Really quickly: I am sorry to leave you guys hanging on the next part of Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero. I was on a long ride via Greyhound Bus, and between the trip and the lack of sleep, it messed up my schedule a bit. Things should be getting back on schedule now!
Before we jump into things, I wanted to tell you guys a bit more about this project I’m working on. Renée Harrell has published a first novel (under a publisher-owned creative license), and are hard at work on getting some original fiction out there. Among a number of stories they have out there in the gauntlet is the novel Aly’s Luck, a science fiction action-adventure/comedy. They were looking for a reviewer to give Aly’s Luck a look and see what they thought, and I was quite pleased when they asked me if I was willing. I’m more than happy to do a favor of this sort for big fans of Luke Reviews. Renée Harrell is working on some really neat stuff, and I encourage you to check out their website, which is definitely worth a stop. Keep your eye out, because there will be some great stuff in the future from them, I guarantee it.
Luke Reviews continues its preview of Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero by Dan Abnett, and out from Angry Robot Books. Helpful Links: Reviews of other Dan Abnett works here at Luke Reviews, Angry Robot Books, Parts One and Two of Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero.
NOTE: TRIUMFF: HER MAJESTY’S HERO CONTAINS SOME LANGUAGE NOT APPROPRIATE FOR YOUNGER READERS.
The Second Chapter
And so to Soho. Ah, Soho. What are we ever to do about it?
Number seventeen, Amen Street, Soho was a three-storey residence built in the Neo-Rococo fashion that was typical of its neighbourhood (to wit, generously proportioned and not quite buttoned up). It stood in a quiet, well-guttered lane just off the more commercial streets, which was surprisingly decent and presentable considering that it lay only a short stagger from some of the most disreputable taverns and stews in the City, as well as the Windmill Theatre, where the famous burlesque show “All The World’s A Fan-tail Stage” was now in its record-breaking seventeenth year (“Come and come again!” declared Jack Tinker in the Daily Mail), not to mention the Stratford Revue Bar, with its nightly presentation of such entertainments as “As You Lick It” and the ever-popular “Two Gentlemen of Vagina”.
Number seventeen had been built in the time of the ninth Gloriana, and had withstood five unseasonal gales, a Great Fire, two plagues, six riots and, in its more recent history, a number of apocalyptic parties. Rupert Triumff had purchased it with some of the five thousand marks the Navy had awarded him for his part in the Battle of Finisterre*.
His neighbour on one side was a nondescript member of the diplomatic service by the name of Bruno de Scholet. De Scholet was abroad for much of the year, and Triumff had only met him twice. He had come round to complain about the noise one evening in 2003, and then again about an hour later. To the other side lived the distinguished composer Sir Edoard Fuchs. Fuchs had made his name and fortune in the early nineteen-eighties with some top-ten galliards and rondeaus, but he hadn’t had a notable success since the release of his “Greatest Hits” sheet-music quarto. He lived off his royalties and the occasional guest appearance, and was almost permanently soused on musket. Fuchs never complained about the loud parties at number seventeen. He was usually at them.
The effects of three bottles of Old Skinner’s Notable Musket was by that stage of the day beginning to wear off the owner of number seventeen. It was three o’clock.
Rupert Triumff lay supine and rather Chatterton-esque upon a chaise-longue in the Solar, washed in the hazy light that filtered down through the high, leaded windows. He had bathed, shaved, put on a splash of his favourite aftershave (“A Scent of Man”), and changed into grey netherstock hose, patterned canions, and a dark damask shirt, all topped off by an embroidered peascod doublet of beige murray. Only the small grille of black sutures across his swollen cheek hinted that the previous parts of the day had been anything less than respectable. Triumff was idly rotating the large, brass armillary sphere that stood on the floor beside the chaise with his draped hand. It thrummed like a roulette wheel. On a side table nearby sat a half-eaten nantwich. The Couteau Suisse lay in a waste-paper bin beside the door.
A few yards away from Triumff, at an oak desk lined with copies of Wisden, sat a large man with braided black locks. The man was entirely naked, his gleaming skin as dark as turned ebony, and he had the sort of gargantuan musculature that would have made Rubens whistle like a navvie, and Michelangelo place want-ads for a big ceiling. Naked though he was, the man had a pair of small wire-framed spectacles perched on the end of his broad nose. He was perusing a huge book of charts.
The door to the Solar creaked open, and Agnew entered, bearing a tray of beakers. He offered them to Triumff.
“Your elixir vitae, sir,” he said in precisely the same disapproving tone of voice with which he would have announced “The Prince of Wales”, or “Who, precisely, has popped off?”
Triumff took one of the gently steaming beakers, and sipped at it gratefully. At the very beginning of their professional relationship, Triumff had discovered that Agnew could concoct a mulled herbal drink that almost Magickally abolished the effects of alcohol. Agnew, with affected ambivalence, called it “elixir vitae”, and sometimes hinted that it was prepared from an old Suffolk remedy of his mother’s. It was almost miraculously effective. Triumff had often been heard to joke that the Church Guild really ought to check up on Agnew for practising the Arte without a licence. He was not far wrong. The potion was Magick. Just because the Arte had been generally rediscovered during the Renaissance, it didn’t necessarily follow that Magick was unknown before that time. All the Renaissance did was to popularly rekindle the practices that had become esoteric since antique times. In many places, particularly among tribal groups, or in old rural communities, many forms of Magick had survived and thrived, thank you very much, in the form of folk customs, traditions and hedgerow remedies, which is why so many country witches looked on the Renaissance as simply the rest of the world catching up with progressive current thinking. The elixir vitae recipe had been in the Agnew family for so long, indeed, they had forgotten that it was Magickal. All they remembered, every New Year’s Day, was that it worked.
Triumff sipped at his beaker thoughtfully, and held out an object for Agnew’s inspection.
“D’you think Gull will want this back?” he asked.
“I doubt it, sir,” answered his manservant, placing the tray on the edge of the dresser. “But he will, I’m certain, be interested in acquiring some other portions of anatomy… your anatomy, sir.”
Triumff waved the notion aside, and sat up with a yawn.
“What’re you doing, Uptil?” he asked.
The naked man at the desk turned, and removed his spectacles with a refined gesture.
“Just looking, Rupert,” he said.
“Well, it never ceases to amaze me,” Uptil replied. “I mean, your Unity is meant to be the superior power on this Earth, and you know so flipping little.”
He pointed to the charts laid open on the desk. “Africa,” he said, with a sigh. “One of the greatest, strangest, most complex continents on the planet, and you represent it as a fuzzy triangle full of drawings of pigs and loaves.”
Triumff stood up and looked over Uptil’s shoulder. “They’re hippopotamuses. And huts. Look, there’s definitely a door in that one.”
“Well, pardon me,” Uptil said, grinning. “You know, when I agreed to come back from Beach** with you, I thought I’d be learning great wonders and notions from your oh-so-famous Empire, which I could take back and share with my people. I’ve been here now, what? Quite a while. It’s like living with flipping savages. You’re superstitious, uncouth, blinkered, arrogant, and you generally don’t smell all that great. You think Africa is full of loaves and pigs. You haven’t even mastered the simple combustion engine.”
“Hey,” said Triumff, “we’ve got Magick…”
The massive autochthon looked at Triumff sadly.
“How many times have I got to explain this?” he asked. “It’s your downfall, my friend. Magick is the cross you’ve crucified your cultural progress on, to borrow an analogy from your myths. Take my word for it. Yours would be a better world without the Arte.”
Triumff shrugged dismissively.
“You saw Beach, Rupert. You saw the way we live. We kicked out the ways of sorcery three hundred years ago, and we haven’t looked back.”
Triumff took a deep breath, and thought for a moment of the shining glass edifices of Beach, the smooth streets, the gleaming metal horse-less chariots, the smiling, healthy, clean people. He remembered their mpIII players, their Visagebook, and their ThyPlace, their reliable sanitation, their dry martinis, their surf boards. He remembered that all of it had only been possible because there were, in essence, no Wizards of Aus.
“Oh bollocks,” he sighed.
“Just remember,” he added, after a moment, “just remember the real reason you’re here.”
“Right, the Ploy. I’m sticking my neck right out for your folks back home, so just take it easy with the old criticism.”
The sound of knocking drifted up through the house.
“Is that de Scholet again?” snapped Triumff. “We’re not even having a party. If it’s about the other night, tell him to sod off. If it’s Fuchs after a bottle of laughing juice, tell him we’ve joined the Temperance Society. I can’t afford to subsidise his problem.”
Agnew paused on his way out. “And if it is guests, sir? Are you entertaining today?”
“I’m a bloody scream,” said Triumff, flopping into his seat. Agnew disappeared.
“Better be on the safe side,” Triumff said to Uptil. The big man nodded, and then slumped into the corner, an expression of sullen vacancy suddenly investing his face. He began to pick at his ear.
“Sire Clarence, sir,” he reported.
Sire Roger Clarence, powdered, perfumed, teased, waxed, plucked, lipo-ed, laced, veneered, buffed, polished and heeled in the very latest fashion, flounced into the Solar. Clarence swam in the intermediate depth of the Court pool, and was one of Woolly’s more effective facilitators. Behind him came two pike-men of the Royal Household, sweltering in full beefeater uniform. They were meant to be in attendance, but one of them had caught the head of his polearm in the staircase ceiling, and they were both engaged in freeing it. Clarence paused in the doorway for dramatic effect, realised his dramatic effect was still outside on the landing fighting with three yards of halberd, and decided to make the best of things as they were. He waved Agnew aside with a lace nosegay so stuffed with scent it made the grim man gag, and turned to Triumff.
“Felicitations, stud,” he said, “I hope I’m not intruding, but it’s Court business.”
Triumff looked up from the book on fly fishing he had been pretending to read.
“Well, I never,” he said, smiling dangerously, “Roger Clarence, the man of whom they say in hushed whispers ‘his name is not an instruction’. Come in. Can I get you a diet malmsey, or would you like something stiffer with a cherry in it?”
Clarence turned up his nose and closed his eyes in protest. “You are an awful man, Triumff. So common. So unreconstructed.”
Triumff got to his feet and closed the book.
“Things must be slow at Hampton today to get you down to the sleazy end of town. Or are you slumming?” he asked.
Clarence looked at him contemptuously, and then shook open the newspaper he had been carrying under his arm. “Have you seen the rag this morning?”
Triumff took the paper and studied it. “Times Bingo… Coffers to be won?”
“The headline, you monstrous man! ‘New Continent Expedition Still In Doubt’. The Council’s sent me down here to gee you up. De la Vega’s expedition is champing at the bit. When the hell are you going to make your report?”
“When I’m ready,” said Triumff. “When I’ve assembled all the facts. I’m still studying the trinkets I brought back.”
Clarence eyed the hulking figure of Uptil, who was staring into space with empty eyes.
“Hnh,” Clarence murmured. Then he remembered himself and turned to glare at Triumff. “Well, Rupert, let me tell you, they’re reaching the end of their tether at Court. They’re saying your lack of enthusiasm proves there’s something down there worth exploring, something you’re keeping to yourself. De la Vega won’t be gainsayed for long. The time will come when the Queen will grant him his Letters of Passage anyway.”
“Yes, the Queen. She’s getting impatient.”
Clarence looked around the Solar with artificially wide eyes.
“Is there an echo?” he asked. “Yes, old Three Ex herself. Don’t fool yourself, Rupert, it’s been a decade since you were her blue-eyed boy. You’ve been away for three years, and you’ve hardly been a constant presence at Windsor since you’ve been back. De la Vega’s her favourite now, and Slee has her ear. The day’s long gone when you could string her along by force of your charm alone.”
Triumff glowered and sat down heavily.
“Cheer up, stud. All it takes is you attending on Her Majesty for an afternoon with your report. The Council will look it over too. Then you’ll be in her good books, and the whole Australia business can get under way.”
“One week. That’s her final word. If I were you, I’d get it done and dusted before the Masque this Saturday. And please understand she’s being generous. You’ve had a year already. God knows, if you hadn’t once been her favourite, she’d have carted you off to the Tower months ago, and gone ahead regardless.”
Triumff’s shoulders sagged, and he looked at the floorboards, a dismal expression on his face.
“I’ll see you at Court then,” said Clarence, heading for the door. “Don’t disappoint her. It’s your head. And remember, this was a friendly warning. She could have sent a detachment of huscarls.”
Clarence paused in the doorway. He took a small fold of paper out of his tunic pocket. It was sealed with a ribbon. He tossed it to Triumff.
“By the way,” he said, “that was on your doorstep.”
Triumff caught the slip neatly.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Far be it from me to read another man’s personal correspondence,” smiled Clarence, “but it appeared to be an invitation from a man asking you to meet him at the Dolphin Baths at four-thirty. There’s a whole side to you I don’t know about, isn’t there? Vivat Regina!”
Triumff leapt to his feet, but Clarence had gone, taking his pike-men with him, and leaving nothing but a stench of cologne and a ragged hole in the plaster of the staircase ceiling.
“Clarence! What man? What man? Come back here!”
Triumff looked back from the stairhead. Agnew and Uptil were staring at him.
“Things,” Triumff said to them dolefully, “are turning so pear-shaped, they wouldn’t look out of place up a tree with a partridge.”
* With a rag-tag, badly victualled squadron (seven pinnace, three sprightly Hawkins, two luggers, half-a-dozen ketch and a galleasse) led by his own flagship, a hundred-gun galleon called the Blameless, Triumff had engaged and annihilated a flota of Portuguese Privateers off Finisterre in the summer of 2002. The pirate fleet, forty-strong, had been harrying Spanish treasure ships from the New World. The Admiralty later referred to Triumff’s tactics as “The instinctive genius of a man in whose veins runs salt-water, not blood.” The Times described it as “Typical and extremely jammy.” Triumff’s famous line at the hour of victory (“Oh, Spain! Sleep easy in thy bed, for England hath set thy foe to flight!”) is now reckoned to be a product of dramatic licence on the part of the battle correspondent. It is likely that what Triumff really said was “Suck on it, you gob-shites!”
** “Australia”, the terra incognito, is only the working name the Unity has given to the vast southern continent Rupert discovered. Many other names vie for popularity: “Lucach”, “Maletur”, “New Virginia” and “The Vast Southern Continent” are all contenders. “Beach” is a literal translation of the name Uptil’s people have for their land and, as such, is the best choice. As with all these things however, it doesn’t stand a cat in hell’s chance of being accepted formally.