redging his oars through the churning water,
Natty Pykes grumbled under his breath.
The pinching cold no longer pained his fingers;
all feeling had long since been swept away by
the deluge which hammered from the black heavens.
was a filthy, sousing October night.
afforded little protection from the relentless
rain and his hat slopped sadly about his ears.
the driving downpour he stared at the two figures
sitting in the stern of his boat and the storm
stung his upturned face. Silently he cursed
those gentlemen who had engaged him.
city was lost far behind them now, its mobbing
crowd of chimneys and steeples obliterated by
the storm. Through the drenching dark the small
craft laboured. Swinging behind, the lanthorn
made sparks of the pelting waters, and the surface
of the river spat and fizzed like scalding fat.
enough to drown the fishes!" he cried, yearning
to hear another voice besides that of the endless
squall. "Quench the fires infernal, this would.
We'll see no other on the river, not in this
foulness. Must be an urgent errand to prise
you good masters out of doors."
made no reply. Throughout this drenching journey
neither of them had uttered a word, but Natty
Pykes had been a waterman for eighteen years
and was nobody's fool. As he ferried them ever
further up the Thames, his shrewd and nimble
mind made many quiet guesses. The large wooden
apothecary box they carried was enough to tell
him that they were men of physic and, judging
by their attire, prosperous ones at that.
into that awful night they pressed and the hours
curdled by. Natty knew only the drag of the
oars and the protest of his back; all else he
pushed from his thoughts until at last new sounds
came to his grateful ears through the rain.
voices were calling and, turning stiffly, he
glimpsed the landing stage of Hampton jutting
out into the river. Lanthorns and guttering
torches were held aloft to guide him, and Natty
eyed the waiting figures with interest.
closer, he saw among that restless gathering
a man of high rank, whose chain of office glittered
in the sputtering torchlight. As his boat pulled
alongside the jetty, he knew that the grim expression
fixed upon that noble's face was not caused
by the storm alone. Only
when one of the palace guards hurried down the
river steps to hold the craft steady did the
waterman's passengers stir. Binding their cloaks
even more tightly about their shoulders, and
taking up the apothecary box, they rose. Then,
with greater poise
and balance than even Natty Pikes could have
managed, they alighted.
Over the stone stairs the hems of their dark,
concealing mantles went sweeping as they ascended
to the landing stage.
the rain from his face. "Goodnight to you
Masters," he called, reminding them he had
not yet been paid.
The figures halted. One of them turned and
a gloved hand appeared from the cloak's heavy
folds. Winking bright and yellow, a coin came
spinning down to splash in the rain water
which sloshed inside the boat around Natty's
boots. The waterman snatched it up.
he declared, incredulous. "Black my eyes and
call me a stinking Spaniard! A real, whole
to his feet so that the boat swayed violently
beneath him, he gave a whoop of joy. "Thank
you, Masters! Thank you and bless you!"
But the strangers were already striding away,
led by the man of rank and the sour faced
guards. Natty watched them march towards the
great palace, its vast shape rising black
and blind into the pelting night.
Lowering himself into the boat once more,
he stared thoughtfully at the golden profile
on the coin, now held tight within his calloused
fingers. His quick mind slotted the pieces
of the puzzle together and he began to fathom
the strangers' purpose.
"Lord help them this night," he prayed. "May
they have the skill to save Her." Then, putting
the sovereign to his lips, Natty kissed it
and began the long journey back to London.
two strangers were escorted into the palace
of Hampton Court where their anxious guide introduced
himself as Sir William Cecil, trusted adviser
to the Queen. Hastening through the straw-strewn
corridors, he rapidly acquainted them with the
"Eight days," he announced, herding them past
more guards and up a flight of steps. "Eight
days She has lain abed. There
is naught Her own physicians can do."
faces still muffled and hidden, the visitors
listened but made no reply.
"The German doctor, Burcot," Cecil continued.
"He claimed smallpox, but there are no eruptions.
She called him a fool and had the impudent fellow
thrown out. Yet now a fever has Her and all
are sorely afraid. I almost summoned that knave
to return till I was minded of you."
they passed through room after room, where grave-faced
courtiers waited and watched, but Sir William
and his mysterious guests swept by without acknowledgement.
"Even now the crows are gathering," the lord
In a grandly furnished bedchamber they halted.
There, before a guarded doorway, Lord Cecil
turned his grim, grey eyes to the tall newcomers.
"Gentlemen," he said solemnly, "into your care
I entrust the hopes of Her subjects. For if
you falter, then England will be flung into
chaos and war. Above all else, do not fail Her."
With that, he motioned the guards barring the
way to stand aside; then, thrusting the door
wide, he entered. Behind him the two strangers
exchanged a meaningful glance and a violet gleam
shone within the deep shadows of their broad-brimmed
hats. Into the private bedchamber they stepped.
room was smaller than the one they had left,
but still richly adorned. Fine tapestries covered
the panelled walls and sumptuous velvet drapes
surrounded the carved oaken bed. But, although
fresh rosemary scattered the floor, the air
was thick and sickly. Crowding that place and
screening the figure upon the bed, was a crowd
of austere looking officials, each murmuring
in despair-ridden, funereal voices.
the sound of Lord Cecil's entry all heads turned
and they stared questioningly at the two figures
"Fellow councillors," Sir William addressed
them with a curt nod, "these are learned Masters
of Physic, foreign scholars of whose skill I
have heard much excellent report. I have asked
them hither to see what may be done."
"Foreign?" repeated a stern-featured man, stepping
closer to appraise them. "From whence?"
Cecil raised his hand. "Does it signify, My
Lord Sussex?" he asked. "They are healers, let
that be enough."
The other man
glared at him. "I will not allow it," he hissed.
"That German knave was rashness enough. Our
enemies have many eager servants. Are you mad,
"Her own physicians are confounded," Cecil answered,
glowering back. "What then? Consider carefully,
my Lord, She is without issue and as like to
Pulling away from him, Sussex returned his hostile
gaze to the strangers. "Make yourselves known,"
he demanded. "Remove your sodden wrappings that
we may see what manner of men..."
Before he could finish, a snarling voice rang
out within the room. Pushing his way from the
bedside strode a young man almost as tall as
Cecil's physicians. "Be still!" he cried. "Leave
your wrangling outside this place, for I will
have none of it here."
Gripping the hilt of his sword, the Queen's
favourite, Lord Robert Dudley, cowed Sussex's
remaining protests and bade the visitors welcome.
"If you truly have wisdom in this matter then
I beg you to spare Her," he said. "Say only
what you require and none shall hinder you."
the physicians moved forward, passing between
the troubled councillors until they stood at
the foot of the oaken bed.
At last they saw her - a slender woman lying
beneath an embroidered coverlet - and their
violet eyes glittered brightly.
In the year
of Our Lord fifteen sixty-two, only three
years since her coronation, Elizabeth Tudor
was dying. She had indeed contracted the smallpox
and, although her skin was as yet unblemished
by the customary spots, the remainder of her
life could be measured in hours. Propped up
on the pillows, her oval face was deathly
pale and framed by dark rivers of hair, made
wet and lank by the sweat which streamed from
her high forehead.
At either side of the bed knelt her two most
trusted attendants, Lady Mary Sidney, Lord
Robert's sister, and Katherine Ashley.
The women had been praying for their mistress's
immortal soul, but now they looked up at the
"The bloom of health is withered from Her
face," Dudley mourned. "The fires I have known
to blaze copper and golden in the strands
of her hair are extinguished. So it is with
her spirit. Tell me truthfully, Masters, are
you come too late?"
Shifting their attention from the stricken
figure in the bed, the strangers regarded
they spoke. Through the high muffling collar
of his cloak, the physician at Lord Robert's
side said, in a strong and forceful whisper,
"Death possesses every joint of your sovereign
Prince. If we are to aid her we must proceed
favourite stepped back to give them room, but
the strangers shook their heads and in one movement
raised their gloved hands as a signal for everyone
to leave the bedchamber.
"Permit us to work alone," came the insistent
whisper. "The room must be clear and the air
Sussex objected. "Robert - even you cannot allow
Dudley hesitated, but the physicians would not
be gainsaid. "Every moment brings her life closer
to its ending," they assured him. "To linger
is to destroy what meagre hope remains."
Placing his hand upon Robert Dudley's shoulder,
Sir William gently pulled him away. "We have
no business here now," he said. "Come, my Lords,
let us yield to their request. The Lady Mary
and Mistress Ashley will remain to ensure the
proprieties are kept." Reluctantly
the councillors left the chamber. Lord Robert
was the last, his eyes fixed solely upon his
beloved Elizabeth. Gently, Lady Mary closed
the door after him and looked with apprehension
at the cloaked strangers.
"Shall I take your outer garments, my Lords?"
The apothecary box had been placed upon a table
and one of the physicians was busily unfastening
"Return to your prayers," the other instructed.
"Leave us to attend Her Majesty."
The woman obeyed, kneeling beside the bed once
more. Yet though she bowed her head, she watched
the strangers keenly. From the large black box
they had removed a silver incense burner and
were already putting a candle flame to a nugget
of some black substance taken from one of the
a crackle of tiny sparks as the incense caught
light and the gloved hand dropped it into
the burner. At once threads of dark, plum-coloured
smoke rose to gather in a thick, coiling stream
which climbed to the ceiling. Lifting her
young face, Lady Mary saw the dense cloud
spread ever wider overhead and still the vapour
poured upward, fogging the air with a purple
bedchamber was now filled with swirling smoke.
Roused from her prayers by the sweet, peppery
scent, Mistress Ashley glanced around her,
then turned to the physicians, now vague and
indistinct through the mounting reek.
"Too much!" she cried, placing a hand before
her mouth and coughing. "What mischief is
The strangers said nothing. Full of ire and
indignance, Katherine Ashley attempted to
rise, yet a sudden fatigue cramped her legs
and darkness was creeping into her mind. Before
she could stand, the woman was sprawled across
"Mistress Ashley!" Lady Mary called, but she
could do nothing to help her. In a moment
she too had collapsed, and the last image
she saw was that of the two mysterious strangers
towering over her.
moment later the incense burner was stifled
and the physicians finally removed their wet
garments. Hurriedly they cast the heavy cloaks
from their shoulders, threw the broad brimmed
hats aside and tore away their gloves. Whipped
by these frantic movements, the livid vapour
eddied about their large heads as two inhuman
faces turned to the prostrate form upon the
"The Bishop of Rome was more easily garnered,"
one of them said. "She has proven a most difficult
Stepping over Lady Mary's body, his companion
placed long, nailless fingers upon the Queen's
throat. "We may yet lose Her," he answered,
his protruding brow crinkling with doubt.
he spoke, the jewels which studded a golden
circlet he wore around his wide neck sparkled.
"Come, Arvel!" he called in concern. "This
sickness is worse than I feared."
Taking a small,
delicate instrument from the apothecary box,
the other hastened to his side and cast a critical
glance over Elizabeth's ashen features."Time
enough," he judged, directing his violet eyes
to the device in his hands. Holding it up against
the candlelight he examined the glass filaments
at its centre and pressed his thin grey lips
together with satisfaction.
"Detachment," he grunted. "That's what you need,
Bosco-Uttwar. Always fretting about them, will
they live, will they die? As if it matters after
we've called. Oh, look at that embroidery -
such intricate workmanship."
His assistant ignored the frivolous remark.
He was agitated and nervous, for the life of
the Queen and for their own safety. "But if
there is not enough living harvest," he said,
"all our endeavours will have been for nothing.
What use will the scheme be without Her?"
Arvel took a deep, composing breath; Bosco-Uttwar
had never really learned to enjoy himself on
these expeditions. "I assure you there is more
than enough healthy matter for our great purpose,"
he declared. With that, his slim frame stooped
over the bed and he pressed the tip of the instrument
against the dying woman's forehead.
watched in silence. He had seen the procedure
a thousand times before. A faint glow began
to travel along the glass filaments and, when
one tiny vessel was full, the device was placed
above Elizabeth of England's heart. The pale
radiance increased and a second phial began
her pillows, the Queen stirred in her fever.
"Kat?" she mumbled. "Kat, where are you?"
her arm from under that beautiful coverlet,"
Pulling back the embroidered cloth, his assistant
saw that the bed linen was drenched with sweat,
and the wrist he grasped was clammy and cold.
"Sweet Robert?" the frail woman asked. "Is
that you? Where are my own dear Eyes?"
"Delirium," Arvel said, pushing the instrument
into her shivering palm.
Holding that fragile hand, Bosco-Uttwar stroked
the elegant, tapering fingers of which the
Queen had always been so proud. At that moment
her eyes blinked open and the dark, wild pupils
stared up at the flat-faced creatures bending
over her. With her last strength she wrenched
her hand away and cried out.
"Lords of Hell!"
But her voice was a cracked gasp and no one
outside the room heard her. The exertion had
spent her final force and she slumped back
on to the pillows, her shallow breaths gradually
"And so she dies," Arvel observed, moving
to where Mistress Ashley lay upon the floor.
"The attendants as well, I think. We must
be thorough. I hope the box is recording everything
in sufficient detail - have you seen those
miniatures over there? Exquisite. They're
so inventive aren't they? Give the box a tap,
would you, just to make certain."
Diligently he commenced the same procedure
but, while those glass phials pulsed and shone,
Bosco-Uttwar remained at the Queen's side,
struggling with his conscience.
"Arvel," he said at last. "I'm going to save
"Ridiculous," came the pert reply. "As soon
as I have garnered what we need from the other
female we must be gone. We are not charged
to deny them death. Garner and record, that's
"But it is the simplest of remedies."
Returning Mistress Ashley's hand to her side,
Arvel rose and jabbed a long grey finger at
"You showed no such compassion for the Spanish
Ambassador." He snapped. "Nor for any of the
others. Why now?"
Bosco-Uttwar strode to the apothecary box
and avoided the accusing stare of his superior.
"Perhaps I have seen too many of them die."
He muttered, removing a small paper packet
and returning to the bedside. "This one at
least I shall cure."
"I forbid it!" Arvel commanded, the jewels
shining at his throat. "Such healing will
be viewed as a miracle here." Bosco-Uttwar
was not listening. From the packet he took
a tiny soft disc and pressed it against the
skin behind the Queen's ear. "It is done,"
he said quietly. "Her Majesty will recover."
"You overreach yourself!" Arvel spat in outrage.
"Her true life is yet to begin, far from here.
That is where Her real destiny lies, that
is what matters - not this ephemeral sphere."
crouched next to Mistress Ashley and fingered
more!" Arvel protested. "You interfere too much."
"She has been exposed to the infection," Bosco-Uttwar
said simply. "You had best garner the Lady Sidney
before I put the remedy upon her."
Infuriated by his assistant's irresponsible
behaviour, Arvel pressed the glass instrument
to Lady Mary's brow. But the woman groaned and
turned her head away. Again he tried, but she
squirmed and pushed the device from her.
"I cannot continue." Arvel declared. "She will
awaken if I persist."
With a third small disc ready in his hand, Bosco-Uttwar
"No time for that," Arvel warned, irritably
knocking the cure from his assistant's fingers
and snatching the packet away. "She is reviving
too soon. We must be gone. Don your outer garments
Returning everything to the apothecary box,
he swept up his rain sodden cloak and hat. Unhappily
his assistant did the same and presently their
outlandish features were concealed once more.
Pulling on his gloves, Arvel glanced back at
the bedchamber and moved toward the door. In
the grand room beyond, the councillors were
bickering in hushed voices. The babble ceased
however as soon the physicians emerged, wisps
of purple smoke still clinging to the folds
of their cloaks. Immediately Robert Dudley dashed
across to push by them, but they would not let
"Let the gentlemen be," the Queen's adviser demanded.
"You seek for conspiracy and treason in every
Scowling, Lord Sussex backed away and Cecil escorted
the cloaked strangers towards the long gallery
which led to the main staircase.
"Till before the dawn then," he said. "Let us
hope the new day will bring us glad and hopeful
The physicians bowed, but in that instant there
came a terrified scream from the Queen's bedchamber.
"Mary!" Lord Robert cried. Forgetting Arvel's
false warning, he flung the door open. "God's
blood! What is this?"
Rousing from the effects of the incense, Lady
Mary Sidney was staggering around the room, shaken
Leaping into the chamber, Dudley rushed to the
bedside where the Queen appeared as pale and as
near to death as ever. With a glance at Mistress
Ashley who was still lying upon the floor, Lord
Robert flew out of the room, tearing his sword
from its sheath.
"Hold those men!" he yelled.
Arvel and Bosco-Uttwar were already running down
the long gallery, fleeing for their lives. Their
cloaks flapping about them and their large, booted
feet scattering the rushes, they charged past
astonished courtiers, desperate to reach the stairs.
Lord Robert roared, haring after them, while
Sussex and the other nobles fell in behind.
"Stop them! Guards! Seize them!"
Battling through the gallery, Arvel thrust
blustering officials and shrieking ladies-in-waiting
aside, and his assistant did the same. The
stairs were not far now, but even if they
managed to elude capture long enough to get
outside, their lives were surely forfeit.
"Its no use Arvel!" Bosco-Uttwar cried. "We'll
never escape this place. There are too many
- they will hunt us down."
His superior said nothing. A stout, florid-faced
man suddenly stepped into their path and threw
his arms wide to catch them. Not checking
his pace, Arvel lashed out and grabbed the
front of the man's doublet.
Exhibiting incredible strength, the physician
lifted the wailing obstacle off the ground
and hurled him high over his head. Up into
the ceiling the flailing man went rocketing,
cracking the moulded plaster when he struck
it with a crash. Then down he fell. Accompanied
by a shower of white dust, he went spinning
to the floor, just in time for Lord Robert
to hurdle over him.
The way to the stairs was clear now and the
cloaked strangers went bounding down them,
jumping three at a time. Soon they would be
out into the grounds, where the dark, drenching
night might hide them. With only ten more
steps to freedom, their hope was shattered
when a company of guards came bursting into
the hall. Swords and spears raised, they swarmed
up to meet them.
Clutching hold of the bannister, Arvel and
Bosco-Uttwar slithered to a halt.
"Back!" Arvel shouted, retracing their galloping
strides. "Back, up - up!"
Hard on his heels, his assistant was panicking.
He had never known such fear before. He understood
too well what kind of barbaric punishments
these creatures meted out to those they considered
their enemies. He had witnessed countless
executions and afterwards seen the spikes
of London Bridge adorned with the victims'
heads and limbs.
Lunging on to the topmost step he whirled
wildly around. They were trapped. Dudley and
the others were already streaming from the
gallery to the right, and the stairs seethed
with armed guards.
"Where now?" he gasped.
But Arvel was already hastening down a narrow
corridor away to the left. "After me!" he
called back. "There may yet be a chance, if
we can only reach it!"
did not wait to be told a second time. Up from
the stairs the palace guards came surging to
join forces with Lord Robert and, as one fearsome
column, they rushed after the terrified physicians.
corridor was dimly lit by solitary candles,
their thin flames wavering in the chill draughts.
By this poor illumination Bosco-Uttwar saw several
doors lining the passage, but Arvel ignored
each of them and hurried on.
Ferocious shouts were trumpeting behind him
and, to his horror, the assistant saw that the
corridor led nowhere. They were running headlong
into a blank wall. It was a dead end and they
were cornered by a savage mob. There would be
no time to explain, these creatures were too
ignorant to believe or comprehend them anyway.
He knew that they would both see only the gleam
of metal and feel thirsty steel plunging into
their flesh. In a frenzy of primitive hate,
they would be torn to pieces.
"We have them!" Lord Robert's furious voice
Even as the words echoed through the corridor,
Arvel threw himself into a doorway which his
assistant had not seen. Before Bosco-Uttwar
knew what was happening, a gloved hand came
reaching out and he was dragged in after.
"Secure the entrance!" Arvel barked, slamming
the door and staring frantically around.
The room beyond was small and lit by a single
rush light. In that paltry glow he could see
a long, low table standing against one wall
and he ran to it at once. In a moment the
table had been flipped on its end and rammed
up against the door.
"There's no way out of here," his assistant
blurted. "No window and no other exit. We're
The table juddered violently as their pursuers
began to kick and heave. "Come out of there!
Craven filth!" Lord Sussex demanded.
Holding the table in place, Bosco-Uttwar shook
his head in misery. Arvel was still pulling
every stick of furniture he could find to
fortify the barricade, but it was all in vain.
"Just like one of their rat creatures caught
in a hole," the assistant snivelled as the
pounding blows increased.
"A musical hole," Arvel noted, for he had
discovered a number of instruments in the
kick sent the door ripping from its hinges,
but no one went charging inside. Every vengeful
voice was quelled and many crossed themselves
in the manner of the old religion.
From that windowless room, brilliant colours
were pouring and, for one instant, that dark
corner of the palace was ablaze with light.
A kaleidoscope of burning images radiated
from the splintered entrance like dazzling
sunshine streaming through a cathedral window
- casting vibrant, fragmented shapes on to
the corridor wall.
The vivid glare flashed across Lord Robert's
face. Squinting, he saw within that room innumerable
visions of the villainous physicians. Over
every surface their fractured likenesses flared,
but even as he marvelled, the wonder vanished
and all was dark once more.
Bewildered, Dudley and Sussex stepped through
the doorway. But the chamber was empty. The
strangers were nowhere to be found.
"Where are they?" snapped Sir William, pushing
his way through the abashed guards.
Staring into the shadows, Lord Robert could
only shake his head. "I know not," he said
softly. "It seemed to me I viewed them as
if through the heart of a great faceted jewel,
and then they were gone."
"Witches and devils!" Lord Sussex growled.
Sir William threw them a disbelieving glance
then turned to elbow past the guards once
again. "Well," he declared., "if they have
flown up the chimney, then there is naught
we can do. I'll waste no more time on them
this foul night."
"Where are you going?" Lord Sussex asked,
hastening after him. "To summon back that
German doctor!" came the stern reply. "If
he doesn't save the Queen, then I'll stick
a knife in him myself."
Alone in the room, Robert Dudley sheathed
his sword and dismissed the gaping guards.
In all the years that were left to him he
never spoke of that night again, not even
to his precious Elizabeth.
in Deathscent, Chapter 1; Adam o' the Cogs.
2016. Robin Jarvis. All rights reserved