Original Act One

Generally I produce fairly clean first drafts of my novels, but in the case of Midnight Never Come, I ended up having to replace about half of the first act — that being Deven’s half.

There were two reasons for that: one of them fixable, the other, not so much. The fixable reason was that (as you can see below) I was sort of flailing around on a certain narrative strand. The idea, in summary, was that Deven would have his “are you worthwhile or aren’t you” conversation with Walsingham much earlier, and spend the remainder of the act proving that he was, by dint of uncovering and then revealing to Walsingham some plot or another at court. As you can tell by the “some plot or another” phrasing, I never hit on what that plot should be, though I knew that ideally it would have something to do with the faerie court (though Deven wouldn’t know it at the time). And then, when he brought it to Walsingham, he would discover the entire thing was a test the Principal Secretary set for him — not the plot himself, but the question of what Deven would do about investigating it.

In some ways, I still wish I’d been able to go with that concept. But there turned out to be another problem, one rather more intractable: that particular Act One didn’t make sense with the Act Two I wanted to have. The story jumps a little over a year ahead between the two parts, and on the other side of that jump, Deven’s a trusted enough agent of Walsingham that he gets to hear all about the hidden player in English politics. Now, I came across at least one suggestion that Walsingham had a bizarre tendency to spill his guts to friends a little too easily . . . but I just couldn’t convince myself the Principal Secretary would show such trust to a young man he met for the first time barely a year ago. For the rest of the story to work, it had to start out with Walsingham already knowing Deven, and trusting him enough for lower-key espionage.

The one thing I really regretted losing in this cut was the riding scene with Elizabeth. She was a very good horsewoman — apparently one of the requirements for her ladies was that they be able to keep up with her in the saddle — and I’m cribbing here from one anecdote, from when she was nearly sixty, of how they didn’t get her coach ready fast enough, and so she basically cried, “Maids, to your horses!” and galloped off in the rain, not stopping until she reached the horse-ferry at Fulham. It’s an aspect of her personality that fell out of the novel, alas, but that scene just wasn’t serving enough of a purpose other than showcasing her riding, so it had to go.

Anyway, the cut scenes. You’ll see they start off very similarly, but diverge partway through the first one. (That first scene is a little infamous for having proved to me the value of onsite research; originally I had Deven and Walsingham wandering around in corridors and onto balconies, neither of which exist in the architecture of Hampton Court Palace.) Lune’s scenes, of course, as well as the flashbacks, were interspersed between these, in not quite a strict alternation.

[Square brackets] indicate details I intended to check or change — obviously these scenes are not polished like the final product.

Hampton Court Palace, Richmond: September 1588

“Step forward, boy, and let me see you.”

The wood-paneled room was full of people, standing in pairs and small groups, some pretending disinterest in Michael Deven, others looking with open curiosity. Deven resisted the nervous desire to smooth the front of his popinjay doublet. His clothing was fine enough, good satin picked with embroidery, but in this company it was little more than serviceable, and that was not a complimentary term. The paradox of this life: to look well, one needed a favored position, but to gain such a position, one needed to look well.

No. What one needed was to impress the woman in front of him. Clothing was but one means of doing so.

Deven stepped forward and made his best leg, his knees steady, as if the covert and open attention did not concern him. “Your Majesty.”

Standing thus, he could see no higher than the intricately worked hem of her dress, with its motif of ships and winds. A commemoration of the Armada’s defeat, and worth more than his entire wardrobe. He kept his eyes on a brave English ship and waited.

“Look at me.”

He straightened and faced the woman sitting beneath the canopy of estate.

He had seen her from afar, of course, at the Accession Day tilts and other grand occasions: a radiant, glittering figure, with beautiful auburn hair and perfect white skin. Up close, the artifice showed. Cosmetics could not entirely cover the smallpox scars, and the fine bones of her face pressed against her aging flesh. But her dark-eyed gaze made up for it; where beauty failed, presence would more than suffice.

“Hmmm.” Elizabeth studied him frankly, from the buckles of his shoes to the dyed feather in his cap, with particular attention to his legs in their hose. Deven expected to feel embarrassed; instead, he felt like a horse at a fair. She would check his teeth, next. “So you are Michael Deven. What have you to say for yourself?”

He took a deep breath and began. “Your Majesty, were I to be turned from your presence this instant, I would return home a fortunate man. To gaze even once upon the sun and the moon in the glory of your person is more than most men may dream of. But I came here with a higher ambition yet, which I most humbly beseech your Majesty’s grace to grant me. I am a faithful man of London, well dedicated to the good and glory of this realm, but most especially to the realm as it lives in the radiant person of its Queen. Should you but permit it, I would give all that I am to your service, and rejoice each day in my incredible fortune.”

He had rehearsed the florid words until he could say them without feeling a fool, and hoped all the while that this was not some trick Hunsdon had played on him, that the courtiers would not burst into laughter at his overblown praise. No one laughed, and the tight spot between his shoulder blades relaxed.

Meeting the Queen’s eyes for the briefest of instants, he thought, she knows exactly what we do, when we praise her. Elizabeth was no longer a young woman, whose head might be turned by pretty words; he saw in her eyes that she recognized the ridiculous heights to which her courtiers’ compliments often flew. She enjoyed the flattery for pride’s sake, but demanded it for political reasons. By our words, we make her larger than life.

This understanding did not make her any easier to face, however. “Your family?”

“My father is a gentleman, madam, with a fine estate in Kent, and he is a liveryman of the Stationers’ Company. For my own part, I am of Gray’s Inn.”

“Though not yet finished of it, as I understand. You went to the Netherlands, did you not?”

“Indeed, madam.” A touchy subject, given the failures there, and the Queen’s reluctance to send soldiers in the first place. Yet it was his personal conduct abroad that had gained him the attention of Lord Hunsdon. “I had the honor of serving your Grace’s interests among the Protestants there.”

The Queen fiddled idly with a fan, eyes still fixed on him. “What languages have you?”

“Latin and French, madam.” What Dutch he had learned was not worth claiming.

She immediately switched to French. “Have you been to France?”

“I’m afraid I have not, madam.” He prayed his French accent was adequate, and thanked God she had not chosen Latin. “My studies kept me occupied, and then the troubles made it quite impossible.”

“Good. We would not want reason to suspect you a Catholic sympathizer.” This seemed to be a joke, as several of the courtiers chuckled. “What of poetry? Do you write any?”

At least Hunsdon had warned him of this, that she would ask questions having nothing to do with his ostensible purpose for being there. “She has standards,” the Lord Chamberlain had said, “for anyone she keeps around her. Beauty, and an appreciation for beauty; whatever your duty, you must also be an ornament to her glory.”

“I have been known to set pen to paper, madam.”

Elizabeth nodded, as if it were a given. “Tell me, which poets have you read? You know Latin. Have you translated Vergil?”

Deven parried this and other questions, striving to keep up with the Queen’s mind as it leapt from topic to topic, and all in French. She might be old, but her wits showed no sign of slowing, and from time to time she would make a jest to the surrounding courtiers, in English or in Italian. He fancied they laughed louder at the Italian sallies, which he could not understand. Clearly, if he were accepted at Court, he would need to learn it. For self-protection, if nothing else.

Elizabeth broke off the interrogation without warning and looked past Deven. “Lord Hunsdon,” she said, and Henry Carey stepped forward to bow. “He has been in the Netherlands. But can he use a sword?”

“As well as any of your Majesty’s gentlemen,” Carey replied.

“Very encouraging,” Elizabeth said dryly, and for the first time since waking up that morning Deven had to repress a smile. “We feel safer already.”

She paused then; the urge to smile evaporated, and Deven reminded himself to breathe as the Queen studied him once more. “Very well,” she said at last. “He has your recommendation, Hunsdon? Then let it be so. Welcome to my Gentlemen Pensioners, Master Deven. Hunsdon will instruct you in your duties.” She held out one fine, long-fingered hand, the hands featured in so many of her portraits, because she was so proud of them. Kissing one felt deeply strange, like kissing a statue, or one of the icons the Catholics so revered. Deven backed away with as much speed as was polite.

“My humblest thanks, your Grace. I pray God my sword keep you safe from impious foes who would threaten your person or your throne.”

She nodded absently, her attention already on the next courtier, and Deven straightened from his bow with an inward sigh of relief.

Hunsdon beckoned him away. “Well-spoken,” the Lord Chamberlain and Captain of the Gentlemen Pensioners said, “though unlikely enough these days. Her Majesty never goes to war in person, of course, so you needn’t expect military action as part of your service. Should Spain mount a more successful invasion, though, that may change.”

The two of them made their way through the gathered courtiers in the presence chamber, Deven following Hunsdon’s lead in nodding or bowing to those they passed, and out through the magnificently carved doors into the antechamber beyond. “I shall give you until the beginning of October,” Hunsdon said, “to set your affairs in order; then your first duty period will begin. Under ordinary circumstances you could ask one of the other Gentlemen Pensioners to substitute for you — many do — but for your first year, I will require you to serve both assigned shifts, for three months apiece.”

“I understand, my lord.” Deven had every intention of spending the requisite time at Court, and more if he could manage it. One did not gain advancement without gaining the favor of those who granted it, and one did not do that from a distance..

As if aware of Deven’s thoughts, Carey cast a glance at his doublet. “Have better clothes made, before you begin. Borrow money if you must; no one will remark upon it. Hardly a man in this Court is not in debt to one person or another. The Queen takes great delight in fashion, both for herself and her courtiers. She will not be pleased if you look too plain.”

“Some seem to disregard that.” Deven nodded his head to a figure that had come through the far door. Short and dark despite his advancing years, the man was dressed in startlingly conservative fashion, after the brilliant menagerie of the presence chamber.

Hunsdon cast him a quick warning glance, then strode ahead to meet the approaching stranger. “Sir Francis, how fortunate for us to encounter you. Allow me to present Michael Deven, the newest member of her Majesty’s Gentlemen Pensioners.”

Deven made a respectful bow. They said the man heard every whisper in England; Deven prayed his own words hadn’t been heard, or at least hadn’t sounded rude. Ill it would be, to begin his time at Court by offending the other man to whom he owed his new position.

“Master Deven,” Francis Walsingham said, and Deven straightened. “I congratulate you on your advancement. I trust you will reward her Majesty’s generosity with faithful service.”

“With all my heart,” Deven said.

Hunsdon cast a glance back along the corridor, to where a pair of gentlemen ushers stood by the doors to the presence chamber. “Are you on your way to the Queen?”

“In fact, no. I had intended to see the results of this young man’s petition, but it seems I am come too late. With your leave, Hunsdon, I will take him off your hands. Burghley wanted to see you.”

“I fear I know why.” Hunsdon sighed. “I offer you my congratulations again, Master Deven. I will see you at Court again come the first of October, if not sooner.” With all the requisite bows delivered, the Lord Chamberlain hurried from the antechamber.

Leaving Deven with the Principal Secretary of her Majesty’s Privy Council. “You have my heartfelt gratitude, sir,” Deven said. “I owe my good fortune entirely to yourself and Lord Hunsdon, and I am glad to be able to say so in person at last.”

“Think nothing of it,” Walsingham replied. “Your father has done me excellent service in the suppression of seditious pamphlets. This is a small enough reward, and one I was glad to grant. Come, walk with me.”

Hunsdon had turned left as he left the room; Walsingham led Deven to the right, down a staircase, and out into the golden sunlight of the gardens. The brightness made Deven’s eyes water. He had arrived early that morning, having left London even earlier, and since then had been in one lamp-lit room after another, waiting here, waiting there, moving through the slow dance of Court procedure one step at a time. He was startled to find it was only a little after noon, and the sky a brilliant autumnal blue.

“Is it your intention to be often at Court?” Walsingham asked. He made an incongruous figure out here; were it not for his complexion, his face would be as pale as a clerk’s — the sure mark of a man who spent most of his time indoors, in the company of messages and reports. “Or will you be one of those who hands off his duty periods to others, and return to your studies?”

“As I understand it, sir, you yourself are of Gray’s Inn.” The Principal Secretary nodded. “I pray I will not offend you if I say that I do not think I will return. My studies pleased me well enough, but I hope to spend my time here, seeking out ways in which to be of service to the Queen. Further service, that is.”

The correction caught Walsingham’s attention. “Beyond your position as one of her gentlemen. Or do you refer to your time in the Netherlands?”

Their wanderings had taken them away from the palace windows, and the only figures sharing the gardens with them were a goodly distance off. If half of what Deven had heard of the Principal Secretary wase true, none of this was an accident. Walsingham had something private to say to him — or, perhaps, simply wished to give him the opportunity to say something private.

“More than simply my military service, sir. I took with me, in the lining of my trunk, a number of pamphlets, which I passed to a gentleman in Flushing, for distribution to Protestant rebels in various places. My father gave them to me, though I do not know who told him to print them.” Deven let the sentence hang, questioningly.

Walsingham shook his head. “Not I. Burghley, perhaps.”

“I had wondered. Regardless, that event made it clear to me that the defense of her Majesty — the defense of England — depends on many types of action. Some, like armies and navies, are public. Others are not. And it is my understanding that you, sir, are a general in the secret sort of war.”

The Principal Secretary’s long face and dark eyes betrayed nothing but a mild curiosity. “You speak of it in poetic terms. There is little of poetry in it, I fear.”

Deven locked his hands behind his back, so they would not betray him by trembling. Walsingham had less forceful of a presence than Elizabeth, but his hooded gaze saw just as much, and was just as hard to face. “I do not seek poetry — only a chance to make my mark in the world. I have no interest in following my father in the Stationers’ Company, nor does Gray’s Inn hold me. To be utterly frank, my desire is to be of use to men such as yourself, who have the power and the influence to see me rewarded. My father earned the rank of gentleman; I hope to earn more.”

And that, he hoped, would strike a sympathetic chord. Walsingham had been born to a family with far greater connections at Court than Deven’s own, but he had earned his knighthood and his position on the Privy Council. Whether Deven could strike a target so high, he did not know — but he would aim as high as he could.

Or perhaps his words would turn, like a knife in his hands, and cut him. Walsingham said, “So you serve, not out of love of England and her Queen, but out of ambition.”

Deven quelled the urge to flinch and salvaged what he could. “The two are not in conflict with one another, sir.”

“For some, they are.”

“I am no dissident Catholic, Master Secretary, nor a traitor tied to the purse-strings of a foreign power, but a good and true-hearted Englishman.”

Walsingham studied him, as if weighing his every virtue and vice, weakness and use, with his eyes alone. Elizabeth had made Deven aware of his body; Walsingham made him conscious of his soul.

“You will have chance enough to prove yourself,” the Principal Secretary said at last, reassuring Deven only a little. “And there are opportunities at Court for good and true-hearted Englishmen to earn advancement.”

But would any of them come from Walsingham’s hands? Deven merely bowed. “Thank you, Master Secretary. I will not take up any more of your valuable time; you must have many duties to attend to, and I should be on my way.”

“You have somewhere to be?”

Deven cast a glance at the sky. “I had thought to depart. I should be able to make it back to London tonight, if I leave now.”

“But you will not.” Walsingham shook his head. “You have been made a member of the Queen’s own guard, Master Deven, and you are all but unknown at Court. There will be those who wish to meet you; indeed, they will be wondering where Hunsdon has taken you.”

Deven managed what he hoped looked like a roguish smile. “Would it not be more interesting to keep them curious?”

“Not in this case.” The Secretary spoke with the utter certainty of a man who spent much of his time manipulating information, who had it and who did not. “You will stay the night, take supper with the Court, and make yourself known.”

Would he bother to give such advice, if he had taken no further interest in Deven? “Very well, sir. I shall do as you bid.”


Richmond and London: September 1588

Obedient to what sounded suspiciously like marching orders from Walsingham, Deven took himself around the side of the palace and to the high-walled chamber of the tennis court. Playing would have cost coin he did not wish to spend, but he did not need to; there were a number of courtiers observing from a gallery along the side. Deven paused to collect himself, then strode forward, a friendly smile on his face, to begin the dance of acquaintance with new partners.

Those new friends introduced him to several more, and the remainder of the day fled with surprising speed, fading without him noticing into night. No feast was planned for that evening, but Hunsdon found him again, and took him to dine with the two dozen or so Gentlemen Pensioners who were on duty at the palace, minus those attending the Queen that evening. They ranged from a few young men of about his age up to several graybeards, some of whom had been in the corps for decades. Deven began to understand how rarely positions opened up, and was grateful anew for his fortune in securing his new place.

They drank and played cards late into the night. Deven had little memory of how exactly he found his way to the room that had been given over for his use. In the morning he was awoken earlier than he wanted to be by an urgent need to relieve himself, but once up, he thought with resignation that he might as well put the time to use. Otherwise he would simply fall back into bed, sleep until noon, and get caught up once more in the social dance; then it would be too late to leave, so he would stay another night, and so on and so forth until he found himself crawling away from Court one day, bleary-eyed and bankrupt.

Checking his purse, he corrected that last thought. Perhaps not bankrupt, judging by his apparent luck at cards the previous night. But such winnings would not finance a life at Court. Hunsdon was right: he needed to borrow money.

Deven suppressed the desire to groan and shook Peter Colsey awake. His manservant was in little better shape than he, having found other servants with whom to entertain himself, but fortunately he was also taciturn of a morning; he rolled himself out of bed and confined himself to dire looks at their boots, his master’s doublet, and anything else that had the effrontry to require work from him at such an early hour.

The palace wore a different face at this time of day. The previous morning, Deven had been too much focused on his own purpose to take note of it, but now he looked around, trying to wake himself up gently. Servants hurried through the corridors, wearing the Queen’s livery or that of various nobles. Outside, Deven heard chickens squawking as two voices argued over who should get how many. Hooves thudded in the courtyard, moving fast and stopping abruptly: a messenger, perhaps. He would have bet his winnings from the previous night that Hunsdon, Walsingham, and the other men who dominated the Privy Council were up already, hard at work on the business of her Majesty’s government.

Colsey brought him food to break his fast, and departed again to have their horses saddled. Deven followed more slowly, glad that none of his new acquaintances were around to see him dressed so much more plainly. Perhaps they could afford to go riding in brocade doublets and trunk hose, heedless of the wear and the stains, but Deven could not, nor did he have men-at-arms to defend him on the road, should he choose to look like such a tempting target.

Instead it was just him and Colsey, riding out through the gates of the palace in morning sunlight far too bright. They did not talk for the first few miles. Only when they stopped to water their horses at a stream did Deven say, “Well, Colsey, we have until October. Then I’m due to return to Court, and under orders to be better-dressed when I do.”

Colsey grunted. “Best I learn how to brush up velvet, then.”

“Best you do.” Deven stroked the neck of his bay gelding and tried not to brood over money. He had already put himself in debt, buying gifts to secure patronage from Hunsdon and Walsingham; more would be expected, especially as Christmas drew near. He would have to find gifts for the Queen, too, and though she gave her own gifts in return, he couldn’t expect the value he received to equal what he paid out. Not unless he managed to somehow impress her greatly in the short time between now and then.

And she had her favorites already. Any attempt to displace them would lead him into a hornet’s nest of trouble.

Deven sighed and mounted up again.

By afternoon the houses they passed were growing closer together, clustering along the south bank of the Thames and stringing out along the road that led to the bridge. Deven stopped to refresh himself with ale in a Southwark tavern, then cocked his gaze at the sky. “Ludgate first, Colsey. We’ll see how quickly I can get out, eh?”

Colsey had the sense not to make any predictions, at least not out loud.

Their pace slowed considerably as they crossed London Bridge, Deven’s bay mare having to shoulder her way through the crowds that packed it. Travelers like him wended their way one step at a time, mingling with those who were there to shop in the establishments built along the bridge’s length. No sum of money would have persuaded Deven to live on the bridge, he thought; while the houses there might have a splendid view of the river, the docks, and London itself, one also had to live with this rabble on the doorstep.

Not that matters improved much on the other side. Resigned by now to the slower pace, he let his mare drift westward along Thames Street, taking openings where she found them. Colsey had to struggle more, to stay close behind him. The horse knew the way; her steps led them to St. Andrews Hill, then north to his father’s shop and house.

Whatever private estimate Colsey had made about the length of their visit, Deven suspected it was not a short one. John Deven was delighted to hear of his son’s success, but of course it wasn’t enough simply to hear the result; he wanted to know every detail, from the clothing of the courtiers to the flowers in the palace gardens.

“Perhaps I will see it myself someday, eh?” he said, beaming with unsubtle optimism.

And then of course his mother Anne had to hear, and his cousin Henry, whom Deven’s parents had taken in after the death of John’s younger brother. It worked out well for all involved; Henry had filled the place that might otherwise have been Deven’s, apprenticing to John under the aegis of the Stationers. The conversation went to business news, and then of course it was late enough that he had to stay to supper.

A small voice in the back of Deven’s mind reflected that it was just as well; if he ate here, it was no coin out of his own purse. Why he should dwell on pennies when he was in debt for pounds made no sense, but there it was.

Thrift was not the only benefit of the visit, though. After supper, when Anne and Henry had been sent off, Deven sat with his father by the fire, a cup of fine malmsey dangling from his fingers. The light flickered beautifully through the Venetian glass and the red wine within, and Deven watched it, pleasantly relaxed.

“I also had the opportunity to meet and speak with Sir Francis Walsingham,” he offered. He had not spoken of it earlier, when there were ears around to hear.

“Oh?” His father seemed to have been lost in reverie, chin sunk into the furred trim of his long robe, but he roused himself and smiled. The two men must be nearly of an age, Deven thought, looking at the grey spreading in his father’s beard. Them, and Elizabeth. It made him notice, for the first time, the composition of Elizabeth’s Court. Of a certainty, there were younger courtiers, flocking around their Queen in hopes of catching a few crumbs from her table, but those at the heart of affairs were all of her own time, or even older. Which was to be expected — few men gained power without many years of work — but it put into perspective his slim odds of achieving real influence. Not with an aging Queen on the throne.

Such was the kind of thought, no doubt, that Walsingham suspected in him.

Deven shook this realization off and answered his father. “Yes, and he was unable to tell me something I have wondered for a while. Who gave the order to print those pamphlets, that you had me take to the Low Countries? Walsingham said it was not him; was it Burghley?”

“Eh? Lord Burghley? No, I’ve had no dealings with him. ‘Twas the Earl of Leicester, God rest his soul.”

Which neatly shot down the vague hope that had been forming in Deven’s mind. If Walsingham would not give him further patronage, whoever his father had been working for might have. But Deven was a fortnight too late for that, it seemed. And Burghley had no reason to take notice of him.

He should have expected it anyway. The campaign had been Leicester’s to command; any covert activities likely had been, as well.

“You remind me,” his father said, sitting up. “Something came my way, that I think the Principal Secretary should see. Will you be returning to Court soon?”

“The first of October.”

“That would be soon enough. Would you bear some papers to him, on my behalf? They are not of critical concern; be certain he understands that. I would not delay sending them if they were. But I thought,” his father said, with an unexpectedly sly look, “that you might wish, if you won your place there, to bring him these yourself.”

A minor service, but it could not hurt, and Deven was eager for the chance to prove himself a loyal servant of the Queen. Loyal, but not excessively ambitious. That would be difficult to arrange. “I would be most pleased, Father.”

John levered himself up out of the chair, groaning a little as his bad knees creaked. “Wait here, and I will return with them. I would leave it for later, but I fear me I would forget, and then he would have just cause to be wroth with me.” Most of the household had gone to bed already; Deven’s father lit a taper and bore it out of the room, leaving Deven alone with the fire.

He pondered the question of how to prove his ambition tempered by loyalty, but had arrived at no conclusions by the time his father returned.

“Here.” The papers were neatly wrapped in oilskin, with a string tied around them, but not sealed. “I doubt it be much of anything, but in the end, that is for the Principal Secretary to judge.”

Deven looked questioningly at his father, and upon receiving a nod, untied the string so he could riffle through the pages. They were manuscript, in several different hands, and appeared to be poetry. “Were these given to you to print?”

John shook his head. “No, they came by more roundabout means. I have enclosed a note to the Secretary, explaining. He may well think nothing of them — but I had rather share them, and have them be nothing, then keep silent, and later find I should have spoken.”

The lure of the handwritten words was strong, but the firelight was dimming and his father, still standing, gave a jaw-cracking yawn. “I have overstayed,” Deven said apologetically, rising. “I beg your pardon, sir.”

“Not at all, not at all. I am very glad for your good fortune, son.” They embraced, and John Deven added, “I will send a man to escort you home.”


London: September 1588

The servant bore a lantern through the streets ahead of Deven and Colsey as they rode home. The hour was late; the cathedral bells tolled eleven as they turned up St. Martin’s-le-Grand, toward home.

After the splendor of Hampton Court and the lesser but pleasant comforts of John Deven’s Ludgate house, home was a sorry disappointment. The servant bid them farewell outside one of the tenement buildings that had been constructed in place of the old church that gave the street its name, after Colsey had brought out a small lamp and kindled it from the lantern. Then he departed, leaving Deven to follow his own manservant inside.

By the standards of the tenement, he lived quite well: two rooms shared only with Colsey, austerely decorated, but in good repair. It might have been more, but Deven had spent his money elsewhere; the coin that would have paid for finer lodgings, or his return to Gray’s Inn, had instead been hoarded until it was sufficient to buy his entry into Court. Walsingham had wondered whether Deven would spend most of his time away. One look at these rooms would have answered his question.

Deven stayed awake only long enough for Colsey to strip his garments from him, then fell into bed and a restless, shifting sleep. At dawn he abandoned the hope of further rest and ventured once more into the city. Goldsmith’s Row was not far away, with the shop of Master Gregory, who had already loaned him some twenty pounds. Deven, cringing inside, asked for a loan of fifty more, and received it when he shared the story of his success. The sum was far more than he needed at the moment, but Deven could not be certain how much freedom, if any, he would have to return when on duty. And though he could send Colsey to ask on his behalf, or simply borrow from someone else at Court, either would be more easily known to those around him. Deven had no doubt that Hunsdon had told the truth about courtiers in debt — there were rumours of the fabulous sums Leicester had died owing the Crown — but he could not bring himself to advertise his own straitened means. Not yet.

He accepted five pounds from Master Gregory on the spot, and made arrangements for the remainder of the sum. Then it was back out into the streets, through the shouting chaos of Cheapside, fighting his way eastward to Mincing Lane. The tailor there was young but talented, and just establishing his business; he was willing to work at discounted prices in exchange for placing his work on the backs of men with connections. Deven had only to mention the Gentlemen Pensioners for the price to drop, but he continued to bargain beyond that, and emerged feeling reasonably optimistic. The loan from Master Gregory might stretch further than he had thought.

Measurements and discussions of fabric and style had taken up what remained of the morning. He stopped at an inn long enough to bolt down a thrifty meal, then went to inform the owner of the tenement of his good fortune. That worthy seemed unimpressed, but he agreed readily enough to make arrangements to rent out Deven’s rooms from the first of October on. His belongings, furniture and all, would have to come with him to Court. And if he could not find someone else’s duty period to take in three months, he would have to find somewhere else to live.

Minor concerns, all. The day ended in celebration with his friends at the Split Oak outside Aldersgate, and in a drunken stumble homeward, with Colsey riding close alongside to keep him in the saddle, and cursing his weight while keeping one arm free to draw steel if necessary.

Deven did not care. Had a ruffian tried to accost him, he would have declared himself a gentleman of London, and Gentleman Pensioner to her Majesty the Queen. Against that, what dagger could prevail?


Hampton Court Palace, Richmond: October 1st, 1588

The day was little more than an hour old when Deven rode under the arch of the great brick gatehouse and into the outer courtyard of the palace, but already the cobblestones were swarming with servants. “Present yourself to me on the first of October,” Hunsdon had said; he had not specified the hour. Deven had ridden out from London the day before, and lodged that night in the village that lay near the palace, so that he would be early, well-rested, and not too dusty from the road. As early as he was, though, it seemed that many had risen before him.

Colsey had to go in search of a hostler to take their horses. When the reins had been handed off at last, Deven passed through another archway and found the inner courtyard as busy as the outer. He hesitated for a moment, lost and indecisive, and disliking the sensation; then he gave in and approached a man-at-arms who stood by the decayed timber fountain, examining the chin-strap on his helmet. “I seek the Lord Chamberlain,” Deven said, once he had gotten the man’s attention.

“Last I saw, sir, he was in the Great Hall.”

“My thanks.” Deven hesitated again. “And the Great Hall is . . . ?”

The man-at-arms kept a carefully neutral face as he pointed to the splendid structure immediately behind Deven, with its [steeply pitched roof and sharp-arched windows]. Deven cringed inwardly. He had mistaken that for the chapel. His first visit to the palace had been confusing at best. “And I . . . ?”

“Up the stairs in the archway,” the fellow said. “Big room on your right.”

That last bit was condescending, but as Deven might as well have hired a crier to announce his ignorance, he could hardly blame the man. “My thanks,” he said again, and went back into the archway.

He had to stand aside for several large servants carrying a carved wooden trunk down the stairs, but went up as soon as the way was clear, and into the vaulted room that opened off to the right. The high wall he had seen from outside translated into a soaring ceiling within, supported by a series of hammer-beams, and at the ends two splendid stained-glass windows would have blazed in colorful glory on a brighter day, but the echoing, empty space above contrasted sharply with the clamor of people hurrying to and fro along the floor. Deven spotted Hunsdon, standing with a sheaf of papers in his hand and a map on the table alongside, speaking with another man.

He paused on the threshold, wondering if he should wait, but had to dodge out of the way as another servant hurried through, and the movement caught the eye of the man Hunsdon was speaking with. The stranger gestured, and the Lord Chamberlain glanced over his shoulder; seeing Deven, he waved him forward.

“Master Comptroller, may I present Michael Deven, of her Majesty’s Gentlemen Pensioners,” Hunsdon said, and Deven, thus alerted to the man’s identity, bowed appropriately. “If we are finished . . . .”

“Then we both have other tigers to wrestle,” Sir James Croft said in a suffering mutter, and hurried off.

Watching him go, and observing him harangue yet another servant just outside the door, Deven ventured to ask, “My lord, what means all this bustle?”

Hunsdon looked about ready to pull his own beard out. “The Court is removing to Whitehall.”

“Whitehall?” The bottom dropped out of Deven’s stomach with an unpleasant lurch. Had he forgotten something? “I am sorry, my lord; I had thought that was not happening for some weeks.”

“As did we all. But there has been sickness in the village, and the Queen is concerned, and so we go sooner. Do not fear, Master Deven; you are here in good time.” Hunsdon rolled up the map and led him out of the Great Hall, back down the steps and into the Fountain Court. “Have you any baggage?”

“My man Colsey is seeing to it, and a cart should be arriving with the remainder of my belongings today or tomorrow.”

“You may as well leave it loaded, and send the carter on to Whitehall. Some things have gone already, and some will follow after, but the Queen looks to be leaving the day after tomorrow. You will go with her.” Catching the expression on Deven’s face, Hunsdon offered him a rare, sympathetic smile. “It is not always like this, but often enough. The Queen has her whims, and once a thing is fixed in her mind, there is often no gainsaying her. Do not expect too much that anything will go as planned. And be grateful this is not a progress.”

As Hunsdon opened his mouth to call out to someone across the courtyard, Deven dared to interrupt. “My lord, if I might beg you to tell me where I would find the Principal Secretary? I have papers I am bid to deliver to him.”

“Playing messenger, eh?” Hunsdon gave him a slantwise look, but did not question him further. “He will be in the Queen’s apartments. You will not get in, but tell the usher I said to deliver the papers on your behalf.”

It meant he would not be able to see the Principal Secretary himself, and gain whatever modicum of goodwill he might have been able to angle for. But Deven could hardly object. “Thank you, my lord; I will.”


Richmond and London: October 1588

The Queen did not leave as scheduled, but her departure was delayed by only one day. Deven was put under the watchful eye of Sir John Scudamore, a lean and active man in his forties who had been in the Gentlemen Pensioners for years. Scudamore kept Deven busy carrying messages in the intervening time, as the movement of Court from one palace to another necessitated a great deal of organizing and supervision. Yet it was a deceptively simple group that rode out, for most of the Queen’s belongings — those that were not staying at Hampton Court — would be floated down the Thames on a barge, while the Queen herself would go by coach.

At least, that was what had originally been announced. Deven arrived in the outer Base Court that morning to find the coach already rattling out again through the gatehouse, plainly empty.

“She changed her mind,” Scudamore said at Deven’s questioning look. It was a refrain he had heard scores of times already, from a grumbling serving-maid all the way up to Hunsdon himself. “The coach will come, in case the weather should turn foul, but her Majesty has chosen to ride.”

“Every so often, the old bat decides to prove she’s not so old after all.” That comment came sotto voce from Brian Ansley, another member of the corps, who was belting on his sword.

Scudamore gave him a quelling look, but did not contradict him. “I have told off a few fellows to accompany the barge that will be carrying the Queen’s jewels. Deven, you will be riding with the Queen herself.”

Ansley grinned. “And mind you stay with her. At all times.”

Did they think Deven, so new to his post, would let himself be distracted from his duty? He bowed to Scudamore. “Understood, my lord. And thank you.”

He thought he heard a laugh from Ansley as he went to collect his horse, but he could not be sure.

The Queen emerged only a little bit later than expected, dressed in a plainer riding habit of indigo silk that still could have bought a small village. The colorful flock of her ladies followed behind, some of them casting dubious glances at the clouded sky. A groom helped the Queen mount; Deven watched the process, a little curious, but she managed it easily, with no sign of age or infirmity.

And then they were rattling out over the moat bridge, the clopping of hooves on cobblestones quickly giving way to a dull thudding as they reached the dirt road. Recent rain meant there was no dust, but the footing was a little muddy and uncertain, and Deven checked reflexively to make sure none of the horses showed likely to misstep. They should not — other men had the responsibility of making sure the horses were well-shod and hale — but the campaign in the Netherlands had made it habit. One mistake could injure horse and rider both.

Less than half a mile into their journey, Deven thought he knew why Ansley had laughed, and why he had been given this duty. The other men of the corps, riding together, might talk amongst themselves, even pass a wineskin back and forth, but he had no such entertainment. None of the courtiers spoke to him, though a few kept giving him covert looks, and he was soon quite thoroughly bored.

With nothing else to do, he found himself listening in on the conversations around him. Much of it was incomprehensible — references to leaseholds and land improvement projects on estates he had never heard of — and much was inconsequential — tales of hunting trips the other day, or embroidery works in progress. After some interminable miles, though, raised voices began to attract his attention.

Up ahead, the Queen was quarrelling with one of her ladies. Deven knew only a scant few names, and could apply none of them to faces, so he did not know who the unfortunate party was, but it seemed the woman had been so bold as to offer a petition on someone else’s behalf, and timed her plea poorly.

Now he found himself trying not to listen, for fear of offending the Queen’s privacy. Rain began to spatter down from the grey sky, and for a little while he had hope that Elizabeth would take refuge in the carriage that rattled along behind, but she showed no signs of doing so. Deven cast around a few covert looks of his own, and saw long-suffering expressions that told him not to pin his hopes on it.

The argument took a turn for the louder. “God’s body,” Elizabeth swore, her voice carrying over the drumming of the rain, and the unfortunate lady flinched back. “Will you hound me without end? I’ll hear no more of your prattle!”

And she goaded her horse to a run.

Deven stared after her for three strides of his own ambling mount, while all around him other, quieter oaths erupted from the rest of the escort. Then he remembered Ansley’s words.

And mind you stay with her. At all times.

He dug in his spurs.

Mud flew as the gelding leapt forward; cries of feminine outrage faded in his wake. But his delay meant the Queen already had a lead, and her mare could run; Deven’s own horse twitched in surprised offense and put his head down. The wet countryside flashed past. Deven risked one glance backward, that told him others were indeed following; then he had to attend to the road ahead, and pray that neither horse would lose its footing.

He didn’t see the Queen look back, but he was certain she knew of his presence; a little while longer, and he was certain she was continuing her headlong gallop because of his presence. At that thought, he was almost minded to stop, in the hope that she would follow suit and cease to endanger herself, but then he thought of her insistence on riding, and her refusal to bow to the weather, and knew she would keep going just to hammer home her victory. So he kept on, and in time he drew even with the mare.

Elizabeth did not look at him, keeping her gaze steadfastly ahead, but he thought he saw the shadow of a smile curve her painted lips.

When she finally drew rein, he thought her relenting, until he saw a shape up ahead, just visible in the misty rain. They had reached the horse-ferry, the one place that afforded a crossing for their mounts before London Bridge itself.

They slowed to a trot, then a walk, then a halt. Deven wiped his eyes clear and laid one hand on his gelding’s neck. The run had not been half so long as it seemed, but it was still a good deal longer than his nerves would have liked.

The Queen pulled her mare’s head around so she could turn and face him. After a long, appraising look, she said, “You ride well, Master Deven.”

They had met once, briefly, a fortnight before; yet Deven was not surprised that she remembered. Her rages were legendary, but so was her charisma. “I thank you, your Majesty,” he said. The next words slipped out before he could stop them: “I thank you more for not making me pursue you all the way to London Bridge.”

She laughed wickedly, sounding far younger than her years. “You would have done it, I warrant.” Sploshing hoofbeats reached their ears; the next segment of her entourage was catching up. “They will have stern words for me, and I shall tell them to go hang. Here.” While Deven was blinking at her bluntness, Elizabeth unfastened the jewelled pin that held her cloak shut. “For your pains.”

Deven accepted it hesitantly, staring at his own hand like it belonged to a stranger. The pin was modest by royal standards, a single large pearl set in filigreed gold. He was still staring at it when the others arrived — not the entirety of the entourage, for the ladies and several courtiers were following at a more sedate pace, but a group of men who immediately surrounded the Queen and, true to her prediction, began communicating in respectful and embroidered terms what they thought of her sudden dash.

He was still staring when one of the other Gentlemen Pensioners leaned over and murmured, “You put it on, you know. The Queen wants her gifts to be displayed.”

It took his rain-chilled fingers three tries to unfasten his own silver cloak-pin, and four to get the gold one shut, but he wore the pearl the rest of the way to London.


Whitehall Palace, Westminster: October 1588

If Deven had thought Hampton Court confusing, it was nothing compared to the rambling, village-sized architectural beast known as Whitehall Palace. Scudamore and the other senior members of the corps were forever sending him off with messages for lords of the Court; it seemed equal parts traditional harassment of the newest member and intensive lessons in geography. Deven reckoned he trotted several miles in the first day alone, getting hopelessly lost both finding his intended targets and returning from whence he’d come.

But he learned. He came to recognize which segments of the palace housed lower servants, and therefore could be ignored; he drilled himself nightly on coats of arms and livery badges, after an unpleasant incident in which he’d spoken too impertinently to the body-servant of an earl. The pearl Elizabeth had given him he wore almost daily, but he did not meet so closely with the Queen again.

Instead, he met other members of the Court. And he rapidly discovered what his position as a Gentlemen Pensioner now meant.

“I would be most grateful,” a wealthy knight by the name of Sir Richard Forbes said, at the conclusion of a long and courteously rambling discourse on some complex matter of wool exports, “if you brought this matter to the attention of your master, Lord Hunsdon.”

“I will bear it well in mind, sir,” Deven temporized, bowing. “But I fear that I see his lordship but rarely, and am little in his counsels.”

Forbes smiled, keeping his lips closed over bad teeth. “Come now, Master Deven; do not rate yourself so poorly. I am sure the baron values your youthful wisdom more than you say. But I understand that such an imposition might be problematic. I am prepared to compensate you for your pains.”

Both of these were familiar motifs already. Deven’s minor coup in securing his position meant that many people had a high estimation of his value and closeness to Hunsdon, and gifts of varying degrees were the grease that kept the wheels of Court turning.

“I have,” Forbes said thoughtfully, “a minor estate, Hazelby in Buckinghamshire, which currently languishes for lack of a tenant. I am sure I could be persuaded to let it to yourself, Master Deven, for quite a reasonable price.”

This was new, and interesting. Or perhaps alarming. Whatever that “reasonable price” was, Deven was sure he did not have it to spare, but he hardly wished to admit that. So far, all the other offered gifts had been of a more concrete nature. “I am afraid, Sir Richard, that at this point in time I have not the attention to spare for the managing of an estate; my duties keep me here at Court.”

“Oh, certainly not!” Forbes sounded almost scandalized. “I never thought for you to take it; ’tis a boggy piece of ground, in truth. But let to another for its proper value, it would be a tidy source of income for you.”

Now that was more persuasive. Leaseholds and land grants, offices and licenses, were how one made one’s fortune at Court. The gift of a cloak-pin brought a minor degree of status, and in a time of crisis might be sold for ready money, but income was what mattered. Still, Deven was not blind; if Forbes offered such lucrative bait, the cause he wished Deven to advance was important to him, and importance sometimes meant trouble.

“I will consider it, sir,” Deven said, “and give you my answer presently.”

As he bowed, something caught his eye. Forbes wore on the front of his padded doublet an enamelled jewel depicting a phoenix, surrounded by the Latin motto RESURGET CORD FIDEL.

Resurget ab cordibus fidelibus. Where had he seen that phrase?

His mind worried at it as he took his leave of Forbes. He rises again, from faithful hearts. Certainly the phoenix was a symbol of the Resurrection; it might express nothing more than Christian piety. Yet Deven knew he had seen the words elsewere. He rises again . . . or it rises?

“The poems,” Deven murmured under his breath, stopping halfway down a staircase.

That phrase had been in the sheaf of papers his father had asked him to take to Walsingham. Deven had read them all, out of curiosity, but found little of import; there were works by three different poets, one of them an impenetrable thicket of imagery and allusion in English, Latin, Italian, and French. One of the phrases woven into the text had been resurget ab cordibus fidelibus.

His father had thought those papers likely nothing — but he had wanted them conveyed to Walsingham.

Before he presented any petition to Hunsdon or accepted any offers of a lease, Deven thought, he must find out the connection between the two.


Whitehall Palace, Westminster: November 1588

The Principal Secretary had a proper office here in Whitehall, lined with paper-filled cubbies and dominated by a writing-desk, from behind which he studied Deven with an inscrutable eye. “You begged audience of me?”

Getting it had required putting himself minorly in debt to one of Walsingham’s secretaries; aside from that first conversation, the two had not spoken in any private capacity since that first meeting at Hampton Court. “Master Secretary, I have news of something I believe merits your attention.”

“You are Hunsdon’s man,” Walsingham pointed out levelly. “Why do you not take the matter to him?”

“I am the Queen’s man,” Deven countered, “and the news I have is more fit for your attention, sir, than the Lord Chamberlain’s, for it concerns matters over which you take more care than he does.”

He had Walsingham’s attention, at least.

Deven laid it out quickly and efficiently, as he had rehearsed for three days before coming here. “Before we departed from Hampton Court, Master Secretary, I delivered to you some manuscript pages my father had collected on your behalf. Among them was a poem by one John Glover, which contained the phrase resurget ab cordibus fidelibus: it rises again, from faithful hearts. Since then, I have seen this motto on jewels worn by Sir Richard Forbes, Sir Thomas Grant, and Robert Walvin. Forbes owns several estates in Buckinghamshire, one of which was, [four] years ago, the site of several exorcisms performed by the Catholic priest [John Ballard]. Walvin is a merchant of London and a patron of John Glover, who last year spent time in the Gatehouse prison for suspected papist sympathies. And Grant has been to France four times in the last three years.”

Walsingham had hardly blinked during this entire speech. Deven took a deep breath and said, “Master Secretary, I have reason to suspect Forbes and the others are, if not recusant Catholics, then sympathetic to their cause. Resurget ab cordibus fidelibus: it rises again, from faithful hearts. That is to say, the Roman Catholic Church.”

With the fateful, accusatory statement thus delivered, Deven found himself assailed by doubt. What had seemed deeply suspicious when it first came to his attention now seemed innocuous and easily explained. Forbes and the others might be nothing more than appreciative of Glover’s poetry, poor stuff though it was. Grant’s trips to France might have been legitimate business. The exorcisms were worrisome, but it was hardly likely the Principal Secretary was unaware of who owned the land on which they had taken place, and nothing had been done against Forbes yet; presumably he had been investigated, and had come away clean.

In other words, Deven might have just made a thorough-going fool of himself, and created enemies into the bargain.

Hidden behind its beard, Walsingham’s mouth was unreadable, and his eyes were like two dark chips of stone. The Principal Secretary had tucked his chin down to his modest ruff and steepled his fingers; he regarded Deven with a gaze that would not have seemed out of place on a well-fed bird of prey eyeing one last possible nibble.

“You believe,” Walsingham said at last, “that you have uncovered a conspiracy.”

“No, sir. I have no evidence that these men plan any action against the Queen, nor any representative of her government. I merely suspect their loyalties.”

“And so you come to me, to lay out your evidence and . . . .”

Walsingham let the sentence trail off.

Deven’s gaze dropped to the woven rush matting beneath his feet; then he forced it back up again. “I thought, Master Secretary, to give you a demonstration. As one of her Majesty’s Pensioners, I am not ill-placed to observe certain things about Court.”

“Do you suppose me ignorant of these things you observe?”

“No, sir.” He had rehearsed that initial speech; now he was in territory he had only charted in his imagination. “My intent was more to demonstrate that I am not ignorant. I can observe that which is around me; I can seek out information beyond what presents itself to me; and perhaps most importantly, I can assemble those pieces into larger pictures. These are qualities I think might be of use to you. But I cannot demonstrate them simply by standing outside her Majesty’s presence chamber with a pike in my hand. Forbes approached me with a petition he wants Hunsdon’s aid for; if he gets the stewardship he seeks, his income will be greatly increased. I was leery of agreeing without knowing more, and the motto on his jewel caught my eye; therefore I investigated. And, having done so, I hoped that what I uncovered might serve as an example to you of my –”

Here he faltered, not knowing quite how to articulate it.

“Your cleverness? Or is it dedication you meant to show?” Walsingham’s tone was level; he might have been mocking Deven, or not.

“Both,” Deven said. “And more.”

A knock sounded on the door; at Walsingham’s response, a man came in, handed over a sheaf of papers, murmured in the Principal Secretary’s ear, and departed.

Walsingham studied the papers for a moment, and this gesture at least Deven could interpret: the secretary wanted him to sweat.

What a pity he could not help but gratify the man.

At length Walsingham put the report aside and bent his attention to Deven once more. “What is it you want, Master Deven? My trust?”

His tone implied that it would not be forthcoming any time soon. And, given Deven’s rash accusation of a few moments before, it was hardly surprising. Useful initiative and reckless impulse were not so far apart as one might hope.

Deven curled his fingers into the lace of his cuffs and said, “A chance to earn it, sir. Your knowledge of me is scant — assuming, of course, that you have not undertaken to investigate me, which I suppose you may have — there is little reason for you to trust me at the moment, particularly with sensitive matters of state. But I should like the chance to earn that trust.”

“So that you might become a spy.”

It was the first time either of them had spoken that word, and it hung in the air like an unsheathed dagger.

“Not as such, Master Secretary,” Deven said slowly. The suggestion had made something come clear in his mind, which he had not understood until that moment “I — well, I suppose my notions of what your agents do may not be accurate. But I have no interest in pretending to Catholicism and infiltrating the seminary at Rheims, or anything such as that. I do not think I would be much good at it. What I can do is put the pieces together.” He paused, then added, almost apologetically, “I rather like puzzles.”

What he thought, but did not say, was: I want to do what you do. I want to be, not a spy, but the spymaster.

Judging by Walsingham’s steady gaze, he might have heard the unspoken words anyway.

The silence stretched out, measured by the beats of Deven’s heart. Was the Secretary merely waiting to see if he would crack? If the pressure of the unblinking gaze would goad him to give up some tidbit of information he had not voiced before?

There was nothing left to divulge. Deven had laid out everything he had for his case; now it only remained to be seen whether it had bought him anything.

“What did Forbes offer you, in exchange for advancing his petition?”

So there was one thing he had left out.

“A leasehold, sir, for the estate of Hazelby in Buckinghamshire.”

Walsingham said, after brief consideration, “Inform Hunsdon of it, in such a fashion that you may honestly say you represented Forbes as promised, but make certain there is no real likelihood of persuading him. Tell me whether he awards you the leasehold or no, and if he asks anything further of you. If occasion rises, ask what jeweler he patronizes, as if you wish to have a piece made for yourself, but do not mention the motto. Do you understand me?”

After an instant of startled silence, Deven said, “Very well, Master Secretary.”

“Good.” Walsingham rose from behind the desk. “You do not have my trust, Master Deven, but you may yet earn it. Send in Beale as you leave.”

Deven bowed and escaped with relief.