The Bull and Blood
London, Early Winter 1634
A priest, a giant, and a midget walked into a pub on an early winter afternoon.
The patrons of the Bull and Blood stopped what they were doing and stared.
Geoffrey Hudson, the midget—or, more properly, dapperling—was exactly twenty-one inches tall, and perfectly formed. He had a smooth face, delicate features, intelligent blue eyes, and mop of blonde hair. Wearing his tall rough boots, pantaloons and doublet, topped with a very fashionable hat, he measured twenty-three inches tall, not including the tiny and proportionally correct plumed feather in his cap. He carried a scale sized sword—a modified falchion, which hung at his side and could be seen as he tossed back his beautifully embroidered cape.
Geoffrey looked up at his friend the giant. “Anywhere to sit, William?” His voice was high, like a child’s, but clear and strong.
William was the giant. He could not stand upright in the pub. Normally he stood seven feet, seven inches in his bare feet. Add another two inches for his massive boots. The ceiling of the pub was at six feet three inches, not counting the low beams. He had to bend over nearly double to get through the door. Hunched over, and wearing a rain cape as large as a tent, he surveyed the room. As he turned, ducking further to see below the beams, he favored his right leg and a bad hip. The patrons of the Bull and Blood continued to stare.
His heavy Welsh accent rumbled quietly and he nodded. “Corner, in the back.”
“Let’s go then.”
The priest was doing a better job of blending in than the giant or the dapperling, as he was not dressed as a Catholic priest, which was fortunate. Geoffrey knew that if he were, the patrons would be doing more than just staring. They might just start a riot. Catholic priests were not welcome in this puritan piece of London. Geoffrey had dressed the man in servant’s clothing.
William began to move through the bar. A way was made for him, Geoffrey followed, and the priest brought up the rear. Geoffrey marched straight to the table, ignoring the stares as he went. Glancing back at the priest, Geoffrey saw the man nervously smiling back at the incredulous stares of the patrons of the Bull and Blood.
The man had a lot to learn, obviously.
They arrived at the table, and after several awkward tries William simply sat cross-legged on the floor. The priest, Father Guillemot, used a normal chair, and Geoffrey stood on a chair near William.
Father Guillemot shifted restlessly in his chair, and looked for the barmaid. William surveyed the room. Seated on the floor, he was taller than most men standing upright.
“Do you see him?” asked Geoffrey quietly.
William shrugged. “Dunno.” Shrug. “Dunno w’a he looks like.” He glanced about slowly. “Where be the barkeep, I feel puckfyst.”
Father Guillemot wriggled again, and said rather loudly, “What is zis puck face?”
Geoffrey choked back a laugh. “Puckfyst. It’s a dried toadstool, like le champignon? He’s thirsty, mon Pere.”
Guillemot shrugged and looked around the room and then back to his companions. “I rather suppose zat if our sea captain were ‘ere, he would ‘ave noticed, n’est ce pas?“
“Please keep your voice down, Father. As I told you before we left Denmark House, we don’t want people to take notice of you being French. You have been in this country for five years; you should learn the language in a more proficient fashion.”
“I almost never leave ze grounds of ze Denmark ‘ouse. Why should I bother, no? Le Francais is what is spoken zere, even by you.”
“We are not at Denmark House. So hush!”
Geoffrey’s hand motion hushed the priest again as the barmaid made her way across the room. The rumble of conversation was starting up again in the pub. Geoffrey watched the barmaid pause, and get “that look” on her face that most women did when they saw him. It was a look he knew well. It was the same look his beloved Henrietta Maria used to give him. This was a smile of glee, a smile of want—not lecherous, but of possession. A desire to touch him and to lift him and hug him. Geoffrey had been told he was very fair of face, which was unusual for a dapperling. He was also proportional, and saddled with none of the physical ailments and joint problems that plagued most other dapperlings. He knew the smile well. But this barmaid was more grandmotherly—haggardly, if the truth be told. He sighed, put on his best courtier smile, plucked the purple-plumed hat off of his head, and bowed low as she approached. “Good lady, we thank you for attending to us.” He popped up from his bow and replaced the hat upon his blond hair.
The barmaid smiled at him with what was left of her teeth, which were very few. “Wot a little gentleman, he is!” She leaned forward and put her face to the level of the table so she could see him up close. She smiled her semi-toothless smile and then turned to the giant. Geoffrey watched as the barmaid measured up William as he sat awkwardly on the floor. They were eye level to each other, and William’s large head, unruly black hair, and oversized teeth gave him the countenance of a lion.
“Lordy, ain’t ye a pair of characters! Big and Little along with this fellow ‘ere.” She gestured to the priest. Wa’be ye story, along with these lads, eh?”
Before the priest could open his French mouth, Geoffrey spoke up. “He is our servant, good barkeep. You are the barkeep, are you not, milady?”
She blinked at him a couple of times. “Aye.”
“Then ’tis your job to bring us ale. Which is why we are here. Please do so. Three ales.” He waved imperiously at the woman.
She blinked again, and then seemed to gather her senses around her. “Three ales, aye, milord.” She curtseyed slightly as she backed away from the table on her errand.
Geoffrey turned to his companions. “You would think the woman never had seen a courtier before today. I am used to the stares, but the rude behavior is tedious. I have been a member of the queen’s household for over ten years, William even longer. We should be treated as is fitting of our station.”
Father Guillemot interrupted the low volume tirade. “And that is the problem, Geoffrey. We ‘ave no station ‘ere. Our queen is dead, the king may be lying on his deathbed for all we know—you heard he received a broken hip, a bone protruding from his leg!”
William canted his bulk toward the priest. “Rumors. Many rumors. No one knows what’s happening. I don’t believe rumors until I see the results with me own eyes. The king is injured. That is all we know.”
The priest continued, “And ze lord chamberlain is locked up in ze Tower for taking part in ze incident where the queen was killed, and ze Americans are zomehow involved, and there are zese lords, most of whom ‘ere not much in ze favor zat have taken over, and some of ze privy council is scattered, and zere are rumors of troops moving and rumors of plague and rumors of a Catholic conspiracy that was trying to kill the king so that zis idiotic island could again be a follower of ze true church, instead of being run by these idiotic Presbyterian protestants that ‘ave no idea how deeply into damnation they sink—”
His speech was cut short by a hand that clamped onto his face. William’s hand was nearly big enough to circle Guillemot’s entire head.
Geoffrey again leaned across the table to the priest, who could only just see over William’s hand. “Father. I know that you are excited. I have urged you to be quiet, and you gave us your word you would do your best to blend in. You are not doing so now. If this continues I will encourage William to increase his grip on your face. Are you aware that William once strangled a bull?”
The priest shook his head no, and his eyes widened a bit more.
“He did. Comprendez-vous, mon Pere?”
The head nodded in the affirmative.
“Bon. Release him, William.” Geoffrey turned and looked at the barmaid approaching with three mugs. “Excellent, some ale.” She sat the three mugs on the rough table, and he paid the woman out of his coin pouch. He placed an extra coin in her palm, and the old woman looked at it curiously.
“W’a be this for?”
“Madam,” Geoffrey began, in a low whisper, “I am told that a captain by the name of Vanderbeek can be met here. Can you tell me if he is here?”
The barmaid’s posture changed and a flash of recognition came over her face, her eyes flicked briefly to the bar, and then the look was immediately suppressed.
Geoffrey smiled to himself. He was only nineteen years old, but he had lived in the queen’s household for more than ten years. He was the queen’s dwarf, yes. But he was also an experienced courtier, and had been in Her Majesty’s high favor until the end. The barmaid was as easy to read as a book. Geoffrey let his eyes stray to the bar, and his attention landed on a tall man who was noticeable because he was not looking at their table, nor was he immediately averting his eyes like the other patrons as Geoffrey glanced about. “The tall man under the lantern at the end of the bar, milady? Perchance he is the good captain?”
She turned and looked at the man at the bar. She then turned back and squinted a questioning, suspicious look. She answered slowly. “Aye, that be Vanderbeek.”
“Could you ask him to join us, milady?”
Her reply was lost in the noise of the bar as she turned and tried to casually walk over to the tall blond man. Geoffrey could see the conversation, but could not hear it. He could see the man nod, thank the barmaid, and slowly turn around, facing the table. Geoffrey assessed the man as he assessed them. Tall, he looked more Danish than someone from the Low Countries. There was a relaxed air about him, easy, confident. His clothing was drab, his hat smaller than most, no feathers or plumes, and his slash-sleeved doublet hung about him as if it were made for a larger man. He had a sword by his side, much like Geoffrey’s, only full size. Geoffrey noticed he didn’t fiddle with it was he walked, as he had seen so many courtiers do. To this man the sword was simply there, not a decoration to be fussed with. Other patrons in the Blood and Bull gave him a subtle physical sense of respect as he walked by. It was not outwardly obvious, not to the untrained eye, but Geoffrey was good at this sort of thing. He always could pick up on the subtle signs of people, it came naturally to him. So far, Geoffrey approved of their choice of a sea captain.
Geoffrey stood on his chair as the man approached. “Captain Vanderbeek?”
The captain looked at the three men at the table, taking a moment on each one. Geoffrey watched him look at William first, Father Guillemot next, then the gaze came to him. There was none of the look that Geoffrey usually got in a situation like this. The barmaid’s reactions were more typical. Captain Vanderbeek looked first at his height, but his gaze didn’t stop there. It wasn’t dismissive. Vanderbeek looked at more, it was if he was burning everything about Geoffrey into his memory. Geoffrey returned the man’s gaze with one of his own, plucked his hat off his head once again, and bowed. “I am happy to meet you.”
The captain returned the bow stiffly. “Thank you. Am I to take it you are the men that Kenelm Digby wrote to me about?”
“That is correct.”
“Your letter said I would recognize you when you came into the Bull and Blood. I was expecting a handful of foppish courtiers from the queen’s court, not a priest, a dapperling, and a giant.”
Father Guillemot looked panicked. “How do you know I am ze priest?” he whispered sharply.
“I wasn’t sure, until just now.” He looked at Geoffrey with a smile. “You are in charge of this gathering?”
Geoffrey plopped his hat back on his head. “Yes, Captain. Please sit down.” Geoffrey scampered to the next chair at the table, and William awkwardly moved aside to let the captain sit.
Glancing around him to check for eavesdroppers, Geoffrey began. “What do you know of the queen’s household, Captain?”
“I know the court is at Denmark House, on the Strand. It is an estate rebuilt by James for Anne of Denmark. I know you give—or rather, gave—endless masques and parties, have a menagerie of strange beasts including monkeys, and I also know it is the center of Catholicism in this country. Inigo Jones is completing the Papist church within the compound.” He looked directly at the priest, his expression blank. The look clearly made Father Guillemot uncomfortable. “There are rumors that say the pope will secretly consecrate it so the true evil ceremonies of Satan can begin.” The captain cracked a little smile.
Father Guillemot sighed quietly, and with relief. “Zis is such a backward county. Ze ‘oly father would never travel such a distance, even for our beloved Henrietta Maria. But we are hoping for some ‘oly relics to ‘elp us to consecrate ze new chapel.”
Geoffrey gave the priest his best glare. A lot to learn. He turned his focus to the captain. “You have a fair grasp of what it was. But what it has become is a living nightmare for those of us who loved Henrietta Maria. And remember that clearly, Captain. We did love our queen. She was a very lonely girl for a great number of years, before the king and she finally fell in love. She was devoted to her king, and we were devoted to her, unconditionally. Do not forget that. Ever.” Geoffrey felt his emotions slipping from control, and fought them back. The last thing he wanted this man to see was him crying like a child.
The captain looked around the table, and Geoffrey watched as he absorbed the quiet fierceness of his outburst. “Why do you need me?”
“We are in dangeur, Captain. C’est terrible. Zere are the mobs that have been outside the gates almost every evining, and—”
Geoffrey put up his hand to hush Father Guillemot. “We need your ship to plan an evacuation. We need to go to France, as soon as possible.”
“Why not just go to Strafford? He will protect you.”
“Have you not heard? He is in the Tower! We don’t know who’s in charge. There’s a group of lords running the country while the king clings to life. Every day we hear they may take away the mercenaries that are guarding our home. We fear if those troops are withdrawn, and the anti-catholic sentiment is still high, there is nothing to prevent the mob from destroying Denmark House. And likely killing all men and beasts who live within.”
“And the French ambassador? What of him?”
“He has left the country, leaving some spies, but they are of no use. We are on our own, Captain Vanderbeek.”
Vanderbeek pushed his hat back onto his head, and sipped his ale. His look was non-committal.
“We have funds,” Geoffrey continued, “but not unlimited. Will you do it?”
“Now that I see who and what you are . . . no”
“What do you mean, no?” Geoffrey was astounded. He expected some negotiation at least, but an outright refusal . . .
“No. Simple enough.”
“I do not sail with menageries, or actors, or clowns or priests. Or children posing as men.”
Geoffrey’s hand went to his sword. “I am not a child, sir.” He could feel his temper rising. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see William shifting position very slowly, in case he needed to fight.
Vanderbeek took a step back. The tension melted away from the table. Vanderbeek nodded. “Very well. As you say.” He gave a small bow of his head.
Geoffrey heard the words, but it was clear to him they were less than sincere. He decided, reluctantly, to let it pass and took his hand from his sword.
William’s voice rumbled and Geoffrey turned, surprised. “We will be no trouble. We take women and children, too.” He looked at the captain closely with his lion countenance. “And freaks.”
Geoffrey knew they were running out of time, both here with the captain and at Denmark House. “Captain Vanderbeek. Please listen to me. We are not simply a group of freaks and performers. We are a family. A household. What William said is true. Children and mothers. When Henrietta Maria came to this country, she was little more than a girl. Alone in a foreign and hostile country. She is—was—a Catholic in a Protestant country. She was isolated. Sad beyond measure. So she began to collect things, pets, people. She made her own family. I was one of the things she collected, for which I am grateful beyond measure. And now, this family is threatened. We are in dire need. Can you help us?”
Before Geoffrey could say anything else, the priest interrupted angrily and loudly. “Captain, why iz it you do not weesh to sail us?”
At that point several things happened at once. William, at Geoffrey’s command, clamped his massive hand over Guillemot’s face to muffle him. He only partially succeeded, and the priest began a muffled cursing in French. The rest of the bar stopped and stared. As Guillemot was wriggling, trying to break free of William’s grip, his rather overlarge crucifix bounced into plain view from beneath his shirt. The patrons of the bar begin to focus on his group, and Geoffrey tried to quiet the idiot. He regretted bringing him along, but the priests and churchmen of Denmark House insisted on being included in this meeting. When he turned back, Vanderbeek had disappeared.
“Now where did he go?”
Geoffrey noticed two sailors break loose from the group of patrons and approach. They did not look friendly. In this town to be French meant—well, Geoffrey thought, it meant a lot of things, but today it was mostly Catholic. The overlarge crucifix bouncing about didn’t help the matter. Geoffrey leaned over to William and spoke quietly. “Keep an eye on the priest and make sure he returns to Denmark House. Preferably alive.” The large Welshman’s head nodded slightly, and he shifted his position.
Geoffrey hopped onto the table with a flourish, pulled off his hat and made a sweeping bow to the men approaching. “Good sirs, good day to you!” Geoffrey was using his stage voice, which was very loud, and very clear. “Have you heard of England’s smallest man, and his tale? Born in the smallest county in England, no less?” Geoffrey leapt off his chair, turned a somersault in the air, and rolled to his feet upon landing. He did a quick cartwheel across the room, and scrambled up a stool and stood on the bar. He grinned widely at everyone, and began to dance upon the bar, singing the chorus of a drinking tune. His eyes went to William, who stood awkwardly and began to sing with him. The tune was snappy and quick.
Cinnamon, and ginger, nutmeg and cloves,
That gave me my jolly red nose!
Nose, nose, nose, nose,
And that gave me my jolly red nose!
Geoffrey’s voice was good, clear, and it carried. William’s was off key and as deep as a well. The effect was to stop the surly men in their tracks, and the rest of the bar began to laugh.
But the two of them were not dissuaded so easily. “Hey! I said hey!” One of the sailors, from the looks of him, was protesting the change in mood, swaying slightly. He pointed to the priest. “That man is a Catholic, lads. Look at that idolatry ’round his neck. He’s French too. I hear tell a group of French priests wa’ seen after the queen was killed. They say there is a con— umm, con-spire-a-see about, lads.” He swayed a little more, but he had regained the crowds’ attention.
Lion drunk, thought Geoffrey. Ready to fight. He sighed inwardly, but on the outside, smiled widely.
William sighed and moved the priest behind him.
Geoffrey began to sing a verse, directly to the leader of the troublemakers, still smiling all the while.
Of all the birds I ever did see,
The owl is fairest in her degree.
For all the day long she sits in a tree,
And when the night comes, away flies she.
Geoffrey danced a little jig through the verse, and now had the man’s attention.
To wit to woo, to whom drinks through, sir knave to thee
This song is well sung and I make you a vow
That he is a knave that drinketh now!
Geoffrey pointed to the man on the word “he,” and it was clear he was calling the man a drinking knave, one who can woo the ladies, and is a serious drinker. The bar began to laugh at the show. He continued to dance and sing another chorus, and other voices picked it up.
Nose, nose, jolly red nose,
And what gave me my jolly red nose,
Cinnamon, Ginger, nutmeg and cloves,
And that gave me my jolly red nose.
Geoffrey continued to sing the next verse to the sailor, who was not comfortable with all of the attention. Geoffrey made sure the performance was focused directly on the drunken sailor.
I care of no fool whose purse is not full,
But he hath money I never find dull
And if he still has it when hence I doth goes
I’ll drop my tankard and never drink more
A rack, a rue, to whom drinks through, sir knave to thee
This song is well sung and I make you a vow,
That he is a knave that drinketh now!
Through the next chorus, Geoffrey saw William and the priest make for the door, as the focus was on him dancing on the bar. For the last verse, Geoffrey wanted everyone to look at him, and he slowed the pace slightly, playing up the words.
I’ll not have a woman who’s never been tried,
But give me a wanton to lie by my side
And this I do use as a rule of my life,
That wanton is best with another man’s wife!
Cookoo, Cookoo, to whom drinks through, sir knave to thee
This song is well sung and I make you a vow,
That he is a knave that drinketh now!
As he started the last chorus, he reached into his purse, pulled out a handful of coins, and tossed them into the crowd. William and the priest had made it out the door. He continued to sing as he trotted down the bar, skipping over tankards and bottles toward the door. The drunken sailor pushed his way through the small knot of men, keeping pace with him. It was going to be close. He leapt off the bar, hit the ground with a roll like an acrobat, sprung to his feet and was nearly to the door when he was snagged by his cape from behind, jerking him off the ground. The cape was sturdy, and whoever had a hold of him was tossing him backwards, toward the bar and away from the door. He twisted around quickly and drew his sword, swiping it in the air behind to free the grip on the cape.
The sword hit something, and he heard the sailor yowl and felt his grip release. Geoffrey stumbled back against the bar and fell to the ground. He sprang up, furious, tossed his cape back, and took a fighting stance. His tiny dagger came out of his boot, and he looked up at the sailor, who was holding his hand, dripping blood. The sailor was nearly three times his height, but he showed no fear to the man. His pleasant singing voice was now replaced with a cool, clear, icy fury. “I am not some barmaid, knave. You do not touch me. If you do, you will feel my blade.”
There was still some scrabbling on the hard packed dirt floor for the coins he tossed, but the group of men quickly quieted down, and turned to watch the tiny dapperling and the fully-grown sailor, giving them room. The sailor was between Geoffrey and the door, and Geoffrey’s back was to the bar.
“You cut me ‘and, ye little bastard.”
Some of the men at the bar laughed. The sailor was angry. Angry he couldn’t start his fight earlier, and angry at the one who spoiled his fun and had now hurt him. He glanced around for a weapon, and grabbed an oaken walking stick leaning against the wall by the door. The sailor hefted the stick once, trying it out, and then turned to Geoffrey. Geoffrey shifted his position, still focused on the sailor. The sailor raised the walking stick like a hammer above his head, stepped forward with one leg, and brought it down like an ax, as hard as he could, aiming for Geoffrey’s head.
Geoffrey was expecting the move and easily sidestepped the heavy stick. Then he stepped under the sailor’s outstretched leg, and sliced the inside of the man’s thigh with his sword. He let the momentum of his thrust carry him behind the man to the door in one smooth and practiced motion. Geoffrey’s blades were sharp. Very sharp. He doubted the man fully felt what he had done.
The sailor reached for the inside of his leg. “Wha’ did ye do t’ me, ye little bastard? Did ye cut me again?’ He raised his stick again, his hand now very bloody.
One of the man’s shipmates stepped up to him, and silently pointed down at his boot. It was already full of blood, spilling out over the top and onto the ground. They both looked incredulously at the blood flowing onto the ground. Their eyes met for a brief moment, then the attacking sailor went down like a sack of bricks, completely limp. He would be dead in a moment or two.
There was a pause in the bar. An intake of breath. Men looked at each other in wonder. Someone so small, so deadly. Geoffrey kept his face as neutral as possible, and edged his way out of the door. William and the priest were gone, long gone by now, and he was on his own.
He closed the door behind him and walked as slowly and confidently as he could manage, until he rounded a corner, then began to run. He ducked into an alley, out of view, where he threw up. He leaned against the cold and damp wood of some closed shop, and was sick until his stomach was empty, and then was sick some more. His hands shook, and his knees knocked. He sobbed. After a while, he began to get his emotions under control. He could still remember the feeling of resistance of flesh to blade as he cut the man. He had been working with the master of arms for more than three years. He did it without thinking, by reflex. The feeling of his blade cutting flesh came back to him, and he retched again.
He stood there for more than a little while, and slowly began to get under control. Suddenly the darkness loomed darker for a moment and he became aware of someone behind him. He pulled his blades again, and whirled to face whoever it was.
“Your first?” It was Vanderbeek’s voice.
“Go away,” he croaked, putting his blades back into their sheaths. He peered into the darkness. “Damn lot of help you were.”
“Oh I was there, Geoffrey. Watching. And I would have stepped in, if I was needed. For our friend Digby, if nothing else.” There was a pause in the darkness. “You will have your rescue. I will call at Denmark House on the morrow with further instructions. We can settle our price then.”
Alexander Leighton smiled in the torchlight. In front of him stood the very seat of Catholic influence in England, what the people called Denmark House, the home of the dead queen. The small group of followers he gathered in the first week after her death had now grown to a significant number, which if allowed to be incited, would quickly become a mob. Mercenaries surrounded Denmark House still, protecting it, but soon, very soon, the whole thing would come down. In flames. Glorious, all-consuming flames.
Leighton wore his hair long, over where his ears should have been. His ears had been cut off for preaching heresy. His nose was slit as another punishment. His back held the marks of a whip, as yet another sentence for sedition. When his book was published, Speculum Belli Sacri, or Mirror of the Holy War, a tirade against bishops and the evils of creeping prelacy, his face was branded with a deep “SS,” for Sower of Sedition. All the pain he endured was nothing, in the great struggle against Satan. No pain is worse than the pain of Hell, an eternity of torture.
He thanked God above when he heard the news. The Catholic queen was dead, and now her terrible influence over the king would finally cease. He was certain the king was captivated by a popish spell, supported by witches, which influenced the king toward the Devil and Catholicism. Why else would he push the need for bishops, those “wens and knobs and bunchy ‘o popish flesh” who held no other purpose but to lead the church straight to hell?
In front of him stood his crowd of followers, well behaved for now. He needed just a few dozen more, and they could overpower the guards and take the palatial home to the ground, brick by brick. Especially the Popish church that was within. A Catholic chapel built right in the heart of London. It must not be allowed. He would kill everyone and everything within; they had all been polluted by the taint of Catholicism. It would be another step on his way to cleanse the Island of filth. He nodded. He smiled in the torchlight. Yes, just a few more. Only a few.
He signaled his boy to beat his drum, and the crowd became quiet. He began to preach. He started slowly, earnestly, then built his arguments. He alternated between piety and outrage, helplessness and fury, calmness and brutality. There was a measured pace, a hypnotic rhythm to the speech. He could feel the crowd become as one mind beneath the spell of his gift. And surely it was a gift from God, to be able to do this. To move a crowd to action, or rapture, or outrage. They became as one being, a single mind of many parts, all under his control.
He didn’t want to peak too soon. Not yet. He withdrew his energy, calmed them, brought them back, let their minds separate slightly. Not yet. No. Not yet. But soon. Very soon. Just a few more men.
“This isn’t a house. It’s a dammed palace.” Vanderbeek shook his head. “I had no idea it was this large.”
Henry Jermyn held the large iron gates of the watergate entrance from the Thames open for Vanderbeek and smiled. Statues of Thame and Isis framed the massive gate. The Denmark House gardens stretched before them, six hundred feet to the palace. Like all homes of the wealthy and powerful, it was situated directly on the Thames, and the “rear” of the palace faced the Strand, while the front faced the river. There was a high stone wall that blocked out the views of the gardens from the river, and lesser walls to the east and west. The three-story palace faced the Strand, forming the fourth side. The Savoy Hospital was to the west, separated by the lowest of the walls, beyond where the stables and servants quarters were located.
Jermyn laughed a rather grating laugh. Off pitch and nervous. A laugh that didn’t fit his chubby body. “It’s the largest palace in London, after Whitehall, Captain. What did you expect to find for the queen’s court?”
The captain stopped and took in the gardens, now trimmed, tended and hunkered down for winter. Naked decorative trees and bushes gave the palace a rather forlorn look. Forlorn, but very well groomed.
As they approached the main building of the palace he could see archways and alcoves, and in each alcove was a life-size marble sculpture, all representative of various characters from mythology. He counted nine of those. Everywhere he looked there was statuary and large winter-dormant fountains scattered around the grounds. Near the house, he looked to his left and saw a recently constructed building. “Is that the Catholic chapel I’ve heard so much about?”
Jermyn smiled again. “It was one of Her Majesty’s greatest achievements. Would you like to see it? There is a magnificent Rubens over the altar, twenty feet tall. We are still working on some of the interior decorations and carvings.”
“No.” Vanderbeek stopped, tugged Jermyn’s ample sleeves, and pointed to the building. “Do you understand the presence of that Catholic chapel is one of the things which enrages the mob outside the gates?”
“We have only really learned it since the queen’s death. The fact they hate it, I mean. We—or rather I—well, most of us, do not understand why. It makes no sense. We have increased attendance almost every week since we opened for select public masses. We stopped those after the death of the queen, when the mob began to form. We have heard there has been an increase in the persecution of Catholics across London, too.”
They began to walk toward the large main entrance doors. “Is everyone a Catholic behind these walls?”
“Nearly so, at least now. The ladies and lords of the queen’s court were mostly Protestant. It has been so since 1626. That’s when Charles threw out the French court Henrietta Maria brought with her from France. He replaced all of her ladies in waiting with English ladies. During that time is when I came to be of service to the queen.” Jermyn smiled again. Vanderbeek didn’t like the smile the first time he saw it as he disembarked from his launch. He reconfirmed his opinion as Jermyn continued. “We have all assembled in the main hall. There used to be over three hundred of us living here, and there were about one hundred who traveled with the queen as her court. Anyone who had somewhere to go, other than Denmark house, has left it.” The big man shrugged. “All that is left are those of us who have nowhere else. The Catholics, the priests, monks, the French, the freaks. Geoffrey was welcomed once by the French court, and was granted gifts of gems worth over two thousand pounds by Marie d’Medici and her court. He was well liked. Nearly all in the household have connections there, so we will go there.”
Vanderbeek’s eyebrows went up, and he re-thought the amount of money he was going to charge for the trip. “Does he still have that kind of money?”
Jermyn gave Vanderbeek a Gallic shrug, obviously mastered by living among them. “He lost the jewels and the gifts when he was seized, along with the queen’s midwife and a few ladies in waiting by the Dunkirker pirates. Of course, they were ransomed. I think the Dunkirkers were frightened by the importance of the cargo they waylaid.”
Vanderbeek nodded in agreement. “I recall hearing. They could do the same again today with an English ship, ever since the damned Spanish have taken the Low Countries. They were always after the Dutch, now that’d be like stealing from yourself, since they were usually under Spanish letters of marque.”
They entered the building through a set of magnificent doors, where a servant took their cloaks and then led them into a wide hallway that extended for several yards, until they came around a corner, and then to a large cross hallway. They went to the right. Windows lined the south side of the hall, letting in the cold winter light. When Jermyn finally opened the double doors to the main hall, Vanderbeek was confronted with one of the strangest sights he had ever seen. The room was sumptuous, dark oak paneled, high ceiling, stained glass windows behind, and a massive table in the center. Seated around the table and standing around the room was the largest collection of freaks and oddities he had ever seen. There were tall, slender African men and women dressed as formal servants. He counted three more dwarfs. There were several ladies in waiting, a man with no legs who walked on his hands, a handful of Capuchin monks in their coarse robes and rope belts, exotic birds, dogs large and small, a few monkeys on leashes, several priests, and another thirty or so “normal” looking people, servants he assumed. He recognized the giant from the Bull and Blood, and saw another, shorter, giant who was grossly fat. At the head of the table, Geoffrey stood on a chair, his back to Vanderbeek. After a moment, the dwarf turned to him and bowed slightly. In the daylight, his features looked even more delicate and childlike.
Vanderbeek smiled at the dwarf, and then turned to Jermyn, still keeping his eyes on the group displayed before him. “Who’s in charge of this . . . this group of passengers? I have a few questions.”
The youthful priest near the front of the room came forward. Vanderbeek was expecting a French accent; instead he got a Scottish brogue. “I am the leader of this group, sir. I can make all of the decisions for everyone here.”
Evans the Giant spoke up, as did others. “He does not speak for me!”
“Nor I,” came from the mouth of the man with no legs.
Most of the freaks were protesting the self-appointment. The Africans in the back of the room were silent, and the group of women—he assumed them to be ladies in waiting or high-level servants—were murmuring and looking nervous. One in particular caught Vanderbeek’s eye. He fixed his gaze on her for a moment, and she returned it with a smile, and then looked down. Trouble, he thought, and continued to survey the noisy room. He recognized the priest from the night before directly behind the one who spoke up. They were loudly protesting the potential selection of anyone else. The disagreements and calls for a leader began to grow, dogs barked, monkeys howled and a bird cawed madly.
Vanderbeek finally put up his hands. “Enough! I will speak to the dwarf, the priest, and Jermyn.” He pointed to each of them in turn as he called their names. The protests continued, but he walked from the room, the three of them scurrying after.
Later, after a long discussion on the details of the rescue, Vanderbeek had a better handle on the three men. Jermyn, he decided was just about worthless. A basically stupid but loyal Englishman who simply had nowhere else to go. The priest was the queen’s confessor, who thought his rank gave him the intelligence to make decisions for all. But Geoffrey, Vanderbeek judged, was a dependable man.
At the end of the meeting, Vanderbeek pulled him aside. “I want you to be my main contact to the group, Geoffrey. Can you do that?”
“I was afraid you were going to ask me that, Captain. As much as I would like to say yes, I cannot.”
Vanderbeek was genuinely surprised. “I don’t understand. You can fight, obviously. You have the ability, and the brains—”
“So I may, Captain, thank you.” His small face changed expression from smiling to a restrained anger and deep hurt. “You have seen me—somewhat, as the man I really am. The man I want to be. Although the other night in the bar, I wish I could have sang our way out of trouble, instead of killing that man. As powerful as I felt afterwards, I never want to feel my blade cut flesh again if I can help it. It still sickens me to think about it.”
“Nothing to be ashamed of. One of the reasons I am here is because your bravery impressed me. And the strong persuasion of Kenelm Digby.”
Geoffrey pointed fiercely down the hall to where the rest of the odd household waited. “To them, I am a joke. A cruel joke, upon which all sorts of pranks and foolishness are played, for which I must bear the brunt. It’s a constant humiliation I was able to endure because of my love for the queen. It made her happy. What made her happy, ultimately made me happy. William Evans, the giant, knows me. The queen’s master of arms knows me. He trained me. The hunt master knows me, and the queen’s stable master knows me. I can hunt, shoot, and ride better than most of the courtiers for the queen or the king. But even those who know me do not believe in me, seriously.” His small shoulders shrugged. “I have been here since I was six years old, and during that time I have been the punch line of so many jokes that I am nearly immune to them. No one at court takes me seriously, Captain. No one.”
He paused and looked at his hands. “As I began to grow up, from sixteen inches when I was six, to my nearly twenty-one inches today, I found I was less able to bear their jibes. There is a quite famous poem about me riding a foxing-terrier and jousting with a wild turkey.” He sighed, and then his hands clenched into fists not much bigger than Vanderbeek’s thumb. “I am the queen’s dwarf. And always will be. It’s a double-edged sword.” Geoffrey unclenched his fists and smiled up at Vanderbeek. “So that is why you must find another to lead this group, Captain. They will not follow a joke.”
“Then why did they send you to the Bull and Blood to meet with me?”
Geoffrey smiled and crossed his arms a little smugly in front of him. “I insisted. Most here are French. They cannot meander through the back alleys of Cheapside without tipping their hand. I pulled rank on them. Other than Jermyn, I am the ranking Englishman. He wouldn’t go alone without Evans, the giant, and the giant wouldn’t go without me. Therefore I went.”
He paused and looked down the hallway, checking for eavesdroppers. “There is something else you must know. Some of them may not leave; they are foolish enough to think they are still protected by the queen’s wedding treaty.”
Vanderbeek shook his head. “I have seen the mob. A treaty means nothing to them. The moment those mercenaries are removed . . . ” He paused, thinking for a moment. “Have you told anyone about the man in the Bull and Blood?”
“Who would believe me, Captain? Would you, if you had not seen it? Talk to James Shirley. He is the valet of chamber and well respected. Most will listen to him. The Capuchins will listen to Robert Phillip, the Scotsman, as will the priests. Thick as thieves, them.”
“What about the freaks, Geoffrey? Will they follow you?”
“They will follow me, as long as Evans is with me. He really did strangle a bull once, although it was a long time ago.”
“And the women?”
“Based on what I saw in the large hall earlier, I think you already know. Her name is Marie Garnier. There are many Garniers here. Her mother is the queen’s nurse, and her brother is the queen’s groom of the privy council, which is the highest ranking member of the household, other than the master of ceremonies, who is also a Garnier, and an uncle. They are good and loyal servants. The Garnier family, along with the Vantelet family have been in the service of the queen of France for many years, and they were placed here by her. But be careful of that one. She likes her games with men, and she is rather good at it.”
Vanderbeek smiled widely. “I will keep that in mind.”
“Mademoiselle Garnier? I am Captain Joos Vanderbeek. The man who would rescue you.” As the door to her chamber closed behind him, Vanderbeek smiled at the woman. He straightened from his bow, and observed her carefully. She was striking. Dark hair, but fair skinned. Unusual grey eyes gave her an exotic look. Long and elegant neck, unscarred face, and no hint of a Gallic nose. As she rose to greet him, her movements were dancer like, elegant, and very calculated. She extended her hand.
“I was not aware I needed rescuing.” Her smile was the absolute picture of coy. Vanderbeek tilted his head as she proffered her hand for him to kiss. He refused her hand, and looked down into her eyes, smiling all the while. “How long has it been?”
She dropped the hand to her side, and gave him a sour look. “Two years. Where have you been, Joos? Still sailing the seas? A bit of privateering now and again?”
He motioned her to a chair, and they both sat. “I’ve been here and there, a little of this and a little of that. You know, the usual.”
“Still smuggling for the French and the Spanish?”
“Sometimes for the English, too.”
They both laughed quietly.
“I was warned about you by Geoffrey.”
She frowned a little, then became pouty. “He must like you. He usually doesn’t give a warning.”
“What do you think of him?”
“The dwarf? Not much at all, really. He is witty, intelligent, fine singing voice, dances in masques well, and takes the stabbing jibes. But that’s his job. The queen adored him. Why do you ask?”
“I saw him kill a man at a pub in Cheapside last night. Rather handily. Self defense.”
She looked at him and nodded slowly, thinking it through. “Hm.”
Is that all you have to say? Just ‘hm’? Does that surprise you?”
“He does seem changed as of late. In the last year he tried to grow a beard and mustache. It was not successful, and he was ridiculed for it. I have not seen it since.”
She crossed her legs and settled back in her chair. “Certainly you didn’t come here to discuss the dwarf? What do you want from me?”
“Are you going to France with the rest of them?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
Vanderbeek laughed. “Any number of reasons, Marie. I need someone to depend on. There are many . . . let’s call them ‘factions’ . . . here and one doesn’t seem to listen to the other. So I need someone in the inside, as it were. You were suggested as the one who can help guide the ladies.”
“What do you need me to do?”
“They need to be ready to leave with only an hour’s notice. One bag or valise per person, only. We will leave by the watergate and row past the bridge, down to my ship, which will be anchored just below the Tower. From there we will head to Calais.”
“Do we not portage around the bridge? I wouldn’t want to drown trying to shoot the rapids at the bridge at low tide.”
He smiled at her, and casually leaned back in his chair. “You are many things, Marie Garnier. You have always been smart.”
She smiled coyly once again. “Why, Joos. You are just unhappy that I know what time we will be leaving. I don’t know which day, but at least I know what time.” She shifted in her chair and looked smugly at him. “You see, I know that at low tide and at high tide the bridge restricts the river. There is so much restriction there is an eight-foot drop in the water from the high side to the low side. The only time it is safe to cross the water beneath the bridge is when the tides are still. To do so at any other time will most certainly result in an unpleasant death by drowning.”
Vanderbeek felt a little sheepish. “I have always been plagued by smart women. And people wonder why I have not married. I was pleased when I saw you here, at Denmark House. I smuggled you into the country; it will be an honor to smuggle you out.”
After a moment, he asked, “Are you still working for Richelieu? Or have you moved on to De Blainville, or Cork, or the Jesuit, Richard Blount, or Marie de Medici, Or Chevalier de Jars, or the Spanish, or perhaps the new king in the Netherlands? Have I forgotten anyone?”
“Ah, yes. Them . . . the cause of all of this nonsense. I have much to do, and I want to catch the tide to take me back to my ship. Just be ready to leave, and make sure those who don’t want to leave won’t be in our way.”
She rose and extended her hand again. He smiled at her, and slowly kissed it. He straightened and gazed into her eyes for a moment, then abruptly turned, left the room and closed the door behind him.
He met Geoffrey in the hallway, leaning with his back to the wall, one foot propped behind him in casual disregard of the expensive wall coverings, his sword at his side, and cleaning his fingernails with a tiny dagger. “You are certainly smiling like a fool, Captain. I told you to be careful with that one. I have seen the bravest field marshal like putty in her hands.”
“My guess is that within ten minutes, she will summon her maidservant and give her a letter to deliver. Follow the letter; tell me to whom or where it is taken. Be prepared, there may be more than one.”
“You are a fast learner, Captain Vanderbeek. Consider it done.” The little man pushed his dagger into his boot, and trotted off down the hall, leaving Vanderbeek to gaze after him.
The Earl of Cork
Richard Boyle, the earl of Cork, was a very busy man. The Privy Council was beginning to come together, and formal leadership was starting to take shape. He needed allies, lots of them, and quickly. At least he had Strafford and Laud locked up. The note he’d just finished reading made him smile. He called to one of his secretaries.
“Michael, take a note. Two things to be done. Release William Prynne from the Tower. Immediately. Next, have the commander of the mercenaries in the Strand remove all the guards from Denmark House at first light. No sooner. I want people to see they are being withdrawn.
The secretary looked at him nervously. “S-Sir?”
“What is it?”
“Prynne, sir? He’s been sentenced to be branded, his ears slit, and then death. He wrote that horrible book against the queen about actors being creatures of the devil and actresses being whores. He’s an incorrigible rabble rouser, sir. Are you sure?”
The earl placed his hands flat on his desk and looked his assistant in the eyes. His face twisted into a sarcastic falsely-patient smile. “I know your ‘friend’—who is really your lover—is an actor for the Globe. My knowledge of that ‘relationship’ is one of the reasons I can trust you, Michael. To expose you would mean certain death in today’s ‘tolerant’ climate.” The smile was replaced with cold eyes. “I need my allies, Michael. The Puritans hold the hearts of the people. Charles was always too stupid and stubborn to understand that. The Puritans hate the queen. I am giving them an opportunity to destroy the symbol of what they hate the most. Carry out my order.”
“Yes, sir.” Michael retreated quickly from the room, scribbling as he went.
Alexander Leighton smiled. Today brought a pair of miracles. William Prynne was released from the Tower, and the mercenaries were leaving Denmark House. He knew God’s mechanism for performing these miracles was the earl of Cork. Not the earl himself, of course, but God working through the man. Satan was to receive a blow today. A blow from the hand of a righteous God. The right God. His God.
He looked at the early morning sky. Cloudy. Gloomy. Grey. He smiled again. He nodded to the boy whom he kept, and the boy began to beat the drum. Leighton began to preach. This time, he would not hold back. This time, he would let the crowd grow, simmer, boil, and then organize. Then he would preach some more. Show them his back full of scars. Pull his hair back from where his ears used to be. The crowd would rise in strength, grow rigid in their resolve, and then he would not hold them back as he had done so many times before. He would release them, to do his bidding—God’s bidding—against the Papist devils that resided within.
The boy continued to beat the drum, Leighton began to speak. The crowd began to gather.
“Master Geoffrey! Master Geoffrey! You must awaken!”
Geoffrey rolled over sleepily and looked at his servant, Jerome Gregoire, whose wife was also servant to the two female dwarfs in the court, Anne Sheppard and Sara Holt. Both of the female dwarfs were older than Geoffrey, and were always happy to pull a cruel trick on him whenever the opportunity presented itself. It made them feel better about themselves, he always figured. He shook his head. “Enough, Jerome! I am awake. What time is it?”
“You must get dressed quickly and look at this sir. Now, sir. Please.”
“Very well, grab my trousers and give me the green doublet . . . ”
Moments later they were trotting down the hallway toward the part of Denmark House that faced the Strand. Geoffrey was still tucking in and fastening as he ran. It took them only a few moments, as Geoffrey’s rooms were very near the queen’s, which looked over the large gardens and the Thames, opposite the Strand. Servants and attendants were gathered about the windows, a few still in their nightclothes, pointing and whispering.
Jerome waved them aside. “Make way, make way for Geoffrey.”
People reluctantly moved out of the way. Someone pushed a velvet upholstered footstool to the window, and Geoffrey climbed up to look at the street below.
It looked like a normal early Thursday winter’s day. The sky was barely grey. The small fish market across the street was open as usual, the preacher was where he always was, much earlier than usual, but in the same place. It looked completely normal.
It took a moment to realize what was missing. Geoffrey felt the color drain from his face. His mouth went dry. He knew they weren’t ready. He took another moment at the window to gather himself, before turning around. “Where are the troops?”
A serving boy offered up what he knew. “They just left. As soon as it was light, they picked up and marched away, didn’t say hardly a word to anyone. I was helping the breakfast cooks. Soldiers just said they had orders.”
Geoffrey’s brain was reeling. “Have we sent a messenger to Whitehall?”
The servants all looked at each other in the hallway, confused. “Have we awakened Jean Garnier?” Blank looks. “Either one of them. Father or son?” Heads shook in the negative. Geoffrey swallowed and realized he hadn’t pissed yet. “Father Phillip?”
One of the female servants answered. “He is always up at this hour. He is in the chapel.”
Geoffrey took a deep breath. “Listen to me.”
The body language of the knot of people changed to one of crossed arms and averted eyes.
Geoffrey could feel his frustration rising. This time he let it erupt. “Listen! As soon as that man, the preacher, across the street gets enough of his rabble assembled, they will force their way in. They will kill everyone and destroy this entire place. Kill everyone! You, me, even the damned dogs. The only thing keeping them out were the mercenaries. That is why Captain Vanderbeek was here yesterday. He was supposed to get us out of here before this could happen. We may be too late.”
He turned to Jerome, who looked pale. The rest of the servants looked incredulous. Geoffrey smiled a bit inwardly. None of them had ever heard him shout. “Jerome, get to the stables as quickly as you can. Get a horse and ride to below the tower where Vanderbeek’s ship is anchored. Have him get his men and boats up here as soon as possible. If he can send us help overland first, that would be even better.”
Jerome stood there for a moment as if in shock, then turned and ran toward the stables. “The rest of you, wake the house and meet in the large courtyard, as quickly as possible.” Some of them started to move, and then stopped, uncertain of whether to believe him or not. Geoffrey put his hands on his hips and pursed his lips. “I don’t care if you believe me. Don’t worry, I will take responsibility. If I am wrong, you can sling jibes and stones at me all next week in the courtyard. But for now, please do as I ask.”
They looked at each other. One person nodded slightly, then another. Within moments they organized and dispersed to all parts of the house, waking people as they went.
The drum continued to beat, and Alexander Leighton continued to preach. People gathered. Faces he recognized from his weeks on the street. Some were armed. But . . . not enough. It was too early. They were coming. Oh, yes. Oh, yes . . . coming. Soon.
Geoffrey came dashing out of his rooms with his sword and dagger, and a pair of custom-made pistols tucked into his waistband. He stopped for a moment and looked back at the small suite of rooms. They had been his home since he was six years old. No matter how this day would end, it was unlikely he would ever see them again. He turned and trotted away, down the hallway.
Denmark House was a series of three segments as it faced the Strand. In the center stood the main building with a massive enclosed courtyard in the center. Residences encircled the courtyard taking advantage of the light. Facing the Strand was a large gate, closed off by heavy wooden doors, much like an entrance to a castle. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the accessories that a typical castle entrance included, such as murder holes and ports to drop boiling oil.
To the west lay the stables, which were enclosed by a wooden fence, ten feet high and facing the street, again with a sturdy gate. That fence extended all the way to the Savoy Hospital. The area behind the stockade fence included the servants’ quarters which extended down near the river, as well as the new chapel. The Catholic chapel, which had started off life as a tennis court.
Behind both of the main buildings were the formal gardens, extending to the wall shielding Denmark House from the river. Now, in the early winter, the gardens were bare and wide open. A small wall separated the formal gardens from the servants’ quarters and the stables. The layout was defensible, but not with the small number of people they had. Nearly all of the servants were gone and the quarters were emptied, as soon as the court had dissolved after the death of the queen.
When Geoffrey arrived at the main courtyard, it looked like the majority of the people who still called Denmark House their home were present. Some looked confused, others worried, and others were laughing at the whole thing. He clambered up on a window ledge, and from there to the roof of a shed used for storing horse tack. It was now fully light, and he scanned the crowd. Present were the former queen’s cupbearer, carver of fowl, carver of beef and game, a dozen musicians, the ten Capuchins, the handful of priests along with Father Phillip who was the queen’s confessor and head priest. The Vantelet clan was present, as was the majority of the Garniers. Between the forty members of those two families, they had most of the high-level servant positions covered, from personal cook to the queen down to her panter and tailor. Maurice Aubert, the queen’s physician, Madame De Blainville, an old lady who once served the queen of France, and Bocan, the dance master, were all there, along with a handful of others. Dependents were there, too. The African servants were present, and of course all of the freaks, including Sara Holton, one of the other dwarfs. The freaks were standing somewhat away from the others in a corner.
He finally picked out the people he was looking for, the highest ranking servants. Henry Jermyn, James Shirley, the master of the queen’s bedchamber, and finally Jean Garnier, the master of ceremonies. The three were clumped together, and Jermyn saw Geoffrey first. Geoffrey waved at them, and the they were on their way to him in a moment.
“Geoffrey,” began Jean Garnier, “do you really think this sort of an alarm is needed? All they have done is pull the troops away. We are in no immediate danger. Let’s just send everyone back to their duties and be done with this, shall we?”
The rest of the group pressed closely so they could hear. Geoffrey sat on the roof of the tack shed so he could talk. Father Phillip had arrived. Geoffrey knew he would have to handle this just right. The famously fussy Jean Garnier pere, at nearly sixty-five years of age, was the sort who, once he had an idea in his skull, was loath to give it up. He was like one of the dogs they used for bull baiting, that would clamp onto the nose of the enraged bull and stay there until the animal buckled from lack of breath.
The crowd grew quiet.
Geoffrey began. “Monsieur Garnier, certainly you recall yesterday when Captain Joos Vanderbeek came to discuss our rescue. He was quite persuasive as to the need.”
“Of course he is, my little fellow. He is selling you a bill of goods so you will hire his vessel, which probably does not exist at all, so come down there and let the rest of us get on with the day, shall we?” He smiled his condescending smile up at Geoffrey, who still refused to cede the high ground at the top of the shed.
Geoffrey could see Evans make his way through the crowd toward him. Evans was smiling at him, and nodded encouragement.
Geoffrey took a deep breath, stood up on the roof so all could see, and began. “Monsieur Garnier. Everyone. We are in grave danger here today. Denmark House will be in flames before the end of the day. I say this with all certainty.”
The crowd mumbled, and looked quite incredulous. The body language changed like it always did. “If you do not believe me, then please listen to Father Phillip, or to James Shirley. They were there yesterday and spoke to the captain. Those of you who have been out on the street know what it’s like. There is anger, and no one will protect us. The only thing protecting us were the troops in front of the gates. And now they are gone!”
Geoffrey looked below him to Father Phillip and James Shirley. He urged them to speak with a hand motion.
Father Phillip went first. “The French ambassador has fled the county, and he is of no help. None of the Catholics in England can help us; they are either in hiding or dead these last weeks. There is no one.”
Jermyn picked up the argument, although much less confidently. “Listen to me. The troops going away, the preacher out early in the morning . . . he is never out this early. These are signs of something coming.”
Geoffrey picked it up again. “Those of you who have somewhere to go in the town, I urge you to do so. Take whatever belongings you have and go. Now. Go this moment before the crowd gathers in the street. The rest of us will have to await rescue by the captain. We will have to defend Denmark House until then.”
“Wait! Wait a damn moment!” Jean Garnier was furious. His normally pale skin was red and blotchy with anger, quite a contrast with his white hair. “This is preposterous. Simple troop movements are not the end of the world. This is an overreaction. All we need to do is petition Lord Cork that we need continued protection. We can pay for it, if needed; we have the funds. This little man is overreacting.”
He gave a withering look to Geoffrey, and turned back to the crowd. “As a matter of fact, it must be a joke! That’s it! This is the same sort of joke as when you almost blew away in a strong wind that time, or perhaps when you almost drowned in the teacup. That’s it! This is all Geoffrey the dwarf’s little game. Pah! Get us all out of bed. Go back to your duties everyone. This foolishness has gone on long enough!” He glared at Geoffrey, still standing on the roof of the tack shed and whispered, “Get down here, you foul little boy. For you deserve a good spanking for this. Damn you. Scaring these people like that—”
Geoffrey reached for his sword, and for a moment the old man looked frightened. Geoffrey simply left his hand on the blade, and didn’t pull it from the scabbard. They locked eyes. The old man looked confused.
“Uncle. He is right. You must listen to him.” It was Marie Garnier. She turned to the crowd. “You all must listen to him. Everything he says is true. Geoffrey is right.” She addressed her uncle so that only Geoffrey, Jermyn and Father Phillip could hear. “I am sorry, Uncle, but he is right. I agree. I know, because I sent the message to the earl of Cork myself that we were planning to leave—a rescue operation. You know I have been corresponding to him regularly.”
Geoffrey saw the expression change on the old man’s face, and his head swiveled between Geoffrey and his niece. Jermyn and Father Phillip chimed in at the same time with their arguments again, only quietly, and directly to Jean Garnier. There was much hand gesturing and serious head shaking for a time, much of it by Marie.
Finally the old man held up his hands. “Very well! It seems I have been corrected. We will get ready to leave. Those of you who can get to safety, do so.”
Jermyn and Father Phillip strode through the crowd issuing orders and answering questions. Geoffrey saw Marie pull her uncle aside one more time, whisper something in his ear, and then look at him.
The elder Garnier recoiled, and looked up at Geoffrey. “Is it true?”
Geoffrey sat down on the edge of the low shed roof, legs dangling in space at about head height for both of the Garniers. He was confused. “I think the mob will attack, yes. Before the day is out.”
“No, young man. That’s not what I mean. Did you kill a man in a fight while bringing this captain to us to arrange the rescue?”
“How-how did you know about that? Did she tell you? How did you find out, Marie?”
“Joos told me about it. Said you are a man to be reckoned with.”
Geoffrey crossed his arms and tilted his head in thought. “Joos. You know him, don’t you? From somewhere before. Am I right? Some of those trips you have taken. So mysterious. That’s how the captain knew you were a spy.”
“Please. A correspondent. That is all.”
Geoffrey began to get angry. “You’re the one who told Cork. We might have had a day or two to plan if you hadn’t told him what we were up to.”
“And how do you know that, Geoffrey?”
“I had your servant followed after your meeting with Captain Vanderbeek.”
“My, we are industrious aren’t we?”
Jean Garnier broke in. “Enough. She had my permission to correspond with the earl. I encouraged it. Her relationship with him is one I thought would help us. Looks as if I was wrong on that.”
“Looks that way,” said Geoffrey grimly.
The crowd began to gather, much faster than he anticipated. Alexander Leighton was thrilled. Then he saw a familiar face. Prynne. He was out of the Tower, exactly as Cork had promised. He arrived with his own group of followers, swelling the ranks. Alexander motioned for Prynne to come near the small wagon-mounted platform from which he spoke. Leighton climbed down and greeted him; they slipped behind the wagon for what privacy they could manage.
“You look well, Prynne. How did you manage to escape the knife and the whip?”
“I know not, Alexander. But I am grateful to God for the things we have been given. I shall not waste my freedom. We have much to do and an opportunity has been given to us. I was told you would be here.”
“We are here to destroy the cradle of Satan within Denmark House.”
“The Catholic chapel?” Prynne was a tall man, a lawyer by trade. He pushed his broad brimmed black hat back on his head, and peered down at Leighton. “How are you going to do that? Isn’t Denmark House still occupied? Bunch of leftover French?”
“What are you going to do about them? The queen is dead, of course, but the rest of the people in there are not going to just let you go in and knock the place down.”
Leighton looked up at the taller man’s eyes. Prynne’s eyes were not eyes of resolve. They were not the eyes of a man who truly wants to defeat Satan on Earth. There was an innocence in them at first, then a realization. Prynne’s eyes widened and he looked horrified.
“You can’t mean you are going to force your way in. There will be a fight. A large fight. There might be terrible bloodshed!” Prynne kept his voice to a whisper. An angry whisper.
Leighton grabbed Prynne by the collar, shaking the tall man violently. “You do not understand! We cannot be weak! This is our time!” He held Prynne against the wagon, still holding his collar, choking him firmly. “You must show resolve. There was a time when you were a leader, I was a follower. It’s not that way anymore, Prynne.”
Prynne looked terrified.
Good, thought Leighton. Very good.
“What has happened to you, Alexander? You . . . you are mad, you know,” said Prynne shakily.
“Perhaps. But I am mad for right, Prynne. And you cannot stop me.” He pulled the taller man close, and whispered into his ear. “Truthfully, you do not want to stop me. God will forgive us. Of that I am certain.” Leighton tossed the taller man aside like a doll, down to the cold cobblestones, and turned to go to back to his podium. As he was threading his way around the wagon, he looked back at Prynne. His complexion was deathly white and he huddled against the wall of the alley, in shock.
By midday, Geoffrey had heard from Jerome, the servant he sent to mobilize Captain Vanderbeek. The boats were on their way, but could not row past the bridge until the tide had turned. From the bridge, it was just a short pull up to Denmark House’s watergate. He spent his time organizing what defenses they could muster, helping those who wanted to escape to do so, and doing his best to keep up morale. They found a few weapons, including some pikes and a collection of swords and armor. Five matchlocks were found with powder and shot. In all they had about twenty-five men who were in good enough shape to fight. The rest of the group, women, children, and old men could not fight, could only stay out of the way.
Their messengers had come back from Whitehall reporting that they would not be seen. Nobody was talking to them. The pleas to the magistrates of Westminster were unheard. They were entirely on their own. Someone, probably Cork, was handing them to the mob. After looking at the size of the crowd, Geoffrey felt it was time to barricade the front gate as a precaution, and headed to the main courtyard. He stopped on one of the interior staircases that had windows open to the courtyard. A loud discussion was in full swing. Father Phillip was arguing with a couple of the Capuchin monks. It sounded like he was trying to talk them out of something. They sounded just as convinced.
“I can calm them, make them see reason. The preacher is a man of God,” said one of the monks. Geoffrey wasn’t sure of his name, but he was French, the others, Italian.
“We have ministered to the poor in this area, we know many of them. Let us go to them” argued another.
Father Phillip was shouting at the Capuchins. “I cannot let you go out there! They may become violent. Vanderbeek said yesterday they might do this. You might even provoke them into attacking.”
“We are men of peace, Father. Let us try to calm them.”
For once Geoffrey agreed with Father Phillip, and he trotted down the stairs to support him. By the time he made it across the courtyard, three of the Capuchins were opening the door to the Strand and heading out into the street. Geoffrey made sure the door was closed solidly behind them as they left.
Alexander Leighton was building to the climax. He had already shown the crowd his lack of ears. He pointed out his face. “SS branded in with a hot iron. Sower of Sedition. No, that is not what it stands for. Slayer of Satan, that is what it means. Slayer of Satan.” He pointed out the connections—the clear and absolute connections between Satan and Idolatry and the Catholic Church. The crowd—his crowd, understood a blow against the Catholics was a blow against Satan. And the Prince of Darkness was just behind that gate.
“Slayer of Satan. Slayer of Satan,” he shouted.
The crowd picked it up, and it rumbled and hissed. “Slayer of Satan!”
Then, as if God himself were showing him the way, three of the spawn of Satan came out of the gate and into the street. Daring to wear their rough brown robes tied with rope around the waist, emulating the true Christ. They walked toward him in a single file, arms outstretched, and hands with palms open and up, a sign of peace. The crowd parted to let them through, and they looked to him for guidance. The thought occurred to Leighton that more men would be better, but God was providing these demons to him. Surely it was time to release the crowd.
It took so little, really. A change of inflection, a beating of the drum a little faster, and giving the crowd, his crowd, the permission. Permission was all they needed; they knew the right thing to do. Bless them. They stomped the men to death in moments.
Alexander Leighton smiled, and looked at the gate to Denmark House.
Geoffrey made it up to one of the windows that fronted on the Strand. He watched the monks enter the crowd with their hands raised in blessing. Then they were no more, their brown robes swallowed by a sea of black hats and scarves. The sheer viciousness of the act stunned him. It was so sudden. The crowd acted as one being, and attacked. He averted his eyes, and heard women up and down the hallway scream.
His servant was standing beside him. Geoffrey turned to him, tense. “Have them close the shutters on all the floors. I will be in the courtyard shoring up the gate.”
Geoffrey ran to the courtyard, and saw Marie Garnier directing the gathering of materials for the barricade. Geoffrey went to her. “Will he come in time, do you think?”
“He always has before.”
Geoffrey looked up at the sky, judging the time by the sun, and then back to Marie. He sighed. “There are so many conspiracies, and plots. Religions. Factions. Countries and countries within countries. ‘Tis a time when you cannot trust anyone, Marie.”
“You can trust him.”
He heard glass breaking at the front of the main building, as stones were bounced off the façade. It was starting.
William Evans found him, and he looked up at the giant man. In his belt, he carried two rusty pistols that were formerly a wall decoration, a claymore that he wielded like a toy, and a massive cudgel.
Geoffrey raised his eyebrows. “You look frightening as hell, William.”
The massive leonine head smiled down at him. “‘Tis the idea, lad.”
The thick doors of the courtyard boomed, as the rioters smashed something heavy against it. The noise rattled around the hard walls of the courtyard and seemed to grow in intensity from the echo. There were about twenty men with William and Geoffrey.
They all flinched at the noise. The remaining Capuchin monks had taken up cudgels after the death of their comrades. The priests were armed with swords. Several of the Vantelet men took the pikes. They all stood still as the echo faded in the courtyard. Geoffrey found himself standing in the middle, in front of the doors with William. He nudged the giant in the leg. “Pick me up.”
“Just do it. Pick me up. Time for a speech or these guys are going to run. Up.”
William shrugged one of his great shrugs, and hauled Geoffrey skyward. He stood on the massive shoulder, one hand wrapped in William’s hair for balance.
William whispered, “So who put ye in charge o’ this party, eh?”
Geoffrey spoke quietly from the side of his mouth. “Two reasons. Someone has to. And we were standing in the middle like a couple of idiots.”
William made a face and nodded gently so as not to cause Geoffrey to lose his balance. “Good enuf fer me, lad.”
Geoffrey used his stage and singing voice, and it carried well. “Everyone. Listen to me. We must hold them as long as possible. The others are at the back of the main house. We must give Vanderbeek time to get here and take them off. I have word he is coming. He is coming, so we must hold. We need to hold long enough for them to get in the boats, and then we can retreat.”
The doorway boomed again as it was rammed. This time it shifted visibly.
Geoffrey said, “Matchlocks will fire first. Do not fire until I do. At this range you cannot miss, so don’t rush. Fire and reload, and let the pikes take them from there. Fire and reload. All we have to do is slow them down.”
The door boomed again, and this time they could hear splintering wood. The courtyard echoed again, and now they could hear the brutal cheer of the crowd, as the door began to fail. He saw the pikes waver. “Steady, lads. Steady. We just need to buy some time. Just a little bit of time, that’s all.”
The door boomed a final time, and a heavy log on a single axle and a pair of wagon wheels speared through the door, then continued all the way through the barricade, splitting it open as well. Five men came through the door.
Geoffrey shot the sixth in the forehead. He heard the matchlocks boom beside him, and watched three of the men fall at once. The pikes moved in and quickly finished the other two. At that point Geoffrey was shrouded in gunpowder smoke from the matchlocks. The courtyard quickly filled with the smoke, and visibility was now only a few feet.
“Hold them, pikes! Push them back!” Geoffrey shouted.
There was some screaming and moaning coming from the gate area, and rattling of the pikes as they stabbed through the barricade, but it looked like they had surprised the rioters, and they had retreated. It was quiet outside the gates, except for the preacher and the drum, urging them onward. Most of the group in the courtyard was choking from the smoke, including Geoffrey and William.
William tilted his head. “Bit—” Cough. “—smoky, lad.”
“Kindly put your fist in my ear if ye plan to fire that little gun of yours again, eh?”
“I—” Cough. “—will endeavor to do so. Could you put me down, please? I want to inspect the barricade.”
William set Geoffrey gently down on the ground. Before he got to the barricade, he found Jermyn there, holding his matchlock. His face was blackened on one side and what hair he had on his head was singed. He rubbed his hand over his scorched scalp. “I see why musketeers always wear those big floppy hats.”
“Is that reloaded yet, Jermyn?”
“No, lad. It appears we have driven them off. We should be able to put these up now.”
“Get that loaded now! They might be back!”
“I doubt that, little fellow. We bloodied them, and mobs like this do not have the fight in them when they are bloodied. They will run away and hide to lick their wounds. Mark my words.”
Geoffrey heard a noise. A crowd noise. There was the hypnotic drone of the preacher, and the drum, beating slowly.
Thump, thump, thump.
At each thump of the drum, the crowd was saying something. It started quiet, almost a whisper. One word at each thump.
He strained his ears to hear it. He could see Jermyn doing the same and looking puzzled.
Thump . . . . Thump . . . .
Finally there was enough volume in the chant, and enough ringing had gone from his ears from shooting, that he finally discerned what they were saying.
Kill . . . Satan . . . Kill . . . Satan . . . Kill . . . Satan.
The volume began to increase, and the drum began to beat just a little faster.
“I don’t think we have bloodied them enough, Jermyn. I’m reloading. You do the same.”
Jermyn waddled away to the back of the courtyard quicker than he had seen him waddle in a long time. “And stop calling me little fellow!”
Geoffrey started to reload, while simultaneously inspecting the barricade. It was a wreck. “William, monks, and priests, get up here to the barricade. Anybody who doesn’t have a pike or matchlock. We need to pull this log in and turn it on its side to act as a barrier. Hurry, I don’t think we have much time!”
The chant continued to rise in volume, but not as fast as Geoffrey would have imagined it. Geoffrey was a musician, a singer, and he knew when you were singing with a crowd, they always went faster and faster. You had to control it with your players, or it could get out of control.
These people were controlled. The drum and the preacher held them back, allowing the chant to build. Geoffrey found himself listening to it, and began to follow the seductive rhythm of it.
Suddenly William was looming over him. “You need something moved, lad?”
“The log on the wheels. Let’s turn it on its side and use it to block their path.”
By then, the group had assembled and they started by making their way through the barricade where the log had pushed it aside. The monks administered last rites to the bodies and dragged them away. Unfortunately one of the monks performed the rite in front of the door where he could be seen, and several rocks and vehement curses came his way. He wasn’t hurt.
They closed the splintered doors. Working furiously, they maneuvered the heavy contraption nearly into place, but one end snagged on the barricade. There was not enough room to get it into position, unless they lifted one end of it.
The chant picked up volume.
They had pushed the doors shut as best they could. They both tilted from the vertical, secured by one hinge and some splinters. Geoffrey could pick up movement on the other side of the doors through the gaps.
The chant was louder now, faster. The preacher was winding the spring again, and getting ready to let loose the mechanism.
“We really need to get that log in place. Now! We don’t have much time!”
William pushed the others aside and put his shoulder under the log, other men filled in around him. With one mighty heave, they lifted one end of the huge tree trunk and it thumped heavily to the ground, shaking the paving stones beneath their feet. Their men cheered as it hit the ground. The way was blocked. No one was going to get in unless they brought a strong team of horses to drag the log away.
William was leaning against the wall. He looked to be in pain. Geoffrey ran to his side, waving at Jermyn and one of the Garniers to help. He arrived breathless. “What happened?”
The chanting and the drum beats increased in pace. Kill. Satan. Kill. Satan.
William’s face was lined in pain, and Geoffrey could see tears in his eyes. He was favoring his bad leg. “‘Tis me hip, lad. Something went pop in there, then it made a crunching sound.” He gasped as he tried to move. “Hurts me a bit.”
“You can’t stay here. We’ve got to get you to the back of the courtyard. You’ve got to move, my friend.”
“Aye. Get me some strong lads to lean on.”
He screamed in pain only once. Geoffrey was pacing back and forth as they moved him, wincing every time William winced, and focusing all of his attention on his friend.
William, white as a ghost from the pain, motioned them to stop, and for Geoffrey to come over. “I will be fine, lad. Don’t worry. I will be back there with the women. Do what you need to do. Go. Anyway, the women are a damn sight better lookin’ than ye.”
Geoffrey smiled at his friend. The chants were louder now. He turned and trotted back to the line of pikes, where the Vandelets were leaning on them, doing their best not to listen to the chanting crowd, feigning nonchalance. “Good job, lads. Keep it up. I doubt they will get through.”
“Sure thing, Captain Hudson.” There was a laugh from the men. Geoffrey knew differences in laughter. There were many nuances. There was laughter that was mean and cruel, and laughter that was of begrudging respect. This laughter was of the latter kind.
Geoffrey stopped and turned around, smiling. “Thank ye, lads. That has a nice ring to it, don’t ye think? Captain Geoffrey Hudson?” They laughed some more. Good laughter. Geoffrey turned away and went back to his position where he could see the splintered gate, smiling.
The noise that suddenly came from the front of the building was immense, as if a hundred cannonballs hit it at the same time. Stones thrown over the roof from the street landed hard among them. One of the priests went down as a cobblestone hit his shoulder. Glass was breaking along the entire façade of the building, upper and lower floors.
Geoffrey realized his error. The shuttered windows. The windows were three times as easy to get into as the main gate. A determined man with a crowbar could get in. And it sounded like they were attacking them all at once. The screaming of the mob was almost deafening. He turned to look up at the building that encircled him. The courtyard was surrounded by windows. Three stories of windows, all around. There were two interior staircases on each side of the courtyard. Plus all of the access doors. They were sitting ducks in the courtyard, once the mob had access to the rest of Denmark House. Fish in a stone and glass barrel.
He looked back at the rest of them. Some figured it out, and it looked like they were going to run. Forcing himself to be calm, he walked as coolly as possible to the line of pikes. He said quietly, “I think we need to fall back to the very rear of the house, and defend the hallway. Let’s go and walk that way, gentlemen. Don’t panic. Don’t run. Walk briskly please.”
Geoffrey walked quickly back to Father Phillip, who had taken charge of the priests and remaining monks.
Phillip spoke first. “We cannot stay on the courtyard, Geoffrey, you understand that, right?”
“We can’t defend the house. We need to get everyone who is not fighting to the watergate. There is only one way out of the back of the house to the gardens, and that is down the main hall to the back doors. If we block those, they will have to go through the windows again. I think they are going to head for the courtyard once they break in, and then head for us in the back hallway to the garden. We will do the same with the matchlocks and the pikes again, hopefully we can slow them down until Vanderbeek gets here. Give me a man we can send back with the women and children and take charge.”
Father Phillip pointed to the remaining Capuchins. “You. All of you. Go do it. Move them back, let them know the mob has broken into Denmark House. Protect them from those who get past us. Go!”
Glass shattered into the courtyard.
“Oh, Christ,” Geoffrey heard Father Phillip mumble.
All of the noncombatants retreated down the hallway toward the gardens and the river beyond. The Capuchins herded them toward the river in a long trail. Geoffrey saw it was orderly. Marie Garnier was shepherding the lot of them.
The position Geoffrey chose to defend was immediately inside the main doors from Denmark House to the gardens. The hallway was at least fifteen feet wide, and funneled down to a ten foot wide doorway. He had about a half dozen Vantelet pikesmen, the handful of priests led by Father Phillip, the five matchlocks, and another ten men, a mixture of Garniers, Vandelets and a couple of the freaks. The fat giant, Melrose, was there, and was, at present, a blithering idiot. The man with no legs was there. He had a pair of large kitchen knives, and looked ready to fight. The African servants had found a couple more pikes, and they were fitting in alongside the Vandelets. Geoffrey heard more glass shatter into the courtyard.
In the corner of the hallway, where it met the outside wall and the doors, sat William, his claymore against the wall. He was pale, Kneeling next to him was Aubert, the queen’s physician. “You should be on your way to the boats. I will have Melrose help you. He doesn’t appear to be worth much to us in the fight.”
William waved the bottle he was drinking from around in front of him like a toy. “We tried. I can’t. My hip is broken, Geoffrey. If I wa’ a horse, they’d have cut me throat already. I shouldn’t have tried to carry the litermon’s load that time.”
“Get up, we don’t have any time. Get to the watergate. Melrose! Get over here! Right now!”
Geoffrey leaned close to whisper, “I don’t know how long we can hold them here. Ten minutes maybe, once they are here in force. We aren’t exactly seasoned troops. Hell, we aren’t even troops. So get your arse up and get moving.”
“Lad. I broke me hip liftin’ tha’ mighty log. The doctors always said I had weak bones. Too much pressure on them. You know that. Aubert has examined me, ask him.”
Aubert was a kindly old gentleman, and not too bad, as physicians go. He squatted down so he was eye level with Geoffrey. “C’est vrais, Monsieur Hudson. This iz zee wound that is most of ze times is fatal, no? I have examined heem. Je suis très désolé.” The doctor put his arm on Geoffrey’s shoulder.
Geoffrey slapped it away. “No! It’s not—not possible. No!” He looked at his fists, suddenly blurry, and balled up in rage. He stood shaking with emotion. “Melrose, you fat bastard! Get a damn luggage cart and a couple of Capuchins down at the river, load his arse up, and drag it down there.” He looked at Aubert. “Help them down to the river.”
“Oui. I weel geeve heem somtheen for ze pain, n’est ce-pas?“
Geoffrey looked at William. “You will not die on me. Not because of this.”
William grinned, wincing slightly. “Is that an order, Captain Hudson?”
More glass shattered in the courtyard. Geoffrey dashed toward the skirmish line setting up in the hallway, wiping his eyes on his sleeve as he went. It wouldn’t do to have the others see his tears. He smelled smoke. The fires had started. He reached the skirmish line and took up a position on the left side. He put the matchlocks in front, and the pikes directly behind. There was more shattering glass, and then one or two rioters came charging down the hallway. They pulled up short when faced with a hall crowded with matchlocks and pikes at the ready.
A handful more ran into the backs of the first ones, pushing them forward. The hallway started to fill.
Geoffrey pulled his pistol, aimed and shouted. “Do not fire until—
BOOM BOOM BOOM.
The hallway filled with the smoke from the matchlocks, and Geoffrey had no target. He put the pistol back in his belt and scampered behind the pikes. The matchlocks fell back to reload, and the rest of the men kept watch on the rear. With the hallway open to the gardens and the courtyard, a breeze cleared the smoke out quickly. There were no bodies. “Nice shooting!” somebody piped up and nervous laughter rumbled in the hallway.
It was quiet for a few minutes. Geoffrey began to get nervous. The fires grew in the buildings, and wisps of smoke could be seen. A couple of the matchlocks were loaded, and Geoffrey motioned their bearers to the front.
Another group of rioters came, these armed with knives and cudgels. This time Geoffrey fired at the first one he saw, and let the other matchlocks fire at will. When the smoke cleared there were two bodies in the hallway.
It grew quiet again, at least as quiet as the ringing in his ears would let it.
Moments passed. They turned into minutes. Something was wrong. They should be coming down the hallway in droves from the courtyard.
Geoffrey dashed outside and checked the windows. Nothing. Had the rioters given up? He shook his head. It didn’t make sense. He turned to go back to the skirmish line at a trot, and sought out Father Phillip.
“Father. Do you think they gave up? Retreated? I don’t understand, why aren’t they coming after us?”
“Dunno.” The Scotsman shrugged.
“This is a mob. They should come straight at us. Something’s wrong.” Geoffrey paced back and forth for a moment, then made a decision. “I’m going to see what’s happening in the courtyard.” He turned to his musketeers. “If I come running around the corner, aim high, lads!” Before he could talk himself out of it, he crept quickly down the corridor. At the corner where the mob had last appeared, he dropped to the ground, crawled, then peered briefly around the corner. He could see nothing with his quick glance. He did it again, this time taking longer. There were some trails of blood where the wounded and dead had been dragged off. The hall was empty all the way to the courtyard. The courtyard appeared so from his angle, and the front gate was standing open. Smoke was pouring into the courtyard as the palace began to burn in earnest.
Geoffrey pulled his head back and stood. He looked back at his men, shrugged, then motioned them to stay in place. Geoffrey took one more look around the corner. Still nothing. He stepped around the corner, and began tip-toeing toward the courtyard, staying close to the wall.
There was one cross corridor between him and the courtyard. Keeping low, and with one pistol in each hand, he approached it. Standing with his back to the wall, he edged forward so he could see down one side, pistol at the ready. He could see nothing. It was empty, slowly filling with smoke. He listened carefully before taking a quick glance the other way. Empty.
Maybe they have given up! he thought hopefully. He checked the near side of the corridor again, this time with a longer look. Still empty. His arms dropped to his sides and he shook the tension out of his shoulders, calming his breathing. The smoke was getting heavier. He darted across the open hallway.
His next objective was to scout the courtyard, so he crept forward again, listening for any noises in front of him. He could still hear breaking glass and looting from other parts of the palace, but nothing from the direction of the courtyard. As he got close, a looter walked down one of the staircases and toward the shattered front doors. He carried a large linen tablecloth over his shoulder, packed with objects from the palace. Geoffrey dropped to the ground and wedged himself against the wall.
The courtyard was brighter than the hallway, so he was fairly certain he was invisible in the relatively deep shadows. The looter made a direct run toward the broken gates, hoisted himself over the log, and crept through the doors. As soon as the looter cleared the doors, he was set upon by a half dozen men. He dropped his heavily laden tablecloth with a crash, and tried to run back into the courtyard. He got one leg up on the battering ram when the knives and clubs brought him down.
Geoffrey frowned. “This is the most organized damn mob I have ever seen. What the hell is going on?” He stopped and thought for a moment, and pictured the plan of Denmark House in his head.
His blood ran cold. He sprang up and sprinted back at top speed toward the other men. Tearing around the corner, shouted, “Don’t shoot! It’s me! Don’t shoot!”
Father Phillip asked, “What is it? are they coming? Get ready!”
“No,” shouted Geoffrey. “Turn around! We can’t be trapped here! You must turn around!”
“Explain yourself,” Father Phillip demanded.
“They are waiting for us to come out the front. That means they are going to attack from the back, and drive us that way. Our only choices will be to try to escape through the burning house, or try to fight our way out the front door. If we are caught in here, we will be fucked. We have to turn around and head to the watergate, and hope we can hold them. They must be coming in through the stables. That’s only a wooden fence, not fortified at all. When we stopped them in the front door, they must have changed plans.”
“Oh, Christ,” added Father Phillip.
“This would be a good time to have him on our side,” said one of the musketeers.
“We need to fall back, there is a trap set for us if we try to go out the front door.”
A couple of the men began to move quickly toward the back, and more started to bleed away.
“Hold!” Geoffrey’s clear voice stopped the men from moving. “We need to do this as a group. If they catch us in the open, one at a time, we will be screwed. Matchlocks first, then pikes, then everyone else. Let’s go. If they attack when we get outside, try to form a block, a small tercio. Does everyone know what that is?”
Heads nodded. “Good. Now stay together, walk. Let’s go!”
The group readjusted itself and put the matchlocks in front, and the pikes behind. Outside the back doors of the palace, they arrived onto an elevated marble portico. Geoffrey could see a mass of people crowded around the watergate, and they appeared to be calm. His people, but still no Vanderbeek. He scanned the low wall near the chapel, looking for signs of movement as they stepped off of the marble porch.
Alexander Leighton walked into the Catholic chapel. The destruction had begun. Pews were overturned, and windows were broken. Behind the altar was a painting. It stretched from nearly floor to ceiling. It was a Rubens; that much he knew. It was magnificent . . . pornography. Christ on the cross, bleeding, suffering. The painting was so dramatic, so colorful, and so powerful, that Leighton could almost smell the sand, sweat, and blood. Muscles bulged and he could see the veins in the arms of the men represented before him. The power of the work drew him into it, as if he were a witness to the crucifixion.
Leighton was not a man to feel fear of things earthly, but looking at the overwhelming power of this example of idolatry, he imagined this was as close as he would ever come on earth to looking Satan directly in the face. He glanced around him. There was incompleteness here, unfinished. He walked toward the painting, and the crowd made way for him. Quiet fell. The painting seemed to have kept back the lesser men by the sheer power and color which radiated from it.
Leighton took a broken pike from someone’s hands. With it he could just reach the top. He walked up and faced the massive painting. The eyes of a nearly life-size Roman centurion, dark in paint, guarding the scene of the crucifixion from the rabble, seemed to follow him.
Finally, up close, his face directly in front of the painting, he could see the technique, smell the paint, see the brushstrokes and the colors blending together. This near, the power of the illusion vanished. It was just a painting.
Smiling, he looked up, reached and stretched with the pike, and dug it into the center of the massive canvas, near the top. The pike was very sharp. He allowed it to cut the cloth, and he stepped back as the blade made its way to the floor. He did it again and again, cutting it into strips, diminishing the power, making it something common. Common as trash.
The centurion’s face was cut down the middle, and still the eyes followed him.
Leighton sneered. “Take it down and throw it into the Thames.”
A man came up to him and whispered into his ear.
For the first time today, Leighton felt surprised. “Thank you.”
Geoffrey scanned the wall carefully. He could hear crashing about in the chapel, he assumed they were destroying the church. The group behind him made their way out of the building and down the steps, the pikes bumping and tilting at all angles until they fit out the doorway and down the stairs. There were a couple of close calls as the sharp blades swung around.
When the group made it to level ground, he took a look back. The top floors of Denmark House were almost entirely engulfed in smoke.
They had made it about one hundred feet, with another five hundred to go to the watergate, when the low wall separating the servant’s quarters from the gardens swarmed with rioters, headed straight for them. This time there were a few pikes in the mix, along with swords, knives and cudgels. A shout came from the house, as more rioters sprinted through the courtyard, down the hall and out the back doors where they had just come. They had no pikes.
“Form up!” Geoffrey shouted. “Pikes and matchlocks here. Matchlocks, aim at their pikes. Pikes, protect the matchlocks. Swords protect the rear. Try to keep moving! Keep together or we’re lost!” He pulled his pistol and quickly went to Father Phillip. “Can your men hold them from the rear?”
Father Phillip nodded. “We have the reach of the blades to keep them back. What are you going to do about the pikes?”
Geoffrey sprinted to the pike side of the attack and pulled his second pistol. The pikes were almost ready to engage, and he shot the first pikeman who advanced. He went down, and the rest of the matchlocks opened fire. The boom was almost simultaneous, and two more pikes went down. He could count at least a half dozen more coming through the smoke. He shot another, and that one went down, tossing his pike toward the little tercio like a spear.
Geoffrey heard a scream to his left. One of the Vanelets had a gaping slice out of his leg, and blood spraying. A couple of the musketeers were trying to reload. One of them made a break for it on his own, running on an angle away from the mob. He was pursued by a half dozen rioters. One of the Capuchins was tending to the leg of the injured Vantelet. Keeper of the queen’s cup, Geoffrey remembered.
He heard more screams from within his little group of men, and more went down, including three pikes. One of the Africans picked up a pike as his countryman went down, bleeding profusely from his stomach. Geoffrey slipped on blood atop the frozen ground. There were maybe fifteen men still fighting, holding together. They had lost five. The man with no legs was holding his own until a pikeman got close to him. He killed at least one rioter when they took him down. Another man fell. Then another. Anyone who fell out of the group was immediately set upon and kicked and stomped to death.
Geoffrey kept shouting, keeping them moving, keeping them in line. He slapped away a pike thrust with his sword, then another. Something hit his head, and he had to wipe the blood from his eyes. Another man fell. He heard the screams.
He found himself separated from the group. There were legs around him now, legs that were not of his men. He lashed out with both blades, swiping all around him, trying to keep the legs and the cudgels back. The legs became those of brutal courtiers, cruel to him in the past, the cudgels became the jibes and barbs, and he attacked.
He screamed at them. Slashed Achilles’ tendons. Yelled for them to get back, to get away, damming and cursing. Whirl. Dart. Slash.
Something hit him in the back, and he spun around, contacting flesh that screamed. He darted to where the rest of the men should be, and could see nothing but the blood in his eyes and the legs and weapons of the rioters around him. He thrashed, stabbed almost blindly as he sensed the foes around him. Dart, thrust, stab, turn, thrust, slash, slash, dart again. And again. And again. He continued to fight, whirling in a dance of blades and blood.
He heard a roar. A deep Welsh roar from William, the giant. The legs of the rioters stepped back. Geoffrey managed to put his back to a fountain. The basin was taller than him, and the entire thing was at least fifteen feet in diameter. He scrambled over the side and into the dry basin, and then hoisted himself upon the first tier so he could see.
A group of his pikes and swordsmen were still standing, not far from him. He shouted encouragement to them, calling them to the fountain, to use as a fortress. From the watergate there was a surge against the mob driving a wedge into the crowd. There were some of the Capuchins, women from the kitchens, Melrose the fat giant, and William.
William was on a cart, wielding the massive claymore like it was a toothpick, cutting a wide swath through the mob. There were just a few of them from the watergate. Melrose was pushing the cart for William, sobbing the whole time.
The crowd pulled back from Geoffrey and his men, allowing them to regroup at the fountain. There were at least five hundred people who had poured over the walls or made the dash through the house, now all in the gardens. Mostly men. They had been bloodied, but always there was the voice of the preacher, urging them on, and the drumbeat from the boy.
Geoffrey finally found the preacher and the drummer, standing on the low wall between the main garden and the servants’ quarters. William and the Capuchins had cloven into the mob, and the preacher was urging the mob to fight.
They would hear him in a moment, listen, and turn back. Like dogs, answering a whistled command. They would hesitate, look around and sort of sniff the air, and then trot off in the direction they were told. To do violence.
William was now surrounded. Geoffrey kept watching the preacher, who ordered some of the crowd to go to the watergate where most of the household stood helpless. Denmark House was burning fiercely, so much that Geoffrey felt the heat on his face.
There was only one thing to do.
He leapt off the fountain, and began to run toward the house. A few rioters tried to follow, but nobody took more than a couple of steps after him, figuring the flames would get him soon enough.
When Geoffrey neared the building, when the heat from the flames was almost too much to bear, he turned to his left and headed for the low wall near the stables. He scaled the wall and dropped to the other side, and began to head toward the preacher.
There were plantings along this side of the wall, evergreens of some sort. Behind the evergreens and next to the wall, there was a low animal path, likely one worn in by rats on the way to the river. Running hunched over, Geoffrey was completely out of sight.
Closer, he heard the preacher’s voice, and the beat of the drum. Geoffrey stopped and peered out from the bushes. He was less than ten feet from them. When the preacher wanted the attention of the rioters, he would signal the drummer to beat a certain cadence. The drummer was doing that now, and the preacher was speaking.
“Go to the water, and push the godless ones into the river. Baptize them with the Thames. You are like the chosen children of Noah, spared the flood. You are the hand of God, punishing the Egyptians as they crossed the Red Sea. Push the evil into the water, spare none. Push them into the Thames, cleanse the shores of this Idolatry, this evil bastion, then return and we will send the church of the devil to the flames, like we did the home. Cleanse the shore! Cleanse the shore!”
Geoffrey crept back into the bushes, and loaded one of his pistols. His hands were shaking, but he wasn’t sure if it was exhaustion or fear. He only knew he had to hurry. If the mob began to attack those at the watergate, the number of his people killed would be large. They would simply be pushed into the Thames’ frigid waters.
Finally he rammed the ball down the barrel, pulled the rod out and discarded it. He pulled back the hammer and primed the pan. It was a new flintlock, built for him by one of the royal gunsmiths. He quietly pulled back the hammer, took a deep breath, and burst out from the bushes.
The guard was quick. Geoffrey aimed, then fired. The hammer dropped, the pan flashed, and the weapon misfired. He dropped the pistol and dove back into the bushes, scrambling away as the soldier slashed through the evergreens like some gardener from hell.
Geoffrey retreated down the animal path next to the wall, the soldier pursuing, stabbing into the bushes as he scrambled away. Geoffrey finally got his footing enough to sprint a few feet ahead, and pull his blades. He would have to fight this man one on one. He crashed through the bushes onto the path, both blades at the ready. He faced the soldier.
Marie Garnier knew that she was taking a risk when she sent William and the others out to rescue the men. She also knew that if she didn’t do something, the mob would have taken her father, brothers, and cousins. That plan succeeded. It split the mob. It saved her father and brothers, as well as the rest of the men who were still standing. But it left the women and children, old men and the freaks who could not fight with no defenses other than the watergate itself. The wall along the river was very tall, and the stairs which extended out into the river were substantial, more like the wide entrance to a palace than a simple dock. The stairs were all stone, as were the walls. The gate was a massive ornate iron affair and affixed to two large towers, about twenty feet tall, and fifteen feet apart. Into each of the columns was set life-size statues, the whole thing being designed by Inigo Jones as an impressive entrance from the Thames.
The problem was that there wasn’t enough room on the stairs to hold the number of people who were there. They could not close the gates. All the mob had to do was attack them, and they would be pushed into the river and drown.
The fire was drawing a crowd, and water taxis were beginning to gather. In lieu of Vanderbeek, the water taxis were going to have to do. She went down to the last marble step above the frigid water, and whistled through her teeth, waving to the small boats. At least the tide had stopped going out. Maybe now Vanderbeek would be able to get past the bridge.
She heard screaming from the other side of the watergate. She yelled at the boats to take people off then turned and squeezed through the crowded steps toward the screaming. The mob was attacking the watergate.
“Get in the boats as they are coming! Quickly, fill them all.” The crowd of her own people surged toward her, and she heard splashes coming from the river, as those on the edge were pushed in. She reached into her skirts, pulled out her dagger, and continued pushing toward the watergate.
Normally a man would smile at him before sparring. Geoffrey learned that during his three times a week practices with the master of arms. When they smiled at him, Geoffrey knew he had the advantage. They were underestimating him. The man in front of him was not smiling. He looked downright grim.
This was nothing like any fight he had ever been in, Geoffrey knew. He tried to wipe his brow with the back of his hand, and the soldier attacked ferociously. Geoffrey parried the blow, but the force behind it nearly buckled his knees. His wrist and arms were vibrating from the pressure of the impact.
The man attacked again and again. Geoffrey was a small target. He knew how to defend from attacks, how to read a feint and counter the real stroke. He knew the man was at a slight disadvantage because he was fighting downward, on an angle he was not familiar with.
But Geoffrey had no reach. In order for him to be effective, he would have to get inside the man’s defensive circle. He could not attack unless the man made a mistake. A sizable mistake. And this man was very careful not to make any.
Geoffrey realized he was backing away from his objective. He was being pushed from the preacher, and the rest of the battle. Time was running out. He had to get to the preacher and stop him, but he had to get past this soldier.
His opponent was relentless and Geoffrey was tired. He began to wonder if this was going to be the end. He took a couple of steps back, broke off the fight for a moment and wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve.
The soldier paused, too, and looked down at him. “‘Tis hopeless, boy. A dapperling cannot beat me. Run away to your masques and dances.”
Geoffrey said the only thing he could. “I am not a boy. I cannot run away.”
“I am giving you a chance to live, boy. Take it and go.”
Geoffrey wiped the blood and sweat from his face once again, and attacked ferociously. He could not get close to the man, no matter what he tried. He succeeded in backing him up a few feet, that was all. There was a pause in the fight again, and this time the man attacked more fiercely than before, pushing Geoffrey back further and further. His arms felt as if there were no muscles left, his legs were shaking from the pressure and the blows. The attacks continued, and backed him up farther and farther . . .
Geoffrey could almost not believe it. The soldier slipped on horseshit. The man planted his right foot, and it went out from under him, dropping him to the ground on one knee with his right foot extended. He thrust with his sword wildly, which Geoffrey easily parried. With his dagger, he neatly sliced behind the man’s ankle severing his Achilles tendon. The man howled in pain, and thrashed his sword at Geoffrey even more wildly.
Geoffrey stepped back out of range. “I offer you your life, as you did for me. Drop your sword and I will spare it. Do it now.”
The man hesitated for a moment, the pain clearly unbearable. He dropped his sword and clenched his leg, rolling on the ground. Geoffrey sprinted toward the preacher.
“You! Stop what you’re doing! Now!”
The preacher looked mildly irritated. Then he looked down and sneered.
Geoffrey knew what the man thought he saw. A small and very dirty boy with a toy sword. The preacher was underestimating him. Then he pulled out a dagger and jumped off the wall.
Moments later Alexander Leighton breathed his last, a startled expression on his face, as he bled out onto the cold ground.
Geoffrey heard gunfire. Matchlocks, in a volley. He wondered how his guys could do that. Then a cannon shot. A small field piece, maybe leather from the soft sound.
The drummer boy fell off the wall, clutching at what remained of his arm. He hit the ground and bounced, breaking the drum and spattering it with blood.
Geoffrey sheathed both of his blades and pulled himself up to peer carefully over the wall. Several hundred people were running directly toward him in a panic. The mob was in full retreat. He heard another volley from the direction of the watergate.
Vanderbeek! Geoffrey ducked down behind the wall and watched as the stampede of people flowed over it, made their way to the front and escaped out to the street, past the stables, while Denmark House continued to burn.
“He fought well, you know, Geoffrey. Very well.” Joos Vanderbeek was on the bridge of his two-masted ship, making its way to Calais. For winter, the channel was being kind. The wind was brisk and cold.
“Thank you for that.”
“Without him holding the mob back at the watergate, they all would have been pushed into the Thames and drowned. Father Phillip and the survivors of your tercio were held against the fountain. William pulled back to the watergate and saved everyone there. We were even able to pull a couple out of the water when we got there. And if you had not stopped the drum and the preacher . . . we were not certain we could stop them either.”
“How many did we save, Vanderbeek?”
“About one hundred and fifty.”
“We lost about twenty-five, then. Jermyn. All the Africans. Several Vandelets and Garniers, the doctor, the Capuchins, the priests.”
“Father Phillip and Father Guillemot made it. One of the Jean Garniers made it, too, the younger one.” Vanderbeek looked at Geoffrey. “Don’t be too hard on yourself, Geoffrey. How could you know it was as much a military operation as it was a riot? And that preacher. He was a frightening man. The way he commanded the crowd. It was unnatural. You were the key, you know. To take him down. There were not enough of us to hold them off, even with our one small cannon.
“Alexander Leighton was his name, you know, and he died easily. Too easily.”
It was quiet for a moment. The only noise was the creaking of the sails and rigging around them, and the steady splash of the sea. Vanderbeek watched Geoffrey move to the rail at the stern of the ship and peer at the wake behind them.
He stared for a while, and then turned to Vanderbeek again. “I was six years old when I was introduced at court. It was during a masque, and William was part of the anti-masque. He was to pantomime coming on stage and having lunch. So he came out, sat down, pulled a massive loaf of bread out of his pocket, a large wheel of cheese out of another, and out of a third pocket, he pulled me. It was the hit of the show. We have been together ever since.” He turned away and pounded on the railing. “If I hadn’t had him move the God damned log, if I hadn’t tried to be a leader, if I had told him to stay put. It’s my fault, you know, Vanderbeek. My fault. Trying to be something I am not—”
Vanderbeek took two strides across the deck and stopped in front of Geoffrey. He knelt. “Listen to me. If you hadn’t done what you did, you would all be dead. All of you. Every man, woman, child, freak and pet in Denmark House. You were all supposed to die there. All of you! It was a well-coordinated effort. I couldn’t land and come to your assistance because I was prevented by troops. I had to wait for the tide to turn so I could make it past the bridge upriver.” He grabbed Geoffrey by the shoulders. “It was planned that you be burned to death or killed by the mob. It wasn’t random. It had Cork’s handwriting all over it. So shut up and mourn your friend properly. You didn’t kill him. Cork did, or the preacher Leighton. Or the shopkeeper with the pike. They killed him, not you.”
Geoffrey’s eyes looked tired. Old. Far older than they should. Vanderbeek straightened, put his hands behind his back, and returned to the center of the deck, looking forward.
After a few minutes, Geoffrey joined him.
Still looking forward, Vanderbeek asked a question. “What do you do next, Geoffrey? I don’t see you as ‘The Queen’s Dwarf” any longer. Can you go back to a life of practical jokes and barbed jibes at Louis’ court in Paris?”
Vanderbeek smiled. “I may have an idea, if you are open to it. I can always use a few good men . . . “