Read Midnight Never Come Online

Authors: Marie Brennan

Tags: #Action & Adventure, #Urban, #Historical, #Fantasy Fiction, #Great Britain - History - Elizabeth; 1558-1603, #General, #Fantasy, #Great Britain, #Historical Fiction, #Courts and Courtiers, #Fiction

Midnight Never Come

Copyright © 2008 by Bryn Neuenschwander

Excerpt from
Warrior
copyright © 2006 by Marie Brennan

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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Hachette Book Group USA

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First eBook Edition: June 2008

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

ISBN: 978-0-316-03264-3

Contents

Prologue

Act One

Act Two

Act Three

Act Four

Act Five

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

Meet the Author

Interview

A Preview of
Warrior

“Do you think me easier to cozen than my sister? Some say your kind are fallen angels, or in league with the devil himself.”

The woman’s laugh echoed from the chamber walls like shattering crystal. “I do not serve the devil. I offer you a bond of mutual aid. With my help, you may be freed from the Tower and raised to your sister’s throne. Your father’s throne. Without it, your life will surely end soon.”

Elizabeth knew too much of politics to even consider an offer without hearing it in full. “And in return? What gift — no doubt a minor, insignificant trifle — would you require from me?”

“Oh, ’tis not minor.” The faintest of smiles touched the stranger’s lips. “As I will raise you to your throne, you will raise me to mine. And when we both achieve power, perhaps we will be of use to each other again.”

By Marie Brennan

Warrior

Witch

Midnight Never Come

This book is dedicated to two groups of people.

To the players of Memento: Jennie Kaye, Avery Liell-Kok, Ryan Conner, and Heather Goodman.

And to their characters, whose ghosts still haunt this story: Rowan Scott, Sabbeth, Erasmus Fleet, and Wessamina Hammercrank.

Prologue

T
HE
T
OWER OF
L
ONDON
:
March 1554

Fitful drafts of chill air blew in through the cruciform windows of the Bell Tower, and the fire did little to combat them. The chamber was ill lit, just wan sunlight filtering in from the alcoves and flickering light from the hearth, giving a dreary, despairing cast to the stone walls and meager furnishings. A cheerless place — but the Tower of London was not a place intended for cheer.

The young woman who sat on the floor by the fire, knees drawn up to her chin, was pale with winter and recent illness. The blanket over her shoulders was too thin to keep her warm, but she seemed not to notice; her dark eyes were fixed on the dancing flames, morbidly entranced, as if imagining their touch. She would not be burned, of course; burning was for common heretics. Decapitation, most likely. Perhaps, like her mother, she would be permitted a French executioner, whose sword would do the work cleanly.

Presuming the Queen’s mercy permitted her that consideration. Presuming the Queen had mercy for her at all.

The few servants she kept were not there; in a rage she had sent them away, arguing with the guards until she won these private moments for herself. As much as solitude oppressed her, she could not bear the thought of companionship in this dark moment, the risk of showing her weakness to others. And so when she waked from her reverie to sense another in the room, her anger rose again. Shedding the blanket, the young woman whirled to her feet, ready to confront the intruder.

Her words died, unspoken, and behind her the fire dipped low.

The woman she saw was no serving-maid, no lady attendant. No one she had ever seen before. A mere silhouette, barely visible in the shadows — -but she stood in one of the alcoves, where a blanket had been tacked up to cover the arrow-slit window.

Not by the door. And she had entered without a sound.

“You are the Princess Elizabeth,” the woman said. Her voice was a cool ghost, melodious, soft, and dark.

Tall, she was, taller than Elizabeth herself, and more slender. She wore a sleek black gown, close-fitting through the body but flaring outward into a full skirt and a high standing collar that gave her presence weight. Jewels glimmered with dark color here and there, touching the fabric with elegance.

“I am,” Elizabeth said, drawing herself up to the dignity of her full height. “I have given no orders to accept visitors.” Nor was she permitted any, but in prison as in court, bravado could be all.

The stranger’s voice answered levelly. “I am not a visitor. Do you think this solitude your own doing? The guards allowed it because I arranged that they should. My words are for your ears alone.”

Elizabeth stiffened. “And who are you, that you presume to order my life in such fashion?”

“A friend.” The word carried no warmth. “Your sister means to execute you. She cannot risk your survival; you are a focal point for every Protestant rebellion, every disaffected nobleman who hates her Spanish husband. She must dispose of you, and soon.”

No more than Elizabeth herself had already calculated. To be here, in the stark confines of the Bell Tower, was an insult to her rank. Prisoner though she was, she should have received more comfortable lodgings. “No doubt you come to offer me some escape from this. I do not, however, converse with strangers who intrude on me without warning, let alone make alliances with them. Your purpose might be to lure me into some indiscretion my enemies could exploit.”

“You do not believe that.” The stranger came forward one step, into a patch of thin, gray light. A cruciform arrow-slit haloed her as if in painful mimicry of Heaven’s blessing. “Your sister and her Catholic allies would not treat with one such as I.”

Slender as a breath, she should have been skeletal, grotesque, but far from it; her face and body bore the stamp of unearthly perfection, a flawless symmetry and grace that unnerved as much as it entranced. Elizabeth had spent her childhood with scholars for her tutors, reading classical authors, but she knew the stories of her own land, too: the beautiful ones, the Fair Folk, the Good People, whose many epithets were chosen to mollify their capricious natures.

The faerie was a sight to send grown women to their knees, and Elizabeth was only twenty-one. Since childhood, though, the princess had survived the tempests of political unrest, riding from her mother’s inglorious downfall to her own elevation at her brother’s hands, only to plummet again when their Catholic sister took the throne. She was intelligent enough to be afraid, but stubborn enough to defy that fear, to cling to pride when nothing else remained.

“Do you think me easier to cozen than my sister? Some say your kind are fallen angels, or in league with the devil himself.”

The woman’s laugh echoed from the chamber walls like shattering crystal. “I do not serve the devil. I offer you a bond of mutual aid. With my help, you may be freed from the Tower and raised to your sister’s throne. Your father’s throne. Without it, your life will surely end soon.”

Elizabeth knew too much of politics to even consider an offer without hearing it in full. “And in return? What gift — no doubt a minor, insignificant trifle — would you require from me?”

“Oh, ’tis not minor.” The faintest of smiles touched the stranger’s lips. “As I will raise you to your throne, you will raise me to mine. And when we both achieve power, perhaps we will be of use to each other again.”

Every shrewd instinct and fiber of caution in Elizabeth warned her against this pact. Yet over her hovered the specter of death, the growing certainty of her sister’s bitterness and hatred. She had her allies, surely enough, but they were not here. Could they be relied upon to save her from the headsman?

To cover her thoughts, she said, “You have not yet told me your name.”

The fae paused. At last, her tone considering, she said, “Invidiana.”

When Elizabeth’s servants returned soon after, they found their mistress seated in a chair by the fire, staring into its glowing heart. The air in the chamber was freezing cold, but Elizabeth sat without cloak or blanket, her long, elegant hands resting on the arms of the chair. She was quiet that day, and for many days after, and her gentlewomen worried for her, but when word came that she was to be permitted to walk at times upon the battlements and to take the air, they brightened. Surely, they hoped, their futures — and that of their mistress — were looking up at last.

Act One

Time stands still with gazing on her face, stand still and gaze for minutes, houres and yeares, to her giue place: All other things shall change, but shee remains the same, till heauens changed haue their course & time hath lost his name.

— John Dowland

The third and last booke of songs or aires

N
o footfalls disturb the hush as the man — not nearly so young as he appears — passes down the corridor, floating as if he walks on the shadows that surround him.

His whisper drifts through the air, echoing from the damp stone of the walls.

“She loves me . . . she loves me not.”

His clothes are rich, thick velvet and shining satin, black and silver against pale skin that has not seen sunlight for decades. His dark hair hangs loose, not disciplined into curls, and his face is smooth. As she prefers it to be.

“She loves me . . . she loves me not.”

The slender fingers pluck at something invisible in his hands, as if pulling petals from a flower, one by one, and letting them fall, forgotten.

“She loves me . . . she loves me not.”

He stops abruptly, peering into the shadows, then reaches up with one shaking hand to touch his eyes. “She wants to take them from me, you know,” he confides to whatever he sees—or thinks he sees. Years in this place have made reality a malleable thing to him, a volatile one, shifting without warning. “She spoke of it again today. Taking my eyes . . . Tiresias was blind. He was also a woman betimes; did you know that? He had a daughter. I have no daughter.” Breath catches in his throat. “I had a family once. Brothers, sisters, a mother and father . . . I was in love. I might have had a daughter. But they are all gone now. I have only her, in all the world. She has made certain of that.”

He sinks back against the wall, heedless of the grime that mars his fine clothing, and slides down to sit on the floor. This is one of the back tunnels of the Onyx Hall, far from the cold, glittering beauty of the court. She lets him wander, though never far. But whom does she hurt by keeping him close — him, or herself ? He is the only one who remembers what this court was, in its earliest days. Even she has chosen to forget. Why, then, does she keep him?

He knows the answer. It never changes, no matter the question. Power, and occasional amusement. These are the only reasons she needs.

“That which is above is like that which is below,” he whispers to his unseen companion, a product of his fevered mind. “And that which is below is like that which is above.” His sapphire gaze drifts upward, as if to penetrate the stones and wards that keep the Onyx Hall hidden.

Above lies the world he has lost, the world he sometimes thinks no more than a dream. Another symptom of his madness. The crowded, filthy streets of London, seething with merchants and laborers and nobles and thieves, foreigners and country folk, wooden houses and narrow alleys and docks and the great river Thames. Human life, in all its tawdry glory. And the brilliance of the court above, the Tudor magnificence of Elizabetha Regina, Queen of England, France, and Ireland. Gloriana, and her glorious court.

A great light, that casts a great shadow.

Far below, in the darkness, he curls up against the wall. His gaze falls to his hands, and he lifts them once more, as if recalling the flower he held a moment ago.

“She loves me . . .

“. . . she loves me not.”

R
ICHMOND
P
ALACE
, R
ICHMOND
:
September 17, 1588

“Step forward, boy, and let me see you.”

The wood-paneled chamber was full of people, some hovering nearby, others off to the side, playing cards or engaging in muted conversation. A musician, seated near a window, played a simple melody on his lute. Michael Deven could not shake the feeling they were all looking at him, openly or covertly, and the scrutiny made him unwontedly awkward.

He had prepared for this audience with more than customary care for appearances. The tailor had assured him the popinjay satin of his doublet complemented the blue of his eyes, and the sleeves were slashed with insets of white silk. His dark hair, carefully styled, had not a strand out of place, and he wore every jewel he owned that did not clash with the rest. Yet in this company, his appearance was little more than serviceable, and sidelong glances weighed him down to the last ounce.

But those gazes would hardly matter if he did not impress the woman in front of him.

Deven stepped forward, bold as if there were no one else there, and made his best leg, sweeping aside the edge of his half-cloak for effect. “Your Majesty.”

Standing thus, he could see no higher than the intricately worked hem of her gown, with its motif of ships and winds. A commemoration of the Armada’s recent defeat, and worth more than his entire wardrobe. He kept his eyes on a brave English ship and waited.

“Look at me.”

He straightened and faced the woman sitting beneath the canopy of estate.

He had seen her from afar, of course, at the Accession Day tilts and other grand occasions: a radiant, glittering figure, with beautiful auburn hair and perfect white skin. Up close, the artifice showed. Cosmetics could not entirely cover the smallpox scars, and the fine bones of her face pressed against her aging flesh. But her dark-eyed gaze made up for it; where beauty failed, charisma would more than suffice.

“Hmmm.” Elizabeth studied him frankly, from the polished buckles of his shoes to the dyed feather in his cap, with particular attention to his legs in their hose. He might have been a horse she was contemplating buying. “So you are Michael Deven. Hunsdon has told me something of you — but I would hear it from your own lips. What is it you want?”

The answer was ready on his tongue. “Your Majesty’s most gracious leave to serve in your presence, and safeguard your throne and your person against those impious foes who would threaten it.”

“And if I say no?”

The freshly starched ruff scratched at his chin and throat as he swallowed. Catering to the Queen’s taste in clothes was less than comfortable. “Then I would be the most fortunate and most wretched of men. Fortunate in that I have achieved that which most men hardly dream of — to stand, however briefly, in your Grace’s radiant presence — and wretched in that I must go from it and not return. But I would yet serve from afar, and pray that one day my service to the realm and its glorious sovereign might earn me even one more moment of such blessing.”

He had rehearsed the florid words until he could say them without feeling a fool, and hoped all the while that this was not some trick Hunsdon had played on him, that the courtiers would not burst into laughter at his overblown praise. No one laughed, and the tight spot between his shoulder blades eased.

A faint smile hovered at the edges of the Queen’s lips. Meeting her eyes for the briefest of instants, Deven thought,
She knows exactly what our praise is worth.
Elizabeth was no longer a young woman, whose head might be turned by pretty words; she recognized the ridiculous heights to which her courtiers’ compliments flew. Her pride enjoyed the flattery, and her political mind exploited it.
By our words, we make her larger than life. And that serves her purposes very well.

This understanding did not make her any easier to face. “And family? Your father is a member of the Stationers’ Company, I believe.”

“And a gentleman, madam, with lands in Kent. He is an alderman of Farringdon Ward within, and has been pleased to serve the Crown in printing certain religious texts. For my own part, I do not follow in his trade; I am of Gray’s Inn.”

“Though your studies there are incomplete, as I understand. You went to the Netherlands, did you not?”

“Indeed, madam.” A touchy subject, given the failures there, and the Queen’s reluctance to send soldiers in the first place. Yet his military conduct in the Low Countries was part of what distinguished him enough to be here today. “I served with your gentleman William Russell at Zutphen two years ago.”

The Queen fiddled idly with a silk fan, eyes still fixed on him. “What languages have you?”

“Latin and French, madam.” What Dutch he had learned was not worth claiming.

She immediately switched to French. “Have you traveled to France?”

“I have not, madam.” He prayed his accent was adequate, and thanked God she had not chosen Latin. “My studies kept me occupied, and then the troubles made it quite impossible.”

“Good. Too many of our young men go there and come back Catholic.” This seemed to be a joke, as several of the courtiers chuckled dutifully. “What of poetry? Do you write any?”

At least Hunsdon had warned him of this, that she would ask questions having nothing to do with his ostensible purpose for being there. “She has standards,” the Lord Chamberlain had said, “for anyone she keeps around her. Beauty, and an appreciation for beauty; whatever your duties at court, you must also be an ornament to her glory.”

“I do not write my own, madam, but I have attempted some works of translation.”

Elizabeth nodded, as if it were a given. “Tell me, which poets have you read? Have you translated Virgil?”

Deven parried this and other questions, striving to keep up with the Queen’s agile mind as it leapt from topic to topic, and all in French. She might be old, but her wits showed no sign of slowing, and from time to time she would make a jest to the surrounding courtiers, in English or in Italian. He fancied they laughed louder at the Italian sallies, which he could not understand. Clearly, if he were accepted at court, he would need to learn it. For self-protection.

Elizabeth broke off the interrogation without warning and looked past Deven. “Lord Hunsdon,” she said, and the nobleman stepped forward to bow. “Tell me. Would my life be safe in this gentleman’s hands?”

“As safe as it rests with any of your Grace’s gentlemen,” the gray-haired baron replied.

“Very encouraging,” Elizabeth said dryly, “given that we executed Tylney for conspiracy not long ago.” She turned her forceful attention to Deven once more, who fought the urge to hold his breath and prayed he did not look like a pro-Catholic conspirator.

At last she nodded her head decisively. “He has your recommendation, Hunsdon? Then let it be so. Welcome to my Gentlemen Pensioners, Master Deven. Hunsdon will instruct you in your duties.” She held out one fine, long-fingered hand, the hands featured in many of her portraits, because she was so proud of them. Kissing one felt deeply strange, like kissing a statue, or one of the icons the papists revered. Deven backed away with as much speed as was polite.

“My humblest thanks, your Grace. I pray God my service never disappoint.”

She nodded absently, her attention already on the next courtier, and Deven straightened from his bow with an inward sigh of relief.

Hunsdon beckoned him away. “Well spoken,” the Lord Chamberlain and Captain of the Gentlemen Pensioners said, “though defense will be the least of your duties. Her Majesty never goes to war in person, of course, so you will not find military action unless you seek it out.”

“Or Spain mounts a more successful invasion,” Deven said.

The baron’s face darkened. “Pray God it never come.”

The two of them made their way through the gathered courtiers in the presence chamber and out through magnificently carved doors into the watching chamber beyond. “The new quarter begins at Michaelmas,” Hunsdon said. “We shall swear you in then; that should give you time to set your affairs in order. A duty period lasts for a quarter, and the regulations require you to serve two each year. In practice, of course, many of our band have others stand in for them, so that some are at court near constantly, others hardly at all. But for your first year, I will require you to serve both assigned periods.”

“I understand, my lord.” Deven had every intention of spending the requisite time at court, and more if he could manage it. One did not gain advancement without gaining the favor of those who granted it, and one did not do that from a distance. Not without family connections, at any rate, and with his father so new to the gentry, he was sorely lacking in those.

As for the connections he did have . . . Deven had kept his eyes open, both in the presence chamber and this outer room, populated by less favored courtiers, but nowhere had he seen the one man he truly hoped to find. The man to whom he owed his good fortune this day. Hunsdon had recommended him to the Queen, as was his privilege as captain, but the notion did not originate with him.

Unaware of Deven’s thoughts, Hunsdon went on talking. “Have better clothes made, before you begin. Borrow money if you must; no one will remark upon it. Hardly a man in this court is not in debt to one person or another. The Queen takes great delight in fashion, both for herself and those around her. She will not be pleased if you look plain.”

One visit to the elite realm of the presence chamber had convinced him of that. Deven was already in debt; preferment did not come cheaply, requiring gifts to smooth his path every step of the way. It seemed he would have to borrow more, though. This, his father had warned him, would be his lot: spending all he had and more in the hopes of
having
more in the future.

Not everyone won at that game. But Deven’s grandfather had been all but illiterate; his father, working as a printer, had earned enough wealth to join the ranks of the gentry; Deven himself intended to rise yet higher.

He even had a notion for how to do it — if he could only find the man he needed. Descending a staircase two steps behind Hunsdon, Deven said, “My lord, could you advise me on how to find the Principal Secretary?”

“Eh?” The baron shook his head. “Walsingham is not at court today.”

Damnation.
Deven schooled himself to an outward semblance of pleasantry. “I see. In that case, I believe I should —”

His words cut off, for faces he recognized were waiting in the gallery below. William Russell was there, along with Thomas Vavasour and William Knollys, two others he knew from the fighting in the Low Countries. At Hunsdon’s confirming nod, they loosed glad cries and surged forward, clapping him on the back.

The suggestion he had been about to make, that he return to London that afternoon, was trampled before he could even speak it. Deven struggled with his conscience for a minute at most before giving in. He was a courtier now; he should enjoy the pleasures of a courtier’s life.

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