For King or Commonwealth

For King or Commonwealth by Richard Woodman

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Authors: Richard Woodman
Thames under orders so precise that I have no hope of commanding my fate. And in mine own ship too! A ship I put at his disposal.’ Anger and outrage robbed him of further words and he bit at his own crooked index finger with such fury that it drew blood.
    â€˜I think you grossly overestimate the risk, Kit,’ Mainwaring said. ‘Why, His Majesty requires only that you repeat your success off the Nore arguing, quite logically, that you cannot yet repeat the success of your cruise to the northwards.’
    â€˜The enemy knows that I am back in The Hague; the place is full of spies,’ Faulkner said with contempt but calming himself with an effort to match Mainwaring’s argument with his own. ‘If this is your stratagem, Sir Henry, then I deplore it and admit I am too big for my boots. Moreover, I have little doubt but that word is already on its way to London that another attempt is going to be made on the Thames and Medway.’ He looked at Mainwaring, a sudden suspicion entering his mind and growing in an instant with the certainty of conviction. ‘If this plan is so easy to undertake, Sir Henry,’ he said, fixing the old man with his gaze, ‘would you not condescend in hoisting your flag and accompanying me as the King’s admiral?’
    â€˜I have every intention of so doing, Sir Christopher,’ Mainwaring said archly, steadily meeting his interlocutor’s eyes. Faulkner nodded. ‘I divine your purpose,’ he said, shooting a look at Katherine who was none the wiser. Mainwaring intended to carry Faulkner, the
Phoenix
and all her people into the hands of the enemy and make his compact with them.
    Faulkner lay that night beside the sleeping Katherine, his thoughts in turmoil. He felt torn in his loyalty to Mainwaring, unable to understand the imperative that was driving the old man. Faulkner had supposed Mainwaring had no roots in England, and misunderstood the other’s complex intellect and the compulsions of a man of Mainwaring’s subtle character. He himself had sundered his present from his past, retaining the cunning and opportunism that had kept him alive as a child in the gutters of Bristol along with his clear vision of what he conceived as right from wrong. It was indeed true that he owed Mainwaring a great deal, but he had himself accomplished much by his own efforts. Now he felt betrayed; Mainwaring wanted to play on his obligation and compel Faulkner to facilitate his own return to a welcome Faulkner guessed Mainwaring had secretly arranged.
    But the implications of Mainwaring’s plan were compounded by other complexities. What could be his motive in going over to the Commonwealth with his flag flying in the
Phoenix
other than to betray Faulkner and all his people, to hand over the last Royalist ship in these home waters capable of dealing an effective blow against the trade of England? It was not credible that he, Faulkner, could make such a compact as Mainwaring had, presumably, made provision for. Faulkner was a wanted man and they would make an example of him; what was more he would be seen of by both sides as a gullible dupe, fooled by the old man who had been pirate, courtier, admiral and Judas!
    Faulkner had no friends in England. He could scarce revive his association with Nathan Gooding who had been not merely his former business partner but his brother-in-law, any more than he could claim assistance from Judith herself. She would be so steeped in her Puritan victory that she would never forgive him sufficiently to save him from the noose she would conceive he deserved.
    And what of Kate stirring beside him? To fall in – even blindly – with Mainwaring meant her abandonment. And that in turn would drive her directly into the arms of the King. The thought brought him wide-awake. He lay for a moment thinking fast and then, having rapidly come to a conclusion, he slipped out of bed. Waiting to ensure Kate remained fast asleep, he

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