Authors: John Pilkington
Table of Contents
MARBECK AND THE DOUBLE-DEALER*
The Thomas the Falconer Series
THE RUFFLER'S CHILD*
A RUINOUS WIND *
THE RAMAGE HAWK*
THE MAIDEN BELL*
THE MAPMAKER'S DAUGHTER*
THE JINGLER'S LUCK*
THE MUSCOVY CHAIN*
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First published in Great Britain and the USA 2013 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
eBook edition first published in 2013 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 2013 by John Pilkington
The right of John Pilkington to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Pilkington, John, 1948 June 11- author.
Marbeck and the king-in-waiting. â (A Martin Marbeck
mystery ; 2)
1. Great BritainâHistoryâElizabeth, 1558-1603â
Fiction. 2. Great BritainâHistoryâJames I, 1603-1625â
Fiction. 3. Great BritainâKings and rulersâSuccessionâ
Fiction. 4. Spy stories.
I. Title II. Series
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8294-3 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-450-8 (ePub)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
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Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
ugusto Spinola's house stood in Broad Street, a short walk from the Royal Exchange. From the outside it appeared a fairly modest dwelling, until the visitor passed through an iron gate, crossed a paved courtyard and entered what the owner called his
. From there, and throughout the rest of the house, the opulence became breathtaking. Gilt mirrors, marble statues and rich hangings were everywhere, along with ornately carved furniture displaying the finest plate. At the rear of the house Spinola had caused a colonnade to be built, overlooking a well-tended garden where his children had played, and where his grandchildren might follow. Here, had it not been for the noise and bustle beyond the high walls, visitors could imagine themselves in some Italian villa instead of in the heart of London. The only thing which might spoil the effect was the cold, and on this particular day in March, the heavy rain that fell. Not that it troubled the three men who arrived discreetly at the house in late afternoon, to be conducted by a servant to Signor Spinola's private chamber.
Here, in a room without windows, the newcomers were greeted by the financier himself, wearing a black silk doublet, gold chain and immaculate ruff. Soon they were seated around a table covered with a Turkey carpet, being served with sugared sack in silver cups. By now the host's smile had given way to a shrewd, penetrating gaze. In silence he regarded his guests, until the last servant departed. Whereupon Sir Roland Meeres, the oldest man, spoke up.
âYou know why we've come, Signor Spinola.'
âI do, Sir Roland.'
âDo you have tidings for us?'
âI?' The Italian raised his eyebrows. âI was expecting you to bring news for me.'
âIf ye mean have we fulfilled our part of the undertaking, sirrah, then ye may consider yerself assured of that,' the second man said, in a broad Scots accent. The only one who bore a high-sounding title â the Earl of Charnock â he was also the worst dressed of the three. He sniffed, rubbed his thick beard, and looked to Meeres to elaborate.
âThere are troops in the Netherlands under Sir Henry Flood, who merely await the order,' Meeres put in. âYou may know that he succeeded Bostock as commander of that regiment â¦ loyal followers of the true faith. They're eager to set their feet on English soil.'
âIndeed?' Spinola glanced at the third man, who had yet to speak, then eyed Meeres again. âI confess I have heard otherwise: that the so-called English Regiment is merely a rabble of renegades and malcontents who follow the one who offers the fattest purse. The Spanish consider them more of a nuisance than anything else.'
The visitors bridled; or rather, Meeres and the Earl did. The other man coughed slightly, then said: âDoes that matter?'
They turned to him: William Drax, veteran soldier, who levelled his gaze at Spinola. âWhen a surgeon must deal at speed with a patient who's gravely hurt, he cannot afford to fret about the quality of instruments at his disposal,' he went on. âEngland is that patient, sir â her very soul in danger, if another Protestant succeeds to the throne. As he likely will â and sooner than you may think.'
âThen it's true that the Queen is dying?' Spinola said, after a moment. âI only returned from the Continent two days ago, but I heard she was in better spirits, and responding well to the treatment of her physicians.'
Charnock gave a snort. âStuff and lies, put about by yon whoreson devil Robert Cecil!' he snapped. âThere are post-horses stationed at every stopping place from London to Edinburgh, and messengers ready to ride the moment Elizabeth breathes her last. Why, there's an exodus already â men slipping away northwards by road and by sea, eager to be first to kneel before James Stuart and swear their loyalty. Then there'll be knighthoods flying about, like chaff in the wind.'
âThat may be,' Meeres broke in, clearly finding the Scot's outburst distasteful. âBut let us not leap so far. It's plain the Queen lies sick at Richmond â¦ she's not been seen in public for over a week. Yet she may rally â¦'
âI think not â not this time.'
Drax was shaking his head. âThere's a black cloud hanging over that place that has naught to do with the weather. And why else would Cecil be bringing boats upriver, filled with troops? He plans for the worst, as well he might. None are admitted to the palace now without his approval. I fear time is short, sirs â hence, we must set things in motion.'
A silence fell. Augusto Spinola glanced at each man, before turning aside. On the table by his elbow was a small box, beautifully enamelled. Producing a key, he opened the casket and drew out a folded document.
âThis is a bill of exchange,' he said. âIssued by my associates in Florence â¦ it may be drawn on parties in London, or in Brussels, or Antwerp. The sum is equal, in approximate terms, to twenty thousand English crowns.'
There was a stir. The Earl, unable to conceal his glee, slapped a hand on the table. âBy heaven, Spinola, I was told if any man could do it, 'twas you!' he exclaimed. He turned to Meeres, who smiled; only Drax remained impassive.
âAnother bill may follow in time,' Spinola added, unfolding the paper and spreading it out carefully. It was in Latin, covered with text in a neat Italianate hand. âThough my friends would no doubt want proof that matters are proceeding apace before issuing it. Hence my earlier question, sirs: apart from the apparent readiness of troops in Holland, what further assurances can you give me?'
Eagerly now, Meeres leaned forward. âMany,' he answered. âWhy, in every county, loyal believers stand ready. The Infanta's claim to the throne is their beacon of hope â they will flock to her banner the moment she lands on our shores. For almost forty-five years they have endured the Protestant yoke â but now that the end draws near, they strain like hounds at the leash. Let Cecil keep his troops cooped up in their rotting ships; it will avail him naught, the moment our forces appear. If you ask me the matter will be settled within days â and a Catholic monarch shall once again be crowned in Westminster. Then all those who've striven to bring it about shall reap their just rewards!'
âAmen, sir â¦' Visibly moved, Charnock gave a sigh. Drax showed no emotion, save a trace of irritation.
âFine words, Sir Roland,' he murmured. âYet we cannot rely on mere goodwill. The Earl of Essex learned that lesson two years ago, and paid for it with his head.' He faced Spinola; a look of understanding passed between two realists. âI'm raising a small troop in Kent,' he went on. âPicked men, seasoned and well armed â some have served under me in the past. They'll provide the bridgehead, if you will: an escort for Isabella Clara, to see her safely ashore and guard her in those first, crucial hours. Once it's known that she marches on London, others, as Sir Roland says, will rally to her cause. But of course, some of the population are likely to resist. Hence I propose that the English Regiment land elsewhere â perhaps at Gravesend. Once the people of London learn that forces are approaching from two directions, they will panic. They haven't forgotten the Armadas â¦ it takes little to spread alarm.' He glanced at the Earl. âPerhaps you can assist us there, my lord?'
âWell, I've not been idle,' Charnock retorted. âI too have people ready. But as you know, my task lies north â¦ to prevent the Stuart bastard getting any further south than Berwick!' His lips curled in a sneer. âIt won't be the first time the wretch has been taken prisoner â only this time shall be the last!'
There was a moment, before Spinola gave a nod. âI liked your words, my lord,' he said gently. âParticularly the mention of knighthoods â¦ The new Queen Isabella will no doubt wish to reward those who have helped bring about her succession. And should men of noble birth wish to put my own name forward â¦' He gave a thin smile. âI believe I have dwelled in your country long enough to merit consideration â¦ would you not agree?'
Charnock opened his mouth, but again Meeres was quicker. âYou may have few doubts about that,' he said smoothly. âI can already imagine an escutcheon bearing the arms of Sir Augusto Spinola â¦ and perhaps in time, men may have cause to address you too as
Spinola acknowledged the compliment graciously â whereupon, wearing a sardonic look, Drax broke in.
âBefore we fall to rewarding ourselves with titles just yet,' he observed dryly, âI believe there are details to discuss â shall we begin?'
His fellow conspirators sat up, their faces suddenly grave, which prompted a chuckle from Spinola. âBut first, let us drink to success,' he said. âOr should I say victory â to His Holiness the Pope?'
Smiling, he lifted his chased silver cup; while outside, the rain fell in torrents.