Authors: Rory Clements
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Historical, #General, #Thrillers
Also by Rory Clements
The Queen’s Man
First published in Great Britain in 2015 by Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette UK company
Copyright © Rory Clements 2015
The right of Rory Clements to be identified as the Author of the
Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright,
Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Maps drawn by Rodney Paull
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any
means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be
otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that
in which it is published and without a similar condition being
imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication other than the obvious historical
figures are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or
dead, is purely coincidental
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library
ISBN 978 1 848 54851 0
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
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For Jack, Max, Imogen and Phoebe with love
Rheims, France, 1585
Goodfellow Savage stood before the cross with his head bowed, his long, military beard flat against his chest. Once spoken, these words could never be undone. A vow made before God could not be broken.
The air was heavy with the fragrance of incense. In the north transept of this magnificent cathedral, at the heart of the city, a young priest swung a thurible, his black-robed figure throwing shadows from the flickering glow of a dozen candles that decorated a nearby table.
Goodfellow inhaled the holy smoke deeply through his long, hooked nose. He had been over the matter of the vow a hundred times or more. He had lain long nights without sleep in his narrow seminary cot debating whether assassination – killing in cold blood rather than in the heat of battle – could truly be lawful in the eyes of God. His mind said yes; his heart was not so easily won over. But in the end . . . well, here he was.
One of his companions, a young man with pudgy pink hands, clasped his shoulder. ‘Say the words, Goodfellow. Say them.’
Savage nodded, then took a deep breath. ‘In the sight of these witnesses, I swear by Almighty God that I shall not rest until I have slain the usurper Elizabeth Tudor, eternal enemy of the Holy Roman Church. I crave the benediction of the Church and the Lord’s blessing on this my poor sword and on this my solemn undertaking.’
The words seemed to ring out so that the whole world must have heard them, but in truth they were little more than a whisper. Had he truly made the vow? He leant forward and placed the sword on the flagstones before him.
‘And so I give up my soul, wretched sinner that I am, to His mercy, in the certain knowledge that my own life is now forfeit.’ Yes, he knew
well enough. No man could kill the Queen of England and escape with his life. His own death would follow as sure as the sun follows the rain.
He fell forward, prostrating himself, his arms outstretched so that his fingertips touched the honed blade. Somewhere in the distance, a bell clanged, summoning the young seminary men to their studies. Savage scarcely heard it. He was alone with Christ.
In the pleasant garden of a small auberge, not a furlong from Notre-Dame de Rheims, John Shakespeare lay back and rested against the trunk of a sycamore tree, enjoying its cool shade. The air was hot and still; no one but a fool or an indentured man would venture into the sun on such a day. He heard a whistle and opened his eyes. Across the way, he spotted the boyish figure of Gilbert Gifford in his priestly robes.
Shakespeare raised one finger, then closed his eyes again. Five minutes later he stretched his arms and yawned. He picked up his book and cup of wine, rose lazily to his feet and sauntered back towards his room in the inn, where he went to his chamber and shut the door behind him.
Ten minutes later there were three raps at the door. Shakespeare opened it and admitted Gifford, glancing around to ensure they were not observed.
‘Well, Mr Gifford?’
‘He has vowed to kill Her Majesty.’ His voice was a whisper.
‘Do you believe he will truly attempt it?’
‘It is a vow made before God, not a promise to man. A vow is immutable. Once made, it must be fulfilled. He knows this and understands it. This is why he took so long to come to his decision. He is a soldier and has a soldier’s honour. I believe he would rather slit his own throat than repudiate this vow. He plans to return to England before autumn.’
‘That is up to you and Mr Secretary. Seize him on arrival at Rye or Dover if you wish, and I will testify against him. Or you can watch him and wait. I rather thought that was Walsingham’s plan.’
Shakespeare did not reply. It was not his place to disclose Sir Francis Walsingham’s plans to any man, least of all to Gilbert Gifford. He looked at his angelic, smooth and beardless young face with a curious mixture of admiration and distaste and wondered, not for the first time, whose side he was really on. A man who did not know the truth about him might be taken in by his deacon’s robes, but Shakespeare knew better.
‘Or if you wish, we could merely put an end to him here. A bullet to the head, a blade to the throat . . .’
Shakespeare ignored the suggestion. ‘How does he expect to carry out this mission?’
‘That is for you to discover.’
‘What do you know about John Savage, Mr Gifford?’
‘Lower your voice if you would, Mr Shakespeare. We are not the only spies in Rheims.’
Shakespeare stifled his irritation, smiled and waited.
‘I know little more than I have told you,’ Gifford said at last. ‘Men call him Goodfellow for his sweetness of nature, which you might think sits uneasily with his present intent and his known ferocity on the field of battle. He is tall – so tall that his feet extend a foot beyond his cot. Taller even than you, Mr Shakespeare, and muscled like a fighting dog. He is a soldier and poet who has fought with Parma against the Dutch rebels. And yet he is also full of charm and wit; no man could meet him in a tavern and not wish to buy him a gage of ale. He has no money but much good cheer.’