Hollie Babbitt lifts his head and stares out of the tiny, greenish-grey bubbled glass panes, out onto the rain-swept gardens of the house where the troop are presently quartered. He looks like an old warhorse, smelling the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains and the shouting.
“Russell,” he says, running a hand through his long and already-disordered cinnamon-brown hair. The scarred lieutenant looks up from scanning the satchel of dispatches that was dumped on him not two hours ago, and raises an eyebrow.
“Are you listening, Hapless, or are you reading your love-letters again?”
“Well.” Russell sets the satchel down and looks smug. “It is funny you say that, sir. D’you remember that lady who spent some time with us last year – writing the books?”
“Could hardly forget the wench. By, she couldn’t half curse. She did make a decent cake, mind. Why – she written to you?”
Russell looks out of the window as well, although the gardens have no more exciting a vista. A careful observer might have noted that Hapless Russell has gone a very faint rose-pink. “Not – recently,” he says cautiously. “But – um – sir, it would seem that we – ah, you – even such as I – we seem to be acquiring a certain, how shall I say, a degree of admiration. From an Amazon, apparently.”
“You don’t want a lass with a habit of violence, Russell. Especially not if she’s lacking a tit. Look where it got Luce, and so far as I know, that lass was in possession of both her bubbies. Not that I looked,” he adds hastily.
“No, no, this one is giving us stars. Five of them. Several times -“
“You what? What the hell do we want stars for? Is it foreign coin, or something, or what?”
“No, sir.” Russell glares at his commanding officer. “For an educated man, you know, you can be remarkably thick at times. It says here that you are oddly likeable -“
“Give that here.” Hollie scans the paper and then looks up, looking smug. “Well, well. Fancy that. So next time somebody calls me a bad-tempered gobshite wi’ no manners – hang on. Raffish? You?”
The prim Puritan lieutenant looks down his elegant nose and smirks. “I don’t believe anyone said you were unconventionally handsome, did they?”
“Mind your tongue,” Russell chides him, slightly absently, in the manner of a man who knows his breath is wasted. “What would the Amazon think, if she knew you habitually blasphemed as you do?”
“She’d probably think I fit right in with the rest of the bloody Army.” Hollie shuffles the papers on his desk and gives a snort of disbelief. “You do know these buggers think I need a haircut? We’ve all got to have short hair, apparently.”
Russell touches his thick fair ponytail with an expression of horror. “What? Like one of those dreadful apprentices from the Trained Bands in London?”
“Oh aye. And you know that collar of yours with the -” he waves an inky and not too clean hand irritably, “the fancy stuff, that you turn out in when you’ve got your eye to a lass? – that’s got to go, apparently. Poetry – they reckon the King’s men are supposed to have the monopoly on verse. Be a bit of a blessing telling Luce, but I don’t fancy breaking it to Fairfax, do you? And his is worse!”
“Sir, what are you talking about?”
Hollie rubs the bridge of his nose and sighs, unaware of the smear of ink he has just transferred to that prominent feature. “D’you know what, Hapless, I don’t know why we bother. According to this – to that lady-friend of yours with the books – we’re supposed to be a load of abstinent, godly types, apparently with nits going by the haircuts, who never do nowt but sing psalms and probably take their wine watered. They never seen Cromwell on the spree, evidently. Apparently people think the Cavaliers had all the fun, and we spent most of the war praying and prosing.” He stands up and crosses to the window, and the colonel and his subaltern look out into the rain, watching Drew Venning strut across the grass in a hat that must have left several ostriches bald-rumped. “Mind,” Hollie says thoughtfully, “the Cavaliers could have kept that feathered excrescence, and welcome.”
“Ah, well, fashion knows no politics,” says Russell, who wears black a lot, not because of his puritanical leanings, but because he’s a vain so-and-so on the quiet and well aware that at just over six feet tall, with pale blonde hair and dark eyes, black suits him very well indeed. “Now where are you going, sir?”
“I’m going to have a word with that lady-friend of yours with the books, lad. On the matter of that slander on the private life of the Army of Parliament. You coming?”