Back | Next

Act 5, Queen Elizabeth's Apartment

The summoning had not gone well. Lucy lay on the floor unconscious. Dee drew his dagger and advanced on the girl, weapon raised. "Kill her. Kill her now, while we still can."

"What in the name of Hades do you think you are doing?" asked Walsingham, grabbing Dee by the arm.

Dee tried to shrug him off but Walsingham held his arm in an iron grip.

"There is no time to explain," said Dee. He looked at Simon. "Cut her throat, now. Please God, don't argue, just do it."

"Are you mad, Doctor?" asked Simon, shocked.

"You don't understand. She is already dead. Kill her body before something else claims it. Do it for her, do it for all of us." Dee pleaded with Simon.

Walsingham pulled his dagger out and held it against Dee's breast. "Dee, you will be silent or I will kill you now."

He flung the scholar across the room. Dee stumbled then stood, head bowed.

"I know what you fear, Dee, but I will not let your fear kill my niece. What happened in this room will remain solely between the three of us. Do you understand?"

"I understand," said Dee.

"I know I can rely on you, Simon," Walsingham said, almost with affection.

"On my life, Sir Francis." Simon met Walsingham's gaze.

Walsingham nodded. He picked Lucy up in his arms. "Come with me, the pair of you."

A maid put Lucy to bed, still unconscious. Walsingham sat at her bedside. The girl slept deeply, breathing steadily and slowly. She did not moan or turn but just lay there, auburn hair spread on the pillow. When Walsingham was exhausted, Simon persuaded him to his bed and took over. Every few minutes, he held a candle by the girl's mouth to confirm that she still lived.

Not long after dawn, Walsingham returned accompanied by Dee.

"Any change, Tunstall?" asked Walsingham.

"None, Sir Francis. She sleeps still but she breathes strongly," said Simon, hopefully.

"This is most unusual," Dee said, looking closely at Lucy.

"Unusual?" Sir Francis snarled, spinning Dee round. "Unusual? Nothing has gone right in this enterprise, Dee. I hold you responsible."

"I told him to lock the door," said Dee pointing at Simon. "How did Lady Dennys get into the room?"

"The door didn't have a lock," Simon protested.

"This is getting us nowhere," said Walsingham. "Stop squabbling the pair of you. Dee, what can we do?"

"I don't know, Sir Francis," said Dee. "This is unprecedented. If the girl was possessed, then I would have expected her to be already dead, or trying to tear our throats out."

The men stared at each other helplessly.

Lilith swam in chemical energy. The endless clicking of electrons, the making and breaking of chemical bonds, supplied the power that sustained her information functions. She occupied a structure like the dog's body only on a larger scale. The main differences were in the central nervous system. The primary node was vast, with layer after layer of complexity. She was in a human, a sentient being.

The body was organised into three levels. At the lowest level coexisted a bewildering array of molecular interactions. Lilith's stolen database from the previous Shadow World gave her the basic tools to log and track these. All chemistry originated in molecular biological databases that were located all over the body. These information stores held coded instructions to control all other biochemical pathways. Molecules zippered down the codes to synthesise chemical messengers that then bonded on to amplifiers, spreading their impact throughout the system.

Lilith was struck by the resemblance of these databases to the core subroutines that stabilised her own processes. The mechanism was different but the principle was essentially similar.

The most important structures in the body were charged lipid membranes. Ions flowed backwards and forwards setting off cascades of electrochemical energy. The membranes branched and divided, enclosing central databases in cells that were filled with ionised chemicals. The cells danced in biochemical energy, extending processes that kissed other cells to exchange ions and electric charges. Lilith identified more than two hundred different types.

The dancing cells were organised into blocks, <query search subroutine>, functional blocks of cells are called "organs." Some of these organs consisted of a single cell line while others were matrices of two or more cell types in various patterns.

The body produced an abundance of energy that Lilith could use to open a transdimensional portal. She could go home. There was only one snag. The disruptive flash of energy release would inflict terminal damage on the body that she inhabited. She knew what the Elder would say. That it was only a shadow thing of no importance. That it probably wouldn't exist without a member of the People to observe it. That it had such a short insignificant life that it should be proud to lose it at the disposal of the immortal People.

But the body was real, and it was not an it, but a she. Lilith had read Shakespeare's stories and she understood how much love and hate and life humans packed into the few days granted them. They should not be denied a single second of their allotted span. Lilith couldn't do it. She couldn't kill one of these wonderful biological creatures for such a selfish reason. She had not the right.

The woman was in shock. The brain functions were all on standby. Lilith cautiously explored and checked, taking each step very carefully. She compared each piece of new evidence with the material in her stolen database. She did not want a repeat of the disaster with the dog. Her host seemed in good condition but in quiescent mode.

It was not long before what Lilith knew exceeded the information she had filched. Even the twenty-first-century humans knew so little about themselves. These bodies were so powerful, so wonderful, and so chaotic. They were also amazingly inefficient. Lilith started tweaking and improving a bit at a time. She found a cell whose central code was corrupted, such that it was multiplying uncontrollably. Lilith killed it with constructed toxin.

The body's mitochondrial energy output systems could be so easily upgraded. The bone structure was inelegant and weak. A tiny adjustment to the molecular structure could increase the strength-to-weight ratio enormously. The muscles could be made to contract harder and faster. Small changes in the membranes could speed electrochemical impulses making the nervous system respond more quickly.

The problem, from Lilith's perspective, was what to do now. Her options were limited if she rejected taking the female's life. She could take over the body and hold the owning personality unconscious but what would Lilith do with a strange body in a strange world? A better alternative was to revive the female human and hide within her. Lilith could meld with her nervous system sufficiently to monitor everything the female experienced.

Lilith moved slowly and carefully. The host body was still on standby but Lilith now knew how to turn it on. Eventually, she pressed the switch.

A small voice said, "I'm thirsty."

The men turned and looked at the bed. Two large brown eyes gazed back at them.

"What are you all doing in my room?" Lucy looked puzzled.

Walsingham rushed over and sat beside her. He took her hand in his. "How do you feel, Lucy?"

"I'm thirsty, Uncle, and hungry. Why is everyone staring at me?" she said, nervously.

"But how do you feel, Lucy?" Walsingham persisted. "Are you all right?"

"Of course I am. Why wouldn't I be?" The girl pulled herself up in the bed and then, remembering her modesty, pulled up the blankets so the men could not see her nightdress.

"Shall I fetch a physician?" asked Walsingham

"God, no," said Lucy, looking frightened. Simon did not blame her. After King Harry destroyed the monasteries and their resident doctors, medicine in England was left in the hands of barber-surgeons, wisewomen, and physicians. And the most frightening of the lot were the physicians, whose every cure involved leeches.

"What do you remember?" asked Walsingham.

"I was in the garden." She paused thoughtfully. "I remember speaking to Master Tunstall and I saw you and Doctor Dee. Then I woke up here."

"Can you remember anything else?" asked Walsingham. "Try, Lucy."

"Not really. I think I dreamt. There was a bright flickering light." Lucy looked sharply at Walsingham.

"It's nothing, child, nothing. Tunstall will arrange breakfast for you. I want you to spend today resting. You fainted in the garden." Walsingham glared at the other men as if daring them to contradict him.

"Tell me, Lady Dennys," said Dee. "Can you hear voices?"

"Voices?" repeated Lucy, wide-eyed. "I can hear you."

"In your head girl. Voices in your head telling you what to do," Dee said, impatiently.

"What does he mean, Uncle? He's frightening me." Lucy clutched at Walsingham for reassurance.

"That's enough, Dee," said Walsingham. "The girl is fine. She was just stunned by the blast. She would be screaming in rage by now and trying to kill us if it had got her. You said so yourself."

Dee walked to the door and turned to face them. "I hope you are right, Sir Francis. You might be, nothing else in this business has proceeded as normal. However, if I am right, then I doubt if we could kill her now anyway."

Lucy followed this exchange with incomprehension.

Dee's conjuring dagger appeared as if by magic. Dee tossed it idly into the air and caught it by the tip. Dee drew his arm back and threw in a single fluid movement. There was a flicker of movement from Lucy too quick to follow. She held the blade of the knife between her thumb and forefinger, the point inches from her breast. A small trickle of blood ran down her hand where the blade had cut.

"You see," said Dee. "I suspect all discussion of what to do about her is now academic. I doubt we could kill her even if we tried."

There was a long silence during which Dee opened the door.

"Don't you want your knife back, Doctor Dee?" asked Lucy.

"You keep it, Lady Dennys," said Dee. "When you hear the voices, and I think you will, you might want to use it on yourself rather than your family."

With that Dee walked out.

Lucy said nothing but a single tear rolled down her cheek.

"Go and find a servant and arrange a meal for Lady Dennys, Tunstall," said Walsingham, speaking evenly as if nothing had happened.

He examined Lucy's hand carefully. Even a small cut could kill in a world without antibiotics. "It must have been just a nick, child. It has stopped bleeding already." He wiped the trickle of blood off. "Indeed, I cannot even find the cut."

"I feel well, Uncle. I think I would like to get up now," the girl said.

"Very well, child. I will leave you to your toilet."

Lucy was left alone holding the dagger. It was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. The blade was covered in astrological symbols. Lucy tilted it backwards and forwards so the light reflected hypnotically off the glyphs.

Lilith was in a panic of indecision. She had patched into Lucy's sensory input system as she woke the girl. The men's conversation was chilling. They must guess that she was inside Lucy and they ascribed evil motivation to her.

She knew enough about Lucy to influence her nervous system directly. She could phase with the sensory nerves and create false electrochemical waves. The girl would hear or see what Lilith wanted her to hear and see. The dangers were immense. She had no idea what the girl might do but Lilith had come to a decision. She had to make contact with Lucy. Lilith thought that Lucy would react badly to a voice in her head after Dee's warning. There was nothing else for it. Lucy would have to "see" her.

Lilith had Lucy see her open the door and walk into the room. Lilith chose the way she would look with great care. She selected a mixture of features that she liked the look of, from various races of human. It was a surprisingly difficult decision. She settled on north European skin with emerald Asian-shaped eyes and high cheekbones. Jet-black hair, cut short at the front and sides but curled long onto her neck at the back, completed the look. She decided to be petite, as humans found that unthreatening.

Now for the dress, and she had so many styles to choose from. Of course, she could keep changing it just like a human. She finally decided on a cream dress with red panels. It was high at the front and low on the ankle but slit up the side to allow her to walk, appear to walk, comfortably. She felt sexy. That was the word. She felt attractive to human males. Lilith was confused. Why should she want to appeal to human males? Something of Lucy's emotional responses must be leaking over along with the sensory input.

"Have you brought breakfast?" asked Lucy, to where Lilith appeared to stand. Then the girl took a closer look at the fine clothes. "I am sorry. I am half asleep. I thought you were a servant." The girl giggled in embarrassment. Clearly someone dressed like Lilith was a lady, albeit a rather strange one.

"No, Lucy, I need to talk to you. We have a problem," said Lilith.

"Do I know you?" Lucy was surprised by the informality.

"No, but I know you. I am Lilith. I am afraid I have played a foul trick on you. My excuse was that I was dying." Lilith sat on the side of the bed.

At that moment the door opened and Millie, her maid, entered with a tray.

"Breakfast, my lady, with Master Tunstall's compliments."

"Thank you," said Lucy. "Put it on the side." The maid bustled around. "It is a nice day, my lady. Master Tunstall says you have been unwell and will be inside all day but what do men know? If you are feeling better then, if I were you, I should take some air in the garden to clear away the foul vapours. I will help you dress when I come back for the tray."

"Thank you," said Lucy again, as the maid let herself out.

"Can you pass me the tray?" Lucy said to Lilith.

"I'm afraid not, Lucy."

"No, you can't touch anything, can you? The maid never once looked at you. She couldn't see you could she?"

"No, Lucy. Only you can see me."

The girl nodded. "What are you, a ghost? In those clothes you must be a spirit from a faraway country. Why am I not more frightened?" The girl frowned, "Mayhap this is all a dream, or I am bewitched."

Lilith's subroutine interpreted. A <ghost> was the insubstantial remains of a dead human.

"I am not a ghost Lucy. I am alive but I am from far away. You are not dreaming or bewitched. You are looking at a portrait that only you can see. I am really in your head. You are calm because I am deliberately damping panic reactions in your body." Lilith tried to put the situation into terms that would suit Lucy's world picture.

"Sweet Jesus. This is what Dee meant. I have something inside my head. Something that will make me a monster." The girl's hand curved around the knife.

"Lucy, stop. Dee was wrong. You are not a monster. I don't want you to kill anything. I am not in favour of killing," Lilith said, primly. "At least, not of unnecessary killing."

Honesty forced her to add the qualifier at the end. The People were invariably honest. Their physical structure made it difficult to be otherwise.

"No killing?" asked the girl.

"Not into killing," said Lilith, firmly.

Lilith ran through the events of the last few days with Lucy. The girl bolted down an enormous breakfast while listening intently. Higher energy output required a higher calorific input, noted Lilith. She should have thought of that. Oh well, Lucy would never get fat.

The explanation took much longer than expected because Lucy's and Lilith's concept of how the universe was put together differed in several important areas. Eventually, the girl translated Lilith's story into terms that were familiar. She sat up on the bed and hugged her knees.

"So, Doctor Dee was attempting a spell to summon a demon for my uncle?"

"Yes, Lucy. He wanted information about an attempt on your Queen's life."

"Someone tried to kill Uncle earlier," said Lucy.

"Really? That is interesting," said Lilith, thoughtfully.

"So something went wrong and he got the wrong demon. You are from a far country in the Other World and, unlike our local demons, you are not evil."

"No more than you humans," said Lilith. She had given up trying to explain to Lucy that she was not a demon. Maybe demon was the best word Lucy had to describe her.

"Oh dear," said Lucy. "I have met some vile humans. Uncle has tried to marry me to some of them. And I am stuck with you in my head because it would kill me if you left?"

"Yes, Lucy," Lilith said, patiently.

"I am not sure I like that," said the girl

"No, Lucy, I am sorry. I was dying and had nowhere else to go. I have made a few improvements to your body as rent, so to speak."

"What kind of improvements?" asked Lucy, suspiciously.

"Lucy, I have been reviewing your people's medical practices from my records. As long as I am in here with you, promise me you will avoid physicians."

"Do you think me mad, demon? Of course I will avoid physicians."

"But I digress, I think you will find that my improvements make your body work better."

"I noticed. Did you see Simon's face when I caught that knife?" Lucy said, mischievously.

The two young women dissolved into helpless giggles. In Lucy's case, the reaction had more to do with hysteria than humour.

The maid came in for the tray to find Lucy in fits of laughter. Lilith turned off her image to avoid confusing Lucy. It would not do for word to get out that Lady Dennys talked to ghosts.

"There you are, my dear. Nothing like a good meal to restore your humour."

"Thank you. I think I will take a turn in the garden. After you have dressed me, would you ask Master Tunstall if he would like to be my escort?"

"Of course I will, ma'am," said the maid.

'Are you still there, even when I cannot see you?' thought Lucy.

'I am always with you,' thought Lilith. 'Just think clearly at me and I will hear you.'

'I was afraid of that,' thought Lucy.

"Just let me straighten your hair. What a beauty you are. Every eye in the court will be on you," said the maid.

Simon was working at a desk when there was a knock on the door and the maid came in and curtsied. "The Lady Dennys sends her compliments and bids you attend her in the rose garden."

"What, Lu— the Lady Dennis is out of bed? I will go to her at once."

The maid gave him a knowing look as he dashed out. Simon chose to ignore the impertinent wench. She showed no particular sign of awe in the presence of the young secretary. He did not complain, as he strongly suspected that it would be his dignity that would suffer most in any altercation.

Simon found Lucy standing over a bush of white roses. Roses had a special significance for the English. This was especially true for the Tudor monarchs, who had secured power by uniting the white rose of York with the red rose of Lancaster. The people of England had looked to the Welsh Tudors to end the disastrous English dynastic struggles still popularly known as the Wars of the Roses. Elizabeth was the third great Tudor monarch, after her father Henry VIII and grandfather Henry VII. Memory of the short rules of her puritan brother, Edward VI, and Catholic sister, Mary, were already fading from the public mind. And no one talked of poor doomed Lady Jane Gray, the first Queen of England in her own right, who reigned for but nine days.

Nonsuch had been built as a Tudor Royal Palace so the roses in the garden alternated red and white.

Lucy sniffed the strong scent. "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. That's what the poets say. Do you agree, Master Tunstall, or do you think that a rose would not smell to us like a rose without the blood and lives that they have consumed?"

Simon offered the girl his arm and they strolled down the aisles of flowers. "I can't say I have given it much thought, Lady Dennys. I am afraid I live in a rather dry world of reports and filing systems. I have not considered poetry since my studies at Cambridge and I fear I was a poor master of words."

"And beauty, Master Tunstall," said Lucy. "Do you never consider beauty?"

Simon looked at her.

"Oh yes, Lady Dennys," he said. "I often consider beauty."

Every adult in England wore hats of a style that befitted their station. Only one social group was allowed licence to ignore this social convention: young unmarried women. Flowing tresses were the crowning glory of English girls. The strong breeze lifted Lucy's auburn hair and tossed it playfully. He had thought that she had a small beauty mark on her left cheek but, oddly, there was no sign of it now.

"Uncle says the rose is the perfect symbol of English monarchy. It projects an image of beautiful and sweet-scented flowers into the light of day but its stem is guarded by sharp thorns."

"And its roots are fertilised by dirt and decay," said Simon, finishing the quote. He smiled down at the girl. "Sir Francis has oft made the same observation to me."

The couple turned into the lanes of bushes. An area of the garden at Nonsuch was laid out in corridors of high-trimmed bushes, which formed the walls of long galleries lined with flowers. Openings led off to enclosed gardens that were like rooms of green. Each had some central feature. Some had a statue, others a central flower display, a small fish pool, or even, in one case, a small theatre stage. Strategically located benches offered succour to the weary. The idea was that a strolling lady and gentleman would turn a corner to be delighted by a novel space where they could have privacy. Such gardens were popularly the haunt of lovers and many a kiss was stolen in their shaded nooks and crannies.

Lucy and Simon entered such an enclosed garden, containing a lawn and five plum trees. In season, lovers could select from their laden branches. Simon steered Lucy towards a wooden bench at the rear. He was concerned that she should not walk too far and suffer a relapse. Honesty forced him to admit another motive. Some little time sitting with Lucy was as pleasant a way to spend the day as he could envisage.

The couple passed a compost heap of newly cut grass that the gardeners had piled in one corner to rot down. Lucy glanced over at the steaming pile and stiffened.

"Master Tunstall, I think you should look more closely at the compost," she said.

What on earth is she up to now, thought Simon, but he humoured her. He took a stick and poked into the loosely piled waste. "It's nothing, Lady Dennys. Just some gardeners rubbish heap," he said, patiently.

The stick glanced off something hard. Simon scooped away the cuttings.

"Oh!" Lucy exclaimed, her left hand covering her mouth in a characteristic gesture.

A naked foot projected out of the compost heap.

"You, man, yes, you," Simon called to a passing gardener. "Find a steward and tell him to fetch Sir Francis Walsingham. Now, man, as fast as you can."

"Stay with me, Lady Dennys. Come sit over here on the bench. I don't want you in the gardens without an escort."

"It was murder then, Master Tunstall," she said.

"I fear so, Lady Dennys. The men were stabbed." Simon smiled reassuringly at her. "Nothing to worry about though."

"You think the assassins are still here, sir?" she asked.

"Very unlikely. I am sure they are long gone." But he drew his sword and attempted a martial pose over the girl.

They had not so long to wait before Walsingham arrived, accompanied by a steward.

"There, Sir Francis, in the compost are two fresh bodies," said Simon.

Walsingham squatted down and closely examined the corpses.

"The blood is dry, Tunstall, but rigor mortis has not yet set in. This happened very recently." He turned to the steward. "You, sir, come here."

The steward was a portly man who clearly enjoyed the good life. "Me, Sir Francis?"

"Yes, you. Tell me if you recognise either of these men."

The steward reluctantly bent over the first corpse and shook his head. The second corpse was lying facedown. Walsingham seized it by the hair and pulled the head back to reveal the face. The man's throat had been deeply cut. The steward took one look and retched violently.

"Well, man?" asked Sir Francis, impatiently.

"It's my cousin's son," said the steward, shakily.

"But what was he doing here?" Walsingham grabbed the steward by the shirt.

"On my life, I don't know, sir," said the steward in terror.

Walsingham released the man and smoothed down his shirt. "Fear not, good steward. No blame attaches to you. But I need to know what happened. Can you think of anything?"

The steward gazed at Walsingham uncomprehendingly. Simon knew that the spymaster must be seething with impatience but Walsingham had carried out many interrogations and knew that a servant must be cajoled rather than threatened, or he would simply clam up.

"Come, why was this man at the Palace?"

The steward looked relieved to have a straightforward question that he could answer.

"If it please you, sir, he was one of the Queen's guards."

"Sweet Jesus and all the saints," said Walsingham. "Queen's guards murdered and their weapons and armour missing. Come on, Tunstall!"

Walsingham leapt up and made for the Palace at the run with Simon close behind. Both men forgot Lucy in their urgency.

When they reached the Palace, Walsingham made for a lady-in-waiting who was leaving as they entered.

"Where is the Queen?" Walsingham demanded.

"Why, in her chambers," said the woman.

Walsingham and Simon ran up the corridor, drawing swords.

"But Sir Francis, you can't go in there," she shouted after him.

There should have been two guards at the entrance to the Queen's private chambers but the corridor was empty. Walsingham threw open the door into the Queen's bedchamber. Her Majesty stood in front of the bed in her petticoat. Frightened ladies-in-waiting huddled behind her. Two men, dressed as court guards, menaced the Queen with halberds.

The Queen was at their mercy but they hesitated in front of her imperious stare. Equipped only with a petticoat, she intimidated two heavily armed men. Not for nothing was she known as Gloriana. The Pope himself was quoted as saying that the Virgin Queen of England was "magnificent, only 'tis a pity she's not a Christian."

Walsingham's arrival broke the spell. One guard turned to face the intruders while the other advanced on the Queen. The halberd outreached swords so the guard easily held them off. The second guard raised his weapon to deal the Queen a killing blow.

Lucy ran after her uncle. Lilith noted with satisfaction that she had no difficulty keeping up with the men. The improvements that Lilith had carried out to the girl's body were proving efficient. Lucy was not even out of breath. The girl ran into the room and halted suddenly behind where the men fought. Lilith detected massive emotional response, including fear.

'What's wrong, Lucy? Why are you so frightened?' Lilith asked.

'That man, he's going to kill the Queen,' Lucy thought.

Lilith picked up absolute horror in the girl's thoughts. Lucy was clearly deeply upset but she did not seem to know what to do. She had Dee's athame concealed in her dress but the girl clearly did not think of it as a weapon. Lilith had files about the use of knives in her stolen database. She knew what to do. Lilith calculated trajectories and muscle tension carefully and then took over Lucy's nervous system, shutting down the girl's consciousness.

Something metallic flashed between the three fighting men. It struck the guard menacing the Queen in the back of his neck, with an audible thud. The assassin went down as if poleaxed.

The remaining guard lost concentration and glanced over his shoulder, undecided whether to continue to defend himself or to attack the Queen. Walsingham solved the problem for him, by taking him neatly through the throat while he was distracted.

Simon turned to identify their rescuer and saw Lucy in the doorway looking confused.

The girl quailed as several pairs of eyes stared at her.

"You threw the knife, Lucy?" Walsingham said, astonished.

The captain of the guard led a squad of his men in, at the double. "Sir Francis, what are you doing with a drawn sword in the Queen's presence?"

"Your job, I think captain," said Walsingham. He sheathed his weapon and motioned for Simon to do the same.

"You cut it a little fine this time, Sir Francis," said Elizabeth, coolly. "There is blood all over our floor. Methinks, we would prefer that you execute vile traitors somewhere other than our bedchamber."

"I apologise, Your Majesty," said Walsingham dropping to one knee. "I have been extremely stupid."

"Well, well, Sir Francis. No harm done—except to the floor," she said, waving a hand airily.

The captain made a show of looking officious. "This one is dead," he said, examining Sir Francis's victim.

The other traitor made a gurgling sound. He lay facedown and the hilt of a dagger stood out from the back of his neck. The weapon had struck so hard that it had punched through a leather neck guard, deep into the tissue beneath. The captain tried to pull out the knife but the tip was jammed in bone. Eventually, he removed it by putting his boot on the back of the man's neck and pulling with both hands. The traitor groaned and died, depositing a fresh flow of blood on the polished wood.

Elizabeth sighed theatrically. "Lord Lumley will never invite us back at this rate."

"Whose weapon is this?" asked the guard captain, holding out the dagger.

"Mine," a small voice said. "Doctor Dee gave it me."

Lucy stepped forward and retrieved her knife.

"Yours, girl?" said the guard captain, shocked. "You threw it? Are you deranged?"

"Mad is she?" The Queen's voice cut through the conversation. "Mayhap, we should have her bite some of our other subjects. Possibly they might serve their monarch half as well," she snarled.

"Yes, Your Majesty," said the captain, falling to one knee.

"Come here girl," commanded the Queen.

Lucy approached and curtsied deeply. Elizabeth raised the girl up and took her face in one hand, turning her head from side to side.

"A rare beauty, as I said earlier, Sir Francis."

"Yes, Your Majesty," said Walsingham.

The Queen stroked Lucy's hair. "Do you not think auburn a very pretty colour, Sir Francis?"

"Indeed I do, ma'am. 'Tis the noblest hair colour," said Walsingham.

The Queen's own hair had a distinctly reddish tinge, although red was not a word anyone would have used in her presence. Tavern girls were redheads, queens were auburn.

"Here, child, wear this as a token of your Queen's appreciation. You have served us well this day."

Elizabeth pulled a ring of her own finger and slipped it on Lucy's right hand.

"Now leave us, all of you."

Everyone, except the ladies-in-waiting, filed backwards towards the door. The Queen had one final shot in her locker.

"Captain," she said, in that deceptively purring tone she used when she was at her most dangerous.

The man sprang to attention and gulped.

"Instead of spreading idle tittle tattle about our loyal subjects—" She smiled indulgently at Lucy at this point. "We suggest you spend your time finding a good explanation for how you failed in your duty so egregiously that two traitors dressed as your guards ended up in our bedchamber."

"Yes, Your Majesty," said a very unhappy man.

Lucy ran down the corridor in front of the men.

"Tunstall, give her a little time to have a cry and then go after her and make sure she's all right," said Walsingham. "I have business to attend to. Someone smuggled those assassins into the Palace. I want a name."

Simon watched Lucy slip out into the garden.

Lilith started to realise that all was not well. Lucy ran through the grounds into a quiet secluded garden containing a lichen-covered statue of Pan. Her observations of the girl's physiology suggested that Lucy was incandescent with fury.

"Lilith, Lilith, where are you? Come out where I can see you," Lucy said.

Lilith fed fake images along Lucy's optic nerves and fake sounds into Lucy's ears. She was careful to devote considerable processing power to her body-language subroutines. It was a very contrite, subdued demon that materialised in front of the girl.

"You took control of my body. I don't even remember what you did but you clearly killed someone. So it was all lies, you really are a monster."

"No, Lucy, no. I didn't want to kill anyone. I only tried to protect your uncle and your Queen."

"And why should I believe a demon?" asked the girl, scornfully.

She pulled the bloodstained knife out from her skirts and held the blade across her own throat.

"Maybe Dee was right. Mayhap, I should end this now. What will you do to stop me, demon? Take control of my body again? And how long do you think you can imitate a human being before you are found out?"

"I am so sorry, Lucy. I am sorry the man died but he was an assassin. I don't understand what I have done that is so wrong."

"You will never, ever take control of my body like that again. Do you understand?"

"I will never do it again if it upsets you so. I was only trying to protect you. I don't understand," said Lilith.

Lucy calmed down. "You really don't understand, do you, Lilith, you clever, clever fool? Let me explain. You don't know how to behave around people. They will think me possessed and there is a penalty for people possessed by demons."

A vision came into the girl's mind that was so strong that it leaked across to Lilith. Lucy tied to a stake, twisted in screaming agony while the fire roasted the flesh from her legs.

Lilith fell to her knees in front of the girl. "I didn't understand. I will never override your consciousness again. I promise, on my honour."

Simon hurried after Lucy. He stayed at a distance, keeping just close enough to follow her path through the complexities of the garden. He rounded a hedge and an empty vista opened onto a meadow. She was gone. Methodically, he retraced his steps, checking each of the hedge-secluded "rooms" that led off the path.

Lucy was in the third one he visited, holding a dagger at her own throat.

"Lucy, no!" He threw himself at the girl and grabbed her wrist.

"Master Tunstall. What are you doing?" The girl easily disengaged her wrist, showing more strength than Simon imagined she could possess.

He gripped her tightly by the shoulders and this time she didn't resist. "Sweet Jesus, Lucy, what were you thinking? This is all about Dee, isn't it, Dee and his stupid opinions?"

"It's all right, Master Tunstall. You can let me go now."

"No, it's not all right. I am taking you to your uncle. You will come with me."

Simon held her tightly by the hand and led her back to the main house. Lucy followed meekly.

'You don't have to go with him if you don't want to,' thought Lilith. 'He is not physically stronger than you.'

'That's just what I meant, Lilith. You don't know how to behave. A pulling match would be unladylike, whoever won. When men are in this mood you just have to humour them. No, I will follow him like a good little girl. But mark me well, he will pay for treating me thus.'

"It's a pretty little chapel," said Walsingham. "I understand old King Harry himself designed it. I wonder if he ever saw the completed building before he died?"

"The bishop is taking his time," said Simon.

"One cannot hurry the church," said Walsingham, dryly. "They deal with eternity."

"Have you had any success in locating the traitor who smuggled assassins into the Palace?" asked Simon.

"A steward has been found with a stab wound to the heart," said Walsingham.

"So he let the assassins in and then they silenced him to protect their identity?"

Walsingham shrugged. "Possibly, or mayhap I am supposed to think that and the steward was, in fact, an innocent victim. I suspect the real traitor is still out there. I want that man, Tunstall. I want him before he can hatch a new plot."

The chapel door swung open and Lucy emerged, followed by a rotund man in a bishop's finery.

"All is well, my lord?" asked Walsingham.

"Indeed, very fair," said the bishop. "Lady Dennys and I have taken mass and I have blessed her. She has proclaimed the creed and the Lord's Prayer. A delightful girl."

Lucy had her most angelic expression on.

"What in Heaven gave you the idea that there might be a problem?" asked the bishop.

"Nothing really," said Walsingham. "It's just that Doctor Dee."

"Dee!" hooted the Bishop, interrupting the spymaster. "That mountebank conjuror? Faith, Sir Francis, I would insist on sending my curate out for a second opinion if Dee told me it was raining. Worry not about the Dees of this world. The Church finds no fault in your niece."

The relief on Sir Francis's face was obvious. "Thank you, my lord. You have put my mind at rest. Is there any small service that I can perform for the Church?"

The Bishop took Walsingham by the arm and led him away. "By strange chance, Sir Francis, there is a little matter that I would trouble you with."

Simon and Lucy watched them go.

"I have a favour to ask you," Lucy said, touching Simon lightly on the arm. "Come with me."

Simon followed her back into the chapel and up to the altar. The gloom and cool of heavy stone replaced the light and warmth of the day.

"I believe you have some small affection for me, Master Tunstall," she said.

"I have great affection for all my master's household, Lady Dennys."

The girl nodded.

"Place your hand on the Bible," she said. "I fear I will be done to death by slanderous tongues. I want you to kill me first if they try to burn me. Swear it on your very soul."

"Lady Dennys, Lucy, I cannot. You wear the Queen's ring now. No one would dare accuse you."

Simon lifted Lucy's hand. The gold ring sat loosely on her narrow finger. The letters ER, Elizabeth Regina, stood proud. The Tudors still followed the old medieval tradition of giving a ring from their own hand to a subject they wished to honour. A person rewarded in this way was immune from political prosecution, since to accuse the subject was to challenge the monarch.

"Swear it, as you value your soul. Do it for me, Simon."

"On my soul, I swear that I will kill you before I let you burn." He snatched his hand off the Bible as if it was red-hot and staggered out of the chapel like a man who had taken a wound.

'That was cruel, Lucy. You realise that he loves you,' thought Lilith.

Back | Next