"Why are we waiting?" I said, my voice pitched so that only Matthew and Gallowglass could hear.
"To amuse the queen-and to show the court that I am no more than a servant."
When at last we were admitted to the royal presence, I was surprised to find that this room, too, was full of people. "Private" was a relative term in the court of Elizabeth. I searched for the queen, but she was nowhere in sight. Fearing that we were going to have to wait again, my heart sank.
"Why is it that for every year I grow older, Matthew Roydon seems to look two years younger?" said a surprisingly jovial voice from the direction of the fireplace. The most lavishly dressed, heavily scented, and thickly painted creatures in the room turned slightly to study us. Their movement revealed Elizabeth, the queen bee seated at the center of the hive. My heart skipped a beat. Here was a legend brought to life.
"I see no great change in you, Your Majesty," Matthew said, inclining slightly at the waist. "'Semper eadem,' as the saying goes." The same words were painted in the banner under the royal crest that ornamented the fireplace. Always the same.
"Even my lord treasurer can manage a deeper bow than that, sir, and he suffers from a rheum." Black eyes glittered from a mask of powder and rouge. Beneath her sharply hooked nose, the queen compressed her thin lips into a hard line. "And I prefer a different motto these days: Video et taceo."
I see and am silent. We were in trouble.
Matthew seemed not to notice and straightened as though he were a prince of the realm and not the queen's spy. With his shoulders thrown back and his head erect, he was easily the tallest man in the room. There were only two people remotely close to him in height: Henry Percy, who was standing against the wall looking miserable, and a long-legged man of about the earl's age with a mop of curly hair and an insolent expression, who stood at the queen's elbow.
"Careful," Burghley murmured as he passed by Matthew, camouflaging his admonishment with regular thumps of his staff. "You called for me, Your Majesty?"
"Spirit and Shadow in the same place. Tell me, Raleigh, does that not violate some dark principle of philosophy?" the queen's companion drawled out. His friends pointed at Lord Burghley and Matthew and laughed.
"If you had gone to Oxford and not Cambridge, Essex, you would know the answer and be spared the ignominy of having to ask." Raleigh casually shifted his weight and placed his hand conveniently near the hilt of his sword.
"Now, Robin," the queen said with an indulgent pat on his elbow. "You know that I do not like it when others use my pet names. Lord Burghley and Master Roydon will forgive you for doing so this time."
"I take it the lady is your wife, Roydon." The Earl of Essex turned his brown eyes on me. "We did not know you were wed."
"Who is this 'we'?" the queen retorted, giving him a smack this time. "It is no business of yours, my Lord Essex."
"At least Matt isn't afraid to be seen around town with her." Walter stroked his chin. "You're recently married, too, my lord. Where is your wife on this fine winter's day?" Here we go, I thought as Walter and Essex jockeyed for position.
"Lady Essex is on Hart Street, in her mother's house, with the earl's newborn heir at her side," Matthew replied on Essex's behalf. "Congratulations, my lord. When I called on the countess, she told me he was to be named after you."
"Yes. Robert was baptized yesterday," Essex said stiffly. He looked a bit alarmed at the thought that Matthew had been around his wife and child.
"He was, my lord." Matthew gave the earl a truly terrifying smile. "Strange. I did not see you at the ceremony."
"Enough squabbling!" Elizabeth shouted, angry that the conversation was no longer under her control. She tapped her long fingers on the upholstered arm of her chair. "I gave neither of you permission to wed. You are both ungrateful, grasping wretches. Bring the girl to me."
Nervous, I smoothed my skirts and took Matthew's arm. The dozen steps between the queen and me seemed to stretch on to infinity. When at last I reached her side, Walter looked sharply at the floor. I sank into a curtsy and remained there.
"She has manners at least," Elizabeth conceded. "Raise her up."
When I met her eyes, I learned that the queen was extremely nearsighted. Even though I was no more than three feet from her, she squinted as though she couldn't make out my features.
"Hmph," Elizabeth pronounced when her inspection was through. "Her face is coarse."
"If you think so, then it is fortunate that you are not wed to her," Matthew said shortly.
Elizabeth peered at me some more. "There is ink on her fingers."
I hid the offending digits behind my borrowed fan. The stains from the oak-gall ink were impossible to remove.
"And what fortune am I paying you, Shadow, that your wife can afford such a fan?" Elizabeth's voice had turned petulant.
"If we are going to discuss Crown finances, perhaps the others might take their leave," Lord Burghley suggested.
"Oh, very well," Elizabeth said crossly. "You shall stay, William, and Walter, too."
"And me," Essex said.
"Not you, Robin. You must see to the banquet. I wish to be entertained this evening. I am tired of sermonizing and history lessons, as though I were a schoolgirl. No more tales of King John or adventures of a lovelorn shepherdess pining for her shepherd. I want Symons to tumble. If there must be a play, let it be the one with the necromancer and the brass head that divines the future." Elizabeth rapped her knuckles on the table. "'Time is, time was, time is past.' I do love that line."
Matthew and I exchanged looks.
"I believe the play is called Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, Your Majesty," a young woman whispered into her mistress's ear.
"That's the one, Bess. See to it, Robin, and you shall sit by me." The queen was quite an actress herself. She could go from furious to petulant to wheedling without missing a beat.
Somewhat mollified, the Earl of Essex withdrew, but not before shooting Walter a withering stare. Everyone flurried after him. Essex was now the most important person in their proximity, and, like moths to a flame, the other courtiers were eager to share his light. Only Henry seemed reluctant to depart, but he was given no choice. The door closed firmly behind them.
"Did you enjoy your visit to Dr. Dee, Mistress Roydon?" The queen's voice was sharp. There wasn't a cajoling note in it now. She was all business.
"We did, Your Majesty," Matthew replied.
"I know full well your wife can speak for herself, Master Roydon. Let her do so."
Matthew glowered but remained quiet.
"It was most enjoyable, Your Majesty." I had just spoken to Queen Elizabeth I. Pushing aside my disbelief, I continued. "I am a student of alchemy and interested in books and learning."
"I know what you are."
Danger flashed all around me, a firestorm of black threads snapping and crying.
"I am your servant, Your Majesty, like my husband." My eyes remained resolutely focused on the queen of England's slippers. Happily, they weren't particularly interesting and remained inanimate.
"I have courtiers and fools enough, Mistress Roydon. You will not earn a place among them with that remark." Her eyes glittered ominously. "Not all of my intelligencers report to your husband. Tell me, Shadow, what business did you have with Dr. Dee?"
"It was a private matter," Matthew said, keeping his temper with difficulty.
"There is no such thing-not in my kingdom." Elizabeth studied Matthew's face. "You told me not to trust my secrets to those whose allegiance you had not already tested for me," she continued quietly. "Surely my own loyalty is not in question."
"It was a private matter, between Dr. Dee and myself, madam," Matthew said sticking to his story.
"Very well, Master Roydon. Since you are determined to keep your secret, I will tell you my business with Dr. Dee and see if it loosens your tongue. I want Edward Kelley back in England."
"I believe he is Sir Edward now, Your Majesty," Burghley corrected her.
"Where did you hear that?" Elizabeth demanded.
"From me," Matthew said mildly. "It is, after all, my job to know these things. Why do you need Kelley?"
"He knows how to make the philosopher's stone. And I will not have it in Hapsburg hands."
"Is that what you're afraid of?" Matthew sounded relieved.
"I am afraid of dying and leaving my kingdom to be fought over like a scrap of meat between dogs from Spain and France and Scotland," Elizabeth said, rising and advancing on him. The closer she came, the greater their differences in size and strength appeared. She was such a small woman to have survived against impossible odds for so many years. "I am afraid of what will become of my people when I am gone. Every day I pray for God's help in saving England from certain disaster."
"Amen," Burghley intoned.
"Edward Kelley is not God's answer, I promise you that."
"Any ruler who possesses the philosopher's stone will have an inexhaustible supply of riches." Elizabeth's eyes glittered. "Had I more gold at my disposal, I could destroy the Spanish."
"And if wishes were thrushes, beggars would eat birds," Matthew replied.
"Mind your tongue, de Clermont," Burghley warned.
"Her Majesty is proposing to paddle in dangerous waters, my lord. It is my job to warn her of that as well." Matthew was carefully formal. "Edward Kelley is a daemon, as you know. His alchemical work lies perilously close to magic, as Walter can attest. The Congregation is desperate to keep Rudolf II's fascination for the occult from taking a dangerous turn as it did with King James."
"James had every right to arrest those witches!" Elizabeth said hotly. "Just as I have every right to claim the benefit should one of my subjects make the stone."
"Did you strike such a hard bargain with Walter when he went to the New World?" Matthew inquired. "Had he found gold in Virginia, would you have demanded it all be handed over to you?"
"I believe that's exactly what our arrangement stipulated," Walter said drily, adding a hasty, "though I would, of course, have been delighted for Her Majesty to have it."
"I knew you could not be trusted, Shadow. You are in England to serve me-yet you argue for this Congregation of yours as though their wishes were more important."
"I have the same desire that you do, Your Majesty: to save England from disaster. If you go the way of King James and start persecuting the daemons, witches, and wearhs among your subjects, you will suffer for it, and so will the realm."
"What do you propose I do instead?" Elizabeth asked.
"I propose we make an agreement-one not far different from the bargain you struck with Raleigh. I will see to it that Edward Kelley returns to England so that you can lock him in the Tower and force him to deliver up the philosopher's stone-if he can."
"And in return?" Elizabeth was her father's daughter, after all, and understood that nothing in this life was free.
"In return you will harbor as many of the Berwick witches as I can get out of Edinburgh until King James's madness has run its course."
"Absolutely not!" Burghley said. "Think, madam, what might happen to your relationship with our neighbors to the north if you were to invite scores of Scottish witches over the border!"
"There are not so many witches left in Scotland," Matthew said grimly, "since you refused my earlier pleas."
"I did think, Shadow, that one of your occupations while in England was to make sure your people did not meddle in our politics. What if these private machinations are found out? How will you explain your actions?" The queen scrutinized him.
"I will say that misery acquaints every man with strange bedfellows, Your Majesty."
Elizabeth made a soft sound of amusement. "That is doubly true for women," she said drily. "Very well. We are agreed. You will go to Prague and get Kelley. Mistress Roydon may attend upon me, here at court, to ensure your speedy return."
"My wife is not part of our bargain, and there is no need to send me to Bohemia in January. You are determined to have Kelley back. I will see to it that he is delivered."
"You are not king here!" Elizabeth jabbed at his chest with her finger. "You go where I send you, Master Roydon. If you do not, I will have you and your witch of a wife in the Tower for treason. And worse," she said, her eyes sparking.
Someone scratched at the door.
"Enter!" Elizabeth bellowed.
"The Countess of Pembroke requests an audience, Your Majesty," a guard said apologetically.
"God's teeth," the queen swore. "Am I never to know a moment's peace? Show her in."
Mary Sidney sailed into the room, her veils and ruffs billowing as she moved from the chilly antechamber to the overheated room the queen occupied. She dropped a graceful curtsy midway, floated further into the room, and dropped another perfect curtsy. "Your Majesty," she said, head bowed.
"What brings you to court, Lady Pembroke?"
"You once granted me a boon, Your Majesty-a guard against future need."
"Yes, yes," Elizabeth said testily. "What has your husband done now?"
"Nothing at all." Mary got to her feet. "I have come to ask for permission to send Mistress Roydon on an important errand."
"I cannot imagine why," Elizabeth retorted. "She seems neither useful nor resourceful."
"I have need of special glasses for my experiments that can only be acquired from Emperor Rudolf's workshops. My brother's wife-forgive me, for since Philip's death she is now remarried and the Countess of Essex- tells me that Master Roydon is being sent to Prague. Mistress Roydon will go with him, with your blessing, and fetch what I require."
"That vain, foolish boy! The Earl of Essex cannot resist sharing every scrap of intelligence he has with the world." Elizabeth whirled away in a flurry of silver and gold. "I'll have the popinjay's head for this!"
"You did promise me, Your Majesty, when my brother died defending your kingdom, that you would grant me a favor one day." Mary smiled serenely at Matthew and me.
"And you want to waste such a precious gift on these two?" Elizabeth looked skeptical.
"Once Matthew saved Philip's life. He is like a brother to me." Mary blinked at the queen with owlish innocence.
"You can be as smooth as ivory, Lady Pembroke. I wish we saw more of you at court." Elizabeth threw up her hands. "Very well. I will keep my word. But I want Edward Kelley in my presence by midsummer-and I don't want this bungled, or for all of Europe to know my business. Do you understand me, Master Roydon?"
"Yes, Your Majesty," Matthew said through gritted teeth.
"Get yourself to Prague, then. And take your wife with you, to please Lady Pembroke."
"Thank you, Majesty." Matthew looked rather alarmingly as if he wished to rip Elizabeth Tudor's bewigged head from her body.
"Out of my sight, all of you, before I change my mind." Elizabeth returned to her chair and slumped against its carved back.
Lord Burghley indicated with a jerk of his head that we were to follow the queen's instructions. But Matthew couldn't leave matters where they stood.
"A word of caution, Your Majesty. Do not place your trust in the Earl of Essex."
"You do not like him, Master Roydon. Nor does William or Walter. But he makes me feel young again." Elizabeth turned her black eyes on him. "Once you performed that service for me and reminded me of happier times. Now you have found another and I am abandoned."
"'My care is like my shadow in the sun / Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it, / Stands and lies by me, doth what I have done,'" Matthew said softly. "I am your Shadow, Majesty, and have no choice but to go where you lead."
"And I am tired," Elizabeth said, turning her head away, "and have no stomach for poetry. Leave me." "We're not going to Prague," Matthew said once we were back in Henry's barge and headed toward London. "We must go home."
"The queen will not leave you in peace just because you flee to Woodstock, Matthew," Mary said reasonably, burrowing into a fur blanket.
"He doesn't mean Woodstock, Mary," I explained. "Matthew means somewhere . . . farther."
"Ah." Mary's brow furrowed. "Oh." Her face went carefully blank.
"But we're so close to getting what we wanted," I said. "We know where the manuscript is, and it may answer all our questions."
"And it may be nonsense, just like the manuscript at Dr. Dee's house," Matthew said impatiently. "We'll get it another way."
But later Walter persuaded Matthew that the queen was serious and would have us both in the Tower if we refused her. When I told Goody Alsop, she was as opposed to Prague as Matthew was.
"You should be going to your own time, not traveling to far-off Prague. Even if you were to stay here, it will take weeks to ready a spell that might get you home. Magic has guiding rules and principles that you have yet to master, Diana. All you have now is a wayward firedrake, a glaem that is near to blinding, and a tendency to ask questions that have mischievous answers. You do not have enough knowledge of the craft to succeed with your plan."
"I will continue to study in Prague, I promise." I took her hands in mine. "Matthew made a bargain with the queen that might protect dozens of witches. We cannot be separated. It's too dangerous. I won't let him go to the emperor's court without me."
"No," she said with a sad smile. "Not while there is breath in your body. Very well. Go with your wearh. But know this, Diana Roydon: You are setting a new course. And I cannot foresee where it might lead."
"The ghost of Bridget Bishop told me 'There is no path forward that does not have him in it.' When I feel our lives spinning into the unknown, I take comfort from those words," I said, trying to comfort her. "So long as Matthew and I are together, Goody Alsop, our direction does not matter."
Three days later on the feast of St. Brigid, we set sail on our long journey to see the Holy Roman Emperor, find a treacherous English daemon, and, at long last, catch a glimpse of Ashmole 782.