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Chapter Thirty-four

IT WAS MORE THAN two hours before Barak returned. I waited for him in my parlour, looking out over the garden as the afternoon shadows began to lengthen. I was still exhausted after my terrifying experience of the night before, but though my eyes smarted with tiredness I could not rest. Thoughts chased each other round my head. What had Bealknap meant? What was it I should have realized? And what was I to do if my planned trip to St Bartholomew's proved successful and we actually found some traces of Greek Fire? My conversation with Guy nagged at me; I could not keep the broader implications of what I was doing from my mind. It would be better, surely, if nobody had Greek Fire. But Toky's master, whoever that was, had it already.

At length, tired of prowling round the room, I decided to go to the stables. As I stepped outside, I winced at the heat – it was hotter than ever – and became conscious that everything ached, my burned arm, my back, my eyes, my head.

Barak had collected Sukey, but Genesis stood quietly in his stall. He gave a whicker of recognition when he saw me. Young Simon was mucking out the stables.

'How is Genesis settling in?' I asked.

'Well enough, sir, he's a good horse. Though I miss old Chancery.'

'So do I. Genesis seems a placid beast.'

'He wasn't at first, sir. He was anxious in his stall, couldn't settle. I feared he might kick me.'

'Really?' I was surprised. 'He was no trouble to ride.'

'He's probably been well trained in Lord Cromwell's stables, sir, but I think he was used to larger quarters there.' Simon flushed as he mentioned the earl's name; it was a source of wonder to the boy that I was associated with so great a man.

'Maybe.'

'Master Barak told me he had his hair burned off last night in a fire.' The boy's eyes were wide with curiosity. 'Is he a soldier, sir? I sometimes think he looks like one.'

'No. Just a minor servant of the earl, like me.'

'I would like to be a soldier one day.'

'Would you, Simon?'

'When I'm older I shall train for the muster. Fight the king's enemies, who would invade our realm.'

From his words I guessed someone had been reading an official proclamation to him. I smiled sadly as I stroked Genesis's neck. 'Soldiering is a bloody trade.'

'But one has to fight the papists, sir. Oh, yes, I'd like to be a soldier or a sailor one day.'

I prepared to argue, but turned at the sound of hooves. Barak, looking tired and dusty, had come to a halt outside the stable. Simon ran out and took the reins.

'What news?' I asked.

'Let's go inside.'

I followed him back to the parlour. He ran a hand over his stubbly head, wrinkling the skin on his pate, then blew out his cheeks. 'The earl was fierce with me,' he said bluntly. 'Told me he'd had to waste half the morning persuading the coroner to keep the bodies they found at Queenhithe quiet for a few days. He was furious to hear your efforts to make Bealknap talk had sent him off to Rich.'

'I wasn't to know Rich could be a shield against Cromwell.'

'He can't. The earl was outraged at the very idea. He thinks Rich has been exaggerating his powers to Bealknap and Bealknap believed him. He's sending men out now to find Rich, find out what Bealknap meant. He says if Rich knows about Greek Fire he'll sweat it out of him one way or another. I don't envy friend Bealknap afterwards.'

I frowned. 'That doesn't sound right. Bealknap's every sort of rogue, but he's no fool where his own interests are concerned. He wouldn't have said what he did unless he knew he was safe. There's something we're not seeing.'

'Another thing the earl said: he knows how you like to find all the facts and lay them flat on the table before coming to a conclusion. He says there isn't time for that, you'll have to cut corners.'

I laughed bitterly. 'In dealing with an enemy as clever as ours and in a matter as complex and secret as this? Does he think I'm a miracle worker?'

'Maybe you'd like to ask him that. He was prowling around his office at Whitehall like a bear in the pit, ready to lash out. And he's scared. He says to go to Barty's now, today. It's a good time, with Rich taken in to be questioned. He wants that coffin opened.' Barak slumped down on the cushions. His face had a grey tinge under his tan; the events of last night were catching up with even his powerful constitution.

'How is your shoulder?' I asked.

'Sore. But better than it was. What about your arm?'

'The same. Bearable.' I pondered a moment. If I was to go to St Bartholomew's I wanted to go alone; if there was Greek Fire buried with the soldier, I would take it to Guy. Barak, I knew, would take it straight to Cromwell.

'I'll go over to Barty's on my own,' I said, my heart suddenly pounding fast. 'You're tired, you stay here.'

He looked at me in surprise. 'You look worse than I do.'

'I've had a chance to rest upstairs,' I lied, 'while you've been facing the earl in a bad temper. Let me go alone.'

'What if Toky's about?'

'I'll be all right.'

He hesitated, but to my relief relaxed deeper into the cushions. 'All right. Jesu, I don't think I've ever been so tired. The earl says Madam Neller will suffer for her betrayal once this matter is over.'

'Good. I'll get Simon to bring you in some beer. I'll be back before dark.'

'All right.' He laughed. 'I think the boy believes I'm a soldier of fortune. He's always asking me what I do for Lord Cromwell, whether he sends me to battles.'

'He's sent us both to one this time. Don't let Simon bother you.'

'He's no trouble.' He looked at me. 'Good luck.'

I left the room and stood in the corridor. I felt relieved at Barak's ready acquiescence, but also guilty. Evidently he trusted me now; I doubted he would have let me go alone on such a mission a week before. I shuddered at the thought that in deceiving Barak, I was deceiving Cromwell too.



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