Extracts – Blood-Red Goblet

London and Paris 1581 – 1587

Prologue

St. James’s Park, London, 1581

Now a mere one hundred yards away, the Queen and her entourage were quickly approaching the dense thicket wherein the watcher lurked. She, as usual, was leading her courtiers a merry dance. Striding out, laughing and joking with Sir Christopher Hatton, that preening, overdressed popinjay, who was her current favourite now that Leicester was away in the Netherlands. The rest of the fawning sycophants and her pensioner guards had been left toiling some way behind. The watchers face contorted with hate as he focussed on the Queen, the Tudor bastard who followed the same path to destruction taken by her dissolute father. His eyes narrowed as, not for the first time, the Queen suddenly changed direction. Fortunately, as on previous occasions, she turned back to the well-trodden path that passed close to his hiding place. Soon, he thought, soon, this serpent who denies the one true religion will be removed forever and the legitimate heir, Mary Stuart will claim her throne.

Behind his tree, Dr William Parry took out the dag he had hidden in his doublet. The steel flintlock pistol was much smaller than most of the usual cumbersome pistols, but far easier to conceal. Of course, it could only be used at short range, but that suited Parry as he was a poor shot. He was sweating profusely and a bead fell from his forehead on to the stock. Snatching the dag away to protect the precious powder, he mopped his brow with his kerchief. Even with the encouragement of the letter from Cardinal Como, Papal Secretary, urging him to put his holy and honourable purpose into effect and granting him plenary absolution from the Pope, the assassination of the Queen was still a horrendous and treasonous act.

The royal party were only about fifty yards away now. Parry cocked the dag, leaned back against the tree and held the pistol in front of his breast with his finger on the guard. He began to count. When he got to forty-five, he thought, he would step out from behind the tree and fire. At five yards’ distance he couldn’t miss.

Thirty-nine, forty, forty-one. He tensed himself for the act that would liberate the nation and restore the one true religion. Forty-two, forty-three. He prayed for God to give him strength to carry out his purpose – and then froze as he heard the thunder of hooves. There were cries for Her Majesty to hold and, risking another look, he saw the Queen with her back towards him, not more than ten paces away. A messenger had dismounted and was hurrying towards her with a sealed message and she was moving towards him.

You must do it now, thundered the thought in his head. But it’s much further away than I planned, his mind answered. What if I miss? He ducked back behind the tree and tried to marshal his courage. He started to shake as if he had the ague. They will hang, draw and quarter me if they catch me, he thought, inhaling deeply and raising the dag again. Then a thought struck. He would carry the dag behind his back, walk forward a few yards and then fire. This would give him a better chance of success than trying a shot from this distance. On three, then. He held the dag behind him and counted. Sweat was almost blinding him and he wiped it away with his sleeve. One, two, three. He stepped from behind the tree and darted back again as he realised, with a sickening jolt in his stomach, that he had missed his chance. The Queen was already moving back the way she had come and the group was closing behind her. There was no possibility of killing her now.

In his lodgings later that afternoon, he pondered the message that had saved the Queen’s life. The timing of its delivery could not have been more fortuitous. Was it possible that she was under God’s protection? ‘Thou shall not kill’ was His commandment. Could the Pope have interpreted His message incorrectly? Was it wrong in God’s eyes to authorise the Queen’s assassination? No, it was unthinkable that His Holiness could be in error. The failure of his mission must be because he was unworthy to undertake it. He slumped in despair – he would have to leave England, but he couldn’t go back to Paris. Thomas Morgan, Mary Stuart’s agent was there and would want the money back he had paid William to assassinate the Queen. Morgan would probably try to make him carry out his promise, but he would have to get someone else. Anthony Babington, was always proclaiming his destiny to free Mary Stuart, or perhaps John Savage, who was a soldier. They were better suited to the task. William knew, that despite all his bravado, he would never again be able to bring himself to kill the old King’s bastard daughter, Elizabeth.