Ring of Fire III

Ring of Fire III by Eric Flint Read Free Book Online

Book: Ring of Fire III by Eric Flint Read Free Book Online
Authors: Eric Flint
Tags: Fiction, General, Science-Fiction, Short Stories, Alternative History
“No, she was not mad. She remains amongst the most astute political minds of this era. She knew that if Philip did send us to invade Ireland, we would be underfunded and undersupplied. As it was, the closest we came to readiness—eleven boats waiting for a few thousand of us—would still have been suicide.”
    “Not if you and John O’Neill had gone together. The prat may be insufferable, but he’s a competent captain and a bear in a fight. Together, the earls of Tyrconnell and Tyrone would have been invincible.”
    “Gaelic bluster, O’Rourke. Don’t start believing the tales we tell to keep our spirits up during these long years of exile and waiting. Yes, I wanted to go. Yes, I wanted to lead. Yes, I agreed to Owen’s and Father Conry’s plan to create Ireland as a republic and to renounce any claim to preeminence. But unless wild luck had smiled on that project—instead of the death’s head which has loomed over all our others—the only result of an invasion led by both O’Neill and O’Donnell would have been the loss of the last two royal Irish heirs that the English are really worried about.”
    “So your godmother was willing to let O’Neill to take the lead, and get himself strung up...”
    “...in the unlikely event the invasion occurred at all; yes.”
    “And you she saved out of love.”
    “That—and practicality.”
    “What practicality was that?”
    “O’Rourke, how much trouble has our regiment had living side by side with the Walloons, even the Dutch?”
    “Other than the occasional argument over the price of provisioning, none.”
    “And O’Neill and his regiment?”
    O’Rourke nodded; he saw Isabella’s logic now. “One incident after another. He’s been hard- and high-handed from the start, right down to this very day.”
    Hugh nodded back. “Precisely. So if Isabella had to depend on mercenaries—and in particular, us Wild Geese—to protect her realm, she needed at least one loyal leader that enjoyed the trust of the locals and was not wholly subject to the manipulations of Madrid, nor the intrigues of her sworn enemies.”
    “In other words, she needed you. And us. Well, now I understand the past a little better, but I’m still in the dark regarding the present.” O’Rourke lifted his mug. “So tell me, why skulk back into camp? And why not one word of what you’re planning next? What’s afoot?”
    Hugh leaned forward. “For the nonce, O’Rourke, this is just between us.”
    “As always.”
    “Then here it is. I’ve hired on with the French. With Turenne. To work with an up-timer. To go to the New World. To take Trinidad from the Spanish crown. To sell it to the French. Because they want the oil.”
    O’Rourke put down his mug, which had been suspended midair during Hugh’s brief, bulleted explanation. “You’re serious.”
    Hugh nodded.
    “And what do you get out of it?”
    “ We —all of us—get money, maybe enough to keep our men and their families in food long enough to find a more permanent billet.”
    “You mean the French would pay for our costs up here? They’d send ecus over the border to Isabella?”
    “To Fernando,” Hugh corrected. “And yes, that’s the general idea. Subsistence costs only, of course. And some of the men—a few hundred maybe—would have to come down to France. Doing farm work for a few months, to help pay their keep. And then to travel—to serve—with me.”
    O’Rourke’s response was a long, astonished whistle—which he abruptly ended when he noticed the puzzled stares of the orderlies, who then became conspicuously refocused upon their work.
    O’Donnell was smiling. “You’ve a great future as a confidential agent, O’Rourke. A veritable master of undercover work.”
    “Funny you should mention undercover work, m’lord. Years ago, when I was courting Maureen Hennessy on the sly—”
    “Spare me the tawdry details, reprobate. Now, about getting a few companies of the regiment over to France: here’s

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