The final instalment in the Oversight trilogy; this dark and beguiling series comes to a thrilling end in The Remnant. M. R. Carey says, “Exciting, exhilarating, scary and moving in equal measure, The Oversight is a teeming world of dark deeds and dark magics, brilliantly realised.”
From a Distant Shore
“It smells different,” said Lucy Harker, looking down at the bustling quayside from the temporarily elevated vantage point afforded by the top of the gangplank leading down from the deck of the Lady of Nantasket, newly berthed alongside Belcher’s Wharf, Port of Boston.
“What does?” said Caitlin Sean ná Gaolaire, who had already reached the foot of the plank.
“America,” said Lucy. “It smells . . . cleaner.”
“Cleaner than the wide, wind-scoured Atlantic?” said Caitlin. “Sure but you’re joking, aren’t you?”
“Cleaner than London,” said Lucy.
Caitlin filled her nostrils and considered the redolent mixture of smells as if noticing them for the first time.
“Less shite, more pine,” she scowled, after a beat of reflection.
Lucy sighed. The fact was that the voyage across the Atlantic had not been an easy one for either of them: the Lady of Nantasket had been vexingly beset by contrary winds, and then something noisy and abrupt had happened to the steering gear which had necessitated a running repair that had added extra time and discomfort to the journey. More than that, relations between herself and Cait had changed markedly. Lucy was not sure what had happened, but it was as if the enforced proximity within the confines of the vessel had made Cait regret the generous last-minute impulse with which she had agreed take the younger girl on and act as her mentor. In her own case, Lucy disapproved of the way Cait had worked on the captain and used her considerable powers to charm him, though she was aware enough of her own heart to know that the disapproval was not a moral one, being built rather from resentment and jealousy.
“It just eases the way,” Cait had said after Lucy had betrayed her feelings with an overly acid inquiry as to whether her notional tutor had enjoyed a recent visit to the bridge. “He’s flattered by the attention, but he’s a moral enough fellow, loves his wife too. Him liking me is just a means to our end. What I’m not happy with is you mooning about with a face like a slapped arse because I’m flirting harmlessly with the old feller. We had that conversation; we’re not having it again. Now, have you washed my things?”
Washing Cait’s clothes was part of Lucy’s duties. When she had asked what laundry had to do with being trained as a venatrix, Cait had sharply told her it had nothing to do with the deeper arts necessary for survival as a supranatural huntress, but everything to do with obedience, and that obedience was a necessary pre-condition to instruction.
“If you can’t bend yourself to do the simple things without bridling, you’re not going to be worth anyone’s while as a pupil,” Cait had said. “And certainly not any of mine. I’m not trying to break your will, for it’s a strong one and it’ll serve you well one of these days: I’m just seeing if you’ve the heart to put it aside when you need to.”
And maybe this was as much the problem as anything: her will. Becoming Cait’s apprentice had seemed like a welcome way of staying with her, but the truth was that the reason Lucy had wanted to stay was more to do with the great ache she felt when she looked at her tutor than any real desire to spend the stated year as her pupil. Cait had been frank and open – painfully so – about identifying the crush that the younger girl had on her and explaining that it would pass and that even if it didn’t, she was not disposed to return the affection in kind. What had not been properly assessed by either, on reflection, was whether Lucy was constitutionally able to take instruction.
She knew she was bad at this. She had been forced to survive on her own for most of her life, and was already resourceful and tough in her independence. She had enjoyed the unfamiliar companionship of The Oversight because she had come, despite herself, to like the other members of the Last Hand. But it was also in her nature to mistrust comfort as a softening snare and delusion, so as soon as she had noted this she had determined to leave, a decision only partially explained by her longing for Cait’s company.
The reality of the deal they had made on the quayside in London was less congenial than either had imagined. Rather than bonding, Lucy saw they had drifted apart. From her perspective, Cait had not recovered her normal good humour following an initial week of the voyage that had seen them both badly beset by seasickness. Lucy had regained her appetite and vigour, but apart from the time when she found smiles and laughter for the captain, ocean-going appeared to have sucked all Cait’s normal cheerfulness clean away.
It was a relief in more ways than one to escape the narrow confines of the ship and find herself on a gangplank that promised the new freedoms of a wider world so reassuringly beckoning at its far end.
She took another deep breath and scanned the milling scene spread out below her. She saw potential; she saw variety; she saw sights that were familiar, and others that had an indefinably foreign air to them.
She did not, however, see the pair of eyes watching her, eyes hidden in the shadows of an impressive brick and stone warehouse across the wharf.
* * *
On a normal day Prudence Tittensor had what she thought of as any passingly clever wife’s natural abilities to manage her husband without recourse to her own somewhat more than natural faculties. And on any normal day she would have relied on them alone to dictate the style with which she welcomed him ashore after what must have been a long, cold voyage home to Boston, fighting the wind all the way across the sullen grey swells of the Atlantic.
She stood in the shade of the colonnade fronting the warehouse by Belcher’s Wharf, neatly folding the note she had just hurriedly written as she watched him move around the deck of the Lady of Nantasket, supervising the crew as they went through the well-drilled routines of berthing up and un-dogging the cargo hatches in preparation for imminent invasion by the stevedore gang waiting on the quayside below. She knew that in a moment – in fact as soon as she made herself visible to him – he would remember that his first mate knew every bit as much as he did about the matters in hand and was, in addition, a bachelor. Captain Tittensor would then, as ever, hand responsibility for ship and cargo over to him and become, for the next few hours at least, merely a land-bound spouse. And – on any normal day – Prudence Tittensor was not only expert in ensuring that he was a very happy and carnally satisfied land-bound spouse, but herself genuinely enjoyed the affectionate private warmth of their frequent reunions.
The sight of the two young women who had appeared on the gangplank had made her step sharply back into the depths of the warehouse colonnade and reassess her plans.
This had not been going to be a normal day from the get-go, since she was going to have to explain to her husband that the child they had adopted and brought home from London was gone, simultaneously finessing the moment of revelation by explaining that the reason for this was a happy one: nature had granted Prudence the miracle they had both long wished for, a miracle that she carried proudly before her in her expanding stomach. She had rehearsed the rationale behind her decision in passing the adopted infant on to a more deserving couple, and was confident in her ability to manipulate her husband’s reaction.
What she had not been prepared for was the pair on the gangplank. She had seen them and immediately known both what they were and how much trouble they were bringing. She had stepped back into the shade and thought fast, then pulled a small pad of paper and a slender pencil from her bag and written three terse sentences.
The bitch at her side thumped her tail and made a low growling plea of barely controlled excitement.
“No, Shay,” said Prudence. “No. You’ll see him later.”
She peeled a glove off her left hand, slid the note into it and folded it into an improvised envelope of sorts. She then handed it down to the dog, who gently took it in her mouth.
“This for the Proctor,” she said. “And fast, girl.”
Prudence then smoothed her hand over the growing bulge of her belly and stepped out of the shadows waving at her husband with a sunny smile that betrayed not a hint of her inner turmoil, her eyes resolutely ignoring the young strangers whose arrival had turned this into a decidedly abnormal day.
* * *
Lucy joined Cait at the foot of the gangplank and found she was expected to carry her mentor’s bag as well as her own.
“Now,” said Cait shortly, “let’s be going. We’ve things to settle before we deal with the matter in hand.”
“Do you think that’s Mrs—?” began Lucy, observing the approaching figure of Prudence Tittensor, who was looking past them, up into the beaming face of her husband, who was leaning over the taffrail and waving enthusiastically back at her.
Cait gripped Lucy’s arm with her free hand and squeezed it firmly.
“Don’t look,” she said calmly. “We’ve time enough for her later, once we’ve found out when the next ship sails home.”
The plan was simple and well-rehearsed. Lucy ran it through her head as she followed Cait through the milling crowd towards the port office. Being both youthful and handsome, there was no shortage of importunate masculine offers to “help them with their bags”, but Cait smiled and declined and never broke pace, and Lucy followed dutifully in her wake, trying to assume her mentor’s easy air of knowing exactly where she was going in this town in which she had never before set foot. The plan was to find out the next sailing that could take them back to the other side of the ocean they had just crossed. Once this had been determined and passage booked, Cait intended to repossess the stolen infant at the last possible moment before the said sailing, and return it to the Factor and his wife at Skibbereen, from whose crib it had been stolen nearly a year ago now. The child had been taken by a changeling who Cait had tracked from County Cork to the City of London, a changeling Lucy had last seen imprisoned in the secret cells beneath the Sly House adjacent to the headquarters of The Oversight in Wellclose Square.
Captain Tittensor had been worked on by Cait on the voyage over to the extent that he believed it was his own idea that she should present herself at his home at the earliest opportunity in order that she might offer her services as a nurse to the adopted baby she had in fact determined to remove. The captain had given Cait his home address with the suggestion that she present herself for his wife’s perusal at her earliest convenience, and had congratulated himself inwardly about the excellence of the plan. He liked all he saw of Cait and could not conceive of Mrs Tittensor liking her a whit the less.
Caitlin Sean ná Gaolaire had none of Prudence Tittensor’s qualms about using any supranatural faculties on the captain. But then she was a venatrix, a hunter sworn to rescue the child, come what may. And Lucy had noticed that Cait was – on dry land at last – both blithe and bonny but also utterly ruthless in the prosecution of anything she believed to be the right thing to do.
Within half an hour, they had found their way to the port office, and determined there was a ship sailing on the morning tide for Liverpool.
“So we leave in less than a day?” said Lucy, unable to keep surprise and disappointment out of her voice.
“Did you have other plans, missy?” said Cait, raising an eyebrow.
“Seems a shame not to see a little of this new country while we’re here,” said Lucy.
“We’re not on a grand tour. We’re on serious business,” said Cait. “And I’ve found one place is pretty much like another, when you look closely.”
“Would be nice to have a chance to look closely,” mumbled Lucy as Cait led the way into an inn which the young man in the port office had recommended as being close, clean and cheap.
Cait turned and blocked the door.
“I’m no believer in Lady Luck, Lucy-girl, but when she smiles it’s as well to smile back, bob a curtsey out of respect and take what she offers. It’s an ugly thing we’re to do here, because the captain’s a decent enough man and likely has no knowledge that his babby’s been stolen from another, so it’s as well to do it fast, like pulling a tooth.”