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The White Tower

Chapter 3

The Bishop, The Steward and The Priest

“My Lord?”
    Bishop Pye straightened up and half-turned in his chair. He studied the serious youth by his side.
    “You sent for me?”
    The Bishop leaned back. He was glad that his instincts had proved right. Several days had passed since Ben had started working at the Palace. Despite warnings from both the Archdeacon and the Dean, not once had he had any cause to complain. “I did. When I’ve finished this…” he waved his hand at a half-written letter on the desk “…you are to take it to Whitehall Palace.”  
    He sharpened the quill, dipped it in the inkpot and bent back over the letter. For a few minutes the only noise Ben could hear was the scratch of the sharpened point across the surface of paper.      The library was his favourite room in the Palace. He wandered across to one of the two walls lined from ceiling to floor with rows of shelves of leather-bound books and studied the titles carefully. The other two walls were covered by oak panels. The furniture in the room was simple; just the Bishop’s desk and chair in the centre strategically placed opposite a pair of lattice windows and a heavy wooden chest next to the door.
    Ben smiled. The room reminded him of his father’s study at the university, which no doubt explained why he always felt comfortable and safe when in it. If the Bishop was in the library he would frequently select a book and give it to Ben to study while he got on with whatever he was writing.
      But when the room was empty Ben would sit in the window seat and gaze down into the courtyard. He glanced across at the window and shivered. His smile faded. Where were the others? He walked slowly across to the window. It had seemed such a good idea at first… leaving them back in the garden. Now he wasn’t so sure. He had no idea where they were, had no way of getting in touch with them except for the coming meeting at London Bridge of course… but that was still three days away.
      Apart from losing contact with the others he’d been lucky. The Bishop was a good master, firm but fair… unlike many he’d seen while delivering his master’s messages.  Working for Bishop Pye had allowed him to get to know his way around London… and he’d quickly memorized the most direct way to the bridge from the palace. It had also given him plenty of opportunities to hear the current gossip. Unfortunately to date he’d learned nothing at all about the Gleeman…   
      He stared out of the window. From it he could just see the river that cut the city in half through a gap in the buildings. Today he’d have to cross the Thames… something he’d never done before. Perhaps there would be news of the Gleeman on the other side.  
    “Ben!”
    He spun around. “Yes my Lord?”
    The Bishop frowned. “Are you ill lad? You are very white.”
    Ben shook his head. “No, my Lord, I am well. I was thinking about my friends.  Friends I have not seen for many days. I am afraid…”  He broke off and looked away.
    Bishop Pye half rose then sank back in the chair. “These are indeed troubled
times,” he muttered.
    Ben’s eyes clouded. If the Bishop only knew… he forced a smile. “I do not know if they are in trouble, my Lord.” He swallowed. “But I would like to find them… to learn that they are safe.”
      The Bishop tightened his lips. His expression darkened. He folded the letter, sealed the flap with wax and held it out. “Take this to Whitehall Palace. Give it to the Queen’s Steward, Master Walker and to him alone. Do you understand? Bring it back to me if you cannot deliver it.”
      Ben nodded and took the letter.     
                                                                              ***
“Sir?”
    Master Walker swung round. His eyes narrowed. A boy had followed him into the garden and now appeared to have the effrontery to be calling to him. He waited – quite still.    
      Reaching the stern faced man, Ben doffed his cap and bowed. “Sir, can you tell me where I will find Master Walker? The guards on the gate told me I would find him in the garden.”
    “Who wants to know?”
    “A messenger – from Bishop Pye.”
    “Ahh… the Bishop. I thought I recognized the uniform. Well boy… you are fortunate. I am the Queen’s Steward.”
    “Truly, sir?”
    The Steward’s face darkened. He stared at Ben, who stepped back hastily out of reach of his long arms. After a few tense moments Master Walker relaxed and smiled, exposing yellowing teeth. “Truly… but if you like we will find someone you can ask…”
    “There is no need. Pray accept my apologies, sir.” Ben bowed again and his hand went to the pouch attached to his belt. “I have a message for you… from the Bishop.”   
      “Not here,” the Steward said quickly, seeing a guard had entered the garden and was watching them curiously. On the far side of the lawn a group of courtiers playing bowls had stopped and were also staring at them. He shook his head. “No; definitely not here. There are too many people about. Come, follow me. Say nothing until we are alone.” He turned on his heel and marched up the path. As they approached the heavy oak door two soldiers guarding it flung it wide open and stood to attention.  
      Without slowing or even acknowledging their presence the Steward entered the building, strode past a liveried servant scurrying along the corridor in the opposite direction and up a narrow staircase.  At the top of the stairs was another door. The soldiers guarding this one lowered their pikes and opened it. The Steward led Ben into a high-roofed chamber and the door closed behind them. On and on they went, through another chamber, then a third and a fourth.  
      At last they entered a long gallery with yet another door at the far end. Halfway across the room Master Walker, his dark cloak flowing out behind turned towards a side door and went through it and up a flight of stairs.  
      On a narrow landing, he stopped and unlocked a door. He held it open. “Inside,” he ordered before peering back down the stairs.    
      Ben hesitated.
      “It is quite safe… a place where we will not be disturbed.”
      Ben looked at him curiously as he slipped past him and entered the room.
      Once again Master Walker glanced quickly up and down the stairs before following him into the room. Closing the door he advanced on Ben holding out an imperious hand.  
      Ben gave him the letter.
      The Steward broke the seal and scanned the contents of the letter, occasionally pausing to glance at Ben as though checking he was still there. When he’d finished reading he folded the paper and stared at him. His eyes glinted strangely. At last he went to a window and rested his arm on the sill. “You can assure your master that I will do what he asks,” he said, his back turned to Ben.
    Ben shifted uneasily. Was he being dismissed? If so, where was he supposed to go?  He could find his way down the stairs… but after that...?
      He cleared his throat.
      The Steward swung round. “What… still here? I gave you my message for your master.”
    “I am sorry Sir.” Ben cleared his throat again. “But I don’t think I can find the way out… the palace is so large…”
    “You… you… oh… must I do everything? Very well… come with me. Hurry boy… my Mistress is expecting me.”
    He raced from the room and down the stairs like a whirlwind. Ben ran after him, finding it difficult to keep up. Once or twice he was certain he’d lost the Steward, but when he reached the next opening he’d see the familiar dark figure walking briskly into the distance… By now the Steward was so far ahead Ben had to speed up quite dramatically if he was to have any chance of catching him up.
    At last the Steward stopped by a door… a door identical to every door they’d passed in their mad flight.  
       “Through there…take the second door on the left in the next corridor and you will find yourself in the garden. I presume once there you will know how to get back to Lambeth.”  
    Ben chose to ignore the sarcasm. “Yes.  Thank you.”
      “Good. Hurry boy.” The Steward watched him struggled with the latch and tapped his foot impatiently. “Hurry boy,” he repeated, “I hear footsteps. It would not be wise for me to be seen with you.” As the footsteps grew louder he physically thrust Ben out of the way. “Move boy,” he snapped lifting the latch. Creaking loudly the door slowly swung open.  
      Ben ran outside.  Behind the Steward somebody gasped. Master Walker slammed shut the door and swung around. “What do you want?” he snapped.
      Jonathan stared at the door.
      “I said – what do you want?”  
    Jonathan reddened and gave a quick bow. “Nothing, Sir. I was… was… on my way to the kitchens.”
    “Hmm!” The Steward eyed him intently.  
      Jonathan shifted uneasily, his mind racing. Had that actually been Ben? He glanced at the Steward who smiled at him… a smile almost more menacing than his usual scowl.  
       “You’d better hurry lad. You don’t want to keep the cook waiting.” Master Walker turned and walked back up the passage.
    Jonathan drew in his breath, torn between following the Steward and going after
the boy who’d just left.  When the Steward disappeared around a corner he glanced at the closed door for a moment and then made up his mind. If the boy had been Ben he knew where to find him. He turned around and set off… back up the passage… in the opposite direction to the kitchens.

The Priest dragged the hood lower over his head. Using a key fastened to the rope around his waist he locked the heavy oak door. With his head bent and hands clasped together he set off, his mind running through the order of service he was about to lead in the Queen’s Chapel.
     “Father!”
    He smiled and stopped. “Yes my son?”
    “Father, good news,” whispered Master Walker, bending his knee.
      Hearing their voices Jonathan tiptoed to the corner and peered around it. At the far end of the corridor were two men.  One was the Steward who was kneeling in front of the other… the Queen’s Priest.  
      Master Walker kissed the ring on the hand held out.  
     “Tell me my Son.” The Priest’s eyes burned as the Steward handed him the letter.  
    “Father, we have Bishop Pye in our power. Here is the proof.”
    The Jesuit crossed himself and read quickly. Folding the sheaf of paper he gestured to the Steward to stand up. “You have done well. My master will no doubt reward you when he arrives in England.”
    “When do you expect Prince Philip?”
      “It is in the hands of our Lord. I understand he has left Spain. Provided the wind remains fair he should be here in good time.”
    Master Walker bowed. “I will make sure all is ready for his arrival. The Queen is anxious her future husband receives a royal welcome.”
    The Priest tightened his fingers around the letter. “I will talk to her Majesty after the service. Have everything ready to move against the Bishop…”
    “When Father?”
      Jonathan strained his ears.
    “Patience my son… you will learn… all in good time.”
      “Yes Father.” The Steward bowed again.  
      Jonathan fled back along the corridor.
                                                                              ***
Deep in thought Ben made his way to the river. He shivered. Today was the first time he’d met Master Walker and it wasn’t an experience he was anxious to repeat. Those eyes… that look of… of… triumph… when he’d read the letter.
    What had the Bishop written?
    He glanced across the water. The ferry was some distance away. He stepped on to the landing stage and stared back at the palace, his eyes troubled.