Red Ned Tudor Mysteries

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Liberties of London Chapter 2

Welcome dear visitor and to Red Ned’s Tudor Mysteries Blog
If you have any interest in our most famous and infamous royal dynasty, this is the place to visit.  You see below a sample of my first story Red Ned and The Liberties of London (a 40,000 word novella complete with maps and other Tudor goodies ) the ebook itself comes out sometime this week on both Smashwords and Amazon Kindle!  It will also contain a few sample chapters from The Queen’s Oranges, were Ned and his companions are dragged in to a dangerous mix of murder, treason and plot possibly involving gonnepowder and… well oranges.
For your pleasure we have chapter 2 of The Liberties of London, feel free to have a read or leave a comment.

Chapter 2 An Unwanted Task

The snow had looked so pleasant from inside the tavern.  Trudging through it though reduced Ned to a string of damply chilled bitter complaints about his lords and masters.  And that gloating bastard Gruesome Rodger!  What was so damned urgent that that foolish herb dabbler sent her looming minion out to menace and threaten his attendance?  It was warm and comfortable back at the Spread Eagle Tavern.  Good company, plenty of sweet sack and they’d just begun to serve the first feast!  He’d barely even started that venison pie and it had smelt so delightful.  Just to rub salt in the wound, his daemon incautiously reminded him of the lost opportunity of cards and dice.  Damn that summons!  He’d planned to reap a dozen angels or more from the Christmas games of chance.  Worst of all, he’d been forced to leave Rob Black in charge.  Now the feasting would be fine, but the lad had too open and honest a face to deal with the practiced deceivers of the law courts in a round of Ruff and Honour.  Despite that mounting frustration, Ned steeled himself and strode grimly on in the wake of the long legged Rodger. 
As the world currently stood, it behoved Ned not to upset Cromwell.  The former secretary to Cardinal Wolsey was now a rising star of the Royal Court.  He’d even spoken in defence of his cast aside lord and master in the recent Parliament.  Now considering that to the Commons, Wolsey was as popular as a visitation of the ‘sweats’, that was either extremely brave or the height of folly.  Only a man certain of Royal favour dared take the chance.  Ned, it seemed, wasn’t the only one to profit from the Cardinal’s Angels.  Cromwell, for his minuscule efforts, had reaped the richer rewards of Royal patronage, while Meg and her brother Rob, and of course Gruesome Roger along with himself, took all the risks of solving the combination of treason and murder.
 It wasn’t fair, but then it was a corrupt and decayed world where priests waxed fat on selling indulgences for sin, then tottered off to the priory where they caroused and humped the choicest punks till the Compline bells reluctantly dragged them off to mass.  As they say, ‘tis only perfect in heaven.  It is claimed by philosophers and physicians that the physical world can reflect the melancholy or choler of the inner man.  That was probably why treatments for illnesses have to be timed so closely to their influencing astronomical signs.  Or in layman’s terms, so as above, so below.  Well Ned had failed to follow this simple rule, lost as he was in shivering rancour. 
So concentrating on his higher difficulties he lost track of the lower obstructions and tripped over a low mound and sprawled sliding several feet down the street.  “Phewwer!  By all the damned saints!”   Ned shook his head and spat out a mouthful of snow, while he heard a loud raucous laugh from some way above him. 
It was that double damned Gruesome Rodger, and the cursed minion was leaning against a wattle wall for support, in between fits of mirth that almost left him breathless.  “By Chris’ blood Bedwell, y’ make a better play at the tumbling fool than any mummer!” 
Ned pushed himself up from the snow and glared.  His gown and over mantle were smeared with some half frozen muck and his borrowed boots had scooped up what felt like a double firkin of snow which was slowly beginning to melt and trickle down his hose.  This wasn’t a good day and he loudly cursed Meg Black as a useless hedge fossicker and Rodger as her witless worthless minion.  His fuming apparently lost its evident meaning for Gruesome Roger was now roaring with laughter, tears even started from his eyes.  Giving up on this fruitless cursing, Ned jammed his sodden cap back on his head, and ignoring the mocking stares and chuckles from the few street denizens, stomped off through the snow.  Meg Black was going to rue this day!
Leaning against the door post of Williams the apothecary, Ned made a vain attempt at cleaning off the encrusted semi frozen ordure from his boots.  He wasn’t sure whether that reduced the stench or just smeared it over a larger surface.  Anyway his effort gave Gruesome Rodger almost as good a chuckle as when he’d tripped over the frozen ruts.  That mocking laughter was echoed by the small cluster of plainly dressed livery men huddled in the shelter of the doorway of the small ale house across the lane.  Ned turned towards them, hand prominently on sword hilt, and snarled.  The mirth subsided as they abruptly retreated indoors.  After some minutes effort, his condition was as good as it was going to get.  So tugging his fur collared over mantle into a less dishevelled condition, he haughtily dismissed Rodger’s smirking bow and strode purposefully through the opened door.  And came to a precipitous halt.
The scene inside was not one he’d in any way anticipated.  Meg Black, the cause of his summoning and current bane of his life, was standing in the centre of the chamber, and looking markedly different.  For one thing, as he’d seen a few hours ago when he snagged Rob, Mistress Black, apprentice apothecary, was pounding away at some arcane blend of herbs and spices in a heavy pestle.  As you’d expect she was dressed in a more trade orientated apparel, which tended towards a heavy linen apron over her workaday simple blue dress.  As befitting the temper of the season, she’d also pulled on a heavy woollen over mantle, probably from her uncle’s wardrobe. Not the most attractive or alluring attire, but Ned understood the requirements of craft.  The workroom, stacked with glass retorts, ambics and pottery jars of herbs and unguents, was not a place to flounce around in silk and scarlet.
Now however Mistress Margaret Black, renowned as the most practical of girls, had somehow transformed into the sort of attire Ned expected to find at court.  A pearl studded french hood covered her long hair and she had on a fur collared blue kirtle and bodice with silk trim.  What was going on?
She also had visitors, a pair of them both sitting on the carved chairs Master Williams reserved for his more important customers.  From their clothing alone they’d have merited a host of bowing flunkeys as well.  A large built woman of middling years sat closest to the fire.  She was arrayed in the sort of dress that Ned had lately seen around the Inns of Court.  It was without excessive trim, ornament or colours, in fact the veritable plain plumaged magpie of modern fashion.  However, as Ned had noticed, it took an awful lot of very expensive material to appear so unadorned.  Any merchant tailor would quiver in ecstasy if she crossed their threshold as a customer.  If that wasn’t enough of a clue to status, a ruby on a gold chain hung from her fur shrouded neck.  Ned immediately turned his skidding halt into a low bow. 
“My lady, this is Master Edward Bedwell.”  The introduction came from a curtseying Meg Black.
“Ahemmm, I see.” It was a reluctant admission of fact, from the kind of disapproving face of the devoted lemon sucker. 
Meg Black undeterred by the sour tone continued with the introductions.  “Ned, I have the honour to present Lady Dellingham and her son Walter.  They’re good friends of Councillor Cromwell and my Uncle Williams.” 
At that none too subtle hint, Ned doffed his cap and gave an extra flourish as he pushed his bow that bit further.  The effort gained a snorted harrumph.  Whether that was approval or disdain was hard to tell.  The cluster of the shivering liverymen outside was explained, though not the reason.  Rodger had been his usual jocular, voluble self and inferred nought of this on the journey through the London slush and snow.  How remiss of him.  He was probably laughing fit to burst outside. 
Ned straightened up.  “My lady, I am honoured to be your servant.”  Well not really but politeness and manners still prevailed, even after being dragged from a roasted pig and venison pie, not to mention the diaphanous clad trio, then half way across the city in the mud and snow, at Mistress Black’s damned summons.  In the pause between courtesies Ned gave the apothecary’s guests a rapid peruse. 
The lad she’d named as Walter sat relatively close to his mother in the same plain, finely cut, dark clothing with not even a touch of velvet for decoration.  At a guess he was about sixteen, tall and thin and, to Ned, the meekest looking lad he’d ever seen.  His hair was butter yellow like his mothers, but whereas hers was primly tucked into a gable hood, Walter’s straggled down to his shoulder in limp tendrils.  It framed the very essence of a forgettable face, washed out grey eyes that bulged and appeared to regard the world around as a mournful and melancholy place. Currently he had his walking stick clenched between his knees and clutched desperately at the silver knob as if it were a child’s sucket that was about to taken away.  Ned’s daemon supplied an appropriate label, ‘Walter wouldn’t say boo to a goose and was the most perfect cony’.  
His mother, Lady Dellingham, gave one of those arch coughs that Ned was starting to associate with another forthcoming statement.  “So you’re Master Bedwell.  Councillor Cromwell spoke of you.”  If you went by the tone of voice, it sounded like Lady Dellingham had equated him as only slightly better than a privy cleaner.  Her throat thrummed in a cross between a growl and a harrumph.  “Ahemmm!  He said your understanding of reform and piety was still in need of some work, though he stated you were a man who knew well the perils of a large city.” 
Ned gave another courtly bow at the evaluation.  It may have been a compliment.  However he knew how Cromwell’s mind ticked and his daemon quivered in alarum.  “Councillor Cromwell is the lodestone of my conscience.”  Ned’s daemon and better angel agreed.  That sounded perfectly acceptable and had the benefit of being true.  He’d be the simplest lackwit if he didn’t keep a watch on Cromwell’s machinations.
At his answer her nostril flared as if she’d tripped over a dead dog.  “Ahemmm, yes.  So Mistress Black has avowed.” 
Ned tried not to glare at the apprentice apothecary to his right.  Something was going on, and he had the strongest suspicion the apprentice herb dabbler was about to dump him in the proverbial privy.  How did all this concern him?  
“Ahemm. Walter is travelling to Zurich after Twelfth Night.  He’s been promised a position in the household of the eminent Pastor, Zwingli.”  
Ned bowed his head in reverence.  Ahh yes, that mention gave him all the information he needed to place Lady Dellingham.  She was one of the clique of ardent church reformers that were said to be associated with Lady Anne Boleyn.  From what he’d heard at the Inns, and from Meg Black, Ulrich Zwingli was reformist enough to be condemned by the church and moderate enough to be lambasted by Luther. 
Lady Dellingham gave another of her distinctive coughs and continued.  “Ahemm.  His father and I felt it would improve his education to view the city, while we consult with Councillor Cromwell and tour some establishments practicing modern reform.” 
To Ned that sounded like the beginning of a ‘however’ statement.  “Ahemm.  Poor Walter here has a delicate constitution and Doctor Butts has prescribed a few days of rest and a diet of lettuce and cooling foods to bring his humours into balance.  However, since my husband and I have to travel to Hampton Court, Councillor Cromwell said we couldn’t do better than commend Walter to your care.” 
Ned tried very hard not to scream out a refusal.  Both his angel and the daemon choked the words into a strangled cough.  Remember, they counselled nervously, the Dellinghams are friends of Cromwell.  
“Ahemm. Walter is as ascetic.  Like all our family, we model our lives on the early church fathers, and follow the pure unencumbered strictures of Our Saviour as translated by our dear brethren overseas.  Back in Shropshire we live a simple life of devotion and prayer.” 
Ned gave what he considered to be a reformer’s tight smile and bowed again, while shooting Meg Black another curious glance.  He still wasn’t sure how all this effected him.  So this pair was as touched as the maddest Bedlamite.  What was the point of dragging him away from the pleasures of the Christmas revel? 
Lady Dellingham gave forth another of her peculiar throat clearings and started up again.  “Ahemm!” 
In the meantime Meg, cursed be her name, Black spoke up.  “My lady, it would be an honour to have him as our guest.” 
No it bloody well wouldn’t, screamed Ned’s daemon, though luckily all that come out was a slight strangled gasp.  Even that sound gained an instant disapproving glare.  Ned apologetically rubbed his throat as though the chill airs of the season were affecting him.
“Ahemm!  Master Bedwell, I hope that is not an ague?  Walter’s humours are so easily unbalanced.  Even the sight of some poor soul coughing sends him into a melancholy humour.” 
At this bizarre reproof, Ned was momentarily lost for an answer.  He needn’t have bothered.  Meg Black immediately stepped into the gap.  “My lady, Master Bedwell is under the supervision of a most distinguished physician who, in the past, served the Royal household, and I dose him weekly to maintain a regimen of good physick.” 
To Ned this was all news.  He tried hard to look healthy and respectful, though his daemon saw fit to question whether this was a concocted story for the benefit of their particular visitor?  Or was Mistress Black still consorting with that notorious trafficker in dark arts, Dr Caerleon?  
It didn’t matter.  Lady Dellingham gave him the sort of long nosed, questioning stare he was sure she bestowed upon known lepers and ‘sweats’ victims.   “Ahemm, if that is so…” 
Lady Dellingham left the statement open and shifted her bulk up from the chair in a slow ponderous upheaval and, ignoring his instant and very courtly bow, turned to her son.  “Walter I leave you in the care of these two.  Remember that in the city the devil lays out snares even for the pious.”  Then giving both Ned and Meg a final lemon–sucking, pinch–mouthed glare, she strode out of the suddenly opened door. 
Ned was the first to recover from the abrupt departure and gave his companion–in–care a quizzical shrug before walking over to Walter with a friendly smile.  “So Walter, what do you want to do and where do you want to go now you’re in the premier city of the kingdom?” 
Their mousy charge gave them both a timid hesitant smile that would shame a cony, and stared at them with those bulging, watery eyes and murmured his request.  Later on Ned would curse that as his greatest mistake.  If only Meg Black had spoken first the trouble may have been less.  But then, when Lady Fortuna deals you a Ruff hand, it pays to play it bold.

And that it for the free sample folks!  The complete story will be available on both Smashwords and Amazon Kindle for an extremely modest price within the next few days!  It will also include a free sample of the next Red Ned Adventure -The Queens Oranges, a complex tale of smuggling, heretical books and ...oranges! 
Regards Greg

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Reality of the Written Word and Thomas More

Truth, the Tudors and Thomas More

Greetings my well regarded readers, all several of you, I hope that the approach of spring (in the north) fills you with the budding joys of renewed life after the crisp chill of winter.  At any time to restore the balance of the humours unsettled by the changing seasons I can recommend a good measure of brandywine infused with honey, ginger and cinnamon as a decent tonic.  I know it helped me regain a lost equilibrium.
Just to repeat my message from the last post, if at all possible I ask you to assist one of the aid programs for those displaced by the Japanese Tsunami, as we’ve seen the news on that multiple tragedy is not improving.  As an example my dear partner and most excellent Uber editor suggest this one for the crafty amongst you

I thought today in between posting chapters from Red Ned’s first book The Liberties of London we’d discuss a vexing subject of Tudor times;

The Truth and the Written Word.

Now in these Postmodern times we’re told that truth is entirely relative I mean we have marketing truth which is only occasionally truthfully or political truth which has a half life of the length the media blurb.  Or we have historical truth which tends to last a very long time indeed, usually just on the life span of its most ardent advocate.
Then again according to Wiki and two modern critics of postmodernism;
Josh McDowell & Bob Hostetler offer the following definition of postmodernism:
“A worldview characterized by the belief that truth doesn’t exist in any objective sense but is created rather than discovered.”… Truth is “created by the specific culture and exists only in that culture. Therefore, any system or statement that tries to communicate truth is a power play, an effort to dominate other cultures.”

That’s amazing it is almost exactly a reading of the prevalent attitude of the Tudor period, where truth was whatever Henry VIII said it was!  If the truth shifted, or as frequently happened, reversed in a 1984 kind of way that was only to be expected, from the most royal of prerogatives.  Politics, personality and dynastic imperatives drove every shift in the Tudor realm as his sovereign majesty desperately pursued a course to gain a male heir and shore up the precarious position of his throne.  This religious, moral and legal flexibility was of course loyally subscribed to by his various ministers during his reign, some more than others.   
To add an extra layer of complexity we also have the intense and bloody religious debate over whether the bible should be translated into the vernacular.  This radical act would allow the commoner to read the gospels in their own language, without the benefit of priestly and naturally more learned and experienced interpretation.  To give a more modern example it is equivalent to walking into Wall Street and demanding to inspect of the books.  As well as requesting a public accountability of Goldman Sachs and having all their records translated from jargonistic financial speak into every day English.  My God absolute heresy!  A damnable threat to the very foundation of the nation!  So with that in mind perhaps you can now understand all this fervour and bloodshed over the truth of the written word, and of course more importantly who got to define that truth.

It was this certainty of the truth of the written word that I want to look at today and how it fitted in with the following:

Truth, the Tudors and Thomas More

Now in these modern enlightened times we look back at the figure of Thomas More with extremely rose tinted glasses.  The famous Tudor writer has this century been canonized as a saint, the subject of a famous play A Man for all Seasons by the British playwright Robert Bolt. This was later turned into a very successful film starring Robert Shaw and Orson Wells.  Saint Thomas More has his own society (on the web) of academics and literary devotees and has been the subject of numerous books praising his courage and devotion in a flurry of devotional or literati appraisals.  Two in particular are considered to represent the latest thinking, one by Peter Ackroyd and the other by Richard Marius.  All of these are devoted to discussing More the humanist, the writer and the catholic martyr.  If a perusal of the Amazon list on More is to be believed, he was a religious thinker extraordinaire and the only man in Tudor England to stand up for Common Rights and Parliamentary Government. 

I feel that this is extremely over glossing the man in his times.  In this adulation and almost sycophantic hagiography (that’s a work similar in style and passion to the lives of saints, all miracles and wonder) we have missed the essential fact of exactly who and what Thomas More was in the reign of Henry VIII. 
For a start More was every inch a Tudor period lawyer, politician and royal servant.  For instance while More was a noted humanist and a friend of Erasmus of Rotterdam, his literary efforts were mostly at the direction of his royal master and senior churchmen all done in the ready expectation of preferment and must be viewed as a form of Tudor period literary flattery.

An excellent example of this is Utopia acclaimed as More’s greatest piece.  For a start it is a direct imitation of Plato’s The Republic.  Now in this period imitation was a standard literary practice and an accepted form of homage to the classic styles of antiquity.  However what most modern hagiographers have missed or ignored is that the mythical land of Utopia about which More writes so intently, is being compared unfavourably with the splendours and liberties of Tudor England, then flourishing under the wise and benevolent rule of the young Henry VIII.  In other words his great work Utopia (which was written and published in latin) was a political satire modelled on popular classical works framed to make Henry’s England look spiffing compared to other kingdoms of Europe.
Thus through that lens it acquires a different complexion, still a brilliant piece of writing but now more political in nature and substance.  As the eminent Tudor historian John Guy makes clear in his work on the public life of Thomas More, the noted humanist writer was primarily a lawyer and a royal servant.  These are the two areas where More made his name and reputation for his ability to negotiate commercial treaties, contracts and represent the King in foreign affairs.  To the knowledgeable Tudor man in the street Sir Thomas More represented the very power of the state via the twin pillars of Tudor monarchy; Law and the Privy Council.
Having set the man in his period we have to accept a common attitude of the time that has carried down to the here and now.  The sanctity of the written word.  I don’t know whether at some subconscious level this is linked to our veneration of sacred texts, or royal and state decrees but it may well be so.  But if anything is written down it carries a certain imprimatur of truth, fact and validity.  Even in obvious pieces of written fiction there are many who insist that Dan Browne’s Da Vinci Code really is disguised fact.
It is the same for Thomas More, especially since his canonisation.  However I believe this is revisionism of history of the worst kind.  Whatever More wrote cannot be accepted as the unvarnished truth, he was as stated above, first and foremost a lawyer and a politician.  As both of those professions will quietly affirm, truth can be a very subjective and elusive creature. After all do you believe everything a politician tells you?
 ‘Read my lips no new taxes’ is one infamous quote, or for the antipodeans;
“No. There's no way a GST will ever be part of our policy."
"Never ever.  It's dead. It was killed by voters at the last election."
If you want more contemporary instances we have suspected WMD’s as justifications for war.  While violent acts of repression of legitimate protest and rigged state trials are unfortunately still a fact of life in this modern world as much as in the Tudor Period.  It is a common fact that we draw upon figures and events of the past to justify current ideological positions or attitudes, historians may not like it and disapprove, however it is a fact of life.  In this regard the actions and life of Sir Thomas More are no different. In the coming posts I am going to examine More and his actions as a moderately independent historian.  At this point I must state that I am not an evangelical protestant nor do I belong to any fundamentalist religious sect of any persuasion.  To firm that position I am also not a catholic lapsed or otherwise, I have no particular angst or vendetta against the Catholic Church other than its habit of convenient rewriting of history.  (A sin that all states and organisations have suffered from through out history) 

That said I will explore in coming posts evidence that suggests that it was More’s political actions that created the hard divisions between Protestant and Catholic in Tudor England. Also that his trial for treason rather than being a travesty of justice was more fair and just than any similar proceedings up to the trial of the Leveller leader Lilburne over a hundred year later.  Even more controversial I believe that Thomas More was guilty of real treason against the realm of England which I hope to prove by the end of this series.

In the mean time keep an eye on these post as well as Smashwords and Amazon Kindle the Red Ned story  The Liberties of London will be out soon!
Regards Greg

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Liberties of London Chapter 1

Once more good day to my growing legion of devoted readers, first before we start this next instalment of Red Ned I would like you to take a moment to think of the survivors of the Japanese Tsunami and the on going Nuclear disaster.  If it is possible for you, please donate or support a local/international charity of your choice for those in the Antipodes I suggest this site .  Or see my prior Red Ned posts for other options.
Now having left poor Ned hanging over the proverbial we go to chapter 1 and the start of his predicament, have read, and a chuckle as Ned tries to sort out his mounting difficulties in his version of a perfect Christmas.

A Christmas Revel, Christmas Eve London 1529

The trilling notes of a harp chimed gently behind him as Ned rubbed his hands in front of the blazing fire.  The sounds were echoed a moment later by the throaty laugh of a girl and the soft clink of a cup of sack bumping the table.  A glance out the diamond paned window told him that they’d made it here in good time.  The usual mounds of street refuse were now being steadily covered in a hefty layer of white snow.  No doubt even the water tubs that stood under the building’s eaves now had a surface of ice an inch thick.  Despite the chill he found the scene alluring.  London looked so much different in the white velvet blanket, almost as if it was donning its Twelfth Night mask apparel.  Thus in one day she transformed into a pale fair mistress, rather than as some court wit had it, a pock marked crone with the fetid stench of the Fleete Ditch.   The improved aspect and the subduing of the foul city airs were to Ned only the first of the benefits the winter snow had bestowed on him. 
The second had been the growling dismissal by his master, Richard Rich, that year’s esteemed Autumn reader at Lincoln Inn.   Most prentice lawyers were worked hard by their masters, eager to screw the last ounce of worth from the winter’s light, before having to resort to rush lights or expensive candles.  So Ned shouldn’t complain too much because his fingers were cramped from his laboured task of writing up pleas for the upcoming law term.  Or that the room’s meagre fire put out so little warmth that the ink in its brass pot frequently froze over and he had to chaff it warm to write.  However in his case it was worse, since his master was also inconveniently his uncle. In this season it was a common joke around the Inns that Master Rich’s filial regard for his ‘worthless’ nephew bordered on that of His Sovereign Majesty’s for his recently dismissed former chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey.  Thus, despite the difficulties, Ned’s better angel kept reminding him it could be worse.  He could be serving his patron, Councillor Cromwell, out in the biting cold on some thankless task.  However speculation didn’t aid his plans as his frustrated daemon whispered.
As it transpired, he needn’t have fretted.  Lady Fortuna in the guise of his Aunt Elizabeth swept in to remind his ‘honoured’ guardian that he’d promised to take her and the children to the first of the Christmas celebrations at the Mercers Hall.  That was just as well.  Three hours of enduring Uncle Richard’s disapproving snorts at his efforts had strained the bonds of service.  If the old fool had sneered at his transcribing one more time Ned would thrown the pile of papers and the frozen ink pot at him and be damned.  However a miracle had happened and the Christmas piety had penetrated his uncle’s hard and flinty heart.  Thus he was released.  At the news Ned’s oldest cousin, little Henry, some seven years old, had capered, jumped and squealed in excitement.  Young Hugh though just chuckled and gurgled at the performance.  At barely a year he wriggled and kicked bundled in a warm blanket.  Luckily Ned had remembered to plead a prior rendezvous with his friend of last year, Rob Black, over at Williams the Apothecary. So apart from a suspicious glare from Uncle Richard, he was exempted from the chaos of the family jaunt.  While Ned still chortled at the mummers’ plays, his some seventeen years of age gave him the desire to seek out the more refined pleasures London had to offer.
Just as well.  He had plans for this afternoon to increase his share of festive cheer.  And they didn’t involve the Rich clan.   Since the conclusion of the Cardinal’s Angels affair two months ago, Ned had done some serious thinking regarding his prospects for the winter.  That signal success had improved the weight of his formerly lean and starved purse.  If he wanted to be regarded as a gentleman, it behoved him to look the part.  Witness the heavy green woollen mantle with fur edging, new black hose and a velvet-edged and lined doublet of the best scarlet cloth.  This sartorial splendour, apart from keeping him a great deal warmer, had raised his status amongst the other apprentice lawyers, as did the rumours of his part in Cardinal Wolsey’s fall.  The result was the enacting of his Christmas plan.  Of long standing custom, come the twelve days of celebration, the apprentice lawyers tended to scatter to their homes, though a few gained lodgings in the city with the relatives and patrons family in the city.  This usually left fifty or so lads at a lose end.  While it was true that the various Masters of the Inns had made provision for their comfort, it tended to be under a watchful eye, so the festival cheer was usually rather muted. 
Ned, being a kind and generous fellow, had commiserated with his companions in misery and suggested a possible solution to their woes.  If perhaps several of them pooled their resources, a ‘friend’ with connections might arrange a set of private rooms above a reputable tavern.  Then that ‘friend’ could also supply the party with  all the necessities of cheer, roasted capons, venison pies, sweet berry subtleties, and of course a goodly quantity of the finest sack.  Also to complete the scene of Roman Idylls, a bevy of well disposed maidens skilled in harp and song would be at hand.  Also for those wishing to compete in a gentlemanly fashion, there was bowls, or chancing the Hazards at dice or even the friendly card game of Ruff and Honour.  In fact for accommodation, diversions, drink or provender, Ned reckoned he had it all covered, unless one of the more bucolic of the students began to pine for the dubious woolly pleasures of the country.  
After all that pitch, Ned had laid out the final incentive – a spot at this magnificent repast could be had for the modest price of only one angel.  The response had been astounding.  Some thirty had handed over the required sum, while he’d accepted four shillings and a pledge from three more keen to join.  That alone gave him a clear profit of ten angels after the expenses of room, company and provender, though the retention of one of Captaine Gryne’s more presentable retainers had been a little pricy.  Despite the fact that his ‘friends’ were gentleman of a sort, the towering presence of Tam Bourke should provide sufficient incentive for a peaceable companionship, no matter how much sack was downed.   
“Hey Ned, the first course is here, come on over!” 
A flourish of harp strings and a drum roll on the tambour announced their arrival along with a resounding chorus of cheers.  Ned turned with a ready smile and breathed deep the rich aroma, as his Christmas company left off their diversions and clustered round the table.  The first of several trays appeared, borne by the tavern’s servitors.  Ned walked over towards the repast and on the way accepted congratulations from several of his guests.  It was only an hour or so in and already the good cheer was spread liberally around. 
A pewter cup of sack was thrust into his hand by a large lad with brown tousled hair and blue eyes.  The cup bearer towered over most of the gathering and unlike them was dressed in plainer clothes of a dark blue hue, though it wasn’t just his lack of lawyer’s garb that set Rob Black apart.  For one thing, his appearance was extremely unlawyerly – at over six foot in height and with broad shoulders that looked strong enough to lift an ox.  While Ned had a similar height, his hands only had the calluses’ and ink stains of a clerk.  Though he was justifiably proud of his physical skill in a brawl, it couldn’t compete with the heavy craftsman’s trained muscles of his friend.  Work with iron and foundry had fleshed out Rob’s build to that of a young Hercules.  What’s more he also had a clear honest face, untrammelled by the daily deceits of the courts, as well as a pleasant disposition that had the girls sighing in raptures over his welcoming smile.  Ned had found that aspect mildly frustrating when they’d gone drinking in the city taverns.  All the girls fell for Rob and his cornflower blue eyes, while Ned Bedwell, handsome apprentice lawyer, was- an after thought.  His daemon had pointedly reminded him of that flaw many times, though Rob was good company so he ignored it. 
A now freed heavy hand thumped him companionably on the shoulder.  “Ned, this private Christmas feast is excellent, thanks for inviting me!” 

Ned returned the smile.  Asking Rob Black to be his business partner in this venture didn’t need any consideration.  Lady Fortuna had blessed him last year when he’d been at his most desperate with barely two groats to rub together.  Rob had been rescuing a poor abused country goodwife from the rough frolics of some city apprentices, as Ned had been passing by.  In that glorious moment Ned had seen the golden gift of opportunity.  He’d put across a credible story and immediately enrolled Rob in a cony catching play, all to recoup a hundred angels from the notorious Paris Bear Gardens owner and Southwark gang lord, Canting Michael. 
It had worked brilliantly and despite what Rob’s sister, Meg Black, continually claimed, Ned couldn’t be held to blame if the immediate aftermath had involved a number of unforeseen complications.  After all, how was he to know they’d be accused of the murder of a Royal official?  Or have an urgent need to clear their names of treason by consorting with a supposedly deceased doctor who was a practitioner of the dark arts of divination?  It was said that the politics of the Royal Court under their beloved sovereign, King Henry VIII, could be dangerous.  That had proved to be an understatement.  It was mercilessly vicious, with friendship and loyalty only smile deep.
Though that peril was now consigned to the past, here and now was a time of celebration.  Ned raised his cup.  “My good friends and companions, I give you a toast, on this, the eve of Our Saviour’s birth.  Good health, good cheer, good company and may we all be as drunk as bishops by Twelfth Night!”  
A rousing cheer rang through the feasting room and the assorted apprentice lawyers and clerks hammered the table in a drum roll as the rest of the trays were laid out.  The loudest cry came as the roasted pig made its way through the door.  Ned had planned the revels to begin with a well laid feast of some fifteen courses, including poached salmon, venison pies and a march pane, almond sugar centre piece in the manner of the gate house of Gray’s Inn.  That had been particularly difficult to organise.  However Meg Black surprisingly offered to solve the problem.  No doubt in her position as an apprentice apothecary she’d have sugar and spices by the pound, as well as access to more extensive kitchens.  As the three foot tall subtlety was carefully displayed on the two tier buffet table Ned consoled himself that Rob’s annoying sister had come through and without levering an invitation.  That was convenient.  He didn’t know how he would have explained the diaphanously clad maidens playing the harp, shawm and tambour in the corner.  She wasn’t the kind of lass who’d accepted the excuse of a Christmas tableaux in the manner of Ancient Romans.
Since he was host, Ned had taken a seat at the head of the table and after one of their number intoned an appropriate pray for the day, began to tuck into the first course, the venison pies.  It was one of the specialties of the Spread Eagle Tavern.  Henry Simkins, the taverner, was known to supply the Barber Surgeon’s Hall at Muggle Street.  As all the lads at the Chancery knew the provender at their celebrations was almost as fine as the Mercers Guild, the wealthiest of the London guilds. 
Ned was happily swapping the latest tale of Cardinal Wolsey’s woes with John Reedman, one the Chancery clerks, when Tam Bourke, their intimidating door warden, lumbered over to him and bending down, whispering loudly in his ear.  “Ned there’s a’ messenger fo’ yea at the stairs.” 
“Do you know him? Who’s he from?”
“Oh aye.  He’s that grim faced livery man o’ the apothecary lass yea sweet on.” 
Ned stifled an immediate retort denying the fact.  Any rumours of his affairs of the heart or otherwise were not something he wanted bandied about amongst the gossips of the Inns.  By the description, that could only be one person, Meg Black’s looming henchman, Rodger Hawkins or as Ned preferred to think of him, Gruesome Rodger. 
“Tam, is it a tall, scar faced fellow with an iron shod cudgel hanging from his belt?”
“Aye that be him.” 
Ned pursed his lips in thought.  When he’d called around earlier, Meg Black had been busy with her common apothecary duties mixing herbs and the like.  She hadn’t expressed any need for his company and apart from a brief snippy jibe at his propensity for including her brother in dubious enterprises, she’d been passably friendly for a change. 
Ned leant across the table and asked Reedman to play the host while he dealt with his caller.  His fellow clerk from Gray’s was reasonably dependable and had a good reputation at the Inns for solving arguments of precedence.  
He’d left Tam on the landing as he made his way down to the bottom of the stairs.  The Blacks’ retainer was standing on his own by the fire, giving the tavern’s customers a quizzical scowl.  The recent snow melted and steamed off his cloak giving him the appearance of a visitor from the nether regions, an image not improved by the scar that ran across his face half closing his right eye.  That was Hawkins all right.  No one else in London could match that cynical visage, not even the leering grotesque carvings in the parish churches. 
The retainer’s roving eye quickly caught sight of Ned and he strode over to the foot of the stairs and growled out his message.  “Hey Bedwell.  Y’re wanted at the apothecaries immediately, so stop guzzling wine and stuffing your face.” 
Ned stepped off the last tread and consciously straightened up.  They were of similar height, though Gruesome Rodger had the lean and rangy appearance of wolf.  In Ned’s opinions the lupine cousin had more manners.  “I do not come or go at the beckoning of Mistress Black!  I have business here this evening.  Kindly give her my regrets.”  Ned made an effort to put all the disdain he felt into that rebuff, though the answer didn’t appear to sit well with Meg her retainer. 
Gruesome Rodger frowned and shook his head.  “Y’ right, of course Bedwell.  What am I saying?  Y’r y’r own master o’course.  By the way your cods are unlaced.”
Instinctively Ned glanced down to check.  The evil cackle of Gruesome Rodger told him he’d been cony catched.
“So yea haven’t started with the bevy o’ punks y’ got up there?  Just as well Mistress Margaret told me to fetch y’.  Whether you got your hose on or around your ankles makes no difference ta me.” 
Ned’s temper, never on much of a tight rein, spurred him to lash out with his own retort.  “You loathsome lewdster, Hawkins.  That’s a gathering of gentlemen up there, not some tumbledown ale house, like you inhabit where they hump poxed punks against the wall ‘cause they can’t find any sheep that’ll have them!”
Gruesome Rodger was still for a moment, then his sneering grin returned.  “Oh Bedwell, by God’s blood, afore the weeks out, y’ goin’ to rue those words.  Y’ll be wading through a river o’shit to beg my forgiveness.”
“If wishes were fishes, Hawkins, your net’d still be empty.”  Ned turned his back on the unwanted messenger and began to head back up the stairs.  A hand grabbed his sleeve pulling him backwards.
Ned spun around and snarling, put a hand on his dagger.  “Unhand me Hawkins.  The Blacks may treat you as family, but damned if I don’t know you for a common fioster!”
“Y’know Bedwell, any time you want, it take only a moment to tumble y’ in a ditch.  Anyway enough cosseting, are y’ coming or do I tell Cromwell you refused his summons?” 
Ned froze.  Cromwell was involved?  Silently he cursed Gruesome Rodger.  The cozener had played him and he’d fallen for it.  Ned ground his teeth in suppressed anger.  By all the damned saints and cursed devils!  Gruesome Rodger gave him one of his gloating grins and nodded at the unasked questioned.  Damn, damn, damn!  That cunning trickster that trapped him.  Ned knew he had no choice.  Uncle Richard may have been his master, but Thomas Cromwell, newest member of King Henry VIII’s Privy Council, was his patron and good lord.  From what Ned had learnt of his new lord’s habits, Councillor Cromwell didn’t like tardy servants.
Regards Gregory House