London Streets
London Streets

The Pope, the House of Guise, and Philip of Spain still cherished their hostile intentions and looked only for an occasion to carry them into execution.

Mr. Secretary Walsingham

Conyers Read


Helmsley followed Denby down a narrow twisting alley. The buildings on either side, were they houses? Shops? He had no idea, they leaned over the alleyway and squeezed the night sky down to a wandering thread. He could hear the others behind him. With iron control, he tamped down any feelings of relief or triumph. He could ill afford either. The mission was not even close to finished. That would only come when they stepped ashore at Antwerp. Until then, he had to be at his most vigilant. Nick would never be more dangerous.

Denby came to the alley’s end and stopped to look out, peering each way. Helmsley realized that there was a huddled body laying in a pile of wood shavings against one side of the alley. He peered closer and saw that it was a person sleeping, not a person dead. Another one of London’s teeming masses. Only in his room at the inn had he been alone since arriving in London. All other places, there were people. Along with the feelings of relief, he also suppressed the itchy feeling of eyes on him.

Denby looked back at Helmsley. “All clear. Let’s make haste.”

Helmsley followed him out onto the street. It appeared to be a quieter neighborhood: people’s homes only, no businesses. He looked around and tried to orient himself. Nothing looked familiar, but he thought that they might be walking in the direction of the Thames. He lengthened his stride to be alongside Denby. “You’re sure that the safe house you’ve selected will be secure until the morning tide?”  

Denby turned his head, glared fiercely at him. Helmsley noticed with unease that Denby was still overwrought by the recent violence and Denby’s next words did nothing to assuage his worry. “Still the doubter, are you? It seems that you lack belief that someone such as I could have just caused such a triumph.”

“I merely asked if -”

“Asking! Asking, asking, always asking. Like some stinking Lutheran or Calvinist! Where is your belief? After all, I have succeeded where you have failed several times. Is not the traitor our prisoner, as I promised?”

“He is, he is. And you are to be much praised for that. I merely was making certain that -”

Denby turned his gaze away to stare haughtily  ahead. He lengthened his stride so that Helmsley had to hurry to keep up. His tone was milder, but his words left no doubt he was still of a mind to continue his jeremiad: “These past years I have often thought upon the necessity of faith. For mine, like yours, undoubtedly, was sore tried when the Glorious Armada failed. But I kept true, kept an unwavering regard on the goal: the overthrow of the bastard bitch heretic Elizabeth and the return of the True Faith to England.”

They turned onto a main street and went down it for some minutes. The darkness gave some cover to their group. Denby continued his diatribe. To Helmsley’s ear, it sounded polished, undoubtedly practiced many a time in the privacy of his own room. And now he had a captive audience. “Yes, an unwavering regard. But I have grown to wonder if those of you in your comfortable exile in the bosom of the Church have kept the same consistency of spirit. It is clear that you have forgotten about England and Hugh Owen is content with the barest intelligence necessary to please his master in Madrid.”

At that, Helmsley had to interrupt, despite the risk. “Now, sir, you go too far. His master is my master, is your master, if you are indeed a true Catholic. His Majesty Phillip the Second has many demands on his attention, ‘tis true, but England is never far from his thoughts.”

“A true Catholic? You dare suggest that I am not?” And, yes, Denby did stop in the street and turn to face Helmsley, crowd so close that he could feel Denby’s spittle on his face. “Well, sirrah, soon enough will you know that there are True Catholics enough in England! Enough to kill that bitch and return England to the Church!”

Oh fuck. It’s the Babington plot all over again. However, that immediate thought was followed swiftly by another. On the other hand, he did manage to capture Nick and he is at the heart of the English government. Cracked, yes, but not completely without merit. Helmsley let none of these thoughts show. “Please, Master Denby, I think it best if we hurry back to your place of refuge. We hold a very dangerous man, and this is not a conversation for the open street. Surely, you must agree.”

Denby blinked and looked around, as if seeing the dark street and the London buildings for the first time. He set off once again and turned down a narrow side street. He continued talking to Helmsley, though with a lower tone. “You may think that I am no different than poor deluded Arthur Babington and his band of plotters all nose-led by the Moor and his men. Oh, yes, I saw your sneer. Well, there is one great difference between myself and the martyred Babington. And that difference is large enough to allow the success of my holy mission. And what difference is that? Walsingham is dead! No more spider master with his agents and plots! All of his men are at loose ends and easily dealt with.” Denby smirked in self congratulation. “Aye, very easily dealt with indeed. One less dog to trouble us. And in the Privy Council, it’s all struggles between those who would wish to take over Walsingham’s work. And while they argue, all of Walsingham’s works shrivel and perish.” His tone turned gloating and selfsatisfied. “That is due all to me. You know that well, Master Helmsley, how Master Owen has been capturing all those spies in the Low Countries with the intelligence that I have provided. Intelligence straight from the Privy Council itself.”

Helmsley thought that they might be getting close to Denby’s safe house. He could smell the river. “All that you say is the truth, my friend. I would be the first to stand and proclaim your invaluable services to our cause. But these larger schemes that you talk of are a different proposition entirely, and must be undertaken with extreme care.” He took a chance and laid a hand on Denby’s arm. “Master Owen and I would hate to lose you and your service to some mischance.”

At those words, Denby became even more puffed up with self-importance. “It is a good thing for my worth to be finally recognized, sir. But, please, put aside your worries of any mischance. We have the traitor and I have sent men to deal with the only man who has the slightest clue as to what we’re about. By now, he’s undoubtedly lying dead on a midden somewhere. There is naught to stop us now.”

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