Perfect Shadows - By Siobhan Burke




Chapter 1

“Kit! You, Kit! Come here, I want you!” Tommy, Sir Thomas Walsingham, called as I crossed the great hall in search of coals for my brazier; my ink had frozen again. He motioned me to follow him, and I trailed him to his office. To my dismay Ingram Frizer stood leaning over his shoulder, pointing out something on the papers spread on the table before them. Tommy looked up as I entered, and motioned me to join them.

“I have work for you!” Tom exclaimed, waving a handful of paper at me.

“A commission?” I asked eagerly. “I am well begun on Hero and Leander. In fact I was working on it just now, remembering how we swam in the moat last summer....” I faltered, stopped more by the smirk on Frizer’s face than by the annoyance on Tom’s. Tom was more than half drunk, I observed, though it lacked an hour to noon. Frizer drifted over to settle upon the chest under the casement window as Tommy started to gabble at me.

“No, no, nothing so slow or uncertain as that. What we thought was this.” His voice dropped to just above a whisper as the words tumbled out faster and faster.

“Slowly, Tommy,” I said gently. “I cannot make out more than a word in three. You’ve found another way to reline our purses, I take it?” He took a deep breath, and began again.

“Cony-catching! Ingram has found a pretty poult, just begging for the p-p-plucking!” The last word seemed to amuse him, and he repeated it several times, giggling. Another deep breath ended in a hiccup, but he went on regardless. “A young country squire, come to town for the first time. Pretty and innocent, just the sort you like,” he continued, leering at me. “You’ve the easy part, just seduce him, and let Ingram here walk in and catch you—we’ll handle the rest!” I glanced at Frizer, tittering behind his hand in the window seat.

“Find somebody else,” I said curtly, and turned to go. I wanted nothing to do with extortion; I had been the past recipient of just such attention too often to desire to practice it upon others.

“No, it must be you! He’s stage struck, cannot wait to meet the mighty Marlowe!” I returned to the table and he giggled again, pouring another cup of wine. “You’ll like him, big blue eyes and long blonde hair,” he paused to stroke his own locks, still as thick and golden as the day we’d met. “A perfect Ganymede, more money than Croesus, and he’ll pay, aye, he’ll pay!” Anger welled in me, hotter with every word he spoke.

“No!” I shouted, pounding my fist on the table, knocking over the inkwell and the wine cup. Frizer growled and lunged to snatch up the papers, shaking the inky wine off of them and glowering at me. I ignored him, leaning over the table to catch Tommy by the shoulders. I had meant to shake him, but found myself drawing him closer, and saying softly, “Send Frizer away, Tommy! You don’t need him—things were so much better, when it was just we two.” I tilted my head to kiss him, but recoiled from his breath, sour with wine. He knocked my hands from his shoulders, just as other hands fell heavily upon mine. Frizer jerked me back, and my knee caught the edge of the table, knocking it over, dumping its contents all over Tom. He screamed, brushing at the wine and ink soaking his velvets, spreading the stain, making it worse. I started to apologize, but he interrupted.

“Look what you’ve done! Look what you’ve done! Send Ingram away? Send him away? I need him. I need him far more than I need you!” Frizer’s grip tightened and he dragged me towards the door. I shoved an elbow hard into his belly, and twisted out of his grip. He was a few inches taller than I, and far heavier in build, but I was the veteran of innumerable tavern tourneys. A hard jab to the stomach, and an elbow to the back of his neck when he doubled overtook the starch right out of him.

“You cannot mean that, Tommy,” I said. He was staring in horror at Frizer measuring his length on the floor. When I started towards him, he backed away, calling loudly for his serving men. “I won’t hurt you, Tommy, you know that,” I began soothingly, when the door burst open