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"Now, Boatswain," said Winslow in a voice that sounded almost as harried as he felt, "you must understand that we are going to have the Queen herself aboard, and two of her ladies-in-waiting—Mr. Secretary Walsingham managed to persuade her that we could carry no more than that. You must understand that these are not . . . ah, they're not the sort of women with whom the crew are accustomed to associating. So there are going to have to be some, well, changes in the way the men customarily behave. I'm thinking in particular of the language that occasionally escapes them in moments of stress."

"Oh, have no fear, Cap'n," Martin Gorham assured him with great seriousness. "I'll allow no God-damned profane talk among the men. If any of these sons of noseless whores fail to observe the niceties, I'll hand 'em their balls to use as holystones!"

Walsingham's eyes twinkled. He was what was known as a worldly Puritan. "With your example before them, Master Boatswain, their deportment can hardly fail to be exemplary."

"Thankee, yer lordship," Gorham beamed. "Rest assured that every swinging dick of this crew will be a model of prim and proper behavior." An eruption of shouting confusion on the dockside caught his attention, and he leaned over the rail. "Have a care with those casks, you pox-eaten lubbers!" he bellowed, and with a hurried "Excuse me, Cap'n," he hastened off.

"Actually," John Dee remarked with a twinkle of his own, "I suspect the sailors could learn a thing or two from Her Majesty about the art of swearing."

Winslow was in no mood to be amused. He had begged Walsingham for more time, but the Principal Secretary had been adamant. Time was a luxury they did not possess. The Spanish army would be coming west toward Plymouth as soon as Parma could flog the aftereffects of the sack of London out of it. Furthermore, Dee was certain that the Spaniards would lose no time in sending a naval expedition to Virginia—probably major elements of the Armada, as soon as they could be refitted and reprovisioned. He was confident that certain new navigational theories of his would enable Heron to use the shorter, more northerly longitudes, bettering the usual time for such a voyage and avoiding the Spanish islands of the Canaries and the Indies. Winslow was only too willing to follow his advice. Spaniards aside, he had no desire to dawdle in the tropical seas that, this time of year, were already spawning hurricanes. In fact, they would arrive off the treacherous coast of Virginia at the height of hurricane season. And the longer their departure was delayed, the worse it got.

So they had toiled through the night, and Winslow had passed beyond exhaustion into a state beyond the reach of fatigue. One of the first matters to be settled had been that of accommodations. The Queen and her ladies-in-waiting would, of course, have the captain's cabin. Winslow would move just forward of that into one of the mates' cabins, which he would share with Walsingham, Dee and White, evicting the current occupants to the forecastle, and so on, with the lowliest sailors sharing the 'tween deck with the soldiers who were aboard simply because it was unthinkable for the Queen to go anywhere without a guard of honor. Sanitary arrangements weren't as much of a complication as some might have thought. Chamber pots would naturally be provided in the captain's cabin, from whence they could be taken directly out onto the stern gallery to be emptied into the sea. (A single experience, Winslow thought grimly, would teach the ladies-in-waiting the wisdom of doing so from upwind.)

As for provisions, Walsingam's letters, delivered by soldiers pounding on doors at night, had proven marvelously effective at persuading ship chandlers to be flexible about their business hours. The loading had gone on through the night, and was only now coming to completion under the boatswain's bellowing supervision. In addition to the usual stores, they were bringing a consignment of copper implements. White had explained that the Indians of Virginia set great store by copper, and had been impressed by the Englishmen's relatively advanced techniques for working it.

Storage requirements for the additional provisions had left no space to store the two shallops Walsingham had procured in the usual way, disassembled in the hold. Instead, they would have to be towed, running the risk of losing them in heavy weather. But it could not be helped, for the light, shallow-draft boats were indispensable. Only they could approach Roanoke Island, whose inaccessibility had been its main attraction to Raleigh, in search of a base for privateering.

Nor was that the only problem caused by the overloading of the ship. The 'tween deck was so cluttered with men and cargo that there was no room for the guns—sakers and minions, with six culverins in the waist—to recoil. So Winslow had ordered them tied down, which meant in effect that they could be fired just once, for in the heat of battle there would be no practical way to reload them. He fervently hoped that Heron would meet no threats more formidable than sea scavengers who could be frightened off by a single broadside.

As promised, Walsingham had engaged an auxiliary vessel: Greyhound, an aging sixty-ton caravel captained by one Jonas Halleck. Winslow had never met the man, and had barely had a chance to exchange courtesies with him in the torch-lit chaos of the frenetic night. He could only trust in Walsingham's well-known ability as a judge of men.

Now, finally, the loading was coming to completion in the dawn light under the boatswain's blasphemous urgings, and a carriage was approaching along the dockside, followed by a cart. Soldiers cleared a space, and Sir Walter Raleigh descended from the coach, offering a hand. No spread cloak, Winslow noted. The Queen took it, and as her feet touched the dock all grew unaccustomedly quiet.

She had dressed as plainly and practically as she ever did, as though for riding. Any encouragement Winslow felt from that died a swift death at the sight of the number of chests being unloaded from the cart. He wondered where, even in the relatively commodious captain's cabin, they could possibly fit. But then Raleigh conducted the Queen up the gangway, and as she came aboard everyone knelt.

"Arise, Captain Winslow." Elizabeth seemed to be in a high good humor. "It's hardly fitting that you should kneel here. Ever since that bold rascal Drake took it upon himself to shorten Thomas Doughty by a head, English sea captains have asserted a kind of monarchy aboard their own ships."

"Only under God and Your Majesty," Winslow demurred as he rose. "And as for Thomas Doughty, from everything I've heard of that voyage his head hadn't been doing him much good anyway."

"I wasn't mistaken about you, Captain: you're another saucy rogue like Drake. You'd best hope I'll be able to forgive you anything, as I always could him."

"I only hope you'll forgive me the cramped and uncomfortable quarters that are the best Heron can offer, Your Majesty."

"Bah! You're as bad as Walsingham." Elizabeth paused to spear that worthy with a glare. "Anyone would think I was made of spun sugar! Have the two of you forgotten that I was once imprisoned in the Tower? If I survived that, I think I can survive your fine ship, Captain Winslow."

Except, Winslow thought, you were in your early twenties then. And the Tower of London didn't pitch and roll and lurch with the waves. And it wasn't loud all day and all night with the constant creaking of a ship at sea. And it wasn't headed into the height of hurricane season. And it couldn't sink.

"You may show me these 'cramped and uncomfortable quarters,' Captain," the Queen interrupted his thoughts.

"This way, Your Majesty," said Winslow with a bow, offering her his arm. "My cabin is yours."

She took the sight of it very well, he thought. But then she turned to him and said, "Very fine, Captain. Only . . . where is the rest of it?"

"This is 'the rest of it,' Your Majesty," he explained miserably.

"Ah. Thank you, Captain." Elizabeth Tudor kept her features composed and swallowed once. "But if this is your cabin, where will you be sleeping?"

"In the mates' cabins, through which we passed just before we entered here, Your Majesty."

"What? You mean that is all the space you'll have?"

"Actually, Your Majesty, I'll be sharing it with the Principal Secretary, and Dr. Dee, and Master White."

"Ah. Thank you, Captain," the Queen repeated with a gracious nod of dismissal. As Winslow withdrew, he heard a low, "Jesu! I never fully appreciated my sea dogs until now."

As he emerged on deck, Raleigh was taking his punctiliously polite leave of Walsingham. Then he turned to White with more warmth. "Master White, I pray to God that you'll find my settlers in good health on that wretched island! I still don't fully understand why they ended there, and not on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay as I intended. You say it was the pilot, that renegade Portuguese rogue Simon Fernandez—"

"Yes, Sir Walter. We thought we had reason to trust in his experience. After all, he had been on the expedition of 1585, when one of the three inlets through the barrier islands was named 'Port Ferdinando' in his honor. But from the first, it was as though he was creating delays and difficulties. Then he loaded us up with foul water and poisonous fruit when we stopped for provisions in the Virgin Islands, with which he was familiar. And once we arrived at Virginia, he made mistakes someone who knew those waters never should have. And finally he abandoned us where we could only die—on Roanoke Island, where we were only supposed to pay a call on the small garrison that had been left there, before proceeding on to the Chesapeake Bay."

Raleigh gave a headshake of angry frustration. "Well, Fernandez died with Lord Howard's fleet, which was too good for him if what you say is true. We'll succor the colonists now—and all of England with them, if Dr. Dee is right. Captain Winslow, I wish you a prosperous voyage. You carry the hopes of our country . . . and the most precious passenger in the world." With a last glance aft, toward the captain's cabin, he departed. White watched him go, then excused himself.

Dee turned to Walsingham and raised one eyebrow. "It does seem a very strange story, doesn't it?"

"What do you mean?" Walsingham's tone was odd, Winslow thought—deliberately flat and emotionless. And it wasn't like the Principal Secretary to be willfully obtuse.

"The fate of Raleigh's colonists," Dee persisted. "How could so much have gone so wrong? One would almost think the expedition was deliberately wrecked. And not from without, either, but betrayed from within."

Walsingham tried to turn away. But Dee moved in front of him and held his eyes with that hypnotic blue gaze of his, while Winslow looked on, bewildered.

"And," Dee continued in the same quiet but relentless way, "I happen to know that Simon Fernandez was one of those you had a hold over. In fact, he owed you his life. In 1577, he was a pirate wanted for murder by the Portuguese. He was arrested, but for some strange reason released. And a year later, instead of hanging as he so richly deserved, he was piloting Sir Humphrey Gilbert's expedition to the New World!"

Walsingham pushed past Dee and stood at the rail, staring out in silence, while Winslow began to think the unthinkable.

"Why?" Dee asked very quietly. "Raleigh's aim was to strike at Spain—and you are the most consistent enemy Spain has ever had, or probably ever will have. I know what you think of Raleigh, but surely personal dislike couldn't make you—"

Abruptly, Walsingham whirled to face Dee, and for the first time in Winslow's experience his features, always so carefully controlled, were a mask of anger from which the magus flinched back. "Do you truly believe that I have no greater ends in view than petty personal jealousy or spite?" He mastered himself, turned back to the rail, and spoke tonelessly without facing them. "For more than ten years, I have been playing a very delicate, very subtle game against the King of Spain—a game for the safety of England and Her Majesty, to say nothing of the true religion. Everything has been painstakingly balanced. All our moves against Spain have had to be coordinated with all the others, their effect precisely measured and their consequences carefully considered. And then came Raleigh, with the Queen's favor and ideas too large for him. He was uncontrollable, like . . . like . . ." Walsingham thought a moment, then turned to Winslow and spoke with seeming irrelevance. "Thomas, a ship's heavy guns are attached to the bulkheads by cables. I'm told that sometimes, in battle or storm, those cables break and the gun is free to roll back and forth across the deck with the rolling of the ship, too heavy for anyone to halt, crushing all in its path until it finally strikes a bulkhead hard enough to smash through and fall into the sea."

"Uh . . . that's true, Mr. Secretary. A loose cannon is one of a seaman's nightmares."

"Yes, that's it: a 'loose cannon.' A useful phrase, which I'll have to remember." Walsingham resumed staring out beyond the rail. "Raleigh's plan for establishing a base in what the Spaniards consider their territory for the purpose of raiding their treasure fleets had no part in my design. It could have upset everything. It had to be stopped."

Winslow stared. All he could think of was that there had been a hundred and seventeen colonists, twenty-eight of them women and children. And . . . 

"Master White's little granddaughter Virginia Dare," he heard himself say.

Walsingham winced as though from a sharp pain, and would not meet Winslow's eyes. "My service to Her Majesty has required many things of me that will always weigh on my conscience. After a time, the conscience becomes accustomed to the burden. Too accustomed, perhaps. Small additional weights are too easily assumed . . . like the weight of a newborn infant."

"And in the end," Dee said slowly, "you lost your game after all. England is fallen."

"Only because of a factor that no one could have predicted or accounted for: the Gray Monks. Had they not entered the world from God or the Devil knows where, I swear I would have won my game, and the Armada would even now be leaving its wrecks on every coast of Scotland and Ireland." Walsingham gave a chuckle that had no humor in it. "If I had known then what I know now, I would have done everything in my power to promote Raleigh's venture. For he—blindly, ignorantly—was striking at one place where the Gray Monks can be hurt. And now his colony holds England's last hope."

"If his colony still exists," said Dee somberly. Despite your best efforts was a qualifier that hung silently in the air.

Before anyone could think of anything else to say, Martin Gorham came puffing up the gangway. "Pardon, Cap'n, but all is aboard. And the tide is rising."

"Just so, Boatswain." Winslow began to give orders, and the controlled chaos of the night seemed to reawake. Soon the ropes were let slip and Heron began to edge away from the dock.

Standing on the poop, Winslow looked over the port rail and downward. Elizabeth stood on the stern gallery, as if to catch the last possible glimpse of England. Suddenly, she looked up and called out to him.

"Captain! It seems we've forgotten someone."

Winslow looked back along the dock. A young man was riding a horse—none too expertly, and both were clearly exhausted—along the seawall, trying to catch Heron.

"Stop!" the man cried. The sailors responded with a gale of laughter. "I mean, ahoy! Or whatever will serve to halt you."

"You're too late, fellow!" Winslow called out. "You'll have to take your chances with the Dons."

"But I bring urgent dispatches for the Principal Secretary!" the man shouted, not so much dismounting from his horse as falling off. "You must take me!"

Walsingham leaned over the rail. "What 'dispatches,' buffoon? From whom?"

"From Christopher Marlowe, in London," the man gasped, running along the dock to catch up with Heron.

"Marlowe!" exclaimed Dee. "Not just anyone would know he was one of your agents."

"No, indeed. And I'd rather not leave those who do know behind, for the Spaniards to put to the question." Walsingham turned to Winslow. "Thomas, perhaps we'd best look into this further."

"Boatswain!" Winslow ordered. "Cast a line!"

A line swung out just as Heron's stern cleared the jetty. The man grabbed it and was swept off his feet, landing in the water to the further hilarity of the sailors, who hauled him aboard. He collapsed in a wet heap on the deck.

"God bless you, Captain," he gasped. He appeared to be in his early to mid-twenties, of no great stature, with brown hair already beginning to exhibit that slight receding from the temples which presaged middle-aged baldness. His expressive mouth was surrounded by a thin youthful attempt at a mustache and beard. His only remarkable feature was his eyes: hazel, large and extraordinarily luminous. "I can only pay you with thanks—the exchequer of the poor." He momentarily took on a look of concentration, as though he was filing that turn of phrase away in some compartment of memory for future use, before resuming. "But I'm sure the Principal Secretary will reward you."

"I am the Principal Secretary," said Walsingham, pushing past Winslow, "and kindly permit me to be the judge of where rewards should be dispensed. Now, how is it you happen to know Christopher Marlowe?"

"I only arrived in London a year ago, Mr. Secretary. Since then I have worked in a variety of fields—"

"What a surprise," Dee remarked in an undertone.

"—including acting, in which capacity I'm not altogether ill-regarded. It was thus that I made the acquaintance of that eminent playwright. I have some small ambitions in that direction myself, you see, and—"

"Yes, yes, get to the point!" Walsingham demanded testily. "What of Marlowe? Does he still live?"

"I cannot say he does not, but I doubt that he does. He attempted to depart London ahead of the Spaniards, but ran afoul of a patrol and was wounded. I happened to be the only one available to whom he had confided his . . . second career as an informant. So he entrusted these to me." The young actor held out a sealed satchel he had been carrying slung over his shoulder. Walsingham took them with an absent murmur of thanks and departed, in close conversation with Dee.

Winslow looked aft. Plymouth harbor was receding astern. He turned to their somewhat wordy new arrival. "Well, it's too late to put you ashore. I don't suppose your 'variety of fields' has included seamanship."

"Ah . . . not exactly, Captain."

"Somehow I thought not." More overcrowding! he thought disgustedly. "Well, Boatswain, can you find something to keep a landlubber occupied?"

Gorham looked dubious. "I suppose so, Cap'n."

"Good." Winslow started to turn away, then had an afterthought. "Oh, by the way, what's your name?"

"Shakespeare, Captain," said the new crewman, ducking his head. "William Shakespeare, lately of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire."


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