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Am I My Brother's Keeper?

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There are some who survive/Some who don’t/Some give up/Some give in/Me, I won’t!

 

1715

 

 

“Miss Guthrie. May we speak?”

 

Being addressed politely is almost a novelty for Eleanor and Lysander these days - Rogers and his cobra can be polite when they aren’t quietly threatening, but most of the others on the ship ignore her at best and are outright scornful at worst. She doesn’t know this man - he’s a civilian, and his tiny owl daemon makes him look harmless in a way that belies his broad shoulders and tall build. But then, she learned the hard way that the look of a person or their daemon is not quite as firm a clue on what they’re like as people think.

 

 Like Max’s cat, that little owl is still a predator.

 

 “Suit yourself,” she says, eyeing him carefully.

 

 “Thank you. My name is Andrew FitzHamilton, and my role here is not unlike your own.”


 

“Really? Did Rogers pull you from a jail cell too?” There’s something familiar about that name, though...

 

FitzHamilton has the grace to wince. “Ah. No. I apologize, you have a point. But I am an…advisor, like you. You are the local expert, and I was involved - in a way - with the original version of the plan Rogers intends to implement. My brother was in charge of it last time, and he and I had a regular correspondence such that I was aware of just about everything he had in mind. That’s… part of why I wanted to speak to you.”

 

 “I don’t follow.”

 

FitzHamilton’s owl takes off from his shoulder, flying tight circles just below the cabin ceiling. “How much do you know about the history of Rogers’ plan?”

 

“I had no reason to think there was a history behind it,” Eleanor says. Lys sits beside her chair and watches the owl, unmoving except for his slowly lashing tail. That’s when she remembers why his name sounds familiar - not FitzHamilton, just Hamilton. Her father had referred to Miranda Barlow as Lady Hamilton, and she’d meant to find out more but it simply hadn’t seemed pressing. Something she could ask him later.

 

What was it Mrs. Barlow had said about why she and Flint knew Ashe? They’d worked together on a plan for Nassau before. Hamilton… FitzHamilton is a bastard name, that much she knows. “Wait,” she says when FitzHamilton is about to explain. “Does this involve Captain Flint and Miranda Barlow?”

 

"Is Barlow the name she’s using now?” FitzHamilton laughs softly. “No idea where she got that, her maiden name was Stafford. But yes. Miranda is my sister-in-law. My brother Thomas, with input from his wife and occasionally from my letters, developed the plan Rogers is using… with his Naval liaison, James McGraw.”

 

“Flint?” Eleanor’s immediate response to the revelation that Flint was in the Navy is an urge to laugh that she ruthlessly stifles. But after a moment’s thought, she decides that it makes sense. It certainly explains some things about his planning.

 

“Yes, that’s the name he uses now,” FitzHamilton confirms.

 

“What does this have to do with me?” Eleanor asks.

 

FitzHamilton pauses, fiddling with his wedding ring. Idly, Eleanor wonders where his wife is. “You know them,” he says carefully. “I am here because, for several years, I believed my brother dead by his own hand after two years in Bedlam.”

 

“Mrs. Barlow’s husband went mad?”

 

No.” As if realizing he’d been too forceful, FitzHamilton pauses, clearing his throat before he starts again.

 

“No, Thomas was never mad. A bit eccentric in his idealism, maybe, but never mad. The story my father gave out was that grief over finding that his best friend and his wife were having an affair drove him insane. The personal truths are more complicated and not something I’m willing to discuss, but the reason he was locked away was a political disagreement with my father, not who was in whose beds.” FitzHamilton sighs, and his owl comes to rest on his thigh so he can pet her.

 

“He didn’t approve of the plan for Nassau?”

 

“No, ten years ago things were different, and there was recent family history that… Anyway, Thomas was locked up, his lieutenant discharged from the Navy and exiled on pain of death, and Miranda was kicked out by my father. They left together, and two years later I was notified of my brother’s death. So were they. My last letter to Miranda was a few years ago now, but I recently learned that Thomas is not dead, he was relocated to a plantation in Georgia that ‘rehabilitates’ prisoners through hard labor and provides a dumping ground for troublesome sons of rich families. They disappear there.”

 

It’s quite a story, but Eleanor thinks FitzHamilton is taking far too long to get to the point. “So your brother’s alive. What does that matter? Obviously you can’t get him out or I’m guessing you already would have.”

 

He laughs at that, a wry little sound. “You’re not wrong. I ended up disowned myself. But the new governor of New Providence Island can apply pressure to get him out. And a man like Woodes Rogers, who is rather good at tapping unexpected resources - such as yourself - has every reason to want Thomas around, not least because he is probably the only person who can convince Flint and Miranda to swap sides.”

 

“So he’s bait,” Eleanor says. It makes sense - sure, Rogers probably won’t object to more ideas, given how fiercely he needs this to work, and the person who first invented his plan is likely to have more ideas. But one of Rogers’ main focuses when asking her about Nassau had been, who is most likely to take the pardons, who do they need to either win over, hang, or at the very least run out of town?

 


She’d steered him toward a conviction that Vane had to go - it’s even true, because she knows Charles will never cooperate, but getting something she wants out of it only sweetens the pot. Hornigold, of course, Rogers has already, and he’s a valuable name. She’s unsure what Rackham will choose and she’d said as much. His main concern is his legacy, but what Anne Bonny will want, influenced by Max, will be key to Rackham’s choices, and his feelings about Charles are strange and complicated, but strong.

 

Flint, though. She hadn’t known what to tell him about Flint, who at their last meeting had been heading off to ally with a governor and make Nassau respectable, but had ended up killing that governor, razing his town, and is now leading the charge against civilization. Rumor has it Mrs. Barlow sails with him now, but rumor also has it that John Silver’sbecome a fearsome pirate, so Eleanor isn’t sure she believes it. She doesn’t know what happened in Charles Town, only how it ended, so she can’t guess how to counter whatever it was.

 

But if this Thomas Hamilton is the reason Flint and his woman ended up on Nassau, then he could easily be the reason they take pardons. “Why are you telling me this? How does it involve me?”

 

FitzHamilton shrugs. “There’s a good chance you’ll see them before I do, because I’m going north with the courier ship, so I can get to Savannah. I need you to tell them that I’m here, that my brother Robert told me Thomas is alive and I’ve gone to get him. I don’t think they’ll believe it coming from the governor, someone they don’t know who would have had plenty of time to research the family history and make something up, but from you there’s a better chance.”

 

“And what’s to make them think you told me this and not the governor?” Eleanor asks, skeptical. After all, if it were Rogers concocting this tale from research, then asking someone like her to tell it would make even more sense than FitzHamilton asking her.

 

“Simple. The governor has no way to know that I’m the one who told my sister-in-law what ship my father was sailing on. It was called the Maria Aleyne, and Captain Flint attacked it to murder him. He does, admittedly, know of the murder, but the only people who ever knew it was my letter would not have been in a position to tell him that detail.”

 

Eleanor’s heard of that hunt, of course - a few people had tried to use it to claim Flint was losing his touch. She herself hadn’t understood why he’d gone after it, only knowing that the lead hadn’t come from her. “What do I get out of this?”

 

“You need Rogers to succeed to keep out of prison and away from the gallows, don’t you? Is there a better way to neutralize Captain Flint?”

 

Eleanor might have laughed, once, laughed at the idea that Flint was a man prone to sentimentality. But she’s seen Flint go off to confront Miranda Barlow with every reason to be furious with her, and come back from that a broken man. That same woman convinced Flint to give up a scheme he’d held deeply, on the strength of one conversation.

 

If there is a third member to that group, with as much influence… Well, then she would have to say that Andrew FitzHamilton has a point here. It certainly can’t make things worse.

 

 

Chapter Text

We said this was goodbye/But even so/You never know/You never know/I should be glad/That we’re breaking free/But nothing is what it was



1674 - 1702


There is a boy in the English countryside. His mother died bearing him and his father eyes him with nothing but distaste. Lady Amelia Hamilton was her husband’s second cousin on her mother’s side, but she looked like her father and not her mother. In looks, and soon enough in temperament, their son is barely a Hamilton at all, blond and blue-eyed and in love with books in a way his father cannot understand.


 

Thomas senses it, even as a child of four, and he is glad that his father lives in London and leaves him here in the country. The Hamiltons are Scottish to start, and even though the country house is in England most of the staff there are Scots too. Alfred sends his disappointing heir away, where he won’t have to look at him. Until he is old enough for school, Thomas speaks with a hint of a Scottish burr - his tutors ensure it is never more than a hint, but until Eton he keeps it a little, the telltale mark of the Scots in his blood.


Except when Father comes to see him. Then, he speaks with a perfect English accent, one that decades later (when it’s routine, when he forgets he ever spoke any other way) will identify him as highborn to his bunkmate with an Irish accent and changeable eyes, and to a blue-eyed pirate to whom he is more tied than he knows.


(When he loses the burr, he has only the name, but in truth Thomas Hamilton will only ever think of himself as English through and through.)


In those days, Eucleia can shift form, and she runs beside him as a puppy or a lion cub, a half-grown colt or a young bear. But more than anything she soars above his head in one bird form or another, right to the end of the tether between them. She likes calm, normal colors, but shifts rapidly into every shape she can try, the more outlandish the better.


Thomas is seven years old when he meets his brothers. They are both four years old, Robert and Andrew FitzHamilton born in the same year to different women. Robert’s hair is dark and curling over his ears, Andrew’s hair is also dark but falls straight into his eyes. Andrew looks up at him with grey eyes, Robert watches warily with brown eyes, and Andrew takes the hand Thomas offers while Robert does not.


It is the same as they grow up. Andrew trusts Thomas and likes his company - at first, Thomas reads to him from his favorite books, until Andrew is more caught up in learning and then they read together, curled up like kittens as rain pounds on the library windows, their daemons playing next to them. Robert is always less interested in books, though he does like to draw and keeps company that way, in a nearby chair with his daemon firmly at his side. Thomas is never sure what it is that Robert is thinking when he draws, because he never seems to relax, much as his enjoyment is plain.


But at school, Thomas can’t protect his brothers, neither Andrew who would let him or Robert who would not. His name is Hamilton, theirs is FitzHamilton, and that means they must fight their own battles or get no respect at all from these boys whose birth is legitimate. Andrew gets in fights and Robert’s tongue sharpens until he can cut with a word, and Thomas tries to find quiet ways to help them, ways that will not undermine them. He doesn’t know if he succeeds, but at least they never find out. Andrew would be embarrassed, he thinks, but Robert - Robert would never forgive it, however well-intentioned Thomas may be. Andrew is enough like Thomas to believe in good intentions, Robert doesn’t trust anyone but himself and his daemon.


(Not even Father, which is truthfully the one thing all three of Alfred’s sons know in their bones; they cannot rely on their father, they cannot trust him. The difference is that Andrew and Robert understand as Thomas does not that they must keep him from hating them too much, or risk total ruin.)


Eucleia settles as an owl, a large one with brown-barred cream plumage, while Andrew’s Tethys settles as a small brown owl. Leia looks fierce where Tethys does not, but Tethys has the sharper sight, Thomas thinks.


Cynically, he expects Robert’s Clymene to settle as some kind of vulture like their father’s daemon Eris - but she is a kestrel, different as Robert is always different.


But there is one thing which Thomas and Robert share - they both love Andrew. Thomas and Andrew’s bond is forged in shared tastes, in the fact that even their very souls are similar, if not identical. Robert and Andrew, so Andrew explains to Thomas, share instead the curious status of being raised with the advantages of nobility, while carrying only a bastard name. Thomas and Andrew are forged in the books they read and the ideas they discuss, Robert and Andrew are tied together in their shared struggle to survive a world they can never fully belong to.


For Andrew, his chance comes when he joins the staff of the English ambassador to Russia. Robert and Thomas both go to see him off, and Thomas knows that for once they are in agreement. They do not want their brother to go, and they will miss him.


(Thomas does not know he will not see his brother again for a long time, and when he does they will not be on the same side, any more than Robert knows that he will lose Andrew entirely the next time he sees him.)


After that, though, life is lonelier for Thomas and Leia. Miranda and Arete are wonderful, of course, and they have other friends - and within a few years there will be James and Mona, and a joy dizzying enough that Thomas will not realize his wings are melting in the sun until it’s too late - but he misses his brother. Leia misses her flying companion. They know that Robert and Clymene must feel the same, but somehow they don’t know how to reach out to this sibling they have never understood, and so where Andrew’s absence might have drawn them together, it only increases the gulf between them.


Without Andrew, without knowing how to find common ground, they never see each other. For it was always when Andrew wanted them both present that Thomas and Robert would be in the same place, once they were both grown men. They become truly strangers to each other, as Robert shadows their father in hopes of his own chance, and Thomas cannot help but fight their father more and more.


Perhaps it was always going to come to this question of which brother would be left once the vulture had his way, but perhaps it would have been otherwise had a dark-eyed boy with curling hair had known how to trust, when an older boy offered his hand.


<><><>

 

 

The skies are grey/The walls have ears/And he who argues disappears!


 

1705


There is a young man on the road from Edinburgh to London, his father’s letter in his hand. Find a way to fix this problem, and you will be my new heir.


This problem. His father’s only legitimate child.



Here is a truth. Robert FitzHamilton has never much cared for Thomas, his older half-brother. Thomas doesn’t much care for him either. In all these long years the only things they have in common are ambition (with wildly different goals) and the fact that they both love their brother Andrew. It is Andrew who gives Robert pause now, because if he does what Father wants, if Thomas is ruined and Andrew ever finds out Robert has a hand in it, Robert will lose the only family member he genuinely loves.


He doesn’t love his father. Alfred Hamilton is a cold man who invites no such warm feelings. Robert wants to be his father, to be a man of rank and power, and that is a very different thing. He has lived his life as a bastard, always very aware anything he achieved was at his father’s sufferance, and would one day be at his brother’s.


Robert is truthful, by nature - blunt to the point of rudeness, in fact. Or he’s been told by everyone but his Clymene, who is worse than he is but only ever speaks to him. He knows that Thomas is not one for outright cruelty, that he would not ruin Robert simply from personal dislike, and yet.


And yet Robert is not Andrew, stubborn and clever enough to get by on his own merits, optimistic enough to dare being cut off. Robert wants security, however he can get it - no, that is half a lie, he wants security but he also wants a chance at power, and that much Thomas will never trust him enough to give, that desire is something Andrew has never understood.


He folds the letter and puts it in his coat pocket.


He finds Peter Ashe at his preferred club, one Robert doesn’t usually have access to, but his father had a few words with the establishment. If this goes well, Robert will never have to rely on his father’s words again, not once all the documents of inheritance are in order. Robert will make sure he has copies, one way or another.


(Because once Robert has his name in there, he will not give it up. Regardless of what he may have to do to ensure he isn’t displaced. There will be a reason why Alfred Hamilton’s new, younger wife feels the need to go with him when he runs to the New World years from now. The poor girl will think herself safer with even a cruel husband than with his bitter illegitmate son.)


Robert has never understood why Thomas is so fond of Ashe. Like recognizes like, and Robert knew from the first time he met Ashe - at Thomas’ wedding, actually - that here was a man like himself. Ashe is trueborn and titled, yes, but his wealth is not great, his title fairly new. Gained, if rumor is to be believed, through an ancestress who got it for her family on her back for a royal. Robert’s own mother was a merchant’s daughter who set her sights on a man who could give her son more than any husband of her own rank. Robert might not care for his father as a man, but so far his mother’s plan - not unlike that of Ashe’s forebear, really - is working admirably.


Robert is a man like Ashe, and so he understands Ashe. “My father will ruin Thomas, it’s only a matter of time. After all, how do you think the late King William was so sure which of our cousins who didn’t immediately flee could not be trusted? How do you think my father rose high at court and Parliament alike? Even the Church authorities respect him.”


And fear him too, Robert doesn’t have to add. For there are rumors that Alfred Hamilton supports the group whispered about in the corridors of power and faith, one called the Magisterium. They toy with daemons and speak of one Church to rule all the world, and that’s all most people know.


Robert knows too well that these are not mere rumors, but a man does what he must.


“He will destroy Thomas for his foolishness, and Miranda for her infidelity and infertility, and you will go down with them, unless you convince him otherwise,” he tells his brother’s dear friend.


“And why should I listen to a bastard?” Ashe sneers, and Robert smiles his father’s shark smile. It feels more right on his lips than he would have guessed, and that makes him hesitate, briefly. Does he want to be the vulture? Clymene nips his ear, reminding him that he will never be that. Like his daemon, he is a hunter, he takes his chances and he doesn’t hesitate.


Ashe’s foxhound is growling but her tail is already drooping. They are already half-finished, and so Robert says in a completely friendly voice, “Well, sir, you do have a daughter, for whom I am sure you want only the best future.”


“You dare -?!”


“But just think, Lord Ashe. If you help my father, think what he would owe to you, what you could call up to remind him with should he grow… forgetful. I would back you, if you backed me for similar reminders.”


You and I alone will know what he did, and we can hold it over his head forever. All you have to do is say yes, my lord.


It’s in the bag before Ashe says so much as a word.

 

 

<><><>

 

 

The leaves unfold/The czar lies cold/Could I have pulled the trigger/If I’d been told?


 

1715


There is a man in London, feeling very strange to be back in this house again, to be back in England at all when he is used to Philadelphia now. To Andrew FitzHamilton and his Tethys, this house always belonged to Thomas and Miranda. Even when he lived here with them, it had always been their house, where he was welcome to live but claimed no ownership. But it has been ten years since it all fell apart, and Thomas is dead by his own hand, Alfred is dead because -


Because Andrew wrote a letter, one day.


Andrew likes letters, all his correspondence is packed away safe in a trunk in his home in Philadelphia. He still has all of the letters, from both of them, his older brother and his first love. Oh, he knows Miranda didn’t really love him - she was fond of him, and enjoyed him as a lover, but it wasn’t the same thing. It doesn’t sting anymore, not with his Sophia who adores him as he does her, in a straightforward way that suits them both far more than the complexities of his brilliant, doomed family ever did. He understands himself better now than he did in those days.


But he wrote a letter to Miranda. The last letter he ever wrote to her, to warn her that his father was coming to the New World. His father, who would have every right to come to Nassau if he wished.


(And now his father is dead, and Andrew has to wonder if he signed his father’s death warrant the day he signed that letter. But he also has to wonder, why did his father’s death turn Peter Ashe into the scourge of piracy? Why did he care?)


So Robert wants him to speak with this Woodes Rogers. Very well. Andrew will do that - but only if Robert answers certain questions for him.


Robert is standing by the window in the study, and for a moment, Andrew can’t breathe, because all he can see is his older brother the last time he visited before leaving Russia. But Robert’s hair is dark, and he is the shortest of them, and his daemon is a kestrel, not an owl. “We need to talk, Robert.”


“Why so serious, Andrew?” Robert says, but his eyes are wary - they are always wary with everyone else, but with Andrew usually Robert relaxes. Why is he so watchful now, why is Clymene watching from the highest vantage point in the room?


 

“I have something to ask you. When Sophia and I first went to the colonies, we sailed to Charles Town. Peter Ashe had written to me, said he was willing to help me get settled in the name of Thomas’ memory. But when I was there, I saw the clock Thomas used to have in the drawing room here - it was his favorite piece in the whole house. There were other things I recognized too. He said he got them from you or from our father. Why would either of you give him Thomas’ and Miranda’s things?”


Something flickers in Robert’s dark eyes. “I hardly see why it matters. Anyway, Father agreed to give him most of it, I was just the one who did it.”


“Don’t say it doesn’t matter, don’t lie to me, Robert. Not to me.” They were born in the same year, they grew up almost as twins. Thomas and Robert never got along, but Andrew and Robert had bonded over their illegitimacy, over the sidelong looks and snide comments they’d both endured in school, the things that Thomas could never understand. He had tried, and what he’d experienced as an adult came close, but it had never quite been the same. But neither of his brothers were ever able to lie to Andrew, the middle child so close to them both. Robert is a terrible liar anyway.


That alone is enough to answer his question, really. But he needs to hear Robert say it, needs his brother to face him.


“You weren’t here. You don’t understand.”


“Try me.”


Robert sighs, raking a hand through his hair. “You always looked up to Thomas. You couldn’t see that the things he wanted to do were dangerous. Pardoning pirates?”


“Isn’t that what this man Rogers wants to do? You said it was Thomas’ plan he wants to implement.”


“It’s not dangerous for him. He’s not as highborn, and he doesn’t have close cousins who are living in the Pretender’s household in exile! We do have cousins like that, and Thomas was heir to the earldom! Do you have any idea how risky it was for him to suggest what he did? We could have all been branded traitors for it! Father understood that. He had to act. And so did I.”


“Robert, what did you do?”


Robert takes a deep breath. “Father knew Peter Ashe was Thomas’ ally, and he knew that Admiral Hennessey would not disown his protege, McGraw, without good reason. So he sent me to speak to Ashe. I made it clear that if he sided with us, Father could do a great deal for his career, for his family. But by the same token, if he continued to help Thomas, he would be ruined along with him.”


“Ashe told you about Thomas and the lieutenant. And you told Father, who went to Admiral Hennessey. What did our father tell himself, that Thomas deserved Bedlam for bedding men? Are you really that much of a hypocrite?” Andrew snaps, and Robert’s mouth twists.


“You really think he needed an excuse to make himself feel better?” Robert scoffs. “It was just convenient to get the Admiral on board - all he needed was Miranda fucking the lieutenant to get to her and Thomas but he wanted all three of them ruined. He’d have had us both shut away too anywhere he wanted if he thought we gave him reason. I made sure he’d never find reason in me. Don’t look at me like that, it’s not as if we left Thomas there forever!”


“No, because he killed himself! You think he deserved an existence so miserable he would commit suicide?!”


“He didn’t! He’s still alive!”


The room spins. Andrew grabs the edge of the desk, trying to steady himself. “What did you just say? I swear to God, Robert, if you are lying to me -”


“I’m not. After two years or so, Ashe started to feel guilty. He was genuinely fond of Thomas, in spite of everything. Miranda and that lieutenant had spurned his help, which might have been enough to soothe his guilty conscience. So he came to me, wondering if Father might ever relent. You know as well as I do that that would never happen, but Ashe had heard of this plantation outside Savannah, Georgia. A man called Oglethorpe runs it, it’s supposed to be a place where criminals can reform through hard work. It runs partly on its goods, but mostly from rich families who use it to put away the troublesome sons of the family.”


Robert sighs, running a hand through his hair. “I was Father’s heir by then, with access to funds of my own. I - I didn’t like what we had done either. Thomas and I never got on, and he’d become a danger to the family, but... So I bribed someone at Bedlam to report Thomas as a suicide, and Ashe made the arrangements to send him to this plantation. So he’s alive, in Savannah.”


“Or he could have died from the work,” Andrew says harshly. “After what passes for medical care at Bedlam, to go to farm labor, that could easily have killed him. Don’t try to act like you did some great deed, Robert. Maybe it was better than leaving him in Bedlam, but you could have just let him go. For God’s sake, Father had disowned me by then for converting to Orthodoxy so I could marry Sophia. You could have sent him to me!”


“And if he came back? Father would know -”


“You only cared about stealing the inheritance! And Ashe only cared about his career! You had choices. Miranda and their lieutenant are in Nassau, you could have -”


“Oh yes, you’re in touch with them, aren’t you?” Robert spits. “You know, I always wondered, and so did Ashe. Father was traveling incognito, on a passenger ship with no riches to speak of. Why did a pirate attack it, especially one like Captain Flint?”


“If you want to know something, Robert, ask me,” Andrew says, and he feels Tethys’ claws dig into his shoulder, a warning. But he doesn’t need the warning. He feels cold down to his bones, cold and calm. Clymene shrieks, but Andrew doesn’t so much as glance at her, his gaze fixed on his brother.


“Did you tell Miranda where Father would be, knowing she might use that?”


(Here is a truth. Neither of them really care that their father is dead, that he died scared and alone. He never loved any of his sons, and none of them loved him. But Robert saw his father’s death and feared he might be next. Andrew saw his father’s death and could not say for sure if he had been hoping to cause it.)


“And so what if I did? It makes me no worse than he was, or than you were. Not really.” Andrew shakes his head, and turns on his heel to walk out.


“Where exactly are you going?”


“I’m in London to meet with Woodes Rogers, aren’t I?”


“You’re supposed to meet him with me, and work with -”


“I think I’ll do just fine on my own, thank you.”


 

Oh, he’ll meet with Rogers all right. The influence of the new Governor of New Providence Island may be just what he needs.


After all, the man wants this meeting because he knows that Andrew was well-informed about Thomas’ ideas. Well, if Woodes Rogers wants advice on Thomas Hamilton’s plans, who better to give it than Thomas Hamilton? And, if it comes to it… Thomas will never forgive him if Andrew suggests he may be used as bait for his wife and his lover, but at least he’ll be free of prison to hate him.


 

Chapter Text

How to turn away/How to close the door/How to go where I have never gone before


 

1691 - 1699


There is a girl, in tiny rooms above a Belfast tavern. Mairin is not the oldest child, that is her brother Conor. She is not the one who looks the most like Madre, newly in the ground after a chill she couldn’t shake.


(A woman from the golden warmth of Sevilla should never have come to grey cold Belfast, but Catalina Arroyo loved like her children will love, bright and burning as the Spanish sun, and the choice was no choice at all.)


It’s the twins who look so like her, Sibeal and Sean named for Isabella and Juana, their grandmother and great-grandmother.


But Mairin has her mother’s singing voice and her mother’s eyes, grey-green-amber in a Teagan face, and she was better at the reading than Conor. Madre wanted her children to read and write in Spanish like she could, and so she makes sure Sean and Sibeal can, watches them bend over bits of scrap paper with their daemons a pair of stoats twined together till they’re one mass of sleek dark fur. Every few minutes, one small hand darts out to stroke, and there’s no way they always reach only their own daemon.


The thought turns Mairin’s stomach. The twins turn her stomach, because Da and the doctor both say Madre would be alive yet, if she hadn’t had such a bad birth with the twins seven years ago. So they look at her, Madre’s face writ small in male and female versions with Da’s blue eyes, and she would happily see them in the ground instead if it would bring Madre back.


And yet. Madre would want her to teach them, would want Conor to protect them. But she can hardly bear to touch them, and her own daemon never lets them cuddle with him, any more than Conor’s Edana does. She and Conor find their comfort in their own daemons curled up close, in sitting together on the roof and talking. Da’s no help, disappearing into a bottle or a pipe, whatever he can get.


Sometimes, the days Da’s been at the pipe, when Mairin sings and she sounds just like Madre, he looks at her. Looks in a way she can’t be sure of, his wildcat eyeing her Daithi in just the same way a real cat might a mouse. Those times, Daithi turns into the biggest hound form he knows, in defense.


She stops singing around Da.


But she says nothing, does nothing, when the twins are eleven, twelve, thirteen, and they only have to be in the room for Da to look at them the same. They killed Madre, so she will teach them what Madre would have wanted, but other than that they deserve what they get. Mairin says nothing, and Sean’s arm gets broken when he pulls away from their father hard and falls down half the stairs. There’s another night when Sibeal screams and Sean yells, and Mairin hears thuds and the drag of a body.


Da is out cold in front of the fire, bleeding from the scalp, and Sean holds a log for the fire and Sibeal holds Da’s ale jug, shattered now. They stare at her, rage in their eyes, and Mairin stares back. Conor scrambles up from where he’s cleaning the tavern floor, and they all stare at each other, wordless.


The truth is, it would be better if they had killed Da too.


When Uncle Declan comes, all the cracks widen till their world shatters.


It starts out innocently enough. Uncle Declan fought in the war against William of Orange, who usurped the English throne by using his wife’s claim to it. Mairin is old enough to remember that King James II was popular in Ireland because he was Catholic, old enough to remember the adults around her saying that he would make things better for them. But it hadn’t worked, the Protestants in England had summoned his Protestant daughter and her Dutch husband, and James II, with his wife and little son, had to flee. Mairin doesn’t know where he went, on the Continent somewhere, but she knows Uncle Declan went to Russia with some of the other Jacobite exiles.


He comes back full of stories about Russia that the twins and Conor thrill to, all of them captivated by the idea that they might one day see such new and interesting sights. Mairin is less interested, but relieved that Da stops drinking and smoking now that his brother is staying with them.


She’s relieved until she hears them talking one night. “They want to start the war up again,” she whispers to Conor, wringing her hands. She can remember the sieges, the fear of it. Life isn’t good now, when they have to go to secret Mass and secret school lessons at the neighbor’s house, when there are so many laws telling them things they can’t do, but still it’s better than when Belfast was under siege three times in one year.


“Well, maybe it will be a good idea,” Conor says. “The English heretics have no place here.”


No, they do not. But Mairin can’t help but feel there is no use in all of this. And the night the townsmen invade the tavern, two days before Father and Uncle mean to strike, she’s proven right.


Mairin flees that night, Daithi a large white housecat at her side. She sees Sibeal being knocked down, Sean being pushed to his knees, their daemons shrieking, and she runs with her daemon beside her without hesitation. She knows that Conor will probably be arrested, but he’s the one who wanted to go along with it. She warned him; he didn’t listen.


So she runs, and leaves them behind, to whatever fate.


Mairin and Daithi get to Galway, and they go no further. They find a good man and his daemon who is a housecat too, and they settle down. No one will look for Padraig Teagan’s daughter in Galway, not even his other children. And that is is exactly why Mairin stopped here.


She never wants to be found.


And yet… and yet… Mairin too is a mother one day, to a boy with Conor’s smile and two younger children, a boy and girl born a year apart yet inseparable and alike as twins. Mairin still does not wish to be found, but perhaps when she looks at her children she regrets a little that she ran alone. So she teaches her children to be different, to stay together and protect each other whatever may come, and thinks that it’s the only way to pay the debts she owes.



<><><>



But it’s the silence after I remember most/The world stopped breathing/And I was no longer a boy



1709


There is a man in a plantation outside Savannah, Georgia. Conor Teagan ended up here more or less by chance, and he has to admit working a sugarcane plantation is at least better than the mines. The air is fresh here, if far hotter and stickier than any Irishman would really be used to.


“It could be much worse for us, though,” says Edana, and Conor scratches between his daemon’s ears and knows she is right. She is a Spanish lynx - they look a bit different from the ones further north - and she looks almost identical to their mother’s Dorado, who had the same form. Conor remembers the day Madre died, the day Edana settled, remembers the promise he made -


He couldn’t keep his promise, and so here he is, a failed older brother, a failed young rebel, a prisoner for the rest of his life.


They give him a bunkmate in the hut where he lives. He’s had two already, and both of them died. This new one gives no name, says nothing. For days they don’t make him work because he’s somehow ill. Came from a madhouse, the other inmates whisper, one of the lordlings stashed away by angry families. His owl has cream-colored feathers with brown bars, her wings are black-tipped, and she watches everything with her head turned upside down. It scares everyone else who lives in the hut, except Conor and Edana who look down from their upper bunk at the two of them.


The man keeps his eyes closed whenever Conor looks, at first, until one day he opens them. They’re dark blue in the sunlight slanting in from the single window that turns his bunkmate’s hair gold. “They think I’m senseless, don’t they?” he asks, lips twisting in something like a smile, and his accent is sharp, English and aristocratic.


The part of Conor that is Padraig Teagan’s firstborn bristles, wants to punch him in the face for the crime of being English and highborn. But Conor thinks of Sean and Sibeal, both of them lying still on the cobbles, thinks of his father on the tavern floor with a musket ball in his head, Uncle Declan hanged on the gallows, Mairin running away. He thinks that Padraig Teagan’s anger has no place here, across the ocean on a sugarcane plantation in the New World.


“Mostly, yeah. What’s your name?”


“I don’t know yet,” the lordling says, voice distant, thoughtful. “They told me I could no longer use my real name, and I haven’t bothered to pick a new one. What’s your name?”


“Conor Teagan. They didn’t make me change, but then again I’m no rich boy stashed away, just a troublemaker’s son old enough to be part of the trouble.”


“My name is Eucleia,” says the owl daemon, watching Edana carefully. “No one said I had to change my name, so I refuse to.”


“My name is Edana,” Edana says, and waves a paw in greeting. Eucleia hoots softly in reply.


“Christopher McGraw,” Conor’s bunkmate names himself the day he’s declared fit for work. There’s a look in his eyes, grief and rage all knotted up together, and Conor suspects he’s named himself after someone lost, whoever they may be.


Conor doesn’t need to name himself for his ghosts, he sees his father every time he catches his reflection in water or a piece of glass, he sees his mother every time he looks at his own daemon. He looks at his hands and remembers his father touching Mairin’s cheek (gentle but wrong, somehow wrong), striking Sean across the face or catching Sibeal by her hair.


His ghosts, his guilts, are written in his own body and the shape of his soul at his side.


But perhaps he has something like a friend now, and it’s a start, he supposes.



<><><>



I have dreamed so long/I have dared to hope/That the door might open/And that you might enter



1710-1714


There is a young woman in Sevilla who calls herself Isabella Arroyo. She speaks Spanish like a native, and no one questions the fact that when she talks to her daemon it’s in another language entirely, or that she is fluent in English too.


Cahir, she calls her daemon when they are alone, except the time she was ill and screamed for Irial. In public she calls her daemon Dorado, golden, because they are in Spain, and it is the way of the Spanish to call their daemons by nicknames when others are present. Even Catalina Arroyo’s own children had only known her beautiful lynx by his nickname, and maybe she would be pleased that the daughter who looks so like her has reclaimed that choice. Her mother’s daemon was Dorado, and now so is hers. But her Cahir settles when she is sixteen as a cat of the New World, an ocelot and not a lynx.


Isabella looks like her mother, more than she ever did as a girl, but she is not her mother, and she is glad of it.


(Far away, there is a man with her face writ male, who holds the name Irial for his unsettled soul, but for Isabella, these new names are declarations - she has survived, she will learn to thrive, and what she has lost will not define her, for all that she will never forget. Her daemon’s name means warrior, and they have fought to survive.)


Isabella, she calls herself, her true name, Sibeal, only translated. Once, she was the younger daughter of a Belfast tavern owner and his Sevillan-born wife. Once, she and her daemon never went anywhere alone, for they had a twin, and her Sean’s face was her own as a boy, and their daemons were always curled together.


Isabella does not know what her twin has become, wherever he may be. In her heart, she doesn’t believe he and Kevay are dead, she knows she would feel it, she thinks perhaps feeling it might kill her and Cahir too. But she cannot find him, any more than she could find Conor or Mairin, if she had wanted. She doesn’t know if she wants, or not.


This is why Isabella went back to the city her mother was born in, making her way there slowly, starting from when she finally got out of Ireland at nineteen. She thinks that if her brother, her sister, or her twin ever come looking, they will look in Belfast and then they will look here. It is what she would do, and so she is content to make her life, and keep a candle lit to St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes, and one to St. Anthony, the finder of lost things, to wear their medals and hope.


In the meantime, there is life to live, and Isabella intends to live it. At St. Katherine’s, they made up for the things they did to the children there by educating them. “You will be able to make your way in the world,”the pastor had said, not adding that they would only be able to do that if they survived.


Cahir has a streak of gold running along his spine, and there are still days when Isabella aches somewhere deep inside under her breastbone, days when Cahir curls around his own matching pain. He is never far from her seeking hand, and contact helps soothe them both, whether they’re hurting or waking up from dreams of amber stone, its oily sheen in the lantern light. But they are a lucky pair, to escape more or less intact. It is a gift they will not squander, and they might as well make use of the education given to them, even though they know it was a sop to the guilt of those who hurt them.


That hardly matters now.


Her plans take her to the townhouse of a local noble, a grandee as they like to put it here in Spain. Don Carlos looks at her and she knows very well that he sees her mother - that he sees her grandmother. She did not come seeking employment from her grandfather to have him be unaware of the connection, after all.


One must use the opportunities one has in this world.


“I wanted her to marry well here,” her grandfather says, looking at her. “I didn’t want half-English grandchildren.”


“I assure you, sir, my father was many things but he was most assuredly not English.” And he’s turning in his shallow grave at the thought, which makes me almost sad to correct you, she thinks but does not say.


“No, I suppose he wasn’t. And you are a good Catholic?”


“In spite of the orphanage trying to talk me out of it, yes I am.”


Serving as governess to the children of her legitimate cousin Alfonso isn’t necessarily ideal, but she likes the children. She also likes Alfonso’s wife, Beatriz. Alfonso is never home, more interested in his whores than his family, and so Beatriz spends her time sitting in on her children’s lessons - her mother-in-law handles all the tasks of the lady of the house, and has made it clear she does not want help from Beatriz.


“Maria loves your lullabies,” Beatriz tells Isabella one day when they’ve tucked the children in. “What language are they in?”


“Irish. I have to admit they aren’t lullabies, but since she can’t understand me, it only mattered that she liked the tune,” Isabella says, a little sheepish, meeting those dark eyes. When Beatriz laughs, bright and loud until she remembers herself and covers her mouth demurely, Isabella’s heart does something funny. She’s only dimly aware of Cahir curling up with Beatriz’ roebuck daemon Estrello, and how odd that is, to see a hunting cat lying peacefully with a deer.


“Could you teach me? It’s such a… curious sounding language.”


“I’d like that very much,” Isabella says.


And so her evenings take on a pattern like her days, Cahir settled with Estrello on the hearth rug, Beatriz’s face lit by firelight as she practices her Irish. She’s a quick study for all that her accent is terrible, and there are days that Isabella thinks that if this is all life will have in store for her, it will be more than enough. To spend her days helping to raise Juan and Maria and Blanca, and the new baby Carlos once he’s old enough to need more than his wet nurse. To spend her evenings with Beatriz, able to talk in both of the languages that are her first tongues, able to be herself again for the first time since they dragged Sean away.


They leave Sevilla for the family’s country house (Alfonso wants his family out of his way), and Isabella almost runs, but she thinks of all she would lose, and she cannot bear it. They are not far, and anyway, Rosalia the housekeeper knows where to send anyone who might ask for her. Isabella will wait all her life, but she cannot refuse to carry on while she waits. She no longer even wants to do that, when her life is something she likes more every day.


When Beatriz kisses her on Christmas Eve, the taste of marzipan still lingering on their tongues, their daemons under each other’s hands, Isabella knows this is more than enough.


But still, there are nights she lies awake thinking of chilly nights in Belfast, the stars they looked up at on the roof of their home. Beatriz will tell her how much she loves her curls, the blue of her eyes - she makes Isabella sit for her and she sketches endlessly, coloring the drawings with oil pastels - and Isabella will think that there is someone else in this world who shares those traits.


She whispers “My name is Sibeal,” into Beatriz’s ear the first time they are daring enough to be in Beatriz’s bed together rather than Isabella’s, the sunrise painting the bedroom rose-gold. Beatriz says the name back to her, and Sibeal wonders if her lover is the only one who will ever know her by that name again.


Still, what she has is more than she ever dreamed to hold, and though the light of that cannot  chase the shadows away, it makes them easier to bear. Beatriz and the children light the candles with her now when she calls on saints, and to not be alone is a miracle in itself.


<><><>


Nothing here to hold me/No one that I owe/Funny how a boy can grow/Funny when a city/Tells you that it’s time to go


 

1715


There is a man, and he’s back in Belfast, his daemon a pine marten draped over his shoulders. He used to be called Sean Teagan, but he hasn’t used that name since Russia, 1705, when sharing a surname with his dead uncle turned out to be useful. On the ship he just left, he was calling himself Nicholas Smith, which is really a boring name. “I should try something more interesting, don’t you think, Iri?”


“I think we need to get out of this town,” Irial says grumpily, and truthfully, Sean agrees with her.


(Sean, for lack of a better name, as he is between aliases for the moment.)


“We will, as soon as we find a ship to the New World.” New World, new start, Sean thinks.


“We could have done that from Amsterdam,” Irial says, grumpy, and Sean sighs, reaching up to pet her fur. “We didn’t have to come here.”


“No, I suppose we didn’t,” says Sean Teagan who will try to claim, months from now on an island across the sea, that his past is irrelevant. He will say it in hopes of making it true, just as he has come back to Belfast for the same reason. He is here to banish his ghosts, so that he can leave here and never be haunted again.


And there is another reason, but hope is the most dangerous feeling in the world, so neither of them will even dare reference it.


It’s been eighteen years but his feet still know the way to the tavern and its upstairs rooms where he was born. It’s been eighteen years, but now more than ever Sean feels the lack of his other half beside him, feels the lopsidedness of being one half of a set of twins.


It’s still a tavern. For a moment, Sean looks at the man behind the bar, but his hair is fiery red and his hands are long-fingered and slender, deft with glasses and bottles yet he thinks those hands don’t lash out to strike the boy and girl with the same red hair who are cleaning up for their da. He thinks they don’t reach out in a kind of gentleness more horrifying than the violence.


He gets one drink. Just one. Liam Devlin - Sean knows him, after all, this son of his father’s sister, they came to visit twice even though they lived in Derry - looks him up and down, looks hard at him, his magpie daemon chirping. Liam watches Sean with eyes the same striking blue as his own, for they both have the Teagan eyes, but he says nothing. They just look at each other, and Sean pays for his drink and smiles when he overhears a man at one of the tables talking about how he needs a Spanish translator for his next voyage.


He picks up his glass and strides over, aware all the time of Liam’s eyes on his back. This is the place where Padraig Teagan and his firebrand of a brother Declan tried and failed to start a revolution. This is where Padraig was shot in the head, where his elder daughter ran and his firstborn son was arrested, his twins carted off to ‘orphanages’. And Sean, of course, is Padraig’s son, so Liam must be wondering - what if he tries to start something?


The past always matters, but Sean doesn’t want it to, as he sits down across from a man whose name is Captain Parrish and says with a smile, “I speak excellent Spanish, Captain, if you’re interested.”


(This is true, because this child of Belfast had a Spanish mother, and a sister who felt duty-bound to carry on the teachings. This is true, because Sean Teagan was Alejandro Cortez in Toledo for a year and a half before he was run out of town, one name of dozens, one mask of many.)


The man who has not been Sean Teagan in ten years, who will not be John Silver for a few more weeks, leaves his father’s tavern with a new job that will get him to the New World. He doesn’t know much about the Caribbean and cares less. “It’s something different, somewhere with no stains,” he tells his daemon as they walk away. Irial says nothing, because her side is streaked with gold in every shape she takes, and she understands as her human does not that some stains are like scars, and never leave.


There is one thing he does, in the dead of night, before he leaves. There is a building on the outskirts of town, that was once called St. John’s. They called it an orphanage, and never told a soul of what was done to the children there. How they studied the bond between daemon and human, in the name of the Church of England. And if they somehow damned the children’s souls? They were Catholic or Presbyterian or Jewish, native children imported from some conquered place or newly-come slave children who still whispered prayers to gods from home - their souls were already at risk so what harm was done?


He would like to set the whole building alight. But he cannot know if there are still children there who do not deserve that. He’d happily watch every single adult burn alive for what they had been willing to do, but not the children.


But the other building is gone. He never saw the inside of the building where they housed the girls, and the only girls he ever saw were those brought to the basements while he was trapped there, the girls he saw put in boxes like his, or put under the amber blade. He never saw his Sibeal there, and as he circles the only building left with Iri as an owl for night vision, neither of them spot any way in.


No way in, no way to get papers that might help them find their twin. Sean can admit now, he’d hoped to find her at the tavern. He’d hoped to look into eyes blue as his own in a face that could be his own, only a woman’s. He’d hoped for daemons that curled together as if the last eighteen years had been some awful dream, and they could fall back into proper place.


But with nothing to go on - and he’d been to Sevilla, he’d gone there when he was eighteen and no one knew anything, his grandfather’s wife had tossed him out on his ear for daring to presume anything - there’s nowhere else to look. So that’s an end to it, an end that makes him want to scream, because the not knowing is worse than anything.


But there is nothing else for it, nothing but the promise of a new start across an ocean. So Sean Teagan and his daemon walk away from the place that ruined them, and in three days’ time they’re on a ship to the New World, leaving Belfast behind forever.

 

Chapter Text

Be careful what a dream may bring/A revolution is a simple thing

 

 

1712


One year passes, then then another, and another, on the plantation in Savannah. Time has a way of blurring here, of being hard to track in the sameness of the days. Christopher talks of books when he’s next to Conor in the fields, he has one called Meditations all but memorized.


Conor says one day, “I think this emperor never knew what it was to be poor, he thought it was all so damned easy.”


“Once I didn’t know either,” Christopher says, and his hands tighten on his shovel. “And if anyone should have paid for that it was me, yet I’m the one who still has my life. Such as it is, here.”


“I left my little brother and sister to some awful fate, because I still believed my mother took sick because birthing them had been so hard. Did you mean to do whatever it was you did, that you’re thinking about just now?”


“No, of course I didn’t, but -”


“You didn’t mean to,” says Conor. “Which means you’ve got a leg up on us, one less thing to take to the confessional.”


“You two are so very Catholic,” Eucleia says.


“Don’t Anglicans confess?” Edana asks.


“Yes,” Christopher says, “but I don’t think we talk about it as much.”


Conor remembers books too. Like Arabian Nights, which his mother said had been a Moorish tale to start, but someone translated it to Spanish when the Moors were still in Spain. Christopher’s never heard of that, so Conor closes his eyes and talks of Scherezade and her tales. He speaks of the Forty Thieves and remembers Mairin’s mischief when she would steal his things and make him hunt them down. He talks of Aladdin and thinks of Sibeal watching for stars to wish on as if they were genies. He explains how Scherezade bargained for her life with a tale each night and he thinks of Sean making up stories with his hands waving in the hair. How Madre had smiled at Mairin and kissed Sibeal’s hair and laughed with Sean.


“I had a family, and I couldn’t keep them,” Conor says one day as they come back from the day’s work.


“I had a wife,” Christopher says. “Her middle name was Christina.”


“I had a lover,” Christopher says, this time in the dark. “His surname was McGraw.”


Where Conor’s ghosts are written in his body, Christopher builds a memorial to his with his name. One is as good as another, Conor supposes.


Conor is Catholic enough to have been taught that a man who lies with a man commits a grave sin. But Conor has been a prisoner, an older brother full of guilt, long enough to believe that love is always better than the alternative, whatever priests or holy books see fit to declare.


“We were risking doom and I was too naive to see that we should have been cautious,” Christopher says, and Conor scowls at the dark.


“My father and my uncle were cautious,” he says, rage bitter on his tongue as it hasn’t been in years. “They talked in whispers and gave no one the full story. Someone told anyway. Someone always tells.”


“What did they talk of?” Eucleia asks and it’s Edana who answers.


“We’re Irish. They talked of rebellion, of freedom. What else is there, on our island that the English took long before they bothered to conquer anyone else?”


There are moments, still, when his friend’s voice makes his fists clench. There are moments, still, when he curses out the overseers in Irish, when he says the Our Father in Latin the way he was taught, his Pater Noster in a voice loud and carrying over the pastor they bring in, just to show them they can’t make him forget.


There are times when Conor isn’t in a rebellious mood but Christopher argues with the homilies, the way the pastor uses the Bible to justify things he thinks are cruel. Though Conor isn’t one to join that particular argument, he knows they both agree the blows they get as punishment for their “troublemaking” are worth it. Fighting might be useless, but if it’s all that lets them be themselves, it’s still important.


One plantation over from here is worked by slaves. Technically, the men here are not slaves, they are contracted, they are indentured servants, their sentences for crimes transported. Technically, they can earn their freedom in a way the African slaves next door cannot. But the contracts are designed so that no one will ever finish them, so Conor isn’t sure how much the differences matter.


(They do matter, he will learn, but from the inside it doesn’t seem like it.)


“If we all banded together, we could topple it all,” Christopher muses one day as they’re marched off the field.


(Conor does not know this, but years ago when Christopher had another name, a Navy Lieutenant called James saw this same bright daring look in those blue eyes and began a fall that would shape him forever. Conor does not know that in a few years’ time that sailor will have a knife to his baby brother’s throat and Sean with the latest in a string of new names will tell tales like Scherezade to save his own life.)


“Don’t say that, you sound like my uncle,” Conor snaps, and for a while Christopher leaves it alone. But then the two of them are rounded up with a handful of others, and told they will be moved to work a farm for Oglethorpe’s cousin on New Providence Island, in the Caribbean. Conor thinks that to be on an island again, to be near the sea he once dreamed of sailing like Da did before he got married, is more than he might have hoped for, and Edana purrs against his leg. There are pirates there who might take a runaway, Conor tells himself, and he looks at Christopher, thinking they could run together. Leia can be a lookout, she can fly a good distance from her human for reasons she and Christopher won’t explain.


Christopher laughs when Conor suggests this, wild and sharp and for once he actually does seem mad. “Yes, I know all too well that there are pirates in Nassau. To think I’d wind up there in the end anyway.”


He doesn’t explain what he means or why it makes him laugh, but when he calms, he says, “Still. You might be onto something. But why run when we could plot and plan till we topple it instead?”


Conor wonders if this is how his father felt, when Uncle Declan came back and said let’s try this war again, big brother. But then, he has nothing left to lose, so maybe it doesn’t matter.