WE WALKED SLOWLY BACK along Cheapside then down to the river, through lanes that the rain had already turned into trails of filthy, clinging mud. There can be something pitiless about rain when it pounds, hard, on exhausted heads, as though cast from heaven by an angry hand. This was a real storm, no half-hour cloudburst as before. Everywhere drenched Londoners, their thin summer clothes clinging to them, ran to get out of the rain.
Barak paused and leaned against a wall. He clasped his wounded arm and I saw a trickle of blood welling between his fingers.
'You need that seen to,' I said. 'We can walk to Guy's, it's not far.'
He shook his head. 'We must get to Whitehall. I'll be all right.' He looked at my wrist. 'How's your hand?'
'It's fine, it wasn't a deep cut.' I pulled a handkerchief from my pocket. 'Here, let me bind your arm up.' I tied the handkerchief round his arm, pulling it tight; there was a little spurt of blood and then, to my relief, the trickle stopped.
'Thank you.' Barak took a deep breath. 'Come, let's get a wherry.' He heaved himself away from the wall. 'We've won,' he said as we struggled on to the river stairs. 'It will be Norfolk who suffers, not Cromwell. Norfolk tried to gull the king and that won't ever be forgiven.'
'If the earl is believed. We've no proof now Marchamount is dead and everything destroyed in that fire.'
'Norfolk will be interrogated. And we'll get Fletcher picked up.' He whistled. 'Shit, the earl may have us appear before the king himself and tell our story.'
'I hope not. Whoever he believes, he'll be furious if there's no Greek Fire for him.'
Barak gave me a searching look. 'You saved my life by throwing that vase at Marchamount.'
'I did it without thinking – it was instinct. I'd not have had even Marchamount die like that.'
'But what if he hadn't attacked us? Would I have had to take that vase from you by force?'
I met his gaze. 'It's all one now,' I said. 'Past mattering.'
Barak said no more. There was a wherry waiting at the stairs, and soon a surging tide was carrying us rapidly upriver to Whitehall. The rain lashed down, churning up the river, rumbles of thunder still sounding overhead. A world of fire turned to a world of water, I thought. I could not help glancing into the river, fearing Marchamount's blackened corpse might reappear, but it must have long since sunk or been washed beyond the City by the tide. I hoped the people at Salt Wharf had managed to stop the warehouse fire from spreading; thank God the building was brick.
I huddled into my soaked clothes, watching the rain bouncing from the heads of Barak and the boatman. I saw from a church clock that it was almost three. I remembered I should have gone to the Wentworths today; I had only tomorrow left now. Joseph would be fretting and worrying.
'What did Norfolk mean when he said he's had more help than we guessed?' Barak asked suddenly.
I frowned. 'It sounds as though I was right earlier – someone close to us has been acting as a spy.'
'But who? The man I use to send messages is someone I trust.' He frowned. 'That old Moor knows much of what's been going on.'
I shook my head impatiently. 'Guy would never have any truck with murder.'
He grunted. 'Not even for the papist cause?'
'Believe me. I know him.'
'Come, Barak, can you see Joseph Wentworth acting as anyone's spy? Besides, he's a reformer.'
'Then who? Grey?'
'He's been at Cromwell's side these fifteen years.'
'Well, who then?'
'I don't know.'
The boat bumped into Whitehall steps. While I paid the boatman, Barak showed his seal to one of the guards and we were waved on into the palace. Climbing the stairs, I found it hard to get my breath, little white flashes danced in front of my eyes and I had to pause at the top. Barak was breathing hard too. I looked through the veil of tumbling water at the grand buildings, shivering, for a sudden cold had come with the rain. Barak blew out his cheeks and plodded on, and I followed him wearily.
Once again we made our way to the Privy Gallery and on to Cromwell's quarters. The guard admitted us to the outer office, where Grey sat over his papers. He was checking some documents with a clerk and looked up in surprise at our drenched, muddy forms.
'Master Grey,' I said, 'we have a message for Lord Cromwell. It is of the greatest urgency.'
He looked at us a moment, then bade the clerk leave. He came round his desk, fluttering his arms anxiously. 'What has happened, Master Shardlake? Barak, your arm-'
'We have the answer to Greek Fire,' I said. 'It was all a fraud, planned by Norfolk to discredit Cromwell.' I quickly told him what had happened at the warehouse, my words tumbling over each other. He sat with his mouth open.
'Please,' I concluded urgently, 'we must tell the earl at once.'
He glanced at Cromwell's closed door. 'He's not here. He had a message to go to Hampton Court, Queen Anne is there and sent for him. He left by boat an hour ago. He's due back at Westminster this evening, some parliamentary business -'
'Where is the king?'
'Then we'll go to Hampton Court.' Barak stepped away from the table, then groaned. He staggered and would have fallen had I not caught him and sat him on a chair. Grey's eyes widened.
'What ails him? Look, his arm is bleeding.'
I saw the tourniquet had loosened and Barak was bleeding again. He was deathly pale and there was sweat on his face. 'God's teeth, I'm cold.' He shivered, plucking at his soaked doublet.
'You're in no state to go to Hampton Court,' I said. I turned to Grey. 'Is the king's physician here?'
Grey shook his head, hovering fussily over Barak. 'The king ordered Dr Butts and his assistant away yesterday. They wanted to open the ulcer on his leg again and he ordered them out with a volley of oaths. Threw his cushions at them.'
'Then you should see Guy, Barak,' I said. 'I'll take you.'
'No. You must go to Hampton Court. Leave me here.'
'I'm half-fainting myself.' I turned to the secretary. 'Master Grey, can you have a message taken to Hampton Court at once? By someone you can trust, someone who is loyal to the earl?'
He nodded. 'If you think that best. Young Hanfold is here.'
'I remember him.' I smiled wryly. 'He brought me a message from the Tower once that sealed the fate of a monastery. Yes, send him.' I took a quill and scribbled a note to Cromwell. Grey impressed Cromwell's seal on the letter and bustled from the room with it, calling for Hanfold. I looked out over the sodden garden.
'What will Norfolk do now?' I asked pensively.
'He still thinks he's safe. It'll be hours before he starts to worry because no message has come from the warehouse.'
I studied him; he was still very pale. 'Can you make it to Guy's? We can come back after, or Cromwell can send for us there.'
'All right.' He got up slowly. 'Maybe I'd better, before I bleed to death over Master Grey's fine chair.'
The secretary returned to say the message was on its way and a boat was waiting to take us back downriver. I gave him the address of Guy's shop and we hurried away. Another half-hour in the rain and we disembarked. Barak was stumbling now and I helped him through the lanes to Guy's shop, staggering along the alleys like a pair of scarecrows.
Guy answered the door and let us in with little more than raised eyebrows; he was becoming used to this. We sat down in the shop; Barak removed his shirt and Guy examined his arm. It was a horrible gash, very deep. Barak clutched at his mezuzah as Guy's fingers probed.
'I think I should sew your arm, Master Barak,' Guy said. 'Can you bear some pain?'
Barak screwed up his face. 'Have I any choice?'
'Not much, I fear, unless you would bleed to death.'
I waited in the shop while Guy took Barak through to his workshop, after coating my wrist with some stinging oil. He brought dry clothes and I changed in the shop, glad there was no one to see. I wondered again what Lady Honor might make of my bent form if she saw it. Well, she knew what to expect and did not seem to find me so bad. As I transferred my belt and purse to my borrowed hose, wincing at another stifled cry from Barak in the other room, I felt a spurt of irritation at my long preoccupation over how I looked. It was a sort of dark vanity, almost, I thought, a sort of martyrdom. Well, my path was free to make friends with Lady Honor now and I would not miss my chance. My heart had plummeted when, in the warehouse, it had seemed for a while that she could be the one behind the Greek Fire plot after all. Plummeted far enough to make me realize the depth of my feeling for her.
I went across to the window and looked out; the rain seemed to be lessening. The window had steamed up and I leaned my head on the cool glass, shutting my eyes for a moment. The door opened behind me and Guy entered, flecks of blood on his robe.
'There,' he said quietly, 'that's done. I've told him to rest an hour. He's a brave young fellow.'
'Ay, he's hard as nails.' I smiled tiredly. 'We've won, Guy. There will be no Greek Fire. It's all burned up.'
He sat down on a stool. 'Praise God.'
'Did you destroy what was in that pot?'
'It's in the Thames.'
I told him what had happened at the warehouse. 'All that's left is to get that message to Cromwell.'
'Well, you have won, Matthew, fulfilled your mission and destroyed Greek Fire as well.'
'Ay, though that last was by strange chance. If Marchamount hadn't lunged at Barak-'
Guy smiled. 'Perhaps that was the hand of God, answering your prayers and mine.'
'God's hand struck Marchamount hard, then.' I looked at him seriously. 'I have hardly prayed at all these last days. What they did, Marchamount and Norfolk, all those people killed – they did it with the aim of restoring the pope, you do realize that?'
'As Cromwell too has done many evil things.'
I shook my head sadly. 'Once I did believe the world could be perfected. I don't think that any more. But I believe I've defended the bad side against the worse.' I frowned. 'Yet-'
'Why does faith bring out the worst in so many, Guy?' I blurted out. 'How is it that it can turn men, papist and reformer both, into brutes?'
'Man is an angry, savage being. Sometimes faith becomes an excuse for battle. It is no real faith then. In justifying their positions in the name of God, men silence God.'
'But have the comfortable belief that, having read the Bible and prayed, they cannot be wrong.'
'I fear so.'
From within, I heard Barak call out for water. Guy rose. 'There, your friend is thirsty. I thought he would not lie quiet for long.' He smiled. 'I think he is no man of faith, but he has an earthy honesty.'