Today I’m delighted to be sharing an excerpt from Philip Yorke’s novel Redemption as part of a blog tour hosted by The Coffee Pot Book Club. Redemption is the second book in Philip’s series The Hacker Chronicles, set during the First English Civil.
Oliver Cromwell breezes into Stathern at four o’clock in the afternoon, galloping into the Hall’s courtyard with the sun at his back and looking every inch the mighty warrior he has become.
Black Jack, his trusted and much-admired horse, is sweating heavily. So, too, are the Master and the twelve dragoons that make up the Lieutenant-General’s very own Praetorian Guard. They have been riding for several hours, travelling cross-country from Lincoln, where Cromwell has been overseeing the continued strengthening of the city’s defences.
Lincoln was seized a little over three months ago by the Eastern Association with minimal loss of life on both sides.
Looking at the vibrant figure sitting astride his jet-black steed, it is hard to comprehend the pressure the man is under to continue out-thinking and out-fighting the King’s men. But if he is feeling the pinch, he doesn’t show it.
“You are a sight for sore eyes, young Francis Hacker,” he roars as he leaps out of the saddle. “I hope you have some food and ale waiting for us, my friend, for my comrades and I are thirsty and famished.”
And then he is upon me, crushing my hand in his vice-like grip and patting me on the shoulder, as an uncle would greet one of his favourite nephews.
“There is much to talk to you about, Francis, and there is not a lot of time to do it,” he says with a note of unmistakable urgency in his voice. “Much has happened in the weeks since I saw you last. And a great deal is likely to occur in the days ahead that will occupy my wits and those of the men closest to me. And you, my friend, are one of the confidantes I will be forced to call upon most. So let us find somewhere quiet to retire to, so I can unburden my soul and tell you of everything that has passed.
“But before we discuss these things, I would be obliged if you escorted me to your good lady. I wish to pay my respects to her and also take a look at those children of yours. I have been looking forward to reacquainting myself with your family, and, my friend, you will not deny me that pleasure.”
It is not until six o’clock that we can break free from the children and Isabel, such is their contagious delight at being reacquainted with Oliver.
The village has turned out in force to enjoy the feast and entertainment laid on for them by my wife, and there is no privacy to be found at the Hall. So Cromwell and I decide to take a brisk walk to the ruins of Rose Cottage, the former home of Peter and Marjorie Harrington.
As we stroll up Mill Hill, taking in the vast and panoramic views of the Vale of Belvoir and easing past the temporarily stilled Red Lion Inn, the zest that was so evident in Oliver’s face upon his arrival has been replaced with a hard and serious palour. When he speaks, I understand why.
“We are facing the most critical phase of the war,” he declares when he is sure an eavesdropper cannot overhear our conversation. “The fight for the soul of our country has started, and our greatest enemy may no longer be the King.”
I stop and look at him. His face is flushed; his eyes are dark, emotionless brooding pools. His jaw is set as if he has just received a harsh blow from an invisible assailant.
“Whatever are you saying, Oliver?” I ask, my surprise all too evident. “We may be in the ascendency after recent events, but Charles and his supporters surely represent the greatest threat to unity. What else can possibly be an obstacle?”
Oliver doesn’t say anything immediately. Instead, he turns away and scans the landscape, following the flight of an ornately decorated Jay as it flies from branch to branch amidst a thicket of young Hazelwood trees. Eventually, after losing sight of the shy bird, he faces me again, and I feel his eyes penetrating my inner recesses. He straightens his hat before speaking.
“I am confident as I can be that the war against the King is close to being won,” he announces. “The momentum is now with us. So, too, are greater pockets of the country. Although it may yet take some time, I believe the outcome is already secure as far as the King is concerned. But, my dear friend, the fight is far from over.
“The war, if that is indeed the correct choice of word, will now be fought among the victors, and it may be more brutal than what came before.
“The nobility and men of rank and status are likely to become our new adversaries. That, as much, has become abundantly clear to me in recent weeks. These men despise us and what we stand for. Unlike us, they have no piety and little regard for our nation’s well-being; they are merely fighting for political and financial reward. If the wind had been blowing in a different direction two years ago, they would most certainly be our foe today, not our so-called brothers. Be of no doubt, they will do almost anything to ensure men like you and I do not prevail.”
Oliver lets his words sink in. He has always had a sound grasping of the English language, and this evening his oratory skills are as compelling as ever.
“You are aware Manchester and your own commander, Lord Grey, fear the likes of you and me?” he continues, confident I will not seek to question his words. “Even though they are fighting the King, they do not truly oppose what he stands for. On the contrary, they seek his swift return to the throne, albeit they will tell you they are seeking to have his wings clipped so he can no longer wield the kind of power he enjoyed before the war started. But, alas, to the likes of you and me, there will be no noticeable difference. Charles will be the same tyrant he always has been; only the support of the nobility will, in time, enable him to emerge even stronger.”
I know what Cromwell says to be true, and I am about to reply when the iron gates of the Harrington’s ruined cottage appear in the corner of my vision.
It is almost six months since my dear friends were slain. Their once happy home is now a tangled mess of debris, collapsed walls and charred wooden beams left where they fell in an overgrown and weed-ridden garden.
Amid the ruins, I notice a large quantity of white and red roses have been laid at the doorway to the house. They are fresh and vibrant, most likely cut from the garden of their son, Stephen, who lives in the nearby village of Harby, and who regularly visits this hallowed place. He is another who continues to grieve for the innocent victims of this senseless and bitter feud.
I prod a darkened ember with my boot. It snaps in two, unable to resist the mild pressure I have applied.
“I know what you say to be true,” I say, my voice almost a whimper. “I have sensed the unease that exists among the officers and the factions that are growing within our army. I have perceived as much with his Lordship and some of the officers who are closest to him. Of course, we fight alongside each other, but trust and respect are in short supply when we are not engaging with the enemy.
“I had hoped my fears would prove to be groundless, but your words today convince me there is more foundation to them than I had appreciated. So tell me, what is to be done, Oliver? How do we keep the peace and ensure the painful sacrifices we have all endured will count for something?”
Cromwell moves towards the gate, which like everything else in this graveyard, has been damaged beyond repair. As he reaches the entrance to the garden and the rust-encrusted structure that still bears the scorch marks of the flames that consumed the cottage, he beckons me to follow.
“Let us return to the Hall. There is nothing more to be achieved by remaining in this sad place,” he says as I join him on the dirt track outside once again. “All I require you to do, my dear friend, is listen to what I have to say. I will tell you all that needs to be done, and when I have finished, I want you to accept the important role I have earmarked for you.”
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’.
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.
Book Title: Redemption
Series: The Hacker Chronicles, Book 2
Author: Philip Yorke
Publication Date: 2nd July 2021
Publisher: Mashiach Publishing
Page Length: 480 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction