Roger L'Estrange and the Kent Petition
English Civil War.
With Parliament victorious and King Charles in prison, England suffers under oppression. In Kent, the Royalists, led by Edward Hales, draw up a petition to Parliament demanding the release of the King.
Enter Roger L’Estrange, newly escaped from Newgate prison, eager to promote the petition with Hales while Parliament works to suppress it.
As Fairfax’s army bears down on Kent, can the Royalists take the petition to London? Can they save the King?
And in the resulting bloodbath, can Roger save feisty Beth Wotton, Hales’ beautiful sister-in-law? Can he save himself?
The second Roger L’Estrange adventure, REBELLION is a swashbuckling romance based on the true story of the Kent rebellion.
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Extract from REBELLION:
Kent, Monday, 15th May, 1648
Roger L’Estrange cursed and dipped his head as the wind drove icy rain into his face. A uniformly pewter sky turned the day into dusk. By rights, no one should be abroad in this weather, least of all a man whose constitution had been weakened by being deprived of sunlight and good food for nearly four years. He coughed. And wracked by a sickness of the lungs.
Surely Tunstall could not be far now. There was no one to ask; in this weather anyone in their right mind would be indoors, rugged up by a roaring fire.
Evidently, he was not in his right mind. He had parents and a brother in Norfolk who were convinced his thirty-one years had given him not one ounce of commonsense. He had to admit they were probably right.
The only person he had encountered some miles ago had been a predictably vague old man. A road with a sharp bend, he had said, and on the bend would be Hales House. ‘Can’t miss it!’ Roger shook his head wryly. In England Can’t miss it often meant it was impossible to find.
The easy rhythm of his dun-coloured mare as she splashed through the mud allowed his mind to wander. She came with the name Persephone, Percy for short, and cost too much money. He smiled at the irony. Percy was the family name of the Earl of Northumberland, the man responsible for stopping Roger’s execution.
A horse rounded the bend in the road ahead at a fast canter, spraying up mud around it, the rider huddled close to the animal’s neck. Other horses and riders thundered behind. They wore the buff-coats of soldiers, iron pots on their heads, and breastplates. Not cavaliers, then, Roger thought, for the defeat and imprisonment of the King meant that the only soldiers abroad had to be Parliamentarian.
He stiffened with unease. He had no sword as yet, not even a dagger to protect himself with. Mayhap they would be too intent on their business to give him a glance.
Such hope was short-lived as the first soldier abruptly reined in abreast of Roger. The rain came down so hard that Roger heard it plink on his iron helmet. He looked just as soaked as Roger felt.
‘Who are you?’ the soldier demanded rudely peering at Roger and fighting to keep his eager horse still. Roger envied him the horse, a chestnut gelding with a light mane and a sprightly nature, fast, with pent-up energy. A swoop of alarm in his chest set him coughing again, giving him time to think. ‘Name’s Rogers,’ he lied when the coughing subsided, and forced a smile. ‘You’re in haste, friend.’
‘On England’s business,’ the other replied haughtily, no answering smile in his eyes. Now that his friends had caught him up, he gained confidence. ‘Collecting taxes.’
‘I see,’ Roger said even though he did not but his anxiety subsided a little. They were not looking for him, then. But, soldiers collecting taxes?
‘Aye. Some of these people do not pay up. They take some persuasion,’ one of the others explained.
‘I see,’ Roger said again. Now he understood. Parliament, or more probably the local squire, took it upon himself to collect taxes for Parliament, taking his own cut into the bargain, as no doubt did his soldiers. A profitable business, tax collecting.
He studied the man in front of him, typical of the breed of ruffian Parliament employed and with whom he had become reluctantly acquainted over the years. No softening improved the steely grey eyes and he had a grim cruel mouth beneath a full black moustache.
‘So, Mr. Rogers, friend, show us your purse.’
Roger’s heart missed a beat. ‘I have paid my dues to Parliament, sir,’ he said with more than an element of truth.
The man drew his sword in leisurely fashion, well aware that Roger was unarmed, and held it out to his chest. ‘Your purse, sir, if you please.’
The way of escape was barred by the other soldiers for they hemmed him in on all sides. He could see no opportunity to make a run for it. In any case, he could not see Percy outrunning that gelding. With no option but to pay up, reluctantly and with a sour look at this man, Roger searched his doublet until he found his purse. ‘How much?’ he asked, pulling at the strings to open it.
A hand shot out and grabbed it. ‘All of it.’
Knowing that his eyes betrayed that flash of anger which had cost him in the past, he forced himself to keep calm and hid his face, lowering his head so that water poured off his hat brim and onto his leg. ‘And with what shall I pay for my dinner, sir?’
‘Eat pig swill,’ one of the soldiers said and laughed, his friends joining in the joke.
Roger said nothing. If he had been armed he might have been tempted to take them on, although the odds were six to one. However, with no weapon, better just go on his way and get out of the cursed weather. The purse contained only a few pennies anyway. No point in getting himself killed over it.
More riders hurtled round the bend. Roger’s heart swooped again. If they took him into custody, he would hang for sure. Still under sentence of death, an escaped convict could expect no mercy. His tired brain struggled to come up with a plan. Any plan. In the absence of anything better, he would make a run for it, and if they shot him, well, it would be a better death than dangling at the end of a rope. Worth the risk.
Catching sight of the first troop, the second broke into a canter and drew swords, cavalry fashion.
‘Royalists!’ the man holding the purse cried, and slipped it into his own doublet. With rasp of metal, the soldiers drew their swords in unison.
Cursing softly and aware that being defenceless in the middle of a pitch battle would not be the wisest course, Roger tried to turn his horse, for the man who had his purse had turned away to confront the newcomers. However the chestnut’s glorious rear barred his way. Lashing out with his spurred foot he caught the animal in the flank just as the rider aimed a blow at his attacker. With a squeal of pain and fright the horse reared.
The Royalist backed off. ‘What have we here then?’ he demanded. He looked to be no more than seventeen or eighteen, yet he had the bearing of a slightly older man. He glanced at Roger and then back to the soldiers. ‘Picking on an unarmed man again, Bolsover?’ he demanded, shaking his head in mock censure. ‘Tut, tut, isn’t it time you learned not to steal? Hand over whatever it was.’
‘My purse,’ Roger said.
‘Royalist scum!’ the soldier sneered.
‘Very likely,’ the young man replied affably. ‘Rather that than Parliament’s henchmen, though.’ He held out his hand. ‘Give.’
The soldier did not move, and his fellows watched to see what he would do. He was armed, his sword in his hand but did not try to use it.
‘You heard!’ another of them said. ‘Give!’ and he had a pistol aimed directly at the soldier who sheathed his sword and fished inside his doublet to retrieve the purse.
Taking the purse in his outstretched hand, the young Royalist then gave it to Roger.
‘Now go!’ the man with the pistol said to the soldiers.
Cursing them and vowing vengeance, the soldiers turned. No-one, it seemed, wished to argue with a pistol. A moment later they cantered away along the road, their curses fading in the wind.
Now Roger found himself surrounded by the Royalists, half a dozen of them but they sheathed their swords, and the man with the pistol tucked it in his belt.
‘Livesey’s men,’ the first man said in disgust and looked at Roger. ‘Did they harm you, friend?’
‘I remain unscathed,’ Roger said resting both gloved hands on the saddle. ‘I thank you, sir, for my rescue.’ He inclined his head, and once more a torrent poured off his hat. ‘Had I been armed, however…’
‘Damned thieves,’ the man with the pistol said and there was something familiar about his voice although in this light, and with his hat down over his face, it was difficult to see him. ‘What are you doing out here in this weather, sir?’
‘I am looking for Squire Hales,’ Roger said. ‘I did hear he might give me a bed for the night.’
‘He might,’ the first man said with a grin. ‘Who are you?’
Certain now that he was among friends, Roger gave his real name. ‘My name is L’Estrange.’
‘Roger L’Estrange?’ He frowned at Roger, his eyes searching his face in the dim light.
Roger stared at him in return. How did this man know of him? ‘Yes.’
The pistol man laughed. ‘Roger L’Estrange, as I live and breathe!’
Surprised, Roger gasped, ‘Good grief! Dudley!’ Sir Gamaliel Dudley. Marston Moor.
‘You know this man?’ the first man asked Dudley.
‘Of the Norfolk L’Estranges,’ Dudley informed him, putting the weapon away. ‘I’d know him anywhere. What the devil are you doing here, L’Estrange?’
Before Roger could answer the young man said suspiciously, ‘Roger L’Estrange is in Newgate.’
Roger nodded. ‘Until three days ago.’
‘This is Roger L’Estrange,’ Dudley said. ‘I can vouch for him. Must say, L’Estrange, you look a bit—er--changed!’
The younger man grinned, evidently satisfied. ‘I read some of your published writings, sir.’
Roger smiled brightly at him. ‘Then you will know that I am innocent.’
‘Indeed, sir. Come, we have tarried long enough in this weather. Livesey’s men are long gone. You will come with us, Mr. L’Estrange?’
‘Whither do you go?’
‘Hales House, sir, where I’ll warrant you will find a warm bed and decent food.’
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