hands. "This came after yer left fer Galway." Unable to say more, she turned abruptly away, closing the door on the two women and their grief.
Sally heard Lucy's sharp intake of breath as she turned the parcel to examine its postmark. "What is it, Luce?"
"It's from Da. He mailed it the day before ..." Her finger traced the monogram of the Galway Hospital where her father had been senior resident physician, as her grandfather before him. Tears splashed on the brown paper. He had also been her inspiration, her confidant, her friend, and was almost as much for her cousin Sal. Both women had taken an M.D. from Imperial College, London, before returning to Ireland and branching into other fields. They had received many such packets. Da sent medical books or indulged their later interests with tomes on history and linguistics he found on his many travels.
The object they unwrapped was a featureless, dull-grey, solid slab the size of a large pocketbook. On opposite ends of one side near the shorter edges there were two rows of four indentations, with a larger depression on each end of the opposite surface.
"Whatsit?" Sally whispered once the pair regained some measure of emotional control.
"Don't know, Sal." Indeed, it mattered little. Hand trembling, she held out a paper scrap. "Read Da's note, will you. I can't manage."
Sally scanned the half-sheet of stationery and complied, as they flopped into chairs on either side of their tiny parlour.
"'Dearest Daughters. I trust this finds you well and relaxed now the summer is well under way and you are no longer teaching. Give each other a hug for me and one from your mother.'" Sally stopped, her voice caught. It was how he always began. There was a long silence before Sally could continue.
"'The enclosed item was in the effects of a forty-year-old Caucasian male brought in by the constables following a fight near the Coach Inn. He died shortly after from multiple wounds inflicted by a sharp instrument, apparently a sword similar to the toys with which you two fence. Needless to say, I haven't mentioned the matter to your mother.'"
There was a longer pause, as both wept freely, remembering how Mrs. O'Brien fretted so over their unusual hobbies. Lucy could hear her asking, in her characteristic northern music, "Why not do something else for your exercise? You both take after your great-grandfather's ways far too much. A fine and lordly man, he was, six foot four if an inch, but always fighting, and came to a sad end following a brawl in a pub because of it. Now here's you two chopping at each other with swords, and throwing people around with your ju-jitsu. What man wants a six-foot bride with more degrees than you can shake a stick at, and hobbies like those? I may never have grandchildren."
They'd never told her their prowess had led to them being drafted by their government as reservists and given extensive combat training, both unarmed and with several other equally "unladylike" weapons. Supposedly, this was in case Britain or the United States breached neutrality and invaded troublesome Ireland. Surely it could never happen, and mother needn't know, they'd reasoned. Now, she never would. Nor would she see another generation, if ever there were one.
Voice shaking, Sally resumed several minutes later. "'I don't know what this object is, though it may be war-related. Someone thinks it important, as there have been two apparent attempts to steal it. Keep it safe, and we'll study it together when we three come up to visit at the end of the month. Your ever-loving Da.'"
Sally and Lucy prodded halfheartedly at the little box to no effect that night, and next day Lucy casually dumped it with other duffel in the linguistics department basement storage room at the college. There it would lay forgotten for months--there was too much to think about.
A week after its arrival, following an Irish studies symposium they'd helped organize, a sharp knock at their flat door interrupted their evening reading.
"I'll get it, Luce," The latest copy of Irish History Journal folded under her arm, Sally eased the door open a crack and peered down at the balding man who shifted his feet impatiently in the hall.
"Father Damon, come in." She unhooked the chain and invited him with a cheer she didn't feel. "Have a seat." The priest was not here about their spiritual needs. A long-time member of the Fianna Fˆil party, who now spent his time toiling for deValera's government, he often asked them to carry messages when they attended conferences abroad. Neither woman cared for clandestine work, and they'd resisted more than minimal involvement in his shadowy world.
Damon was edgy, blunt, and impatient.
"You're both going to the CMA meetings in Montreal next week." It wasn't a question.
Sally replied, taken aback both by his tone and his knowledge of their business. "We're speakers. It's been arranged for months. We travel with a party of four other physicians."
"One of them is an English spy." Damon's snarl made the words sound filthy.
"We're not interested," Sally replied, sharply. Lucy shook her head in agreement. Neither liked the English, but betraying professional colleagues seemed too much.
Damon calmed his voice with an effort. "The taoiseach thought otherwise. He specifically asked for you two."
Sally and Lucy glanced at each other, not comprehending. What would Ireland's prime minister want of them? They'd never met Taoiseach Eamon deValera.
"Get someone else. We've other things to think about." Lucy stood, dismissively.
"I know," he agreed, "your family. They're why he sent me."
Dread settled over Lucy as she abruptly sat down again. She'd only finished the paperwork for the estate this morning, and was hoping to put the horror behind her. Now...
"Your father treated a foreign national just before he died."
Thick, nauseous silence settled over the two women.
"There's been activity in Galway ever since."
"What are you saying?" Lucy demanded, teeth clenched.
"Our theory is the patient was a German spy, his assailants British agents. They killed him for something he knew. They're still poking around town."
Lucy's head swam. Sally started to hiccough, a sure sign of extreme stress. Damon continued relentlessly. "Obviously they thought he might have talked to your father, and were making sure."
There was more, but they heard little. And in the end, Damon's story left them no choice. Revenge being the most visceral of emotions in the susceptible, they agreed to do his dirty work.
Three weeks later, when they returned from Montreal with enough evidence to send a fashionable Dublin surgeon to prison for the duration, their door was unlocked, and Damon awaited inside.
"Holy Moley," Sal exclaimed. "What happened here?"
The flat had been hit by a tornado. Books, clothing, and other effects were strewn about the floor, cushions had been ripped open, and their beds turned over.
"Somebody searched your place while you were away," Damon remarked, unnecessarily. "The door was unlocked when I arrived."
Nothing had been taken, but several irreplaceable photographs were torn from their frames, and many breakable items had to be replaced. It was too much. Sally and Lucy felt violated. From that day, they were enthusiastic members of Ireland's secret service.
Over the next year, they sounded out academics for loyalty, recruited a few, got to know agents from other countries, and went on several field assignments. But it gradually became apparent that all was not as they initially thought.
In the face of withering public reproach from both English and Americans, Ireland remained officially neutral. After all, deValera could scarcely have any other policy and keep his office. But when a well-known German agent made a too-public remark to the effect that the Irish knew how to die for their country but had not yet begun to learn how to fight for her, Sally and Lucy were sent to pay him a quiet visit, crack a few ribs and teach some respect.
Later that week they managed the cases of four fliers downed in a dogfight over Irish territory. The Brit and Yank they quietly provided with first aid, supplies, and escorted to the border. Their two German counterparts went straight to prison camp. One of the latter, not realizing Lucy spoke fluent German, resignedly remarked, "It is as we were told. The lying Irish vermin secretly fight for the English. We will rot on this miserable island until the Fuehrer fumigates them for more living room."
Aghast at the implications, Lucy used her security clearance to check other records, and soon verified that Ireland was indeed quietly helping her loyal children to enlist with England and her allies. Tens of thousands had joined up directly from the south, travelled to the north, or signed up in England. The communication centre logs showed nearly ten times the message traffic to Whitehall as to Berlin.
"Why?" demanded Lucy of the priest, "deValera surely knows. Whose side is Ireland really on?"
"Her own," Damon retorted angrily. She had touched a sore point. He made no secret of his passionate hatred for everything English. This day, confronted with their discoveries, he radiated fury in palpable waves. The priest was a full foot shorter than either woman, but when he raged so, they feared the man.
"Ireland's political masters have determined the Germans are the greater evil," he admitted through clenched teeth, making it clear he thought otherwise. "But mark my words." He changed to lecture mode, pounding one fist against his other palm. "This war weakens the English more than they know. Once it ends, her empire will slip away, and Ireland will emerge from her shadow to centre stage. We shall prosper, they shall suffer." The last word was a shout.
"We still don't like it," Sally insisted, sourly. "You could have told us."
"I'll give you something in return," he offered, calming himself with obvious effort. "We've caught a couple of agents nosing around Dublin harbour. They're Will Featherstone, one of Intrepid's men, and the American, Douglas Boone. You can expel them." He winked.
Taking his hint, Sally "accidentally" broke the Brit's arm in the process. "It made up," she told Lucy, "for having to work with them."
But they became used to the cooperation, and the summer of 1943 saw them spend six weeks at Canada's Camp X learning the latest tricks of their third trade. On the way home, they stopped at the learned society meetings in Oxford, conducted some clandestine business for Damon, then went for a walk away from the university.
"A farthing for your thoughts, Luce."
Lucy glanced around. Sally leaned casually against the railing of a bridge over a marshy area. To her left was the row of old stone buildings constituting Oxford's colleges. To the right, the road vanished up the hill to a residential neighbourhood. No one else was around.
"We have been pretty quiet, haven't we?"
"Something bothering you?"
"Sal, we know three more ways to kill, several new suicide techniques, and now carry two guns and a garrote each, along with half a dozen pills, miniature cameras and microphones. We've just come from betraying one of our own agents here at Oxford to the Jerries in order to plant false information about an Allied invasion."
"We could quit?"
"Could we? Remember the last time we tried to turn down an assignment?"
"When Father Damon hinted he would make a fuss with the Archbishop about us working at Trinity?" Sally recalled. "Yeah, I remember." She paused. "He has us by the hair, doesn't he?" They were silent for several minutes. The very pragmatic Bishop of Galway had taken a personal interest in them as tall, gawky, teenage prodigies, approving their original attendance at the Protestant school, provided they attended Mass faithfully. Years later, he had also agreed to let the women do further work at Trinity, and eventually to take faculty positions there. Thus far, the Archbishop of Dublin had chosen not to notice, but if the matter were officially brought to his attention...
"We do it for Ireland, Luce," Sally offered, weakly.
"So Damon says, Sal."
"What do you mean?"
"Suppose he decided we were expendable?"
Sally nodded slowly. Damon was capable of it. "We're surely too valuable, Luce."
"Does it matter? Are we better people for all this, Sal? When God weighs our good deeds against our bad when we die, will He let us enter Heaven, or send us away?"
Sally looking into her friend's eyes, and seeing her own fears mirrored, added to herself, "And worse still, what if our Protestant colleagues are right, and no number of good deeds matter at heaven's gate?" Aloud, she said only, "But Damon's a priest. Surely if he gives our orders..." She trailed off.
"But can he, Sal? Does he have the authority to make us betray our friends?" She patted her arm holster. "To kill?"
This time when they returned home, both their offices at Trinity had been ransacked. Again, nothing was taken, and with several willing students and tutors assisting, things were back in order by the end of the week, though behind more securely locked doors.
When they told Damon, he shrugged it off. "Comes with the territory."
Lucy stifled her anger at his indifference.
"I bin thinkin', Luce," Sally remarked the following Sunday afternoon following Mass at the Pro-Cathedral.
"Sounds dangerous, Sal." Lucy wasn't happy with her own thoughts.
"The black hats want something specific from us."
"You watch too many American westerns," Lucy grumped. "They probably want to see if we've left any of Father Damon's precious government secrets lying about. As if we'd have to write things down like a couple of undergraduates who can't remember their own names."
"We didn't know any secrets when they tore our flat apart."
"True." Lucy laid down her copy of The Lancet. The article on promising new antibiotics could wait. "What then?"
"Remember the jigger your Da sent us? His letter said somebody tried to steal it."
Lucy felt cold as she picked up Sally's train of thought and suddenly made several nasty connections. "What if that's why Damon recruited us? Maybe he's the one who searched the flat and our offices."
"He's never said anything about the jigger." Sally sounded doubtful.
"You still trust him, after all the lies he's spun us? I'm beginning to think it wasn't the Brits back home at Galway. What if it was the Jerries, and Father Damon strung us along to recruit us?"
"He's a priest, Luce." But Sally sounded more doubtful than ever, and Lucy knew she'd been thinking along the same lines. Damon was just as capable of using hidden pressure as he was of employing brute force. There was no more morality in the world's second oldest profession than there was in its elder sister.
"He claims to be a modern man, able to deal with political and military activities independently from religion. What kind of society would we have if everyone made separate airtight compartments for God and daily life that way? I'm not sure it's even possible. Surely we are what we do."
She grimaced, then slapped a hand on the arm of her chair for emphasis. "Besides, he's a spy, Sal. Spies lie. It's our job. Remember when he told me to go to bed with the opposition leader, and how angry he was when I refused? We're nothing but pieces on the game board to him, Sal." Suddenly, Lucy rose from her seat, took her purse from the hook by the door, and began transferring its contents into a larger one, a "special office" product, oversize, with several less-than-obvious compartments.
"We going somewhere?" Sally asked.
"It's only a matter of time before whoever is after us finds out about the lockup in language hall. If it's the jigger they want, let's make them take it from us, direct and personal."
"You're going to carry it around in your purse?"
"They have to fight us both to get it that way, Sal. If it's Damon, no way he can take the two of us. Besides, we already carry plenty of other toys we'd have trouble explaining. C'mon, lets get over there."
Humankind is fallen on all the earths, yet on each of the six planets there is such a thing as honour. These facts have three consequences for soldiers: first, war is ugly, brutal, and devastating wherever it is found; second, warriors invariably have rules by which their deadly game is to be played; and third, there will always be those who ignore the rules. Neither can one trust history books or the writers of popular plays to give an accurate view of the shame or the valour, for both are determined by who wins the battles and writes the accounts. Take the popular and often performed stage play "Death in the Glen." For one thing, most people would never have heard of Morgan's Glen if it were not for the anonymous playwright. After all, there is a battle almost every year in Ireland. For another, though the court troops undeniably won a battle at Glenmorgan, almost nothing else in the work was thought to be authentic for some two decades, yet almost everything was. On the other hand, we now know that historical accounts of the event universally accepted during that same time as correct were deliberately falsified by both sides. Observe for yourself; don't take the word of others for anything; you may discover you know far less than you thought. As Jack Devereaux learned at Glenmorgan, ignorance is as fatal as being unarmed.
--from the Kilkarney cadet training manual.
Brian McIlhargey, three decades later, Glenmorgan (Hibernia)
It was mid June of 1977 on the home island of Hibernia, whose name her citizens chauvinistically applied to the entire planet her scholars call Ortho. Warm nights had banished the last wisps of winter's gloom, her days were gloriously alive, and young love bloomed afresh alongside her spring flowers.
It was an equally glorious time to die, for, the Irish being who they are, it was also the season when the crown's warriors march to battle, each one claiming loyalty to the throne of Tara, mistress of the United Irish Kingdom, and capital of two worlds.
One such soldier woke slowly and painfully to the certain knowledge the forces he had trained and fought with had been thoroughly routed. He and a small group of his troops had made a fine account of themselves at the end, but it was after most of his army were dead, captured, or melted away in flight. Last stands, as any soldier knows, are not all the romanticists claim them to be. Moreover, winners write the official chronicle of their glorious victory. Losers may retain their honour, but history affords them little glory to go with it.
This battle was over. The halls of Tara's palace would never see the boots of the defeated rebels. Free from challenge, the eleventh Donal could now solidify his rule over Hibernia and the Federation of worlds from the court of Ireland of the Emerald Isles. Meanwhile, two royal families were no more.
The first surprising thing was that he still lived. Back-to-back with his lieutenant, he had dealt with two opponents at a time for several minutes running, losing track of how many he killed during the battle, but superior numbers eventually wore him down. He was barely aware, through a curtain of blood from numerous facial cuts, when the savage stroke from a third enemy struck his sword arm. Only the clotting agent and other drugs with which his system was loaded prevented him from bleeding to death.
He opened his eyes and found himself in a standard issue army field hospital tent. Nearby, he heard muted sounds of a victorious army celebrating. Taking in his surroundings with a practised eye, he made silent inventory as he went. "DNA sequencer, top flight surgical facilities, analytical lab, metaterminal to the central computer, and all the best gear Tara's shamrocks can buy. The Donal spared no expense to bolster his power against the 'Devereaux rebellion.'"
Excepting one other patient several beds away, the room was deserted. That was the second surprising thing. "No guards for the dangerous criminal," he thought, as he made to heave himself upright. Only when he fell off balance in the attempt did he discover his right arm below the elbow was just a stump. He stared stupidly at it a few moments, slow to realize what was missing. At the same time he recognized the tingling sensation in his stump and the buzz in his brain as the regrow nanomachines already busy at work building him a new arm. He had twice needed fingers regenerated before, so the effects were familiar, though much stronger this time. He was not a physician himself, but knew the tissue and bone would rebuild over a period of a few months, then the nanomachines would automatically turn off the rapid cell growth mode, go dormant, and gradually be flushed from his system.
"Another surprise," he thought. "Why not banish me as I am? It would be years, if ever, before a penniless exile could afford a regeneration clinic, and I would be a marked man the whole time." Banned lords, and the officers and ratings in their losing causes had a way of meeting unfortunate accidents, so his life wasn't worth much. "For that matter, why not execute me and save money?" In that unhappy event, by the time the arm could have grown back to normal, his head would have long since rolled down the palace steps, the cost of treatment wasted.
He shook himself in puzzlement and stood awkwardly, glancing in the mirror at the head of the bed as he moved. Eyes resting there, he stared hungrily and fixedly at the image he saw, as if memorizing what the glass told him.
The face full of partially healed cuts staring back was that of Sergeant Brian McIlhargey, late a non-commissioned officer serving in armies loyal to the crown via the house of Devereaux. "Not a bad face," he concluded after several moments' examination.
Thoughtful, he reached for the pouch on the side table, and rifled its contents. It was his, all right, and the match between the face in the mirror and the hologram on the military identity card was, if anything, better than before. An obliging field doctor in the court forces had not only given him regrow to repair his arm, but made a pretty decent effort to restore his sliced up visage from the papers. Doubtless, his arm could not be located among the body parts that by now littered Glenmorgan, for it would have been a simple matter to re-attach it. He attempted a painful grin on his improved image, and was pleased with the result.
The man in the mirror was an authentic, leather-faced old soldier, who seemed to carry more than the forty-seven years proclaimed by his card, and who felt ancient. He glanced about the room again, noting his uniform jacket hanging on the bedpost. Of course it was missing the right sleeve, so there were no rank insignia. It could as easily belong to a private or an officer as to a sergeant.
A sword in an unadorned rough leather scabbard hung on a post at the foot of the bed. Intrigued, he grasped it with his left hand and drew it part way, turning it to catch the light. As he knew upon touching the hilt, it was the priceless symbol of royal authority known as sword Devereaux, but with the family crest obscured by silvered wax. He had never seen the scabbard before. He wondered why his enemies had left it with him, but evidently the disguised blade meant nothing to his captors, and they must suppose him harmless without his right arm.
A kilt in the plain brown tartan of the court hung over his jacket. Wearing it in or near this camp would mark him as a prisoner, as court soldiers wore the tartans of the houses under which they trained and fought. With the defeat, the tartan of Devereaux would surely be banned for a generation, the very name proscribed in the Emerald Isles. He considered his service under that name, and shrugged. Devereaux was no more. Its lands and people would be dispersed and given to others. Perhaps MacCarthy allies Haggerty and Malone would claim the most. They were near neighbours, and ambitious to add to the resources a person needed to stand in the front row at Tara's court.
He sat and thought. Brian McIlhargey was no ordinary soldier. He had been chief instructor at nearby Kilkarney officer cadet school until declaring common cause with Devereaux and Rourke against Donal XI. His name was an army institution, part of its very furniture. There wouldn't be an officer or enlisted man who didn't know his prowess with the sword, yet he was confident none other than the general staff and Lady Katherina knew who Brian McIlhargey really was. Their ignorance was his one advantage. Besides, he had the precious royal sword that had once hung in the king's palace.
His prospects would have been much worse as an officer, so in all there was something to be thankful for, he supposed. He was alive, and where there is life, there is opportunity, even if not to serve with Devereaux.
He donned the kilt and jacket, found his boots by the bed and pulled them on, then buckled the sword belt around his waist, taking several tries at the latter as he fumbled with one hand. He stood again, leaning heavily on the bed at first, and tried a few steps. He was off balance, but thought he could manage, with practice. "Now to escape and find Lady Katherina and Mara." He sobered and added grimly, "If there's anything left to find."
"Up and about, I see."
He turned, startled at the old familiar voice. In rapid succession, he had a moment's panic at being discovered in the act of leaving the hospital, remembered the rebellion was over, then realized she was probably the one who had repaired his face. He stared at the tall, dark-haired, olive-skinned beauty framed in the doorway, and was afraid to say anything. In reflex action, he tried to salute, then realized he had to use his other hand.
Maria Ryan smiled and held up her hand, seeming to read part of his thoughts. "No, don't speak, except in a whisper. One of the cuts was to your throat, and we had to reconstruct your larynx. You will not be able to talk properly for several days, and your voice is likely to sound different, but we did the best we could. I'm afraid your face will be thicker in spots after a while. We covered most of the scar tissue, but can't stop it from growing underneath to some extent." Her voice had the same old musical huskiness he had always enjoyed.
When he made no reply, she added, "Oh, by the way, Liam and I are Surgeon Colonels for the court's army in this campaign. It's been a few years since we were all together at Kilkarney, Sergeant. Too bad we had to meet this way." She saluted back informally, adding, "How's the face feel? Your own mother wouldn't have recognized the man in your papers for the one our people dragged in here half dead two days ago. You were pretty badly sliced up."
He nodded his acknowledgment and thanks, even as his mind churned furiously. Why had Maria and Liam Ryan patched him up? Brian McIlhargey had been their trainer at cadet school, but could scarcely be said to have been close to Maria, or to be owed any favours. Most cadets hated him because of his harsh instruction in the ways of military discipline. He wondered if she knew his secret, but could scarcely ask that. Baffled on several accounts, he held up his stump and looked a question at her.
She shrugged. "Your arm is your hostage."
It took him a moment for the significance of the old Gaelic formula to sink in. The code of honour said a prisoner of war could be freed for the loss of a limb in battle, because he could fight no more. That the limb could these days be regrown made no difference; the rules antedated modern technology but were still followed. There would be no rigged duel, no prison walls, no work gang and not even formal banishment. He was free to leave. The rule did not apply to named leaders or full officers, but it surely did to a sergeant. He began to wonder what he could still do for the house in which he had fought.
"Devereaux and Rourke have been dissolved, of course," Maria put in, as though again reading thoughts from his expression. "You are freed from your indenture, and by the law of hostage, cannot be claimed by another house."
McIlhargey had actually not been indentured to Devereaux, but was carried on the roll as a volunteer bound only by his honour. Maria Ryan apparently didn't know that, but the effect was the same. All ties to Devereaux were null and void, and he could walk away from the lost battle with no diminishment of honour. "Except for my lady and Mara," he amended to himself, plastering over his continuing resolve to duty with a smile of gratitude.
Without further exchange, he saluted again and started for the door, on the way checking the infirmary's only other occupant. The tartan by that bed was also court brown, so this was another of defeated Devereaux, but there was no uniform cloak, so no rank insignia or identification. The patient was unconscious and swathed in bandages about most of the head and arms. He touched her throat and felt a strong pulse. He looked another question at Maria.
"She was badly burned about the upper body when she was brought in. She has no papers and was not in uniform, so we've classified her as a civilian casualty."
He acknowledged this report with an expressionless nod. Discounting the bandages and the sheet, he guessed the woman was also a soldier, but the Ryans were evidently prepared to release her, as well. He toyed with trying to awaken her, but quickly rejected the idea. As far as the legalities were concerned, she was at least not an officer, so would be safe in court hands. He took another look around the room, nodded once more at Maria Ryan, and made for the door. There, he picked up the discharge papers she indicated, stuffed them in his pouch, and strode confidently through to the camp outside.
As expected, there was no sentry. He walked casually to a post, and read the Donal's proclamation displayed on the public MT notice screen. It was as he anticipated. Devereaux and Rourke were proscribed names; all bearing them and all listed officers were banished for twenty years; the families themselves and all their fealties, whether by marriage, friendship, or indenture, were forthwith dissolved. Their lands, monies, titles, the people and chattels of both houses all reverted to the court. A separate proclamation declared Lord Devereaux dead in the battle, and listed the names of his officers, each with the annotation "killed in action," "banished," or "death penalty."
A cadet who was liege to Lady Katherina, and the only remaining retainer of the much diminished Rourke family, was noted as "missing, believed killed." Brian didn't think young Fred Hallas would have run, and imagined him in an unmarked grave. Only three officers had survived, and Brian felt sick over the loyal men and women who had gone down in the cause of their house. "But," he thought for the hundredth time, "the court provocation was severe." The Donal had deliberately singled out Devereaux and Rourke, forcing them to defend themselves, then declaring them rebels. Brian stood to attention, snapped a salute for those named on the proclamation, turned on his heel, and strode away.
Technically, he was at liberty, even if merely to escape banishment or death, but neither the legal destruction of Devereaux and Rourke nor the official fealty dissolutions released him from duty. His throat tightened and his left hand reached involuntarily around to touch the royal blade hanging at his other side. There were things his mere possession of that blade demanded he still do for those who had been Devereaux.
He walked briskly through the camp, more alert all the time. The court forces had occupied the east end of the glen, and one side of the camp was demarked by dense forest. To the west lay what had been the battlefield a few days before. Now, Morgan's glen grew hundreds of white crosses, and two work squads were busy adding more. Several court soldiers glanced his way as he passed. Taking in his tartan, they knew him to be one of the vanquished enemy, but seeing the stump of his arm, turned away disinterested.
Mechanically, he began to note the size and positioning of the court forces, until he stopped himself with the bleak reminder that it no longer mattered. He took in the standard security fence about the camp with its two exits to control the men and prevent looting, and decided to make for the easternmost gate, as it was farthest from the manse. It wouldn't do to be seen going that way.
He fished in his pouch with his remaining hand for a couple of coins, and tossed them to a civilian sweetmeat vendor who had been allowed to set up in the camp after the battle. "Commerce will go on," he thought as he ate the pastries he got in return. The call of duty was growing with his body's strength now, and he picked up his pace toward the gate.
The sergeant on duty took in his tartan as he approached and stepped behind a partition. "Captured soldier to see you, Sir," he snapped to the officer of the day.
Colonel Thomas Monde was irritated by the interruption. He had been on duty twenty hours, and had business of his own about the estates of Devereaux he wanted to attend to without the army's knowing what he was about. He had been about to go off duty, and didn't welcome distractions.
"What's he doing out of the compound, Sergeant?"
"Missing an arm, Sir."
"So those softheaded medics let him wander around the camp?"
The sergeant did not reply. There was not much to gain by pointing out that both camp doctors technically outranked his colonel. One didn't want Monde for an enemy.
"All right." Monde pushed back his chair, donned his uniform jacket, and walked around the partition to deal with the matter. As he did, the soldier waiting for him came smartly to attention and saluted with his good hand.
Brian thought, "Of all the people to present papers to, I have to draw my old Kilkarney enemy. Well, hard shillelagh and all." He began to sweat as Monde looked him up and down closely before acknowledging the salute with a languid one of his own.
"Stand at ease, McIlhargey. What do you want?"
Well, the face was recognizable, Brian realized, despite his having added a few years and a lot more scar tissue than it bore when he sparred swords with Monde and the other Kilkarney cadets. It was said of Thomas Monde that he never forgot a detail, and could not forget an enemy. "Discharge from service, Sir," he whispered, obeying Maria Ryan's command not to talk aloud.
"Speak up like a man."
"Can't, Sir." He touched his throat scar, and continued to whisper. "Doctor's orders. Be a while before I can talk again."
"You have papers, I suppose," Monde barked angrily.
"Yes, Sir." Brian fished in his pouch for the forms he had been supplied and handed them over.
Monde took the proffered documents, and scrutinized them for flaws that might allow him to deny the discharge. Finding none, he grunted, "If it were up to me, I'd behead the lot of you."
Brian made no response. Anything he said could provoke the man's legendary temper, and he could afford no risks at this juncture. This was one former Kilkarney cadet who would extend him neither sympathy nor mercy.
"All right." Monde reached a reluctant decision. "Stand to attention. Do you, Sergeant Brian McIlhargey solemnly swear by your honour as a soldier and by that of your family you will not for the lesser of twenty years or so long as you live, take up arms in the name of Devereaux or Rourke, and that you will respect the court proclamations and bans against the said rebel houses?" He spat out the words rapid fire, as though detesting their very taste in his mouth.
"I so swear," came the whispered response. It mattered no more. The "rebellion" was over. It should never have happened, but was all blood under the sword now.
Both men knew there was a great difference between this oath and one of fealty to the court, which forswore attempts to supplant a First Lord. Not even such oaths were always kept; most Donals gained power by breaking one or more fealty oaths. But this time the Donal had won, and Devereaux had lost. Winners not only write history, they redefined broken oaths as patriotism, or the keeping of a higher duty. Not so for McIlhargey this day.
Monde took a wand scanner from the side of the PIEA at his belt and ran it over the encoded summary on one set of the papers for the official record. He thrust two copies at the man before him with the formula. "You are discharged from the camp of Tara's court with your arm held as hostage for your honour." He glared coldly at McIlhargey, adding, "If I were you, I would get as far away from the Emerald Isles as possible. You ought to have been banished for twenty years like the officers. They should all be beheaded." Satisfied with his cold, grim advice, Monde saluted casually. "You are dismissed." The old soldier returned the salute with his left hand, turned on his heel, and strode briskly through the camp gate, a free man.
Maria Ryan stared after the discharged sergeant a few moments, then turned to greet the two men entering the ward from the office area.
In stark contrast to his taller, much darker wife, Liam Ryan was a slight redhead with a riot of freckles covering his face and arms, and he bore an irrepressible good-natured grin. His male companion towered over both, was dark complexioned, and had a severe and serious countenance that hid a vague middle age and many concerns. They knew him as John Dominic, a civilian physician currently practising in plastic surgery at Moody General hospital on the west coast of Irish North America.
Liam took his wife's arm as he entered, and spoke to her, but his remark was addressed to their colleague. "Well, he's gone. I hope we haven't meddled too much."
John Dominic answered deliberately. "The honour of our three families and several others is at stake. He and we are bound together until we resolve that honour at Tara herself."
"He has very little of anything left," Maria put in sympathetically. "I doubt he will ever come to Tara, much less claim rights there."
"Perhaps in the next generation," Dominic suggested.
"When he finds out the rest..." Maria broke off without finishing.
"It'll be a terrible blow. But he's still young. He has plenty of time." Liam was always optimistic, whether on his own account or another's.
John Dominic was, characteristically, more sober. "The troops were out of control to do what they did at the manse. The officers will get a reprimand."
"One won't care," Maria observed.
"I suppose not." John Dominic pointed to the other patient, on whom he had also done extensive plastic repairs, though without the benefit of a picture from which to work. "Do we know who she is yet?" he asked Maria.
"She was found with a young cadet, unconscious on the manse lawn, and with burns over much of her body. Face and hands all but destroyed. I don't need to tell you that part; you helped us do the facial construction. If Devereaux had any DNA records, they never sent them to a higher data node, and they've all gone up in smoke, now. A soldier by the look of her, but we're calling her a civilian casualty. She was either in the house when it was torched, or tried to get in afterwards. When she's not sedated, we hear her crying 'my baby, my baby,' so she may have lost a child, though not in the fire. They were all identified. An old place like that; it must have gone up like a match."
"The cadet?" John enquired.
"Treated and released," Liam answered. "By the school records, he hadn't graduated yet, so he couldn't be interdicted as an officer. He left the camp this morning."
"Katherina and Mara?"
"Put to the sword before the house was torched, according to the autopsy the commander ordered, but that won't go into any dispatches, I'm sure," replied Liam.
"Identification was positive?"
This time Maria answered. "Yes, by clothing and jewellery remains. The bodies were not a pretty sight. All the adult servants were accounted for, except a maid assigned to Lady Katherina by the name of Karina Tansey, and one Karen A'Devereaux, said to be a half-wit. There was talk the latter had torched the manse in a mad fit, but there can be no doubt it was our soldiers because several of them were found in the ruins, as well."
"Not unless this one is." Maria gestured toward their last patient. "Our friends of Devereaux and Rourke aren't just proscribed, they're wiped out completely."
"The soldier who murdered them?"
"Missing from camp without leave is the official line," she replied.
"You two are closer to the situation than I," Dominic persisted. "Do you think one of our ambitious colonels had a hand in this atrocity?"
Liam turned and looked him in the eye. He couldn't believe it of his old friend Sean Reilly. Thomas Monde or Frank Haggerty, on the other hand... However, the stakes were high. "This makes fewer contenders to be First," he suggested, adding, "Commander Reilly paces his tent in a cold rage, scarcely speaking except to his captain of military police. Who knows what he will do now?"
Dominic sighed. "Best watch your own backs, I would think. Well, I must go. I have a meeting to arrange later today. Thanks for the practical opportunity, and I will drop in again from time to time when I'm in the Isles."
"Any chance you'll bring a wife?" Maria returned to one of her favourite personal topics.
Dominic arched an eyebrow. "Haven't I told you? I really am married, and my wife lives on..."
"...Meta Earth, I know," she finished. "And you are one of the mythical Metans whom none of us has ever seen, gliding about among us as a ghost. Really, John Dominic, for a man who's normally so serious, you can be pretty flip about real life."
Dominic winked and grinned. They exchanged more idle pleasantries about his supposed home, and he left them to the last of their record-keeping on the many soldiers they had examined and either released or buried.
Unnoticed by the three, an almost inaudible sob escaped the ravaged throat of their remaining patient, who heard much of their conversation before fleeing her pain into welcome unconsciousness.