Prologue The First : The Tower

the tower titled

Tower of Winchester – April 1860

The character and circumstance of Captain Titus Wolfe, revealing his dark secret and his part in the scandal of Prince William’s death

Begin near the end and strip the flesh from the bones, that is the way of the storyteller and it shall be my way also… in my fashion.

‘Damn this.’

Wolfe spoke softly, scarce disturbing the air in his throat as he pulled the cape around his shoulders. The night was not chill but fog-bound: the air thickened to that quality the locals called ‘pea-soup’. Soot smuts burned his nostrils and he cuffed his already watering eyes. It was impossible to stay clean in the city, especially in this weather.

‘Damn this place.’

He pulled the door to behind him but it jammed against the damp-swollen frame. The beads of wet clinging to the door-pull would stain the leather of his gloves, but it could not be helped. Leaning back, he gripped the iron loop and let his weight force the door shut. The wood squealed and juddered and the lock slipped home. His gloves had protected him from the coldness of the iron and, he told himself, the stains would polish out.

Wolfe held out the lantern but the yellow flame did not penetrate the dark veil.

‘Come now, Titus,’ he encouraged himself. ‘It is only fog.’

He knew The Tower well enough: he should not lose his way.

The Minster bells announced the hour and though the fog muffled their happy ringing, he took heart from a Christian sound on this un-Christian night.

‘Tonight and always, God walk with me.’

The Great Bell struck twice as he made for Chapel Gate. He did not look back.

Titus. Only his mother and a succession of pretty nurses, each of whom had left in abrupt circumstance, had ever called him that. Now he went by Captain, or Captain Wolfe. His schoolmasters knew him as Master Wolfe and his school friends, ‘Wolfie’; but his father had given him no name: he was always ‘boy’. He sometimes wondered about his bastard half-siblings. Would any of them have been a better son than he?

He had counted his steps as he walked. In part measuring the distance from the guardhouse, but equally to steady his thoughts. Yet, the soft crunch of the gravel underfoot had a haunting quality, like a clock ticking and his mind had wandered, however briefly, back to his childhood, and unshackled from reality.

‘Please sir…’ Something tugged his sleeve.

‘Be gone!’

‘Ask only for a light.’

The candle-snatcher[1] held out a stub of tallow.

‘Be gone, I said!’

‘Sir,’ it begged, ‘be kind…’

Skin prickling with anger and loathing, Captain Wolfe loosened his sword and showed the blade. The thing flinched at the exposed steel.

‘Begging you sir! Ask only for a light,’ it wailed. ‘Be dark…’

‘Enough!’ He drew and the rasp of blade against scabbard sent the thing wailing into the night.

He shuddered, as he always did after an encounter and sword full length, he turned rapidly, quartering the air on all sides and above his head. It was a protective charm; the only form of magick he allowed himself to use. It would protect him, if only for a short while.

Saint Alfred’s loomed from the darkness and he caressed the cold certainty of its stonework and thanked God. From there, the wall brought him near the Chapel Gate guardroom where a light shone dimly from a window. Wolfe raised the lantern above his head and challenged the guard.

‘Who speaks for the Tower?’

An iron guard scraped back, revealing a man’s face.

‘Who asks?’

‘Pengallow, I recognise that voice,’ Wolfe said with forced good humour. ‘Who let you east of the Tamar?’

‘My countrymen said I was not fit to live among them, Captain Wolfe,’ Warder Pengallow replied. ‘Reckoned the Anglish would have me. Captain, I shall want the pass.’

Wolfe grinned. Almost returned to his normal self, he allowed he was not likely to catch out the Cornishman. Pengallow was younger than most of the Tower Ward and sharp-witted. The older men, veterans all, he had found too much at ease, too slothful. They, recognising his voice, might well have forgotten the challenge and invited a charge. Warder Pengallow was not so foolish.

‘Athelstan,’ Captain Wolfe said. ‘Open in the name of the King.’

Bolts scraped. A lock turned. Captain Wolfe stepped back to clear the outswinging door.

‘Quickly sir,’ Warder Pengallow said. ‘Nice and warm in here; mean to keep it so.’

Captain Wolfe entered. Pengallow shut the door and Warder Thomas saluted. Bald and built like a tree trunk, Thomas was one of the ‘old men’ of The Tower and Wolfe waved him back to his chair beside the fire.

‘Only us and the bed bugs are awake,’ Pengallow said. ‘Coffee, Sir? ’Tis recent brewed. This fog chills the bones.’

‘Thank you, yes,’ Captain Wolfe said. ‘Filthy weather.’

The damp had dulled his scarlet cloak to rusty red and the smudge marks left by the soot resembled dark fingerprints. Turning to hang it on the door, he found the hook already occupied by a small wooden figurine made of twigs bent and bound together.

‘What’s this?’ he asked.

‘A present from A’Guirre,’ Warder Thomas said.

The twigs had slips of parchment woven through them and Wolfe automatically began reading, but then saw it was not Latin, as he first thought, but another, far stranger language. Resisting the urge to fling the thing on the fire, he contented himself by covering it with his cloak.

‘A Guardian, she called it,’ Warder Pengallow set the coffeepot back on the stove and handed him a cup. ‘She has one at every gatehouse and another at Catherine’s Tower.’

‘She has her ways, we have ours,’ Captain Wolfe said as diplomatically as he could. ‘What have you to report?’

‘Nothing, sir. Whatever concerns A’Guirre, it’s not happening here. Perhaps that thing has done its job.’

‘No doubt she will claim so.’ Wolfe drank the coffee, then expectorated a lump of phlegm into the fire.

‘Damn, the air is foul tonight.’

‘It’ll be worse in high summer,’ Warder Pengallow said.

‘I cannot imagine it,’ he said, ‘though I bow to greater experience.’

‘River brings every turd from Cheriton to the Bishop’s Palace past the walls,’ Warder Pengallow said. ‘Come July gets a bit ripe. The King, God bless him, spends the summer at Carisbrooke,[2] we, sir, do not.’

‘The night soil men up-river in Alresford call themselves the Royal Postmen,’ Warder Thomas added. ‘On account of them sending messages …’

‘Enough,’ Captain Wolfe said, ‘their crudities are of no interest to us.’

‘Meant no offence, sir.’

‘Then say what you mean. How long have you served The Tower?’

‘Seven years, sir.’

‘You don’t wish for anything more active?’

The man sucked in his belly. ‘I’ve done my share, sir.’

‘Eireland?’ Captain Wolfe asked.

‘Three years,’ Warder Thomas said, as though Eireland were no more hazardous than a posting to Folkestone. ‘Before that, I were with Colonel Herrick in Africa, before that Flanders, and before that against Old Boney.’

Warder Thomas’s tone bordered on insubordinate, but he should not have pressed the man: his was a respectable service record. The coffee finished, he reclaimed his cloak from the door, taking care that nothing had broken off the doll and attached itself to the cloth.

‘A’Guirre has these things at every gate?’ he said.

‘So I understand,’ Pengallow said.

‘Did she say why?’

‘No, sir. As you say, “she has her ways”.’

The guard posts at Catherine’s Gate and City Gate yielded two more of A’Guirre’s dolls but none able to tell him their purpose. What was worrying the old witch? Captain Wolfe did not like surprises. Nor did he like A’Guirre, but that was another matter. And in God’s teeth why, he asked himself for the tenth time, had he understood the queer writing? It was not Latin, nor anything like Latin, but for a second it was clear as cogito ergo sum.

He climbed the stair-tower at City Gate. He had still to walk the wall and call on the guardpost at Catherine’s Tower. Holding his thoughts steady and keeping his mind occupied was tiring and once upon the wall, he leant against the parapet, intending to stay only a moment. He could see nothing; not one glimmer of light from the city below.

Winchester, capital of Angaland, lay in a fork between two valleys, making a natural basin for fog. He imagined this had always been so: the vapours slipping, dripping through the ancient oak woods of the higher valley, sliding over the water meadows, fingering the sedge and bulrush-ridden marshes and pooling above the river’s meandering course. From there the fog slunk downstream to meet the wharves, ensnaring the rigging of the cogs and trows[3] in its ghostly grasp, muffling the bark of the skipper’s cur, snugging the ship’s cat below deck, pearling the cables holding ship to shore and given cover to the footpads lurking in alleys…

The chill had crept under his cloak and shivering he turned and continued his lonely round.

 … Having filled the wharves with its damp-fingered grope and filtered along alleys crowded with ten-to-the-room hovels, gin-houses trading in stupor and melancholy and brothels offering five minutes joy and years of quicksilvered madness,[4] the fog met a better class of establishment: inns and coffeehouses where gentlemen drank and gossiped, guildhalls where they won and lost their fortunes, church and chapel and Jew-house where they prayed, even sanctity proving no—

‘Damn this!’

His thoughts had run away; he had not imagined the city but the city drowning in fog, as he might drown. The otherworld was close tonight. Once he had delighted in the whisperings and bright colours, believing they marked him as special, but Father had beaten God’s reality into him and so he had learned to shut out the visions and ignore the voices: or nearly so.

He walked with the parapet at arm’s length and every few seconds slapped the copingstones, using the pain to focus his thoughts.

Warder Pengallow: he thought well of the man. True, he was a Celt, but at least the Cornish had none of the absurd pride he detested in the Gwaels. He thought rather less of Warder Thomas. Good men though they’d been, many an old soldier came to the Tower to see out their days. And too many had grown slap-dash.

What was that thing guarding against?

His hand missed the parapet, upsetting his rhythm and his thoughts.

‘Damn and blast,’ he swore. ‘Damn this fog. Damn this night…’

Anger sucked the foul air into his chest. This fog put a sore in a man’s throat, a cough in his children’s lungs, spoiled his wife’s linen, poisoned the grass and trees and rotted stonework. Everything it touched turned to mourning and God knows what it did to a man’s innards. As he leant over the wall to hawk phlegm, he recalled that on a clear day a man might stand here and spy the sea beyond Hampton. No such joy tonight. Only when his breathing steadied did he continue.

Colonel Herrick, another of ‘Old Men’, would be sound asleep in his quarters below. Captain Wolfe had long ago accepted higher rank was beyond him. His disorder had shown itself too often and he had deservedly acquired a reputation for rashness and impatience. A reputation for bravery, too, though that was less deserved; a man charging an enemy may only be fleeing a greater foe.

As he neared Catherine’s Tower, Captain Wolfe straightened his tunic and wiped the grit from his hand. Warders Whitemore and Jones had the unenviable task of manning this isolated post tonight. At least they would have a fire and offer a moment’s company, but where, Captain Wolfe asked himself, was their challenge? Sword drawn, he groped forward, found the guardroom entrance and hearing no sound from inside, rapped the pommel against the door.

‘On guard! On guard! I say.’

A chair over-turned before the face of Warder Jones showed at the door.

‘Who goes?’

‘Bit bloody late, Warder. Captain Wolfe, the pass is Athelstan. Where is your guard?’

‘Sir. Apologies, sir.’ The man drew the bolts and Captain Wolfe stepped back as the door opened.

Warder Jones saluted. ‘I’ve no excuse, sir. You caught me asleep.’

To Wolfe’s surprise, the man was alone. ‘Where is Warder Whitemore?’

‘Sick, sir. This damned fog,’ Warder Jones said

‘And his replacement?’

‘Sir, he was only taken poor this last hour.’

‘Unacceptable. We are warned to be extra vigilant.’ He closed the door, anticipating finding another of A’Guirre’s dolls. The hook was bare.

‘Where is it?’

‘What, sir?’

‘You know very well. A’Guirre’s doll?’

‘Whitemore, see,’ Warder Jones evaded his gaze, ‘not meaning to shift blame, but he served in Eireland, as did you, and he has this thing about – them. He were convinced that thing was making him poorly.’ The man scratched his cheek. The stubble was grey, flecked with white.

‘And?’ Captain Wolfe demanded.

‘I slung it in the Navigation, sir.’

Captain Wolfe sighed. ‘My report to Colonel Herrick will recommend a warning for A’Guirre’s doll, but I cannot excuse sleeping on duty or failing to get replacement for Warder Whitemore. He is in the infirmary, I assume?’

‘He is, sir.’

‘You can expect a charge, you understand that?’

‘Got no complaint, sir.’

‘Very well.’ Captain Wolfe drew his cloak round him and opened the door. ‘I shall send someone in place of Whitemore, meantime—’ A scream, like the cry of a vixen, but unmistakeably human in origin, pierced the night. ‘—what in blazes…’

‘Sir?’ Warder Jones was behind him.

‘Did you not hear that?’ His heart pounded.

‘Sir, ‘tis just you and I.’

The guardroom was filling with fog. Wolfe tried to brush it away, determined to see clearly.

‘Captain, are you well?’

Ignoring the man, Wolfe ungloved his hand and touched the iron door strapping. Pain lanced his finger.

‘I heard something,’ he said through clenched teeth. ‘God knows what, but be alert!’

He took the steps two at a time. Halfway down, he lost his footing and fell, bruising his hip. Worse, he had instinctively grasped at the handrail and an intense ache now surged through the muscles to his elbow and left his hand numb. He recovered and limped the remaining stair, then drew his sword and unlocked the door into the turnyard.

Nothing broke the silence, though the scream still echoed in his head. A rat, he reasoned. The fog did strange things to sound. But not that strange: there was no innocent explanation. A man had screamed for his life.

‘Who goes?’ The fog swallowed his voice.

The Royal Apartments were four storeys above ground. From an open window, a voice would carry easily to Catherine’s Tower. But who would have a window open on a night like this?

It was senseless to question: he must alert the King’s Men.

He followed a drainage channel parallel to the wall. This ended in a sump and but for the sudden stink, he would have stumbled into it. From there, he cut blindly across the open yard, making for the rear of the apartments.

‘Halt!’ The command came from his right. Wolfe skidded to a halt.

‘Name and business?’

The King’s Men and Tower Ward seldom mixed. He did not recognise the voice.

‘Captain Wolfe of the Tower Ward.’

‘Tonight’s pass.’

‘Athelstan. Is all well in the King’s Household?’

‘You are armed?’

‘My sword is drawn; there’s a pistol at my belt.’

‘Sheathe the sword. Be warned you are surrounded.’

He did as instructed and moments later someone took his weapons.

‘Move on. Speak when spoken to.’

Hands bundled him inside a small chamber. A pair of lanterns either side and a heavy door in front of him. From the footsteps, he guessed three men.

‘He looks genuine,’ a man said.

‘He does. Turn around, Captain.’

They were four, all King’s Men. One was an officer: his rank of major shown by the gold crowns embroidered on his cuffs and shoulder boards. All had drawn swords.

The major held Wolfe’s confiscated sword and pistol.

‘I apologise for the rough treatment.  What is your business?’

‘A disturbance, sir. I was inspecting the guardhouse on Catherine’s Tower; there was a scream, from the apartments.’

‘We heard nothing,’ the major said. ‘Fog playing tricks on you? Down arms.’

The men sheathed their swords. Being trusted with the protection of the monarch and his family, King’s Men had a casual arrogance toward other soldiers.

‘It was no trick of the fog, I would swear to it… Major?’

‘Swanner, Major Swanner,’ the man said. ‘Pullman,’ a man stepped forward, ‘escort Captain Wolfe to Colonel Howe. You can report to him, captain. And Pullman, take these.’ Swanner handed the man the sword and pistol. ‘My apologies, Captain, only King’s Men bear arms here.’

Pullman led him through into a long passageway. The leftmost wall was blank save for candle sconces and a curtained archway. Pullman knocked at a small door in the rightmost wall, then entered, leaving Wolfe waiting outside.

He was quite alone until a man emerged from a curtain and hurried toward him. Dressed entirely in white, only the slap of naked feet against the floor convinced Wolfe he was not a ghost.

Pullman emerged from Howe’s office and asked him inside. Colonel Howe was sat at his desk.

‘Captain Wolfe of the Tower Ward, sir.’

‘Sit,’ Col. Howe indicated a chair. The room was small, sparsely furnished with cupboard and shelves and windowless. A stove provided heat and a place to boil a kettle. In terms of comfort, it compared poorly with Col. Herrick’s office in Stonecutters Tower but Wolfe rather approved. He approved of the man also: Col. Howe had hair the colour of gunmetal, a narrow jaw and green eyes.

‘Exon tells me you are hearing voices,’ Col. Howe said.

‘No sir. I heard someone in distress. From the Royal Apartment, or perhaps—’

The chair was hard and upright. He had scarce sat down before a noise outside interrupted them and Pullman re-entered.

‘Sir, this cannot wait. Mr Panells must—’

‘Out of the way.’ The voice was frail but impassioned.

Pullman stepped aside to admit the man. Wolfe recognised him: the clothing that had given him the appearance as a ghost was a nightshirt.

‘Prince William…’ the man gasped. ‘There is murder!’

‘No,’ Capt. Wolfe whispered, realising the nature of that dreadful scream. The Eirish called it banshee, the death cry.

‘…is dead,’ Mr Panells continued. ‘Murdered!’ The man slid to his knees.

‘Sound the alarm,’ Col. Howe was arming himself as he spoke. ‘King’s Men, Tower Ward, and the Fyrd. And send for A’Guirre and Dr Jennings also.’ Pullman left at the double and Col. Howe turned to him.

‘Captain Wolfe, Mr Panells has greater need of that chair.’

‘Of course.’ Wolfe helped the old man sit.

‘Mr Panells,’ Col. Howe asked, ‘where was Prince William attacked?’

‘The Queen’s Bedchamber,’ Mr Panells said. ‘The King and Queen are with him. The King is…’

‘And William’s killer,’ the colonel interrupted.

‘Gone,’ Mr Panells said. ‘The Queen saw a man flee the room.’

‘And she and the King are safe?’

Mr Panells nodded with such veracity the effort shook his frail shoulders.

Capt. Wolfe waited, wondering when the colonel would turn to him. The man was suspicious and he must consider how he might answer.

‘And the guard on the Serpentine Gallery?’ Howe asked. ‘They must have heard something.’

‘I cannot say…’ Panells hesitated. ‘I informed them. Oh God…’ the man leant forward as if to vomit.

‘I see.’ The colonel stared Wolfe in the eye. ‘Speak plainly, Captain; what precisely did you hear?’

‘I cannot truly say, sir.’

‘Meaning you do not know or daren’t admit what you know. Arm yourself and aid the search.’ Howe returned his pistol and rapier and scribbled a dispatch order. ‘Temporarily you are a King’s Man. Show this if challenged. I have matters I must attend.’

Wolfe pocketed the order. ‘Sir,’ he asked. ‘What would you have me do?’

Howe was at the door, ready to leave. Time was too short for obfuscation.

‘Your instinct brought you here. Follow it.’

Howe left. The man had seen through his pretence and, for a moment, the knowledge of it paralysed him. Mr Panells’ sobs released him and discovering a book of psalms on the shelf, Wolfe pushed it into the man’s hands. God’s word always comforted him; he hoped it might do the same for the old man.

Mr Panells’ eyes were blank and watery. ‘We failed him, we have all failed him,’ he whispered. ‘You must do what is right. Do what is right.’

Capt. Wolfe stepped back, breaking the man’s grip. He disliked the feel of the aged flesh in his own, disliked the man’s abjection.

‘I will do what I can,’ he said, and left.

The long passageway was deserted and silent, save for the sobbing breath of the old man behind him. ‘Follow your instinct,’ he repeated. It was impossible to even consider it, yet that dreadful scream still rang in his head as though he were a tuning fork. He hoped Col. Howe would hold his counsel. Discovery would be unbearable.

‘This will not do, this will not do,’ he argued. He needed a clue, a guide to follow. The old man had come from the Royal Apartments… Wolfe ran to the curtained archway, finding an open door beyond the fabric and a flight of steps. They led upward and breasting each landing he tried the doors leading off it. All were locked until, at the fourth landing, one opened, revealing a gallery many yards long.

The tramp of soldiers’ boots echoed distantly and he waited for silence. He could not follow his instinct in company and did not wish to be mistaken for the one they sought.

This was the Serpentine Gallery. He knew it by the vast panels of dark green stone lining the walls. It was at the very heart of the Royal Apartments, the family’s private quarters. The light from an open door drew him like a moth. He halted on its threshold, surprised and dismayed by what was within.

An expectation surrounds a king: it comprises of the ermine and velvet robes and not least the crown itself; the anticipation of the crowd and the clear path awaiting his step alone all play a part in gathering circumstance and drama into one personage. To see the King without those trappings is to see only the man, a thing of flesh alone, and that is indeed what our unfortunate Captain Wolfe now saw.

No one moved and for a tiny moment, he regarded the scene the way he might a painting. The fire, banked for the night, the mound of coals glowing a dull orange-red. The King, sitting cross-legged beside the hearthstone, arms cradling his son, grieving. A bloodied cavalryman’s sword, its slender curved blade catching in the light. Prince William, the fallen hero, eyes closed; scarlet cavalryman’s tunic and britches contrasting with the austere whiteness of the King’s nightshirt. Queen Charlotte kneeling behind and to the side of her husband, her arms around his shoulders, her nightgown trimmed with lace and pearls. The mantelpiece framing all three, its carved white marble poised like a wave about to fall.

But it was no masterpiece; there was too much inelegancy: a streak of blood across the King’s nightgown. A neck too slender to bear the weight of crown. A dark stain on Prince William’s chest and the splay of his legs. The Queen’s hair was too pale and cut too short and her nightdress had torn at the shoulder such that she needed one hand for her modesty. Who had torn it he could not imagine: a struggle, yes, but whom with? Or had she come to the aid of the dying William and he… no, he would not imagine too much. Of all these, seeing the Queen without her hairpiece was the most unsettling.

‘He is your King, remember only that. Now go.’ Her voice was quiet, but her expression utterly imperial. It was a moment before he understood she addressed him and as he turned to leave she spoke again, now asking him to remain.

‘You are not a King’s Man?’ the Queen asked.

‘No your highness. I serve in the Tower Ward.’

He stared at the ground, as was proper.

‘And your name?’

‘Captain Wolfe, ma’am.’

‘Captain Wolfe. I wish to see your face.’

‘Ma’am. Yes, ma’am.’

Even bereft of her wigs and rouge, there was surprising warmth to her features: she did not deserve ‘the Flanders Cow’ gibes of the common press.

‘Ma’am, the door is unguarded,’ he said. ‘I walked in freely; another might do the same—’

The Queen was unnaturally calm, and Wolfe reluctantly allowed his inner voice to question and seek, but found only a chilly blankness.

‘Captain, advise me. How do matters stand?’

‘We have report of an intruder and the attack on Prince William,’ he said. ‘We understand there was an intruder; you saw him flee. Colonel Howe has sent word to the Fyrd and Tower Ward. His own men are searching the Tower. That is all I know.’

The Queen looked at him as though asking the quality of horseflesh.

‘What brought you here? The Ward has no duties in the residencies.’

‘I heard a disturbance, from the wall. I sought to alert the King’s Men,’ he said.

‘The wall?’ Abruptly, the Queen lost her composure.

‘The guardroom on Catherine’s Tower, ma’am, there was a cry—’

‘Impossible. There was… you dare to lie to me!’ Her face twisted in anger, the Queen grabbed the sword and flew at him. ‘How dare you!’

The Queen pinned him against the wall, the tip of the sword pointed at his chest. The blood, smeared along the blade fascinated him. It was the prince’s blood. The Queen had mind of her torn gown and held the sword one-handed as she covered her modesty. The curved blade wavered. Her wrist was slender and her grip poor. If she lunged he might parry the blow, but he prayed it would not come to that.

‘Speak plainly,’ the Queen said. ‘What brings you here?’

‘Ma’am, forgive me. I am cursed to hear things no man ought.’

‘More lies.’ The blade trembled.

‘Ma’am, I speak true,’ he said. ‘Clear-sight, some call it, but it goes by many names: all are evil to God.’

‘You are curseborn?’ she said in wonderment. ‘Yet soldiers cannot bear  your kind.’

I cannot bear my kind. Ma’am, I will prove what I am.’

He unbuttoned his glove and let it fall. ‘Pray, hold the blade steady. You will know that spaers cannot bear the touch of steel or iron.’ He reached out to touch the blade, but the Queen, thinking he was trying to seize the weapon, pulled back and near sliced his hand open.

‘I beg you, ma’am. Hold steady.’

He touched the blade and curled his hand around it. For a moment he felt nothing extraordinary: he was not always sensitive to its touch and briefly feared his display might prove nothing. Then a faint numbness seeped into his palm and his fingers tightened involuntarily about the blade. His hand drained of blood, even as his heart raced and the numbness spread, rapid as a flame devouring a page. His fingers clasped about the blade glowed with a strange, blue-white light and the tendons in his wrist, each proud as a rope, conducted the numbness into his arm. He could not bear it much longer and dare not bear it as his racing heart faltered and missed its beat.

‘Ma’am, you see it?’ He could barely breathe and his hand shook.

‘You have shewn enough,’ the queen said. ‘Release the sword.’

He pried his fingers free with his gloved hand and cradled his injured arm. The queen stepped closer. He showed her the vivid, blue-white mark across his hand.

‘Is it permanent?’ the Queen asked.

‘It will not scar,’ he said and re-gloved the hand. It was still numb but he knew from experience when feeling returned the pain would be excruciating.

‘Do your comrades know you are afflicted?’

‘They do not. If it was known, they would refuse to serve with me.’

‘Providence,’ the Queen said, her voice suddenly stronger, ‘providence called you here. Captain Wolfe, a man has broken into the Tower and murdered Prince William. I command you to find him.’

‘Men already seek him, ma’am. Colonel Howe—’

‘Captain Wolfe!’ the Queen interrupted, ‘you and you alone will find his murderer. Your secret is safe, for now, but by whatever means, find proof William was slain by an intruder.’

His mouth dried. If he refused, the Queen would expose him. But if he accepted…?

‘Ma’am, do I understand—’

‘No. Do not understand. Do not seek to understand. Serve your King: find William’s killer, create him from thin air if it is in your power, and you will not go unrewarded.’

For the first time, it struck him how strange things seemed. The King and Queen were in nightclothes, as was natural at this hour, yet their son was in dress uniform and his sword lay still beside him. Why would the killer abandon the weapon before he’d made his escape?

Unless the blade had never left the killer’s side.

The prince had taken his own life, plain as day, and better shame fell on the Tower Ward and the King’s Men, than upon the family they guarded.

‘I am yours to command, ma’am. What of Princess Maria?’

‘She sleeps. You need not disturb her. Go now. Time is short.’

He glanced at the king and doubted he could ever again see the man without thinking of this moment.

‘Ma’am,’ he said, ‘if I am to be rewarded, I should be a King’s Man. It would make my Father proud of me.’

‘You would negotiate?’

‘No, ma’am, I would only serve my King and Queen.’

The Queen let the sword down and knelt with her arms about the king.

‘A father should be proud of his son,’ she said. ‘Now go, or it will be in vain.’

Unable to fashion thoughts from the fog-like blur in his head, he retraced his steps. “Follow his own course,” be damned, he thought. His curse ruled him as the North Star rules the needle. Yet descending the final stair a thought did come to him, a thought so absurdly simple he could not help smiling: for the first time this dreadful night he would act of volition and not according to his curse.

‘You again?’ Col. Howe said, once again in his tiny office.

‘Permission to return to the Tower Ward, sir. I can do nothing here.’

‘Very well,’ Col. Howe stood up. ‘Better see you out. The guard may not let you pass. I damn well would not.’ The man smiled grimly and escorted him down the passageway.

‘You discovered nothing?’ Col. Howe said.

‘Nothing of use,’ Wolfe said. ‘Sir, has A’Guirre approached you this last week?’

‘Those damn dolls,’ Col. Howe said with distaste. ‘The Queen would not allow it.’

‘Colonel Herrick was more amenable. There is one in every gatehouse.’

‘Then we are certain of catching the murderer,’ Col. Howe sneered.

‘She knew though. We cannot doubt that,’ Capt. Wolfe said.

‘Keep those thoughts to yourself,’ Col. Howe warned, ‘and nor should your instinct show itself too often, a man gets a reputation for such things.’

‘Understood sir. And thank you.’

The guard at the door had doubled to eight men.

‘Let him through,’ Howe said. ‘Take this, Captain.’ Howe gave him a lantern. ‘Damn foul night and a damn foul business. Goodnight Captain Wolfe.’

The Exon showed him out and closed the door behind him. He was alone again in the fog.

>>> Chapter One: The Lost Lamb

©Tamburlaine Bryce MacGregor and Nevil Warbrook

[1] With the obsolescence of the candle as an everyday utilitarian object, ‘candlesnatcher’ has dropped out of common usage in recent times. Essentially, a candlesnatcher is, or was, a lost spirit or revenant suspended between this world and the next. The Roman Catholic Church long maintained that the primary cause of suspension is a failure to baptise children into the Church, citing their childlike character as proof of this; however, this is contradicted by the writings of Pliny the Elder and Aristotle which describe similar sprits and apparitions many centuries before the advent of Christianity. Today, most authorities agree that the causal factors for spiritual ‘suspension’ are, as yet, unknown.

Although uncanny, candlesnatchers are quite harmless and easily discouraged with an unkind word or, in the rare occasions they prove persistent, with a show of iron or steel whose magnetic properties are, of course, anathema to all forms of magick. Usually they prove rather short-lived, if not ephemeral and dissipate into the void when their spiritual energies fail, but folklore suggests that a few make a permanent home near water, perhaps existing off its subtle energies, where they survive for many decades. Despite this proximity to water, they are supposedly, like all forms of magickal being, quite unable to cross running water owing to the etheric field created by the current. Editor.

[2] On Wight Island. Even today, it remains a favourite summer retreat of the Royal Household. Editor

[3] The cog was a sea-going merchant vessel of medieval times while the trow was a flat-bottomed river barge. Editor

[4] MacGregor’s readers would have understood he is referring to syphilis for which the standard treatment was massive doses of mercury and whose outcome in extremis was insanity and death. Editor


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