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Winslow had never met Sir Walter Raleigh, but there was no mistaking him as he strode through the door. He was renowned for being extraordinarily tall—a full six feet—and handsome, with his wavy dark hair and exquisitely pointed beard. He was also a noted fashion plate even by the standards of Elizabeth's court, and while he now wore a cuirass in token of his active military status he managed to make it look like something for a courtly parade, especially with the splendid cloak that half-covered it. Winslow didn't know how much credence to give the story that he'd once spread a cloak like that over a mud puddle for the Queen to walk on. But be that as it might, it was easy to see why he had become a favorite of hers.

The man who accompanied him was nondescript by comparison—actually, most people were nondescript by comparison to Raleigh. He was of average height and build, plainly dressed, with a short beard and hair that was beginning to recede even though he looked to be only in his early forties. That hair was partially hidden by a bandage around his head, and Winslow's first thought was that he must have been wounded in the fighting against the Armada. But there was no blood in evidence; this was not a fresh wound.

Walsingham introduced Raleigh, and Winslow bowed as was proper. As he did so, he risked a surreptitious look at the exchange of glares that seemed to freeze the air of the room with the chill of a well-known animosity.

Walsingham and Raleigh were living proof that opposites did not always attract. Everything about the flamboyant courtier was an affront to the Puritan in Walsingham. Not that Raleigh was a mere playboy. He was a poet and friend to poets, and a founder of the "School of Night," devoted to the study of natural philosophy . . . including, some whispered, occult matters and the anatomy of stolen corpses. Walsingham wasn't narrow-minded in the way of those carping, arrogantly ignorant Puritan preachers who so often drove the Queen to exceed even her usual legendary capacity for profanity. Far from it: he was a patron of the theater (which most Puritans regarded as an antechamber of Hell) and an associate of John Dee. But the odor of atheism that clung stubbornly to the School of Night stank in his nostrils. And lately his distaste for Raleigh had acquired a very tangible basis.

Walsingham's greatest triumph in his self-assumed role as the Queen's watchdog had been the foiling of the Babington plot a year earlier. Hanging, drawing and quartering Anthony Babington and his equally dreamy co-conspirators had been secondary to the obtaining of conclusive evidence that Mary Stuart had been an accessory to their plot to assassinate Elizabeth. Ten years before, the Queen of Scots had fled to England to escape the judgment of that country's nobles for her complicity in the murder of her admittedly contemptible husband Darnley and the attempted coup of her lover Bothwell. Ever since, she had repaid her cousin Elizabeth's hospitality by compulsively intriguing against her, and serving as an all-too-willing focus for the discontent of Catholics who regarded her as the legitimate claimant to the English crown. As long as she lived and plotted, Walsingham had known Elizabeth could never sit securely on her throne. But Elizabeth—understandably reluctant to set a precedent for the execution of an anointed Queen—had temporized and vacillated until her "Moor," as she called the swarthy Walsingham, had provided her with Mary's blatantly treasonous correspondence with Babington. Even then, Elizabeth's inner conflicts had been enough to cast Walsingham out of favor after three strokes of the executioner's axe had sent Mary's head thudding to the scaffold at Fotheringay Castle.

The royal disfavor couldn't have come at a worse time for him. The death in the Netherlands of his son-in-law and close friend Sir Phillip Sidney had dealt a body-blow to his personal finances, which were as chronically unsettled as his health. (It was said that neither had ever fully recovered from his ambassadorship in Paris, when mobs of murderous Catholic fanatics had run amok on Saint Bartholomew's Day and it had been far from certain that diplomatic status could shield a Protestant from them.) He had counted on receiving at least part of Babington's forfeited estates from the Queen whose assassination he had prevented. Instead, she had given the lot to Raleigh.

Now Walsingham wore a carefully neutral expression as he resumed the introductions. "And, this," he said, indicating Raleigh's companion, "is Master John White of London."

"Master White!" Winslow exclaimed. "Of course I know of you. I've seen your marvelous paintings of the lands and peoples of America."

"Atlantis," John Dee corrected irritably. "Only the ignorant have fallen into the fad of naming the western continent after that Italian charlatan Amerigo Vespucci! I have conclusively identified it as the Atlantic island described by Plato."

"Didn't Atlantis sink?" Winslow inquired, all bland innocence.

For an instant, Dee seemed to expand as though gathering his forces for a crushing retort, and Walsingham smothered a chuckle. But then Raleigh intervened with an indulgent smile for his old associate in the School of Night. "Well, Dr. Dee, whatever we call the continent as a whole, I've named the province discovered by my expedition of four years ago 'Virginia,' after our beloved Virgin Queen. Master White was on that first expedition, and also the second one I dispatched the following year, as artist."

"Yes," said White, with a faraway look. "Nothing in my life can ever equal my first sight of that world, where all was new and untouched. I recorded everything: the plants, the animals, and the life of the Indians we encountered and befriended. But then . . ." His voice trailed off, and Winslow recalled what he had heard about the savagery and incompetence of Ralph Lane, military commander of the 1585 expedition, who had so antagonized the local Secotan Indians that the expedition had been left isolated in its fort on the island of Roanoke, grateful to be evacuated by Sir Francis Drake the following year. "Last year, when Sir Walter made me governor of the colony he dispatched to Virginia, I knew I couldn't undo the harm that had been done. But I hoped for a fresh start, for we were to settle further north, on the shores of the great bay the Indians call Chesapeake. But thanks to our treacherous pilot, Simon Fernandez, we were led into one difficulty after another, and finally left stranded on Roanoke Island, the last place we wanted to go. And then . . ." Once again White could not continue. He had, Winslow thought, the look of a man who had known too much sorrow and disappointment.

"Yes," Winslow prompted after a moment. "I heard stories—things went wrong, and you had to return to England for help. But weren't you supposed to return with a rescue expedition?"

"Oh, yes. Early this year I managed to obtain permission to try with two small ships. We departed in April. French pirates attacked us off Madeira. I received two wounds in the head, by sword and pike, from which I am still recovering." White gestured at his bandaged head. "At that, I suppose I should be grateful to God. The Frenchmen stole our cargo but spared those of us who had survived the fight, leaving us to limp back to England. By then, the Armada was expected and no ships could be spared for a second attempt. So the colonists still await rescue . . . including my daughter Eleanor Dare, and her daughter Virginia, the first English child born in that land."

"A sorry tale," nodded Walsingham. "Which, as it happens, is very pertinent to our discussion today. This is why you are here, Master White, in case you'd wondered."

"Actually, Mr. Secretary, I had," White acknowledged in his diffident way.

"Then let us proceed. Please be seated, everyone." The four of them pulled chairs up to the long table at whose head the Principal Secretary sat.

"I have," Walsingham began, "apprised Captain Winslow of what the rest of us already know. But to recapitulate: nothing in England can stop Spaniards now—"

"The men of Devon and Cornwall will fight them all the way to Land's End!" Raleigh interrupted indignantly. "We will make them pay in blood for every foot of English earth! If they take the Queen, it will only be because not a man of the West Country still lives who can lift a sword or draw a bow!"

Walsingham waited out the dramatics, then resumed as though they had never occurred. "My sources of information indicate that Phillip of Spain plans to bestow the English crown on his daughter Isabella. We must not deceive ourselves. We are facing another reign like that of Mary Tudor. Only this time it will be even worse, because the Gray Monks will now extend their reach into England."

Everyone, even Raleigh, was silenced by Walsingham's usual pitiless realism. They all remembered the bad times of Bloody Mary when the air of England had reeked with the charred flesh of hundreds of Protestants. And they had all heard stories of the things that happened to those who opposed or even inconvenienced the Order of Saint Antony in countries under the rule or influence of Spain. The Puritans rejected the traditional Catholic demonology as a vestige of paganism, but they insisted that the Gray Monks were not men, if only because the Bishop of Rome—the Antichrist, in their eyes—had declared that they were. And it was said that both Spain and the See of Rome were becoming more and more the instruments of those weird beings.

"And this time," Walsingham continued inexorably, "there will be no Protestant heir for the godly to pin their faith on, as we did on the Princess Elizabeth in the days of Bloody Mary. If Her Majesty dies—as she will, if the Gray Monks and their Spanish puppets capture her—then all hope is gone. She must be taken to a refuge beyond England. The only question is where."

When no response emerged from the miasma of depression in the room, Winslow spoke up. "Uh, surely not the States of the Netherlands, Mr. Secretary. Without the support of a Protestant England, they cannot hold out much longer, stubborn though they are."

"No, they cannot. Likewise, the Protestant party in Scotland will never keep control over young King James without our backing, especially with a Spanish army just over the border."

"All too true," agreed Raleigh. "She must go to one of the Protestant principalities of Germany."

"But how long can they endure?" inquired Walsingham. "Phillip of Spain will surely aid his Austrian Hapsburg relatives in stamping out the true religion in the Holy Roman Empire. The Gray Monks already operate freely there, as Dr. Dee can attest. He was fortunate to leave the Empire inside his whole skin."

"The Cantons of Switzerland, then! Or the Lutheran kingdoms of Denmark or Sweden."

"That, too, only postpones the inevitable. Phillip has made clear his intention of exterminating Protestantism throughout Europe. And he has correctly identified England as the chief obstacle to his plans. Now, with that obstacle gone . . ."

"Well, what do you have to offer us?" demanded Raleigh, exasperated. "You seem to have ruled out all possibilities."

"Not quite all," Walsingham demurred. "I will now ask Dr. Dee to address the meeting."

Dee, like many other polymaths, had used a lucrative profession to finance the not-so-lucrative studies that really interested him. In his case, the profession was that of astrologer to the rich and powerful. Success in that field required a convincing show of authority. He had accordingly developed a style of hieratic portentousness, which he now let flow in full force. But the sorcerer's words were, by his standards, matter-of-fact.

"While I was still able to travel and work freely in Krakow and Prague, I made it my business to study the Gray Monks. I could not penetrate into the deepest secrets of their origin and nature; they have made it a point to conceal these matters. But, at the cost of considerable toil and danger, I was able to learn one thing: their real reason for desiring a Spanish conquest of England."

"What?" Raleigh leaned forward with a kind of truculent incomprehension. "But Dr. Dee, we all know Phillip's motives. Our sea dogs have raided his colonies and treasure ships, and our money and arms have kept the Spaniards bleeding away into the open wound of the Dutch rebellion. And he's convinced himself that he has a claim to the English throne on his mother's side—some nonsense about forebears who married John of Gaunt two hundred years ago. For a long time, all that stopped him was the knowledge that if he unseated the Queen from her throne he would have had to put Mary Stuart on it. Every papist in Europe, from Pope Sixtus on down, would have demanded it. And her family connections were with the French royal house, which Phillip couldn't love any less if they were Protestant. But then he got a promise from her to disinherit her son James and support his claim. And now, with the Scots Queen dead—"

"Ahem!" Dee gave Raleigh the kind of look customarily bestowed by a schoolmaster on a boy who had made an obvious mistake in his Greek construes. "If you will recall, I referred not to Phillip's motives for conquering England, but to those of the Gray Monks for enabling him to do so."

"Well . . ." Raleigh had the baffled look of a man who though the answer to a question almost too obvious to put into words. "God's teeth, Doctor! They're papists, aren't they?"

"Are they, truly? I have reason to wonder about the genuineness of their Catholicism. I sometimes think they are silently laughing at all religion, while using it to manipulate humans. Be that as it may, I am quite certain that they don't care a fig for Phillip's political interests, much less his dynastic claims. They support him simply because he has the desire—and, with their help, the means—to destroy England."

"But why?" Winslow blurted. "You say they aren't even true papists. So why do they hate England so much?"

"I don't think they do. Indeed, I sense in them a void that holds neither love nor hate nor anything at all except a cold contempt for all besides themselves that lives. No, England is just in their way."

They all stared at the magus, except for Walsingham, who was hearing nothing new. Dee, who always relished being the center of attention, dropped his well-trained voice another octave.

"The hints that I have been able to gather together are maddeningly vague and obscure, as though they deal with matters that lie beyond mortal ken. But they all point in the same direction. There is even a clue in the saint for whom their profane order is named. All the Catholic world thinks Saint Antony of Padua was chosen because of his reputation as 'the hammer of the heretics,' and the Gray Monks have been content to let them think so. But there is a double meaning, for he is the patron saint of 'those looking for lost objects.' The Gray Monks are searching for something—seeking it avidly, almost desperately. I believe it has to do in some way with their origin, from which they entered our world."

"But Doctor," asked White reasonably, "if it's where they came from, then how can they not know its location?"

"I have no idea. But they now think they have learned, in general, where it is." Dee turned his hypnotic blue eyes on Raleigh. "It is in that region of Amer—I mean Atlantis where you, Sir Walter, have planted an English colony. Thus it is that we stand in their way."

"But," protested Raleigh, "I wasn't trying to thwart any deviltry of the Gray Monks when I dispatched my expeditions to Virginia! I sought to establish a base from which to raid the Spanish treasure fleets on their way from the Indies to Spain."

"Ah, but they don't know that. They can only regard us as a threat." Dee somewhat spoiled the effect he had created by lapsing into didacticism. "As well they might! My studies have established that England has a claim to those lands which far predates those of the Spanish and Portuguese, arising from King Arthur's conquest of Estotiland, a country which, as I have conclusively demonstrated, was located—" Walsingham gave a polite but firm cough, and Dee reeled himself in. "The point is, they must stop us English before we settle that coast and prevent them from carrying on their search. And the fact that we have colonists there now makes it urgent for them; we might find whatever it is they are looking for first."

"How would we know it if we did find it?" wondered John White.

"Who's to say?" Dee spread his hands theatrically. "But if it is as uncanny as I am coming to suspect it must be, then perhaps it will be something too extraordinary to be missed. And if we can destroy it, then perhaps we will cut off the Gray Monks' demonic power at its source. Or possibly we could take control of it, and bend that power to our own use."

"You've mentioned that last possibility before." Walsingham looked grave. "When you first raised it, I was troubled by its implications. Any traffic with the inhuman foulness of the Gray Monks must surely carry with it a risk to our souls."

"I admit the dangers," said Dee. "But if it is possible, have we any choice but to try?"

"Perhaps not. Indeed, we have few choices of any kind in this evil hour. If there is to be any hope at all for England and the true religion, the Queen must—"

"And what, exactly, is it that the Queen must do, my Moor?"

Winslow was sitting with his back to a side-door. It was from that direction that the sudden interruption, in tones of high-pitched female fury, came. So he could not see its source. All he saw was the men at the table getting to their feet with a haste that sent chairs toppling over, and then going to their knees—Raleigh and White practically falling, Walsingham and Dee lowering their aging joints a little more carefully. He could only follow suit. Once on his knees, he kept his eyes lowered and saw the hem of a voluminous skirt as its owner swept into the room.

"Well, Walsingham, you rank Puritan, what are you plotting behind my back?"

"I crave pardon for my unhappy choice of words, Your Majesty. But I seek only to secure your safety, and the rescue of the realm."

"Ha! More likely you seek the advancement of your fellow Puritans. Sweet Jesu, but they bore me with their unending demands for further reformation of the Church of England of which I am the supreme head on Earth! God's blood, isn't it already reformed enough?"

"Soon, Your Majesty, I fear it will no longer be reformed at all."

Winslow expected thunderbolts, but he heard only a snort which he could have sworn was half amused. "Oh, get up, all of you!" the Queen commanded in a voice that was merely imperious.

As Winslow rose, he saw the Queen hitch up her farthingale and settle into a chair with its back to the westward-facing window, with the blaze of sunset behind her head, so he could make out no details—only a fringe of pearls around hair that the setting sun turned ever redder than its dye. A pair of ladies-in-waiting moved into flanking positions as she surveyed the five men.

"Sir Walter, thick as thieves with Walsingham! Well, let no one say the days of miracles are over! And you, Dr. Dee—I might have known. But who are these other two schemers?"

"Master John White, gentleman of London, Your Majesty," answered Walsingham. "And Captain Thomas Winslow, merchant adventurer, only just arrived from London."

"London." The royal head with its ruddy nimbus turned in Winslow's direction. "So you were there when . . . ?"

"Yes, Your Majesty," he mumbled. "By God's mercy, I escaped ahead of the Spaniards, unlike so many others."

"Many, indeed." The head lowered, and when she spoke again it was to herself and to her memories. "Sweet Robin," she whispered.

Leicester, Winslow realized after an uncomprehending moment. And it came to him that she was seeing in her mind's eye the young Robert Dudley whose bold Gypsy charm still lived, for her, inside the fat, florid, wheezing earl Winslow himself had known. That insolent rogue would have won her youthful hand if any man could have. But she had never once been able to put out of her mind the headless corpse of her mother Anne Boleyn and its grim lesson in what could befall a woman who gave control of her fate to a man as all women had to do . . . all women besides herself.

Now her sweet Robin was dead, and her own youth was dead too, for she could no longer pretend that she was the girl who had loved him.

"Your Majesty," Walsingham said before the silence could stretch beyond endurance, "we must not deceive ourselves with false hopes. Such army as we could muster is dead or fled, and Captain Winslow has confirmed our worst suppositions about the fate of London. The men of the west and north will resist valiantly, I'm sure," he added hastily with a glance in Raleigh's direction. "But they cannot prevail. If you remain in England, it can only be to fall captive to the Spaniards . . . and therefore to the Gray Monks."

The Queen rose to her feet, and the last glare of the sunset outlined her entire body. "You would have me abandon my people to their fate?" she asked in a dangerously quiet voice.

"Your Majesty, there is no choice—"

"Bad enough that I let you persuade me not to go to Tilbury and speak to the troops there," she continued, overriding him. "God, how much I wanted to say to them! I wanted to tell them that that I was not afraid to come among twenty thousand armed men, despite the cautious counsel of such as you, Walsingham. I wanted to tell them that I knew I had nothing to fear, because I loved them and I know they loved me because they loved England and I am England. No: that they and I are England, and that we are joined in an inseparable bond. 'Let tyrants fear,' I wanted to say to them. I wanted to tell them . . . oh, how did I have it worked out in my mind? 'I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain or any prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm.' Or . . . well, something like that. I was still working on—" She came to a flabbergasted halt as the roomful of men fell to their knees again.

"Before God, madam," whispered Walsingham, "I regret that I did let you go to Tilbury! Only . . ." The realism that Elizabeth knew was indispensable to her even as it infuriated her reasserted itself, and Walsingham rose slowly back to his feet. "No, Your Majesty. I do not regret it. You would have given our nation something to cherish as part of its heritage—but there would have been no nation left to cherish it. You might have summoned up from the soul of England something that could have stood against Parma and his hired killers, but nothing could have stood against the foul and unnatural sorcery of the Gray Monks. And if you had died, England's last hope would have died with you. You must"—Walsingham unflinchingly used the forbidden word—"depart England, to Sir Walter's colony of Virginia, from whence Dr. Dee believes you may well be able to return in triumph to the liberation of your people. That is why Captain Winslow is present, for his ship will convey you there." Walsingham took on a crafty look. "My only concern is whether Your Majesty will be up to the hardships of the voyage."

"What?" Walsingham quailed—or seemed to quail—under the royal glare. "How dare you? I'm a year younger than you. And I can dance a galliard and ride a horse for miles while you can barely stand up without your joints creaking, or pass an hour without the flux sending you running lest it gush forth!"

"Your Majesty's unabated vigor is an inspiration to us all," Walsingham murmured.

The Queen advanced toward Winslow, and as she left the sunset-glare of the window he could finally see her face clearly: the face of a sharp-nosed, thin-lipped woman of fifty-five, caked in white makeup, with dark-brown eyes that speared his very soul. "So, Captain, do you think yourself up to the task Walsingham has set you of getting me across the ocean alive? Or am I too decrepit an old crone?"

Afterwards, Winslow could never clearly remember what went through his mind. But he looked up and met those dark-brown eyes, and spoke from his soul because he could not do otherwise. "No, madam. You are Gloriana, and you are ageless."

Silence slammed down on the room. After a moment, the Queen gave a short laugh. "God's toenails, Captain Winslow, but you're a pretty flatterer! Sir Walter, you had best have a care for your laurels in the courtier's art!"

"I protest before God, madam, that I do not flatter," Winslow heard himself say, in a voice that shook with emotion. "My upbringing has not been in any arts."

Elizabeth of England leaned closer, and her eyes penetrated to depths Winslow hadn't known he possessed. "Devil take me if you don't remind me of Drake, Captain Winslow." She turned to Walsingham. "I suppose Drake . . . ?"

"Yes, Your Majesty," Walsingham said somberly.

"Ah. Of course." The Queen said no more. There was little speech to be spared for grief, in this season of death. "And who is to accompany us, Walsingham? You, for one, I'm sure. If you fell into their hands, the Inquisition would devise something truly special."

"No doubt, Your Majesty. And Dr. Dee and Master White must also come, for it is by means of the former's learning and the latter's experience that we hope to find what we seek in Virginia."

"As you say. Lord Burghley is too old to endure a voyage even if he were here, and I know he has already departed for his estates. The Spaniards will find him there, of course, but they'll probably put him to work administering the country for them. They know he served my half-sister Mary as best he was able, because at bottom his concern all along has been for the right ordering of the realm." The Queen turned to Raleigh. "And you, Sir Walter?"

"My place is here, Your Majesty. As Vice Admiral of the West Country, I will endeavor to hold these counties against your return from across the seas."

"You are so certain of that return, Sir Walter?" A note of tenderness entered the Queen's voice.

"As certain as I am of the loyalty to you that is the only thing Mr. Secretary Walsingham and I have in common—indeed, probably the only thing that could have made us sit down together at the same table."

"You really must guard against these attacks of honesty, Sir Walter. They will be the ruin of you as a courtier." The Queen straightened up, and everyone in the room stood straighter. "So be it, then. I leave the preparations for the voyage in your hands, Captain." She started to turn away, then paused and took another look at Winslow. "By God, but you put me in mind of Drake! I hope I'm not mistaken. For the sake of the realm, I hope I'm not mistaken." She swept away. England departed.

"Well, Thomas," said Walsingham after a moment, "how soon can you be ready to sail?"

Winslow thought furiously. "Mr. Secretary, I know the Dons aren't far behind us. But we can't undertake this voyage without preparation. The stores—

"Letters in my name should get you what you need."

"All well and good. But no one in his right mind ventures across the Atlantic with a single ship—especially this late in the year. What if something befalls that one ship?"

"Set your mind at rest. I have arranged for a smaller vessel to accompany the Heron."

"But what about shallops? I remember from Master White's accounts that we'll be traversing shallow waters."

"That also has been attended to." Winslow wondered why he was even surprised, knowing the man with whom he was dealing. "I suggest you see to your ship. We sail with the morning tide."


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