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James Jackson - Treason

‘Stay back, I say!’.

London was afire with rumour and commotion, the fever spreading from Westminster to the Strand and bringing shouts and lights into the streets. One word could ignite a fresh outburst of speculation; a single whisper could cascade outwards in a frenzy of fear. The King was dead, an army marched, the Spanish were invading. Consternation was overtaken by a different tale and extinguished by the facts. A plot had been foiled and an assassin caught and His Majesty by the grace of God was spared. Elation took hold. Citizens jostled and fought and swarmed to hear news. There must yet be conspirators at large.

Tom Wintour pushed his way unnoticed through the throng. He should have left, been northward bound with his brother fugitives. Yet curiosity held him, a dread fascination to discern the truth compelling him to hide among the many and learn more. It was Kit Wright, younger brother of the swordsman Jack, who had roused him in his lodgings at The Duck and Drake and first informed him of events. Guido was taken. Half-asleep he had listened to the panting account, was wide awake by the time his feet hit the floor and he was dragging on his clothes. He had to be certain. While Wright relayed a message to Percy in Gray’s Inn Road and prepared to exit the scene, for the sake of Catesby and the greater cause he would for the present remain and bear witness. That inn where they once met to pledge themselves to treason and murder was now just a place on the Strand with a saddled horse and soon likely to be raided. There would be other waypoints to the close.

The soldier blocked his path, a pike held angled in his grasp. ‘You have no passage here’.

‘What causes such commotion?’.

‘It is the business of the Council’.

‘The Council?’. Wintour kept his challenge light. ‘All about is talk a plot has been discovered’.

‘We are commanded to keep order and preserve the peace and guard approach to every part’.

‘You do it well’.

‘Everywhere is sealed and none may travel far’.

‘Is the treachery contained?’.

The obvious breeding of the gentleman neutered any hostility. Plainly he posed no threat and was entitled to enquire, was deserving of a civil reply. These strange events had unsettled everyone.

He leant towards Wintour. ‘A Catholic is apprehended with a hoard of black powder and had intent to kill the King’.

‘His Majesty is safe?’.

‘We and the royal guard shall ensure it’. The grip tightened on the haft of the pike. ‘Were I to find a papist dog, he would suffer to his final breath’.

‘Who is this devil they seize?’.

‘A dark stranger they say, a tall and scarred man now bound in chains and destined to face the wrath of the law’.

‘May justice and right be done’.

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