The Tower Of London
The Tower Of London

This Tower is a citadel to defend or command the city, a royal palace for assemblies or treaties, a prison of state for the most dangerous offenders, the only place of coinage for all England at this time, the armoury for warlike provision, the treasury of the ornaments and jewels of the crown, and general conserver of the most records of the king’s courts of justice at Westminster.

A Survey of London

John Stow


That false faced piece of shit.

Michael fucking Moody.

It’s a true sign of what a colossal cock-up this all is, that I’m coming cap in hand to such a treacherous bastard.

The sour stench of the moat mirrored the sourness of his thoughts as Poley approached the walled mass of buildings that was the London Tower. The Tower itself was an ancient fort, the foundations of which had been laid down by various kings many centuries past. The walls surrounding the fort were reinforced by several towers built at various times. The Liberty of the Tower comprised not only the fort but the land and buildings surrounding it. The Liberty was its own demesne, the writ of the city of London ran there not at all. He made his way across the bridge over the wet sludge from the Lion Tower through the Bayward Gate of the London Tower. He glanced to his right, towards the Thames and the Queen’s Stairs and saw that there was no flag indicating that Her Majesty was visiting the Tower on business. Even so, the way along the Outer Ward was crowded with a variety of people coming and going on. Lawyers, wives and children, Tower guards, messengers, a wagon of wood, another loaded high with beer barrels; Poley moved around them all, heading towards the Bloody Tower Gate. He stood aside and doffed his hat as the Gentleman Porter moved past, talking intently to the two lawyers flanking him. Affairs must be tense between the Liberty of the Tower and the City. Light flashed from the Porter’s rings as he gestured emphatically to accompany the point he was making. The two black gowned lawyers nodded like Tower ravens.

Ahead, at the Gate, which was the entrance to the Inner Ward, there was the usual gaggle of visitors, come to gawp at the sights within the Tower walls, listening to a Yeoman Warder in his bright red uniform spin his practiced tales about the wonders of the Tower. Poley remembered such visitors well from his time inside after the Babington Plot, like geese or ducks, trundling hither and yon, sticking their necks out, looking at everything, gabbling in a variety of accents and languages. Still, enough of them were soft touches when regaled with a sad story of a poor unfortunate who, through no fault of his own and due to bad companions, had become an innocent victim of the Queen’s justice. And even, once or twice, alerted by a certain gleam in the eye of a woman visitor, Poley had spun his story of how he was a desperate villain, ruthless and cunning, betrayed to his enemies and brought here after a most bloody exchange of arms. Such a tale and dissembling could produce a most energetic tumble.

“And sometimes the ghosts of the child princes can be seen wandering the rooms of the very tower above!” The Yeoman Warder wrapped up his tale and waved the visitors through the gate, under the portcullis. Poley recognized him, Mick Rathley, and the regard was mutual.

“Master Poley. It’s been some time.”

“Yeoman Rathley. Your memory is as keen as ever. It’s been several years since I was clapped inside. I would have thought that with all the traffic in and out, I would just be one among many.”

“Not so. My training in the ars memoria is why the Lieutenant Warder keeps me on the gate. Each face takes its place in the Hall of Portraits of my Memory Palace.” Rathley looked smug and self-important.

Poley’s business was pressing him hard; his network in the Low Countries had been blown truly to hell and there was a completely untrustworthy dogfucker inside the Tower that he had to put into play; but this provocation was too much.

Ars memoria? Memory Palace? Mick, you’re from the dregs of the Southwark stews and lucked into this position. Hell, even the dregs look down on you. So how by the Virgin Mary’s bloody monthlies do you know about such things, let alone the Latin?”

But none of the words breached the air. Years of experience in keeping his thoughts to himself in front of self important high borns and low borns allowed him to keep his face composed and his words inside. He smiled pleasantly.

“That sounds very fine, Yeoman Rathley. You are to be commended on your diligence to your duty as well as your growing erudition. Now, my duty presses and I must have words with one inside.”

“Good day then, Master Poley.”

“Good day, Master Rathley.” Poley touched his hat, but Rathley had already turned to answer the questions of another group of tourists, from York by their accents, and didn’t acknowledge Poley’s salute.

The Bloody Tower stretched three stories above his head as he went through the gate, under the looming portcullis. The dark history of the place affected his mood not at all, for it was dark enough already. And, besides, his previous lengthy visit inside these very walls had cured him of any such wasteful thoughts.

He didn’t know exactly where Moody was being held in the Tower but he was reasonably certain that he wasn’t being held in the Bloody Tower above his head. Moody was guilty of numerous sins and offenses but none of them were so great that he would be held in such close confinement as was offered by the cells in the Bloody. No, he was undoubtedly being held elsewhere on the grounds. It shouldn’t be too great of a task to find him. He would start by searching the open grounds of the Inner Ward.

Poley emerged from the shadows of the passageway into the sunlight and stood blinking in the light for a minute, catching his bearings. A group of Yeomen Warders stood guard, watching all who entered and left.

To his right were a row of houses used to hold some of the better off prisoners. Not great residences – low one story buildings – but comfortable nonetheless and better than the cells within the towers. Looming above the houses were the buildings of the Royal Palace, where the Queen stayed on her visits on state occasions.

There was a small orchard off to his left, enclosed by a low hedge. Beyond the orchard and nestled against the wall that Poley had just come through were the Lieutenant’s Lodgings. Those buildings were not just where the foremost official of the Tower, the Queen’s representative, lived, but also where much of the Tower’s business was transacted.

There was a small room in those buildings that Poley had become heartily sick of during his imprisonment in the Tower. It was in that small room, just barely big enough for a long table with several chairs behind it and a small stool in front of it where he fought for his life in front of stone-faced judges. It was there, in that room, for long hours, while the air grew close with the smell of sweat and wax tapers, that he went over, time and time again, each detail of his efforts in the operation to bring Arthur Babington and his circle to justice for the crime of plotting to kill the Queen. Time and time again, he stated that he was under orders when he pronounced treason against Her Majesty; that all of the plans that he laid before Babington and the secret priest were to entrap them; that at all times he had been a loyal pursuivant in the service of Sir Francis Walsingham. He remembered the fear he felt then, thick yet sharp in his stomach; the impotent fury that all of his service should be doubted and cast back in his face. He shook his head sharply, driving away the bad memories, and headed towards the Lieutenant’s Quarters. He knew full well that what he felt mattered not. If he wanted to get Moody in play, he’d not only have to ignore the treacherous pull of the past, but pull off an outrageous bluff at the same time.

“Robert Poley to see Undersecretary Barnstable. Privy Council business.” Poley addressed his words to the Yeoman Warder at the building’s entrance.

“Is he expecting you?”

“No. And that’s why it’s Privy Council business. It’s important and it’s just come up and I’ve just shot the Bridge getting here fastest from Whitehall, so go tell the Undersecretary that I’m here and need to see him.” Poley gave himself the air of man holding onto his temper with his fingertips. He felt the old familiar feeling wash over him; an actor going onto stage; the role becoming real. The Bob Poley with no employer and no money and networks gone bad in Flanders faded into the background. Robert Poley from the Privy Council with important business moved to the fore.

Within a few minutes, the Yeoman returned. “He said he’ll see you now. You know the way?”

“Of course I do! I’ve been here many times for the Court.” Poley swept past the Yeoman and into the building.

A gaggle of clerks clogged the antechamber and Poley moved purposefully through them with only the most perfunctory apologies. He took the stairs without even breaking stride and went down the hallway until he reached Barnstable’s office.

It was a small office, but it had a window overlooking the green. Barnstable had positioned his desk to make the most of the light coming through the thick glass. He looked up as Poley came through the door, blinking his watery eyes, the sunlight making his bald pate gleam.

“Fuck me, Bob Poley.” Barnstable’s  accent was pure Yorkshire, another bright lad come to the Smoke to seek his fortune and finding it among the pen pushers. “I thought Yeoman Bell had been in the grog again when he announced who was seeking my attention.” He got up from behind his desk and approached Poley. His gown was a faded black, almost grey, stained with ink along the right sleeve and cuff.

“What, it hasn’t been that many years, has it?” They clasped hands. Barnstable’s grip was as strong as Poley remembered. He might look a clerk, but Barnstable packed a wealth of stringy muscle beneath his robe.

They’d met a few years back, when Poley had been looking into a possible route for Catholic libels and books being smuggled in from the Continent. His investigation had led him to a low dive in the Tower Liberty, just off the Thames bank. Unfortunately, the sailors had thought he was looking for a shagging and had taken offense. In the ensuing brawl, Barnstable had come to Poley’s aid. When Poley learned of Barnstable’s position in the Tower bureaucracy, he made sure to cultivate him as a useful instrument. It helped that Barnstable was of a friendly disposition. Poley almost thought of him as a friend.

“Here, take a seat.” Barnstable waved to a bench cluttered with parchment rolls and folios shoved against a wall. “Just pile that shit anywhere.” He went back behind his desk and rummaged through a basket piled high with more paper. He came up with a leather bottle and two small cups.  “Here, I’ve got a bottle of passable sack. Care for a taste?”

“You don’t have to ask twice.”

“So what brings you to these offices, Bob? Your old job?”

“The job I never left, really. There’s a man in here that I need.”

Barnstable’s eyebrows went up in mock surprise. “Bob! Really! I never would have taken you for one of those types.”

“Ha. I’m serious. And when I say that I need this man, you understand that it’s not me asking, it’s the Privy Council.”

Barnstable’s face became serious and Poley knew that the game had started. Barnstable set his cup down on his desk and folded his hands atop the paper he had been writing on when Poley entered. “And if it’s the Privy Council asking, do you have the appropriate letter from the Council?” As Poley opened his mouth to reply, Barnstable interrupted.  “Wait. First, let’s establish that the man you want is indeed inside the Tower walls. What’s his name?”

“I’m all but certain that the name he’s using for his stay here is Michael Moody.”

Barnstable raised his eyebrows at that. “Oh, it’s like that, is it? One of yours, I shouldn’t be surprised.” He got up and walked around his desk towards Poley. He rummaged through the stack of papers that Poley had set aside when he had sat on the bench. Barnstable unearthed a large ledger and opened it on his desk. “Moody, Moody.” Turned several pages while muttering under his breath. “Yes.” He looked up at Poley. “We have a man here who goes by that name.”

“Good. Does it say where he’s being kept?”

Barnstable closed the book and remained standing, tapping his fingers lightly on its cover. “And now we return to the matter of your authority to remove him from the Tower, Bob. I’m going to need to see something from the Council, from Westminster at the very least, stating that you do the Council’s work in removing this prisoner.”

Poley kept his voice matter of fact. “There wasn’t time. I’ve come upon something in my work for the Council, a matter touching on the heart of the realm. I need this man Moody to help me. With Sir Francis so recently dead, all of the old ways of doing things have been upended and there’s no one to sign for so basic a matter as me gaining this man to my service.”

“Surely there are clerks in Westminster who could help you.”

Poley rose from the bench and approached Barnstable, but not threateningly close. He kept his voice low and urgent. “I tell you again, there simply wasn’t time. I am on the track of someone who is moving swiftly and I must move quicker than he.” He took a breath and looked Barnstable squarely in the eye. “You know that I am a loyal servant to the Crown and have been for many years. I have always followed the rules and the ways of doing things. But I cannot afford to wait to have all the papers signed and sealed.”

“And I cannot afford to be clapped in the cells with the other prisoners. You know what you are asking, Bob. You know that if I let you just stroll out of here with this Moody fellow, I’ll be placing my neck on the block! And that’s no idle fancy, either! I will be betraying the sacred trust placed in me by her Majesty. And they call that treason. And I’ll end up out on Tower Hill with the headsman.”

“Now what’s all this that you talk? Treason? I keep on telling you, I am working for the Crown, William. Am I a fucking priest in disguise come to rescue some recusant? No. Am I some plotting noble come to pull one of his own out of gaol? No. I am a pursuivant in the employ of her Majesty and am this very moment in hot pursuit. It’s more treason to not help me than to help me. Merely because I have placed my duty over the rules, placed the safety of this very Realm over the mewling admonishments of those who have never been out in the field, you decide to call me traitor?” Poley moved in closer and placed one hand on Barnstable’s shoulder. “That is a cold deed, Bill, very cold indeed. I thought you knew me. I thought we were friends.”

Barnstable backed away, out from underneath Poley’s hand, and retreated back behind his desk. “We are, Bob, we are. And you are right to remind me that you do the Crown’s business. But you must also see my side of it. They are most strict here, they have to be, tracking the prisoners, tracking the reports and authorizations. I cannot just release this man on your say.”

“If that’s your only worry, then it is quickly solved.”

“Yes?” Barnstable looked up, hope replacing the uneasiness in his eyes.

“You write out Moody’s release. State that he’s being released in my custody. I sign it, writing that it is all done with my authority and by order of the Privy Council. There. Done and dusted. You have your paperwork and all blame lands on me.” Poley dropped his voice a bit. “And, after all’s said and done, you’re the Undersecretary, are you not? Should be no trouble for you to temporarily lose that piece of paper.”

“Now wait a minute here! That suggestion calms my mind not one whit! What are you on about? First, you want me to release a prisoner to your custody without even a scrap of paper to back you and now you want me to hide all trace of your endeavours? What the fuck, Bob? What the entire sloppy fuck are you up to?”

“Calm down, Bill. Calm yourself right the fuck down.” Poley reached across the desk, Barnstable flinched back, and Poley grabbed the leather bottle of sack. “Here. Have yourself another drink and gain some courage.” He poured.

Barnstable gripped the cup tight, knuckles whitening. “Fuck you, Bob Poley. I think a bit of caution and some questions don’t exactly make me lily-livered.”

“A fair point. But listen close because this is where the matter becomes sticky and your caution is indeed warranted. I need you to obscure the fact that I have Moody because there is a spy moving around somewhere out there in London. I cannot have him know that Moody is out and working for me. And so I’ve come to you. Because I trust you. And that places you on a damn short list in all this. I trust you to do the job, to keep quiet about it, and to not betray me.”

“You have that right, Bob. I’m no traitor. There’s no one more loyal than I.” The wine was starting to get to Barnstable. “I’m no traitor but that cuts both ways. I wouldn’t betray you in your work for the Queen but I also wouldn’t betray my duty as Undersecretary in the Tower. That’s why I cannot help you.”

The fish was almost landed and Poley kept the pressure on, slow but steady, so as to not snap the line. “I am not asking you to betray your duty as the Undersecretary, Bill. Not at all. I’m not asking you to destroy records or lie. I’m just asking you to delay for a bit.”

“Delay for how long?”

“As long as you think is safe. If anyone comes looking, then find the papers and blame it all on me. Take nothing on yourself.”

“‘tis easier said than done.”

“And I know it. I know full well what I’m asking of you. Believe me I’m not asking lightly. But my need is great and pressing.”

“It must be, given that you are pressing me so hard.” Barnstable kept the whine out his voice. Barely. But Poley’s trained ear caught the tremors nonetheless.

“I know that I am. I would not if I had no other choice but I am being pressed as well. And you know what presses me the most, Bill?” He pointed a finger straight at Barnstable. “Duty. Duty to Her Majesty. Duty to this glorious kingdom that we live in. Oh, aye, you talk of your duty and your fear of being called a traitor but you are merely afraid of misfiling some documents. Me, I am afraid of much worse things.”

Barnstable’s face grew steadily red. “You have a really fucking strange way of asking for help, Bob Poley. You come here, to my shop, ask me for help, and then call me a coward. Most strange.”

Poley leaned back a bit, bothered not a whit by the other man’s blustering vehemence. “So you’re not afraid? Then prove it and help me.” Inwardly, he winced. Such a brazen ploy. But these were the extremities he was pushed to, leaving no weapon unused until his arsenal was well and truly empty.

“Go fuck yourself, you southern cocksucker.” Barnstable dashed off the last of his cup and then fell to brooding. “Can’t a man have some peace and quiet in his own damn office? I do this for you, we’re quits, you understand? No more favors from me, you forget I fucking exist.”

Expressionless, Poley nodded. His sigh of relief never passed his lips.

“When it’s all said and done, it’s just a piece of paper, isn’t it?” By this time, Barnstable was, in the main, talking to himself. “Sign it, and I’ll have my office back to myself.” He unearthed a clean sheet of paper, dipped his quill, and scrawled a few lines. Signed it with what looked like an entirely extravagant signature. “There.” He picked it up and waved it in Poley’s direction. “Take it be damned to you. I’m no fucking coward.”

Poley arose from the bench, took his time to drain the last of the sack from his cup, then reached across the desk and took the paper from Barnstable. “You’re doing the right thing, Bill. Not just me but for Queen and country.”

“Aye, aye. Now get the fuck out of my office and leave me in peace.” Barnstable waved a dismissive hand and, with the other, was reaching again for the bottle of sack.

Poley was just at the door when Barnstable raised his voice at his back. “Wait, you whoreson! What about some coin for my trouble?”

Unseen by Barnstable, Poley bared his teeth in a mirthless grin. He replied without pausing on his way out the door. “When I get some, you will be the first to feel my generosity.”

“What! You piece of shit!” Barnstable’s voice was still echoing behind him as Poley went down the stairs and out of the building. The looming walls behind him cast chill shadows but the gloom and cold did nothing to sap his spirits. Despite his lack of resources, he had triumphed. And now to find Moody. Damn. I forgot to ask Barnstable where he is being held.

He kept moving away from Lieutenant’s Quarters and the Bloody Tower Gate, keeping it at his back, walking across the Tower Green. There were groups of Warders patrolling the grounds. Two of them were posted at all the entrances of the Jewel House, also called the White Tower, the large structure in the center of the keep, which loomed on his right. He headed across the green and towards the far wall with its towers: Brick, Bowyer, Flint, and Devereaux.

Built up at the foot of that wall were the meaner cells; for those with less coin or importance. It was there that he hoped to find Michael Moody. And for the first time in the last few weeks, luck was with him. His quarry was sitting on a bench in front of one of the buildings. He was leaning back against the building’s wall and his head was tilted back to enjoy the sun.

Poley paused a moment to compose his face, his thoughts, collect all parts of his plans and lies together in his mind.

“Michael Moody!” He made his tone hearty and half-joking. “Come now, this is no time to be a napping slug-a-bed!”

Moody’s eyes popped open and Poley could see the merest instance of panic flash across his face before he recognized the voice “Master Poley!” Moody leapt to his feet. His smile was welcoming and friendly but his eyes were wary and calculating. His black hair hung greasy from underneath his cap. Even with an acquaintance with this man for many years, including times when they were clapped together in a cell, Poley would be hard pressed to describe Moody once he took his eyes off him. There was something about his features, the arrangement of them, which made him an average man, instantly forgettable. That is what made him a perfect pursuivant, a most excellent spy. And the nest of worms behind his eyes and the emptiness where his soul should be were what made him the perfect traitor, a most untrustworthy piece of shit bastard. Moody’s clothes were dirty and stained but he must have had some money kept by, as he was not clapped in a cell but enjoying the afternoon sun and breeze.

“Michael.” Poley clasped the proffered hand. “I’m glad to see that you are well.”

“So much difference between us now. I hardly know how to address you. Why, I remember when we were both cozening poor witless Catholics in hope to come to Walsingham’s attention. And now look at me and look at you.”

That was Michael Moody all over, inveigling on many fronts simultaneously. The appeal to old friendships. The obsequious fawning in hope of a favor. The hint of shared secrets that might be betrayed.

He continued in the same vein. “Stuck here in the Tower and after all the services that I’ve done for his Lordship.” His voice took on an aggrieved tone. “I had not expected such ill treatment from so noble a man.”

Poley made his voice reassuring and friendly. “Come, let us walk and discuss how you might gain your freedom from this place through some small service.”

Moody gestured in acquiescence and they began to stroll around the green. “Who would I be performing this service for? Even behind these walls, I heard that the Moor is dead. So who pays you now?”

Poley gazed at the murder of ravens perched on the White Tower. “I will be paying you, Michael, and I am well equipped with coin. That is all that needs concern you.”

I pray to God that Phellipes answers my message. What the fuck is taking him so long? I know that he’s gone into Essex’s service. There has to be room in that House for me.

“You’re fucked if Burghley’s your patron now, you know that, do you not? For he’s tight with the purse and altogether very disapproving of the sort of work that we do.”

“It would be best if you put your mind to concerns more immediate, Michael. I have the money. I am paying you. And it is I who you’ll be reporting to.”

“As you say, as you say. It seems that you’ve been quite successful in the years since you and I were both imprisoned together behind these very walls. Your star is clearly in the ascendant and I would be a fool to deny that. And there’s none who would call Michael Moody a fool.” He briskly rubbed his hands together. “So, what’s the piece of work that you would have me do?”

Poley changed the course of their walk and headed out to the center of the Tower Green. There, they were safe for the moment from any eavesdroppers. “Here’s how things stand. I had a man close to Hugh Owen in Brussels. He goes by the name Nick Crossby, a Catholic smuggler fled to the Continent after a spell in Marshalsea.”

Moody lifted his eyebrows and smirked at Poley. “Still using that old dodge? Clap someone in prison with the task to cozen jailhouse secrets from such scared dupes as might trust a new found friend behind bars? The trusting nature of men is a constant surprise to me.”

“Our meat and drink. But I’m beginning to wonder if that dodge has much more life in it. Owen and his ilk are smart, they must know by now that a stay in prison for being a Papist is no proof of loyalty to the cause of Rome.” Poley brought himself to the matter at hand. “I’ve just received  word that Crossby’s fled Brussels, likely headed to Antwerp. I need you to find him. Do not contact him, but only observe him. I need to know who he meets with, where he’s going, and who’s hunting him. Send me back intelligence as you find it to Rutkin the Jeweller.”

“And how am I to pay for all these travels? If I am to act as your pursuivant, well, then, I will need monies, as my time here in the Tower has left me entirely without. And this talk of men hunting this Crossby cove, well, I am reluctant to place myself in harm’s way.”

Poley held up an impatient hand to stop the wheedling flow. “Enough. I have funds sufficient to send you on your way and to pay for your search. So you will do this for me?”

Moody scratched at his unshaven jaw, miming consideration. “Well, I am sore pressed with social engagements these days; my time is hardly my own. But to help a dear friend and provide some service to a noble patron, I can set all other things aside and give your task my full attention.”

The minute he finds out I’ve got no patron right now, he’ll scarper.

Without revealing his inner disquiet, Poley took Moody’s arm and they moved off the green. “Come. Let’s get you out of here and on your way.”

“Since I’ve been clapped in here for some time, I’ve lost my knowledge of things. Are Grandier and his wife still buying up confiscated Catholic goods and selling them on the Continent?”

“I believe so, yes. The last I heard, at any rate. Why? Planning on using them to take you across the Channel?”

“Might do. They owe me favors that will make a passport needless.”

“Not a bad idea. I was told that they tend to tie up at a quay on the Southwark side. They should be easy enough to find.”

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