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Pudding Lane, London: Sunday, 2 September 1666
The bakery lay silent and dark in the small hours of the morning, lit only by the faint glow of embers from the hearth. Faggots of wood sat under the beehive dome of the oven, awaiting the morning’s burden: loaves of bread, pots of baked meat. Sunday was a day of rest, but not of fasting, and so the baker must to work.
The embers flared and subsided. By law, a baker must extinguish his oven and hearth every night, for in a city of timber, fire was an ever-present threat. But kindling the flames anew each morning was a tedious chore, and so most let their ovens fall cold in the night, but banked the coals of the hearth for easy revival.
A cherry-red fragment collapsed with a sigh, and sparks leapt free.
In the house above, Thomas Farynor slept soundly. Business was good; he supplied ship’s biscuit to the King’s navy, and in these times of war with the Dutch he did not lack for work. He and his daughter Hanna had both a maid and a manservant to look after them and help with the running of the bakery.
Sparks had escaped the hearth before. They died soon after, reduced to black cinders that stained the rafters, the walls, and the brick-laid floor. But tonight one drifted farther than most, dancing on the invisible currents of the air, until it found a resting place on the fuel piled in the oven.
A tiny flame kindled on a splinter of wood.
Afterward, Farynor would claim he banked his fire safely when the day’s business was done. He raked his oven clean, swept the bricks of the floor—and so he had, but sloppily. His daughter Hanna, inspecting the kitchen before she retired at midnight, saw nothing to fear.
But now, an hour later, the room glowed with new light.
Smoke wreathed the sooty beams of the ceiling. The Farynors’ manservant, asleep on the ground floor, frowned and tossed beneath his blanket. His breathing grew ragged; he coughed once, then again, until at last he woke to the danger.
With a hoarse shout, he tore his way free of the bedclothes. The kitchen was well alight by now, hearth and oven blazing merrily, the debris on the floor, the piles of ready wood. The wall timbers, dried by a long summer of drought, smoked and were hot to the touch. He stumbled his way by reflex toward the stairs, barely able to see in the choking gloom.
The cloud pursued him upward. Crying out, the manservant pounded on his master’s door. “Fire! In God’s name, wake—the house is alight!”
The door swung open. Farynor, scraping sleep from his eyes, did not seem to understand. But when he went to the head of the stairs and saw for himself the scene below, all drowsiness fled. “God Almighty,” he whispered, and ran back through his room to the adjoining door.
Hanna woke but slowly, and her maid more slowly still. Once up, they hurried on their shoes, while Farynor lent his man a pair. But as fast as they moved, they tarried too long: the flames had claimed the foot of the stairs.
The maid screamed and clutched at her mistress, gagging on the thick air. “We must try,” Hanna cried, and gathered up the skirt of her shift. With one sleeve over her face to filter the air, she forced her way against the punishing heat, down into the hell below.
“Hanna!” Her father plunged after her. Already she was lost in the blinding smoke, but an instant later he heard a scream. A lurching body crashed into him, fire leaping up the side of her shift; they fell hard against the wooden steps, and his hands flew without thinking, beating out the flames. Hanna wept with pain as he dragged her bodily upward again, into the illusory safety of the chamber above.
“The window,” his manservant said, while Hanna’s legs collapsed beneath her. “We must try to climb out.”
On an ordinary night, Farynor would have called it lunacy. But when the only alternative was death—“We cannot climb down, though.”
His man was already unlatching the window. “Then we go across. Onto the roof—if you go first, I will help your daughter.”
Expansions years ago had jettied the upper floor outward so that it overhung the street. Farynor gasped in the fresher air, then forced his aging body through the narrow opening, clawing for the eaves above. His grip slipped, almost sending him to the street below, but his manservant caught his foot and gave him the push needed to lift him safely over the edge. Hanna was next, biting through her lip when the manservant gripped her blistered legs.
“Help!” she cried, as soon as she had her voice again. “Fire! Wake, rouse yourselves—fire in Pudding Lane!” Movement flickered in other windows. Theirs was not the only house whose upper storeys overreached the boundary of its plot; she could almost touch the windows across the way, where faces pressed briefly against the glass, then vanished.
Pain and smoke set her to coughing, but by then Farynor had the cry. So Hanna was the one to see their manservant haul himself up over the edge of the roof—but where was the maid?
“She will not come,” he said, eyes wild and bleak. “She fears the height too much. I tried—”
Hanna bent and shouted toward the open window, but there was no reply.
They could not stay. Moving carefully, the three eased their way along the edge of the roof to the neighbour’s shutters. Farynor kicked against these, bellowing. Figures had begun to appear in the street below, most in their nightshirts, some with breeches and boots on. They knew what would be needed.
The shutters opened abruptly, scraping Farynor’s bare leg. Reaching hands eased his daughter through into safety; then the baker, then his man. Heat radiated from the wall between the dwellings, but as yet there was no fire, and the house’s leather buckets had been brought already, to soak the beams and the plaster in between.
In Pudding Lane, the parishioners of St. Margaret’s Fish Street rose to their duty, arranging bucket lines, flinging soil and dung, pails of milk, anything that came to hand. On this, the Lord’s day of rest, they settled themselves for battle, to save themselves and their homes from fire.
Trust in Princes
“Consider seriously whither the beginning of the happinesse of a people should be written in letters of blood…”
first Earl of Strafford
May 12, 1641
The Royal Exchange, London: 3 June 1639
The beating heart of London’s commerce sweltered like an oven in the early heat, dampening undershirts and linen collars, and subduing the voices that echoed off the walls. In the open stone of the courtyard, the sun hammered down on the hats and caps of the finely dressed merchants and customers who met to conduct business or exchange news. Some took refuge in the gallery ringing the space, where shade offered a relative degree of relief.
Upstairs, in the tiny enclosed shops, the air was stiflingly close. Sir Antony Ware fanned uselessly at his dripping face with a sheaf of papers—a petition foisted on him by a man outside. He might read it later, but for now, it served a better purpose. The fingers of his free hand trailed over a bottle of cobalt glass, while from behind the table the shopkeeper beamed encouragement at him. Those who patronised the Royal Exchange tended to be the better class of men, but even so, for this fellow to claim a baronet and alderman of London as a customer would give him a touch of prestige.
For his own part, Antony was more concerned with the question of whether Kate would like the bottle, or whether she would laugh at being presented with yet another gift. Pondering that, he heard too late the voice calling his name. The man trying to press through a knot of people outside stumbled and fell into him. Antony caught himself against the edge of the table, dropping the petition and setting the bottles to rocking dangerously.
He twisted to curse the man who made him stagger, but swallowed it at the last moment. “Sorry,” Thomas Soame said, recovering his balance. “God’s blood—everyone and his brother is packing in here. My foot snagged another fellow’s, I fear.”
“No harm done,” Antony said, reassuring the glass merchant with a calming hand. “I did not see you.”
“Nor hear me, it seems. Come, let’s away, before someone else jostles me and disaster ensues. What is that?”
Antony sighed as he collected the scattered sheets, marked with damp patches where he had clutched them in his sweating hand. “A petition.”
“No idea; I have not read it yet.”
“Might be wiser to keep it that way. We could paper the walls of the Guildhall with the petitions that get shoved at us.” Soame wasted no time, but turned and bulled his way carefully through the corridor outside. Following in his broad-shouldered wake, Antony hoped his friend did not mean to stand out in the courtyard and converse.
He did not. They descended the staircase, and so out into the clamour of Cornhill. Soame paused to let a keg-laden cart rumble past, and Antony catch up to him. Settling his hat more comfortably on his head, Antony asked the younger man, “Where do you lead me?”
“An alehouse,” Soame said feelingly. “Out of this accursed sun, and into a place where I can tell you the news.”
News? Antony’s attention sharpened. A tavern would offer shade, drink—and a degree of privacy not to be found in the gossiping atmosphere of the Exchange. They went down the sloping mire of Cornhill and onward to Cheapside, where stood the Nag’s Head, Soame’s favourite tippling house. His friend planted a familiar kiss on a serving-wench and got them a table in a cool corner, with cups of sack to wet their throats. “Best watch your wife doesn’t learn of that, Tom,” Antony said, with a smile to cushion the warning; Mary Soame was a Puritan sort, and not likely to turn a blind eye to philandering.
Soame dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “A harmless buss on the cheek, is all; nothing to it.”
On the lips, rather, but the younger man’s behaviour was his own problem. Antony let it pass. “What brought you after me? This is hot weather for considering anything of import.”
The broad features darkened. “And likely to get hotter,” Soame said, not meaning the weather. “Have you heard Abbot’s latest woe? Our woe, I should say.”
Which made it political, not personal. Soame was an alderman for Vintry Ward, as Antony was for Langbourn, and while the list of things that might bring trouble to the Lord Mayor of London and his Court of Aldermen was long, Antony felt unpleasantly capable of narrowing it down. “Don’t drag it out, man; just say.”
“Are you surprised? The King pisses away money as his father did—though at least he has the decency to piss it on war instead of drunkenness and catamites.”
Antony winced at the blunt words. “Watch your tongue! If you haven’t a care for yourself, at least think of me; I’ll be hanged for hearing your sedition, as you’ll be hanged for speaking it.”
Soame grinned, pulling out a roll of tobacco and his pipe. “I do no more than quote our Lord Mayor. But very well; I’ll spare your tender sensibilities. Returning to the point: it seems the five thousand pounds the Common Council gave our good King Charles in March—”
“Were an insult at the time, and not one I imagine he’s forgotten.” Antony pinched the bridge of his nose and reached for his wine. “What has he asked for?”
“A hundred thousand.”
Coughing on the wine, Antony fumbled for his handkerchief to wipe the spittle from his beard. “God in Heaven. Not again.”
“You’re quoting Abbot, too.” Soame lit a spill from the candle and touched it to his pipe, drawing until the tobacco smouldered to his satisfaction. Exhaling the fragrant smoke, he went on. “We are the King’s chamber, after all, are we not? The jewel in his crown, the preeminent city of his realm. For which distinction we pay handsomely—and pay, and pay again.”
With compensation, to be sure—but only when they could squeeze it out of the royal purse. Which was not often enough for anyone’s peace of mind. The Crown was chronically short of money, and slow to repay its debts. “Are the securities any good?”
“They’re pig swill. But we’ve a war on our back step; unless we want to be buggered up the arse by the Scots, His Majesty will need money.”
Antony sighed. “And to think—one sovereign on both thrones was supposed to solve that problem.”
“Just like it did with the Irish, eh?” Soame sank back on the settle, wedging his shoulders into the corner of the walls. “Must be like trying to drive a team of three horses, all of them trying to bite each other.”
An apt analogy. Old James, Charles’s father, had dreamt of uniting his realms under a single crown, making himself not three kings in one, but one king, ruling over one conjoined land. Or at least of Scotland and England conjoined; Antony was not certain whether he had meant to include Ireland in that happy harmony. At any rate, it had never come about; the English were fractious about a Scotsman ascending their throne in the first place, and not liable to agree to any such change.
With separate realms, though, came a host of inevitable problems, and Charles showed little delicacy in handling them—as this morass with the Scottish Covenanters demonstrated. Antony had some sympathy for their refusal to adopt the Anglican prayer book; the King’s attempt to force it upon the Presbyterians up north had been as badly conceived and executed as this entire damn war. When they ejected the Anglican bishops, however, it only hardened the King against them.
Antony began to place his fingers one by one on the table’s stained surface, mapping out the political landscape in his mind. The aldermen of London rarely refused the Crown, but the Common Council had grown more recalcitrant of late. Their response was certain: they had baulked against a loan in March, and would do so again.
Could the City raise the money? No doubt. Many aldermen and wealthy citizens were connected with the East India Company, the Providence Company, and other great trading ventures. Antony himself was an East India man, as was the Lord Mayor Abbot. The companies had loaned money to the Crown before. Their resentment was growing, though, as more and more of those loans went unpaid.
And religion played its role in the south, too. London harboured more than a few men sympathetic to the Presbyterian cause in Scotland; Antony knew full well that many of his fellow aldermen would gladly see the Church of England discard bishops and other popish trappings. They would not look kindly on the attempt to squelch the Scottish dissent.
Which was stronger: religion or nation? Ideology or economy?
“How fares the army?” he asked. “Is the King’s need legitimate?”
In response, Soame beckoned for more wine, and waited until it came before he answered. “I drink to the poor souls up at Berwick,” he said, and toasted the absent soldiers solemnly. “Half can’t tell their right foot from their left, and from what I hear they’re armed with pitchforks and profanity. Starvation, smallpox, an infestation of lice…I would not be there for all the wenches in Christendom.”
“And no chance of peace?” Antony waved away his own question before Soame could answer it. “Always a chance, yes, I know. But it requires diplomacy His Majesty may not be inclined to exercise.” If by diplomacy he meant a willingness to bend. And Charles was not renowned for his cooperative nature, especially in the twin matters of religion and royal prerogative. The Scots had stepped on both, with hobnailed boots.
Soame drew again on his pipe, staring mournfully down into the bowl. “Be of good cheer. The King’s Majesty has not chosen to sell another monopoly—beg pardon, patent—or find another three-hundred-year-old tax to reimpose on us instead. At least a loan might be repaid.”
“God willing,” Antony muttered. “Peace may be likelier. Do you think these Covenanters in Scotland will accept it if the King promises them a Parliament?”
“When he hasn’t given us one these ten years? What chance of that?”
“A delaying tactic,” Antony said. “It allows the King to disband the army, at least for now, and prepare more thoroughly for his next move.”
The other man pondered it, chin propped on his fist. “It might serve. But if he calls a Parliament there, you know people will demand one here. That is a Pandora’s box he will not wish to open.”
True enough. Parliaments convened at the King’s will, and Charles had made it abundantly clear ten years ago that he was done with them. They argued with him too much, and so he would rule England personally, without recourse to that fractious body. It was his right, but that did not make it popular—or for that matter, successful.
Soame quirked his eyebrow at Antony’s pensive face. “You’ve had a thought.”
Not one Antony wished to share. He drained the last of his wine and shook his head. “The war with Scotland is not our problem to solve. Thank you for the warning; I shall sound out the common councilmen and our fellows, and see if opinions have changed since March. Will you join us tonight? Kate has recovered enough to go out; she wishes to ride into Covent Garden for dinner, and she would enjoy the company.”
“Perhaps. I will call at your house this evening, at least.”
Smiling, Antony stood and took his leave. But once outside the Nag’s Head, his steps did not lead north, to the Guildhall and the chambers of London’s government. If he was to effect any change, he would have to do it from elsewhere.
The Onyx Hall, London: 3 June 1639
The lesser presence chamber might have been a portrait of well-bred courtiers at leisure. A gentleman flirted with a lady in the corner; others sat at a small table, playing cards. But the lady wore a farthingale that had not been fashionable since the days of old Elizabeth, while her paramour seemed formed of living stone; at the card table, the stakes at hazard were the forgotten memories of a silversmith and a midwife, a carpenter and a maidservant. The only mortal in the chamber was all but ignored, a musician whose flute struggled to be heard above the chatter of the faerie courtiers.
His melody went up, and up again, its tone increasingly piercing. Seated in her chair of estate a little distance away, Lune hid a wince behind her fan. This will not do.
She raised one hand, rings winking in the cool light. The flutist did not notice, but a nearby lord, eager to serve, hastened over and stopped him with little attempt at tact.
“We have had enough of music,” Lune said, more diplomatically than she intended. The man’s face had bunched in anger at the interruption, but at her words it faded to disappointment. “We thank you for your time. Sir Cerenel, if you would lead him out?” Not Lewan Erle, who had silenced him; that would see the mortal player dropped unceremoniously on the streets of London, lost and bewildered after his time among the fae. The man had played well—until the end. “With suitable reward for his service.”
The knight she’d named bowed, one hand over his heart, and escorted the musician from the chamber. In his wake, the chatter of courtiers and ladies rose again.
Lune sighed and laid her fan against her lips to conceal her boredom. In truth, the player should not be faulted. She was discontented today, and small things grated.
From the door to the chamber, the sprite serving as usher announced, “Lord Eochu Airt!”
Or large ones.
The three who entered stood out vividly from the courtiers filling the chamber. Where the fae of her realm mostly followed the fashions of the human court, with such alterations as they saw fit, the Irish dressed in barbaric style. The warriors heeling the ambassador from Temair wore vivid blue cloaks clasped at one shoulder, but their chests were bare beneath, with bronze cuffs around their weapon arms. Eochu Airt himself wore a splendid robe decked with feathers and small, glittering medallions, and bore a golden branch in his hand.
“My lord,” Lune greeted him, rising from her chair of estate and descending to meet the sidhe.
“Your Majesty.” Eochu Airt answered her with a formal bow and a kiss of her hand, while behind him his bodyguards knelt. “I hope I find you well?”
“Idle. How liked you the play?”
The Irish elf scowled. His strawberry hair, long as a woman’s but uncurled, fell over one eye as he straightened from his bow. He might be an ollamh, the highest rank of poet, but the Irish expected their poets to be warriors, too. The scowl was fierce. “Very little. The art of mortals is fine enough, and we give it favour as it deserves. But art, madam, is not what interests me.”
Had she expected him to answer otherwise? Eochu Airt had arrived at the Onyx Court not long after All Hallows’ Eve, replacing an ambassador who had been among them for years—a sure sign that Fiacha of Temair intended change. If she could endure until November, she might be rid of the newcomer; the yearly cycle of High Kings in Ireland meant change could be ephemeral.
But not always. This impatience had been growing for years. Should Eochu Airt be replaced, she might find someone worse in his place.
If there was to be an argument, Lune would rather not have it in the more public space of the presence chamber. “Come, my lord ollamh,” she said, taking him by the arm. Feathers tickled her wrist, but she concealed the irritation they sparked. “Let us retire and speak of this more.”
The elf-knights on the far door swept the panels open for the two of them to pass through, leaving the Irish warriors behind. Several of her ladies made to follow, until Lune gestured them back with a flick of her fingertips. She did not want them standing at attention over the conversation, but if they sat at their ease with embroidery or cards, Eochu Airt invariably felt she was not considering his points as seriously as she should.
Faerie lights flared into wakefulness around the privy chamber, and some prescient hob had set out two chairs on the figured Turkish carpet. Lune indicated that the sidhe should take one. “You seem to have perceived your afternoon as an insult,” she said, settling herself in the other. “I assure you, I intended no such offence. I merely thought you, as a poet, would appreciate the artistry.”
“It was well-written,” he grudged, and laid the golden branch of his rank aside in this atmosphere of lesser formality. “But the journey reeked of distraction.”
Which it had been—or at least that was the idea. Lune had hoped he might become enamored of the playhouses, and spend more of his time there. It would mean supplying him with protection against the iron and faith of the mortal world, but she would account it well spent, to have him out of her chambers.
She frowned at him. “I would not belittle your intelligence in such a fashion, to think you so easily led astray. I know you treat your duties here with all the reverence and dedication they deserve.”
“Pretty words, madam. Need I remind you, though—I did not come here for words. I came for action. The ‘thorough’ policy of your Wentworth is an outrage.”
Not my Wentworth, she wanted to say. I had nothing to do with his appointment as Lord Deputy of Ireland. But that would only play into Eochu Airt’s hands, raising the very point she was trying to dodge. “Some of Wentworth’s notions for governing Ireland could be beneficial to you, did you but acknowledge it. Catholic rituals hold a great deal of power against our kind. Their passing may be a good thing. The hotter sort of Protestantism poses its own danger, true—but what Wentworth would institute is no more than lukewarm.” In truth it was half-popish, as the Scots kept screaming. But not in ways that mattered overmuch to fae.
Eochu Airt’s expression darkened. “What he institutes is plantation.” He spat the word out like the obscenity he no doubt considered it to be.
Had she really expected to divert him from that issue? Lune rose from her chair and rang a bell. “Some wine, I think, would lubricate this discussion.” The door opened, and her Lady Chamberlain Amadea Shirrell came in with platter, decanter, and goblets. Efficient as always. Lune waved her away, pouring the wine herself, and waited until the door had shut again, closing out the low rumble of the presence chamber. “I do understand your concern. The New English—”
“New English, Old English—they are all the same to me. They are English, in Ireland.” Eochu Airt accepted the wine from her hand, but paced angrily as he spoke. “They claim our lands for their own, driving off those whose families have dwelt there since we fae lived outside our hills. Our hobs weep without ceasing, to see their ancient service brought to an ignominious end.”
The ollamh’s voice flowed melodically, even spurred by anger. Lune answered him evenly, trying not to show her own. “I cannot undo England’s conquest of Ireland, my lord ambassador.”
“But you could act against Wentworth and his allies. Put a stop to this rape of our land.”
The figures chased in silver around the outside of the wine cup dug into Lune’s fingers. “I have acted. Charles confirmed the Earl of Clanricarde’s title against Wentworth’s challenge. His estates will not be planted with settlers.”
It only gained her a scowl. “Which helps Galway. But what of the rest of Ireland, madam, that still suffers beneath the English yoke?” He was an Ulsterman himself; she had chosen her defence poorly. With a visible effort, the sidhe moderated his tone. “We do not demand assistance for free. All of the Ard-Ríthe, and any of the lesser kings beneath them, would be glad to grant concessions in return. We have information you would find most useful.”
Neither of them had taken a sip of the wine. So much for lubrication. Setting hers down, Lune suppressed a sigh, and folded her hands across the front of her skirt. “What you desire is more direct manipulation, and that is not the policy of this court.”
“Once it was.”
She went very still. Here it came at last: the overt reminder. She had been wondering how long it would take, ever since his arrival after All Hallows’ Eve. This ambassador was willing to use more weapons than his predecessor had been. “Never under our rule. We will thank you to remember that.”
The formal shift to the plural pronoun hit him like a slap. Eochu Airt smoothed the hair out of his face, then set down his own wine and crossed back to the chairs, where he retrieved his golden branch of office. “As you wish, madam. But I fear the Ard-Rí will not be glad to hear it.”
“Tell our cousin Fiacha,” Lune said, “that we are not averse to cooperation. But I will not wrap strings around the mortal court and dance it like my puppet. I work for the harmony of humans and fae by more subtle means.”
“Your Highness.” Eochu Airt answered her with a stiff bow and exited, leaving her alone in the privy chamber.
Lune placed one hand against the silver-gilt leather covering the wall and gritted her teeth. Not well handled. Not well at all. But what could she do? The Irish were probably the only fae in Europe who missed the days when her predecessor ruled, when the Queen of the Onyx Court did not baulk at manipulating anyone, mortal or otherwise.
No, not the only ones. But the most vexatious.
She had some sympathy for their desires. If her own land were overrun by foreigners, ousting those with ancestral claim, she, too, would fight tooth and claw to defend it. But this was not her fight, and she would not compromise her principles to win it for the Irish. Mortals were not pawns, to be shuffled about the board at will.
Lune composed her expression and went back out into the presence chamber. Her courtiers murmured amongst themselves; no one would have overlooked the departure of Eochu Airt and his warriors. Some of them had even accepted gifts to solicit her on behalf of the Irish. Nianna, the silly fool, was flirting with a ganconer the ambassador had the audacity to bring, trading on her position as Mistress of the Robes. If Lune gave them half a chance, they would all be seeking her ear.
She had no patience for it, not now. There were bathing chambers in the Onyx Hall, their waters heated by salamanders; perhaps she would go rest in one of those, and try to think of a way to mollify the High Court at Temair.
But she did not move quickly enough. While she hesitated next to her chair, the door opened again, revealing a man more out of place than even the Irish. Sandy-haired, solid of build, ordinary as brown bread—and wearing a determined expression entirely at odds with the blithe amusements of the chamber. The usher raised his voice again. “The Prince of the Stone!”