1635: A Parcel of Rogues – Snippet 12
Now Sark rins over Solway sands,
An’ Tweed rins to the ocean,
To mark where England’s province stands —
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!
Finnegan peeled off the second boot and let his feet wave in the breeze. He’d had the innkeeper’s wife bring him a footstool for just this purpose. She’d also fetched beer, bread and cheese, and his lads were behaving themselves. Which was to the good, since he was minded to question the lady further in a short while. She’d been quite forthcoming with the news about the party that’d arrived by boat and left by cart, but there was always some other small detail one could catch in conversation.
“D’ye have t’ do that, Finnegan?” Tully’d snagged a small barrel to sit on while he munched on a couple of apples. The inn was doing quite well out of travellers this day, it seemed. Everyone had arrived with a hunger and a thirst on him.
“Have yer sweaty feet in the face of a man about his food, so?”
“You can always sit elsewhere. Besides, it’s not good for a man to be constantly shod, nor is it. The day’s been a warm one, and what poor oul’ bog paddy likes to wear boots nor shoes?”
“I can feckin’ tell it’s been a warm day, with the stink of you. Hold on while I move upwind, ye smelly gaimbín.” Tully matched deed to word and dragged his barrel around. “Now I’ve the sun in my eyes instead of warming my back, and all with the feet of you. I hope yer mother’s proud of the son she raised, Finnegan.”
“Oh, hold your noise. The boyos are all fed and watered, if you’ve time to complain like an Englishman?” Finnegan relied on Tully for details like that. You’d never describe the man as scholar nor saint, but he could see to the beasts and the men alike for their comforts. “Apart from the few that’re still abroad, that is?”
“O’Hare caught up with us a quarter-hour past. They’ve all found bedding above the stables, there’s rooms for the gentry of us in the inn, yer woman there promises a rich stirabout and dumplings for our supper at a good price for these parts, and the beer’s passable. So until Mulligan and Welch get back from Romford and we’re all together again, things are as settled as they can be.”
Finnegan raised an eyebrow. “O’Hare’s back from Tilbury and not a word for his chieftain?”
Tully sneered as he spat a pip across the inn’s yard. “Chieftain my puckered and sweaty ring, Finnegan. He says there was but the one boat at Tilbury, just as you said, and don’t ask him for a civil word until the aching arse of him has had a night’s rest to recover. A hard ride you sent him on, sure, and a long one. He did well to be on us this much before sundown.”
Finnegan took a pull on his beer. “He did, at that, and I’ll excuse much for a sore arse got by hard riding. If you catch the eye of one of the family here before I do, have them tell you what’s a good spirit hereabouts and to send a half-pint of it to O’Hare, he can soothe his bruised behind at my expense. Did we find out what the craic was with whores hereabouts?”
“Nothing to mention. I didn’t ask if there was an arrangement to be had with any of the serving girls yet, I told the boyos to get themselves and their horses fed and bedded before they unbuttoned their britches. They know the rules. Leave ’em smiling in unfamiliar country, so, or don’t leave ’em at all where they’ll be found. And we’re too busy to be hiding anything, with what we’re about.”
“Aye. Let it be known I’ll find some pretty ones out of the earl’s pocket to amuse them when we catch these birds. Until then, nothing that’s not quick and paid for. There’s a trail to pick up, and quarry to get ahead of, romance can wait.”
There’d been a couple of incidents before Finnegan made the rules. Only one after. He didn’t take much pleasure in disembowelling a castrated, crucified man, but he’d put his hand to the task again at need. You didn’t need to be a savage yourself to lead a crew like his, so long as they had the clear and constant notion that it was something you could do better and more imaginatively than they could if they drove you to it. Like most torai, their instinct about rules was that they were for the sheep, not the wolves. They required education in the matter, and if that took an instructive lecture over the expiring corpse of a gutted rapist, so be it. They’d take that lesson to heart where no amount of holy words would do a bit of good.
Tully nodded. After a decent interval to separate the subjects of whoring and duty, he went on, “Will ye have a wager on where this Cromwell fellow went to?”
Finnegan flipped a morsel of cheese — good cheese hereabouts, too — into the air and caught it in his teeth. A moment to chew and organise the thoughts that came so much better with his feet able to breathe. “I will not. For one thing, we don’t know that it was Cromwell came on this boat, for all the king’s got his arse in an uproar over the man. For another, if it is Cromwell, he’s heading for his children.”
“You’re that sure?”
“Would you not?” Finnegan shot Tully a sharp look. The man had a few bastards by an assortment of women, and as time and work allowed he saw most of them and cared for them in a rather negligent here’s-a-present-now-leave-your-mammy-and-me-be sort of way. He’d probably be quite irate if someone hurt one of them, even if he hardly did a thing toward their general welfare. It was something Finnegan really disapproved of, in as much as he could bring himself to care much about anything.
His own da had been as foul a scoundrel as you could turn up in a camp of cattle-thieves anywhere, but he’d actually been attentive in his rough sort of way. He’d sold his loyalty to Boyle — scraped up enough to sell to anyone, was miracle enough — to buy an education for Finnegan himself, for starters.
A few years paid for at the Cathedral Grammar School in Dublin had helped him enormously. Finnegan’s own sons, for the moment, were too young to need much beyond what the local hedge-school master could provide, and Finnegan made sure the man had a dry room to teach in and enough books to teach from. By happy accident it made him the big man in his home village, with a lot of respect that came in useful in seeing his own family was looked after. He sometimes wondered what it was like for everyone else, to feel that sort of thing was good, rather than just weighing it up and taking a decision. It generally ended with a little mental shrug and the conclusion that what a man never had, he never missed. He cared nothing but for getting on as far and as fast in the world as ruthlessness and a sharp blade would take him.