Into the Game
by Pam and Del

PART FOURTEEN

July 1803

 

Rory was five minutes late.

No, Archie corrected himself grimly after another glance at his watch, Rory
was almost *ten* minutes late.

*I'll give him five more minutes. Then I'll have to go on alone.*

They had gone out together, then Rory had been sent on ahead to make the
contact.. But he was far too late in returning.

What the hell could be keeping him? Archie considered several possibilities
and disliked all of them. But there was no need to panic, at least not yet.
And panic at any point would not serve his purpose. Drawing in a lungful of
cool night air, Archie pulled down his cap and turned up his collar to
obscure his face further, thrust his hands into his pockets, and continued
his seemingly aimless stroll by the river. To his left, the waters of the
Liffey rushed past, providing the only sound in this entire scene. So far,
there was nobody to take note of a lone man, unshaven and shabbily dressed,
more than half-hidden by the shadows of the massive brick buildings lined up
along the deserted quay. And if anyone had - well, the flask of cheap spirits
Archie carried on his person would provide explanation enough. Given the
number of taverns and alehouses in the vicinity, few Dubliners would spare a
glance for yet another drunkard wandering the streets at night.

Feeling more composed now, Archie turned his thoughts once more to Rory. *At
least I do not need to worry about him getting lost.* His young colleague
possessed a formidable degree of area knowledge, partly instinctual, partly
the result of the rigorous training in map-reading, over which Archie himself
had presided during the last fourteen months. Nor was Rory likely to
confuse the rendezvous point, especially when *he* had been the one to
suggest it - the bridge just off Queen Street, closest to Smithfield, where his
contact would be meeting him.

During the last few weeks, Archie and Rory had taken a more active role in
the ongoing mission - although their part had been mainly to blend in with
Dublin's ordinary citizenry and keep their ears open for anything further
related to Robert Emmet's plans for a rising. They had developed their
disguises carefully - Archie had darkened his hair to a dull brown and let his
beard begin to grow out, while adopting the clothes and general demeanor of a
common day laborer. Rory, by contrast, had assumed the persona of a
university scholar, better dressed and more educated, just the sort of
idealistic young man who could be seduced into fighting for Irish
independence--against formidable odds and any claim to common sense!

Archie exhaled in sudden frustration. The Irish. What *made* them the
people they were? Even after five months' sojourn here, he was not sure he
knew the answer.

He had met many Irish, from all walks of life. Aristocrats and servants.
Soldiers and seamen. Poets and scholars. Street musicians who sang like
angels and played instruments as though they had been born knowing how. Once
he'd bought a very distinctive ring from a honey-tongued Irish peddler, to
give to his betrothed. A small pang awoke - did she still wear it now, in his
memory? - and was ruthlessly suppressed.

Courage, capability, and wit. The Irish lacked none of these qualities. But
what streak of stubborn perversity in their character made them flock - like
lemmings plunging into the sea - to a lost cause? Or rather, he amended
hastily, to a cause that - at this time - was highly unlikely to succeed?
Shouldn't the failure of five years before have taught them otherwise?

Clearly not. Archie shook his head, bewildered. There was Irish blood in
his own family, several generations back, but surely that odd, quixotic,
self-destructive impulse had bred itself out, after years of exposure to
Scottish practicality. At least one would *think* so . . .

Unless one had once tried to commit suicide by starvation, in hopes of
sparing shipmates the necessity of caring for him. Unless one had dragged
oneself, mortally wounded, from a sickbed to confess to a crime one had not
committed, with the intent to save a dear friend who stood accused of the
same misdeed.

The realization was like twisting a knife in the wound. "More guts than
sense, and you know it"-- Carmichael's remembered words rang in his ears.
Archie pressed his lips together as the blood burned in his cheeks, and found
himself doubly grateful for the darkness and his present solitude.

Better to step back from this a pace or two. To reflect instead on what had
transpired, ever since he and the rest of the division had arrived in Ireland.

"You're coming along to see how it's done!"

The words had been spoken lightly enough, but Archie had discovered
Carmichael had meant them in earnest. For five months now, he had been
watching closely as the steps of the operation had unfolded.

Whether working singly or in groups, the Edinburgh and Irish divisions had
thrown themselves wholeheartedly into their mission. Mapping the streets
around Emmet's house for surveillance posting. A nondescript but dowdily
respectable Laura Grant, sitting on a street corner, ostensibly sketching a
picturesque scene, while, on the next page of her sketching pad, she was
quickly capturing the likenesses--aided by descriptions from other agents,
who sometimes sat by her in their guises as respectable companions--of all
those seen arriving or departing from Emmet's house. Listening to the reports
of an Irish division member, another young woman, placed in the household of
Emmet's betrothed, Sarah Curran. Miss Curran, it seemed, was familiar with
and sympathetic to Emmet's ideals, but he was taking pains to avoid
acquainting her with any specifics that could be incriminating. Caillean,
hair lightened faintly and tinted to brown, taking a position in an alehouse
nearby, where Emmet and some of his cohorts appeared to spend many of their
evenings. And Jamieson, making the acquaintance of another Emmet subordinate
called Johnstone.

And, within three weeks of their arrival, the interception, copying, and
sending on of all communication between Emmet and the French. That last had
provided almost unwelcome insight into the target of their operation. Emmet
was younger than Archie himself: brave, capable, educated, idealistic--and a
damned fool!

There was nothing analytical in those letters, no sense of training in
strategy or any measured judgement Emmet and his Irish allies were eagerly
pledging fortunes, resources, even lives to their cause. The French were
committing . . .words. As-yet-unfulfilled, unrealized promises. Hadn't
Emmet noticed the lack of tangible support from his foreign contacts? Had he
not considered that "throwing off the yoke of English tyranny" with
Napoleon's assistance might only result in the imposition of French tyranny?

All the same, Emmet was *not* a stupid man. As the division had slowly
uncovered details of his plans, they had noticed his own designs--rather
ingenious--of certain weapons. Hollowed logs filled with gunpowder, exploding
rockets--Emmet had scientific knowledge at his command. Why this
near-suicidal determination about his cause?

Archie was not the only one to consider the man with a mixture of faint
sympathy and intense exasperation. Carmichael had shaken his head over it
one morning after the latest dispatch was decoded.

"I've served with Irish soldiers," he'd said briefly. "They're brave enough
to fight like demons--this one, too."

"But he's a traitor!" Fleming had protested.

"Not as he sees it. He's an Irishman--what he is most is a young fool! It's
the Frogs we have to stop--getting Emmet hanged or shot isn't our mission."
Carmichael brought the last words out quellingly; the other agent fell
silent.

"If there was a way . . ." Carmichael mused, his voice trailing off.

"What would you do?" Archie prompted, his curiosity aroused.

"I think--" a slow grin was beginning to show itself, "find a way to set the
local constabulary on them. Disturbing the peace, or something of that
sort--nothing they could call themselves martyrs for--get them all tossed in
gaol for a bit. Might happen they'd change their minds or get scared off.
They'd be no use to Boney, then." The grin faded as Carmichael looked back
down at the letters. "Not this one, though. Stubborn as a pig in shit."

The Peace of Amiens had given out on them in May, having exhausted its
usefulness to Bonaparte, as Kilcarron had predicted. Since then, there had
been an increasing sense of urgency, of culmination, of things coming to
long-awaited fruition. The division had located half-a-dozen caches of
weapons gathered by Emmet and his allies--there were at least that same
number they had not yet discovered, and a master armory that both Edinburgh
and Dublin agents were still searching for.

Along with a master plan which they had not yet succeeded in identifying.
Just *what* did Emmet and his fellow conspirators intend? And where the devil
was Rory?

Then he heard the running steps behind him. He tensed automatically, one hand
going to the knife strapped to his forearm, but in the next moment, Rory's
voice - a breathless whisper - hailed him.

"Stewart, it's me!"

Archie turned as the boy panted up to him, freckles standing out sharply in a
pale face. "What's wrong?"

Rory gulped air before replying, his voice thin and almost frightened. "I'm
being followed." Another breath. "Three, maybe four. Couldn't lose them.
Been going in circles for the last twenty minutes . . . "

Christ. Thieves? Or some of Robert Emmet's people? "They still after you?"

"'Fraid they might be. Five minutes behind, maybe - no more. Couldn't think
where else to go--"

"Shh!" Archie looked around quickly, but saw no one in the immediate
vicinity. A little time, if Rory was right, but none to waste. His mind
raced, feverishly fast. By the light of the moon, they'd be perfect targets
if they ran for the bridge. They could try to hide near one of the buildings,
but if there were *four* pursuers coming from God knew what direction . . .
he did not like those odds at all.

One more possibility. He glanced down at the embankment, sloping down to the
water's edge. Steep but not impossible, surely. And perhaps the best way to
avoid any kind of confrontation, if that were possible.

"Rory," he laid a hand upon the boy's shoulder, felt the fine tremors the
younger agent was trying to conceal, "can you climb?"

Green eyes stared at him incredulously, giving him all the answer he required.

*****

The descent was quick and as silent as both could make it. Rory led the way,
scrambling down with the ease that had earned him his nickname of "The Eel."
Archie followed more slowly, glancing over his shoulder but he saw no
immediate danger. Together they made it under the arch of the bridge; to
Archie's relief, a projecting shelf of stone gave them something to stand
upon, though they would have to be doubly careful in the dark. One misplaced
step could send them into the river.

Backs pressed against the quay side of the arch, they waited, their eyes
gradually becoming accustomed to the dark. If they tried hard enough, they
could almost make out each other's features. Archie could see the whites of
Rory's eyes, the tight line of the mouth. No doubt his own face showed a
similar tension. How much trouble were Rory's pursuers prepared to go to, to
find him? If they were thieves, surely they'd give up the game once they
lost sight of their quarry. If not . . . his sudden shiver had nothing to do
with his close proximity to the Liffey.

Five minutes became nearly ten, and they were beginning to relax when they
heard the voices just above them. From Rory's suddenly rigid posture beside
him, Archie knew he had recognized the speakers.

The men's accents and the rushing of the waters made individual words
difficult to decipher, but the overall meaning was clear enough. Seconds
later, two sets of footsteps pounded overhead, crossing to the other side of
the river. Splitting up - that was a small mercy.

*Very* small, as it happened. The next sound was of two more men clambering
down the embankment, less easily than Rory and Archie, but with equal
determination. Grimly, Archie drew his knife from its sheath, sensed Rory
doing the same. If only they would begin their search in the opposite
direction, there might still be some way to escape without -

The footsteps were coming closer. Archie braced his back and shoulders more
firmly against the bridge support, and peered towards the embankment. At
this moment, he could see their prospective adversaries without their seeing
*him.* His age, or a little older. The one in the lead was taller, more
heavily built than his companion--no surprise, perhaps, that he'd found the
climb difficult - but both were larger than him or Rory. But for now he and the
boy had the advantage, because of the darkness and "the virtue of surprise."

Then, as the two men paused perhaps ten feet away from the bridge, Archie
heard something that forced him to reconsider the entire situation.
Something that made his mouth go dry and his hands clench into fists . . .

The rasp of a knife being drawn, followed by a still more ominous sound: the
small, cold click of a pistol being cocked.

For a moment, he was on Renown's deck again, shock and numbness wearing away,
hot agony blazing through his midsection as he collapsed against Horatio's
shoulder . . .

Then he was back in the present, feeling his mouth pull into a taut, hard
line. *Damn, damn, DAMN.* No chance now that these were simply common
cut-purses, trailing a well-dressed youngster. They *meant* killing.

One quick glance from his hiding-place - the pistol was in the hand of the
taller man. It *would* be, he thought sourly, but at least . . . it might be
that much easier to take him down first. His and Rory's best chance probably
lay in getting rid of that pistol altogether. As for the rest . . . "If
you've no other choice--make it quick and quiet and then get out fast because
chances are it's all blown to hell."

Not quite to hell, he hoped. But near enough, if they bungled this. Reaching
out, he just brushed Rory's sleeve with his fingers to catch the younger
agent's attention. "Wait," he mouthed as the green gaze slid towards him,
and got a barely perceptible nod in response.

They were coming now, dark shapes that blotted out the light. Archie tensed,
every nerve coiled like a wound spring, as first one, then the other ducked
under the archway, passing within inches of their quarry.

When the man with the pistol was almost directly in front of him, Archie
lunged forward, catching him about the neck with one arm, pinioning the gun
hand with his other. As he had expected, his adversary swore and struggled
mightily, trying alternately to break his hold or smash his head against the
bridge, too startled for the moment to try to use his weapon. Archie hung on
doggedly, brought the knife up as the exposed throat showed pale above the
man's collar . . . and tried not to think too much about what he was doing as
he felt the blade bite into soft flesh. "Quick and quiet" - one deep slash
from left to right, followed by a gush of warm liquid over his knife hand. A
gurgle, a gasp, and the man's dead weight sagged against him. Fighting back
a surge of revulsion, Archie shoved the body from him, heard it tumble into
the river below.

Sounds of another struggle continuing, just behind him - Rory, who'd launched
his own attack seconds after Archie's. Harsh gasps, grunts of effort, then,
horribly, another gurgle, followed by a splash. Then a thin shape dropping to
its knees by the water's edge . . .

"Rory?" Archie called softly, knife still at the ready.

He sensed rather than saw the boy's answering nod, heard the uneven breaths
that sounded almost like sobs.

"Are you hurt?"

A shake of the head, but the face that turned up to him was paler than he had
ever seen it, the freckles standing out like flecks of blood on milk, and the
throat worked convulsively.

Comprehension struck. "Rory, if you need to be sick, then go ahead . . . "

*****

"Sorry." Recovering, Rory wiped his mouth distastefully with the back of his
hand.

"No need for it."

"Did it - take you, like that? The first time?"

Archie thought back. "Not - not quite. I was in a battle. Things are
different, then - it's kill or be killed, and you know who the enemy is.
Later, after the excitement had worn off . . . I wasn't sick, but I
felt - cold."

Rory shivered. "Don't know if I could ever. . . " he broke off, swallowing
hard again.

"Pray God you won't have to," Archie said soberly. "Carmichael said, 'Our job
is information.' Sometimes, though . . . " his own voice trailed away as he
stared into the river's depths. "I don't know if this will help much
but - they *were* armed, and they would have killed us if they could."

A brief nod acknowledged the truth of this statement, but the shivering
continued. Taking off his own jacket, Archie flung it around Rory's
shoulders, then, after a moment's thought, he removed his cap as well and
pulled it over the boy's unruly red hair. "Might help if you look a bit
different," he explained, then glanced up at the embankment. "We must go
now, quickly. It's not safe here - and Carmichael and the others are expecting
us."

*****
*****

The brief application of river water removed the last traces of their deadly
confrontation. Rory's jacket was too small for Archie to wear comfortably, so
he merely slung it over his shoulder. The night was warm enough that no one
would find anything unusual in that.

In a last-minute inspiration, Archie unstoppered the flask of spirits in his
pocket, took a quick swig and offered Rory one as well. Somewhat dubiously,
the boy accepted, pulling a face at the taste. Archie then dribbled more of
the flask's contents down both their shirts, and saw enlightenment dawn on
Rory's face. Yes - few would care to come too close to men reeking of cheap
whiskey, except, perhaps, *other* men who smelled just as bad. Safety in
numbers *or* in solitude.

Rory went up the embankment first; fortunately, the shock of his recent
experience had not affected his climbing abilities. Back on the quay, they
ambled across the bridge and began making their way south, taking care to
look as idle and purposeless as possible. Just two drunkards, meandering
through the town . . .

They had not gone more than a few streets in the desired direction, when
Rory, slightly in the lead, came to a dead halt, his green eyes widening in
consternation.

"Shit!" The word hissed from between clenched teeth. Grabbing Archie's arm,
the boy backed up several paces and flattened himself against the wall of the
building they had just passed. Archie followed suit, raised questioning
brows at the boy.

"Over there." Rory's voice was low, meant only for his partner's ears. "Big
man in the brown coat. I think he's one of *them.*" No further explanation
was required.

Archie slid his gaze in the direction Rory had indicated. "Are you sure?"

"Think so. Set of the shoulders's the same."

Two of the pursuers had crossed the bridge. If one was here . . . the other
might very well be too. Christ - what now?

Salvation arrived from a most unexpected quarter. Across the way, the door
of a neighboring alehouse swung open, disgorging some five or six patrons,
all considerably "well to live." With the deep affection born only of shared
intoxication, they staggered en masse down the street, bawling out what
seemed to be a raucous drinking song.

"I have acres of land;
I have men at command;
I have always a shillin' tae spare!

So be easy and free
When you're drinkin' wi' me.
I'm a man you don't meet every day."

 

They were coming closer, not too far from the building against which Archie
and Rory were hiding.

 

"Now, I took out my gun,
Wi' my dog I did shoot,
All down by the River Kildare - "

 

"So be easy and free!" Archie brayed in his best Irish brogue, lurching
forward out of the shadows--Rory clasped to his bosom like a lover or a
bottle--to add his own voice to the din.

"When you're drinkin' wi' me.
I'm a man you don't meet every day!"

 

Boozy grins were their only reception, and the procession, plus two
stragglers, continued down the street:

 

"So, come fill up your glasses
Of brandy and wine,
And whatever the price, I will pay!

So be easy and free
When you're drinkin' wi' me.
I'm a man you don't meet every day!"

 

The singing, such as it was, also continued as the group traveled from Bridge
Street to High to Winetavern. After his months in Ireland, Archie found to
his surprise that he was quite familiar with a number of the songs and had
little trouble keeping up with his new companions. Meanwhile, Rory lolled
deliberately against him, doing his best impression of a lad too soused even
to stand up straight.

At Bride Street, however, just outside St. Patrick's Cathedral and far enough
away - Archie hoped--from their would-be pursuers, there came a parting of the
ways. Rory suddenly lurched upright, clutched at the bars of the iron fence
surrounding the church and began to produce impressively authentic retching
noises. Waving the others away down the street, Archie made a great show of
holding the boy's head as he appeared to cast up his nonexistent accounts.

They continued the charade for several minutes, until their recent companions
were no longer visible, then Rory exhaled in a great huff of breath and
straightened up, his forehead still braced against the bars.

"That was *bloody* close!"

Archie, now leaning against the bars himself, only nodded, relief and memory
suddenly batting him back and forth like a shuttlecock.

// "Two universal languages," his betrothed had once said, glinting at him
over the keys of her pianoforte, "music--and farce!"// Well, he and Rory
had provided both tonight. *Thank you, Medora.*

"Who's Medora?" Rory swiveled his neck around to peer at him through the
darkness

Oh, God. He hadn't meant to speak the thought aloud. In the last year, the
pain of separation had dulled from being unendurable to merely . . .
excruciating. Archie took a deep breath, then another, before answering.

"A girl I fancied." The words came out lightly, as they were meant to, and
had the advantage of being true. *The truth - and less than the truth.*

An involuntary grimace and a definite spark of disapproval in those green
eyes. Rory's aversion to the fair sex continued unabated. Archie wanted to
laugh - or weep; the former seemed safer.

"Come." He straightened, clapped the boy on the shoulder. "We seem to have
lost whoever was following you, and we're not so far from the house now.
Time we were away."

*****

To their relief, the remainder of their journey was without incident. Soon
enough, they were mounting the front steps to the Merrion Square townhouse
Kilcarron had leased for the duration.

The other agents were assembled in the sitting-room, most of them gathered
around the table as they pored over some documents: Carmichael, Jamieson,
Ferguson, Fleming, and several Irish division members whose names Archie
could not immediately recollect.

Carmichael came forward to meet his two subordinates. "What the hell kept
you? Did you get it?"

For answer, Rory reached into his shirt, drew out a slim sheaf of papers,
folded and tied together, and handed them to their commander.

Tawny eyes kindled with anticipation. "Boyle made the drop, then? There were
no problems?"

"Not - not with that." Rory shivered suddenly. "Pardon me--I'm feeling a bit
cold." With this unwonted politeness, he slipped away from them both, made
for the fire. Archie glanced after him, then looked back and found
Carmichael's gaze lingering briefly in the same direction before the tawny
eyes turned back and fixed on Archie himself in an intense, unwavering
scrutiny. Practice in as many mirrors as he chose, of whatever size, there
was no evading that unspoken question.

"He was followed," Archie admitted, in a low voice. "Two men--under the
bridge, near Queen Street. We had to--" no need for further words. Archie
continued, even more quietly. "He was sick, after. I . . . don't think it
will happen again."

"The following or the killing or the sicking up?" The senior agent's voice
was low also, but, there was no mistaking the displeasure in it as his eyes
went back to the fireplace.

"All three, I hope." Archie followed Carmichael's gaze. "He'll be all right."

"He'll have to be," the older man retorted. "Things are about to happen--and
quickly too."

Archie turned back towards the middle of the room, recognizing for the first
time the air of suppressed excitement surrounding his fellow agents. "You've
found something out?"

Carmichael nodded. "Caillean brought a report back from the alehouse two
hours ago. And Jamieson's just confirmed it. Emmet and his men mean to take
Dublin Castle."

Archie's eyes widened. "Good God!"

"The rising's set for later this month - or August. Let's see if these,"
Carmichael brandished the papers Rory had given him, "can tell us anything
more." He headed back to the table, Archie at his heels. Rory left the
fireplace and came to join them.

"More information," the commander reported to the other agents who looked up
alertly at his approach. Undoing the string, he unfolded the papers - of which
there were three--and laid them on the table.

Jamieson leaned forward. "Code," he reported immediately, pointing at the
first two pages.

"Not too surprising." Carmichael considered the papers in question. "I
remember this one--but Caillean would be faster." His eyes went reluctantly
to the door.

"The Gaelic code?" Fleming spoke up from the armchair. "Let her sleep, I
can do it. Give it here."

So Fleming was good for something, Archie reflected, and it was a show of
consideration, if not exactly chivalry.

Carmichael handed him the first two sheets; Rory reclaimed the third, having
recovered a little of his aplomb.

"That's a map, isn't it? Somewhere near Patrick Street?"

"It might be," Carmichael allowed.

"No, it has to be! Look here, I noticed this when I'd just got it--" his
words ended in a yelp as Carmichael got a grip on his ear.

"And were looking at it so hard you didn't see them coming after you! You got
out of this with *luck* this time, hell-brat--don't forget it again!"
Carmichael relieved his feelings by cuffing Rory's other ear--but still
lightly, Archie noticed--and turned at Fleming's long, low whistle.

"Come look at *this*!"

Releasing Rory, Carmichael leaned over Fleming's shoulder, reading the
decoded transcription, then pumped a triumphant fist.

"That's *it*!"

"What is?" Archie asked.

"That main armory we've all been looking for," Carmichael replied. It's in
Patrick Street."

"Not just Patrick Street," Fleming reported. "He's got depots set up all
round the city - Dirty Lane off Thomas Street, Winetavern, and," he glanced at
Rory, "Smithfield."

Archie pursed his lips in a soundless whistle. "That's probably why you were
followed, Rory. They thought you got too close to what they were hiding!"

"So luck *is* good for something," Rory muttered, still rubbing his ear
theatrically. Carmichael swung at him again--but missed, as was far more
frequently the custom.

"There's more." Fleming's voice broke in again; he was staring intently at
Carmichael.

"Come check this for me. Tell me *this* wouldn't bring the Frogs. Tell me
I'm wrong." He held up the second sheet of paper; Carmichael took it,
glancing alternately from the coded original to the key.

"Phil Long--yes, we know about him--cousin's country estate, half a day out
of Dublin . . . a smithy . . . no, a foundry." He stopped abruptly, looking
down at Fleming. "You're right. This would bring them." Carmichael looked
up at the rest of the assembled agents in the room, his voice going hard and
cold.

"He's got a foundry he can offer. He's casting cannon for Napoleon."

 

 

END PART FOURTEEN