Thursday, 14 June 2012

Prologue - Part One

In later years Rebecca Taylor was to look back at the summer of 1558 as both the best and the worst of her childhood.  Her uncle had recently returned home from a long voyage on behalf of the queen, her mother was happier than she had seen her in years and she was able to watch her grandmothers attempts to make betrothals for her elder cousins with amused detachment, smug in the knowledge that at 7 she was far too young to be caught up in that sort of thing just yet. Little did she know that in a few short months her entire world would come crashing around her.

One morning Rebecca was sat with her sewing, her forehead creased in concentration as she struggled to follow her grandmothers complicated instructions. She was vaguely aware of the chattering of her elder cousins and the ladies in waiting but was intensely focused on her work. So focused that she did not even hear the door open or her nurse maid exclaiming in surprise "Mr Dee! How unusual it is to see you in here."

Mr John Dee was happy to see the head of his youngest niece shoot up at the mention of his name. "I know Mistress White and I hope that you do not mind the interruption but I am at a lose end today and am wondering if Rebecca would like to join me on a journey."

Rebecca shot to her feet, her sewing falling to the floor immediately forgotten. "Oh can I Mistress White? Please?" she beseeched.

Mistress White's mouth narrowed into a thin line. "This is most irregular Mr Dee. Lady Taylor does not like her granddaughters education to be interrupted in such a way."

John chuckled slightly and said "I assure you that Rebecca education will not suffer in the slightest, in fact it will be immeasurably added to."

"I don't know..." Mistress White said, her voice wavering. She knew from experience that attempting to dissuade Mr Dee of anything once his mind was set was neigh on impossible.

"Mistress White we both know what's going to happen - I am going to keep on asking you until you eventually give in and I get my way regardless of your protestations. We both know that if I really desire to take my niece away for the day that there is little you could do to stop me." As soon as he said those words John regretted them - Mistress White went pale and he knew that she had taken them completely the wrong way.

"You threaten me with witchcraft then?" Mistress White managed to stutter, trying to keep her voice strong for the sake of the girls, all of whom were now watching them intently.

"No! No. I merely meant that if I want to I could simply carry her away. Really Mistress White, I thought you were too intelligent a lady to be taken in by the rumours about my so called 'magical powers.'" John hoped that a little flattery would help defuse the situation; he was very much aware of the eyes of the young women - including his beloved niece - were on him and the last thing he wanted was for his own family to be
scared of him.

"Take her, take her for as long as you want," Mistress White told him, practically pushing the young girl in his direction. All she wanted right know was this man, this devil in sheep's clothing as far away from her precious charges as possible. Why Lady Jones allowed him back in her house she would never know.

John sighed; he knew that he had handled the situation badly and that he would suffer for it later on when he and Rebecca returned home but he would think about that later. For now all he wanted was to spend a pleasant day with niece.

Rebecca ran over to join her uncle. "Where are we going?" she demanded to know as they walked out of the sewing room and towards the stables.

"You'll see," John told her.

"Is it a surprise?"

"Yes, as much for me as it is to you."


"Really. I received a letter earlier on from a friend which gave me some wonderful news."

"What? What is it?" Rebecca demanded to know. John was pleased to see that she had the same curiosity that fired his mind and lead him across the world.

"John Hawkins is back from sea and he's bought with him a prize."

"A prize? What is it? Is it treasure? Is it gems? Or gold? I think it's gold, is it gold?" Rebecca bubbled. She had heard about Hawkins from her uncle; she knew that like her Uncle John he had been sent to sea by Princess Elizabeth but both their missions were a mystery to her and the rest of her family.

"Oh it's nothing so ordinary as treasure dearest," John Dee told her with an indulgent smile. They had now reached the stables and John was pleased to see that his instructions had been followed and there was a carriage waiting for them there. If he had been going alone he would have ridden but he wanted to make good time to the meeting and knew that there was no way that Rebecca would be able to keep up on her fat little pony.

"Hold it right there," Dee heard a voice behind him saying.

He winced and looked around. Striding towards them was the formidable figure of his younger sister, Anna.

"Where do you think you're taking my daughter?" she asked, hands on her hips and her eyes filled with rage.

"I thought that she had been cooped up for long enough and deserved a day out. It's not good for children to be stuck inside on a beautiful day like this."

"I see. And the real reason is...?"

Dee knew from experience that his sister was not likely to be fobbed of with lies. "I got a letter this morning from John Hawkins. He's back from his expedition and has something that he wants me to see."

Anna nodded. "Why didn't you just say so? I haven't seen Hawkins in years," she told him stepping towards the carriage.

"You mean you're coming with us?"

"Of course. Did you really think that I'd let you go off without me? Rebecca's not the only one who's been cooped up."

Soon the three were settled in the carriage. Anna seemed content to watch the world go by. Rebecca on the other hand was brimming with questions.

"How can treasure be ordinary?" Rebecca demanded to know once they were settled in the carriage.

For a moment Dee was confused but then he remembered what they had been discussing before Anna had interrupted. "All treasure will do is buy you more things. But there is something far more important than treasure in this world."

"What is it?" Rebecca asked, alive with curiosity.

"Information. With the right information you can rule the world."

"That sounds boring," Rebecca told him with a pout. "Information couldn't buy me a new dress or some pretty ribbons."

"No, but knowing who to buy them from, how to get the best deal, who has the best merchandise, that is all valuable information."

"I guess..." Rebecca replied. She did not sound convinced.

"But perhaps the most important information you can have is 'who will give me what I want in exchange for my knowledge?'"

Rebecca looked puzzled. "You mean there's people who will pay for knowledge?"

"We pay Mistress White to pass on what she knows to you and your cousins do we not?"

"But Mistress White doesn't know very much," Rebecca said bluntly.

Anna snorted with laughter and said "I'm glad I'm not the only one who sees that!"

"I tried to get her to help me with the Latin that you gave me to translate," Rebecca continued "but she could not! She doesn't even know the simplest of phrases and her maths is just as bad. She told me that 'young ladies do not need to know such things and too much education will stop me getting a husband.'"

"Really? And what did you say to that?" John asked. He was not surprised by Mistress White's lack of education. She had been with is deceased brother in laws family for years and had taught generations of young women. He knew that Anna had objected to her taking over the teaching of Rebecca but that had been the price she had had to pay for Lady Taylor allowing John into her home.

"I told her that if that was the case then I do not want a husband," Rebecca informed him.

John hid a smile. "We'll see dearest, there's still some time before you have to start worrying about getting married."

"I guess. So where are we going?" Rebecca demanded to know, her attention swinging away from Mistress White and back towards the adventure they were on.

"Look out the window and tell me what you see." Dee told his niece.

Rebecca sighed; they had played this game before. "I see birds," she told him looking up at the sky.

"What type of birds?"

"Gulls I think."

"What else? Remember don't just look with your eyes, use all the senses that God in his infinite wisdom saw fit to give you."

Rebecca nodded and turned to the window again. She loved spending time with her uncle; she always seemed to learn more with him than she ever did with Mistress White and in a far more interesting way. She thought back to the times when they had played this game before and briefly closed her eyes. She let the sounds around her wash over her and taking a deep breath filled her lungs with the fresh sea air.

"The sea!" Rebecca called out, her eyes snapping open. "We're going to the sea."

"Close dearest, but not quite. What is at the sea?"

"A port?"

"That's right! You my dearest are by far the cleverest of all your cousins."

Rebecca glowed under her uncles praise. She thought about Uncle Johns earlier words and about their destination. "Uncle, I think I know what the treasure might be," she said slightly hesitantly.

"Oh yes?" John said with an arched eyebrow.

"I think that it might be a boat."

John was a little surprised. "What makes you think that?" he asked.

"You got a letter from a sailor who has something more valuable than treasure and we're going to a port. I think therefore that John Hawkins has captured a boat."

"Dearest, you are right. Is there anything else you could tell me about this ship?"

Rebecca thought hard. "Well the only sort of boat I can think of that could be called more valuable than treasure is a Spanish one."

John smiled proudly at his niece. "Again you are right.  Anna your daughter is brilliant."

"I never doubted that," Anna said, an indulgent smile on her face.

Rebecca basked in her uncles pride. She delighted in making him happy and knew that the surest way to do that was to impress him with her intellect. If there was one thing that the famous John Dee prized above all else in people it was their ability to think.

"Will the journey take much longer?" Rebecca asked, eager to find out what was so special about this particular ship that her uncle was called away from home to learn about it.

"Not much, we are almost there dearest."

"Good," Rebecca settled back in her seat to watch the world unfold in front of her.

John was soon absorbed in his own thoughts; the letter he had received told him little about what to expect at the port. Its urgent tone told him that he needed to make haste and they had set out as soon as they had been able. He could not help but wonder what it was that caused such excitement.

As they approached the port the amount of people on the road grew. Rebecca's eyes widened as she saw the mass of people in front of them; she had spent almost all of her life at her grandmother house and had been allowed to visit the local village on only a handful of occasions. The only other time she had seen this many people was when she and the rest of her family had gone to mass in London once.

Soon the press of people in front of the carriage was so bad that the driver was forced to tell John Dee "No way to get through my lord. There's too many of them."

A lesser man than Dee might have told his driver to carry on regardless; if people did not get out of his way then they were fools who deserved the injuries they would no doubt receive. But Dee was proud of his reputation not just as a gentleman but as a gentle man and so told his driver "Do not worry. We can walk from here."

"But my lord-"

"No buts. We are needed at the port and so to the port we must go. It is most unexpected though to see so many people," Dee mused. "I wonder what it is that has bought them all here."

Michael the driver knew that he was useless to protest further; he had been with the Dee family for many years and knew from the set of his masters mouth that there would be no dissuading him. "Very good my Lord. Where shall I meet you later?"

Dee thought about it for a second before naming a local inn. "Although," he cautioned Michael "I hope that I can trust you not to drink too much of the local specialty while I am gone."

Michael laughed and said "Don't you worry my Lord, I'll be able to get you and the good ladies home safely."

"Good, good. We'll see you when we are finished then."

Dee opened the door and lead his sister and niece out on to the street.

"Yes my Lord." Michael said before cracking the whip and turning the horse around so that he could find the inn.

Rebecca was more than a little afraid at what was happening. While the crowd of people around her had been interesting when she was separated from them by the sides of the carriage; when they were so close to her they were terrifying.

"Mother?" Rebecca said, seeking out her mothers hand for reassurance.

Seeing Rebecca's unease Anna smiled down at her daughter and took her hand in her own. "Don't worry," she told her. "We'll be at the port soon, we're not far now. Keep holding my hand and you'll be safe."

Rebecca nodded and clung on to her tightly as John forced his way through the crowd. All around her were sights and smells that she had never experienced before; the sounds of rough voices with accents that she struggled to understand, the smell of baking and of the fish that was being sold by the road side. It was just beginning to dawn on her that her grandmother would not be pleased to hear that her uncle had taken her away from the safe refugee of their home and into the port.

Dee was more than a little revealed when they reached the port; he had done his best not to show it to Rebecca but he was as worried about losing her as she was about being lost.

"Uncle..." Rebecca said from his side. When he did not immediately answer she reached over and tugged on his coat saying again "Uncle!"

"What? Oh yes Rebecca what is it?" Dee asked her. He had been so intent on getting them to the port that he had been paying little attention to her words.

"Uncle, what's that?"

"What's what?" he asked confused, looking around him to try and see what she was seeing.

"That." She pointed up at the sky.

Dee looked up. A smile tugged at his lips. "He did it," he said breaking into a huge grin. "By God he did it!"

Floating over their heads was a galleon.

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