The Gathering Storm (The Jacobite Chronicles Book 3)(4)

By: Julia Brannan


He turned a pebble over with his toe, marvelling at its smoothness, evidence of the relentless, patient power of the sea, which in time subdued all things, and which could, at a whim, scatter whole navies, driving kings to ruin and despair. A frown etched the fine aristocratic brow briefly, as he thought of the famed ill-luck of his family which had brought so many of his forebears to disaster and a brutal early death.

It would not be so this time, he thought, his brow clearing, the optimism of youth outweighing the legendary superstition of centuries. It was his destiny to change the luck of the Stuarts. He had known that since he was a small child and had first heard the stories, whispered to him by his nurse, that at the exact time of his birth a new star had been seen in the sky, whilst a storm had simultaneously wreaked havoc in Hanover, the home of his despised enemy. The enemy which now sat so smugly and complacently on his father’s throne, across that stretch of silver sea.

But not for long. For the time had come at last, the time he had been waiting for, for over twenty long years. It was what he had prepared himself for, putting his body through a punishing regime of diet and exercise, honing his muscles, practising with sword and pistol, with bow and arrow until no one could match his accuracy. He had driven his aching muscles beyond the boundaries of exhaustion and fatigue until his pampered aristocratic companions had whispered in awe that the young prince must indeed be superhuman. Had he not been born on the very eve of the new year, when the old was swept aside and in the depths of winter new hope was born?

He was that new hope, and as he stood on the shore, gazing out across the sea towards his father’s kingdom, his kingdom to be, a surge of exhilaration bore him up and over the waves to England. He saw himself, so clearly that it must be a premonition, at the head of an army, riding into London, the cheers of the people resounding in his ears, rose petals falling like velvet rain upon him as the people, his people, went wild with joy at the return of the Stuarts to their rightful place.

A seagull called mournfully and the spell was broken; he was once again standing on the windswept shore, the only sound the gentle shushing of waves on pebbles.

He turned his gaze towards the north-east, where all his hopes were even now being brought to fruition, as the provisions, cannon and the barrels of gunpowder were loaded onto the multitude of ships that would bear the French army and himself to England and to victory. Last night he had disguised himself, and had ridden into Dunkirk, although King Louis, fearful of British spies, had expressly forbidden him to go there. He had gazed in wonder at the multitude of ships, their masts tall and bare like a forest of trees in winter. It was not possible that such a fleet could fail. He had spent the evening in the taverns, drinking with the sailors and soldiers who were now pouring into the town, enriching the pockets of the whores and innkeepers. They had flocked round the charming, generous young Frenchman from Paris, eager to tell him tales of their bravery in combat, which grew ever more extravagant as the alcohol flowed. It had been a good evening, one to amuse his courtiers with from the comfort of St James’s Palace, from the throne where his grandfather had sat, where his father would sit, and where he too would be enthroned, when the time came.

He was Charles Edward Stuart, eldest son and heir to King James the Eighth of Scotland and Third of England. He would use his looks, his strength and above all his enormous charismatic powers of persuasion to regain the throne for the Stuarts. He had friends, many friends in England, and even more in Scotland. The clans were loyal to him. He was, after all, one of them, a Scot by blood if not birth, and they did not cast aside the bonds of kinship lightly. If this French invasion failed, which it would not, could not, then he would call on the allegiance of his kinsmen.

His whole life had been lived for this single purpose. This was his destiny, and by God, he would fulfil it, if he had to row across the channel single-handed to raise his subjects. They would rise for him. It was unthinkable that they would not. In all his young life, he had never been denied, and he would not be denied now. The crown was his, if his father did not want it, and he would win it, or die in the attempt.





CHAPTER ONE


Late February 1744



Alex and Beth managed to keep the fact that they had returned to London a secret for a whole week, until Beth was unfortunately seen looking out of her window, after which the calling cards began to trickle in, forming a small pile on the table in the hall. The trickle quickly became an avalanche as the rumour that Sir Anthony Peters and his wife were apparently reconciled spread like wildfire among society. It was unbelievable. After all, hadn’t Lady Peters engaged in a passionate affair with both King Louis of France and his servant? And hadn’t Sir Anthony, in a fit of jealous rage, challenged the servant to a duel, where he had accidentally killed the man? It was also rumoured that the baronet had intended to call Louis himself out, had the king not had him thrown into prison before he could do so. It was so exciting! Everyone wanted to be the first to interview the couple and find out the truth of the affair.

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