Shadows danced around the sparsely furnished cell as his candle guttered in a draft. It was a large room, and thankfully above the worst stink and grime of the lower tower, but a cell nonetheless. The tattered, threadbare robe he had worn for the past fourteen months fluttered about his legs as he shuffled across to the bed.
He lowered himself down onto the straw pallet pushed up against the wall. For most of his life he had lived in palatial homes, and slept on massive four-poster beds with feather mattresses swathed in silk sheets. Servants lit fires to drive away the slightest chill, and the kitchen was always ready to accommodate him. My goodness, he thought, how things have changed. At least it was summertime, and the brutal heat of the day had surrendered to a warm, humid night.
This cell had been the abode of some of the most famous and wealthy prisoners ever to find themselves confined in the tower. The conditions of their stays largely depended upon their ability to curry favor or mercy from the Crown. Many were allowed to furnish the cell as if it were their own home. The most privileged prisoners could walk about the tower grounds, and even host guests with dinners of roasted capons, puddings and wines. Thomas had no illusions about his standing with the King. He had been allowed only the most rudimentary comforts, those which his family could beg, buy or smuggle in to him. A short, three-legged stool, a chest for his small possessions and provisions, and the straw mattress for which he was immensely thankful; it was the only soft thing in the stone chamber.
In the end though, we are all prisoners here, he mused. Fine furnishings did nothing to change that, evidenced by the hundreds of scratched pleadings in the stone walls. They were perhaps the only lasting memorials to the poor souls who had languished out their last days here. Thomas had read them all. Some were simple protestations of innocence, some were whimsical poetry, and still others were fervent pleas for succor or salvation. The sheer desperation of the etchings was enough to destroy the morale of any man. He was not just any man though; Sir Thomas More was a knight of the realm, and until his conviction of high treason, had held the post of Lord Chancellor. One of the most powerful men in England and a favorite of the King himself, and yet now he was sleeping on straw in the Tower of London. That was not the worst of it though. Today was July 5th, the year of our Lord one-thousand-five-hundred-and-thirty-five. On the morrow, he would lose his head.
“Please Sir,” she said in a low voice, as she curled the man’s fingers around the silver coin, “what harm can come of it? One last favor, as you know my father to be a great man. His doom is upon him, and a proper meal will greatly benefit his courage.” Margaret pressed the basket into the guard’s stomach, looking into his eyes with all the pleading innocence she could muster.
“Miss, your father is a fine man, but I’ll not lose my head for him. I cannot do what you ask.” He lifted his chin and looked over her head. It was a familiar tactic, and one Margaret was prepared to answer.
“I confess Sergeant, I do not understand your reluctance, for you have done as much many times before in the past year. Please,” she said, pushing a second silver coin into his hand, “this will likely be my last chance to show love to my poor father.”
The Sergeant quickly slipped the coins into his waist pocket, “Lass, it’s a lucky thing for you that I have a daughter of my own. Give me the basket.” Sergeant Durham flipped back the cloth covering the wicker basket, and rummaged around the contents. There was a crock of potatoes and lamb, an onion, fresh bread and butter, and greens. A short bottle of wine clinked against the crock as well.
“Oh, that looks fine, it does. Alright then, I’ll take it up to him.”
Margaret favored the Sergeant with a sweet smile, “Thank you Sir, I’ll tell my mother of your kindness.”
Thomas lay on his back on the mattress, hands clasped across his chest as he stared at the ceiling. There was no chance he would sleep this evening, and he was growing impatient with waiting. The occasional breeze gusting across the floor helped cool his perspiration, which had slicked his throat and dampened his hair.
One last night, he thought, then I go to meet God. Lord, grant that I complete my task before I depart this life.
Scuffling boots on the stairs alerted him to someone making their way up to his cell. He did not move, but instead closed his eyes and feigned sleep.
“Ay, your Lordship,” said the guard, who Thomas immediately knew to be the ever-present Sergeant Durham. Technically, he was no longer a Lord; his conviction had stripped him of all lands and titles. Thankfully, his wife had been able to retain some of the holdings she had brought to the marriage, and they had a large amount of coin stashed away, outside of the Crown’s eye.
“Here’s a present for you, compliments of your daughter.” Sergeant Durham was a greedy man, but that was to be expected of a tower guard who had spent years keeping watch over condemned nobility. Other than that, he was no more brutal or abusive than he was required to be by his superiors. He was also a little less diligent than he should be, which was why Thomas had picked him. Thomas stirred as if awakening, and sat up.
“Ah, good evening Sergeant, thank you,” he said, as the guard set the basket on the floor at the foot of the bed.
“Yes, m’Lord, always willing to help if I can. Is there anything else before I go? I’ll be relieved at the bells, so…” He clasped his hands behind his back, awaiting Thomas’ answer.
You wretch, trying to wring every last bit of coin from me before I go, aren’t you? Thomas stood and walked over to the chest. Opening the lid, he fished around the contents, locating his purse. The jingle of coin was sadly deficient, being that there were only three remaining. He poured two of them into his hand and turned to the guard.
“Sergeant, for your thoughtfulness.” He dropped the coins into the guard’s outstretched hand, “One last, small thing, I would beg of you. Please allow my wife and daughter to attend me in the morning. A few short moments is all I ask. My family will be forever grateful.” The coins were gold ducats, six months wages for the Sergeant, and his eyes bulged. “There will be two more of those, if my request can be arranged.”
Sergeant Durham choked a little, trying to regain his composure. “M’Lord, it’s a very difficult thing you’re asking, but if it can be done, I’m the man for the job. God be with you tomorrow Sir.” He knuckled his forehead at Thomas, and quickly strode from the room.
Thomas clenched his jaw, Fly, Sergeant, for all my plans depend on your greed. Pulling the basket to him, he sat down on the mattress and took out each item. His appetite was poor, but the meal would give him strength, and he forced himself to eat. He ate what he could and set the rest aside. Now he turned back to the basket, and lifted the cloth which had covered the bottom, revealing his daughter’s true gift; three sheets of parchment. His hands shook as he lifted them from the bottom of the basket and quickly whisked them out of sight under the mattress.
His words had weight and power, and King Henry wanted him silenced. He wanted Thomas dead because Thomas knew his secret. For that reason, and no other, he had been forbidden any means of writing whatsoever. He was determined to bring the king’s dark truth into the light, however, and over the past year he had managed to gain access to both paper and ink. These items had to be smuggled in to him, using the most discreet means. For example, a sealed ink pot suspended in a wine bottle, or a messenger who, once in Thomas’ presence, would reveal sheets of paper hidden about his person. The guards were looking for weapons, not paper. There had been times when Thomas had to make do. For a few weeks, he had been forced to use his meat knife to cut himself, in order to use his own blood for ink. As for a quill, why, a piece of straw, cut at the right angle was almost as good, and easily hidden in a mattress.
Thomas tip-toed back away from the stairwell, confident he would hear anyone opening the door below to approach his tower cell. On the small chest, Thomas had arranged the parchment, ink pot, and a selection of ten or so straw quills, already cut for use. Pulling the stool over, he jammed the thick stub of a candle into the puddle of wax at the corner of the chest, and sat down to write.
These are the last, he thought to himself, contemplating the three pages before him. They are enough, but what is left to write? Who will believe any of it?
Almost two years ago, alone in his library, Thomas had received a visitor. Appearing out of a corner of the room, the intruder strolled across the floor in chainmail, breastplate and greaves. A green cloak was over his shoulders, a golden-hilted sword at his side, and a few other ancient relics and accoutrements on his person. He moved with an unnatural stealth, like a cat made in the shape of a man. His hair waved in golden locks around a perfect face. Thomas took him to be an angel.
“Hello Thomas,” said the angel, “do not be afraid.”
“If you are an angel, I am not afraid.” The angel smiled at his words, which made Thomas smile as well because he wanted to please the angel. Sitting in his cell recalling the long-ago meeting, Thomas knew that the angel had cast an enchantment on him, but the angel had been real enough.
“Are you not the King’s friend?” the angel asked.
Again, the glamour compelled him to answer honestly, without the normal precautions a prudent man would observe when discussing royalty, “No. I am his good servant, but never his friend. He thinks well of me, and solicits my counsel. He visits my home from time to time, unannounced, but he is boorish and unprincipled.” Thomas blinked at his own words. “Are you… Saint Michael?”
Yes, who will believe it? All I can do is write the truth. Thomas bent over the parchment and began writing.
“I took him to be the Archangel Michael, my belief of which he confirmed. However, in the months that followed, Michael spent many hours in my home, speaking to me about the true nature of his people, the Ba’ath, and the other creatures of their realm, the one we know as the faerie. His real name was Micah, and he and his brethren were at war with one another. The histories of our two peoples are intertwined, they, with their glamours and charms, influencing the kings of men to this purpose or that. He was Saint Michael, but he had also been known as Zedek, Atepomarus, and Belobog at various points in history. His words shook me to the very core of my being, desecrating my understanding of the gospels, but he offered numerous proofs, demonstrating magics before my very eyes. There were creatures that served him, which I have described previously in this text, presented to me for inspection. Micah educated me on the various dangers and powers of many of them. The faerie are real, God preserve us.”
Thomas discarded his ruined straw quill and selected another one to continue. He paused for a moment to listen; the tower was as still as a graveyard. Could the guards down below hear his quill scratching as he wrote? Of course not, but he was nervous just the same.
“One evening, while studying the stars from my rooftop, I asked Micah why he had revealed himself to me. ‘In truth,’ he told me, ‘I had intended to lay a compulsion upon you to assassinate your king. However, that would mean your destruction, and having come to know you these past months, I would be loath to cause your death.’ I believe Micah had come to care for me as a friend. It was not a situation with which he had great experience.”
When I asked Micah why he bore King Henry such ill will, his reply was, ‘It is not I who should bear him ill will, but you, and all your countrymen. He will throw your nation into war, which men are wont to do, of course, but now he acts at the behest of one of my brothers, who must be checked.’ His brother, of course, was Saint Gabriel, whom Micah called Bael.”
A tolling bell made Thomas jump, nearly sending the ink pot flying. He quickly dusted the lines he had written, and gently placed the pages underneath his mattress. The bells tolled the ten o’clock hour, when the guard changed. He put the inkpot and straw quills in the chest and, snuffing out the candle, lay down on his mattress. So close to completing the work, he would take no chances. Let the fresh guards make their rounds and settle in, then he would continue.
Lying in the darkness, he was surprised to feel a nervous tremble tickle his chest. He had long ago lost any hope of being reprieved. Resigned to his fate, he awaited the executioner with a peaceful heart. Thomas was no soldier, but he was as brave as any other. King Henry was depraved, a willing slave to malevolent powers. Micah had shown him, had explained the dangers. Even so, had Thomas not seen the proof with his own eyes, it would have been difficult to believe. Yet, each night, waiting for Morpheus, the disturbing images played behind his eyelids…
“I am leaving,” he said to Micah. Normally, he avoided the sycophantic banquets and balls held regularly at the palace, but there was a purpose in his attendance tonight. Henry had never been a great king, but the last few years of his rule had been marked by war, internal struggle against his own government, the unacceptable annulment of his lawful marriage, and a total break with the church of Rome. England was in dire straits. Instead of being Micah’s assassin, Thomas was determined to be the king’s persecutor. If the Crown were corrupted with the influence of faerie glamours and charms, he must be able to give some testimony. He had no idea what sort of evidence he may find, but it was important for him to see the
state of things there.
“I want to give you something,” said Micah. He reached into a small leather bag at his side, and withdrew the most beautiful gemstone Thomas had ever seen. It was an opal the size of a robin’s egg, polished smooth and glinting like the sun. The coloring was different than any opal he had ever seen though. Instead of pink and green glints, this stone was champagne and blue, and so brilliant it almost seemed powered from within.
“This is the God-stone. It will allow you to see beyond the illusions that Bael has woven around the court of your king. His schemes are devious and subtle, however; take care that your purpose is not discovered by his agents. Trust no one. I will not be able to help if Bael finds you out.”
Thomas nodded, taking the stone, “How do I…”
“Place it in your mouth when you want to see the truth. There will be some alarming…changes… in your perception. Until you are accustomed to it, it would be best if you use the stone in the most discreet manner.” Micah clasped his hand and stared into his eyes. “I have placed a ward of protection on you. It is not a strong spell; that would alert Bael to your presence, but it should guard against the lesser imps you shall encounter. Good luck Thomas.”
“Thank you. God willing, I shall return soon.”
The horses clip-clopped their way through London, and delivered him to the palace, where a line of carriages were pulled up to the steps. His status as Lord Chancellor allowed him to move up without waiting, and he stepped out of his carriage to join the throng of socialites flowing into Whitehall.
Together, they made their way down the long marble hallway, with soaring ceilings, fine, gilded furniture, and exquisite paintings. They reached the Great Hall, where servants flanked the doors while a page announced his arrival to a room full of society dames, politicians, and various other hangers-on. A receiving line had formed to the right of the hall where newcomers such as he were being funneled in to greet the king and queen. Even though his position would have allowed him to once again move ahead of the lesser nobility, he waited his turn, taking the chance to study the royal couple. King Henry was fatter than ever, his girth disguising the athletic giant he had once been. Both his nose and cheeks were reddened, so Thomas knew he had already been in his cups. He lounged on the throne, bored and apathetic, only occasionally smiling at some jest. His queen, in contrast, was a magnet. The grosser part of Thomas could see the allure of Anne Boleyn. She was a very comely woman; slim of form, but with generous curves and an erect posture that presented her features in the best way. Her face smoldered with dark hair, dark eyes and a luscious smile that made it difficult to look away.
But he did look away, running his gaze around the Great Hall, alert for anything out of the ordinary. It all seemed familiar and mundane however, footmen came and went, guests mingled and laughed; nothing seemed to be amiss.
Thomas sensed that the tower was at peace for the moment, the guards having taken care of their initial responsibilities. He reset his working area and drew the parchment out again. The images of that evening were still fresh in his mind as he began writing.
“The King and Queen loomed ahead of me, drawing closer as each new set of fawning buffoons completed their curtsies and moved ahead. Suddenly, it was my turn to bow before their majesties.
“Lord More!” King Henry had bellowed, “T’is not often we enjoy the pleasure of your company at the palace, what brings you out?” I was so conscious of the need for discretion, that for a moment I was discomfited by his question.
“Your Majesty, I…I..find I have been neglectful of many social duties of late, and since a man must eat…” I said, with a smile that I hoped was disarming.
King Henry smiled in return, “You see there, my Queen, honest as the day is long.” Henry brought the back of Queen Anne’s hand to his lips and placed a kiss there. I shifted my eyes to this queen who had so transfixed him. She stared into my eyes, with a boldness that felt both sensual and challenging. The cut of her gown revealed the soft, porcelain skin of her throat and chest, stopping just shy of scandalous. She was breathtaking, and my inspection of her found no cause for alarm, except that of temptation.
“Your Highness,” I greeted her, bowing low once more. She nodded without a word, but spoke volumes with her eyes; promises hinting of perfumed skin and sweat-stained sheets. I felt as though I must tear my gaze from her immediately or risk the wrath of the king for the insult of coveting his wife. With a racing heart, I moved away to mingle amongst the other guests. Making my way through the crowd, my senses were all a-tingle. I scrutinized every face I saw for signs of suspicion or treachery, but no one seemed to be paying me any special attention whatsoever. I made a number of small greetings to other colleagues and peers, but there was a dance scheduled after dinner, so the hour for mingling was quickly over.
The bell was rung within only a few moments, and the feasters moved to take their positions at the three-hundred foot long table. Footmen escorted each guest to their assigned places, and mine was a short freckle-faced lad with auburn hair, tied in a tail. He smartly marched me over to a chair at the end of the table only ten spaces from the seats of the King and Queen. Old money, old nobility, and new sycophants filled in the spaces around me, as I took my place.
Once all the guests were seated, a band began playing a piping tune, and a double line of footmen came striding in, carrying large, steaming silver trays loaded with the most succulent dishes imaginable; there was roast boar, with carrots and onions, lamb with leeks, garlic and truffles, and stuffed roasted duck. Tureens with various soups and other delectables were brought in as well. All down the long length of the table, the feast was set.
I confess, by this time, I had seen no sign whatsoever of the faerie. There was some of the normal tomfoolery of course; young noblemen already wearing their ball masks in anticipation of the dance, where they would try their best to charm their way under some rich Madame’s skirts, or the tittering chatter of the numerous ladies of the court. All eyes were on the King however, and silence fell as King Henry stood with his cup to address the guests.
“My friends, noble ladies and gentlemen, I hope you enjoy your dinner this evening. I have the finest chef in all of France,” he said, eliciting chuckles of laughter from the table. With that,
dinner was served.
As the portions were served out, I noticed a gentleman I had never seen before sitting to the left of the queen. I assumed he was a member of the Boleyn family, but he was gray-bearded, and wearing a neat, well-cut ensemble that was somber and understated, as opposed to many of the ridiculous peacocks in the hall. Other than his position next to the queen however, he was completely unremarkable.
I felt for the God-stone in my pocket, and took it out in my closed hand. Other guests were nattering about me, occasionally making a comment or posing a question, which I would briefly answer. I brought my kerchief up as though to muffle a cough, and slipped the stone into my mouth. That is when my nightmare began.
My vision was immediately affected, an amber light coloring everything. A small bright pinprick of the same amber rested on the breast of the feasters, myself included. I reached up to touch it, but my hand simply passed through it. Very odd indeed, but even more peculiar was that everyone in the hall appeared to be moving very slowly, like flies trapped in syrup. The Duke sitting across from me chewed at a glacial pace, moving his lower jaw in slow, exaggerated circles while he masticated. What was he eating? A tuft of hair slid across his lips in slow motion, and I looked down at the dish on the table between us. Lying on the silver platter were the remains of a dog, which had appeared to be roasted without being skinned. Even as he chewed, the Duke was sawing off another piece of the dog’s ear on his plate. Glancing down at my own plate, I saw that I had consumed a portion of the dog’s foreleg, and I recoiled in disgust! I was bewildered; a small, thin-framed lady was crunching up a mouse. Nausea swept over me as she swallowed it down, tail and all.
I can only imagine the expression that must have been on my face as I looked down the table to see a variety of filth being consumed by the flowered nobility of England. The vegetables were blotched white, black or green with rot, and the soups were tepid flotsam, made with cast-offs from the butcher; skin, hooves and the like. The Earl of Effingham slavered as a sheep’s eye exploded within his mouth, but that was of small matter compared to the Baroness seated to my left, who was hacking away at the remains of a human foot!
I spit the God-stone back into my kerchief, in a fit of contrived coughing, and the world returned to normal. I looked around me to find the scene lively, with the same delicious trays set before me. The Baroness’ foot had returned to a juicy slice of beef steak. My dog was again a wonderfully prepared bit of lamb, but it made my stomach turn.
“Lord Chancellor, are you alright?” asked the Duke. I was afraid I was going to become sick at the table, but I steeled myself.
“Yes…yes, excuse me, I’ve not felt well lately, and lamb is a rich dish,” I said.
“That it is Sir, one which I relish,” the Duke said with a smile as he speared another piece and laid it on his plate.
I looked up and down the table, but my actions had thus far raised no suspicion. The king and queen were engaged with the lucky few around them, and I noted again the vibrant allure of Queen Anne.
Taking hold of my resolve, I raised my kerchief once more and took the stone in my mouth. Again, the light turned amber, and the grotesque feast continued. I looked to see if King Henry and his queen were also partaking, when I saw her; the abomination. In place of the beautiful, ever-so-alive queen was a naked, moldering corpse! I watched in fascinated horror while Henry laughed and jabbered like an ape, oblivious to the filthy thing sitting beside him. He was holding her hand, and slime from the ruin of her rotting flesh covered their entwined fingers, soiling the tablecloth.
Twice, I watched him bring her hand to his lips, leaving a smear of grave-dirt and rot in the tangle of his mustache. The flesh of her face had already turned the purplish, green-black of putrefaction, and her skin hung loose on her frame. Her lips, so beautiful and tempting in the illusion, were drawn back in a stretched grimace, displaying a mouthful of broken, jagged teeth. The corpse sat as still as you would expect a dead thing to be, except the eyes were open, staring straight ahead, while a throbbing, sullen blue light glowered in them. I noticed people speaking as if to the queen, gesticulating, laughing, but the ghoul turned neither left nor right.
My pulse raced and pounded in my temple as I contemplated the king’s dead succubus. I was horror-stricken, but I did not know how to proceed. I tore my eyes away from the creature on the throne, to see another standing at the Duke’s elbow. It was a short, fat little goblin, with a black tongue, and warty bumps all over its face and head. It reached long thin fingers up to drop another mouse on the lady’s plate. Further down the table to my right, another of the creatures smeared excrement on the bread of a young knight.
In the shock of seeing this dead queen, I had not noticed her kinsman had been replaced. Sitting in the space where the neat gentleman had been, was a man, striking in face and form, dressed in pieces of silver armor, heavy filigree covering every inch. A thick mane of dark wavy hair lay over a red mantle, with the remaining accoutrements of his gear being all black, even to the hilt of his sword. He reclined in his chair like a lion looking over sheep, and the menace of his gaze was powerful. It was Bael, and he was staring at me!
I quickly averted my eyes, and pretended to respond to the conversation around me. I forced a smile, and turned to the Baroness, who had devoured a fair portion of the foot. I held my queasy stomach at bay, and when I slid my eyes to Bael a few moments later, his gaze had wandered elsewhere. I desperately wanted to flee!
I palmed the God-stone, and the creatures vanished beneath their faerie magic. I surged to my feet, stumbling as I pushed my chair out of the way and stepped away from the table.
“Pray, excuse me,” I said to my fellow guests, “I am not well.” I made a vague genuflection in the king’s direction before turning to hurry from the hall. Upon calmer reflection, I wish that I would have stayed a little longer, in order to gain a more complete catalog of the variety and number of faerie creatures that now roamed the palace.
“Now you understand,” Micah said, once I was safely back home.
“I do not understand! What was the purpose of that disgusting display?”
“Bael has no love for humans, Thomas. He blames them for our fall from grace. Tonight you saw one of the many depravities he has visited upon your people. His intent is to humiliate and debase them, even as he causes their ultimate destruction.”
He was King Henry the VIII, by the Grace of God, King of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith and of the Church of England and also of Ireland in Earth Supreme Head. Heedless of the evening swelter, he sat alone in his solar, an ermine robe draping his shoulders. He stared off across the gardens of Whitehall, lit by lamps and moonlight.
What a fool, he thought. After all the favor and grace I did show him, he had the gall to betray me in such a way! There was a time when Henry had considered Thomas More a great friend. He respected More’s intelligence and wise counsel, and even his principles, although they had irritated Henry on a number of occasions. He had forgiven the numerous small slights to his majesty, either put forth in parliament by More, or supported by him; that was just business. Henry understood politics, and he allowed Thomas to play his part. Even so, it was hard to ignore the stab of disloyalty he felt when More had refused to support his annulment of Catherine of Aragon in favor of his newly beloved queen, Anne Boleyn. Still, Henry had not pressed him on it. He allowed Thomas his share of free will in the matter, for in the end, one man’s opinion one way or the other wouldn’t make a difference. There was such a tremendous scandal about “The King’s Great Matter,” More’s refusal to attend the royal wedding was scarcely noticed.
It was a much more serious matter, however, when More refused to sign either the First Succession Act, which named Anne Boleyn as Queen and her child Elizabeth as heir to the throne, or the Act of Supremacy, which broke ties with the church of Rome, and named Henry as the head of the Church of England. Incredulous, Henry listened to his Prime Minister describe More’s public refusal to sign the documents. Furious at More’s opposition, Henry had raged through the palace, smashing glassware and furniture alike, but even that was not what had landed More in the tower. No, it was their last conversation, and Thomas’ answer that would cost him his head. Henry sipped his wine in the darkness, remembering their exchange…
“Saddle my horse!” he shouted, striding down the Great Hall. Liveried servants raced ahead to open doors and announce the King as he stomped out to the stables, grabbing the reins from a terrified groomsman. He thundered away from the palace, brutally lashing his horse and racing ahead of his bodyguards, scattering peasants as the heavy stallion’s hooves beat down the London streets. The ten-minute ride allowed his temper to cool only slightly before he brought the horse to a skidding halt at the gate to More’s residence. A doorman bowed low as the King swept past him and into the house.
“Where is your master? Fetch him immediately, I am in no mood to wait!”
“Yes, your Majesty,” the man said, as he quickly scooted off down the hallway.
Henry’s temper was still pulsing in his temple a moment later when Sir Thomas More entered the hall. “Your Majesty, you honor my home with your presence,” he said.
“Is that so?” the King spat, “Then why has my Lord Chancellor dishonored me by refusing to sign my Acts?”
More met the King’s glare, but his shoulders sagged, and with a quick glance at the numerous servants standing by with downcast eyes, he said, “Your Highness, may we speak of this privately?” He motioned the King towards the library, and Henry clenched his jaw, but stamped into the room ahead of More.
More closed the door behind him as he entered the room. Henry waited to hear More speak, holding his own temper in check for the moment.
“Sire, I am sorry if my actions have caused the King any embarrassment or distress. That was certainly not my intent.”
“Then why, Thomas? I have extended my hand in friendship to you a thousand times, and yet you are the only one who refuses to sign.” Recalling that moment, Henry knew the next words out of Thomas’s mouth were going to be fateful.
“I cannot, your Majesty. I object to Lady Boleyn…”
“Queen Anne, More, mind your tongue!” Henry barked.
“I object to your queen, and your designation as head of the Church of England.” More’s statement fell like a thunderclap, and left a burning silence in its wake.
Henry gritted his teeth and held tight to his composure, “I don’t give a damn what you object to, Lord Chancellor, you are a high official in service to my government, not some damned priest! Every other lord and priest in this kingdom has signed the Acts, so it is done, whether you object or no. You will sign those Acts and demonstrate your fealty to your King, do you understand?”
Henry glared at him, but More stared right back. A heartbeat passed, when More leaned forward, bringing his face within a foot of Henry’s, “I know what you have done. I have seen them. This must stop, before it is too late. Otherwise, you are damned.”
What he had done? A flicker of uncertainty tickled his heart. Was More babbling about that damned Roman pope again, or…did he know? He was so taken aback, he didn’t even remark on being spoken to with such familiarity. “What the hell are you talking about? Make sense, man!”
More stared cooly back at the King before turning and walking over to a writing desk near the window. He lifted the lid and took out a small book, then turned back to Henry.
“I know about your advisor, Sire. He is not who you think he is.” Henry took the proffered book, and opening it, saw notes and drawings on a fantastic figure. Divine and martial, Henry recognized the countenance of Saint Gabriel. More knows!
Henry had been relieved. More knew! It had been so hard to keep the secret, when all he wanted to do was shout it to everyone; proof of his divine right. The angel had appeared to him three years before, telling Henry his kingship was anointed by God. Gabriel offered counsel and authority to guide his rule, explaining his divine right as King far superseded that of some corrupt Roman priest. How had More had discovered the truth?
“If you know about my ‘advisor,’ then you must realize the truth of the Act of Supremacy. I am ordained to head the church, and my queen was chosen by Saint Gabriel himself.”
“No, your Majesty, you have been tricked. The devil is in your palace.” Henry still shuddered at the memory of those words, shocked at More’s complete misunderstanding.
“Lord More, I fear you have begun to believe everything the papists tell you. My mandate is from God himself, whose angel shields me. Why do you not rejoice at this knowledge?”
“You are beguiled my King. Would an angel suffer an unholy abomination in its presence?” More arched one trembling eyebrow, waiting for his answer.
“What the devil are you talking about?” The blood in his brain was beginning to boil again, his patience near to breaking.
“You have been consorting with the undead. ‘Queen Anne’ is an animation from the grave. She will never bear a child, for her flesh is rotten and corrupt. Any issue from your union would be an imp from the pit itself. I have seen it with my own eyes, Sire. With this knowledge, how could I possibly sign the Acts?”
King Henry recalled the powerful backhanded blow with which he had struck Thomas. His Lord Chancellor fell to the floor, and stayed there looking up at Henry. More had offered neither resistance, nor retraction. Henry looked at his hands. One of his rings had left a bloody furrow across More’s cheek.
“You are mad, Thomas,” he growled, and taking the book, walked out of the house.
What choice did I have at that point? he thought to himself. Rather than being in awe of a corporeal angel, he accused me of consorting with the devil and named my queen a lich! He even wrote a book about it, for God’s sake! Henry had returned within the hour with a troop of soldiers and ordered More’s arrest. Part of him wished that Thomas had taken his family and fled, but his heart knew More would never run. Henry had since read the entire book, and found Thomas had imagined a whole cast of folk-tale creatures; goblins and imps and such. It was very dangerous material indeed, especially coming from such a highly respected man. Even without a shred of proof, that book would have caused an immediate uproar and a challenge to his supremacy. No, More is getting what he deserves. He brought this on himself. One more damned night, and this will all be over.
May God have mercy on his soul.
On the day of his arrest, armed soldiers had stormed Thomas’ house. They were accompanied by the King, who ordered him restrained while the manse was ransacked. Thomas’ wife and daughter protested as tactfully as possible, but Henry cared not a whit. He moved through their home pointing at books or papers, which a thin, black-robed monk would quickly stash in a large bag. This was standard treatment for those accused of treason, of course, but very unusual for the king himself to conduct the search for evidence. But Thomas knew why the king had come; the book had scared him.
Thomas stopped scratching as the stub of his candle guttered and flickered. Wax ran down the side of the chest as he opened it to retrieve another. The three pages were almost covered, with only a small portion remaining. He felt there was one more entry needed to complete this book; a copy of the one King Henry had taken…
“It should be noted that the lich in King Henry’s bed was not the Lady Anne Boleyn, but merely a surrogate, used by Bael to further defile an already debauched and morally repugnant king. I dread to think of what has happened to her. ”
Thomas dusted the page, and blew the excess off, waving it in the air to make sure the ink dried, before laying it atop the other two. With a quick look down the stairwell, he hurried over and lifted the side of the mattress against the wall, to retrieve the other thirty pages of his manuscript. The sketches, notes and details of everything Micah had told him were all there, a convincing piece of work for any man of science or religion. During the months that following that hellish banquet, Micah had helped Thomas construct a compendium of the dark faerie. The creature sitting on the queen’s throne was a Wight, and Micah had even taken him to an old cemetery outside of a decrepit London burrow to show him another of the creatures…
“Oh, my God. This is the Abomination. I have seen the Walking Death with my own eyes. The Wight is the supreme agent of evil, transfigured from a rotting, stinking corpse. I myself fell under its’ gaze and would have been taken but for Micah, who destroyed the creature. With the strength of many men, its’ skin is the purple-black of putrid corruption, terror of the grave. Only complete destruction of the corpse can prevent the relentless attack. A severed hand will continue to grip and choke, or drag itself back to the body to be rejoined through dark magic. Because the flesh is dead, it does not fear the flame as do other mutations, although it shuns the clean light of the sun. It is the Wight who is given the power to cast the spell of transformation. It is this ghoul, who with gross violation, transforms the child into the monster.”
With a sigh, he shuffled the pages back into order, thirty-three pages of the most shocking and damning evidence ever recorded.
It is done. I have told my story, my truth. Now my only hope lies with my wife and daughter. His plan was to give the documents to them in the morning to smuggle out of the tower. He would urge them to place them in the hands of Thomas’ numerous supporters and allies. There were still men of conviction and strength who would feel obliged to act, if confronted with such evidence of devilish possession. There would be dozens, hundreds of copies made, and distributed to the people. Where would it all end? he wondered. Revolution? Regicide?
“No Thomas,” came a voice from behind him, “give it to me.” Thomas whirled with a start to see Micah standing only feet away.
“Micah!” The appearance of the faerie astounded him; he had not seen Micah since his arrest over a year ago, but even in his worst moments of weakness, Thomas could not deny the reality of what had happened, for he had the ultimate proof. There was a small hole in the mortar between stones in the tower wall, which Thomas had enlarged and then covered back over with a paste of albumen and dirt scrapings. Nestled within was the God-stone.
A sense of relief filled him, as well as that of anger. “Where have you been? Why haven’t you visited me in all these months?”
“I am sorry Thomas. I would have, but there are conditions that prevent me from mounting a direct conflict with Bael. You must believe me when I tell you that I have done my very best to shield you.”
“Truthfully? And why are you here now?”
“Your book Thomas. I have shared my knowledge of the creator and his works with you, my friend, but this knowledge is not for everyone.”
Thomas’ jaw dropped open, “I don’t understand.”
“Yes, you do Thomas, consider: You have created a valuable weapon, one that will survive the centuries, but it is not for the masses. This information must be used with care, or the results could be as disastrous as anything my brother may devise. As for Bael and King Henry, I have already taken measures to destroy that union.”
Micah placed his hand on Thomas’ shoulder, “Trust me. You will only place your family in danger if you give them this material. They will feel constrained to take action, which can only lead to their destruction, or they will try to hide or destroy it, either of which will negate its purpose.”
Micah was right, Thomas realized. His judgment had been clouded. The loneliness of his imprisonment had made him desperate. It would be a death sentence for his family to be caught with this book. With a heavy
heart, he passed the pages to Micah.
The sun had risen in his cell, but Thomas had been up all night. Soon, he would rest forever. Sergeant Durham had been desperate enough for the three gold ducats, and per his request, Thomas was allowed to embrace his wife and daughter once more. Their reunion was brief, but sweet, Thomas kissing his wife’s hair, and folding his arms around his child, one last time. When the guards came for him, he kissed them each once more, and bid them farewell.
He was placed on a hurdle, and taken to the Tower Green, the place intended for his execution. He was at ease however; there were no jeering crowds, no hateful assaults from the peasantry. Only a somber throng of folk, many of whom seemed to be weeping.
As they came within sight of the green, a scaffold appeared, complete with a gibbet and a brazier. A burning brazier? he wondered, a gibbet? Why is that here? He gulped when he saw the executioner’s other tools; something was terribly wrong.
When the hurdle stopped, the guard pulled him off and turned him toward the scaffold stairs.
“Up there now,” muttered the guard, nudging Thomas toward the steps. Now that the moment had arrived, it seemed surreal. He stepped onto the stairs, and ascended. As he rose to the platform, the executioner came into view. He was tall and hooded, with a long-handled axe standing in front of him. Thomas flinched, but stepped onto the platform.
The Master at Arms began reading his sentence aloud, “…from thence the prisoner shall be taken to the place of execution, where he shall be hanged by the neck until half-dead, then drawn, with his entrails burned before his living eyes, then beheaded and quartered, with his separate parts to be displayed upon the gates of the City of London as a warning to all others of the consequences of Treason.”
There was a collective gasp from the crowd gathered around the platform. Drawing and Quartering was the most heinous execution, generally reserved for the worst brigands. The depth of Thomas’ “treason” was his refusal to sign the Acts. It was expected that he would be offered a gentleman’s death, a quick beheading, but apparently King Henry wanted more suffering from him than that. Thomas blanched, and his knees felt weak.
There were shouts of “No! No!” and “Mercy!” from the crowd as the guard led him over to the gibbet. Thomas had kept his last golden coin to give to the executioner to ensure a quick death, but now he did not know if it would make a difference. The masked man leaned the axe against the gibbet post and walked over to stand in front of him, but when Thomas looked up into the man’s face, there was no mask, and the face was Bael’s.
“Greetings Thomas, I have heard so much about you,” the faerie grinned. “Unfortunately for you, our acquaintance will not last long, nor will you find it a happy one.” He put the noose over Thomas’ head and cinched it tight. With a vicious smile, he turned Thomas back around to face the crowd.
Thomas looked out into the crowd, his heart thumping in his chest, legs threatening to buckle from underneath him. Mournful expressions of pity and sorrow were on every face, except one. Thomas’ eye was drawn to the face, and saw…Micah. The angel/faerie stood in the crowd, smiling a gentle, beatific smile. A warm peace settled over Thomas, quieting his trembling and easing his heart. He let out a huge sigh, pushed his chest out, and stood at his full height. The crowd hushed to hear his words.
In a clear, loud voice, Thomas said, “Always the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” Micah flashed a strange series of hand gestures, and at the very moment the rope was drawn tight, gave Thomas the gift of enchanted sleep. Thomas felt nothing of what followed.
In the months and years that followed, Micah would have his revenge on both King Henry and Bael. He had woven his own cleverly devised curse, delivered into the flesh of the King and his lich-queen by the sting of a wasp. Within a few months, the magic animating the Wight was unraveled, and the king was infected with a curse that took his children, spoiled his seed, and tortured him over the next ten years. Micah’s curse swelled him like a pustule until he died in agony with poison coursing through his veins. After Henry’s death, Micah stripped and tanned the skin off his back, using it to cover the bindings of Thomas’ book; The Book of More.
Daryl Parker’s newest short story The Death Of More is a companion piece and prequel to his book, Sacrifice of the Season. Daryl’s next novel Journey of Fear is scheduled for release August 2012. Visit his website at DarylParker.com for more information.