The strange tree continued to grow and develop the next day and the next: Its fruit ripened and fell among the tree's roots in the mercury and prima materia. New buds formed, blossomed, and flowered. Once a day the leaves turned from gold to green and back to gold. Sometimes the tree put out new branches or a new root stretched out to seek sustenance. "I have yet to find a good explanation for it," Mary said, gesturing at the piles of books that Joan had pulled down from the shelves. "It is as if we have created something entirely new."
In spite of the alchemical distractions, I hadn't forgotten my witchier concerns. I wove and rewove my invisible gray cloak, and each time I did it faster and the results were finer and more effective. Marjorie promised me that I would soon be able to put my weaving to words so other witches could perform the spell.
After walking back home from St. James Garlickhythe a few days later, I climbed the stairs to our rooms at the Hart and Crown, shedding my disguising spell as I did so. Annie was across the courtyard fetching the clean linen from the washerwomen. Jack was with Pierre and Matthew. I wondered what Françoise had procured for dinner. I was famished.
"If someone doesn't feed me in the next five minutes, I'm going to start screaming." My announcement as I crossed the threshold was punctuated by the sound of pins scattering on the wooden floorboards as I pulled free the stiff, embroidered panel on the front of my dress. I tossed the stomacher onto the table. My fingers reached underneath to loosen the laces that held my bodice together.
A gentle cough came from the direction of the fireplace.
I whirled around, my fingers clutching at the fabric covering my breasts. "Screaming will do little good, I fear." A voice as raspy as sand swirling
in a glass came from the depths of the chair that was drawn up to the fireplace. "I sent your servant for wine, and my old limbs do not move fast enough to meet your needs."
Slowly I came around the bulk of the chair. The stranger in my house lifted one gray eyebrow, and his gaze flickered over the site of my immodesty. I frowned at his bold glance.
"Who are you?" The man was not daemon, witch, or vampire but merely a wrinkled human.
"I believe that your husband and his friends call me the Old Fox. I am also, for my sins, the lord high treasurer." The shrewdest man in England, and certainly one of its most ruthless, allowed his words to sink in. His kindly expression did nothing to diminish the sharpness of his gaze.
William Cecil was sitting in my parlor. Too stunned to dip into the appropriately deep curtsy, I gawped at him instead.
"I am somewhat familiar to you, then. I am surprised my reputation has reached so far, for it is clear to me and many others that you are a stranger here." When I opened my mouth to reply, Cecil's hand came up. "It is wise policy, madam, not to share overmuch with me."
"What can I do for you, Sir William?" I felt like a schoolgirl sent to the principal's office.
"My reputation precedes me, but not my title. 'Vanitatis vanitatum, omnis vanitas,'" Cecil said drily. "I am called Lord Burghley now, Mistress Roydon. The queen is a generous mistress."
I swore silently. I'd never taken any interest in the dates when members of the aristocracy were elevated to even higher levels of rank and privilege. When I needed to know, I looked it up in the Dictionary of National Biography. Now I'd insulted Matthew's boss. I would atone by flattering him in Latin.
"'Honor virtutis praemium,'" I murmured, gathering my wits about me. Esteem is the reward of virtue. One of my neighbors at Oxford was a graduate of the Arnold School. He played rugby and celebrated New College victories by shouting this phrase at the top of his lungs in the Turf, to the delight of his teammates.
"Ah, the Shirley motto. Are you a member of that family?" Lord Burghley tented his fingers before him and looked at me with greater interest. "They are known for their propensity to wander."
"No," I said. "I'm a Bishop . . . not an actual bishop." Lord Burghley inclined his head in silent acknowledgment of my obvious statement. I felt an absurd desire to bare my soul to the man-that or run as far and fast in the opposite direction as possible.
"Her Majesty accepts a married clergy, but female bishops are, thanks be to God, outside the scope of her imagination."
"Yes. No. Is there something I can do for you, my lord?" I repeated, a deplorable note of desperation creeping into my tone. I gritted my teeth.
"I think not, Mistress Roydon. But perhaps I can do something for you. I advise you to return to Woodstock. Without delay."
"Why, my lord?" I felt a flicker of fear.
"Because it is winter and the queen is insufficiently occupied at present." Burghley looked at my left hand. "And you are married to Master Roydon. Her Majesty is generous, but she doesn't approve when one of her favorites marries without her permission."
"Matthew isn't the queen's favorite-he's her spy." I clapped my hand over my mouth, but it was too late to recall the words.
"Favorites and spies are not mutually exclusive-except where Walsingham was concerned. The queen found his strict morality maddening and his sour expression unendurable. But Her Majesty is fond of Matthew Roydon. Some would say dangerously so. And your husband has many secrets." Cecil hauled himself to his feet, using a staff for leverage. He groaned. "Go back to Woodstock, mistress. It is best for all concerned."
"I won't leave my husband." Elizabeth might eat courtiers for breakfast, as Matthew had warned, but she was not going to run me out of town. Not when I was finally getting settled, finding friends, and learning magic. And certainly not when Matthew dragged himself home every day looking as if he'd been pulled backward through a knothole, only to spend all night answering correspondence sent to him by the queen's informants, his father, and the Congregation.
"Tell Matthew that I called." Lord Burghley made his slow way to the door. There he met Françoise, who was carrying a large jug of wine and looking disgruntled. At the sight of me, her eyes widened. She was not pleased to find me home, entertaining, with my bodice undone. "Thank you for the conversation, Mistress Roydon. It was most illuminating."
The lord high treasurer of England crept down the stairs. He was too old to be traveling about in the late afternoon, alone, in January. I followed him to the landing, watching his progress with concern.
"Go with him, Françoise," I urged her, "and make sure Lord Burghley finds his own servants." They were probably at the Cardinal's Hat getting inebriated with Kit and Will, or waiting in the crush of coaches at the top of Water Lane. I didn't want to be the last person to see Queen Elizabeth's chief adviser alive.
"No need, no need," Burghley said over his shoulder. "I am an old man with a stick. The thieves will ignore me in favor of someone with an earring and a slashed doublet. The beggars I can beat off, if need be. And my men are not far from here. Remember my advice, mistress."
With that he disappeared into the dusk.
"Dieu." Françoise crossed herself, then forked her fingers against the evil eye for good measure. "He is an old soul. I do not like the way he looked at you. It is a good thing milord is not yet home. He would not have liked it either."
"William Cecil is old enough to be my grandfather, Françoise," I retorted, returning to the warmth of the parlor and, finally, loosening my laces. I groaned as the constriction lessened.
"Lord Burghley did not look at you as though he wanted to bed you." Françoise glanced pointedly at my bodice.
"No? How did he look at me, then?" I poured myself some wine and plopped down in my chair. The day was taking a decided turn for the worse.
"Like you were a lamb ready for slaughter and he was weighing the price you would bring."
"Who is threatening to eat Diana for dinner?" Matthew had arrived with the stealth of a cat and was taking off his gloves.
"Your visitor. You just missed him." I took a sip of wine. As soon as I swallowed, Matthew was there to lift it from my hands. I made an exasperated sound. "Can you wave or something to let me know you're about to move? It's disconcerting when you just appear before me like that."
"As you've divined that looking out the window is one of my tells, I feel honor bound to share that changing the subject is one of yours." Matthew took a sip of wine and set the cup on the table. He rubbed tiredly at his face. "What visitor?"
"William Cecil was waiting by the fire when I came home."
Matthew went eerily still.
"He's the scariest grandfatherly person I've ever met," I continued, reaching for the wine again. "Burghley may look like Father Christmas, with his gray hair and beard, but I wouldn't turn my back on him."
"That's very wise," Matthew said quietly. He regarded Françoise. "What did he want?"
She shrugged. "I do not know. He was here when I came home with madame's pork pie. Lord Burghley asked for wine. That daemon drank everything in the house earlier today. I went out for more."
Matthew disappeared. He returned at a more sedate pace, looking relieved. I shot to my feet. The attics-and all the secrets hidden there.
"No," Matthew interrupted. "Everything is exactly as I left it. Did William say why he was here?"
"Lord Burghley told me to tell you he called." I hesitated. "And he told me to leave the city."
Annie entered the room, along with a chattering Jack and a grinning Pierre, but after one look at Matthew's face, Pierre's smile dissolved. I took the linens from Annie.
"Why don't you take the children to the Cardinal's Hat, Françoise?" I said. "Pierre will go, too."
"Huzzah!" Jack shouted, delighted at the prospect of a night out. "Master Shakespeare is teaching me to juggle."
"So long as he doesn't try to improve your penmanship, I have no objection," I said, catching Jack's hat as he tossed it in the air. The last thing we needed was the boy adding forgery to his list of skills. "Go and have your supper. And try to remember what your handkerchief is for."
"I will," Jack said, wiping his nose with his sleeve.
"Why did Lord Burghley come all the way to the Blackfriars to see you?" I asked when we were alone.
"Because I received intelligence from Scotland today."
"What now?" I said, my throat closing. It was not the first time the Berwick witches had been discussed in my presence, but somehow Burghley's presence made it seem as though the evil was creeping over our threshold.
"King James continues to question the witches. William wanted to discuss what-if anything-the queen should do in response." He frowned at the change in my scent as the fear took hold. "You don't need to know what's happening in Scotland."
"Not knowing doesn't keep it from happening."
"No," Matthew said, his fingers gentle on my neck as he tried to rub the tension away. "Neither does knowing."
The next day I came home from Goody Alsop's carrying a small wooden spell box-a place to let my written spells incubate until they were ready for another witch to use. Finding a way to put my magic to words was the next step in my evolution as a weaver. Right now the box held only my weaver's cords. Marjorie didn't think my disguising spell was quite ready for other witches yet.
A wizard on Thames Street made the box from the limb from the rowan that the firedrake gave me the night I made my forspell. He'd carved a tree on its surface, the roots and branches weirdly intertwined so that you couldn't tell them apart. Not a single nail held the box together. Instead there were nearly invisible joints. The wizard was proud of his work, and I couldn't wait to show it to Matthew.
The Hart and Crown was oddly quiet. Neither the fire nor the candles in the parlor were lit. Matthew was in his study, alone. Three wine jugs stood on the table before him. Two of them were, presumably, empty. Matthew didn't normally drink so heavily.
"What's wrong?" He picked up a sheet of paper. Thick red wax clung to its folds. The seal was cracked across the middle. "We are called to court."
I sank into the chair opposite. "When?"
"Her Majesty has graciously permitted us to wait until tomorrow." Matthew snorted. "Her father was not half so forgiving. When Henry wanted people to attend him, he sent for them even if they were in their bed and a gale was blowing."
I had been eager to meet the queen of England-when I was back in Madison. After meeting the shrewdest man in the kingdom, I no longer had any desire to meet the canniest woman. "Must we go?" I asked, half hoping Matthew would dismiss the royal command.
"In her letter the queen took pains to remind me of her statute against conjurations, enchantments, and witchcrafts." Matthew tossed the paper onto the table. "It would seem Mr. Danforth wrote a letter to his bishop. Burghley buried the complaint, but it resurfaced." Matthew swore.
"Then why are we going to court?" I clutched at my spell box. The cords inside were slithering around, eager to help answer my question.
"Because if we are not in the audience chamber at Richmond Palace by two in the afternoon tomorrow, Elizabeth will arrest us both." Matthew's eyes looked like chips of sea glass. "It won't take long for the Congregation to learn the truth about us then."
The household was thrown into an uproar at our news. Their anticipation was shared by the neighborhood the next morning when the Countess of Pembroke arrived shortly after dawn with enough garments to outfit the parish. She traveled by river, having taken her barge to the Blackfriars-although the actual distance was no more than a few hundred feet. Her appearance on the Water Lane landing was treated as a public spectacle of enormous importance, and for a few moments a hush fell over our normally raucous street.
Mary looked serene and unperturbed when she finally stepped into the parlor, allowing Joan and a line of lesser servants to file in behind her.
"Henry tells me you are expected at court this afternoon. You have nothing suitable to wear." With an imperious finger, Mary directed still more of her crew in the direction of our bedchamber.
"I was going to wear the gown I was married in," I protested.
"But it is French!" Mary said, aghast. "You cannot wear that!"
Embroidered satins, luscious velvets, sparkling silks interwoven with real gold and silver thread, and piles of diaphanous material of unknown purpose passed by my nose.
"This is too much, Mary. Whatever are you thinking?" I said, narrowly avoiding collision with still one more servant.
"No one goes into battle without proper armor," Mary said with her characteristic blend of airiness and tartness. "And Her Majesty, may God preserve her, is a formidable opponent. You will require all the protection my wardrobe can afford."
Together we picked through the options. How we were going to make the necessary alterations so that Mary's clothes would fit me was a mystery, but I knew better than to inquire. I was Cinderella, and the birds of the forest and the fairies of the wood would be called upon if the Countess of Pembroke felt it necessary.
We finally settled on a black gown thickly embroidered with silver fl e u r s - d e - l i s and roses. It was a design from last year, Mary said, and lacked the large cartwheel-shaped skirts now in vogue. Elizabeth would be pleased by my frugal disregard for the whims of fashion.
"And silver and black are the queen's colors. That's why Walter is always wearing them," Mary explained, smoothing the puffed sleeves.
But my favorite garment by far was the white satin petticoat that would be visible at the front of the divided skirts. It was embroidered, too, with mainly flora and fauna, accompanied by bits of classical architecture, scientific instruments, and female personifications of the arts and sciences. I recognized the same hand at work as that of the genius who'd created Mary's shoes. I avoided touching the embroidery to make sure, not wanting Lady Alchemy to walk off the petticoat before I'd had the opportunity to wear it.
It took four women two hours to get me dressed. First I was laced into my clothes, which were padded and puffed to ridiculous proportions, with thick quilting and a wide farthingale that was just as unwieldy as I had imagined. My ruff was suitably large and ostentatious, though not, Mary assured me, as large as the queen's would be. Mary clipped an ostrich fan to my waist. It hung down like a pendulum and swayed when I walked. With its feathery plumes and ruby- and pearl-studded handle, the accessory was easily worth ten times what my mousetrap cost, and I was glad that it was literally attached to me at the hip.
The subject of jewelry proved controversial. Mary had her coffer with her and pulled out one priceless item after another. But I insisted on wearing Ysabeau's earrings rather than the ornate diamond drops that Mary suggested. They went surprisingly well with the rope of pearls Joan slung over my shoulder. To my horror, Mary dismembered the chain of broom blossoms that Philippe had given me for my wedding and pinned one of the floral links to the center of my bodice. She caught the pearls up with a red bow and tied it to the pin. After a long discussion, Mary and Françoise settled on a simple pearl choker to fill my open neckline. Annie affixed my gold arrow to my ruff with another jeweled pin, and Françoise dressed my hair so that it framed my face in a puffed-out heart shape. For the final touch, Mary settled a pearl-studded coif on the back of my head, covering the braided knots that Françoise piled there.
Matthew, who had been in an increasingly foul mood as the hour of doom approached, managed to smile and look suitably impressed.
"I feel like I'm in a stage costume," I said ruefully.
"You look lovely-formidably so," he assured me. He looked splendid, too, in his solid black velvet suit of clothes with tiny touches of white at the wrists and collar. And he was wearing my portrait miniature around his neck. The long chain was looped up on a button so that the moon faced outward and my image was close to his heart.
My first glimpse of Richmond Palace was the top of a creamy stone tower, the royal standard snapping in the breeze. More towers soon appeared, sparkling in the crisp winter air like those of a castle out of a fairy story. Then the vast sprawl of the palace complex came into view: the strange rectangular arcade to the southeast, the three-storied main building to the southwest, surrounded by a wide moat, and the walled orchard beyond. Behind the main building were still more towers and peaks, including a pair of buildings that reminded me of Eton College. An enormous crane rose up into the air beyond the orchard, and swarms of men unloaded boxes and parcels for the palace's kitchens and storerooms. Baynard's Castle, which had always seemed very grand to me, appeared in retrospect a slightly down-at-the-heels former royal residence.
The oarsmen directed the barge to a landing. Matthew ignored the stares and questions, preferring to let Pierre or Gallowglass respond for him. To the casual observer, Matthew looked slightly bored. But I was close enough to see him scanning the riverbank, alert and on guard.
I looked across the moat to the two-storied arcade. The ground floor's arches were open to the air, but the upper floor was glazed with leaded windows. Eager faces peered out, hoping to catch a glimpse of the new arrivals and obtain a morsel of gossip. Matthew quickly put his bulk between the barge and the curious courtiers, obscuring me from easy view.
Liveried servants, each one bearing a sword or a pike, led us through a simple guard chamber and into the main part of the palace. The warren of ground-floor rooms was as hectic and bustling as any modern office building, with servants and court officers rushing to meet requests and obey orders. Matthew turned to the right; our guards politely blocked his way.
"She'll not see you in private before you've been draped over tenterhooks in public," Gallowglass muttered under his breath. Matthew swore.
We obediently followed our escorts to a grand staircase. It was thronged with people, and the clash of human, floral, and herbal scents was dizzying. Everybody was wearing perfume in an effort to ward off unpleasant odors, but I had to wonder if the result was worse. When the crowd spotted Matthew, there were whispers as the sea of people parted. He was taller than most and gave off the same brutal air as most of the other male aristocrats I'd met. The difference was that Matthew really was lethal-and on some level the warmbloods recognized it.
After passing through a series of three antechambers, each filled to bursting with padded, scented, and jeweled courtiers of both sexes and all ages, we finally arrived at a closed door. There we waited. The whispers around us rose to murmurs. A man shared a joke, and his companions tittered. Matthew's jaw clenched.
"Why are we waiting?" I said, my voice pitched so that only Matthew and Gallowglass could hear.
"To amuse the queen-and to show the court that I am no more than a servant."
When at last we were admitted to the royal presence, I was surprised to find that this room, too, was full of people. "Private" was a relative term in the court of Elizabeth. I searched for the queen, but she was nowhere in sight. Fearing that we were going to have to wait again, my heart sank.
"Why is it that for every year I grow older, Matthew Roydon seems to look two years younger?" said a surprisingly jovial voice from the direction of the fireplace. The most lavishly dressed, heavily scented, and thickly painted creatures in the room turned slightly to study us. Their movement revealed Elizabeth, the queen bee seated at the center of the hive. My heart skipped a beat. Here was a legend brought to life.
"I see no great change in you, Your Majesty," Matthew said, inclining slightly at the waist. "'Semper eadem,' as the saying goes." The same words were painted in the banner under the royal crest that ornamented the fireplace. Always the same.
"Even my lord treasurer can manage a deeper bow than that, sir, and he suffers from a rheum." Black eyes glittered from a mask of powder and rouge. Beneath her sharply hooked nose, the queen compressed her thin lips into a hard line. "And I prefer a different motto these days: Video et taceo."
I see and am silent. We were in trouble.
Matthew seemed not to notice and straightened as though he were a prince of the realm and not the queen's spy. With his shoulders thrown back and his head erect, he was easily the tallest man in the room. There were only two people remotely close to him in height: Henry Percy, who was standing against the wall looking miserable, and a long-legged man of about the earl's age with a mop of curly hair and an insolent expression, who stood at the queen's elbow.
"Careful," Burghley murmured as he passed by Matthew, camouflaging his admonishment with regular thumps of his staff. "You called for me, Your Majesty?"
"Spirit and Shadow in the same place. Tell me, Raleigh, does that not violate some dark principle of philosophy?" the queen's companion drawled out. His friends pointed at Lord Burghley and Matthew and laughed.
"If you had gone to Oxford and not Cambridge, Essex, you would know the answer and be spared the ignominy of having to ask." Raleigh casually shifted his weight and placed his hand conveniently near the hilt of his sword.
"Now, Robin," the queen said with an indulgent pat on his elbow. "You know that I do not like it when others use my pet names. Lord Burghley and Master Roydon will forgive you for doing so this time."
"I take it the lady is your wife, Roydon." The Earl of Essex turned his brown eyes on me. "We did not know you were wed."
"Who is this 'we'?" the queen retorted, giving him a smack this time. "It is no business of yours, my Lord Essex."
"At least Matt isn't afraid to be seen around town with her." Walter stroked his chin. "You're recently married, too, my lord. Where is your wife on this fine winter's day?" Here we go, I thought as Walter and Essex jockeyed for position.
"Lady Essex is on Hart Street, in her mother's house, with the earl's newborn heir at her side," Matthew replied on Essex's behalf. "Congratulations, my lord. When I called on the countess, she told me he was to be named after you."
"Yes. Robert was baptized yesterday," Essex said stiffly. He looked a bit alarmed at the thought that Matthew had been around his wife and child.
"He was, my lord." Matthew gave the earl a truly terrifying smile. "Strange. I did not see you at the ceremony."
"Enough squabbling!" Elizabeth shouted, angry that the conversation was no longer under her control. She tapped her long fingers on the upholstered arm of her chair. "I gave neither of you permission to wed. You are both ungrateful, grasping wretches. Bring the girl to me."
Nervous, I smoothed my skirts and took Matthew's arm. The dozen steps between the queen and me seemed to stretch on to infinity. When at last I reached her side, Walter looked sharply at the floor. I sank into a curtsy and remained there.
"She has manners at least," Elizabeth conceded. "Raise her up."
When I met her eyes, I learned that the queen was extremely nearsighted. Even though I was no more than three feet from her, she squinted as though she couldn't make out my features.
"Hmph," Elizabeth pronounced when her inspection was through. "Her face is coarse."
"If you think so, then it is fortunate that you are not wed to her," Matthew said shortly.
Elizabeth peered at me some more. "There is ink on her fingers."
I hid the offending digits behind my borrowed fan. The stains from the oak-gall ink were impossible to remove.
"And what fortune am I paying you, Shadow, that your wife can afford such a fan?" Elizabeth's voice had turned petulant.
"If we are going to discuss Crown finances, perhaps the others might take their leave," Lord Burghley suggested.
"Oh, very well," Elizabeth said crossly. "You shall stay, William, and Walter, too."
"And me," Essex said.
"Not you, Robin. You must see to the banquet. I wish to be entertained this evening. I am tired of sermonizing and history lessons, as though I were a schoolgirl. No more tales of King John or adventures of a lovelorn shepherdess pining for her shepherd. I want Symons to tumble. If there must be a play, let it be the one with the necromancer and the brass head that divines the future." Elizabeth rapped her knuckles on the table. "'Time is, time was, time is past.' I do love that line."
Matthew and I exchanged looks.
"I believe the play is called Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, Your Majesty," a young woman whispered into her mistress's ear.
"That's the one, Bess. See to it, Robin, and you shall sit by me." The queen was quite an actress herself. She could go from furious to petulant to wheedling without missing a beat.
Somewhat mollified, the Earl of Essex withdrew, but not before shooting Walter a withering stare. Everyone flurried after him. Essex was now the most important person in their proximity, and, like moths to a flame, the other courtiers were eager to share his light. Only Henry seemed reluctant to depart, but he was given no choice. The door closed firmly behind them.
"Did you enjoy your visit to Dr. Dee, Mistress Roydon?" The queen's voice was sharp. There wasn't a cajoling note in it now. She was all business.
"We did, Your Majesty," Matthew replied.
"I know full well your wife can speak for herself, Master Roydon. Let her do so."
Matthew glowered but remained quiet.
"It was most enjoyable, Your Majesty." I had just spoken to Queen Elizabeth I. Pushing aside my disbelief, I continued. "I am a student of alchemy and interested in books and learning."
"I know what you are."
Danger flashed all around me, a firestorm of black threads snapping and crying.
"I am your servant, Your Majesty, like my husband." My eyes remained resolutely focused on the queen of England's slippers. Happily, they weren't particularly interesting and remained inanimate.
"I have courtiers and fools enough, Mistress Roydon. You will not earn a place among them with that remark." Her eyes glittered ominously. "Not all of my intelligencers report to your husband. Tell me, Shadow, what business did you have with Dr. Dee?"
"It was a private matter," Matthew said, keeping his temper with difficulty.
"There is no such thing-not in my kingdom." Elizabeth studied Matthew's face. "You told me not to trust my secrets to those whose allegiance you had not already tested for me," she continued quietly. "Surely my own loyalty is not in question."
"It was a private matter, between Dr. Dee and myself, madam," Matthew said sticking to his story.
"Very well, Master Roydon. Since you are determined to keep your secret, I will tell you my business with Dr. Dee and see if it loosens your tongue. I want Edward Kelley back in England."
"I believe he is Sir Edward now, Your Majesty," Burghley corrected her.
"Where did you hear that?" Elizabeth demanded.
"From me," Matthew said mildly. "It is, after all, my job to know these things. Why do you need Kelley?"
"He knows how to make the philosopher's stone. And I will not have it in Hapsburg hands."
"Is that what you're afraid of?" Matthew sounded relieved.
"I am afraid of dying and leaving my kingdom to be fought over like a scrap of meat between dogs from Spain and France and Scotland," Elizabeth said, rising and advancing on him. The closer she came, the greater their differences in size and strength appeared. She was such a small woman to have survived against impossible odds for so many years. "I am afraid of what will become of my people when I am gone. Every day I pray for God's help in saving England from certain disaster."
"Amen," Burghley intoned.
"Edward Kelley is not God's answer, I promise you that."
"Any ruler who possesses the philosopher's stone will have an inexhaustible supply of riches." Elizabeth's eyes glittered. "Had I more gold at my disposal, I could destroy the Spanish."
"And if wishes were thrushes, beggars would eat birds," Matthew replied.
"Mind your tongue, de Clermont," Burghley warned.
"Her Majesty is proposing to paddle in dangerous waters, my lord. It is my job to warn her of that as well." Matthew was carefully formal. "Edward Kelley is a daemon, as you know. His alchemical work lies perilously close to magic, as Walter can attest. The Congregation is desperate to keep Rudolf II's fascination for the occult from taking a dangerous turn as it did with King James."
"James had every right to arrest those witches!" Elizabeth said hotly. "Just as I have every right to claim the benefit should one of my subjects make the stone."
"Did you strike such a hard bargain with Walter when he went to the New World?" Matthew inquired. "Had he found gold in Virginia, would you have demanded it all be handed over to you?"
"I believe that's exactly what our arrangement stipulated," Walter said drily, adding a hasty, "though I would, of course, have been delighted for Her Majesty to have it."
"I knew you could not be trusted, Shadow. You are in England to serve me-yet you argue for this Congregation of yours as though their wishes were more important."
"I have the same desire that you do, Your Majesty: to save England from disaster. If you go the way of King James and start persecuting the daemons, witches, and wearhs among your subjects, you will suffer for it, and so will the realm."
"What do you propose I do instead?" Elizabeth asked.
"I propose we make an agreement-one not far different from the bargain you struck with Raleigh. I will see to it that Edward Kelley returns to England so that you can lock him in the Tower and force him to deliver up the philosopher's stone-if he can."
"And in return?" Elizabeth was her father's daughter, after all, and understood that nothing in this life was free.
"In return you will harbor as many of the Berwick witches as I can get out of Edinburgh until King James's madness has run its course."
"Absolutely not!" Burghley said. "Think, madam, what might happen to your relationship with our neighbors to the north if you were to invite scores of Scottish witches over the border!"
"There are not so many witches left in Scotland," Matthew said grimly, "since you refused my earlier pleas."
"I did think, Shadow, that one of your occupations while in England was to make sure your people did not meddle in our politics. What if these private machinations are found out? How will you explain your actions?" The queen scrutinized him.
"I will say that misery acquaints every man with strange bedfellows, Your Majesty."
Elizabeth made a soft sound of amusement. "That is doubly true for women," she said drily. "Very well. We are agreed. You will go to Prague and get Kelley. Mistress Roydon may attend upon me, here at court, to ensure your speedy return."
"My wife is not part of our bargain, and there is no need to send me to Bohemia in January. You are determined to have Kelley back. I will see to it that he is delivered."
"You are not king here!" Elizabeth jabbed at his chest with her finger. "You go where I send you, Master Roydon. If you do not, I will have you and your witch of a wife in the Tower for treason. And worse," she said, her eyes sparking.
Someone scratched at the door.
"Enter!" Elizabeth bellowed.
"The Countess of Pembroke requests an audience, Your Majesty," a guard said apologetically.
"God's teeth," the queen swore. "Am I never to know a moment's peace? Show her in."
Mary Sidney sailed into the room, her veils and ruffs billowing as she moved from the chilly antechamber to the overheated room the queen occupied. She dropped a graceful curtsy midway, floated further into the room, and dropped another perfect curtsy. "Your Majesty," she said, head bowed.
"What brings you to court, Lady Pembroke?"
"You once granted me a boon, Your Majesty-a guard against future need."
"Yes, yes," Elizabeth said testily. "What has your husband done now?"
"Nothing at all." Mary got to her feet. "I have come to ask for permission to send Mistress Roydon on an important errand."
"I cannot imagine why," Elizabeth retorted. "She seems neither useful nor resourceful."
"I have need of special glasses for my experiments that can only be acquired from Emperor Rudolf's workshops. My brother's wife-forgive me, for since Philip's death she is now remarried and the Countess of Essex- tells me that Master Roydon is being sent to Prague. Mistress Roydon will go with him, with your blessing, and fetch what I require."
"That vain, foolish boy! The Earl of Essex cannot resist sharing every scrap of intelligence he has with the world." Elizabeth whirled away in a flurry of silver and gold. "I'll have the popinjay's head for this!"
"You did promise me, Your Majesty, when my brother died defending your kingdom, that you would grant me a favor one day." Mary smiled serenely at Matthew and me.
"And you want to waste such a precious gift on these two?" Elizabeth looked skeptical.
"Once Matthew saved Philip's life. He is like a brother to me." Mary blinked at the queen with owlish innocence.
"You can be as smooth as ivory, Lady Pembroke. I wish we saw more of you at court." Elizabeth threw up her hands. "Very well. I will keep my word. But I want Edward Kelley in my presence by midsummer-and I don't want this bungled, or for all of Europe to know my business. Do you understand me, Master Roydon?"
"Yes, Your Majesty," Matthew said through gritted teeth.
"Get yourself to Prague, then. And take your wife with you, to please Lady Pembroke."
"Thank you, Majesty." Matthew looked rather alarmingly as if he wished to rip Elizabeth Tudor's bewigged head from her body.
"Out of my sight, all of you, before I change my mind." Elizabeth returned to her chair and slumped against its carved back.
Lord Burghley indicated with a jerk of his head that we were to follow the queen's instructions. But Matthew couldn't leave matters where they stood.
"A word of caution, Your Majesty. Do not place your trust in the Earl of Essex."
"You do not like him, Master Roydon. Nor does William or Walter. But he makes me feel young again." Elizabeth turned her black eyes on him. "Once you performed that service for me and reminded me of happier times. Now you have found another and I am abandoned."
"'My care is like my shadow in the sun / Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it, / Stands and lies by me, doth what I have done,'" Matthew said softly. "I am your Shadow, Majesty, and have no choice but to go where you lead."
"And I am tired," Elizabeth said, turning her head away, "and have no stomach for poetry. Leave me." "We're not going to Prague," Matthew said once we were back in Henry's barge and headed toward London. "We must go home."
"The queen will not leave you in peace just because you flee to Woodstock, Matthew," Mary said reasonably, burrowing into a fur blanket.
"He doesn't mean Woodstock, Mary," I explained. "Matthew means somewhere . . . farther."
"Ah." Mary's brow furrowed. "Oh." Her face went carefully blank.
"But we're so close to getting what we wanted," I said. "We know where the manuscript is, and it may answer all our questions."
"And it may be nonsense, just like the manuscript at Dr. Dee's house," Matthew said impatiently. "We'll get it another way."
But later Walter persuaded Matthew that the queen was serious and would have us both in the Tower if we refused her. When I told Goody Alsop, she was as opposed to Prague as Matthew was.
"You should be going to your own time, not traveling to far-off Prague. Even if you were to stay here, it will take weeks to ready a spell that might get you home. Magic has guiding rules and principles that you have yet to master, Diana. All you have now is a wayward firedrake, a glaem that is near to blinding, and a tendency to ask questions that have mischievous answers. You do not have enough knowledge of the craft to succeed with your plan."
"I will continue to study in Prague, I promise." I took her hands in mine. "Matthew made a bargain with the queen that might protect dozens of witches. We cannot be separated. It's too dangerous. I won't let him go to the emperor's court without me."
"No," she said with a sad smile. "Not while there is breath in your body. Very well. Go with your wearh. But know this, Diana Roydon: You are setting a new course. And I cannot foresee where it might lead."
"The ghost of Bridget Bishop told me 'There is no path forward that does not have him in it.' When I feel our lives spinning into the unknown, I take comfort from those words," I said, trying to comfort her. "So long as Matthew and I are together, Goody Alsop, our direction does not matter."
Three days later on the feast of St. Brigid, we set sail on our long journey to see the Holy Roman Emperor, find a treacherous English daemon, and, at long last, catch a glimpse of Ashmole 782.
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