The Hacker Chronicles, Book 2
Saturday, the second day of July, in the year of our Lord, 1644, will be a day long remembered by the men and women committed to ending the reign of a tyrannical King. For on this day, the forces of Charles the First were crushed on the bloody fields of Marston Moor.
The calamitous defeat forces the increasingly desperate Royalists to intensify their attempts to bring about the immediate demise of their Parliamentarian enemies. This includes devising an audacious plan to assassinate the man they believe is key to the war’s outcome.
With the plotters ready to strike, Francis Hacker, one of Parliament’s most loyal soldiers, becomes aware of the conspiracy. With little time to act, he does everything in his power to frustrate their plans. But, alas, things start to unravel when brave Hacker finds himself pitted against a ruthless and cunning mercenary, a man who will resort to anything to achieve a ‘kill’.
Lady Lucy Hay, a woman who shares her bed and the secrets of the State with whomever she deems fit, is someone who has not been in my thoughts for a long time.
I made her acquaintance when I was seeking to persuade the princes Rupert and Maurice to accept the English throne and become de facto allies of Parliament.
Over several months, we formed a bond that served both sides well. During one notable occasion at Banbury Castle, Lady Lucy revealed to me some of the arts and ways of spying, including how she hides secret communiqués from prying eyes.
The conversation was fascinating and illuminating, albeit I never thought for one moment that it would ever come in useful.
Today, however, is when I will put this knowledge to the test. For I intend to send my brother a message of hope that I will conceal in a raw egg, a technique refined by Lady Lucy and frequently used to her profit.
By ten o’clock in the morning, I am ready to begin.
I have allowed the three eggs to be soaked in vinegar for the last couple of hours. The effect has been quite startling: the shell has softened significantly without breaking, just as Lady Lucy told me it would.
Holding one of them as delicately as possible, I take the knife and press the blade into the shell. Instantly it yields, and some of the egg white oozes out of the incision. It is through this opening I will insert a message for Rowland.
I put the egg down gently on the tray and reach for the paper. I will only need a small amount of velum to write my instructions, which will be brief and to the point.
As I extend my hand, my cuff clips the tray, sending the contents crashing loudly to the floor. The commotion forces Kathleen to call upstairs to enquire whether I am in difficulty. I quickly reassure her I am fine and then set about the business of recovering the eggs and the tools that will serve me this day.
I look to the floor and see the crushed shells of at least two of the eggs. I groan aloud and hit the table with my fist. It would seem my clumsiness has jinxed the whole venture. I get down on my knees in the confined space and look closer. There is little light, the room cast in near-permanent semi-darkness.
After a few seconds, I find the third egg. It is undamaged, having rolled away and nestling under a nearby table. I examine it quickly, seeking signs of breakage. But I am in luck as it appears to be undamaged and in near-perfect condition.
Once again, I take the knife in my right hand and hold it against the bright white shell. It’s time to try again, all the while being acutely aware I don’t have a second chance. I will either succeed or fail.
After a few seconds of the utmost concentration and with sweat pouring off my forehead, the knife has done its work. A perfect aperture has been cut into the egg’s supple shell.
It’s now time to insert the message for the eyes of my beloved brother.
As the feather of the quill dances to the tune of a forgettable melody, I drill out the words I formulated in the early hours…
“Forgive me, brother, for any part I may have played in your misfortune. Be assured, I intend to find a way to make good your rescue this evening, at seven o’clock. Remain vigilant and pass on any knowledge you wish to share to the bearer of this message. He will ensure I receive it. Francis.”
I have done my best to write the script legibly, but as small as I can, ensuring the width of the communiqué is no bigger than the tip of my little finger, while its overall length will fit snugly into the chamber of the egg. To protect it, I have wrapped the sheaf with another page of vellum.
Only when I am happy with everything do I insert it into the neatly formed cut, applying pressure as carefully and skilfully as I can.
Once the paper is safely inside the shell, I place the egg into the tankard located by the post of my bed. The cold water erases the evidence of my manipulation and interference by closing the slit in the shell almost perfectly. Now, should anyone take an interest in the egg, it will almost be impossible for the naked eye to detect any signs of tampering. It will appear to be nothing more than a simple egg. Or at least that is my hope.
After a few minutes, and with my self-doubts intensifying, I start to have concerns about the validity and sense of the whole exercise.
I stand and walk over to the table, where I pick up the egg and take it to a candle that is flickering wildly as the draught from the door breathes life into its golden flame. I check it thoroughly once again for any apparent signs of trauma. To my utter amazement, I can find none.
Thank you, Philip Yorke and The Coffee Pot Book Club
About the Author
Philip Yorke is an award-winning former Fleet Street journalist who has a special interest in history. His Hacker Chronicles series, to be told in five fast-paced historical fiction novels, tells the story of Parliamentarian soldier, Francis Hacker.
Redemption, the second book in the series, is set during the period 1644-46 (during the first English Civil War), when events take a significant turn in favour of Parliament.
Philip is married, and he and his wife have five children. He enjoys relaxing to classical music, reading the works of Nigel Tranter, Bernard Cornwell, Robyn Young and CJ Sansom, and supporting Hull City FC and Leicester Tigers RFC.
He lives in Leicestershire, England.
Amazon Author Page: amazon.co.uk/~/e/B07YX5JMHY
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Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/mq1XKv