Authors: Alison Stuart
Wings ePress, Inc
Copyright ©2007 by Alison Brideson
First published in 2007, 2007
Cotes opened the door to the parlor a crack. “Soldiers,” he said, his face paling. “Dutton, you fool, get that map on to the fire."
Even as Dutton hurled the paper on to the flames, the door crashed open and an officer stepped into the room. Several swords were eased from scabbards with a hiss and rattle but resistance of any sort seemed pointless. There were soldiers at the window and a taproom full of them. They were trapped like rabbits in a snare.
The officer smiled. “Well, gentlemen. What do we have here? A pretty bunch of conspirators, so I hear tell? The Lieutenant of the Tower has some pleasant accommodation planned for you."
Whitely stood up. “I must protest. We are doing no more than enjoying a quiet ale and a pipe."
The officer strolled over to the fireplace and retrieved the singed map. He blew out the glowing embers, scrutinized the remains of the parchment then looked around at the faces in the room. “You can tell that to the Council of State."
He looked around the room and his eyes fixed on Thamsine.
"Well, well, ‘tis my lucky night for certes,” he said.
His hand closed over Thamsine's arm and he drew her towards him. He took her chin in his fingers and turned her head to the light.
"A red-headed woman with a black eye,” he said. “I hear tell you tried to kill our Lord Protector."
Thamsine shrank away from him but his grip on his arm tightened.
"What's your name, girl?"
Thamsine said nothing. Her eyes, in her thin face, had become huge with fear. Kit's fingers clenched and unclenched in impotent fury.
"I asked your name.” The officer's voice had become low and menacing.
"Thamsine Granville,” she stuttered.
"There must be some mistake,” Kit said.
"Oh, there's no mistake. Seen here and clearly identified she was."
Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
London, February, 1654
Thamsine Granville had not begun the day with the intention of killing Oliver Cromwell.
In the midst of the jovial crowd that pressed against the barricades determined to enjoy the spectacle of the Lord Protector's ride in State to dine with the Lord Mayor of London, she had eyes for only one man who stood across the road from her, prevented from reaching her only by the barricades and the red-coated soldiers.
His eyes fixed on her, a triumphant smile crossed his handsome face and he raised his hand to his hat, doffing it as he inclined his head. She saw him mouth her name and push his way towards the barricade. She only had a few moments to make good her escape through the press of people to her rear.
The bells of London, silenced for so many years, rang out and the flags of the City Guilds flapped in the chill wind. A roar went up from the crowd as the coach bearing Cromwell approached.
The Lord Protector, clad in a reddish-colored suit embroidered with gold, inclined his head to acknowledge the cheers of the crowd with all the aplomb of a man born to such a station. There was no trace of the simple farmer he had once professed to be. Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector, the false King. Unbeknown to him he was about to become Thamsine Granville's personal protector.
Impervious to his fate, Cromwell smiled, his right hand raised in a parody of benediction as if forgiving them their sins. At the sight of his face, solid and pudding-like, framed by the open window of the carriage, she raised her arm and threw with all the strength that she could muster.
The large chunk of broken brick, the only weapon she could find, hit the body of the coach barely inches from the open window. She got a brief impression of surprise on her intended victim's face. The coach stopped, the horses rising in their traces, whinnying in alarm. The crowd, stunned into silence, held its collective breath, every eye fixed on the ugly graze on the coach's paintwork where the brickbat had struck.
In the instant her fingers uncurled from the missile, someone grabbed her from behind. Strong fingers dug into her arm and drove her with force through the crowd that parted before them like the Red Sea. It had all been for nothing; somehow
had reached her.
She was only dimly aware of a commotion in the press around her. Soldiers yelled and a woman screamed. The world roared in Thamsine's ears and she could feel herself slipping into unconsciousness, only to be drawn back by a sharp, agonising tug on her arm as it was cruelly and expertly bent behind her.
"Don't faint, don't you dare faint,” an unfamiliar man's voice hissed in her ear.
She could have screamed with relief. It wasn't
"Now unless you want to end your life on a gibbet on Tower Hill, you will co-operate fully in what we are about to do."
Her rescuer thrust her down a dark, noisome alley, pressing her back against a wall. The rough brickwork dug into her spine as he pulled her around to face him, pinioning her arms at her side.
His body pressed against her and she closed her eyes bracing herself for the blow or whatever punishment was coming her way. She did not expect to be kissed. Her instinctive reaction was to resist but with her arms and her head immobilised, she was reduced to trying to kick her assailant. He responded by placing a booted foot firmly on her instep. She gave a muffled yelp of pain.
"Who's down there then?"
A voice from the entrance to the alleyway caused her assailant to break off, allowing Thamsine the luxury of taking a deep breath. The fingers holding her arm tightened, digging painfully into her flesh. It was a warning not to move, not to make another sound.
There was a ribald whistle from the soldier. “Hey you. Got yourself a tasty piece then?"
In the shadows she saw her assailant turn his head towards the soldier. “Now then, sergeant. Can't a man get a bit of privacy around here?” he said in low and well-modulated voice, with an unusual undertone to the accent that she could not place.
"What's her charge?” the sergeant's voice again.
The firm and painful pressure on her upper left arm deepened and Thamsine kept her peace.
"My dear sir. There are some pleasures beyond price."
"We're looking for a woman,” the soldier's voice became clipped and businesslike. “Just tried to kill the Lord Protector. Has she come this way?"
"I doubt I would have noticed. I have been otherwise occupied these minutes past."
Thamsine squirmed in the tight grasp. The easy, lascivious intonation of his voice made her want to slap him.
"Well good day to you, sir. I wish you joy of it."
The sound of the pursuers moved away.
"Let me go. You are hurting me.” Thamsine finally found her voice.
"Hurting you? Is that gratitude for saving you from the gibbet?” The pressure on her arm eased and the boot was removed from her foot.
She straightened, rubbing at the place where his fingers had pressed. “Maybe I didn't want saving."
He stepped back and waved at the entrance to the alleyway. “Very well. No doubt you can catch up with the good sergeant, if that's what you wish."
To her embarrassment she had started to tremble with cold, with fright and with delayed shock, as the audacity and foolishness of what she had done began to sink in. She had tried to kill the Lord Protector.
In her desperate bid to escape she had forgotten what penalty she may have had to pay had she been apprehended. She owed this man thanks for her deliverance but the words stuck in her throat.
She looked up at him. In the gloom of the alley, it was hard to make out his appearance. He wore a wide-brimmed hat that hid his face, but she could see that he was clean-shaven, his hair, dark and rough cut, skimming an immaculate, white collar.
"You do realise what you just did?” he asked.
"May I ask why?"
"Because I wanted him dead,” she said without much conviction in her voice. It was not the Lord Protector she had wanted dead.
"Well, I'm sure there are plenty who would share that sentiment but hurling brickbats at a coach is hardly the best way to accomplish that end."
She drew herself up to her full height. “And what do you care?"
"I don't,” he answered. “I really don't care at all. I have enough problems of my own without rescuing dim-witted whores who choose to hurl brickbats at the Lord Protector."
"I'm not a whore."
He touched his mouth. “Well you certainly kiss like one."
She raised her hand but he caught her wrist. “Now, now, mistress. I apologize for calling you a whore. Perhaps you prefer ‘failed assassin'?"
He let her wrist go and her arm fell to her side.
"I have nothing more to say to you, sir,” she said stiffly. “Thank you for saving my neck from the gibbet. I bid you good day."
He made no attempt to stop her, standing aside to let her pass. As she did so, he bowed. “Good fortune to you, mistress."
She gave him what she hoped was a withering glance and stepped back on to the street. It seemed unnatural that the crowd had resumed its normal bustle. Soldiers mingled with the passers by, occasionally stopping a person to question them. Thamsine, in her threadbare cloak and patched and faded dress, attracted no attention.
Slowly she traced the familiar way to the dreary, rodent-infested hovel on the outskirts of Blackfriars where she had lodged for the last few months. Hunger gnawed at her. She had not eaten since yesterday and even that had been no more than a morsel of stale bread and a thin broth bought with her last coin.
If she wanted to eat, if she wanted to keep a roof over her head, she had only one choice. He had called her a whore and she, with her last shred of dignity, had denied it. She could never deny it again. She had sold everything worth selling and now she had only one thing left to sell.
A couple of streets away from her lodging she stopped in a boarded-up doorway. She loosed her hair and shook it out. With shaking fingers she unlaced her bodice a little way, displaying a hint of her almost flat chest. She hitched one side of her skirts to show what she hoped was a tantalizing glimpse of ankle above the cracked shoes. It was not, she thought, a very alluring picture but it would have to do.
She took a deep breath and stepped back into the street, tossing her cloak back over her shoulders and adopting the hip-swinging saunter she had observed others of her newly adopted profession use.
Prospective customers should be in no doubt as to what trade she was plying. What they would not see was the way her heart hammered fiercely against her ribs and her stomach had become a hard ball of fear and self-loathing. The part of her that still remembered who she was and where she had come from hoped and prayed that the men who frequented the dismal streets of Blackfriars would pass her by without a second glance.
A hand grabbed her shoulder and she gave a small yelp of alarm as she turned to face the man who had accosted her. A bearded face scrutinized her closely, his fingers digging painfully into her wrist.
"What's yer charge?” His breath smelt as if it came directly from the pits of a hell charged with rotten teeth, onion and stale wine.
Her eyes widened. “Charge?"
"For your body.” His hand grasped her breast with such ferocity that she cried out in pain and pulled back.
The fingers tightened, drawing her towards him.
"Half a crown.” Her attempt at bravado sounded pathetic even to her ears.
He gave a guffaw of laughter. “Half a crown for a tight, skinny little arse like yours? Six pence is all you'll get and count yourself lucky!"
Six pence? It would buy a wedge of stale bread and thin broth. Thamsine nodded.