Book Title: Redemption
Series: The Hacker Chronicles, Book 2
Author: Philip Yorke
Publication Date:2nd July 2021
Page Length:480 Pages
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Saturday, the second day of July, in the year of our Lord, 1644, will be a day long remembered by the men and women committed to ending the reign of a tyrannical King. For on this day, the forces of Charles the First were crushed on the bloody fields of Marston Moor.
The calamitous defeat forces the increasingly desperate Royalists to intensify their attempts to bring about the immediate demise of their Parliamentarian enemies. This includes devising an audacious plan to assassinate the man they believe is key to the war’s outcome.
With the plotters ready to strike, Francis Hacker, one of Parliament’s most loyal soldiers, becomes aware of the conspiracy. With little time to act, he does everything in his power to frustrate their plans. But, alas, things start to unravel when brave Hacker finds himself pitted against a ruthless and cunning mercenary, a man who will resort to anything to achieve a ‘kill’.
For two long hours, Thomas Grey adopts the poise of a Lincolns Inn lawyer.
At every junction of our conversation, I sense he is seeking to find an objection to my conduct and testimony while probing the many flaws in my character. His interrogation – for that is what appears to be – is forensic and meticulous. If I liked the man, I would say it was reasonably impressive. He has no intention of letting me off without exerting his authority. Indeed, Gervase Lucas, my Royalist gaoler at Belvoir Castle at the end of last year, was not nearly as brutal in his questioning.
“The chain of command is based on trust, Hacker. Nothing more. Nothing less. When trust has broken down, so has the chain. And that cannot be tolerated,” Lord Grey spits in my direction through that pale, pursed mouth.
"I have to tell you that I have grave reservations, particularly concerning where your loyalties lie. You are a key part of our forces in the region, yet I have it on good authority you tip your hat in the direction of Fairfax and Cromwell. Tell me plainly: can I count on you? Can Leicestershire count on you? Are you for Grey or against him?”
There is no doubt about it, His Lordship intends to win the day with me, one way or another. Contempt and distrust are etched all over his face, emphasised by a fine line of spittle that cradles on his bloodless lips that are cocked and ready to fire more uncompromising barbs in my direction.
In truth, I have some sympathy for him, for my loyalty does lie elsewhere and with good cause. But I will never admit it to this poppycock.
Up until now, I have spoken honestly, answering his Lordship's questions as fulsomely as I can. But now, I am required to deviate from the path of honesty. Just as Cromwell told me I must. It is now time to soothe Thomas Grey's concerns about where my allegiance lies.
And so, the deceit begins.
"My Lord," I say, "you can count on my men and me. We are at your command and willing to do your bidding. We always have been. It is true, we do have a fondness and respect for Lieutenant-General Cromwell, borne out of an association spanning many years. But first and foremost, we are Leicester men. Honour dictates we call on you for our orders and direction. Nobody else.”
I look up. His Lordship is listening intently, his brown eyes unblinking. May my God, the creator of the universe, hear my prayers and forgive me. And may he also permit my falsehoods to be convincing.
"The deaths of Barbara and Isable affected me sorely," I continue. "I have not been myself for many weeks, grief and vengeance consuming my soul for far too long. But I am restored and almost back to my usual self. Of course, I still carry the pain. And I will forever, for repentance and prayer will not ease that burden. But I realise I must be the husband Isabel needs me to be. And to be that, I must be allowed to lead my men. Therefore, my Lord, you have my assurance you will never have the need to quarrel with me, sir. I am your man.”
Mentioning my murdered daughters and Isabel causes my left eye to start twitching, as it is prone to do whenever I feel deep agitation or I am required to lie.
It is true, I am not the desolate figure I was some weeks ago, but I have a long way to go before I am the man, husband and father I once was. Recuperating I am. But restored? Nay, I am a long way from being able to say that. Indeed, I do not truly know if the man I once was will ever return. The Francis of yesterday is seemingly lost. I can only pray, hoping my Maker will make me wholesome again one day.
Lord Grey taps the ornate, panelled table. His expression tells me he is eager to end our meeting.
"There can be no doubting your abilities as an officer, Hacker," he says briskly, in a more conciliatory tone. "You have proven yourself on many occasions, not least at Hinckley when you fought courageously alongside me. We forged a strong alliance that day when we routed the enemy. And I would have it again.
"But there will be no more looking to Fairfax and Cromwell for guidance and no more following their orders. I am your commander, no one else. Should they seek your support in one of their plots, or assistance on the battlefield, you will tell me so before you do anything else. Am I understood?”
I nod my head in assent.
“What’s that man?” snaps Lord Grey, rapping the table with his gilt-edged cane. “Speak up, Captain Hacker, and say it plainly. Tell me whose orders you will be following.”
"Yours, my Lord," I respond, chastised like the irresponsible schoolboy I once was. "I am your man, and the Militia I command are your soldiery. There will be no need to question my loyalty. I will prove it so.”
After almost two and a half hours, we have an understanding. A triumphant grin spreads across the young nobleman’s face.
"Don't worry, I intend for you to demonstrate your allegiance very soon," he says triumphantly. "Our enemies are in a state of confusion since their defeat at Marston. It is time for the Midlands Association to take advantage, just as we did at the Wilne Ferry. So go back to Stathern and prepare yourself, for there is much to do.”
Lord Grey looks down at a sheet of paper on his desk and makes a dismissive gesture with his left hand. He picks up a quill and starts to write. My audience has come to an abrupt end.
Yet I stay seated.
“Your Lordship,” I say after an uncomfortable minute has passed. “There is another matter I must speak to you about, one that has a degree of urgency. It concerns the pay owed to a large number of your dragoons…”
"I don't have time to deal with that tittle-tattle, Hacker," he says, clearly losing his patience. "I have been petitioning the County Committee and the Mayor of Leicester on this matter for several weeks, and nothing has been forthcoming. My officers have been unable to extract one single extra Laurel from that mob of scoundrels to pay the wages of the soldiery. In truth, there is no sign of a resolution on the horizon, and I don't see how matters can be much improved. The Mayor simply refuses to release the monies we need to pay the men. Even his short imprisonment, at my behest, has done little to make him more compliant.”
I look coolly at Thomas Grey. His disdain for me has turned to anger.
"My Lord, the men are close to desertion and insurrection," I say calmly. "We must find a way of paying them their dues. A great deal is owed to them, and new taxes will not recompense them fully. If we do not pay what is owed, our ambitions to take the fight to the likes of Hastings and Lucas will come to nought.”
My words force Grey’s patience to snap.
"Good God, man, do not tell me what I already know," he yells, awakening a Peacock that is roosting outside, close to the open window. "If you think you have it within you to do a better job, then be on your way and see to the matter. And, if you must, send the Mayor and Aldermen my esteem and regards. But, after bringing this concern to my attention, you had better succeed in getting the men their dues. Treat this as the first test of your renewed loyalty to me.
"Now, leave me alone, Hacker. I have some real business to attend to. For the avoidance of doubt, I will be confirming your reappointment as Captain of Horse within the next twenty-four hours. Do not disappoint me, and do not abuse the trust I am showing in you. Now be on your way, man.”
When it is abundantly clear His Lordship will not be speaking to me again, I walk slowly out of the resplendent room, closing the heavily set oak door as quietly as I can. As I do, an immaculately dressed attendant beckons me to follow him down the hallway and to the stables. I stand and bow, admiring the delicate features of this young dandy's marvellous residence.
As I leave his Lordship to his affairs and follow the footman. As I do, and expensively dressed man of a similar age to myself walks towards me with a purposeful stride. As I observe him, I can see the faintest of limps. It isn't a recent injury. It looks as though the fellow may have broken his leg some time ago, and he now has a permanent reminder of the incident.
As he passes close to me, the attendant calls out: “Monsieur Guillaume, you will find his Lordship in the far room, where he is expecting you, sir.”
The visitor raises his hand to his wide-brimmed hat in acknowledgement, and then he is gone. I think nothing more of him, for my thoughts are focused on enjoying the journey home, my obligations here completed.
Soon I am astride Bucephalus, riding through the lush fields that encircle Newtown Linford and past a vast herd of Roe Deer grazing in the local woodlands of Swithland. Soon Hose and Harby will be on the horizon, and then Stathern.
I have much to ponder as my faithful steed devours the fine Leicestershire countryside. My meeting with Lord Grey went far better than I anticipated, albeit my opinions remain the same: he is a weak and vain man. Yet hide these feelings I must if I am to succeed in my quest.
I have been put to the test – and I am determined I will not fail.
Philip Yorke is an award-winning former Fleet Street journalist who has a special interest in history. His Hacker Chronicles series, to be told in five fast-paced historical fiction novels, tells the story of Parliamentarian soldier, Francis Hacker.
Redemption, the second book in the series, is set during the period 1644-46 (during the first English Civil War), when events take a significant turn in favour of Parliament.
Philip is married, and he and his wife have five children. He enjoys relaxing to classical music, reading the works of Nigel Tranter, Bernard Cornwell, Robyn Young and CJ Sansom, and supporting Hull City FC and Leicester Tigers RFC.
He lives in Leicestershire, England.
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