took the other, on his famous voyage into the Arctic Circle).

Tom Ffynne is back from his pirating-toll-gathering, he calls it-in the Mexican Sea. He had hoped to be back for the Yuletide Festival, then for the New Year’s Masque, but has missed both and so is in poor temper. Yet he looks gladly at his London, at the distant great glistening palace, and he even thanks the lad who brings him a tin cup of hot rum from the galley. He sips, the metal burning his bearded lips, and grunts, and stomps, and sings out in his sharp falsetto at the tugboats whenever it seems to him that the ship moves too closely to the high embankments of the riverside. Diminutive, plump, ruddy-faced and twinkling, Sir Thomasin Ffynne’s appearance disguises one of the shrewdest brains in all Albion. An admiral at twenty-six, he sailed with the war fleets of King Hern, in the old days of conquest and pillage, and it was under Hern that he became known as Bad Tom Ffynne, in an age that had many bad men in it. Yet his love for the Queen is as strong as Lord Montfallcon’s, one of the few others who survived Hern’s reign with some sort of honour, and one of the few still to hold office under Gloriana. It was Tom Ffynne’s uncle who took the Moorish Caliphates for Hern, but it was Tom Ffynne who held them, made them almost totally dependent upon Albion for their defence, their survival. Two revolts in the great continent of Virginia were also put down by Ffynne, assuring his nation’s power; and in Cathay, in India, in all the kingdoms of Asia and on the coasts of Africa, Tom Ffynne has fought, with absolute savagery, to maintain Albion’s dominance over these lands which are now Gloriana’s protectorates and which she does conscientiously protect, forbidding violence, demanding justice for all those for whom she accepts responsibility. Baffling days for Ffynne, who once possessed a reasonable trust in terror as the best instrument for maintaining Order in the universe; who saw all this new Law as an unnecessary expense, a wasteful business that was, moreover, abused by those it was intended to benefit; yet he has come to respect his Matriarch’s wishes, maintains a grudging inactivity where the Queen specifically forbids his movements, and contents himself with exploratory journeys involving a little incidental piracy, so long as the ships involved are not under the protection of a far too generous monarch. The holds of his tall ship, the Tristram and Isolde, are currently full, half with the treasure of some West Indian Emperor, whose cities Tom Ffynne visited on a voyage along a broad river which took him hundreds of miles into the interior, and half with cloth and ingots taken off two Iberian caravels after an engagement lasting five hours near the coast of California, that most westerly of Virginia’s provinces. Tom Ffynne intends to deliver all to his Queen, but retains an educated hope that the Queen will let a large share be kept back for the Tristram and Isolde’s officers and men. He is anxious to be granted an audience for another reason: He has news which he knows will interest Montfall-con and possibly alarm the Queen.

Ffynne realises that the dawn has come without his noticing it, the snow is so thick. Gradually the horizon grows pale, revealing a palace like some gigantic alpine peak, a London half-buried in snow, a Thames on which ice is forming even as the ship moves through it.

All is white and silent. Tom Ffynne stops his stamping to stand in wonder at the sight of Albion’s capital on this New Year’s Day, beginning the thirteenth year of Gloriana’s peaceful reign and, according to old Doctor Dee, the Queen’s astrologer, the most significant both in her life and in the history of the Realm.

Tom Ffynne lets out a huge, billowing breath. He claps mittened hands together and shakes little icicles from his dark beard, grunting with pleasure at the sight of his home port, in all its proud, frozen glory; its temporary tranquillity.


In Which Queen Gloriana Begins the First Day of the New Year, Receives Courtiers and Learns of Certain Alarming Matters

From white sheets, in a huge ivory gown trimmed with silver lace, her hair enclosed in a cap of plain linen, her pale hands decorated by nothing but two matching rings of pearls and platinum, Queen Gloriana pushed back bleached silk bed-curtains, rose and crossed to the window. On snowy lawns albino peacocks paced between carved yew hedges which this morning were like marble. A few flakes still fell to cover the darker tracks of the birds, but the milky sky grew lighter as she watched and there was even a trace of the faintest blue. She turned to where her little maid of honour, Mary Perrott, stood beside the breakfast tray with its heavy burden of silver. “You’re very pretty this morning, Mary. Good colour. Womanly. But tired, I think.” In affirmation, Lady Mary yawned. “The festivities…” “I fear I left the masque a little early. Did your father like it? And your brothers and sisters? Was it enjoyable to them? The entertainers? Were they amusing?” She asked many questions so that none might be answered.

“It was a perfect night, Your Majesty.”

Seating herself at the delicate table, Gloriana lifted covers to choose kidneys and sweetbreads. “Cold weather. Are you eating enough, Mary?”

As her mistress began to devour the food, Mary Perrott seemed to quiver slightly, and Gloriana, detecting this, waved a fork. “Return to your bed for an hour or two. I’ll not need you. But first place another log on the fire and bring me the ermine robe. That dress is a new one, eh? Red velvet suits you. Though the bodice seems too tight.”

Lady Mary blushed as she leaned over the fire. “I had intended to alter it, madam.” For a moment she left the chamber, to return with the ermine, placing it across her mistress’s broad shoulders. “Thank you, madam. Two hours?”

Gloriana smiled, finished the kidneys and started quickly on her herrings, before they should grow cold. “Visit no swain and let none visit you, Mary, but sleep. Thus you’ll be able to fulfil all your duties.”

“I will, madam.” A curtsey and Lady Mary slipped from the Queen’s austere room.

Gloriana found that the herrings were not to her liking and rose from them suddenly. She walked to the mirror on the wall beside the door, grateful for unanticipated privacy. She investigated her long, perfect face, her delicate bones. Her large green-blue eyes contained an expression of faint, objective curiosity. The cap gave a starkness to her features. She removed it, releasing her auburn hair, which curled immediately against her cheeks and on her shoulders; she unlaced her gown, threw off her ermine, so that she was naked, soft and glowing. She stood a full six inches over six feet, yet her figure was ideally proportioned, her flesh unblemished for all that, like some lover’s oak, she had been carved, in her time, with a dozen initials or more; struck, since girlhood, with almost every sort of whip and weapon, tortured with fire, scored, bruised, scratched-first by her father himself or by those who, serving her father, sought either to educate or to punish her; secondly by lovers whom she had hoped might rouse her to that single important experience still denied her. She stroked her flanks, not from any narcissism but abstractedly, wondering how such sensitive flesh as this could be so thoroughly stimulated and yet refuse to reward her with the release it had afforded the majority of those she lent it to. A little sigh and the robe was re-donned, the fur drawn around her, in time to call “Enter” when a knock came and in walked her closest friend, her private secretary, her confidante, Una, Countess of Scaith. The Countess wore a grey brocade marlotte, its high collar completely enclosing her neck and emphasising, with its short puffed sleeves, her heart-shaped face, flaring to reveal her gown’s hooped skirt, dark red and gold. Una’s grey eyes, intelligent and warm, looked into Gloriana’s-a brief question already answered-before they embraced.

“By Hermes, let there be no further doctors like those that were sent to me!” The Queen laughed. “They pricked me all night with their little instruments and bored me so, Una, that I fell solidly to sleep. They were gone when I awoke. Will you send them some gift from me? For their trouble.”

The Countess of Scaith nodded, being careful to share her friend’s deliberate mood. She left the bedchamber and entered an adjoining room, unlocking a small writing desk and taking from it a notebook, calling back: “The Italians? How many?”

“Three boys and two girls.”

“Gifts of equal value?”

“It seems fair.”

Una returned. “Tom Ffynne is just come home. The Tristram and Isolde docked at Charing Cross not three hours since and he’s eager to see you.”


“Or with the Lord Montfallcon. Perhaps at eleven, when your Privy Council meets…?”

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