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Authors: M. J. Trow

Tags: #16th Century, #England/Great Britain, #Fiction - Historical, #Mystery, #Tudors

Scorpions' Nest

BOOK: Scorpions' Nest
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Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

A Selection of Recent Titles by M. J. Trow

The Inspector Lestrade Series

LESTRADE AND THE SAWDUST RING

LESTRADE AND THE MIRROR OF MURDER

LESTRADE AND THE KISS OF HORUS

LESTRADE AND THE DEVIL’S OWN

The Peter Maxwell Series

MAXWELL’S CHAIN

MAXWELL’S REVENGE

MAXWELL’S RETIREMENT

MAXWELL’S ISLAND

The Kit Marlowe Series

DARK ENTRY *

SILENT COURT *

WITCH HAMMER *

SCORPIONS’ NEST *

 

 

* available from Severn House

SCORPIONS’ NEST
M. J. Trow

 

 

COPYRIGHT

Copyright © 2013 by M. J. Trow and Maryanne Coleman

The right of M. J. Trow to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved.

First published in Great Britain and the USA 2013 by

SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of

9 – 15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.

eBook edition first published in 2013 by Severn House Digital

an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Trow, M. J.

Scorpions’ nest.

1. Marlowe, Christopher, 1564-1593–Fiction.

2. Walsingham, Francis, Sir, 1530?-1590–Fiction.

3. English College (Douai, France)–Fiction. 4. Great

Britain–History–Elizabeth, 1558-1603–Fiction.

5. Detective and mystery stories.

I. Title

823.9‘2-dc23

ISBN-13: 978-1780103884 (Epub)

ISBN-13: 978-1780290393 (cased)

This eBook produced by 
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,

Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.

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.

ONE

D
ark is never totally dark. Even in the deepest cave the eyes staring into the blackness begin to see sparks and flashes which are not in front of the eyes but behind, inside the brain itself. In a room, thick curtains over the window notwithstanding, there is light enough to see by, if a man waits for long enough so that his eyes accustom themselves to the velvet dark. Shades of black are possible, as every artist knows, and it was by the shades of black that Kit Marlowe knew that someone had come into his room. He waited quietly, breathing shallowly through his mouth, trying to quieten even the beat of his heart. Kit Marlowe was a good listener.

The shape, black on black, edged round the room, laying gentle fingers on the edges of the furniture. Once, it stubbed its toe against a pile of books and Marlowe heard the indrawn breath as whoever was there waited to see if they fell and woke the dead. Marlowe shuffled in his sheets and made little drinking noises before settling back down to silence. It wouldn’t do to lie too still; all sleepers made some kind of sound. After a pause that seemed to last an hour, the black shape moved again and this time reached the table, positioned in front of the window, to get the last of the light each evening and so save candle wax.

Marlowe lay back on his pillows, smiling in the darkness. He started to count slowly to himself. He didn’t expect to get into double figures. ‘One,’ he breathed as the figure quietly lifted the lid of the ornate box on the table.

‘Two.’ There was a louder breath from the figure by the window. If an exhaled breath could be a question, then this was one.

‘Three.’ Marlowe could have spoken the word aloud, because the scream from near the window would have drowned him out. And if not the scream, then the snap of iron jaws closing just seconds before the scream would have been almost loud enough.

The dark figure ran the few steps to the door, but seemed to be crouching over as he ran, as a man might if he were cradling one hand in another as the pain shot up his arm like white hot lightning. Marlowe waited in the darkness for another moment, until he heard the door at the bottom of his staircase slam, reverberating on its hinges. Then he climbed from his bed and crossed to the window, pulling back the curtain. He peered down into the quadrangle just in time to see a figure disappear into a door opposite, making for the street. Smiling, he let the curtain fall and felt with practised fingers for the tinderbox on his table. Striking a spark, he lit a stub of candle and held it up, near his face. Then, he lifted the lid of the box.

In the flickering light of the candle, he looked down on what at first sight looked like two small hands, made of metal, folded in prayer. The middle fingers gleamed wetly, as though painted red. A nice little piece of machinery, part of the armoury of Nicholas Faunt and his kind, the men who listened at keyholes. It had been impressed upon Marlowe most firmly that this had not been tested in the field yet, that no one knew quite what damage it might be able to inflict on prying fingers. They should be pleased that he could now fill in this gap in their knowledge. When he next saw Robin Greene in the cloisters, the market or the Buttery, he could ask him what it felt like. He looked a little closer. No actual fingers, sadly, but plenty of blood. He checked the untouched papers. All was well. Perhaps the plagiarizing fool would learn his lesson this time and leave Marlowe’s plays alone.

With a tight smile, he went back to his bed and slid between the sheets. Blowing his candle out, he turned over and was immediately dead to the world.

Dark is never totally dark. And the dark in Nicholas Faunt’s bedchamber was less dark than it seemed, with small and cunning slits in the curtains letting through the faint grey of predawn to bounce off concealed mirrors to light a cranny here, a nook there. Faunt had wrapped himself in a fur, quieter in movement than leather, and had propped himself up against the bed head to wait. The night had been long and he had nearly nodded off a couple of times, but the holly leaf tied under his chin had given him its non-too-gentle warning each time and now the worst was past; the dawn was almost here. He was getting a little testy, though; when he had settled down to watch and wait, he had not expected to be watching and waiting quite this long.

Suddenly, he pricked up his ears. The topmost stair was famous throughout the house as having a squeak to wake the dead, so all the housemaids knew to avoid it early in the morning. They didn’t know that the third board along the gallery from the topmost stair was rigged to ring a tiny bell on Faunt’s bedstead; they just thought it was a marvel that the master was always sitting up smiling, waiting for them to bring in the beer and heel of fresh-baked manchet bread with which he began his day. He had the bell in his hand now, silencing its tongue, but he felt the vibration and stiffened. Someone was creeping very, very slowly towards the door of his room. But how prepared were they for all of his little tricks?

He smiled wryly as he sensed rather than heard that the intruder had avoided the tiny caltraps he had scattered outside his door and made a mental note to sweep them up before dawn. They already had two servants laid up with pedal injuries and three would test housekeeping beyond endurance. He took in a deep breath and held it as the door edged open, just a tiny amount. He nodded when he realized that the heavy weight propped over the door – designed to alert rather than maim, though there was nothing wrong with maiming in Faunt’s view – was lifted and removed by skilful fingers.

Then, suddenly, all Hell broke loose and he reached across and uncovered the window of the dark lantern beside the bed. In its flare, he saw a man pinned to the ground by a heavy net, anchored at two corners by boxes, attached to the floor by staples and to each other by a loosened tripwire, their lids open, and at the others by crossbow bolts, still quivering with the impact.

With the light, the man stopped struggling and turned beseeching eyes up to meet Faunt’s. ‘This is none too comfortable, Nicholas,’ he said. ‘And how that left-hand bolt missed my head I’ll never know. It parted my hair.’

Faunt was sitting at the end of the bed, feet folded in front of him, knees raised. He looked like a homicidal schoolboy. He gave a low chuckle. ‘Thomas, Thomas, Thomas,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘If you were really burgling my house, I wouldn’t care overmuch whether it took your head from your shoulders.’

The man under the net made a strangled noise of dissent and wriggled his shoulders. ‘Let me out,’ he said, then louder, ‘let me out. You’re scaring me, Nicholas. Let me out!’

Faunt jumped down and reached into first one box, then the other, releasing the net, then folded it back to release the struggling man. ‘Stay still,’ he enjoined him. ‘You’re all caught up somewhere. It’s your dagger. Wait…’ Faunt was vaguely surprised he was carrying one. He unravelled the net and the man was free.

Thomas Phelippes was not at all amused. He was not a man of action, as any casual observer could tell. He was slightly built and had something of a scholar’s stoop. He wore his thirty-odd years lightly, but he was pale and didn’t look like a man who saw much of the sun. He was a thinker, not a doer and Faunt’s latest amusement, to get Phelippes to try out his newest ideas, did not strike him as at all funny.

‘This won’t do, Nicholas,’ he said, standing up and tweaking his doublet back into some kind of comfort. ‘I’m far too old for your little games.’ He felt all rucked up in the unmentionables, but decided that adjustment could wait. ‘Those caltraps could have maimed me.’

‘Ah –’ Faunt tapped Phelippes on the shoulder with an admonitory finger – ‘you were too clever for me there, Thomas.’ Faunt could patronize for England and win against all comers.

‘And the weight over the door?’

‘Again, what can I say? You mastered me once again.’

Phelippes harrumphed and metaphorically ruffled his feathers. He turned to the tangled mess behind him, the ruined floor, the place where his blood and brains might well have been. ‘I doubt this will come in too useful, though,’ he said. ‘Too much damage, too easy to spot.’

‘You didn’t spot it, though, did you, Master Phelippes, eh? And you knew it was there.’

‘In fairness, Nicholas, no, I did not. Since you had moved it full three cloth yards, I had no idea it was there.’

Faunt chuckled. ‘It had to be a proper test, Thomas, or what would be the point? You did well, though I think you may be right; this is not an engine which will see much use in the normal way of things. Well done, though, well done.’ He went over to the window and pulled back a draped curtain to let in the grey light of dawn. ‘How late it is getting. I must clear the caltraps, before the kitchen sends up food to break my fast.’

As he spoke, the tiny bell rang and before the clapper was still, the scream of Faunt’s third maimed maidservant echoed in from the gallery.

‘Damn.’

Dark is not always dark. The two sets of breath from the bed made the only sound, but the faint light of the half moon and the stars came in through the uncurtained window and picked out the rise and fall of two breasts in perfect harmony. It gleamed on the pale ovals of four nails of fingers lightly curled into a palm, it glinted off two lips, damp with the pearl of sleep. It sprang from the tip of the upraised blade, it splintered in the spray of gushing blood. It shone into the mouth opened, screaming. It lit the buckles on the booted foot as it kicked back the door in its flight.

BOOK: Scorpions' Nest
9.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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