On the Beach
|Subject: On the Beach Tue Feb 26, 2008 6:33 pm|| |
The horses stirred nervously on the path as the men waited on the crossroads outside the village of Saint-Gildas-de-Rhuys. Marinus steadied himself in the saddle and took out his pocket watch. It was a quarter past five in the evening, time enough that the men should have been there. The sun began its decent casting a dim red glow on the countryside around them, and long shadows began to creep over the land, romantic to the lover, ominous to Marinus.
Just as he put the watch back in the pocket of his waistcoat, the unmistakable sound of hooves could be heard, fast approaching. Relieved, but also on their guard, Marinus and his men waited to receive the new arrivals. It was his assistant, Jacques with two men in tow, rounding the wooded corner onto the crossroads. Before a word of greeting could be exchanged, Jacques, with panic brimming in his voice, “At least ten thousand!”
Marinus replied in his usual steady tone, “Slow down, what news of the Mashall?”
Jacques paused for a moment to catch his breath and replied, slowly at first but panic once again seized him, “Pierre de Montesquiou d' Artagnan has marched on Rennes. We saw it ourselves! At least ten thousand strong!”
Marinus nodded, and signaled his men to follow. Whatever details Jacques brought, the plan would remain the same. The wheels were in motion. Everything was in God’s hands now.
They rode wordlessly down the path towards the sea, and their rendezvous with the longboat of the Spanish Frigate. One of three, it carried a compliment of 300 Irish mercenaries. The contribution of the Spanish Crown to their cause, all told they were pledged 2000 fighting men, mostly from Ireland. Tonight the 300 would offload on the beach in hide among the cliffs until they could manage to assemble the rest. It was hoped that with a strong core of fighting men, they would be able to launch a visible enough campaign to attract more support from Spain.
As they reached the shore, the sun finished its traverse over the horizon, and darkness fell. They could hear but not see the oars of the longboat plying the waves as it closed on the shore. Whispered voices carried on the sea breeze in a language not unfamiliar to Marinus. It was Spanish.
Marinus dismounted and motioned to Jacques to do the same. Half of his men would accompany him to the waiting ship, the other half would remain with the horses. All in all, a party of a dozen men would be going to meet the Spanish captain, and hopefully, the envoy as well.
As they walked out to meet the boat, Jacques interrupted Marinus’s thoughts with more concerns about the number of Royal troops in Rennes. His senses had departed him now, Marinus could see the signs. He was thinking now, thinking of his family, his honor, his future. Worried at the prospect now of being discovered in treason. He had been too enthusiastic by far in the beginning, and Marinus reproached himself for betraying his judgment in selecting this boy for his assistant.
As they pulled alongside the Frigate waiting in the bay, through the darkness Marinus could see the glassy eyed stare on the boy’s face. With the situation developing as it was Marinus wondered what awaited them next. Climbing onto the deck of the Spanish vessel, Marinus could see that something was not right. Assembled on the deck was the Captain of the ship, his officers, and the Irish captain who would be leading the mercenaries. It wasn’t something he could identify immediately, but there was something in their countenance that hinted at trouble. One of the men who had been pulling the long boat ran up to the Irishman and they exchanged a few harsh whispers between themselves.
With Marinus’s men all on deck the Spanish captain motioned for his crew to return to their stations, and with a well practiced bow introduced himself and his men.
“Senor, it is a pleasure to finally meet you. I hope the journey was without incident, and that this evening finds you well.”
Marinus returned the bow and smiled slightly, “Oui, so far everything is meeting expectations.”
With the introductions finished the brooding Irish captain stepped forward and introduced himself in a thick brogue, “Coilean Rowe, at yer service. Me men are assembling below decks, an will be ready to depart shortly.”
Turning to depart in order to attend to his men, the stout Irish captain paused for a moment, and asked, “It would not be beyond your knowledge would it now, how many men we can expect to be facing?”
“Not at all, although I suspect that the Regent does not take our opposition seriously.”
“You wouldn’t be lying to me now would you?”
All of a sudden the tension on the deck was palatable. Each man looked at the other expressionlessly waiting for the other to break the stalemate. Finally the Irishman said,
“I know for a fact that you are telling not only less than you know, but that you are telling me things you know are not true. Your own boy there was just telling you on the boat what he saw in Rennes.”
Marinus sighed briefly and closed his eyes slightly; he felt a headache coming on. He turned toward the Spanish captain and in his most polite voice and tone asked, “Usted perdón?
Without breaking eye contact with the Captains to his front, and with one smooth motion of his hand, he pulled a pistol from his belt, and before anyone could react, shot the boy Jacques who was standing by the gunwales behind him. His lifeless body collapsed to the deck and every spine on the deck stiffened at the sound.
“Monsieur Capitaine, you will be ready to disembark soon? I have not known an Irishman to grow weak at the mention of the enemy.”, in a tone which seemed friendly and almost childlike.
“We will not be going anywhere before you tell me what you know.”
“I told you what I know, would you listen to my word, or do you go by the word of a foolish child. Do you let children tell you what to do often, or it is this new?”
“Sir, I must look after my men primarily, even if it is half what the boy said, we are not a match for a force that size.”
“First, this is only the beginning of the contribution that has been promised by the Spanish Crown, and it does not consider the numbers we might raise off our own properties. Secondly, Brittany is a fortress. A maze of hedgerows and forests and pathways through which a small force might hide and prey on the elements of a larger disoriented force.”
“I say again that I must be concerned primarily with my men.”
Marinus took a deep breath and asked, “Parlez-vous français?” As he said it he dropped the pistol in his hand and drew another leveling it on the Irishman. As he did so several of the Spanish Marines raised their muskets. In response Marinus’s men replied in kind. It was a standoff.
“Êtes-vous fou?” The Irishman said with fear and anger in his voice in equal measure.
“What did you say to the agents of the Regent when you met them? Combien pouvez-vous me donner pour mon honneur? ((How much can you give me for my honor?))
“What are you talking about?”
“Senor, you must put that weapon away, I do not want this business on my ship. My orders were clear, to disembark these men on the shore here, if they do not wish to leave, there is nothing I can do to force them.” Added the captain of the frigate.
“My assistant was a fool, and a damned one at that, but he never mentioned Rennes once in the company of your men.”
“Senor, I must ask you and your men to stand down, and leave my ship at once. If you do not do so, I will be forced to order my men to fire into you.”
Marinus lowered his pistol and put it back in his belt, his men did likewise following his example. He eyed the Irish captain coldly for a moment and turned about, heading for the railing, to once again board the launch, this time heading back to shore.
He waved one of his men over. An older man of far more experience, a smuggler’s accomplice he picked up on one of his trips to the Channel Islands.
“Monsieur Remault, we have work to do when we get ashore. I believe we have been discovered.”
|Subject: Re: On the Beach Wed Feb 27, 2008 4:28 pm|| |
Marinus held the spyglass up to his eye again and squinted against the darkness, trying to make out the shape of the estate Remault said should be there. It was an overcast night, no moon, the dark cliffs of the Irish coast were indistinguishable from the ocean they emerged from. He thought he saw the telltale signs of habitation, as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he thought he made out pinpricks of light set in the blackness.
“You are sure this is it? This is the home of Coilean Rowe?”
“I am certain of it, that’s our man waving the lantern on the shore now.”
Marinus couldn’t see it, but Remault had the sharpest eyes of anyone he had ever known. He supposed that those of his lot with poorer vision were feeding the birds along the English coast by now.
Below decks, there was a flurry of activity. The crew, those that were going ashore with the landing party, was busily preparing the equipment they would need. The quartermaster was carefully checking and handing out muskets and pistols. Up top, the launch was being lowered slowly into the water.
Since the month before Marinus had learned much concerning their betrayal. Some of the conspirators by chance had been caught, and upon questioning, told the Regency everything they knew. Behind the scenes the French Crown had interdicted the Spanish Envoy and paid him handsome sums. The Spanish in turn shared with their Irish mercenaries the change in plans, and the rough plan of the Regency. Convinced of hopeless odds, and with consciences soothed by more French gold, the mercenaries betrayed their contract, and refused to disembark.
Many arrests were to follow, and hangings shortly afterwards. It was the beginning of the end for the conspirators of Pontcallec. By December, the man himself would be in the custody of the State.
“What if he is away from home?” Remault mused aloud.
Folding up the glass, a small smile crossed Marinus’s face.
“I am actually quite certain he is.”
“I am not here to find monsieur Rowe, from what I know he is away preparing to disembark for the Indies.”
“Imagine that you are a Spanish diplomat for a moment, and then further imagine that you have betrayed the wishes of your King, and taken French gold for your trouble. Picture that there is one man who might know of your treachery. What would you want to do to him?”
“I am afraid I do not understand completely…”
“This gentleman Rowe, has not only betrayed us, but his continued good health is a threat to a certain Spaniard as well. Here is an Irishman without a friend in this world. Where do you suppose he might go then?”
“Ah!” Remault exclaimed. He wasn’t too bright, but he could be led by degrees towards a conclusion without too much difficulty.
When this short exchange had finished, Marinus saw that the men were beginning to load into the launch.
“Shall we?” he asked with an affect that suggested they were entering upon some grand social occasion, and not as it would turn out, a massacre.
The trip to shore was short, and thankfully uneventful. They arrived on the beach below the cliffs, atop which sat the Rowe family farms and estate. After concealing the launch they made their way in silence along the treacherous path to the top. Just at that moment the clouds cleared away from the moon, giving the scene an eerie luminescence.
The estate itself sat among the fields, segregated by a low lying stone wall covered in overgrowth. It consisted of a modest two storey home and nearby stable. The men moved quietly into position around the home, skirting the stone wall. As soon as all was ready, Marinus and a handful of his select men advanced towards the entrance to the estate. Just as he was about to lift the gate latch, the rear door from the kitchen flew open, flooding the lawn with lantern light. Out staggered a jovial and disoriented man, singing at the top of his lungs some old song, foreign to the men who could hear it. It had an odd cadence to it, like a marching song.
His blurred vision adjusting to the darkness he spotted some of the men crouched behind the wall and shouted with a start, “Blackguards! The lot of…”
However he never got the chance to finish his curse, as his life was cut quite a bit shorter by a musket fired from behind the wall by one of the more excitable crewmen. With impressive speed, the quaint country estate became a redoubt, and there was to be much dying on both sides.
Marinus and his men pulled back behind the relative safety offered by the stone wall, and carried on with those inside as only enemies know how.
On the Beach