Governments usually use espionage, of course, but the Spanish Habsburgs did it on a striking scale, and perhaps more striking that the quantity of secret intelligence was the even greater amount of material of all kinds, from formal advices of experts and ministers to old historical records to accounts of the latest rumors running through Europe…

The Secret Diplomacy of the Habsburgs, 1598 – 1625

Charles Howard Carter

Moody’s hurried departure from The Nag’s Head went completely unnoticed and the noise of the common room lessened not a whit. Helmsley reached for his forgotten mug and took a leisurely drink. “Do you think it wise to let him go? What if he goes to warn someone?”

Denby’s smugness was unimpaired. “‘Tis no matter, and for two reasons. First, he’s left the Tower without permission. He can’t go to anyone that matters without being tossed back in. Second, even if he does find anybody to listen to him, he’s so well known to be completely untrustworthy that he won’t be believed. Denby shrugged unworriedly and took a drink. “If I deem it worth my while, I’ll approach him again, when this is all over. I have no doubt that he’ll sing a different tune then. But enough of him.” He leaned across the table towards Helmsley, and his manner became eager. “What does your presence here in London portend, sir? Do you bring word? Are we faithful about to have our dreams realized? What can I do to help bring about that blessed day?”

This has to be handled very delicately. He’s too valuable to be angered. He must be kept sweet.

Helmsley moved his chair around the table so that he was seated next to Denby and could softly address words into his ear. “Sir, your Sebastian letters have indeed been the cause of much happiness where I have been working. My master, you may know him as a certain Welsh gentleman -”

“Oh, do you mean -”

Helmsley laid a warning hand on Denby’s arm. “Please, Master Denby, I beg of you, quietly would be the best way to purport yourself, here among so many possible listening ears.” His inner disquiet found no expression in his calm and quiet voice. Has this idiot no sense at all?

Denby blushed slightly and twitched away from Helmsley’s hand. His tone was affronted and a bit embarrassed, but thankfully low. “Yes, yes, I see your point. It’s merely hard for me to restrain my natural joy at the thought of our sacred cause triumphing.”

This is where it gets tricky. “I have no doubt that my master and those above him, all the way up to His Most Catholic Majesty, are working very hard for that very goal. But that is not my task this day.” Ah, yes, indeed, make it about him. “I have been set to a smaller but no less important task.” A dramatic pause accompanied by a direct stare into Denby’s eyes. “I have been sent here to protect you. Sir, I must inform you that your life is in grave danger.”

The dissatisfaction and irritation that had been growing on Denby’s face were wiped clean at those words. “What -” Denby swallowed and gripped the table and lowered his voice. “What do you mean, sir? Who threatens me? That dog, Poley? I’ve already said that I’ve sent men to deal with him.”

Helmsley made his voice low and soothing. “No, not him, not directly at least. Though I might say, his death will aid our cause greatly, another spider taken from the web that heretic Walsingham created. No, in a way, you are being threatened by the very success of the work you do for us. I am here in England on the trail of one of Walsingham’s agents, one of those that you revealed to us as vipers clutched in our bosoms.”

“Is this the matter you were discussing with Moody?”

“Indeed it was. He approached us in Vlissengen.”

“By us, you mean?”

“Those of us employed by the one to whom Sebastian addresses his letters. Upon word of Moody’s approach, I met with him in Vlissengen. I had already chased the viper to Antwerp but had failed to capture him there. Moody said that he could deliver the man to me here in London, as long as I paid him. You know for certain that he’s working for Poley?”

Denby nodded. “Until very recently, Moody was imprisoned in the Tower for various offences. In truth, he was being held there until it could be determined just whom he had betrayed. But then, just some days past, he was visited by Poley, who secured his release. I learned of this when Poley began to involve himself in my affairs and I gathered all available knowledge on his recent movements.” He thought for a moment. “But how does this man you’re chasing threaten me? He knows nothing of me, does he?”

“That is true. He himself only knows that he and all the rest of Walsingham’s spies in Flanders have been betrayed. But his last act of treachery was to kill one of our couriers.”


“Yes, you see where I am going with this. That courier had in his possession your most recent missive. And now this man, Nick Crossby, has it. He has no ability to break your cipher, but he cannot be allowed to place it in the hands of those who are able to.”

“And based on what Moody has told you, you think that this traitor, Nick, is in London?”

“Yes. Moody is interested only in the money. And since Nick is the only thing that he has to sell, he won’t let him far from his sight.”

 An idea appeared to strike Denby. “Damn me!” This time, he remembered to keep his voice low. “I think we might be able to dispense with Moody all together. Once I learned that Poley had met with Moody and sent him out of London on some errand, I placed word at all of London’s gates for a watch to be kept for anyone matching Moody’s description. When he entered, I was informed, which is why I knew that he was here. But most important, I was told that he was traveling with a companion.”

Helmsley kept himself very still. Hard experience had taught him that often the prey could escape if the hunter became too excited. “And were you given a description of this companion?”

“Indeed I was!” Denby paused for a moment to recall. “A fat man of middling height, brown hair, English, at least he spoke English without an accent. Carries himself as one used to violence. Moves as if recovering from a wound.”

“Well, then. That does indeed sound like our man.” Helmsley smiled in ferocious delight. “By the Virgin. Truly, our cause was blessed when you set yourself to join us.” He gripped Denby’s arm in gratitude and saw the man swell with pride. “Where is he now?”

“He and Moody took a room at a lodging house on Cateaten Street, near Moorgate.”

“Do you have sufficient men to take him?”

“Aye, that will not be a problem.” Denby’s voice began to tighten in excitement. “Do we move now?”

“I think that would be best. This piece of base filth has been given too many chances to escape and now he is closer than ever to exposing you. Do you anticipate any problems with the London watch if we offer open violence?”

“Not at all. I have sufficient proof on my person that my actions are at the order of the Privy Council if any should ask.”   

Helmsley rose from the table. “Then let us move now. Shall we go and be about our blessed task?”

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