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Dramatis Personae

Doctor John Dee—scholar and royal magician

Elizabeth 1stQueen of England

Gwilym—Sir Francis Walsingham's man

Doctor Alice Harding—London University history lecturer

Captain William Hawkins—sea dog

Lady Isabella—Spanish lady

Lilith—a demon (sort of)

Earl of Oxford—aristocrat

Master Christopher Packenham—gentleman adventurer

Master Simon Tunstall—secretary to Sir Francis Walsingham

Sir Francis Walsingham—statesman and spymaster to the Queen

And, of course, our heroine:

Lady Lucy Dennys—niece of Sir Francis Walsingham

Prologue, A Room in Queen Elizabeth's Palace

There too Lilith shall repose,
and find a place to rest.
There shall the owl nest
and lay and hatch and brood in its shadow.

—Isaiah 34: 14

The trouble with magic is that it consists of ninety-nine parts boredom and one-part undiluted, gut-twisting terror. At the moment, they were still in the boredom stage; the terror would come later. Simon Tunstall didn't mind boredom. He was a secretary, a "keeper of secrets" for Sir Francis Walsingham, who was one of the Queen's greatest statesmen. Boredom was in the job description. Secretaries attended meetings and made notes. They kept records and archived papers. Occasionally, when feeling particularly energetic and daring, they might index something. Simon had been considering reordering the documents in the large trunk behind his desk. These were the files marked "English families with sons training as Jesuit priests." Most of all secretaries kept their mouths shut.

All the shutters in the room were tightly closed to keep out the summer sun. A brazier burnt in each corner; the fumes contributed to the general fug. Simon's eyes stung and the smell of wood smoke and burning herbs was too acrid for comfort. Slim rays of light surreptitiously penetrated through cracks in the shutters to illuminate the rolling banks of incense in shafts of light.

Doctor John Dee meticulously traced a pentagram in chalk on the floor, using a rule so that the lines were straight and the angles perfect. The magician consulted a large volume that had been newly bound in cow's leather. Simon sneaked a look at the book's title, which was written in Dee's own hand across the spine. There was just one word—Necronomicon—the Book of the Dead.

The magician applied great caution to his movements so that his long brown robes did not smudge the chalk. "The unguents," he said.

Simon held the bowl of oily liquid out for Dee, who dipped the point of his athame, his conjuror's dagger, into the mixture. The liquid ran into the glyphs that were inscribed on the blade.

The magician marked each angle of the pentagram in unguent, while repeating a phrase in a language Simon had never heard before. It seemed to consist solely of consonants and tongue clicks.

"Is that the first language? The one spoken by Adam in the Garden of Eden?" Simon said, taking a wild guess.

Dee stopped what he was doing and looked in astonishment. "You have heard of the Tongue of Angels?"

Simon felt smug. The other thing about secretaries is that they read. People often forgot that.

"No. That language has not been heard since the Fall but one day, perhaps, if I can find the right skryer and skrying stone . . ." Dee's voice trailed off. "This language is also old but not as ancient as the Tongue of Angels. It comes from Africa. An Egyptian priest taught it to Plato, who recorded it for the wise. It is the Tongue of Summoning."

That word, summoning, was too explicit, too descriptive of their purpose. Simon could not suppress a shudder of apprehension. He felt an urge to talk as a way of normalising the situation.

"I suppose the spell will not work if the markings are flawed?"

"The spell will work," said Dee, flatly. "I translated it from the Necronomicon myself. The mad Arab's spells always work, God help us."

"Then why the exact precautions, Doctor Dee?" asked Simon, still confused.

"This issue is what happens after the demon is summoned. We are tearing a hole between the spheres, so upsetting the natural laws that govern their separation and concordance. The pentagram limits the size of the tear and constrains the demon from too deep a penetration of our sphere. I will take other precautions as well. An unchained demon in our world would be disastrous."

"How disastrous?" asked Simon, nervously.

Dee stared at him. "Abdul Alhazred, who wrote the Necronomicon, died in 778 AD. He was ripped to pieces in the market of Damascus by demons that only he could see."

Simon licked his lips nervously. "We risk our lives then, Doctor Dee?"

"Your life, Master Tunstall?" Dee seemed to find the comment amusing. "You risk much more than that, secretary. You risk your very soul."

Leaving Simon to reflect, Dee continued his preparations. When he had finished marking the angles, he placed candles at a precise distance from the pentagram and lit them. Then he carefully chalked symbols on the floor, glancing at the book every so often to refresh his memory.

Finally, Dee looked up at the third man in the room who sat patiently in an oak chair. If this man had any nerves or doubts then they were well hidden.

"We could stop now, Sir Francis, with no danger to ourselves or to others. Once I start the ceremony, there will be no turning back," Dee said, a trace of pleading entering his voice.

"You seem worried, old friend," said Walsingham.

"Worried! Why should I be worried? I am about to summon a demon, for which the punishment is death. I am to raise him in a Royal Palace with the Queen in residence, which is most certainly treason punishable by disembowelment. And just to affix my neck firmly to the block, I am to do all this witnessed by the Queen's spymaster." Dee wiped his dagger carefully on a rag before sheathing it.

"It is the last point that shall protect you from the axeman. Come, I cannot believe that the man who made the giant dung beetle of Cambridge fly is worried by a little demon." Sir Francis placed the tips of his fingers together in a characteristic pose.

"The beetle was a mere stage prop activated by a cunning contrivance of mirrors, ropes, and pulleys as you well know," said Dee, testily. "The University Proctors cleared me of all charges."

"I know that it cost Lord Burghley and me a great deal of money and influence to see that the Proctors reached the right decision," said Sir Francis. "Soothing the shattered nerves of the poor actor who played Trygaeus took an entire flagon of my best ale."

"The script said that Trygaeus was to fly up to Zeus' heavenly palace on the back of a flying scarab," said Dee. "I simply arranged it."

"And Cambridge University has not had the nerve to stage a play by Aristophanes since." Walsingham waved his hand. "Too much is at stake for any squeamishness on your part, my friend. The Queen herself demands that we proceed."

"So be it," said Dee. "If you are resolved. As you value your souls, stay in the places that I have allocated to you. I intend to use a dog as the vessel."

"Which demon do you intend to summon?" asked Walsingham.

"Choronzon," Dee replied. "Choronzon is a demon of knowledge who always answers truly. But be warned, Sir Francis, Choronzon is subtle and manipulative. The truths he speaks will be designed to mislead and confound, as he did to Eve in the Garden of Eden, in his manifestation as the Serpent."

Simon slowly released the breath he had not realised that he was holding. The Serpent in the Garden! Dee played with dangerous forces. He consoled himself with the thought that his master, Sir Francis Walsingham, was as clever, devious and ruthless as any demon.

Dee pulled a wooden cage into the centre of the room and lifted out a puppy. The magician soothed the animal, which looked at him trustingly and wagged its tail. Dee took fresh strips of meat from a basket, sprinkled white powder on them, and fed them to the dog by hand.

"Poison," Dee explained. "The demon will be removed from the earthly sphere by the death of the host, should my wards fail."

The animal gulped the meet down greedily then sniffed about for more. Dee replaced the beast in the cage and positioned it within the pentagram. He was very careful not to disturb the chalk lines. He then knelt down, extended his arms straight out parallel to the ground, and chanted in the same guttural language that he had used before.

Simon blinked. The herbal fog grew more acrid and Dee disappeared into it. His voice grew fainter and farther away and yet was all round the room, whispering from the oak-panelled walls.

Flames shot out of the braziers, illuminating the room and lending Dee's face a satanic cast. The dog froze stiff-legged and howled.

Dee clapped his hands. "Choronzon! I know your true name and by the power of that name I command you. You must obey. Speak truly."

"Now, Sir Francis. Now!" Dee said, urgently. "We only have a short time before the poison takes hold."

"Who is behind the plot to murder the Queen? When will they strike? Where?" Walsingham leaned forward, his eyes glittering in the light.

The dog twisted, its back arching into an impossible angle, and howled in pain. Dee cursed and threw some orange-coloured powder at the dog, which made it howl again.

"Answer, demon. I command you by the power of your true name, Choronzon. I invoke the pact as a child of Eve's line," Dee said.

Simon had assumed that the dog would sound like a dog. Instead, when it opened its mouth, a clear piping voice emerged.

"Will you stop doing that, it hurts?" the voice said, petulantly and in a distinctly feminine tone. Dee's head snapped up. It was clear that something was unexpected.

"Who threatens the Queen?" asked Walsingham.

"Queen. Female head of a state organised on monarchical lines. Could be anything from a dictatorial ruler to the head of a constitutional democracy."

The dog paused before adding, "That sort of Queen or did you mean the popular band?"

Dee threw more powder over the puppy, which screamed like a woman in childbirth.

"Stop, please stop. This biological structure can barely sustain me and is decaying fast."

"Tell me about the Papist plot against the Queen. From where does the threat come?" Walsingham refused to be diverted.

"The portals. The power to cross the Shadow Worlds threatens your whole species." The puppy lay down on its side, panting. Its tongue lolled out of its mouth and deposited spittle on the bottom of the cage.

"I don't understand," said Dee. "The dog is dying too quickly."

The door burst open and Lucy ran into the room.

"Stop her, Tunstall," Dee gasped out.

Simon reached for Lucy but he never had a realistic chance of grabbing the girl before she reached the pentagram. As she crossed the chalk, there was a flash of white light and a clap of thunder that flung the men across the room. A great wind sucked the shutters off the windows, flooding the room with sunlight.

Lucy lay facedown on the ground beside a very dead dog. In its last moments, the animal had twisted in muscle tetanus strong enough to break bones. Simon reached the girl first and turned her over, lifting her head and shoulders off the ground in his arms. She groaned slightly and her eyelids fluttered.

"Thank God, Sir Francis," said Simon. "Your niece yet lives."

Dee drew his dagger and advanced on the girl, weapon raised. "Kill her. Kill her now, while we still can."

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