Authors: Michael Arnold
Also by Michael Arnold
First published in Great Britain in 2014 by Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette UK company
Copyright © Michael Arnold 2014
The right of Michael Arnold to be identified as the Author of the
Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright,
Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Maps drawn by Rodney Paull
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any
means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be
otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that
in which it is published and without a similar condition being
imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication – other than the obvious historical
figures – are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or
dead, is purely coincidental
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library
ISBN 978 1 848 54762 9
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH
St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, 25 September 1643
Sterne Fassett heard the echo of his own footsteps as he paced quickly along the nave. No one looked round, but he felt uncomfortable nonetheless. It had been many years since he had stepped inside such a place. Besides, he preferred to move in the shadows, and the notion that his every movement was being echoed by the beams above made his skin prickle with sweat. The first half-dozen pews were full of men. Black coats, white collars, sober and sombre, all staring at the big fellow pacing before the wooden pulpit, lantern jaw stiff with belligerence. It was very much akin to a Sunday service, except there were no women here, nor children. Indeed, there seemed to be no clergymen either. Even for a Puritan service this seemed strange, and the man addressing the well-upholstered congregation did not seem like any preacher he had ever encountered. His bellicose delivery might have been reminiscent of the ranting hot-gospellers, but his bearing was proud, his dark eyes were blazing, and his garments – though dour enough for a Puritan – were well cut and expensive. And in Westminster, this meant he could be only one type of beast.
‘Politicians,’ Fassett muttered as he reached the rear of the crowd, slipping behind one of the grand pillars to the right of the nave. ‘Bastards the lot.’
‘Have a care, sir,’ hissed the man he had come to meet. Tall and thin, his face was hidden deep inside the grey hood of a cloak that fell all the way to his ankles.
Fassett looked him up and down and smirked. ‘I know we are beside the abbey, but I thought the Benedictines had been run out of England.’
The cowled man kept his focus on the big fellow who yet gripped the assembly in thrall. ‘Sir Henry Vane,’ he said in a tone that carried the silk of privilege and education, a tone markedly at odds with Fassett’s own coarse drawl. They were both, he knew, from London, yet their lives could not have begun more differently. ‘Parliament’s leading light.’
Fassett followed his gaze. ‘Where is Pym?’
‘Ailing. His body fails by the hour. Vane is his voice, though Pym yet tugs the strings.’
Sterne Fassett’s jaw ached, and he opened his mouth to poke at the offending tooth. It wobbled at his touch, making him wince as a stab of pure agony lanced through his head. He caught an admonishing glance from one of the dour greybeards nearby and clasped his hands at the small of his back, exploring the excruciating molar with his tongue. It would have to come out, he thought with irritation. A good tooth, too. Free from decay, it had been the victim of a well-placed elbow in a tavern brawl that had ended in a welter of blood and three new widows. He let his tongue snake across the empty gum line at the front of his mouth. Christ, he thought, but he’d have none left at this rate. That, he supposed, was a necessary evil of the life he had chosen, but he by no means welcomed the steady corruption of his looks. He had been comely enough once, he reckoned. Dark-haired, bronze-skinned and quick to smile. Now the hair was retreating at his temples, the copper skin, the legacy of a blackamoor father, was blighted by scars, and the smile as empty of kindness as it was teeth. His wiry stubble was flecked with grey and his nose was blunt where the tip had been sliced clean off. And yet, he thought wryly as he let his gaze drift to the man at his side, there were those who had suffered more for their choices. He stifled a shudder.
‘You summoned me. We have work?’
The hood quivered. ‘I summoned you hours ago. Where have you been?’
‘Gathering the lads.’
‘You were successful?’
Fassett grunted. ‘You mean, did any die in the night?’
‘Your carousing clearly came with consequence.’
The cowled head turned, and Fassett saw a blue eye glint against lily-white skin. He lifted a hand to feel the lump on the edge of his jaw. ‘Our carousing, as you put it, saw blood spilt, but not our own, praise God.’
‘I doubt it is God you ought to praise, Mister Fassett. Your protection is down to another.’
Fassett smiled nastily. ‘You are a man of faith. If I am so damned, why would you employ me?’
‘To further His kingdom, Mister Fassett, one must, on occasion, treat with God’s enemies.’
A ripple of applause swept through the pews, drawing the pair back to Sir Henry Vane. The powerful Parliamentarian held a piece of parchment aloft, his face tight with triumph. ‘There you have it, gentlemen. The Solemn League and Covenant is accepted. All here at Margaret’s bear witness. Six points to which we, in the sight of Almighty God, do solemnly swear.’
More claps chattered amongst the assembled men like a morning chorus of sparrows. Fassett glanced at his master, speaking quietly, ‘Six points? I hear we’re selling our souls to the Scotch.’
‘We must all swear to preserve the Church of Scotland, and to reform the religion of England and Ireland.’ The hooded man croaked a bitter laugh. ‘The Kirk has us over a barrel.’
‘Bent, legs splayed, arse thrust at the clouds,’ Fassett added. ‘And the Divines agree?’
‘The Assembly of Divines was constituted to advise Parliament on religious reforms, and perhaps this is one reform too far for many. But they know they have little choice. Our daring enterprise teeters on the brink of catastrophe.’
‘But Gloucester—’ Fassett began. Everyone had heard of the city’s stubborn stand against the Cavalier horde.