1635: A Parcel of Rogues – Snippet 30

Chapter 15

“Are you hurt, Tully?” Finnegan was incredulous, and felt he had every right to be. Two horses come back without riders, and Barry slumped, grey-faced and blue-lipped in his saddle. The boys were helping him down, but if ever there was a man not long for this earth, it was Niall Barry, late of County Cork. The hole in his buff-coat wasn’t a large one, but the whole of his trews were dark with blood and it was dripping from his boots. His horse, freed of her burden, stood shivering in terror, and it would be hours before the beast was fit to be ridden again, if ever she was. The lads’ own mounts were stabled and being rested against need. What was supposed to be simply an early morning visit to Sir Henry Steward to remind him what was what in this locality, did he have any ideas about the burning of one of his properties, they’d taken livery nags to spare the good mounts.

Tully was off his own beast and making much of the gelding, who seemed in better color for not having had all of a man’s blood poured over his back. “Not a scratch on me, nor have I, and that only by the grace of God. I saw but four of them, yet there was a hail of bullets like a winter storm from men hidden in the hedges, Finnegan. We lost Kennedy and Quinn right off the bat, two quick shots. Kennedy took a bullet to the heart of him, shot from behind by some fuckin’ coward, and the head was off Quinn a moment later. They had one fellow at the gate with a musket, and three others afoot to try and take us. Barry and me, we made to cut ourselves clear, and all but made it. They shot again as we were leaving, and I think that’s when Niall got shot. He put one man down, the one that got most in our way, so he’s that to his credit, the poor bastard.”

“Fuck,” Finnegan said. He’d have to think hard on this one. Was it Cromwell, come back to search for his children, or was it the English mercenaries that Nolan had recognised, the ones the earl had offered a bounty for weeks before? Were the two connected? There was no reason to think so, but then no reason to think not either.

“Ah, will you look at what the bastard did to the poor beast?” Tully had found a graze on his mount’s rump. “I thought I saw him get a shot off with that funny-lookin’ pistol while Niall was riding him down. I was in fear I’d been shot myself, but it was the poor screw that took the shot.” He went on to fuss over his horse.

“Funny-looking pistol?” Finnegan asked.

“Sure, it was a little thing. Bright metal and sort of squarish-looking. Funny the details you pick up in a fight, is it not?”

“Did it smoke?”

“I’ve no recollection, is it important?” Tully asked, after a pause for thought.

“It is, at that. Did you read the stuff the earl gave us about the guns they’re making in the Germanies now?” Finnegan could almost smell the scent of it, now. He’d never been close enough to an up-time weapon to know if the powder in them, reputed to make not a particle of smoke, smelt different to the stuff he was used to, but a man had imagination and there was a demonic reek to the things when he thought about them. Between the lack of smoke and the rate of fire, they’d put the devil’s own power in a man’s hand and didn’t William Finnegan want that power for his own self? Didn’t he just.

And where those weapons and the stink of them went, there went Cromwell and the Americans who’d helped him escape. “Let’s not get ourselves blathered over, here,” he said. “Get a wash and some ale, and come sit with me at the Falcon and we’ll have a careful think about what you saw. You’ve to give an affidavit to the justice of the peace, no less, and I don’t want to put thoughts in your head about what I want to hear, now.”

An hour and a half later, barely mid-morning, and Finnegan’s mood was brightening with the weather outside. If the little short fellow wasn’t Alexander Mackay, last seen in Scotland near three months before and whereabouts currently unknown, he’d eat hay with the donkeys. Which meant that that wicked sharpshooting wasn’t a whole platoon of hidden bastards with rifles, but the infamous Julie Mackay, whose speed and accuracy with her future-made rifle were a legend across Europe. Over a thousand yards at the Alte Veste, went the legend, and not just Wallenstein but the two poor bastards stood behind him! Of course, you’d to mark down such stories for the embroidery they picked up, but three corpses made in a minute — for Barry had passed within the hour — was near legendary shooting.

It was a shame Kennedy had died in the first moments of the fight, for he was one of the ones who knew Leebrick, Towson and Welch by sight, he having had duty at the earl’s town-house the day they were brought in. There were others, one of whom Finnegan had sent to York all unknowing, but Kennedy had been on the spot. They were all sure that the three mercenaries knew nothing of Finnegan’s band, as they’d been in the tender care of Captain Doncaster and his men. Finnegan had a score to settle with those three when it came right to it, as it was the Cooley brothers — old hands of Finnegan’s, and less fastidious than Doncaster’s gentleman soldiers — who’d taken the purse for going up there with wheel-locks to do execution, and been killed in the melee of the mercenaries’ escape. Alive, none of the others had much cared for the Cooley boys, who were a bit much even by torai standards, but dead? There was the beginnings of a feud to be paid out when opportunity allowed. As if Finnegan had needed anything to spur his boyos to the chase!

“Is that one of the cowards?” The voice was clearly trying for booming, but was only managing querulous and sarcastic. It came from a scrawny-thin fellow in the plain black clothes affected by well-to-do Puritan gentry, who’d walked into the main taproom of the Falcon with an obvious lawyer and an obvious lawyer’s clerk. “You there, Finnegan, is that you? The new justice?”

Finnegan rose. “That would be me, for a certainty. And who might you be?”

“I am Sir Henry Steward, Mister Finnegan, and I have cause for complaint regarding your so-called constables. And, I might add, the dilatory manner in which you are pressing your commission in the matter of Oliver Cromwell, since I was paid a visit by the fellow this morning. Whatever might have been the cause of his arrest the year before last, he’s certainly outlaw now!”

The lawyer was standing expensively by and his clerk had found a table and was rapidly scratching notes. Finnegan got the feeling that he’d have to get some political work done to deal with this, because his commission as a justice of the peace was about to get some legal work it might have trouble with. A useful fiction, getting himself appointed such, but a fiction that would wear very thin if he had to appear in court to justify brushing this idiot off. In front of witnesses. “Now, Sir Henry,” he said, putting on his most expansive manner, “If it’s about the excess of zeal my fellows showed the other week –”

“It. Is. Not.” Steward was plainly angry. The pantomimed efforts at self-control were more than a little hilarious coming from such a weed of a man, and him unarmed at that. “That’s a matter for damages, and don’t think my counsel won’t be seeing to you about that, Mister. This is about your collection of jackanapes letting themselves be run off by the ruffians who were terrorising my household this morning, leaving two of their number corpses on my very doorstep and a good man among my manservants sorely wounded. What good are they as constables if they’ll not show fight in the presence of outlaws? What good, may I ask? They ran, Mister Finnegan, when we thought them our only hope of deliverance. I was convinced I and all my household were as good as dead, and all the good they did was convince Cromwell more would be along, so he left. A prime chance to get Cromwell in the chains His Majesty wants him in, and your men ran.