Friday, 29 June 2012

Chapter One, Part Three

“How far do you think it goes?” Rebecca asked, standing next to her daughter.

“No idea. I guess we’d best find out,” Poppy replied moving towards the tunnel.

“Oh no you don’t Miss Poppy,” Geoffrey said grabbing her arm.

“Geoffrey, you know better than to think that you can stop me,” Poppy told him, looking at him sharply.

“I know I can’t stop you Miss Poppy, but I can make sure that you do it right.”


“How dark do you think it’s going to be down there? And who knows what’s at the end? If you’re going to insist on going down there then you need torches. And I’m going with you.”

“Geoffrey! This isn’t your business to interfere with!” Poppy told him.

“I’ve been working in this house longer than you’ve been alive. Your grandfather would turn in his grave if he knew that I was letting his little one into danger.”

Poppy had the urge to tell Geoffrey that she had faced things far worse than an unknown tunnel but seeing the earnest expression on his face she bit back the words. He was right when he said that he’d been with the family for years and she supposed that he had earned the right to be protective of her.

“Alright,” she said begrudgingly. “You’re right about the lights, go and find some torches that we can take with us.”

Looking a little surprised - and relieved - that she had given in so readily Geoffrey hurried off to find what he needed.

“Mr Green, have you ever handled a sword?” Poppy asked turning to Thomas.

“Umm, yes, once or twice,” he said.

“Good enough I suppose,” she strode off to her office and returned with a sheathed sword.  “Fighting in the dark really isn’t ideal but there might come a point when we have no choice. Just try not to stab yourself with it.”

Thomas nodded and took it off her. “I’ll do my hardest not to,” he reassured her with a smile. He noticed that she had her sword once more.

Before too long Geoffrey was back with the torches. Poppy could tell from the grim look on his face that he was not looking forward to stepping into the tunnel but knew better than to try and dissuade him.

“Mother, you’re staying here,” Poppy said. “No, don’t argue with me,” she said as Rebecca opened her mouth to protest. “We don’t know what’s down there or how long it’s going to take us to get whether it leads to. If we’re not back by nightfall send someone in after us, understand?”

Rebecca nodded. “I don’t like this,” she said unhappily.

“I know. But remember Grandfather and Uncle John set this up; do you really think that they’d do anything that would hurt us?”

“Of course not!”

“Then we’ll be safe,” Poppy reassured her mother. She gave her a kiss on the cheek and said “Try not to worry too much.”

“I’ll do my best. Be safe and don’t do anything stupid.”

“When would I do anything stupid?” Poppy asked, full of bravado. “No, on second thoughts, don’t answer that.”

Hoping that she had her mother fairly well reassured she took the torch Geoffrey offered and lead them into the tunnel.

It was not too far down the tunnel that Thomas became very glad that they had waited for Geoffrey to bring the torches; it took only a few minutes for the light from the house to dim and then fade to nothingness. The darkness was oppressive around them and it seemed like every sound was amplified. Their steps echoed in the darkness and Thomas thought it best not to think about the faint squeaking sound that he occasionally heard.

At the front of the group Poppy was grim faced. She had never been overly fond of the dark; she hated not knowing where she was and the thought of not knowing what was 2 feet in front of her made her nervous. The only thing that stopped her from being completely terrified was the knowledge that if she did not know about the cave that they assumed was at the end of the tunnel then neither did anyone else; Poppy prided herself on knowing every inch of the coast around her estate.

“How long have we been walking?” Thomas eventually asked, the silence finally getting to him.

“I’m not sure, Geoffrey?” Poppy replied.

Geoffrey glanced at his torch and said “About 20 minutes I reckon.”

Thomas did a quick calculation and said “We’ve come about a mile then.”

“Aye, I reckon so.”

“Let’s take a break,” Poppy said. “Here Geoffrey, take my torch, I want to check something.” Once he had done as she asked Poppy pulled out her compass. She was glad that she had had the fore thought to grab it when she went to pick up swords for both her and Thomas. She held it under the lights and tried to make out what it said. “Just as I thought,” she said eventually. “We’ve been going north west.”

“Towards the coast,” Geoffrey stated flatly.

“Towards the coast,” she confirmed.

“Any idea how much further we have to go?” Thomas asked. “Assuming the tunnel ends at the coast that is.”

Poppy thought for a couple of second then said “Assuming we are heading there and that the tunnel takes us in a straight line then we should be there in 10 minutes or so.”

“Shall we get going again then?”

Poppy nodded, took the torch from Geoffrey and started off once more.

Back at the house Rebecca was trying her hardest not to worry. She knew that Poppy could take care of herself, had been doing so while away at sea for many years, but that did not stop her from doing what any mother would do. She was about to retire to her drawing room in the hope of finding something to distract herself with when she heard a commotion coming from the front door.

“What’s going on?” she demanded to know. She noticed that one of the boys from the village was standing by the front door, desperately trying to get into the house. He was being held back by one of the household staff.

“Lady Hawkins! They’re coming!”

“Who are?” Rebecca asked. “Claim down, Andrew isn’t it?” the boy nodded. “Take a deep breath and tell me what’s happening.”

“The English! We just saw them pass the village! They looked like they were heading this way and my mother sent me to warn you cause she knows that I’m the fastest.”

“How do you know they were English?” Rebecca asked, trying to keep her voice even.

“They had uniforms on. Mother recognised them.”

Rebecca thought quickly. “You’re a good lad coming here,” she told Andrew. “Now run back to the village and tell the people there to stay in their homes. Hopefully once they’ve done their business here they’ll go back over the border.”

Andrew nodded and sped off. The maid who had been holding him back turned to Rebecca and said “My Lady! What shall we do?”

“Go and find Sir Michaels, tell him what the boy said.” The maid nodded and ran off as fast as she could. Rebecca knew that there while there were not many men in the house that could fight her man-at-arms Sir Michaels kept them well trained and well equipped. She could only hope that the soldiers who were heading their way were few in number.

Rebecca hurried over the the stairs of the tallest tower and quickly began to ascend. It had been years since she had had to climb these stairs and she had forgotten how steep they were but she knew the importance of doing so. Before too long she had reached the battlements. She rushed over the the telescope that her father had insisted on installing up there and searched for the soldiers.

Rebecca gasped when she found them; there must have been at least a hundred of them, all heavily armed. “Why have they come here?” she muttered but she feared that she already knew the answer - Mr Green.

Decades before her father had been instrumental in establishing an early warning system for the houses and fortifications near the border. If the enemy was sighted then the nearest person would raise a flag, or if it were night time, light a fire, high up to let those around that they were at risk from attack. The message would be passed along the front and eventually it would reach the nearest garrison. It had been years since the English had dared to cross the border but Rebecca had insisted that the flag be maintained. As she hoisted it she prayed that there was someone who would see her signal and more importantly knew what it meant.

From her vantage point she could see the troops nearing the house. Despite having been built 50 years ago the house had yet to see battle; they were too far away from the border to be worth the bother of most English attackers. But her father had built the house knowing that one day the attack might come and had insisted on it being fortified. It was a foresight that Rebecca was now thankful for.

As she watched she saw Sir Michaels and his men head out of the house to meet the troops.

“Halt!” Sir Michaels called out. “By what right to do intrude up this land?”

One of the soldiers stepped forward. From his bearing Rebecca guessed that he was in command. “We followed a known criminal. He is wanted for heresy and crimes against the royal family.”

“You have no authority here,” Michaels replied. “Your royal family is meaningless in Wales, you know that as well as I do.”

“Under the terms of the truce between our countries any fugitive who claims refuge here must do so formally in front of a magistrate and a clergy man. Has Mr Green done this.”

“Who?” Michaels replied, confused. He had never heard of Mr Green.

Rebecca had heard enough. She hurried down the stairs and towards the courtyard, hoping that she got there before things got too dramatic.

“What’s going on here?” she said as she stepped out of the house. She was glad to see that the situation had not further degenerated. The English troops were on their guard but none had drawn a weapon. Her own men looked nervous; Sir Michaels had trained them to fight against each other to she supposed that not one among them had seen action other than a bar room brawl.

“And you are?”

“Lady Rebecca Hawkins, owner of this house.”

“Ah, then you are the person I should be dealing with,” he replied.

Sir Michaels bristled at the dismissive tone in his voice but Rebecca looked at him a shook her head slightly. Now was not the time. “Is there a problem?”

“We have reason to believe that you a harbouring a heretic.”

“A heretic? I did not know that you had the Inquisition in England now.”

“His Royal Highness King Phillip the Second is an extremely pious man. He is following the example of his Spanish forefathers and bringing the one true faith back to England.” It sounded to Rebecca as if he was quoting something that he had learnt by rote.

“I’m sure he is. That does not alter the fact that we do not have the man you are looking for.”

The man blinked. “But I’m sure he is here, our trackers-”

“Spies! I’m not sure off all the ins and outs of the peace agreement but I’m sure that spies would be frowned upon.”

The man was looking increasingly uncomfortable. Rebecca imagined that this was not going the way he thought it would.

“You, men, search the grounds,” the leader said turning to a small group of his men.

“No! You have no authority to do this.”

“I have greater numbers, that gives me authority,” he had clearly tired of feeling like Rebecca might have the upper hand and decided to take it back from her. By force if necessary.

Rebecca looked at Michaels. His men were out numbered ten to one but she knew that if she gave the signal they would fight to the death. She looked at their innocent, frighteningly young faces and knew that it was not an order that she was willing to give.

“Fine, search the place if you must. You won’t find anything,” Rebecca told him, hoping that she was telling the truth.

As the men began searching through the grounds and through the houses she caught site of the flag on the roof and prayed that help would not be slow in coming.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Chapter One, Part Two

The next morning Poppy and her mother were breaking their fast together when Poppy casually mentioned that she was thinking of hiring a new member of staff.

“Really?” her mother replied with an arched eyebrow. “And would this new staff member happen to be the young man that was found sleeping in the stables this morning.

Poppy swore and said “I should have known better than to try to hide something from you I suppose.”

“Yes dear, you should have done. Now, are you going to tell me what his story is or do I have to make up the sordid details for myself?”

“There are no sordid details,” Poppy attempted to reassure her.

“Oh there are in my head. And I’m sure there are in heads of those who found him today.”

Poppy winced; she could imagine the gossip that was flying around between the staff. It was a good job that she did not give a damn about her reputation as the rumours would no doubt be hitting the village before the day was out.

“He knew Uncle John, he was a pupil of his back in Mortlake.”

“You mean he’s come all the way from Surrey and you made him sleep in the stable? And a student of your Uncle no less!  Really Poppy, I am beginning to wish that there were sordid details."

Abashed Poppy looked down at her food. She was vaguely aware of her mother giving instruction to one of the men servants to bring Mr Green up from the kitchen and set a place for him at the table.

“It’s not what it seems,” Poppy told her mother, desperately trying to explain before Mr Green joined them.


Hastily Poppy relayed the basics of the story that Mr Green had told her the night before. “I was hoping to sort this out without involving you,” she told her mother.

“You should have known better than to think that I would not have found out what was happening. Really Poppy, I thought you gave me credit with more intelligence than that.”

“Yes mother,” Poppy replied abashed. She didn’t know why it was but despite facing down men twice her size and being captain of her own ship she still could not stand to displease her mother.

Thomas was more than a little surprised by the sudden summoning he had received. He had been rudely awoken early in the morning by two of the stable lads - luckily Poppy had told them to expect to find him there or else he might have been run through without them even pausing for breath. He was sent to the servants quarters to break his fast and had been busily filling his belly when the message came that Mistress Hawkins and her mother desired his presence upstairs. A page quickly showed him the way and before too long he was nervously stood before them.

“Please, sit,” an older woman that he assumed to be Rebecca Hawkins said. “It is a pleasure to have someone who worked so closely with my uncle visiting.”

“Th-thank you my lady,” Thomas stuttered, shocked by the warm welcome he was receiving. He had assumed that he had been summoned for some awful reason but instead found himself being warmly greeted by the woman he had heard so much about.

“My daughter tells me that you are looking for something,” Rebecca said to him, picking at her breakfast one again.

“Yes,” Thomas replied nervously, wondering how much he should confide in her. Some instinct told him that it would be a bad idea to lie to her. “He told me that there was treasure hidden in the house.”

“And the two of you figured out that he meant some sort of information, how clever of you,” she said more than a little patronisingly.

“Mother,” Poppy muttered. “Play nice.”

“I always play nicely,” Rebecca told her sweetly. “I do believe that you are rather holding my daughter and I ransom with your demands for help though. How are we to know that the books that you claim to have in your possession are worth anything? They could be nothing more important than everyday prayer books.”

“I knew your uncle better than to pick just any old books to save,” Thomas said slightly reproachfully. “The manuscripts that I saved were far more personal than prayer books.”

Rebecca's eyes widened. “You mean…”

“Yes,” Thomas replied with a nod, “I saved his diaries.”

“What! You never mentioned that last night!” Poppy exclaimed.

“You never asked.”

Poppy swore but reluctantly had to admit that Thomas had a point. She looked over at her mother who had the biggest smile on her face that she had seen for a long time.

“I thought they were lost,” Rebecca said wonderingly. “How far back do they go?”

“All the way,” Thomas said with a smile. “They’re all there, his time in prison, his time in the service of Princess Elizabeth-”

“His trip to the New World?” Rebecca asked.

“Of course.”

Rebecca could not believe what she was hearing. No matter how many times she begged Uncle John would not tell her what happened in the New World. He said that it was not something that he cared to remember and that he would tell her when the time was right. But too much time passed and they ended up on different sides of the border when Wales finally seceded from England. When that happened it became harder and harder to get messages across; it had taken months for news of Uncle Johns death to reach them. Now she finally had the chance to answer the thousands of questions that she had about his life.

“Poppy, we have to have those books,” she said turning to her daughter.

“I know mother, I know,” Poppy replied some what resigned. As soon as Green told them what the books were she knew that her mother would be desperate to find them.

“So we’ll help each other?” Thomas asked.

“Any help that we can give you is given freely,” Rebecca told him.

“Thank you. It means a lot to me that I will be able to give Professor Dee’s diary’s to the woman that he spoke of so often.”

“And that you’ll be able to get your hands on the treasure no doubt,” Poppy felt the need to point out.


“So tell me everything that you know about this treasure,” Rebecca told them, settling back into her chair. She listened with interest as they filled her in on what they have learnt.

“So Father and Uncle John must have planned this together,” she mused thoughtfully. “They always were thick as thieves those two, used to drive mother insane sometimes.”

Poppy nodded; she could barely remember her grandparents both of them having died when she was little.

“So, shall we go an examine this mysterious panel in the other room?” Rebecca suggested, pushing her chair away from the table and standing. “Maybe a fresh pair of eyes will help bring light to the subject.”

Poppy and Thomas both obediently followed Rebecca to the old study. Poppy hoped that her mother was right; she had been racking her brains over night to try and figure out how to get the panel off without risking destroying whatever it was that was behind it.

Rebecca examined the panel closely. “Hmmm, knowing father and Uncle John we can’t force it,” she mused aloud.

“Yes, that’s what we thought,” Poppy replied standing next to her mother. “Uncle John wasn’t the brute force type.”

“Too true. I have the feeling that we’re missing something, some tiny detail…”

Thomas stared at the panel. Seeing it in the day bought to light details on it that he had missed the night before. “Maybe not,” he said slowly.

“Oh?” Poppy queried, tilting her head to one side questioningly.

“Maybe the problem is that we’re trying to find something small when we should be concentrating on the big picture.”

“How do you mean Mr Green?” Rebecca questioned.

“I thought the panel was plain last night but it’s not. Come over here, if you stand in just the right light then you can see very faintly that there’s a pattern on it.”

Rebecca peered at it closely and noticed that he was right. “I can’t make out what it is,” she said, straining to see it. She hated to admit it, even if only to herself, but the older she got the harder it became for her to see small details.

Poppy thought for a moment. “Hmm, there might be a way. Mother, do you have any spare cloth that I can use?”

“Probably, why?”

“It’s a trick Uncle John showed me once, a way to make an image of something.”

Rebecca snapped her fingers and said “The cloth and charcoal trick!”

“Yep,” Poppy replied with a grin.

Rebecca hurried out of the room and headed towards her sewing room. She could have called one the maids to go for her but she wanted to keep this as private as possible. Quickly she found a length of thin white clothe that she had intended to use to make clothes for Poppy.

“Found it!” she exclaimed triumphantly when she re-entered the old study.

Thomas watched as Rebecca and Poppy took an old piece of white cloth and a stick of charcoal from the fire. “What are you doing?” he asked, mystified by what they were trying to achieve.

“My Uncle was brilliant,” Rebecca told him as she held the piece of cloth over the panel. “But I’m sure that you knew that.”


“One of the many, many things that he was interested in was botany. He used to study plants and use them in his alchemical work.”

“Yes, there was many a muddy afternoon spent scrabbling around in woods looking for plants.”

“One thing that he used to do was try to identify as many different plants as he could and try to find out what their properties were. He went through a phase of taking rubbings of tree barks, thinking that the pattern on them might some how be significant.”

“Were they?” Thomas asked, intrigued by the thought.

“I have no idea. Uncle John was some times not very forth coming on his work. All I know was that he did it for a while and then moved on to something else. Uncle John could be very easily distracted sometimes.”

Poppy made a start on taking the rubbing. “Hold the cloth at the bottom,” she told Thomas. “Make sure that the clothes taut.”

Thomas nodded and did as she bid him. He could see the concentration written large on the faces of both Rebecca and Poppy. He was pleased to see that they were taking his observation of the pattern seriously but failed to see how this could help in anyway. His scepticisms soon waned when he watched as the pattern emerged on the cloth.

After several minutes they were done. Carefully they took down the cloth and moved it over to the desk where they could examine it more comfortably.

“It’s a map,” Rebecca said in wonder.

Poppy nodded. She could clearly make out the house and the grounds around it. “What’s that?” she said pointing to a circle on the cliff face.

“I’m not sure,” Rebecca said. “It looks…could it be a cave?”

“But there aren’t any caves there,” Poppy reminded her. “I’ve been sailing these coasts since I was tiny and I can’t remember ever seeing a cave in the cliff.”

“Maybe you weren’t meant to see it,” Thomas said excitedly. “Think about it, we’re looking for treasure, yes? We have a map that might lead us to it, do you really think that it would have been placed in plain sight?”

“No, no you’re right Mr Green!” Rebecca exclaimed.

“But how do we get there?” Poppy asked. “Like I said I’ve never seen it from the sea.”

“Maybe you don’t have to get there from the sea,” Thomas said, his mind racing. “Your grandfather built this place, he and your uncle must have hidden this thing together, what if there’s a way to get there from here.”

All three of them looked at the panel. “We have to get that thing off,” Poppy said flatly.

Rebecca was torn; on the one hand she did not want to destroy the panel - it was part of the house and part of her Uncles work - but on the other she was just as eager as the two youngsters to see what lay behind it.

“Do it,” she said eventually. “Just try not to damage it.”

Poppy nodded and said “I’ll ask the gardener if he has any tools that I can borrow,” before leaving the room.

Thomas turned to Rebecca and said “Won’t the staff think that it’s odd one of the lady’s of the house asking for tools?”

Rebecca snorted in a most unladylike way and said “Hardly, they’ve been with the family forever and most of them have known Poppy since she was born. We’ve never been what you could call a ‘normal’ household.”

Poppy was back within a few minutes, now armed with a spade and a gardener.

“I’m really not sure about this Lady Hawkins,” Geoffrey said somewhat nervously. “I mean, defacing your grandfathers property…”

“It’s fine Geoffrey,” Rebecca reassured him with a smile. “My father really wouldn’t have minded.”

“Maybe not, but it’s still not right,” Geoffrey grumbled. He did not try to stop them though, merely stood back and watched as Poppy and Mr Green worked together. They placed the edge of the spade underneath the bottom of the panel, between it and the wall. Together they pressed down, attempting to leaver the panel out of place.

“It’s moving!” Poppy said and it started pulling away from the wall.

Rebecca exhaled a breath that she had not even realised she was holding. She could see the panel lifting, it seemed to be moving away far easier than she had expected. This confirmed for her that they were doing the right thing; there was no way that the panel would be moving as easily if it was if her father and uncle had not meant for them to do what they were doing.

“Grab the top!” Poppy called out to Geoffrey who quickly moved to do as instructed. The panel was moving freely now; the three of them were able to pick it up and move it to one side.

“Well, that’s not what I was expecting,” Poppy said, hands on hips as she starred into the blackness of the tunnel they had just revealed.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Chapter One, 1608 - Part One

Poppy Hawkins was thinking about turning in for the night when she became acutely aware of the sounds of someone moving about in her home. Given that she had dismissed her servants for the night hours before she knew that this could not be called an innocuous turn of events. Grim faced she reached for the sword that she habitually kept strapped to her waist and moved as quietly as possible towards the study’s door. She was up late studying the reports of her fellow captains and her desk was a mess of paper and maps.

Poppy bent to look through the doors lock; the rooms position at the end of a long corridor meant that she had an uninterrupted view of the hall down to the front door of the manor. As she suspected there was a man standing in her hall - a man she did not recognise. Swearing profusely she watched as the man pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and stare at if frowning. He turned it around a few times before seeming to make up his mind and head into a room on the left.

“What’s he up to?” Poppy wondered out loud. She thought for a minute, trying to figure out what he could want in that room; as far as she knew there was nothing of any importance in there. But then she remembered - until she had taken over the house that had been the study. When she had moved in permanently after her grandfathers death she had made the room she was currently standing in her study; it over looked the sea and Poppy could never truly be comfortable unless she could see the crashing waves of the ocean.

Gently, trying to be a quiet as possible, Poppy opened the study door and on bare feet she walked down the hall. The man was stood in the rooms doorway and Poppy could tell from the way he was standing that he was puzzled. Slowly she raised her sword and pressed its tip against the small of his back.

“For your sake I hope you have a good reason to be here,” she hissed into his ear.

The man spun around in shock. “What the hell,” he said.

“Funny, I was just about to ask you the same thing,” Poppy replied, pressing harder with her sword “You have a minute to explain to me what you are doing here and you’d best make it convincing.”

“Your uncle! Or rather your great uncle! He sent me.”

“He’d have a job, he’s dead,” Poppy replied flatly. She lowered her gun slightly; she’d always had a bit of a soft spot for her Uncle John.

“I know, I was with him when he died. No!” he cried out when she pushed just a little bit harder on the hilt of her sword. “No, I didn’t mean it the way it sounded!”

“How did you mean it? Oh and you’re running out of time,” Poppy pulled her watch out of her pocket.

“I worked for him, with him,” he stammered. “I was his last student. Look, he gave me this,” he offered her the piece of paper that was in his hand.

Poppy took it from him. On it was a crude drawing of the ground floor of the manor; the room they were standing in was clearly marked with a ‘X’. The writing on it was clearly that of her Uncle John; he had written enough letters to her over the years that she could recognise his hand writing.

“Why did he send you here?” Poppy asked. “And why did you feel the need to break in rather than simply come to my door in the day?”

The man looked guilty. “He told me that he hid a treasure here.”

“And you didn’t want to share it,” Poppy said. The man man nodded even though it was a statement rather than a question.

Poppy lowered her sword. If there was one thing she could understand it was greed - she was a pirate after all.

“What’s your name?” she asked the man.

“Thomas, Thomas Green,” he stammered, looking more than a little surprised by the question.

The name sounded vaguely familiar to Poppy; she supposed that she must have read it in one of her uncles letters. “Well Thomas Green I don’t suppose my uncle said where he stashed this treasure?”

“No, he just left me this map. I swear I didn’t know that you were here, I was told in the village that you were still away from home.”

“So you planned to rob me while the house was empty. How…honorable,” Poppy spat out.

“I never wanted to disturb anyone, I promise. I just wanted to get what Professor Dee promised I could have.”

“Well, you know if you’d come to me in the morning and told me this I probably would have let you walk out with it without demanding any part of it. Because you broke into my home I do believe you have forfeited any right you have to any of my uncles property. Be grateful that I’m allowing you your life.”

Thomas nodded; he knew Poppy’s reputation and realised how serious she was. “I am Miss Hawkins, believe me, I am.”

“Good. Now, shall we get looking?” Poppy re sheathed her sword and took a closer look at the map that her uncle had drawn for her. “You took a risk you know, crossing the border,” she said casually.

Thomas shrugged. “It wasn’t so bad. This time of year there aren’t that many people about.”

“True, most are too sensible to go out in weather like this.” The winter so far had been a harsh one and looked set to carry on. Poppy had heard from her staff that more than one family had lost people and she knew that there were likely to be more deaths before the weather broke.

“How are things in England? We don’t hear much out here.”

Thomas hesitated for a moment, trying to decide what to tell her. Strictly speaking even talking with someone from the Welsh side of the border was a criminal offence; crossing the border as he had was likely to earn him a spell in prison if he was caught. “Harsh. The Spanish rule things with an iron fist and any hints of rebellion are firmly put down. People thought that the first Queen Mary was hard on protestants but she had nothing on the second.”

Poppy nodded. “I’d heard as much. You made quite a risk coming here you know.”

“Oh I know. But after your uncle died I had little left there. He told me how important it was to find this treasure and I figured I’ve got nothing to lose.”

“Really?” Poppy arched her eyebrow. “You’ve no family, no friends?”

“No. My family was killed in during one of the purges. Luckily I was away at university or else I would have been murdered as well. It was there that I met Professor Dee.”

Poppy nodded. She did not know whether or not she should offer her condolences; she had never had much time for the social graces and had never really understood why a stranger saying ‘sorry’ at the death of a lost one should make one feel better. She settled instead for “It was then that he took you in?”

“That’s right. I have been - sorry I mean I had been working with him the past five years.”

“So what had your family done to incur the wrath of the queen?” Poppy asked.

Thomas shrugged. “Nothing as far as I can tell. They lived in a small, quiet village. My father was a teacher, nothing more. He made a living teaching the local children their letters. Apparently someone passing through the village objected to some of the books my father used and reported him to the local magistrate. When they searched his house they found books that the King and Queen have banned; damned fool always did value books more highly than he did most people. He said that it was wrong that knowledge should just disappear because those in power at the moment disliked it.”

“Sounds like he would have had a lot in common with Uncle John,” Poppy observed with a smile.

“Yes, I often think that it was a pity they didn’t get chance to meet. Any way my father, mother and brothers were all arrested. Like I said I was at university when news came to me of their deaths. They had all been burned for heresy.”

Poppy winced; she had heard that such things still happened in England but to hear it confirmed like that was still shocking.

“A couple of days after I got the news a messenger arrived with some books for me. Some of my fathers students had been able to rescue them before they had been burnt. I knew of John Dee of course but hadn’t had chance to meet him. I knew that he was interested in preserving knowledge so went to him with the manuscripts. We got talking and he mentioned that he needed some help translating some books that he had; I told him that I was good at languages and he hired me to help him. I’ve been working for him ever since.”

“He must have meant a lot to you if you were willing to risk your life to see his last wishes met,” Poppy observed.

“He did.”

Silence descended between them while Poppy thought. She turned her attention back to the map and pondered it for a few moments. The drawing was crude, done in a shakey hand from what were probably hazy memories. But it was clearly a drawing of the the room they were in. She could make out the window on the north wall and could see the ‘X’ marked along the length of the East wall.

“Over there,” Poppy said, gesturing towards the wall with her arm.

Thomas nodded and followed her over to the wall. As far as he could see it looked exactly the same as the other walls - the lower half was covered in wood panelling while the other was plaster.

“Where is it?” Poppy muttered to herself. She had no idea what it was she was looking for. A thought occurred to her and she put her ear against the wall and started knocking on the panelling.

At first Thomas was puzzled but he quickly gathered what she was doing and followed suit, this time starting from the opposite end of the wall. Working in silence apart from the tapping of their fists against wood they made their way along the length of the wall.

It took them several minutes but eventually Poppy heard it - the sound one piece of panelling made when she hit it was different to that made by all the rest. This piece sounded hollow.

“Mr Green!” she called out to Thomas. “I do believe that I might have found it.”

Thomas looked over and smiled. “Finally,” he said. “I was beginning to think that your uncle might have sent me on a wild goose chase.”

Poppy nodded and began looking closer at the panel in question, hoping to find some way to open in. Thomas went over to join her but after several frustrated minutes they were forced to admit that maybe there was nothing to be found.

“Uncle John never said how you were supposed to get to the treasure?” Poppy asked Thomas hopefully.

“No, I’m afraid not.”

“I thought that might be the case,” Poppy said with a nod. She turned away from the panel, pondering what to do next.

“You’re not going to give up are you?” Thomas asked in surprise.

“Hell no! I’m just wondering if there’s anything around here that we can use to force the panel off.”

“You’re going to ruin your wall for this?” Thomas asked in amazement.

“Why not, it’s only a wall.” Poppy thought for a second. “I suppose a hammer might go through the wood,” she mused aloud.

“Why don’t we try having another look before we do anything that drastic?” Thomas hastily said. “If we start attacking the walls with a hammer then we’ll wake the whole house up.”

“True.” Poppy pondered. “There must be something we’re not thinking of. I might not have known my uncle well but I know one thing - brute force was never his style.”

Thomas nodded in agreement. “He must have left a clue somewhere. He would never have told me to come here for his greatest treasure and then left me no way to find it.”

Something stirred in Poppy’s memory. “What exactly did my Uncle say he was sending you here for?”


“He never told you what it was, just that it was something precious?”


Poppy smiled ruefully. “Mr Green, I do believe that we have been idiots.”


“I’ve just remembered something my mother told me once. She said to me that for her uncle the greatest treasure wasn’t something you could own, something you could put a price on.”


“No. For him the greatest treasure was knowledge.”
Realisation dawned for Thomas and he was forced to admit “I do believe you are right. We’re idiots.”

Silence descended between them as they considered their next move. “So what do we do now?” Thomas asked.

“We look at the knowledge that we have and work from there. We know that this panel is important. We know that there is a space behind it. We know that it is something that my uncle thought was important for you to have.”

Thomas nodded. A thought occurred to him. “Who built the this house?”

“Erm, my grandfather,” Poppy replied, confused by the sudden change of subject.

“John Hawkins?”

“Yes, why?”

“And has this room been changed at all since the house was built?” Thomas asked, ignoring her question as he followed his train of thought.

“No…not as far as I know. Why do you want to know so much about the house?” Poppy demanded to know.

“This panel must have been here since the room was first decorated, which means-”

“Which means my grandfather must have known about it!” Poppy filled in.

“Exactly! Did he ever talk to you about the house, about how he built it, its history, anything like that?”

Poppy racked her brains. “If I’m honest I don’t know that much about it. The person who could probably best answer your questions is my mother.”

“Where is she? I have to admit that it would be interesting to meet her; Professor Dee talked about her with a lot of affection.”

Poppy searched Mr Greens face. He seemed harmless, had an artlessness about him which made her want to trust him despite her better judgement. But for all that she was not about to get him any more mixed up with her family than he already was.

“She’s away visiting friends,” Poppy told him, having no qualms about lying to him.

“Oh,” his shoulder visibly slumped. “Do you know when she’ll be back?” he asked hopefully.

“No, in a couple of days I think.”

“I see. So what do we do now?” he asked.

“We?” Poppy replied with an arched eyebrow. “As far as I’m concerned ‘we’ do nothing. I thank you for telling me of this treasure but that is all. Your part in this is done.”

Thomas was stunned. “Just like that, I’m dismissed?”

“Yes, you may leave now. Just remember this - I had many, many chances to kill you but I didn’t.”

“No, but you might as well have done,” Thomas told her gloomily.


“I’m an Englishman in Wales without permission. I have no papers proving who I am and no where to go now. The first person I talk to is likely to shoot me without asking any questions.”

Poppy felt a pang of guilt but covered it quickly saying “And? You must have realised this when you crossed the border.”

“Not really, I wasn’t thinking all that much. I mostly wanted to get away from Mortlake quickly.”

“Why? What was happening that you had to leave my uncles house so swiftly?”

“With Professor Dee dead there was nothing to stop the King and Queen sending Inquisitors to the house to examine his books. They’ve been trying to get their hands on his library for years but his position in the university meant that he had a reason to keep his library from them. With him dead there was no stopping them.”

Poppy considered his words. “And you didn’t want to be there when they arrived?”

“After what happened to my family do you blame me?” Poppy shook her head. “I packed up what I could of the library and fled.”

“What happened to the books?” Poppy asked, attempting to be casual. She knew that her mother would love nothing more than to re-claim the library of her beloved uncle and that she would never forgive Poppy if she realised that Poppy had had the chance to do so and failed.

Thomas looked at Poppy and sensed an opportunity. “They’re safe, with friends of mine. How about we make a deal?”


“I have something you want - the books, and you can help me get something I want - the treasure your uncle promised me. If we work together then we can both come out ahead.”

Poppy was not happy. She felt as if she had been backed into a corner but had no choice to agree. “So be it.”

“And,” Thomas added hastily, “you let me stay here until we both find what we’re looking for.”

Poppy was about to protest but thought about it for a second. If he was close by then she would at least be able to keep an eye on him.

“Agreed. But, you’re staying in the servants quarters. We can pretend you’re a new gardener or something.”

“Agreed,” Thomas said, knowing better than to push his luck.

“You can stay in the stable for tonight, we’ll introduce you to the rest of the staff in the morning.”

Thomas nodded and allowed himself to be lead to his new accommodation. As he drifted off to sleep he wondered what the morning would bring.