Authors: Laura Parker
Revelin smiled but did not reply. His secret sympathy for Catholicism was both a source of consternation to his uncle, the earl of Ormond, and a potential danger to himself. Robin might infer much, but he had no concrete evidence and Revelin was not about to enlighten him. Instead, he changed the subject: “What is your opinion of the day’s sketches?”
Robin looked at the bundled papers that lay on the table between them. “They’re clever, Rev, you know that. As to their military merit,” he shrugged, “you must ask John. A map is as much good to me as a plow: I can use neither. But our sovereign wants every inch of Ireland charted, and you do your share. After all, your future at court depends on the success of the mission.”
Though Robin’s words mirrored his own thoughts, the reminder from one he had regarded as indifferent to court politics made Revelin sharpen his gaze in interest. “Tell me, Sir Robin, why I’m in need of your words of encouragement.”
Robin leaned closer and lowered his voice. “I know you do not take kindly to any remark made against your uncle, the earl of Ormond, but you would do well to ask yourself why he did not want you to accept the queen’s commission when he had sponsored you at court himself. Could it be jealousy? After all, he did not endear himself to our queen when he went to war against the Fitzgeralds at Affane. Four years have passed since the conflict, and yet he remains in London as balm for
her temper over the occasion.” He smiled impishly. “Certain rumor has it that the queen may be looking for a more ‘loyal’ Butler to place at the earl’s right hand.”
Revelin stroked his chin thoughtfully, his mind shifting through Robin’s tidbits of information. It was true that the queen was still known to swear roundly when reminded of the temerity of the earls of Ormond and Desmond in engaging in battle with private armies on soil nominally under British control. Yet, no one before had dared to whisper in Revelin’s ear that the queen’s anger with Thomas Butler, the earl of Ormond, had reached the point of disaffection. Why was Neville so loose-tongued concerning the queen’s wants and desires this night?
Revelin sipped his ale, unwilling to be hurried by his curiosity. Either Sir Robin Neville was an idle intriguer whose conjectures had no foundation, or someone had confided something to him, in which case he was a man to be regarded with suspicion. Could his information have come from the earl of Leicester, his uncle’s personal enemy at court?
After a few moments, Revelin said easily, “Come, Robin, who am I that the queen should think so highly of me? In any case, Her Majesty knows my loyalties are hers as much as the earl’s are.”
Robin smiled impishly. “You’re not dull, Butler. You accurately surmised the queen’s humor before we left Whitehall. While she’s loath to engage in war, she is aware that the Irish question must be settled sooner or later. Isn’t it wiser to test loyalties before the matter becomes a contest of armies? Our sovereign refused the earl’s request to release you to his household. Instead, she sent you home on a mission of her own design. Does that not speak of intrigue?”
Revelin chuckled. “Do I look like a rebel?”
Robin reached for the pitcher and refilled their tankards with ale. “When men like Perrot and Sidney have the queen’s ear, ’tis only a matter of time before this quaint little land is carved
up like the Christmas goose. Why, even that untutored West Country campaigner Carew has persuaded the Dublin Parliament to uphold his claims to the barony of Idrone in Carlow. ’Twas thought to be Butler land, was it not?” He shrugged. “Loyal men, Rev, are what the queen needs most, and she’s willing to be generous for that loyalty.”
Revelin knew a comment was expected of him but he remained silent. He had been in court circles too long to be led into voicing an indiscreet opinion that could be carried back to the queen. Ormond was his uncle and his foster father; nothing would induce him to speak against the man. Besides, Neville seemed already to know, or to suspect, a great deal too much.
Robin said pleasantly, “It may be that John Reade is not indifferent to the gleam of gold.”
At Revelin’s questioning glance, he continued, “Our mission is to map the Ulster countryside so that the army can plan strategy should war come. You are the artist; Atholl, blast him, is our conscience. But John Reade is yet another matter.”
Revelin eyed the foppish courtier before him with new respect. Behind the lethargic demeanor was a strong and quick mind. “What of you, Robin? Where lies your path?”
Robin smiled his bland smile that hid so much. “Why, Rev, my friend, when I’m here I’m out of reach of my father. What more could a son of Lord Neville wish for? I do not fancy myself the landlord of an Irish estate. But you may believe the matter takes up more than a night’s lodging in John’s head.” He leaned forward suddenly. “And so that you will not think me napping on other accounts, I know Lady Alison Burke will expect you to prove worthy of an Irish land grant for services rendered to the Crown.”
Revelin started at the mention of the lady’s name, spilling a bit of ale down his front. “Damn you for your presumption!” he muttered as he brushed the liquid from his leather jerkin.
“Sir Revelin Butler, the lovesick calf!” Robin chuckled. “’Tis a splendid title for a sonnet, do you not think?”
“I think I’m for bed,” Revelin answered as he rose and pulled his woolen cloak about him.
“You may rest assured that your secret is safe with me, for I wish you luck with the fair Lady Alison. You’ve set your sights upon marriage to a Protestant Irish landholder’s daughter, a rare enough commodity. Were I you, I would keep an eye open for other suitors. Nay! You’ll have no more from me than that. I grow weary with the sound of my own voice.
Revelin found his quarters no less and no more than they had been since riding north out of Dublin. His tent was poorly pitched, its poles finding uneasy purchase in the sodden ground. The cot that served as his bed was spotted with mildew and clammy to the touch. But the sight of Ualter curled up before his cot brought a smile to his face. Here was one companion of whose company he never tired.
With a curse of discomfort, he wrapped his cloak more tightly about himself and lay down in it. Every joint in his body ached with cold and his muscles with fatigue. Sleep was the only cure for those ills.
As always, as soon as he closed his eyes, visions of Lady Alison Burke came to keep him company in the solitude of his tent. At the journey’s beginning he had delighted in recalling with great detail the inflections of her speech, the exact tilt of her head when she listened attentively, and even the number of turns in the golden curl that she wore in the middle of her brow. But tonight the image had faded. Even his favorite memory of her, dressed for hunting with her hawk perched upon her glove, refused to resolve within his mind’s eye.
Suddenly a hand on his shoulder brought Revelin awake with a cry, and he reached automatically for the hilt of his dagger as he threw off his cloak.
“’Tis I, Butler.”
Revelin stared up in the dark, finally making out the features of the face above him. “What brings you here, Sir Richard?” he grumbled in annoyance.
The sound of tinder being struck was followed shortly by
the dim glow of an oil lamp, and Atholl’s lean form appeared before him. “Listen carefully,” he said softly. “I do not wish the others to become curious, so I must be brief.”
Revelin swung his legs over the side of his cot and ran his hands through his hair. He threw a dark look at his dog, whose head rose expectantly, but decided against turning him loose on Atholl. However, had the dog attacked his unwanted guest beforehand, Revelin might not have come quickly to Atholl’s aid. “Well, Sir Richard?”
Atholl’s eyes stayed a moment on Revelin, as if weighing some matter, then he nodded. “You have not adopted all the sins of our English courtiers, I see.”
Revelin’s gaze followed his and he realized then why the older man was staring at his bed: Atholl was pleased never to have found a woman sharing Revelin’s bed, even in Dublin.
“I find nothing in these wilds to my liking,” he answered, uncertain why he could not declare his lack of desire for other women now that he knew himself to be in love with Lady Alison.
Atholl nodded. “There’s nothing to compare with the purity of body and soul, a thing rare and therefore more pleasing in youth.”
Revelin bit his lip and frowned. The compliment was not a particularly flattering one. “I’ve sampled enough of the flesh’s delights,” he offered with a hint of challenge in his voice.
“The indiscretion of youth,” Sir Richard answered agreeably. “It’s a folly of most young men.”
Revelin let a great yawn escape him. “You wanted something?”
“I notice that you approve of our leader no more than I,” Atholl began. “Reade has no feeling for the momentous occasion that may yet arise from our trip through Hibernia. He is a man of the flesh, a soldier whose family rose to prominence through dastardly deeds perpetrated under the aegis of a grossly debauched sovereign.”
Revelin rubbed his eyes, the grit of sleep stinging them. Atholl’s sermonizing on the proclivities of Henry VIII could find no less-willing audience than he. “I beg you save this speech for a more brilliant hour, Sir Richard.”
The older man smiled. “You’ve come so far, Revelin, I would not like to think you could be persuaded back to the popish mire from which you’ve risen.”
Finally, with that declaration, Atholl received Revelin’s full attention. “What?”
“The devil has many snares and lures, my boy, with which to deflect a man from his ultimate design. I have seen this country from which you came, and I have wondered at your escape. Its beauty is so lush, its smells and sights more sensuous than a harlot’s. Why should this be?”
The old man’s pale features took on a light of life, glowing like the wax of a candle just before the flame dies. “In the throes of tonight’s prayers the answer came. This place cannot be the Eden it seems. Therefore it is a false paradise, a temptor’s garden of beauty, an illusion, a crumb to tempt the unsuspecting and cheat him of a taste of the true paradise. And yet a man born to the very sin of this false paradise may yet escape it!”
Revelin had ceased listening, and his lids closed briefly over his eyes. This was no time for the confessions of a zealot. It was a rude surprise when he found himself suddenly crushed in an embrace that smelled loudly of camphor rubbed onto an unwashed body.
“You! You are my example!” Atholl boasted when he released Revelin. He laid a bracing hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “You are the example of what good can be wrought in this land if only the virtues of Christian principle can be brought to the Irish. As for my harsh words at supper, they were not meant for you. I cannot hold your degenerate Gaelic background against you now that I have seen its true purpose. We will be fast friends after this, that I promise!”
With an agility that both surprised and relieved Revelin,
Atholl disappeared from his tent as silently as he had come.
“He’s mad!” Revelin muttered and, dowsing the oil lamp, returned to his cot. If the discomforts of the daily travel in territory without roads but with a plentitude of bogs and marsh flies were not enough, he had somehow unwittingly won the friendship of a man he neither liked nor found easy to tolerate.
“A plague upon you, Revelin!” he grumbled to himself in a sleepy voice. “You cannot even keep a proper enemy!”
Revelin blinked as the gossamer wings of a pond fly touched his lashes and flitted past to light upon the bridge of his nose. With a flick of his finger he removed the intruder. The memories of the night before had returned intact. At dawn, all he had been able to think of was ridding himself of the promised company of Atholl. He had ridden ahead of his group to be free to mull over plans of his own, which included marriage to Lady Alison, if he could win the queen’s approval for it. Then, too, Robin had given him food for thought. If Robin was the queen’s or Leicester’s spy and John an intended usurper of Irish land, Revelin would need to tread warily, indeed. His troubled thoughts had so occupied him that he had not seen the rabbit hole into which his mount was about to step….
He raised his left arm and frowned as he looked at it. There was a deep gash in his forearm where it had struck the sharp edge of a stone. He had come to this pond to wash off the telltale signs of mud, realizing that the others would make merciless sport of him if they learned of his spill. While swimming he had become entangled in the reeds and nearly drowned. The girl! The girl had saved his life!
For an instant he recalled deep blue eyes looking down at him from a delicate face. So real was the memory that he reached for the vision, but it vanished and he caught only a handful of air for his effort.
Disappointed, he let his hand drop back onto his bare chest. She had been here, bending over him. He would swear to it. Or had it been a dream?
He sat up. This time his muscles responded. Looking about, he was satisfied to find his horse chewing the succulent grasses along the water’s edge while his dog sat at his feet. But the girl was nowhere in sight.
“Ualter!” he greeted, and groaned a moment later as the huge animal leaped upon him. “Down, Ualter! Down,” he ordered, pushing with partial success to free himself from the dog. With one last lick of joy the animal sat back on his haunches, his nuzzle pushed forward inquiringly.