outside of London
September 5, 1769
Lady Monmouth wore a white gown, as was ever her habit in company, for such was her authority that she made no concessions to age and but a very few to any fashion that did not suit her taste, a well-cut closed front robe a l’anglaise of flawless white silk, white silk scarf and ribbon. Her ornaments, as always, were few and her luxury, as always, seen most visibly in the quality of the Chinese silk, the ribbon and the fine stitching on the quilted petticoat. Her only jewels were fine pearl earrings and the heavy silver locket and chain she always wore. She commanded attention thus of a kind that showier ladies in their rainbows of changeable silk could never do, or so at least, Mr. David Draven had always found, in the now-long years of their acquaintance.
"In the name of God, Draven, Merrick, sit down," she said as both he and Mr. Merrick rose upon her entrance to the private library, at the same moment she waved a hand in signal as if to dismiss the two young maids who had accompanied her, one in grey riding habit the other in blue. Each dutifully took a place at either side of the door outside the room. Draven recognized one of them as Mary Jade, once a pickpocket in Newcastle, later numbered among Bishop Kenobi's protégés....how interesting.... No doubt the other "maid" was a trained assassin as well.
Lady Monmoth had never been mistaken for a fool, and was never without resources within resources.
The gentlemen regained their chairs and Lady Mary seated herself at the head of the library table. The usually gleaming mahogany surface was covered now by papers that they three, along with Señor Dodanna and Ackbar had read and reviewed many times throughout the previous night. Included amidst the layers were the reports from Captain Rostok, the voluminous and detailed written accounts, graphs and maps of Mr. Kay, preliminary reports from other agents in Lisbon and the private reports of Captain Cassian Andor.
Saul Gerrere was dead.
His methods had long ago passed beyond the bounds of the Alliance’s code. Ackbar had said it best perhaps, that he had taken the battle upon himself with his whole mind and soul and it had consumed him. "The Angel of Death is feared, and justly so, but he builds nothing."
Gerrere had followed the path of vengeance, and that it was a righteous and just vengeance could not be argued, but by his going their strength was ten times less by one.
"She never gave up hope for him, I think,” Merrick had said when they had first read Andor's report of the events at Lisbon. "That he might return."
No, Mr. Draven thought to himself, she would not.
"I have sent emissaries to the Princess Juana," Lady Monmoth reported now, " It is possible that that this information may finally enable her to rally her people openly against Pombal, as she has long worked in secret to support refugees from the Orders and to prevent the Marquis and his allies from expanding their power."
Draven had seen them departing the park before dawn, a short stout naval officer and a foppishly dressed courtier. Odd choices indeed for messengers to a court in exile and a girl of sixteen expected to mitigate generations of her royal families sins, but the Lady no doubt knew her business best and there were even rumors that Kenobi had been seen last on the Spanish frontiers. No doubt miracles were expected.
Before them now, if Kay and Andor's reports were to be credited, lay a danger most profound and action requiring the swiftest response.
Ackbar and Dodonna had left hours ago, to set wheels in motion with the French. Mr. Kay’s report in particular had contained much that might motivate their military contacts there.
For his own part, Mr. Dravin had never been able to unravel much sense from the scientific ramblings of Mr. Kay, but others more learned than himself in such matters clearly had and seemed riveted with alarm.
His concern was Tarkin and the plantation. They could hope to delay but not forever prevent the eventual development of more powerful explosives. So be it, delay they must and delay they would, but Tarkin truly served no nation and no state, an Austrian who had lived long in the service of the British crown he here clearly served a power as dark as any deeds of Nations and Princes. The cruel imprisonment and death of a thousand captive Turks, Greeks and Minorcans was a vicious crime…..but Tarkin and his masters hands were steeped in the blood of countless thousands more for mere daily profit…..the fist of their hidden “Empire” well concealed beneath the glove of man’s universal greed and cruelty…..why let it slip into view now?
Andor had written it and underlined it, their code for his attention, “Tarkin focussed most of his attention on Gerrere as an adversary “ What had Gerrere known about this venture?
“Can we move such ships as we have to openly assault the position?” Merrick asked, for Draven had known Anthony Merrick since their days as soldiers. It was Merrick who had saved him at Culloden, hiding him when all their plans had unravelled. Defeat he could bear but inaction was agony to him.
“Dodonna probes Spanish aid,” the Lady said, twisting the silver locket in her fingers, “but that would probably come at a price we would never willingly pay. Ackbar may have greater luck with the French, but in the end we may need to turn to our friends in the West Indies.”
Madame, he thought, but did not say, for he had already spoken his piece upon the subject last night, and she surely knew his views without the necessity of further repetition. The Commander is dead, without his gore-soaked leverage what hope have we of aid from the Pirate’s quarter?
“I propose, ma’am,” Draven said “that we send orders immediately to Andor, ordering him into position with such information as he has derived from this Turkish conscript, releasing funds and personnel that will enable him to fit a ship and crew of his own assemblage with what discretion he may at Gibraltar. i further propose we send instructions and men to meet him at the Cadiz, before he crosses. This will give us time to make what arrangements we can…or cannot….achieve at Jamaica. I hope you will forgive me ma’am, if I restate my distrust of Captain Solo, I fear his entanglements with Jabba and his company have left him compromised, but we shall have at least six or seven weeks with good winds to put wheels in motion. Dependent on the situation that meets him at Kingstontown, he can either pass on his crew and mission or proceed to St. Augustine, where he has lingering connections.”
Lady Mary nodded in assent and looked to Mr. Merrick.
Anthony Merrick sighed, but looked at Draven most shrewdly. “You place great weight on a young officer of twenty-five, Draven. From what I know of Andor, naval action is not his forte.”
“From what we see here, a conventional naval action might not prove the action to pursue,” Draven said, unwilling to reengage with his friend an argument that had already occupied them for the hours between two and four of the previous night, “but Captain Andor is a man of wide-ranging skills, the most admirable of which is an ability to unhesitatingly find a path to difficult objectives in circumstances that would baffle others.”
“Captain Andor is a young man with equal experience in drawing rooms, villainous seaports and the forests of New Spain, I know, David,” Lady Mary said, laying a hand to her unpowdered brow. He recalled that she had slept no more than they, likely less, since the reports arrived the previous evening.
She seldom made concessions to weariness this way, her appearance never less than perfect save on those occasions when he had known her to dress in men’s clothes on a mission that required her personal action. It had been many years since he had seen her do so, but he did not doubt she still kept shirt, breeches and coat hidden somewhere at hand.
“The word I lay stress upon in my positive assessment of his skills, however,” she continued, directing her gaze now keenly at him, “Is young. Andor’s cleverness and dedication are unquestioned, and I concede that his Spanish connections at St. Augustine and Havanna may prove crucial in this venture, but I ask you to consider carefully David, what happens to a fine young horse ridden too hard and too often at post.”
Andor had potential, she was saying, she had her eye upon him for leadership, perhaps even, someday upon the Council. She had spoken of it often before, their Alliance had labored in the shadows, fighting a rising tide of darkness. ‘We cannot think of today only David,” she had once said to him, “but of those who come after us. We will all fall in time and there must be hands to take the torch when we drop it lest it go out forever.”
He could not face those clear eyes, that he knew had wept for Gerrere, or yet would, when some private moment was at last given her…..Whose picture is in that locket you never part with ma’am?…. and say other than the truth. Tano was dead. Kenobi’s urchins skilled but too prone to religious mania and all too young. Melshi, Mandine, Bridge... were all soldiers of courage, good hands and capable when they knew the mission but without the skill to find a way through the shifting sands here.
Besides, he knew Andor, had known the dark paths he had had to walk since they had found him, a ten-year-old stowaway on a ship out of Veracruz. His heart told him Andor would not live to see thirty, Draven wanted to tell her, Dear lady, The boy is brave and true and clever but I have seen that shadow in men's eyes before.
“He is the best I have left. There is no one else with the faintest hope of success.”
Merrick, to his surprise, supported him, “Captain Andor is the only one who can manage Mr. Kay, ma’am, and if we cannot send this expedition out with the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, the libraries of Oxford College, twenty Grenadiers and a battering ram, Kay is the next best thing.”
The Lady reached across and lifted on of the papers, Andor’s personal report, and read it carefully.
“What of the girl,” she said, “Miss Jane Erso, Saul’s ward, and Mr. Erso’s daughter. What is to be done with her?”
“Ward?” Mr. Draven could not help but think, a strange choice of description.
“I will send orders that Andor use his discretion,” he saw Lady Mary’s eyebrows raise at this and felt a rush almost of anger at some condemnation unspoken…You of all people madam? Do you think I do not know the number of each and every life I have taken with my own hand in this war? Do you think Andor does not?….“Left alive and well with papers, contacts and a sum sufficient to provide at Gibraltar would be my recommendation and no doubt her wish,” he said, “But Andor will have scope to decide if she may be of use in some other aspect of the mission.”
They were all tired, tempers were frayed. He knew her well enough, he hoped and she him, to know she did not think him likely to relish the thought of ordering his agent to needlessly murder a girl of nineteen. No more surely than he would relish ordering that same man to dispatch the girls's father should it prove necessary.
Lady Monmoth sighed at this, “That perhaps may prove less straightforward than it appears,” she smiled and laid Andor’s report atop the other papers, as if she had read something in it invisible to the rest of them. “In any case, I reluctantly agree, we have less time for reflection than the danger warrants, so we must act as we can. Send your orders Mr. Draven. Mr. Merrick, set out for Southhampton as soon as you can and set your wheels in motion. The fates will cast the dice at Jamaica and Spanish Florida. We can only throw the dice we have.”
She turned her head then, “Mary! Pamela!” she called to her Amazon guard outside the door. “Tell Essie to tell Mrs. Yaddle to send up breakfast and coffee! Sit with me gentlemen, starving ourselves will avail nothing.”