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It was near to an hour since Jenkins was soft transported to that undiscovered country on the lips of a kindly whore and I sat on the threshold of the tavern an empty sack of skin in the stinking bowels of the night sure no sun could ever again grace such a world as this, but that we would instead stagger in the Stygian dark, tearing each at every other for any small advantage and in constant service to our greed, our pride, our lust, our wrath, our gods, our crowns and to no end save to reduce the world to that valley of bones that Ezekiel did witness, save this valley being in service to none and not dry, but instead swamped in the blood and slippery with the guts of any we did ever love.
At Jenkins’ death, I was a flurry of action, sending first Heminges straight to Somerset to have Carey hence immediate and to broke no argument, not sure even what need I had for Carey’s presence, though full sure I had no standing to require it and not caring, for as I knelt by that ruined cage of bone and flesh that had late held that sweet boy’s spirit I knew only that he died in service to the mission to which Carey had set me, and so I would have Carey’s thinking on this immediate, or at least have him, too, as witness to his handiwork. Too, I had dragged forth the tavern keeper and sent him after such bailiff as responsible for Bankside, it being at liberty and not of London, and me not full familiar with its governance. And final had asked that girl, her lips stained still with Jenkins’s blood to fetch for Burbage what surgeon near she thought best. Those tasks done, I had but to await arrivals and did dear wish for some task further that could divert my mind, for it drew back constant to Jenkins and raced in that helpless thinking of every little variance that would have had him other than at the end of this dead stranger’s blade. If we had not introduced him to drink, if we had not bought him this whore, if I had been less consumed in my revels so as to note my own danger, even if we had never taken him into our company, choosing instead some other, and so he would still be . . . and I did not know, I realized. Where I could say had I come not to this player’s life, then I would be a Stratford glover, I could say nothing of Jenkins save what we knew of him in our company, for on no occasion had we asked after his circumstance either before our meeting or when out of our congress, realizing I was not sure even where to send word that he was dead, and then did sour recall his earlier saying he had been well served in the matter of masters and me thinking he had been foul served indeed to have made so dear a sacrifice for such who had loved him so poorly, the oppression of these knowings weighing so heavy that I was true glad when Burbage, the surgeon done with him, sat beside me.
“How with the arm?” I asked.
He held it before him, now tight wrapped in linens. “The blood washed off of it, it did seem less fearsome. If it does not corrupt, then a scar only. Though a scar I will bear at the cost of some hard remembering. If it does corrupt,” he shrugged, “then you will need write more parts for one-armed men.”
“This falls to my account,” I said.
“To ours,” said Burbage. “By what perverse greed to you seek to own to yourself every sin entire?”
I nodded, having no energy then for more words.
Burbage looked toward the stranger’s body. “Do you think Henslowe? A coward’s belated answer to your challenge?”
“I did first,” I said. “But have late made myself party to evil in so many directions that I feel fogged in it and can see sure no cause.”
“He did lay in wait, clear,” Burbage said, “and made for you direct, for he could have had me dead easy, me having no arms.”
“My arms served me little good in this contest, for I would have been dead sure and in moments save for Jenkins.”
I heard Burbage swallow hard and looking to him saw that his tears flowed freely. “My God, Will. He was a fine boy. Sweet in his disposition, sure in his talents, generous in his spirit and in the end braver than us all. Even in his drinking there was never that dark spirit in most who seek drown some world they cannot abide, but instead only that full innocent joy of a world he did rush to ready to embrace. What a loss we have suffered to never know that man he would become.”
At which I could feel burn my own tears, and was glad to hear the ring of hooves on the cobbles. Carey on horse from Somerset. He swung from the saddle seeming in ill spirit.
“Have our stations reversed, Shakespeare, that you feel free to summon me to scene of any actor’s drunken brawling?”
I stood and walked to him direct, pointing down at Jenkins. “That boy, sir, died in my service and yours and as brave in his end as any soldier, rushing headlong onto this assailant’s blade and even having accepted it full through his person, did hold it tight for my safety as I sent this stranger to greet his god. I will have you call him hero only, and if you think other, then I call you ungrateful and untrue, and you can have me answer that as you will and leave me, too, here dead, as I am, in truth, full tired of this world and will have it either changed or be quit of it.”
Carey looked down at me hard a long moment, but then his face softened some. “I am, at my age, ill tempered when disturbed from my slumbers, and, to be true, slept not easy after our time with Topcliffe and was already sour of mind. My apologies, to you and to this good servant.”
I could only nod, having no faith in that moment in my words. As Carey stood at Jenkins’s back, he now walked round to see him full.
“My God, he’s but a boy,” he said.
“He died full a man,” Burbage said from his seat.
Carey squatted down, and being more accustomed to those dead at violence and there being no possible injury now to Jenkins, pulled the blade clear from the boy, taking some interest in its hilt, and then walked closer to the torch near and looked close at the blade.
“This is Toledo steel,” he said. “A Spanish blade. I have taken enough from dead Spanish hands to know.”
“Does it matter?” I asked. “Jenkins would be equal dead in any case.”
“It may,” Carey said. “Some think Toledo steel finer, though I have had no complaints of my English iron. Toledo blades cost dear and, we current having no trade with Spain, they are rare in English hands, and more common in those of our enemies.”
Carey clear had no qualms near the dead, as he did now bend over my late assailant and tore open his shirt, a fine silver at the man’s neck, which Carey snatched quick loose, holding up the object the chain held. A small crucifix of the Catholic fashion.
“I half expected this,” Carey said, “as Spaniards seem more happy in battle having their God near with them. You cannot trip over a dead Spaniard in the field and not find such.”
“Then you think him Spanish?”
Carey shrugged. “By the cross, Catholic sure, and by the blade Spanish.”
I was now true confused. “But would this point toward or away from our Somerset friends?”
Carey shook his head. “In matters of commerce, money holds its own allegiance and knows no boundary, cross or crown, so toward Somerset mayhaps, meaning only the scheme be more broad. But if away, then to what? Some recusant mischief? This matter is as a weed that grows more dense the more one cuts at it. Perhaps Topcliffe’s records will yield some light. As I was awake, I felt he should be too, and sent your man to his quarters in my name to summon him to court to examine his records immediate.”
Even the circumstance being as they were, I could not help a small moment of humor in my heart, picturing Heminges face at Carey’s order that he go and chase Topcliffe from his bed.
At which the bailiff did final arrive, armed and with a few armed factors in tow. He was much disheveled and stunk clear of ale, having taken no care in his appearance as most often such matters as might have him to Bankside at this hour involved only those whose favor toward him counted little, being most likely drunks or whores or actors or keepers of the bear baits, all being held about equal in his esteem. Carey, being in the street and near the gutter opposite the tavern, was behind the bailiff as he near tumbled from the sorry nag that had borne him hence, Burbage, myself and such others still present being more near and to his front.
“There being two dead, the Queen’s peace has been plain breeched,” he blustered, “and I’ll have no congress on fault or cause at this hour, but instead you all to custody, and this then better addressed in the light of day.” At which his factors did advance toward us.
Burbage stood. “This good gentleman,” pointing to me, “for you will note his arms and he does have full license to carry them, was cowardly attacked with no warning or provocation and saved only by my small intervention and by the fatal sacrifice of that boy, who is our friend. And I will not bear the insult of custody, the matter of this being so plain and witnesses here abundant.”
To which the small crowd still gathered muttered their assent.
“Insult?” the bailiff said. “You call my exercise of the Queen’s office insult?”
“A fool can turn God’s mercy to insult and with little effort,” said Carey from behind.
The bailiff spun. “And what have we here? Some gentleman come across the bridge to dip his prick in some whore and now thinks this gives him leave to instruct me in my business?”
“What you have here, sir, is you better. In station, in manner, in thinking and, should it come to it, at arms. And you will not have these men to custody, as what ills they already have suffered they have suffered in my charge.”
“Oh, well,” the bailiff now feigning obeisance, “I must humble beg thy favor, as I do always swerve in my duty easy at only the word of any well-dressed stranger at the place of any crime.” His acting now over, the bailiff made straight to Carey, his chest puffed. “I would have your name, sir, as you will be joining your fellows in custody.”
Carey held up his hand so that the bailiff could see his signet. “I am George Carey, the Baron Hundson, son of the late Lord Chamberlain and soon to assume those duties. And on the subject of your office, I would ask how, on word of these events, I could be here from Somerset before you,” Carey looking down on the bailiff in clear disgust, “me having taken time to be properly attired whilst you seem to have rolled first through a puddle of ale and then a sack of filth.”
The bailiff stood, his jaw slack. “I do true beg your pardon, sir, as I did not know.”
“I should think your not knowing to be a common enough occurrence that you would have better practice in its management.” Carey brushed past the man, put his foot to the stirrup of his horse and swung easy into its saddle, nudging the horse near up to the man. “All present here are at liberty to leave if they well or return to their drinking if they must, both the slayer and the victim in this case being clear known. As you seem little able to manage your own dress, much less the matters of your office, I shall handle any further inquiry this matter requires, and it would bode you well to not draw yourself to my attentions further, as I will like be sufficient distracted by more vital duties to soon forget your sorry performance. But, if reminded of it, I shall bring it immediate to the attention to those in power to end it.”
“I am at your service, sir,” the bailiff said.
“You are in my way, sir,” Carey answered, spurring his horse and knocking he bailiff to his ass.